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Friday, March 30, 2012

Simplifying Your Wardrobe for Good

As always, I will share my own list with you of the simple wardrobe that I keep for myself first. The link for that PDF document is below:

Building a wardrobe that makes you feel good about yourself, fits your lifestyle, is flattering & provides you with several days worth of outfits without having to do laundry can be one of the most challenging things in the universe. Typically men have it a bit easier, or at least they used to, because their options are far more limited. If you watch a movie that's fifteen years old now, you can't tell at all that the men's fashions have changed. However, an eagle-eyed woman can tell instantly what the changes in women's fashion is- not to mention hairstyle & makeup application! With our casual, almost-universally-anything-goes society, it's gotten even more complex to figure out what's a must-have & what we should pass up. I have a simple rule that I live by, and you can adapt it to whatever works for you. I got this little idea from reading the book "Firm for Life", written by Anna & Cynthia Benson. The premise- if a good friend of mine was to introduce me to their nice, proper, genteel grandmother, I'd want to feel comfortable meeting her & presenting myself. If I would feel at all ashamed or worried about how I'd look, I know I've gone too casual, or didn't take proper care of myself. Stick w/ me on this thought, because you might be ready to rebel already. It doesn't mean that I wear a girdle, a fancy dress, pantyhose, high heels, carry a $400 purse & pile on every piece of "good" jewelry I own every day. Far from it.

I wear the same "uniform" just about every day- a short-sleeved polo shirt in a pretty color, black pants, black socks & plain black sneakers. If the weather is a tad cool, I can put on a black cotton vest or zip-up, hooded jacket over my shirt. I recommend keeping a sweater or jacket in a neutral color (my choice is black) at home, and if you work outside the home, one at the office. If it's even colder outside, a black leather jacket, a scarf that brings out my blue eyes & black leather gloves are my go-to ensemble. REALLY cold weather demands either a black-and-white herringbone wool coat or a faux fur (but still extremely warm) coat, instead. The reason I suggest herringbone or another print for wool is because plain black is a lint-attractor in the worst way I've ever seen. Literally, my last (and I can assure you, only) plain black wool coat dated every hair, piece of fuzz & stray fur from my cat that existed, and typically refused any attempt at break-ups. Learn from my mistakes! I own ten polo shirts, and they're in the same style- relaxed fit, short-sleeved, 100% cotton, all in the same size, and come from the same manufacturer. I love Land's End Business Outfitters, personally, and you don't have to be shopping for a business to buy from them. This isn't a paid endorsement, just a simple piece of advice from me to you. Whenever you can wear natural fabrics, do so. They're not always the best choice- synthetics have come a long way- but often pure cotton is the winner. If you can buy Fair Trade, all the better. I love being able to say that I bought items made in the U.S.A., but sometimes, that just isn't possible. Anyway, I own ten pairs of black pants. Being tall & full-figured, boot-cut black pants w/ a 30" inseam are perfect for me & the height of shoe that I wear. Yes, they're the same style of pants, day in, day out. Trust me- no one cares. If they do, I'd have to ask them, "Why do you care if the pants I'm wearing today are the same ones I wore yesterday (and they're not, for the record)?" It's really imperative to try on clothes in front a full-length mirror, and determine what truly looks best, before settling on a "uniform" that works for your life. Knowing your best inseam, depending upon your leg length & preferred shoe height, is really important. You may despise the uniform idea- and that is perfectly okay. But for some women, myself included, it's tremendously freeing to never again stand in front of the closet rod each day wondering if you'll be able to pull together an outfit that suits your body type & day ahead.

Come warmer-weather, you have to consider whether you'll be spending most of your days in an air-conditioned office or home, or outdoors. If you're in centrally air-conditioned spaces all summer, your wardrobe may need very little transition. I had actually never changed over my day-to-day wardrobe before this season, as I'd spent years working in a chilly air-conditioned office in the summer. Also, my workplace didn't allow flip-flops, shorts or sleeveless shirts, so that was out for me, anyway. However, this year I'm living in a warmer home, spending a lot more time outdoors, and am much more active. So I had to pick out summer clothing for the first time as an adult. It's been a very warm spring, and I was miserable in the humidity already. My thick cotton polo shirts & black pants weren't cutting it suddenly! I switched over to conservatively-cut but comfy tank tops with wide enough straps, lightweight dresses & skirts, cropped or Capri pants in thinner cotton, seersucker, Calcutta cloth, gauze & linen. I traded my usual socks-and-sneakers for open sandals, and bought a sun hat. I only bought pieces that would work together in tandem. Every shirt had to go with at least three different bottoms that I owned, and vice versa. I cut out wearing black for warm weather, aiming to wear lighter colors each day. I started to feel better immediately, once I switched over my wardrobe. While I've been a staunch believer in wearing socks & sneakers, the warmer weather (and my own hormonal changes with aging) forced me to dress for the heat I feel much more acutely now. Tela SoftSpots sandals are my favorite, as they're relatively flat, feel like I'm walking barefoot, stretch with my feet, look dressy enough to be worn even to church, and yet go well with casual clothes, too. I also bought a bandana that has these little cooling crystals in it, which expand when dunked in cold water. When worn around the neck, it adds some cooling relief, as does wearing a sun hat. One high-quality bathing suit, a matching cover-up, flip-flops to go with it & a waterproof sports watch finished my summer-ready wardrobe.

