By: Revanche

Curating this closet for my best life

April 25, 2016

 Operation: Dress like an adult. Does your professional wardrobe come up to snuff? When's the last time you thought about it? A closet catastrophe in search of style with comfort

I read Katherine’s post on dressing as a new mom with a tinge of guilt. Never a fashion plate, I took some meanhearted comments about baby weight heard when I was still pregnant too much to heart, and went far in the opposite direction of refusing to give a hoot about worrying over dressing well when I had a baby to keep alive, a career to also keep alive, and so on. “Getting dressed” didn’t mean very much more than changing from one set of comfy pajamas to the next, on harder days, and into cargo pants and tees on the easier ones.

There’s a happy medium between not caring about how you look and being obsessed with your appearance to the exclusion of all substantive things. My life fits in the middle, caring when it matters to me, and leaving it the rest of the time, but I’d left that by the wayside.

The casual nature of my job didn’t help. The SF-standard CEO in tee-shirts and flipflops isn’t just a stereotype! To make matters worse, I’m digging through a wardrobe that still has clothes dating back to 1999. Because I might go somewhere warm again, someday! And it still fits! And… no, that doesn’t mean I should still wear them. For someone who came from having very little, discarding things that still “work” is a hard notion to wrap my head around.

Now that I’m out walking more, dressing down and even sloppily is my camouflage, protection against the street harassment. I can’t walk across the street with LB alone without being harassed, and this isn’t one of the worst neighborhoods in town.

I’ll keep dressing in “ugly” camo for those jaunts because life is too busy to waste time wishing fiery deaths upon that worthless scum that catcalls, stalks and harasses women on the street. For the rest of the time, though…

An essential part of being a professional, secondary to high performance, is presenting myself professionally.

It’s time to shape up. It’s never been easy to put together a wardrobe that looks professional but can be worn day to day. Like Cloud, I’ve never had lofty ambitions in the fashion arena. I don’t need to be fashionable, I need to be not frumpy. Finding where that coincides with my need for comfort and low maintenance level, is the challenge.

We’re not in a position to replace my entire wardrobe in one go, now that I’ve paid off Uncle Sam for the year, but I wouldn’t do anything without an action plan either.

First, the purge

I’m starting the process by ruthlessly digging out the sartorial deadweight.

Those old sweaters that I bought back when I was cold all the time and was just desperate for warmth, any warmth. Like a bear facing winter, I was adding layers with cardigans that did the job but nothing for my appearance. Same for the long sleeve shirts that are now too tight in the arms. PSA: Lifting a 25 lb weight between 1-6 hours a day will do something to your biceps. I’m guessing that Hulking out of my sleeves isn’t the current look. But whatever the look is, I like my blood circulating, thank you very much.

Pants are problematic. I’m staring down a pile of pants, they’re all a little bit off. Those jeans are 19 years old and look like it. These jeans are a breath too tight. The newest pair of jeans are too long and loose. The older jeans are tight but the right length. It feels like the best thing to do would be to toss all the oldest and start over but I can’t bring myself to do that. I don’t have a good replacement yet and I’ve learned the hard way not to go purging willy-nilly. As Donna and her commenters pointed out, ever so timely with this post, it’s not a good idea to go overboard. Then again, I have a bit of history with breaking my pants with new jobs. It’d be better to lose an old pair than new when I move on!

There are about a dozen geeky tees that I refuse to let go of. These have a place in my life but we need to do better. This has sparked the thought that I need to design a business casual line of geek-inspired clothing to replace the geeky tees that aren’t interview or boardroom ready. Would I be my only customer? I could live with that.

Next… I need help!

If I were tall and willowy and Gina Torres: everything she wore in the first few seasons of Suits, get in my closet! Kerry Washington’s styling in Scandal is also impeccable. If I were way cooler than I am, I’d be cool with the wardrobe for Maggie Q from Nikita. But not their shoes. I can’t do any of their heels.

