Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to build a wardrobe

I love shopping! What girl doesn't? But I wanted more in my closet than a couple of cute pieces. I wanted a wardrobe that would be fun and make it easy to look great everyday. So today I'm going to show you how to do that without $5000, a trip to New York and your own personal fashion consultants.

1. Decide what your look is going to be

Every wardrobe has to has a plan. So get one! A great way to start is to collect clippings (digital or hard copy) of things you like and collect them together. You can base it on a style, a color palette, a fashion icon or anything else. It just needs to be you. Don't forget to go back and edit. You want a cohesive look. It also needs to flatter your body shape (we'll come back to that later). Don't feel too pressured to narrow your look down too much. If you are having trouble getting to one look, think about doing a look/theme for each season.

A collection of inspiration

Your look doesn't have to be (in fact, shouldn't be) static, so feel free to modify as your fashion muse moves you.

2. Know your body

Every woman has her own unique body shape and we all have trouble finding things that fit. Certain cuts and styles are going to look better on some shapes than others. Knowing what you can and can't do will be very helpful. I can't count the number of times I've been out shopping with my hubby when he picks something out and I have to say, "Looks cute but won't look good on me."

There are a lot of resources out there on body shapes, so do some research. You probably know some of your problem areas, so go find others with your issues and see how they over come them. I love What Not to Wear reruns for this. Stacey and Clinton do talk about how to camouflage problem areas and flatter your best features. You might not see someone with your exact shape, but look for bits and pieces of that match your body.

A body shape diagram

You could also go to the mall and try stuff on. If you don't know if something will look good on you, try it on. Bring a girl friend to get an honest opinion. Fit is really important for looking good. No matter how cute something looks on the hanger, you won't wear it if it makes your tummy look fat or shows off your ugly knees. You have to feel beautiful in your own clothes.

The book How Never to Look Fat Again is a great reference. I checked it out of my local library and took some notes about my body shape since I didn't want to fork over the dough. There are great before and after pictures.

3. Asses what you already have

A couple months ago, I went through my closet and donated all of my clothes that don't fit, I don't wear or were just frumpy. I chucked all of my t-shirts (except a couple reserved just for the gym, of course). Now I'm not tempted to throw one on. You can't have a great wardrobe if you have things holding you back.

I suggest that you set a side a day and try on all of your clothes and separate them into piles-donate and keep. If you sew, you might try an upcycle/refit pile. If you are like me and trying to lose weight, you can keep your smaller clothes, but pack them away! If you have things of sentimental value that you can't bear to part with, consider having them made into a quilt or something. But get them out of your wardrobe!

We don't want your closet to look like this!

Now check out what you have left. This is the basis of your new wardrobe. When shopping, you need to know what you already have so you don't over buy. Note any holes or places where you have too much of one thing.

4. Decide what you need

What pieces and how many of each kind you need will be based on your life. Your wardrobe has to fit the weather where you live. A gal in Florida won't need tons of winter coats and another in New Hampshire won't survive with a closet full of summery dresses. Don't forget about appropriate outerwear for rain too!

You also have to think about what is appropriate for your life style. A mom with two young kids probably won't be wearing rare 30s evening gowns on a daily basis. My future career requires pants and clothes toed shoes, so I'm adding lots of fun blouses to my wardrobe. Think about what kind of events you do regularly. I think a girl should always have something to wear to a wedding, something to wear to a funeral (hopefully you won't have to wear that one...), and something to wear on a night out that makes you feel fabulous.

A wardrobe of all tops works for no one.

Again, this is something that is fluid. As your life changes, your needs change. But keeping an actual (or mental) list will keep you on track. It can be specific like a navy knee length pencil skirt or as general as more sweaters. This post by Glamour Daze shows a woman's wardrobe plan from 1947 if you are looking for vintage inspiration.

If you are a sewer, decide what things you can make yourself and which you'll be purchasing. Think about your skill level and the time and energy you'll need to put into the garment vs the cost of buying one premade.

5. Combine what you need with your fashion inspiration

Now that you know what you need and what you want, put the two together to get the big picture of what you need because next we're going shopping!

A sewer's wardrobe plan but you can also do this if you don't plan on making your garments.

6. Outfits, outfits, outfits

Often when people shop (or sew), they do it by pieces, because that's how you buy things. To have a great wardrobe, you need to think in outfits. Think about what you have at home that you can wear with something. I hate having a piece I really love in my closet but I never wear it because I don't have anything to wear with it! And don't forget about shoes and other accessories when you are thinking outfits! If you can make several outfits out of a piece, it may be worth a bigger budget investment. If you have to purchase the rest of the outfit new, it may not be worth it.

You can also try on things together in the store, even if you don't plan on buying all of the pieces. Think you'll wear a coat over a white button up blouse and a gray pencil skirt that you have at home? Grab one from the store and try it on to get the big picture. You can also bring belts into the dressing room to see how they look.

Be sure to check the return and exchange policy, especially if ordering something online. Again, if it doesn't fit, don't wear it! If you are shopping vintage or reproduction online, I highly recommend measuring yourself and writing it down somewhere handy. It is a lot easier to get a good fit if you know your size. Don't forget to leave space for ease in the garment. You can always message etsy sellers for more measurements if you want more than are provided.

7. Don't forget to finish the picture!

Accessories, shoes, hair and make-up are important for a great look! Just like you went through your closet and cut what didn't work, do the same with shoes and accessories. Also learn to think about outfits before you shop for these items. Polyvore is a great website for getting inspired!

This is a great example of outfit options. A simple top and jeans can be mixed and matched with shoes, purses and other accessories to create many outfits. You can also see attention to color palette here!

It is also a good idea to have a quick, easy make-up look you can throw on even if you are running late or not feeling up to the effort that morning. The same goes for hair. You may even want a new hair cut for your new wardrobe. Don't forget to think about versatility and how it fits into your lifestyle. I have learned that I am not up for a high maintenance hair do. So I went with something that looks great if do practically nothing to it but also can look great done up.

8. Don't lose the big picture

Remember what we did back at #1? We came up with your look. Don't lose sight of that in all of the details. I have my spring color palette as my computer background. This is also a great place to put a picture of a big ticket item you are saving up for. You can also keep an inspiration board in your sewing space or bedroom.

This board is great because it has pictures, pattern line drawings and fabric inspiration.

9. Be patient!

Building a wardrobe takes time! Most of us don't get $5000 to spend in two days. Don't give up and be on the look out for great deals!


  1. this is such a wonderful, well thought out post!! You're so right about the mom wearing 30's gowns! *lol* One day, we had a family outing to a local farm/petting zoo thing and for some insane reason, I decided to wear this beautiful, perfect 1930's day dress. It wasn't beaded or lace or anything, just a brown day dress. I ended up in a pen full of about 45 hungry goats and there I was holding my daughter in one arm and a bottle of milk for the goats in the other. The goats started chewing at my dress so I belt down to get them away from it. In the process, I stepped on my dress and my heel went right through the hem! I cried "NOOOOoooo!!!!" I was able to repair the hole with no problems but vintage mommas- cotton dresses are a BIG yes- save the pretties for date night! :D

  2. I am guilty! This is such a good, wonderful post! Now let me tell you what I am guilty of. Yes, I am that girl who buys or sew a piece of clothing with no shoes, or anything else to go with it! All I can say is I need help! I am a thrifter and you get a lot of variety of things but not much to match. Oh, I wanted to say I appreciated your comment on Casey's site. Hoodies are sad to me too!