I cannot overstate the importance of choosing lingerie & sleepwear that suits you perfectly. It is the difference between really standing tall all day long & slumping your shoulders in shame sometimes. I refuse to sleep in anything but Land's End 100% cotton, Short-Sleeve, Mid Calf-Length nightgowns. I own five, changing them every other night. Their length is perfect for me- if you're more petite, you may like knee-length look better; if you're really tall, you may like the ankle-length styles more. If a nightgown is choking at me, scratching at my skin, bunching up, I'll go loony. I've tried a few other manufacturers' gowns, but they just don't make the grade for me. I have one bra that, for me, is the Holy Grail of Bras- Glamorise's Women's Full Figure Sports Bra. It comes in Black, Cafe, White & a really pretty Periwinkle Blue. I own five in Black, five in Cafe & six in White (white ones are for exercise). (I really deserve endorsement money here, darn it- should have thought of that beforehand!) Since black is a little too dark to wear under my lightest-colored polo shirts, the Cafe is best. Never wear a white bra under a white shirt if you don't want your bra to show through, by the way. Beige is best, or a pretty cocoa color will work great instead if you're of a darker skin tone than me. If you don't know how to do so, get instructions of how to measure for proper bra size online. For a sports bra (whether you're wearing it for a sports purpose or not), the rule of thumb is to go up a band size & down a cup size from what you'd wear in a non-sports bra. I've personally found this to be consistently true, but experiment. Please don't underestimate the importance of wearing the right bra size & style. Especially if you're a bigger woman, you need to have a bra that gives you enough support to stop gravity from taking it's toll more than need be, will help prevent back pain, and help you avoid bra strap imprints on your shoulders. I own ten pairs of high-quality cotton panties, all black, because that's what my pants are. I did have to buy five beige pairs for my summer clothes, too, though. Nylon panties are perfectly okay, but do try to buy panties that have a cotton crotch. Style is up to you, naturally, but full briefs are my choice every time. When the right size is chosen, and assuming your pants are also in your correct size, full briefs should not reveal ANY pantylines. If you wear anything lighter in color on the bottom, choose beige panties. White panties almost invariably will show through pastel or white skirts, shorts & pants much more than beige will- trust me on this. While I'm not a diabetic, I own ten pairs of a black diabetic crew sock that I fell in love with, is easily available, and is never slippery on any floor. I'm a firm believer in wearing foot cream on my feet every day, and wearing socks makes this as easy as pie to make a habit. I own six pairs of athletic lo-cut socks from Wrightsock, for working out. Many different styles of that brand are available on Amazon. They come in a variety of sizes, and many are unisex (even better for simplifying!)

There are a few ways to go about achieving the goal of having a simpler wardrobe based on color selection. One is to pick a single base color, such as black or brown, and then build the remainder of your wardrobe on working with that color. For tropical climates, white, tan or khaki is often the color of choice instead, and for good reason. Following this strategy, your handbag or laptop bag, belts, shoes & bottoms (slacks, skirts, hosiery, socks, etc.) will also be in that color (or a very similar tone). Then you pick colors that are flattering for your face & hair, and also go with your base color, for your tops (tunics, turtlenecks, etc.) Example- if you have pink-toned, fair skin, light blonde hair, and blue eyes, you’d choose cool, pretty shirts in pale pink, baby blue, white, violet- anything that highlights your best features. It’s best, no matter what, to choose jewelry in rose metal, white metal or yellow, unless you have the funds to mix & match, pulling what you do wear together with one piece (like your watch) that has mixed metals in it.

