Fall Wardrobe Refresh - Adding Color And Pattern

thinking about…style shifts

polished casual outfit

just dreaming…eyewear | shirt | sweater | jacket | watch | bag (similar) | jeans (similar) | shoes


Though the weather here has recently been more summer-like than we’ve had all summer, we’re just a few days off from the autumnal equinox and the official beginning of fall. This has always been the time of year I mentally hit the “refresh” button, on my routines as well as my wardrobe.

With regard to my wardrobe, I’ve been feeling restless lately. Sometimes a groove starts to become a rut, and while I still believe in developing and working within a style formula, I’m ready to push the boundaries of mine a bit. I’ve built up a good foundation of solid basics over the last few seasons, and don’t need more of those. But my style is feeling a bit stale, and I need to shake it up.

So I’ve embarked on a targeted wardrobe refresh. I’m craving some color and a little more verve and yes, even a little more structure. Dressing a short, curvy frame has always been challenging, and because of that I’ve leaned heavily on certain brands and styles. It’s hard to get structured pieces right, which is why I keep going back to softer shapes and cuts. Likewise, too much visual “busy-ness” on a short frame can be overwhelming but I’m feeling a little stuck in a (solid) safe zone, and want to experiment a bit. I’ve come to think of my ideal style as something I’ve dubbed Refined Casual, so am looking within that framework. The challenge is adding variety while maintaining wardrobe cohesion with my tried-and-true basics.

A mental refresh is part of this process as well. I’m trying to give myself more latitude with regard to the concept of what’s flattering, and what I “can” wear. Years of hearing my mother’s refrain “you can’t wear that” when I was growing up have had an effect, even if a subconscious one. I still find myself automatically ruling out trying something that might break one of her rules of figure flattery, only to later realize why. At other times I’ve replaced her rules with prevailing style “wisdom” or rules of my own that may too often go unquestioned. Yes, it’s important to know what clothing works for our bodies and lives and consider those parameters, but important also to keep an open mind and try things that appeal to us, and see if they can be styled in ways that work.

Style is a form of expression; who we are and what we want to say can shift over time. Locking ourselves into something rigid on principle does not serve us. (But on the other hand, if what you’re doing is working for you, no need to change.)

Do you find your ideal style shifts periodically? Are there elements you’re looking to add to your wardrobe this season, or conversely, those you’d like to clear out?


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  1. September 14, 2015 / 3:33 am

    Sue – as usual, your post has given me something to think about! My climate changes from week to week (Annapolis, MD) and is rather humid all summer. I am short, curvy and carrying 40 extra pounds, so, I keep in mind “what’s flattering” and have been “well served” by my summer staples of white or denim bottoms and a colorful tunic top – very Capri, very “Jackie O”. I felt great all summer…as we segue into autumn, I look to your blog for guidance and to see what’s current…the blessing of a cohesive wardrobe “style” for me, is being confident to “mix it up” with a trend without feeling like I’m trying too hard! I’ve got teen-aged daughters, believe me, they will call me out! Thanks for all you do with this blog!

  2. September 14, 2015 / 4:11 am

    Thank you so much for this! Not only am I totally a woman of a certain age (who adores France) but I write a mystery series about an American living (and struggling) in France and I can’t tell you what a great point of view your blog gives me. On top of all that, I recently showed my 94-year old mother your post about dressing for a fall trip to Paris and she clicked on every link for every clothes item! (She was always v keen on clothes and fashion and my very first visits to Paris were with her as a child.) Thank you–from the both of us!

  3. September 14, 2015 / 4:25 am

    Like you I always look for new ideas in the fall. And structured has always been my “go to” look. So I’m moving more in your direction now… trying softer, and maybe a bit flow-y. I had a big clear out last week and had intended to take three garment bags bulging with office wear, skirts, sweaters, dress pants and such to the consignment store this morning. Then on Saturday I sent an e-mail entitled “Free to a Good Home” to two of my young former colleagues, who find maintaining a professional wardrobe a bit straining on the budget when raising small children, paying a mortgage etc etc. Yesterday, we have a marvelous time drinking tea, and trying on my clothes. What fun to watch them take delight in clothes that have sat unworn in my closet for two years, making me feel guilty for not wearing them They each went home with a garment bag. And I have one left to take to the consignment store. Sigh. Feels good.

    • CatbirdFarm
      September 14, 2015 / 11:02 am

      What a kind thing you did, Susan! Thirty years ago, when I was in your young colleagues’ position, I was the recipient of some hand-me-downs and I’ve never forgotten the kindness.

