Style Lab II: Requirements

Thank you for all the positive feedback on my last Style Lab post. I’m not sure exactly where this is going, but I’m very glad you’re along for the ride. In this post, I’m looking at what I need from my wardrobe in practical terms so as to make it work better for me.

Requirements: Currently around 25% Professional, 25% Social, 50% Casual, with overlaps in between. Seasonal capsules should be proportionate with their duration in the cycle. Small travel capsules are required for away trips.

Professional: Creative technical designer. Formerly business oriented, lately focused on teaching and seminars with steps to move into sustainable fashion. Styling should be definitive and personal as opposed to fashion forward. Typically architectural or tailored, drawing mainly on Timeless/Individual styling. A restrained, accessible look is best for the classroom.

Social: Urban leisure day to evening, meeting friends, eating out, gigs, date nights, shopping, museums &c. Out and about off duty is where I’m most adventurous in Urban/Eclectic styling. Formal functions and nights at the opera up the ante.

Casual: Getting dressed for the sheer joy of it, to work at home/in studio, run errands, or head to yoga class. Often oversized silhouettes for comfort and mobility, dressed up for the feel good factor. Quality and style is important for emotional reasons. Includes a small loungewear capsule, but everything else leaves the house eventually.

Environmental: All should be workable on a bicycle. Some of my biggest mistakes have been failures to account for this. Solid, comfortable footwear required for lots of walking. Rainwear is essential year round, as are hats in winter.

Seasonal: Summers are warm and humid, winters are cold and wet but seldom freezing. Dressing for four distinct seasons keeps style fatigue at bay, with many items rotating in and out.

My wardrobe is full of wonderful things that don’t always match. I’ve worked my way through many different personae over the years and their traces linger on in my closet like skeletons. There are many reasons for this, chief among them being the various professional roles I’ve cycled through and my ongoing efforts to dress authentically for each of them.

I think I need a clearer “if (this) then (that)” strategy, setting conditions for particular roles and crafting a range of looks for various circumstances. I’m already doing this to an extent, but life changes can mean that items acquired to fill a specific need can go unworn if I don’t find new styling options for them. For instance, I’d like to make elements of what used to be my business wardrobe work in new settings, because as Angie points out, I look darn good in a blazer.

All that said, my shopping strategy to date hasn’t exactly supported a coherent presentation. Things are getting better, but I don’t think I’ve ever been systematic, or even honest with myself, in defining exactly what needs to be in my wardrobe. While I love having a closet I can shop, there are undoubtedly things languishing in there which are good enough to find a place in someone else’s life.

This post is also published in the youlookfab forum. You can read and reply to it in either place. All replies will appear in both places.


  • rachylou replied 5 years ago

    So.... how does your current wardrobe balance out? Have you got a 25-25-50%?

    When I started on YLF, I had sooo many formal dressy outfits and *like* one dog walking outfit...and it totally should have been the reverse(!)

  • Janet replied 5 years ago

    This is such a great analysis. I need to be more aware of this kind of thing as I move forward. I'm not feeling the shopping much lately, so I'll be trying to hone my style and make my current wardrobe work for me to its fullest capacity.

  • approprio replied 5 years ago

    rachylou: now that is a really good question! I haven't counted it up yet. Many things get worn in multiple contexts. I notice a surprisingly large overlap between the casual and the professional, insofar as CdG culottes and an oversized cashmere get thrown on over my yoga gear and are also perfectly suitable for teaching class, but would feel underdone in a social context. 

    You have a point though. I think this whole exercise may ultimately come down to the perpetual conflict of minimal and maximal, and what to do with my blazer collection.

    Janet: the process is long overdue in my case. I'm feeling the need of a major overhaul at the moment, but I don't want to throw any babies out with the bathwater. 

  • Sal replied 5 years ago

    I missed the original post as we were away for the weekend.  I went back this morning and read it.  It was extremely thoughtful and well laid out.

    One way you could approach this is to look at pieces that you own and love, and would like to wear more.  Why are you not wearing them?  What addition would allow you to wear them?  Are there any additions or changes that would give you the chance to wear several of these additions?  Are these additions going to work in your lifestyle?

    I have a couple of statement older items that I adore, but am happy to wear only rarely, maybe 1-3 times a year.  I am happy with that - suddenly the silk blouse is the perfect item to wear to a dinner or show.  I am also happy to wear my plain navy sweater every single week, often more than once so I can have these rarely worn items.

  • Janet replied 5 years ago

    I hear you on the baby/bathwater thing. A few things have been rescued from my donate/sell/holding zone pile because they seems to be trending again and/or I've discovered I still like them and can find them useful. I'm not going to be too quick to edit brutally.

  • approprio replied 5 years ago

    KG/Sally: good to see you safe and well!

    I think I'm reaching the same conclusion. I'm happy to give space to occasional pieces that get worn once or twice a year, because I know when those moments arise I know what to reach for. 

    Janet: I have no problem keeping things if I think I'll come back to them, and I'm often rescuing things from the holding area. 

    The question I've been asking myself about the pieces I love but am not wearing is: can I see myself returning to them, and under what conditions? Am I missing another piece to wear with it, or the right event to go to? If it's not my style now, will it be again?

    But now I think of it, maybe a better question is: what proportion of the closet should be kept for occasional wear? I am very much on Team Wear for most things, but if that Wear is only once or twice a year, what are my reasons for hanging on to it?