The second way is to form or go off of a list of simple basics, and stick to shopping for items from that list. In this, you're not so much thinking about color as you are having the pieces needed for virtually any situation that you fall into. I found the following list from Real Simple awhile back, and it definitely gave me some new ideas for layering pieces. In a climate with changeable weather, this is especially good advice. There's A LOT of purchasing in just black or white listed in the link down below here, because it's a generic list. But I'd recommend swapping ivory for white if you have warm skin- you'll know if ivory looks better on you than white simply by holding the colors up to your face. You can also substitute any basic color for the black items, such as grey or taupe. Just try to keep that basic color consistent, so that you look pulled-together as much as possible. Keep in mind your body's best assets & problem areas when adapting this list for yourself. Darker colors are of course more slimming, while lighter colors are less so. I have an hourglass figure with broad shoulders & a lot of muscle to certain parts of my body, but possess naturally big, ugly thighs & knees, so it's really important for me not to wear clingy light-colored clothes on my legs & hips. When I wear lighter colors on bottom, they must be non-form-fitting or I look absolutely ridiculous. I don't wear shorts, but instead wear pedal-pushers, Capri or crop pants. If I do wear black leggings for some reason, I'll still wear a tunic or longer jacket to balance it out. I try to show off my shoulders, chest, upper back, forearms/wrists/hands & ankles more often instead through color or jewelry, because those are my better areas.

The other way to go about this is to pick your top four or five colors- your favorites to look at & ones that look great on you- and build your wardrobe with those colors. An example- classic red, cobalt blue, white, beige & black. These are pieces based on that color palette which will mix-and-match beautifully together at all times. The idea is that everything you buy will work with every other piece in the wardrobe- and you’ll always be wearing the best colors for your looks, too. It's a little more limiting though, and for me it's not realistic to try & stick to. I like color around my face a lot (i.e., in my shirts & earrings), and have many shades that are flattering to my particular God-given coloring.

No matter which strategy you choose, if you want to get back to basics in life, minimizing the volume of clothes, purses, shoes, belts & jewelry is a must. I can’t tell you what’s best for your lifestyle, but I can give you a guideline about what works in mine, after many years of constant refinement along the way. For me, a black cross-body purse that holds my stainless steel water bottle & a mini-umbrella in outside pockets, space for a very lightweight book, my keys, my wallet, plus has a bit of extra room for needed cosmetics on the go (lipstick, mini-hand sanitizer bottle, a pill fob, pocket tissues, etc.)- that’s all I need for day-to-day. I picked out a tan color in my purse for spring & summer this year. Cross-body bags are the most comfortable for me, distributing weight evenly across my hips, shoulders, arms & neck as much as possible. I do own one black evening bag without decals that is really lovely for special occasions. I don’t own any belts at all, because I hate wearing them! If I did wear one, I’d only have one in black, and since I wear yellow gold jewelry, I’d want a gold-toned buckle if at all possible. I own a black dress for funerals, but it's a dress that'd also be fine for wearing to church, on dates or for a job interview. It's conservative but pretty. I have a black cocktail dress that fits like a glove & fortunately it does so even w/ weight fluctuations (really try to pick clothes which do this!) Admittedly, it's rarely worn, but nice to have for those few occasions when it's needed. I absolutely love wearing it, and always get compliments when it's worn. This is another really pressing thing- you should enjoy wearing the clothes that you put on. I have one fall/winter dress which is NOT in black, and another non-black spring/summer dress for weddings, church, dates, interviews & anything else that may require just a little more formality than what a polo shirt & black pants provide. While the jury is perpetually out on wearing black to weddings, I think it's better to err on the side of caution- it is not worth possibly offending the bride or a member of the wedding party by wearing black to a wedding in my opinion. Shoes & evening bags of course do not have to abide by this rule, and those being in black is fine. If you wear hosiery for events like these, do yourself a favor & always have at least one back-up pair in case the pair you put on gets a run in it. Make sure that you have the appropriate under-attire, such as slips, strapless bras, or anything else special well in advance of the event. Again, fit should be your number-one priority. I've found that dresses, especially since they're often more expensive than other clothing to start with, are good to buy on clearance at the end of a season. If you visit a good store, even their sale items will be pretty & flattering (I personally like Ulla Popken).

I have one pair of very well-designed, extremely comfortable black sneakers with no decals that I wear every day from the autumn on through early spring, and replace them every three months (which, for me, is daily-wear shoes’ typical lifespan). I’ll be honest- I found the perfect pair of sneakers a few years ago (New Balance WW927), and just keep buying the same brand. They're so comfy, it's unbelievable. The few times I’ve strayed (out of boredom), I’ve usually regretted it. The same sneaker comes in white, and that's what I wear for working out, as well. I do own one pair of winter boots (Toe Warmers brand) in black, that have a tread especially designed to be less slippery in ice & snow. I own one pair of well-padded, comfortable black dress shoes, for the rare occasion that I have to dress up. I wouldn't wear a shoe for daily life that wouldn't also be supportive & comfortable enough to exercise in- that's just a personal rule of mine. You never know what life's going to throw at you each day.

