“Work Wardrobe Building, Part Three: The Fun Stuff” is a post by Adina J, TimelessFinance columnist and author of Blue collar / Red lipstick.
After taking you on a mind-numbingly exhaustive virtual tour of a basic work wardrobe last week, it’s time for some fun. And this week’s post is ALL about fun: shopping for more clothes! Responsibly, of course.
At some point between completing your probationary period and celebrating your retirement, you will enter into a career phase where your employment will be secure and your salary ample enough to leave room for some indulgences. There is a good chance that you will eventually want to start devoting some time (and some of that discretionary income) to expanding your wardrobe. As in all things, it pays to have a plan – otherwise, you could well end up with a wallet full of maxed out credits cards, a closet full of clothes, and nothing to wear.
Lifestyle inflation is real, folks. It happens to the best of us. When I started my career, one day so long ago it might as well have been a different galaxy (Editor Joe’s Note: far, far away?), I shopped for my professional attire exclusively in places like Suzy Shier and Forever 21. At the time, I had a minuscule budget and I didn’t know any better (more on this in a moment). As my income grew, I moved up the retail chain, to places like Jacob, Banana Republic, and The Bay. Eventually, there came a day when I made my first purchase at Holt Renfrew. It was a day I remember well, because it took me about 2 hours to decide whether to buy the particular dress in question; I’d never spent so much money on one single clothing item ever before. It was, like, $150 – and I nearly passed out at the register. (Even though I was using a gift card.) Still, that inevitably adjusted the baseline of what, henceforth, I was to consider a “reasonable” cost for a dress. I still don’t regularly buy $150 dresses, but I might not bat an eye at a $70 one.
But, with age comes experiences, and with experience usually wisdom. My “a-ha” moment happened when a friend introduced me to the concept of consignment. That’s when I realized that I could buy designer label clothes for mall brand prices (or mall brand clothes for Walmart prices), thereby increasing the quality of my wardrobe while minimizing my expenditures. This has helped to counter-act the impact of lifestyle inflation. It’s hard for me to justify spending $100 on a new blouse at J. Crew when I know I can find similar items from the same brand for $20 elsewhere – and only a little less new. It doesn’t mean that I won’t wear (or aspire to) J. Crew pieces; I just won’t rush to buy them at retail prices before looking around at my options.
This, in my opinion, is the key to frugality when it comes to clothing. It’s not about buying no-name brand clothing, or buying less things; it’s about looking for the best quality that you can afford, and spending not a penny more than necessary for it.
What to Look For
Two of my favourite ways to expand my wardrobe are by incorporating trends, and by adding colour and/or patterns.
Trends can be tricky for two reasons. One, the fashion industry rolls out so many “new” trends every season, that if you jump on every band-wagon, you are going to quickly run out of steam (and, more importantly, money). Plus your closet will look like an ungodly hodge-podge of pieces that don’t work together. Always, always follow your own style when choosing which trends to incorporate into your closet. Some trends will complement your style; some trends will trample all over your style and end up wearing you. Needless to say, try the former and avoid the latter – even if everyone else around you doesn’t know better.
Some so-called trends are not really trendy. Pencil skirts, floral patterns, nautical stripes – all these things are periodically featured in fashion magazines as “new trends”, even if only a few months have elapsed since their last appearance. It’s important to learn to recognize between trends that are, for lack of a better term, truly trends and the ones that are actually classics in disguise. When buying trendy pieces, it’s okay to aim for the cheap and disposable; by their very nature, it’s unlikely that you’re going to still be wearing them in a couple of years, so durability is not an issue and “investment” definitely not a consideration.
Because we’re still talking about a work wardrobe here, it’s best to use trendy pieces as accents for your outfits rather than as focal points.
Colour & Patterns
I am tipping my hand here, but I adore colours and patterns – the bolder, the better. They are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I think a lot of that has to do with fear of the unknown. Mixing colours, patterns, or some combination of both, is really not rocket science. Here are some of my favourite tips.
- Learn the complementary duos. You can start here, but if you’re ever stuck for a quick tip, look no further than the old colour wheel. Colours that directly face each other on the wheel are complementary (you can probably also look to each side of an opposing colour for additional shades that would also work). And keep an eye out for triads – three colours evenly spaced on the wheel – as these colours will work well together. Pick one as your main colour, and keep the other(s) as accents.
