The substance of style: Wardrobe basics


I worked at a clothing store during my multiple-job phase in college, and am glad I can look back fondly on those (ahem) unique work moments and lessons.

Por ejemplo.

Work moment: Greeting folks with a cheerful, excited grin led to apologies from confused customers.

Lesson: Genuine joy in shopping malls is completely disarming.

Work moment:  Towering high heels.

Lesson: Hurt feet.

Work moment:  Successfully negotiated my first salary increase as a counteroffer to a promotion that would have actually lowered my take-home pay.

Lesson:  Know your worth.

It was fun, and because I cared less about selling and more about people and style, I was darn good at it.

My favorite story is about a kind, older woman who came in with two multicolored printed skirts, asking me to find one shirt to match them both.  Hot mess.    One skirt was black, yellow, blue, and green or some such craziness.  I think the other was brown, red, orange, and purple.  Initially I thought she was some kind of quality control mole.  Then I got the sense she didn’t really want one shirt.  She really just wanted to be done shopping because all things clothing and style were wildly frustrating.

I patiently and lovingly worked with her until after the store closed, hushing my coworkers, who were as annoyed with this woman’s shopping as she was when she entered the store.  She spent quite a bit and left the store overjoyed, with a new wardrobe.

So here’s the free, e-version of how to build a solid wardrobe.  In the spirit of substantive style, that means a collection of clothing that allows the wearer to feel prepared to face life everyday, looking good: Healthy, well-groomed, appropriate, intentional, comfortable, and expressively, uniquely, you.  We continue the style series today with the wardrobe checklist.

Mind you, this checklist is a guide, not a straitjacket.  Whatever you choose should be flattering, and  expressive of your unique self.  And, shopping tips will be the next post in this series.  Shopping can actually be fun.

Above all, everything in your wardrobe should make you look good.  It helps to choose items that are versatile, meaning you could wear it more than once, and differently.

  • Coats: Formal- The kind you might wear over a suit.  Informal- Anything warm and fun.
  • Dresses: Formal- Whatever says “I’m going to the ball.”  All about you.  Informal- Whatever says “I feel pretty.”

    An “I feel pretty” dress
  • Suit: Find one you’re comfortable wearing, that looks good on you.  Buy it.
Pantsuit and top with a ribbon belt.
  • Slacks: These are not jeans.  They are not stretch pants.
  • Jeans: These should fit you, and be comfortable.
  • Shorts: These should also fit you, and be comfortable.  You should have at least one pair you could wear to a family-friendly event.
  • Blouses:  A blouse is a nicer version of a top.  It’s usually looser and slightly more formal.
  • Tops: Casual shirts that look nice on you without making babies ogle your chest.  A wrap will handily rid you of that fashion casualty.
Satin top. And beret. Finger snap.
  • Purses:  Whatever size and style you need, that will match other stuff you wear.  If you don’t need one, more power to you.  Don’t ask your friend for lotion/chapstick/gum/etc., or to carry yours.
  • Shoes: Formal- Heels or no, a dressy shoe is a necessity.

  • Tennis shoes- Even if you think you won’t work out.  You’ll need them.  Own one pair.  Just one.  Casual- Not tennis shoes.  Not dressy.  Not flip-flops.
  • Slip:  Any dress made of thin, floaty material needs one underneath.  Showing your underparts is not a good look.
  • Brassieres:  Strapless- If this isn’t comfortable, dresses without straps shouldn’t be either.  Your choice.  Light and dark- The idea for your underclothes is that 90% of the time, they are underneath clothes.  And not seen.  Have choices and wear whichever color is less visible, be it white, tan, black, whatever.
  • Swimsuit- The time is now.  The perfect weight and perfect tan is now.  Don’t make excuses for not enjoying the ocean, sun, pool.  Find something, a skirted one-piece, pinup bikini, whatever and make sure you look good in it.  And make sure it isn’t see-through or baggy when wet.
  • Pajamas: Remember when we were little and slumber parties meant you literally put on cool pajamas and ate popcorn and played games with your friends?  Those are the kind of pajamas you should own as an adult.  At some point in your life you will be around another adult who isn’t your spouse and appropriate sleepwear will be warranted.
  • Fitness gear: Again, if you think you won’t workout think again.  Just because you’re getting sweaty doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear the right workout support, pants, shirt, socks, shoes… That match and aren’t stained or full of holes.
  • Skirts:  Long- Not three fingers above your knees long.  Sit cross-legged on the floor without showing anything long.  Ankles.  Medium- Below the knees but not ankle-grazing.
Long skirt.
  • Short- Whatever allows you to still look good and be comfortable.
  • Accessories: Wraps, jewelry, headbands, barrettes, hats etc. are all extra-fun ways to express yourself.  Be bold and daring.  Use big colors, sparkles, and fun.
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