I'm about to get on my soapbox here, so hold on to your hats! When you get used to wearing supportive shoes, your body will let you know when you’ve let it down by wearing unsupportive ones. Shoes are NOT the place to cut corners, financially or otherwise. Please, please, please listen to me on this one. You may not feel it when you’re younger, but making poor shoe choices will come back to haunt you in later years. Yes, they make look cute or sexy at the time, and occasionally wearing them isn’t what I have an issue with. But what is NOT sexy is being a fifty-year-old hobbling around with hammertoes, bunions & corns, walking with a cane, because you wanted to wear sky-high platform shoes every day when you were twenty-five. Some women (Dolly Parton comes to mind) can get away with wearing heels all the time & not suffer one bit. I’m not one of them. If you are, God bless you. But if you wear high heels all of the time, even if you’re very young, and your knees hurt a lot, you have blisters frequently on your toes, or are suffering from back pain…it’s time to put your health first. I can tell you that years of wearing heels day in, day out, will very likely shorten your calf muscles (and they're not easy to lengthen again), weaken your knees, put you at a higher risk of all kinds of injuries, and will make living a simplified life an impossibility at some point. Whether we like it or not, if you live long enough, chances are your bones & muscles will age a bit- maybe a lot. Anything that you do, even when very young, that causes injury to your body may come back to haunt you later. This is true even if the injury feels like nothing at the time. If you're ninety years old & experience not one ache in your body, again, I am absolutely thrilled for you & wish everyone was just like you, me included!

A bit of advice- a good simplifying tip that also earns a little dough is to sell the jewelry that no one around you wants to have, and items know that you’ll never want to wear again. I've been given some chipped, bent items that were made of inexpensive metals, do not have valuable stones in them, and simply have no aesthetic value to them. While the gift-giver meant well, I'm sure, they're basically nothing but clutter to me. Out of these pieces received, only one held true sentimental value to me (it was worn daily by a beloved family member, and was the only jewelry that he ever wore besides his watch & wedding ring). THAT piece of jewelry most definitely isn't clutter to me. I hope that example gives you an idea of what to keep & what not to. If the piece immediately conjures up a memory of someone or something adored, can still be worn (which, though a little aged, my sentimental piece can be used) & you like it enough to wear it at all, I'd recommend keeping it. If, however, the piece only makes you think of something sad- a divorce, a death, etc.- it's not something to cling to.

Sometimes I get a little tired of a piece of jewelry that I own, but then I see it after a few months, and I'm happy to wear it again. If a few months have gone by, though, and I still don't care for the piece (especially if it has little financial value), I look around for someone to give or sell it to. The same holds true for pieces that don't fit (too-big or too-small rings are the most common "offenders"). If it's three sizes too big...well, odds are you'll never be able to wear it comfortably, at least not for many years. You can put it on a chain or convert it to a pendant- if you really want to keep it that badly. Don't wear watches or anything else that is too tight, causes your skin to become stained from contact with it, or gets in your way constantly. The easiest pieces to get rid of without any guilt or a second thought are costume jewelry pieces that were inexpensive to begin & DO NOT have any historical/real monetary value. Start there, if you own any such pieces. If you think an item may have worth (and it's possible, even with costume jewelry, that this may be the case), visit a jeweler, preferably one who knows what historical pieces are valuable & what aren't. You don't have to sell it if you don't want to, but usually, they're happy to give you their opinion for free or at most, a nominal fee. Be extremely careful when selling truly valuable jewelry. Research your buyer- often, a big-name, large-volume buyer that has been in business for many years, has a place where you can read reviews on them (both good & not-so-good) & has not had run-ins with the law will be your best bet. Private buyers can be an option, but are rarely the safest one, and you may not get full value for your pieces this way- especially when it comes to gemstone jewelry. Remember that right now solid gold of 14k or more is VERY valuable, and may be worth holding onto for a little bit longer, even if you don't wear it. While I never recommend hoarding, jewelry is a very real investment for many people. Fine jewelry, if kept in superb condition, traditionally will only go up in value over the years, especially if made of solid gold. Pieces made of another metal than gold or platinum, or are merely plated pieces (a cheaper metal is underneath the top layer) usually aren't nearly as valuable, and unless they possess a stone which later becomes rare & therefore prized, won't yield an impressive dividend in the future. Tanzanite is one such stone which has (as far as has been discovered) quite a finite supply, and will eventually be unavailable. But invest in jewelry carefully, if you do this at all, and look into insuring any items worth over $1,000.00 in price.

Get rid of the stained, ill-fitting or torn clothes, unless you have a SPECIFIC job that you know is coming up- like you’ll be painting your uncle’s house next weekend, and you need crappy clothes to wear that you can be thrown out afterwards. The only exception is if you regularly get your hair colored, and the coloring tends to get on your clothes. Hairstylists are usually as careful as possible, but spotting can still occur. If this happens to you even occasionally, keep a shirt or two around to wear for that event only- no wearing it to work! You deserve clothes that fit well, make you feel confident, are tailored to your figure, and flatter your own personal coloring. Everything else needs to go!

Here's to being a happy organized minimalist,

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