Encore | A Wardrobe Wake-Up Call

This piece generated a lot of great feedback and conversation when I first posted it back in April (HERE). I’ve had a few months to ponder and experiment, and will be sharing some updated thoughts on wardrobe “show ponies” soon.

style blogger Susan B. wears a black bouclé jacket, jeans, and metallic sandals. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

The blogger conference was such a great experience! I learned so much, was so inspired and have so many notes to review. But the best part, by far was meeting so many other bloggers, both those whom I’ve known and collaborated with over the years, and some whose blogs were new to me. I learned as much if not more from them. We all love sharing our best tips, and that feeling of being with a group of women who are supporting each other is so energizing!

Above: earrings | jacket | top | necklace | bag (similar) | bracelet | jeans (similar) | shoes

But I have to admit, my wardrobe felt really drab. So much so, that over the entire weekend, this was the only outfit I liked enough to shoot and share. (And the accessories really did the heavy lifting here.)

Wardrobe Workhorses And Show Ponies

I’ve focused for so long on my wardrobe basics that I’ve collected very few stand-out pieces. As I said to Jennifer (the blogger I roomed with who writes A Well Styled Life), my closet is a stable of Workhorses, and almost no Show Ponies. I’m not looking to completely change my style, just add some pieces that take it up a notch.

There’s nothing wrong with having a stable of good basics. They’re the foundation of any cohesive wardrobe, and keep us from those “nothing to wear” days. But I’ve come to realize that (for me anyway) a basic capsule wardrobe isn’t a complete wardrobe. It’s a starting point.

Adding Wardrobe Personality

While working on a recent post, Style Formula: Simple, With Interest, I began to get a sense of what I’m looking for. Pieces that are special, not necessarily splashy. Feminine but not frou-frou. Modern, but not so of-a-season that they’ll look dated in a year or so. Bold color used as an accent, maybe even the occasional print (though I’m still most comfortable with prints in small doses). Interesting shapes and/or details. Movement, fluidity, a little drama.

And they have to “click.” Right away. There has to be that “oh yes!” reaction when I first look into the mirror. It’s not an easy “ask” but I’ve found when that element is there, I hang onto these pieces for years and wear them at every opportunity. They’re usually not the least expensive pieces in my wardrobe, but I consider them worth every penny.

The Downside To Show Ponies…

is that they’re often memorable. A pair of simple black pants can be styled 100 different ways and no one will think, “hey, those are the same black pants she wore last week.” A unique, standout piece gets noticed, and remembered. I think we’ve been trained to worry far too much about looking different every day, but your comfort level is something to think about when considering a balance between basics and statement pieces.

silly poses at rewardStyle conference

(By Saturday evening, I was a little tired and punchy, and had switched back into my flats.)

Are statement pieces an important part of your wardrobe? What do you think is the ideal ratio of basics to statement pieces? Or do you rely mostly on accessories to make an outfit statement?

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  1. Thanks for giving this show ponies post an encore. I thought a lot about this topic when you first posted this. It influenced my shopping this summer and led me to racks that aren’t pants. 😉 I look forward to reading your latest thinking on the subject. BTW, I truly loved your workhorses/show ponies terms — such a good way to think about those kinds of clothes.

  2. And when you’re traveling with a small carry on, you NEED the workhorses! I love your style and think it’s chic and classic…with some PIZAZZ – something to aspire to. When looking back on old photos, I often admire the classics and how they really DO remain timeless.

  3. I think I am a walking STATEMENT……………maybe it’s the height maybe it;s the wardrobe bits who knows?!!
    I do like COLOR…………
    I do like BOLD ACCESSORIES…………..
    I do like COMFORT!
    I give ZERO thought to getting dressed………………it just happens.
    SO your LINGO here is all NEW TO ME………..”SHOW PONIES!’
    I must Go back and read your post from APRIL!!!!!
    GOOD MORNING!!!!!!!!