Then again, none of their clothes are kid-friendly. I wore a nice blouse and slacks to a parent volunteer thing and came home with three kinds of fluids on me from kids who used my shoulder as a landing pad for their drippy faces. There’s always one kid who thinks I’m their person.

Naturally, I’m none of the above. I’m short, slim to the point of being skinny. My knees (and every other joint from the hips on down) are a no-heels-zone. They need support and cushion, it’s not optional. The ideal uniform is easy to put together, baby friendly, me-the-klutz friendly, and travel friendly.

If we still lived in the southern half of the state, this Polka Dot Silk Wrap Dress and this silk chain link print shift would be in my shopping cart just waiting for a great sale. But if 60 degrees doesn’t feel like freezing anymore, it’s still not warm, I don’t care what you say. I know you’re laughing at me, Canadians – I’m at peace with that.

In truly temperate weather, I’m in a cotton shirt, jeans or stretchy slacks, a draping light cardigan or sweater. I love my Bobeau fleece and Caslon drape neck zip cardigans. They don’t sell the zip cardigans anymore so I’m glad I gave into the temptation to buy it in both colors. In cold weather, I have one great winter coat but my ability to go from light to heavy layering is limited.

Shoes are typically flats or flipflops or sneakers. I’d love more classic styles but loafers and other similar shoes often look like clown shoes on me. Alternate suggestions?

In real life, I adore Jean’s and Kelly’s styles. Also Wendy’s. They’re even close to my body type. But as you can see, they’re far more polished, and oftentimes fancier, than I.

On second thought…

It turns out the act of writing this out is clarifying. When I started writing, it was mostly a mess. But I’m starting to see that my ideal style looks put-together and feels great to lounge and work in. That’s not impossible! Right?

My idea of matching colors is appalling, let’s get that out in the open right now. I think the general rule of thumb here is to remove all pieces that aren’t in a complementary color palette and restrict any new clothes to a simple color palette. Does anyone know how you do that?

I gravitate toward dark greens, blues, black. They’re easy, combined with white, though white is not awesome for me with an over-active child to chase and feed. Is tan and beige a good alternative? I really like the look of a crisp white blouse but probably that life isn’t for me.

Every so often, a bright color grabs my attention and I can’t resist. That’s one root of my current crisis. For example, I went wild and bought dark red slacks a while back. I like them but they seem to go with exactly one blouse. Like pantry cooking, people will helpfully suggest several combinations, but I currently own none of those other pieces!

That means I need a list of acceptable colors that would go with the basics that I already own. Ideally, I should be able to mix and match all tops and bottoms.

Now that I have a semblance of a game plan, I’m eager to start making this work.

Sidebar: Though we don’t dress each other, PiC and I share a similarly relaxed approach to style but it’s so much easier for him to look effortlessly business casual. Why is men’s clothing so much simpler?

:: What’s your style, how long did it take to refine? How did you figure out the color and the matching pieces thing? Who do you rely on for advice about this stuff?

:: The comment was “She still has ‘baby weight’. It’s been two years! I’d kill myself if I still had baby weight two years later.” I’m used to hearing horrible comments about women and their weight but that got my goat.

35 Responses to “Curating this closet for my best life”

  1. Ahhhh, yes. The closet. I’m slowly, slowly, slowly weeding through my closets. Gulp. In the winter (which is like half the year in Chicago), I wear mostly gray. I gravitate towards black and white year round and accent with pops of color. My problem is that I haven’t grown or gained (much) weight in over a decade. So if I have clothes that still fit, it seems silly to get rid of them. But it’s equally silly to keep them. I’m trying to be mindful of what I actually wear versus what I have grand plans for in my mind.

    • Revanche says:

      It always sounds like you’re making great progress, though! What’s your criteria for weeding things out?

  2. Teckelvik says:

    I think what you want is called a capsule wardrobe. Google for that and you’ll get lots of hits.