      A new friend had said to me that her mother (who I had never met) had an overflow of shoes she was getting rid of and since I was the same shoe size, did I want them? Having no idea what they were (but knowing this newish friend to have impeccable taste) I said sure, why not? A week or so later, I arrived home from an errand to find a black plastic garbage bag on my doorstep. Huh? When I opened it, out spilled about 15 pairs of unworn beautiful shoes: Ferragamo, Bally, Cole Haan, Bruno Magli! That kindness and spirit of sharing kept me in nice shoes for about a decade and in fact, I still have a pair of the very dressy, utterly classic Bruno Magli slingbacks to this day!

      I have never forgotten that surprise gift and I try to do the same now for young women I know. I think I get as much if not more pleasure from it as they do. It sounds as if you felt the same!

    • Jill Ann
      September 14, 2015 / 6:35 pm

      Great that you could pass along your nice outfits to younger colleagues. For those who have professional wear to donate, and no one specific to give it to, please check to see if your city has a chapter of Dress For Success. I’m a volunteer there, and we provide disadvantaged women with interview-appropriate suits, blouses, shoes, and handbags; they also receive interview skills training. Once our clients find jobs, they are welcome to return for more outfits, as well as financial literacy, computer skills, and networking training. Check us out!

      • Argie
        September 14, 2015 / 6:56 pm

        Jill Ann
        A very worthy cause indeed!

  4. September 14, 2015 / 4:26 am

    I think I am learning more about “my” style every day. I recently began clearing my closet of things that I do not believe are a true expression of me and now re-entering the professional world has me re-thinking the messages I want to project. I find myself finally leaning more toward quality and less toward quantity. But, focusing on those messages is very helpful to me.

  5. Sue Barron
    September 14, 2015 / 4:46 am

    I have only recently found your blog…I like it! I live in the UK, but face the same challenges here as you ladies ‘over the pond’. I am tall and curvy and at the magical age when looking ‘like mutton dressed as lamb’ can become a possibility! I look forward to reading more of your blogs in the future.

  6. September 14, 2015 / 5:06 am

    I’m in desperate need of a wardrobe refresh! This is a perfect time to do so, little scary because I’m actually thinking of just starting over (for the most part), keeping a few basics and building from there. I am really enjoying your blog and find myself going back and looking at past posts for ideas. Merci!

  7. September 14, 2015 / 5:24 am

    I certainly feel that I have got to the stage where I know what works for me and what doesn’t. However I am willing to try out a few different styles. I have my eye on one of the new style midi skirts. I haven’t worn skirts for ages. What is the worst that can happen. I will try it out with items in my wardrobe and if it does not work I can always send it back.

  8. Argie
    September 14, 2015 / 5:32 am

    I’m taking Imogen Lamport’s InsideoutStyle blog’s two style challenges, and trying new things. I also like yo see what you’re doing and mull over options. I’ve learned that I really, truly can’t wear certain styles (belts, for instance) and that not only do prints hide a multitude of sins, I really prefer prints. Then I realized I need subtle prints, not high contrast ones. So, yes, I’m still refining (excuse the pun on your style words!) in my 50s. As I tweak my style, I am refreshing–just not doing a major refresh.

  9. KPL
    September 14, 2015 / 7:01 am

    I am dreaming of fall and a few wardrobe shakeups, I’ve added one new (for me) colors to my very neutral foundations, burgundy, which was never a good color on me before but now is? But will it ever cool down? This current heat/humidity wave has really gotten to me, along with all the horrible fires. No sense that fall is around the corner at all.

  10. September 14, 2015 / 7:09 am

    The voices and opinions we hear as a child are difficult to break away from! In my case, one thing I struggle with is donating clothing that is still in good condition, even if I don’t wear it anymore. I am trying to break myself away from that habit.

    Good luck with your refresh. Our own voice is the one most worth listening to 🙂

  11. Mirrlees
    September 14, 2015 / 7:22 am

    (I am a lurking reader!) A perceptive comment about a groove becoming a rut – I’ve finally started to realize that I tend to take about three years to build up a “perfect” wardrobe in one style, thinking that now I really have “my” style down pat, only to become overwhelmingly bored with it. At this point, I’m starting to learn that getting multiples of the “perfect” item just means that in two or three years I’ll have multiples to give away – better to get one nice thing now and wear it to shreds, then move on.