  4. Susan, when I think of memorable outfits of my own and others, always includes a piece that’s a gorgeous fabric and fit. Can be any color, but always something that could be worn for years without being dated. Have a friend who comes up with things like a brocade coat, a blue cashmere and mohair coat, a cashmere poncho that you just want to rip off her and take home. Think her secret is buying good quality investment pieces that can be worn day or night and mixed with jeans to velvet.

  5. I have a smile on my face after reading your post. . . I’ve never thought of my clothes as “show ponies” vs. “work horses”… it’s a great metaphor. I am likeminded, and feeling like busting out of the gray/black combos. I went on a date last night with my hubby. I wore an 19 year old, light weight, deep-lavender cardigan, that fits snugly with similar colored fabric kitten heels (w/a bow) and distressed Paige jeans. I loved the color. I’m now motivated to add more color into my wardrobe. Thanks for covering this again. Super helpful.

  6. Sorry, but a pair of tired jeans and some black top does not ” a fashion statement ” make. Old horse, show pony, etc.. jeans are just that: JEANS. Utilitarian, yet not to be worn by anybody who is not slim or even ultra slim. No matter how expensive the other accompaniments!! French women know that instinctively. The same for Italian women. American women just don’t get it or don’t care. Time to move on……….!!

    1. Hi Daniella, if jeans are not your style, that’s fine, but I don’t think it’s helpful to make disparaging remarks about women’s bodies or style based on nationality. I’m asking you to refrain from those types of comments.

      (I’d argue with your “instinctive” description too, as I believe that except for a small percentage of men and women, most style is learned.)

  7. I also thought about “show ponies” since your original post. I’m really more comfortable with basics and a small accent that has personality. My sister is the opposite. She enjoys wearing items that stand out, even while she admits it takes a little courage. We have fun shopping together though. She goes to the Eileen Fisher department with me, and I go to Desigual with her.

    1. Hi Bobbie. I’m with you, more comfortable in basics with accessories that add personality. How nice that you and your sister can go shopping together and give each other feedback.

  8. When I see a piece I really love and have a strong WOW moment…it is a piece that will often come home with me/to me…after fit and cost are weighed. If it is expensive…and online…I put it into my cyber shopping cart and hope it makes it through to the second sale price slash. I collect uniquely shaped pieces and style them in as many ways as possible. If someone remembers it from another styling or outfit….that is a good thing! They can be expensive, mid-range, or not expensive at all. I collect from all price points and all places. It just has to carry its weight in my wardrobe and play well with others! My preference is to look at the overall silhouette and what pieces are needed to get to my preferred “long view” look. Shapes and colors are important. They can be a basic in an interesting shape….like those incredible black jersey Eileen Fisher harem pants you introduced me to a few years back. They have that Erte/Poiret style about them…NOT hammer pants…more of an upside down vase shape. Erte was a master of making gorgeous silhouettes for women! Furthermore, this was before the time tall, very thing, teenage, broad shouldered women were the standard of the professional fashion community. Erte’s lines are fluid, comfortable, and fun. I collect shapes that have a hint of Erte (and even Poiret) in them. There was an Orientalist influence in his work…which may be why I collect so many kimonos! These pieces can be a show pony…or add a more subtle interest through shape and line. That way, I can add a show pony/hero piece… or three… to to any outfit. My E.F. harem pants are my jeans! You were the one who showcased them and I have since ordered 3 to keep a back up. Sarouel skirts are another option I love! Simple lines and workhorses…but really love to be accompanied by special kimonos or uniquely styled jackets. Keeping a look out for interesting shapes in pieces and low key colors, textures, all of that is part of the fun. So thank you for introducing me to my version of jeans, the E.F. harem pant! It was a “gift” that keeps on giving..the quiet show pony!

    1. Hi Lisa, when you mentioned Erte on Instagram it immediately clicked and I also thought of Sylvia from Downton Abbey in her “shocking” outfit (which I’d wear in a heartbeat!). There’s something so sensual and yet practical/comfortable about that look. Anyhow, so glad to know you still love the sarouel pants, and I’m hoping EF releases another version soon.

  9. I never thought I’d wear a harem pant at my age … till I tried on the E.F. pant. They can surprisingly styled so many ways and I get compliments every time I wear them.