    Back in the 80s, I “had my colors done” and I’m an Autumn. I haven’t moved on from that, but I haven’t needed to. I only buy Autumn colors. As I’ve aged I’ve moved into the softer ones – apricot rather than pumpkin, but it still works. I’m sure some such system is available now.

    Good luck!

  3. I’m definitely seasonal in my work clothes: somber blacks/gray/navy/browns/maroon slacks and cardis in cool weather, and bright print skirts with solid tops (pink, teal, orange and bright blue) for the heat. I’m not stylin’ but it works for me and is reasonably comfortable.

    Don’t feel bad about your clothes from 1999. When I went through my closet last fall, I was throwing out casual clothes from the late 80s. No matter how much I loved my paisley print shirt, I’d still been wearing it for 3 decades and it was definitely frayed around the edges. (I still have 2 henleys I bought in 1986, but I only wear them to sleep in…honest!)
    Emily @ JohnJaneDoe recently posted…Shaking Up Our Grocery RoutineMy Profile

  4. Leigh says:

    I think this is something that a lot of people will use a service like Stitch Fix or Trunk Club for. Some stores will also provide you with a personal style consultant that will help you pick clothes from their selection as well.

    I’m working on the color thing still. I tried to buy a white tshirt last year because the Internet said all women should have one but that’s just not for me. I’m more of a dark tshirt person if it’s solid. I also developed a love for stripes – it’s a great way to have a non solid top without being super busy. For me, it’s mostly taken some time to concentrate on it and figure out what works and to be ruthless with returning things. I think I am doing a great job lately of only buying clothes I love finally! It’s a great feeling. I’ve given myself an unlimited clothing budget though which helped too πŸ˜‰
    Leigh recently posted…March 2016 net worth update (+3.9%)My Profile

    • Revanche says:

      I should ask a Stitch Fix friend to help me out!

      An unlimited clothing budget is an awfully nice accessory πŸ˜‰

  5. Cassie says:

    I’m not at the point where I think I can call my style refined just yet. In progress, sure, but not refined. It’s taken(taking) years. I’m not going to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe in one fell swoop, so I think it’s to be expected that the process will take a little while. I love Jean and Kelly’s style as well. I took Wendy off my reading list because I found the styles were getting a little too out there and aspirational for me.

    For the colours you mentioned gravitating towards, I think tan and beige would work really nicely with them. Straight white might be a few years off, but some moms make it work, so who knows? Maybe just make sure those items can hold up to lots of machine washing? Prints can be visually distracting and can hide munchkin messes, so maybe trying a couple printed blouses and dresses in lighter colourways would work?

    Franziska has a series called building a cohesive wardrobe that you might find interesting:

    I’m thinking about the clothing you mentioned already having in your closet. Those cardigans you said were doing nothing for you, how far gone are they? Could you throw one on over a printed camisole and belt it at the waist? Or are they just straight up too big? The jeans that are too big/long, are we talking about one size or several sizes? Would it be possible to have a tailor hem them and then either take them in or wear them in the winter with long underwear?

    If you like the looks from Scandal, I know The Limited used to have a bunch of items inspired by the show. They may or may not still have some that could peak your interest? You might find this interesting too:

    Hope this helps a little. I’m curious to hear about what direction you end up going on this in terms of letting certain items go and bringing new ones in.
    Cassie recently posted…Black and White and Red All OverMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      I must confess: I was doing poorly with whites even before JuggerLB came along, I can’t really blame the kid. Either it was me spilling something or getting dog fur on, or … something. It was always something πŸ™‚

      The cardigans are the wrong shape for me, I think. They’re kind of boxy and I’m straight up and down mostly so that makes me look like a walking … rectangle? I’ll keep the oversized jeans (about a size and a half too big), I think they are winter-layerable, and they’re in great shape.

      Thanks for all the links, they’re very helpful!

