The Simply Workable Wardrobe

Simple chic collage

Two versions of “simple chic.” I love both, however the first would not be workable for my life; the second would. Images via Pinterest, original sources here and here.

One thing that can hang us up when trying to create a simple, cohesive wardrobe is buying for someone else’s life, or the life we wish we had. No matter how gorgeous a garment is, how well it fits, how it makes you feel, if  it doesn’t fit your life, it’s going to languish in your closet. We might immediately think of those glamorous items we’ve all succumbed (or nearly) to. The silk shantung jacket, those 4″ d’Orsay heels, velvet palazzo pants. If you have the kind of “damn the torpedos” style bravado to wear these types of items for every day, more power to you. I am not one of those people.

But the clothing/lifestyle mismatches aren’t always so glaring. Perhaps you hate to iron but find yourself with a collection of white cotton shirts or linen trousers. You have small children or grandchildren to care for regularly and a closet full of dry-clean-only pieces. You travel frequently but almost everything you own is bulky or heavy or wrinkles easily. You live in a warm climate but have a weakness for cashmere. Etc.

In the course of trying to simplify my own wardrobe, I’ve honed in on what’s “workable” for my life as it is right now and sticking to that helps prevent costly wardrobe mistakes.

Business. As the vast majority of the time I spend outside the home is spent at the office, my clothing has to be adaptable to a Business Casual environment. I’ll admit that my situation allows for a more liberal interpretation of BC which includes denim (neat and non-distressed), sweaters and boots (my top three clothing loves). On days that I know I’ll have meetings, I’ll be sure to include a jacket.

Travel. I keep an eye toward pieces that will travel well. Lightweight, washable knits with just a bit of structure are Wardrobe Gold to me. I don’t maintain a separate travel wardrobe; most of what I pack are my every day clothes.

Comfort and Climate. I won’t wear anything that binds or needs constant adjusting. If it digs in, itches, or annoys me in any way, out it goes (or never makes it “in” to begin with). With our moderate temperatures, I find that lightweight layers work best for the majority of the year. And as much as I love the look of a beautiful wool winter coat, they’re of no use to me.

Coordinates. Yes, this means a lot of neutrals in solids and simple designs. I adhere mostly to a long-over-lean silhouette, which means that most of my tops go with most of my bottoms.

The majority of items in my closet right now tick most if not all of those boxes. If it sounds like a dreary style existence, it really isn’t. It works for my life and allows me to get dressed for 99% of occasions without a lot of angst. I still occasionally drool over those fairy tale pieces, but keep my style mantra “simple chic” in mind and it helps me to stay focused. And there are always accessories to add glamour or fun or edge….

What are your lifestyle priorities for clothing? Do you find yourself constantly drawn to clothing that doesn’t work for your life? Or have you found your own style mantra that keeps you on track?

Stay in touch.

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29 Comments

  1. October 15, 2013 / 4:51 am

    It’s never dreary if, when you are dressed and out the door, you feel organized and put-together. That is a precious feeling, one I love. What I *hate* is the feeling that I got something wrong; that one piece of the ensemble is wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s got the same irritation-factor as socks that won’t stay up. 😉 I love this blog of yours more and more. I find that I’ve usually got one of your pages up, just to look at what you’ve done with your pieces. I know what you put together is “basically” simple, but we all know how hard basic and simple really are to pull off tastefully and appropriate(ly) to one’s shape… I love your ensembles.

  2. October 15, 2013 / 5:12 am

    GREAT advice – I try to follow pretty much everything you mention and it’s hard! I always get drawn by dressy dresses and jackets neither of which have the chance to be worn at all frequently in my life.

  3. October 15, 2013 / 5:26 am

    This is such important advice! There are so many garments I would love to own, but, let’s face it, they don’t fit my life. While I believe in always putting your best foot forward, we can make decisions which go past where we really are. Wearing a gorgeous silk suit to teach high school just doesn’t fit or make sense. I also would love to own a closet full of beautiful cashmere and lots of winter clothes (since they are my favorite) but down here in South Texas, it just doesn’t make good sense. I try to thrift quality winter garments, so I can still wear them but not pay top dollar. Enjoyed your post!!

  4. Jill
    October 15, 2013 / 5:49 am

    Great post. I like the second picture too, but I would not wear leather pants, they are just not me. I always ask myself why I am buying anything, Is it for my fantasy life? Is it realistic? Am I going to wear it to pick up kids at school? I try to be honest with myself but it can be hard.