    Except for scarves – I have a twenty year scarf collection at this point and some confidence that I’ll continue to wear them.

    Looking forward to seeing your wardrobe refresh!

  12. Colleen
    September 14, 2015 / 7:31 am

    I have been watching your style from the sidelines for a while, and I am happy that you are stretching your boundaries. Inspire me!

  13. Tessa
    September 14, 2015 / 7:49 am

    I wear my “uniform” (soft straight solid) but I just don’t feel pretty anymore. So I’m looking at shaking things up alittle myself. Lead the charge!
    Oh, and my mother, age 80, still tells me not to wear navy. But I adore navy. I hear her voice everything I buy, wear, navy.

  14. Cher
    September 14, 2015 / 7:58 am

    Great and timely post today. For a decade, when the meno pounds started accumulating around my middle, I’ve avoided closer fitting clothes, which have been my go to all my life. In the past 6 or so months, I am realizing how many styles that I love that I am avoiding. So , I am slowly, slowly drifting back to , not so much closer fitting, but to styles that , may not totally cover the thicker middle., but still look good. In other words, I’m accepting that my body is no longer 30, 40, or even 50 and still looks pretty good! It is freeing in that I have decided to not cringe when I see my reflection in a store window, even though it looks different. I’m finally ready to embrace my 65 year old self and enjoy the time I am in right now!! I adore your blog and appreciate all your wisdom and outfit ideas that I am constantly using!! ❤️❤️❤️

  15. September 14, 2015 / 10:22 am

    Perhaps it’s because you are a style blogger? I LOVE my uniform, which is similar to yours, and it suits me very well. I dread the change away from skinny pants/loose tops–perfect for my shape.

  16. Rosie
    September 14, 2015 / 12:38 pm

    This “Walk in the Park” outfit is very moi if you ditch the pointy flats. We Sporty Femmes would love to see you in tailored blazers, hiking boots, more jeans and silver hair 😉 Woot!

  17. susie
    September 14, 2015 / 12:42 pm

    I just threw out/donated almost everything I own except for these things:
    1. only 3 colors now: indigo, light pink(almostwhite), mushroom, and white – a few touches of black
    2. comfortable stuff! Cotton only or denim, or linen
    3. Basic and simple, as high quality as I can afford

    It is amazing how much better things are now! As I have let my hair be its natural gray-silver, also my makeup palette is now natural, soft pink, sheer

    As a result, I look 10 times better. Everything goes together, the wardrobe as it is is all wearable, comfy and works with all of it
    I keep my hair cut regularly and buy cool jewelry.

    Thank you for helping me along the way!!

  18. susie
    September 14, 2015 / 12:44 pm

    well, say 5 colors!!)

  19. GingerR
    September 14, 2015 / 4:36 pm

    I enjoy the start of a new season when I unpack the things I put away months ago and mix them in with whatever I’ve bought for the new season. Fall with it’s dark cottons and lightweight jackets or sweaters is my favorite season.

    Your Mom just wanted you to look your best, which was likely filtered through her own insecurities. Take her with you on the walk in the park and leave her be when you’re shopping 🙂

  20. Judy A
    September 15, 2015 / 7:22 am

    My style change is a result of retiring from a corporate executive environment. It has taken me a while to realize I can dress for ME now. It was a great revelation when I discovered Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style blog. Very liberating!

  21. amidprivilege
    September 15, 2015 / 8:11 am

    Yes! I’m looking at – finally – trying some tops with more give at the waist, more flow. Going the other way than you, maybe, to black and white and maybe even a little asymmetry;).

  22. September 15, 2015 / 8:53 am

    Mine shifts frequently lately. Feeling stale about my look motivates me to try on things I’ve previously avoided. Sometimes with comical results. Sometimes eureka moments. I’m a work in progress.

  23. Pam
    September 15, 2015 / 10:33 am

    My changing body shape has impacted my style! Otherwise, I probably would be one of those content to continue with my formerly successful style “formula.”

    Only two things remain unchanged – as for everyone else, my neckline balance points are the same and I adhere to designs that work with them since they are critical to achieving a balanced, flattering look for my body. Also, since my waist is still very defined, I keep that somewhere in the equation.

    The changes that were more challenging – no longer looked good in highly structured, so transitioned to soft structured which works with my curvier body shape and softening features. When I go shopping, I FORCE myself to try pieces of clothing in styles, colors, designs that I never would have considered before – but within certain parameters (ie boxy sweaters are non-starters for my shape and no short jackets that end at my widest part….).