  • Sal replied 5 years ago

    Approprio, I think evaluating these rarely worn pieces is a good idea.  If I am honest there are one or two that I am hanging on to for no good reason.  There are others though where I do have a good reason - I have a grecian style dress in a gorgeous fabric (purchased as a bridesmaid dress, I think this is 2007).  I pull this out every couple of years for the odd function and enjoy wearing it.  It owes me nothing and I like it - last time I wore it was to a high tea in midsummer.  

  • shevia replied 5 years ago

    I am a bad influence in the letting go of statement, irreplaceable items. If they are uncomfortable, absolutely never wearable, and don't fit ok. Otherwise...

  • Joy replied 5 years ago

    These are great things to be aware of. Having lots of overlap and wearing items in multiple contexts seems a big plus and shows that your wardrobe is versatile and working well. Congratulations.

  • approprio replied 5 years ago

    KG/Sally, I can totally see why you've hung onto that dress. It is beautiful. I think it's very important to have a few things you can always count on for special occasions.

    Jaime: heh yeah, I might have known you'd say that. I rarely worry about getting rid of generic items, but those little pieces of fashion history somehow have significance beyond just getting worn, and I often have terrible trouble parting with them.

    Joy: that overlap is something I've always tried to keep an eye on when buying things. For a very long time I've had a rule about new things: can I think of at least three ways to style it? If I can, I know it will probably work.

  • Suz replied 5 years ago

    So...what are your storage capabilities? If you have space, it might be useful to put the little-worn items in their own wardrobe or closet. Not as a "holding zone" exactly (i.e. not with the intention to get rid of them if you don't wear them soon) but more as a storage closet. In some ways, this wouldn't be much different than my own strategy of switching closets between seasons -- that is, I only keep F/W stuff in the closet during F/W and move it out to my hall closet in the warmer temps, at which point the S/S stuff gets moved from the hall closet to bedroom. You wouldn't be doing the switching out, but you would be shopping the "history" closet selectively only when required and you wouldn't be forced to plow through it all the time and ask yourself questions about why you were or were not wearing this or that item, which can be guilt-inducing and thus use up a lot of energy. 

    The advantage of doing this would be similar to the "holding zone" idea, though, in that after -- say -- two years of non-wear, that little piece of fashion history might not seem as relevant/ important. Whereas another one would have (perhaps) moved into the regular closet. 

    I think Rachy's advice is fantastic. Ensuring that most of your wardrobe is there to support the way you actually spend your time should do a lot. 

  • Style Fan replied 5 years ago

    I like how you have broken this down.  I also like how you describe the style you want to achieve for each activity.   I am guilty of buying clothes without any thought to how I am going to wear them.  Then they become skeletons.  Due to storage issues I had to do a big purge.
    As others have asked is storage an issue?  Skeletons can be useful in the future.
    I also like Rachy's advice.  I had to struggle with that.

  • approprio replied 5 years ago

    Suz, SF: storage is definitely an issue, and I need to rationalise it. More closet space will need planning, but isn't out of the question so if I need it I can probably organise it. I like your idea of having an area dedicated to quality items which just happen to be benched right now.

    At the moment, I'm more interested in working out exactly how much of this I should hang on to, and how much of it is holding me back. As you've no doubt noticed, I have a tendency to cycle through different looks, some of which work better than others, and being able to shop the closet gives me scope to experiment without making endless costly mistakes. On the other hand, I sometimes feel a bit lost without a map in among all this stuff, not knowing exactly why this or that thing is still there, even though I wore it last year and in all likelihood will want to wear it again at some point. 

    Then again, the boots and the jacket are a case in point. If I'm buying things like that, I need to be able to commit to them.

  • Angie replied 5 years ago

    My sweet, Liz - nothing about your style is restrained! And I don't think that's a requirement in your line of work either. Scrap that part! 

    Perhaps, what you mean by "restrained" is extra structure in your outfits. FWIW, personally, I like you best when you amp up the structure in your outfits - also makes you more "accessible" somehow. 

  • Beth Ann replied 5 years ago

    Styling should be definitive and personal as opposed to fashion forward. Typically architectural or tailored, drawing mainly on Timeless/Individual styling. A restrained, accessible look is best for the classroom.

    I have a question about the "classroom."  Until last year, I was teaching too, at a small university.  I was -- by far -- the dressiest person in my department, and I'm sure some thought of me as a bit of a "Diva" in my look, but then, I was teaching singers and performers, and I dressed to represent the arts.  I think you might find you need less restraint, as a creative/tech person, than you would in a more traditional field.  

    Which of your "roles" is the hardest to dress for?  What about creating capsules for each role?

  • approprio replied 5 years ago

    Thanks so much for helping me think this through!

    Angie: Well, y'know... it's a sliding scale. I'd say professional looks are less experimental or flashy than I'd wear to the Tivoli on a night out, but now I think of it, I taught a class in the Ann D and gold pants last term. I think I'm shooting for "forgettable" with teaching looks, because I need to be focused on the students and I don't want my garb distracting them ;)

    Beth-Ann: I think I've always struggled to dress for professional environments. When I was dealing with business/public sector clients, I was perfectly happy to put on a blazer but I always struggled to tone it down without feeling like an impostor. I find it much easier to dress for creative environments like the art academy where I teach right now.

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