  6. katherine says:

    I would say that I had a decent wardrobe pre-baby, especially for the summer. My approach was to wear mainly dresses for professional occasions and day to day purposes. I gravitate towards the sorts of dresses sold at REI or Title 9–machine washable, nice, but not too fussy. The only thing to watch is length, because the can be too short in my opinion.

    My baby is about 3 months old at this point, and I’m not liking my clothes at all right now. I’m wearing nursing tanks with yoga pants all the time. Occasionally it’s a nursing tank with a skirt. It’s practical, but my wardrobe consists entirely of black, white, and gray. I miss wearing colors.

    • Revanche says:

      Are you avoiding colors on purpose or is it just what you have right now, post-baby? I hesitate to confess what an utter mess of a dresser I was in Month 3 after LB was born πŸ™‚

      • katherine says:

        Oh, it’s mostly because I didn’t go looking for post-baby clothes before giving birth, and am now feeling stymied. My pre-baby clothes are not nursing friendly, the baby is limiting my go-out-and-hunt, and the stuff I bought off of Amazon had unfortunate figure-widening cuts. So, uh, yeah: definitely being a mess of a dresser right now. πŸ™‚

        • Revanche says:

          Ahh I see what you mean! If it makes you feel less alone in that, I lived in old oversized tshirts for months after because of similar reasons. Taylor, below, mentions some online shops she uses that you might find helpful? Clothes from Amazon are always difficult, I think.

  7. Sense says:

    I’m of no help but wanted to weigh in my support! I will be following.

    It’s hard finding the balance. If I had my way, I’d live in workout clothes and pajamas so I didn’t have to change 4x during the day. Current wardrobe is different colored tshirts and khakis. Mostly from Target/Old Navy/Marshall’s. I am blonde/pale so jewel tones look best on me. I love stripes of all kinds. I am obsessed with teal because people say it brings out/matches my eye color. I’m skinny but haven’t tamed my middle pooch (yet) so try to wear loose-ish tops and will NEVER do that crop top thing. I’m short but also long-torso’d, so maxi-dresses and long skirts are out. I’m too tall for petite but too short for normal length pants, so I probably should just get all my pants tailored properly. I will kill someone from the uncomfortableness/break my ankle in heels but those ballet slipper things don’t give my feet enough of a cloud to walk on, so I mostly wear cushy, flat loafers, my Chucks, and Merrell low top hiking shoes, with the very occasional ankle boot for cuteness. That’s about all I got. πŸ™ I know what I like when I see it, but just don’t have the time/money/energy to put into pulling myself together more than a few times a month!

    • Revanche says:

      Thank you! I love polka dots and stripes, too!

      And a good tailor worth their weight in gold! When I first got my professional clothes tailored, I could have been knocked over with a breath. Alas, pre-baby tailoring doesn’t QUITE fit me anymore so now it’s just dire looking seams and squishing πŸ˜‰

  8. Clare says:

    I feel your pain, minus the mom logistics. Check out Unfancy, a wonderful blog about how to put together clothing capsules.

    • Revanche says:

      Thank you!

      And to be fair, I was a walking disaster of a mess before LB was born. Now I just have a handy “understandable” excuse for why I have food all down my front. Even if it’s totally my fault I’m still blaming the kid. WHAT ELSE ARE THEY FOR.

  9. I agree with the people above saying you should consider building a capsule wardrobe (also Leigh’s suggestion re: style consultant). Regarding the shoes thing, have you considered low heel ankle boots or chelsea boots? I feel like those are a nice alternative with options for inserts if there isn’t already good support.

    In general I lean very strongly towards a basics-filled classic wardrobe. Most of my clothes are either black, navy, forest green, vanilla cream, or red. All darker tones, middle of the road in terms of saturation. Everything’s been sourced from online second-hand stores, because I hate shopping in meatspace and I like paying less for things. It helps that I know my measurements and don’t fluctuate much in terms of weight and body shape.