    Besides having to compensate for weight/shape changes, my skin color has softened. Now going with my gray hair with the help of my hairdresser. Shocked & happy to find out my real color looks great with my skin & eyes. Who knew? – after 45 years of hair coloring!! I’m adjusting my color palette and contrast levels accordingly. For instance, I was never able to wear any gray or navy in the past, but now if it’s the right color & intensity of gray or navy, it adds energy to my look. Made adjustments to eyeglass frames and makeup as well. This part of the change took longest (and most $$$) to get right, but still fun to see the outcomes.

    • Duchesse
      September 15, 2015 / 12:17 pm

      Pam. me too… even though I weigh less than in nearly 20 years, it’s redistributed. No more thin, close-fitting knits. And going grey, sometimes I reflexively reach for a colour I used to wear as a redhead and it’s just dreadful- certain greens, yellows. A good sales associate helps but so many of them will say anything to make the sale.

  24. Denise Marie
    September 15, 2015 / 5:34 pm

    Sue – I’ve been reading your blog since early spring when I was planning my travel wardrobe for a family trip to France and Italy in June. Your advice was invaluable in helping me choose a capsule wardrobe of navy, white and light blue for the trip. I packed a few more than 12 pieces, (maybe 20 in total), but had everything I needed for 16 days and nights in Paris and Rome and my 50th birthday lunch at the Cipriani in Venice.

    I’m really pleased that you’ve decided to add a little structure back into your wardrobe. I remember seeing you in some of the outfits you tried while shopping in Paris, and I loved the pieces that accentuated your waist, added some color, and moved you away from the boxiness of the Eileen Fisher pieces you’ve been wearing. There’s nothing like great tailoring for helping one achieve an elegant and well pulled-together look.

    That being said, today I bought four pieces at J. Crew including the sweater you mentioned above (in gray), the gingham shirt in navy and white, and the metallic gray linen tee that I also think was your recommendation. I’m a petite too, and while J. Crew pants don’t work for me, I love their tops. I also rely on Ann Taylor’s curvy fits and have recently discovered Madewell (thanks to you) and the British brand Reiss, whose clothes fit me despite not being specifically sized for petites. LK Bennett and Max Mara are my splurges!

    As a final note, I truly admire your personal courage and selflessness when it comes to your family. Bravo to a high achieving woman who gives of herself, works tirelessly, and indulges in her passions. You inspire me.

  25. Nicole
    September 15, 2015 / 10:04 pm

    I would love to see you incorporate softer colors into your wardrobe, like the soft pink you wore months ago. It is so flattering on you! I am at the opposite end, attempting weight ‘camouflage’ wearing mostly black bottoms, and now loose-fitting, still-flattering tops that are not too much fabric for my shorter frame. I appreciate the cooler sweater weather to feel a sense of style with even a slight swing of a longer sweater and scarves. In a rut about my hair. It is healthy but was too long and just not flattering for my shape (I’ll refrain from saying
    ‘and age’). I had 4 inches cut but it still doesn’t flatter in any way. At least I look forward to another cut and not afraid to make a change!

    Sorting through and purging clothes here too, as well as boxes from my move two years ago. I had no trouble purging the boxy jackets. I came across two of my mother’s suits from the 50’s, one cream colored linen and the other red herringbone wool, A-line skirts, jackets with shoulder pads and tapered at the waist, one with a funky-shape collar. I can’t part with them, even though they don’t fit (but I wore them way back when, in my 20’s). The waist is probably no more than 24″. She was a tiny thing in her 20’s too. I am still wondering what to do with them.

    I’m going east in October for four weeks to visit family, friends and my favorite places. It’s not Paris but I am using tips you’ve provided to pack less with thoughts of a cohesive wardrobe. I even bought packing cases. So thank you.

    And lastly, I remember mom’s style tips well, and especially how she cared for her loved pieces. Their words never leave us, do they. One tip that I still remember (even though I don’t smoke any more) is “a lady never smokes while walking in public!”

  26. susie
    September 16, 2015 / 5:24 am

    Its me again- after reading a few other comments I have to throw this out there: you know what? you have a great cute figure and as Denise Marie said- Eileen Fisher is so……boxy……… show yourself off girl!! Also, as Nicole said- softer colors too! Too much black gets really harsh. Totally agree. Kind of sucks the life out of your face, which lights up in these colors you have on in your non-black outfits! Really admire you too!

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