Here’s an example of a simple combo:
- When mixing colours and patterns, use the pattern as a guide to picking a complementary colour. The work is already done for you by the textile designers. Just pick one of the colours featured in the pattern, and add it as an accent colour in the outfit. If the pattern is not really oversized, you can easily get away with picking a similar colour, even if it’s not an exact match. From a distance, any observer’s eye will do the rest for you – visually matching the colours so they look identical.
- When mixing prints, use colour as a guide. Pick patterns from different categories (floral and polka dots; floral and geometric; etc.) and use their colour as an uniting theme. If you’re still unsure about the combination, use an accessory (like a belt) or solid-colour item (like a jacket) to “break up” your patterns and provide a bit of visual anchoring.
|Get Canada’s best Credit Card deal, the Smart Cash MasterCard® Credit Card, today!|
Find Your Signature Style
A signature style should fit you like a second skin. An introverted personality, for example, will rarely if ever feel comfortable in clothes that scream “look at me”. Your signature style should take into account not only your personality and personal taste, but also your lifestyle and body type.
A signature style can be a prototype – the “bombshell”, the “preppy princess”, the “sophisticate”, the “girl next door” and so on. It can also be something as simple as a recurring theme – pearls, or florals, or scarves, or bright colours. There is no magic formula for figuring out your signature style, although an inspiration board is a helpful tool. Pick a dozen or so photos that you find particularly inspiring, and then analyze the commonalities between them; you will generally find that there is a common thread – that recurring theme. It can also help sometimes to write down words that reflect the feelings inspired or evoked by the photos, as that can make it easier to identify the theme.
Once you find your signature style – stick with it. It will help you shop, put together outfits, and feel great in everything you wear, every day. And keep in mind what Emily Post said:
“The woman who is chic is always a little bit different. Not different in being behind fashion, but always slightly apart from it.”
How to Edit
As with writing, when it comes to style, editing is an important skill – especially when your wardrobe grows well beyond the basics. Contrary to what some believe, having too many clothes in your closet is actually an obstacle to getting dressed, quickly or creatively. Having too many clothes, especially when they are not very versatile, can be paralyzing; often times, people with massive wardrobes end up wearing the same things, in the same way, over and over again because they simply can’t get a handle on everything they own. To avoid that problem, the solution starts at the store: only buy the right things. Sounds easy, no?
It’s actually pretty easy. The first thing is having a clear idea of your signature style. Use that as a guide to navigating the sometimes overwhelming plethora of choices found at the mall. As tempting as a cute maxi dress might be when you try it in the store – visions of boho-glam-ness swimming before your eyes – don’t lose sight of who you are, 99% of the time. If “boho glam” ain’t it, leave the maxi dress for someone else.
The second thing to keep in mind is the Rule of 3. I didn’t invent this, but it’s one of the most useful tips I have ever come across. If you can’t think of at least 3 outfits, and 3 different occasions for a particular item you’re considering, walk away. (Wedding dresses excepted, for obvious reasons.) This ensures that (1) any new piece will work with what’s already in your closet, avoiding the need to buy new “matching” accessories to make it work; and (2) the new item will suit your lifestyle and wardrobe needs.
Tip from a Style Blogger
One of the best things to come out of my 2 years-and-counting journey at Blue Collar Red Lipstick are the photos. No, I don’t mean to imply that I am (or, rather, my patient husband is) the next Mario Testino. Artistic merit aside, the photos have been a tremendous tool in learning about my style: what works, what doesn’t. Outfits can look very different in a photo than in the mirror, with the former being the more objective of the two. Photos are also a great memory device for remembering particular (successful) outfits. So here’s my “pro” tip: if you have a handy cell phone camera, take a quick snap before you head out in the morning. Create your own “style gallery” to serve as handy inspiration any time when you’ve got the wardrobe blues.
Now that we’ve talked about how to get a basic work wardrobe – and then expand on it in fun new ways – there is only one thing left to touch on. In next week’s final style post, I will be tackling the important question of accessories: bags, shoes, jewelry, belts, and everything else you might need to complete an outfit. In the mean time, Joe has posted today’s pics over at the TimelessFinance account on Pinterest. Don’t forget to check out my Remix Challenge at BCRL; every Sunday, I recap a week’s worth of (mostly work) outfits to show just how much mileage a well-edited wardrobe can give you.