    I’ve found Everlane to be pretty good in terms of hitting all the things I want in clothing (though, their quality is diminishing pretty quickly). Surprisingly enough their XS silk shirts fit me perfect, and that’s saying a lot since I’m petite enough (5’1″) but curvy enough that everything is typically too long or too tight. I also tend to like the looks for Maison Standards and MM LaFleur (who actually have a Stitch-fix like “Bento box” service to help find items that fit your shape), but haven’t gotten to the point of purchasing anything there yet because $$$.
    Taylor Lee @ Yuppie Millennial recently posted…How Much Do You Spend On Groceries? (Week 1: Asian Comfort Food)My Profile

  10. I currently own two pairs of pants and three pairs of leggings. I wear the pants to work and the leggings at all other times. So I’m probably not going to have a lot of helpful advice for you here. (Luckily you’ve got a lot of other helpful commenters though!)

    But I do just want to confirm that 60 degrees definitely does not qualify as “warm”, whatever the Canadians may say.
    Sarah Noelle @ The Yachtless recently posted…The Longest Two Weeks in the WorldMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      That sounds like what I do most of the time! This is a problem when most of my pants get furred up within an hour and food smeared on the next hour.

      But thanks for the back-up on 60 degrees πŸ˜‰

  11. I just did a massive curate of my closet. I’m pretty happy with having less. I’m on a shopping ban until I wear all my work clothes at least 5 times. That would seem easy but I already ended donating a few items that I’ve held onto but when push came to shove, I just didn’t want to wear anymore. I think I have my style defined to some degree but I’m in my 40s so it took a while. I will probably continue to make mistakes in terms of color, fit, etc..but I am much pickier now and have a strict clothing budget so that really helps me focus on what I love/want/need and would actually wear!
    middle class revolution recently posted…Hard Choices – Midlife Crisis EditionMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      That’s a great criteria to use for weeding out.

      I’ve been deliberating what makes the most sense since I also don’t separate my clothes by seasons. SF really seems to only have hot / cold and hot occurs at random times.

  12. Kelly says:

    A great blog to read for ideas on developing personal style, wardrobe color stories, and capsule wardrobes is Into Mind:
    Her approach is minimalistic and “buy less, buy better” which may or may not work for you (for example, toddlers + silk generally don’t mix, so you may not want to do the “buy better” part until that situation clears itself up in a few years).
    For color palettes, I like this post:
    But her entire blog is just great and easy to follow. =)

  13. People are way too critical especially of mothers. I can’t believe you have to deal with street harassment. I live in Omaha and so street harassment isn’t something we deal with. Anyway I dress pretty casual. After I graduate from college, I want to build a more capsule wardrobe. I tend to like a lot of “classic” pieces and am not really into trends as much.

    • Revanche says:

      It really seems like society can’t get enough of criticizing mothers. It always surprises me that street harassment doesn’t happen in some places, I’ve never been in a place where it doesn’t happen.

  14. I just went through this recently. I also started with purging, but then I decided to get expert help for the shopping part and used Macy’s personal shopper service. It was GREAT. It’s free with no pressure to buy – although I did end up buying a lot of stuff! It’s stuff that I consistently get compliments on and which helped me refine a lot of open questions about my personal style. Plus it only took about three hours to get an entire wardrobe’s worth of stuff, which seems like a long time but it would have taken way longer if I’d had to do all the picking and choosing and running about for more sizes or this in a different color or what about something to go with this thing.

    I am definitely still refining my style and nowhere near finished – but on a daily basis I feel more or less put-together and on at least a weekly basis, I feel like I knock it out of the park, and that’s a vast improvement over six months ago when I was going, as you say, from one set of comfy pajamas to the next.
    Little Miss Moneybags recently posted…Feeling the FIREMy Profile

    • Revanche says:

      This is a great idea – I’ve never been great at firming up a consistent personal style so having someone help create it would be an amazing relief.

  15. My post for Monday is almost exactly the same… I hate clothes and shopping for them!
    Maggie @ Northern Expenditure recently posted…Why Are We Afraid of Boring?My Profile

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