    • une femme
      October 15, 2013 / 6:58 am

      Hi Jill, I probably wouldn’t wear leather pants either, but would wear coated denim which delivers a similar look.

      • Lisa
        October 16, 2013 / 6:11 am

        Waiting for a post on the Eileen Fisher waxed denim…even if it’s only a dressing room try-on. 😉

  5. October 15, 2013 / 6:07 am

    Great article, Une Femme. I do drift toward fantasy-life items when I am online shopping or pinning — but these days they don’t usually make it into my closet. My style “uniform” is similar to yours, but with more skirts than trousers. I like it simpler these days (with an eye toward a Wendy Brandes necklace or hand made boots! : > )

  6. pink azalea
    October 15, 2013 / 6:14 am

    Good post and good advice. I put more money into my everyday clothes and try to get away with spending the least on dressy special occasion type items. Like Pam, I live in a warm climate and haven’t bought wool sweaters in several years. My lifestyle is very casual, but I love to wear great shoes.

  7. October 15, 2013 / 6:35 am

    Well said! This post makes me think whether I could articulate my own guidelines so clearly, if only for myself. Being able to ride my bike to the ferry, then get down the often slippery boat ramp, is key — I have been known to try a “bike stretch” in the changing room — a pencil skirt has to have enough of a walking slit to work, although I do have a few garments that mostly live in our city apartment. . . Still, I’ve been known to sigh over the fairy-tale pieces, although these days I do manage to leave them behind. Mostly. . .

    • October 15, 2013 / 9:39 am

      I opt for gored skirts for that reason. I cycle everywhere (in Montréal), except when there is heavy winter snow. I do love the long skirt in the left photo, but don’t wear my long skirts much, except in the wintertime.

  8. Gretchen
    October 15, 2013 / 6:38 am

    I joke with a couple younger women at work that my first criteria for clothes I buy is that they must be as comfortable as pajamas (kind of like Gilda Radner’s “no itch” mantra). By that, i don’t mean LOOK like pjs, but the fabric must be soft and breathable, the fit mustn’t bunch or twist, and it needs to ride smoothly, not swallow me, while allowing me to move freely. So, I’m wearing versions of the same preppy uniform I’ve worn for 40 years. The few errors have been in buying coats too large, but I’m getting rid of those. I replace what’s worn with updated versions of the same old thing, with an eye towards wearing these for at least 10-15 years. When you know what works, it’s mostly limiting yourself from multiples, rather than completely random pieces that never seem right.

  9. Wendy
    October 15, 2013 / 6:46 am

    Living in the UK , I envy you your gentler climate but I do love winter clothes . Wool coats , tweed jackets , seriously wooly jumpers & scarves , bright leather gloves & always boots . We do have a few weeks of summer , if we are lucky ,but it’s great to pack away the linens & get the wooly stuff out . Oddly I seem to have a weakness for wet weather dog walking gear too – kagools/anoraks/parkas etc in every colour known to man . Silly really , but I do have dogs.

  10. Susan Daniel
    October 15, 2013 / 7:40 am

    My life is split between a big city and a very rural area. I don’t need to dress for work (since my work is as a homemaker), but I like to look put together whenever I leave the house. Like a poster above, I spend more on my every day clothes and try to keep my budget for dressy and black tie to a minimum. I try to have versatile clothing as I do go to luncheons, receptions, lectures, conferences, dinners, etc. I’m getting better and better at buying a wardrobe for my real life, but, like others, in warm climates, love cold weather clothes and tend to buy a few too many of them.

  11. Diane tokoph
    October 15, 2013 / 7:45 am

    I try to follow these three rules (I did not make them up so I cannot take credit for them) Only buy an item if 1. you love it, 2. it fits you very well, and 3. IT FITS YOUR LIFESTYLE. Number 3 is the one that normally that keeps me from buying things, that while pretty and fun won’t ever get worn!

  12. October 15, 2013 / 9:25 am

    Oh I love those two looks so so much. I am focusing on my real now life so sticking with cosy and comfy.

  13. Mette
    October 15, 2013 / 9:37 am

    I have bought clothes for an imaginary life, but that was earlier and I a fool. No such clothes these days.
    Today – the aesthetics, the quality, comfort, functionality, and the origin are the things I consider, when buying anything.

  14. October 15, 2013 / 9:56 am

    Well said, it took a long hard look into my closet and many unwanted purchases before I came to realize the wasted costs of things not carefully considered when shopping. Great post!
    FF

  15. October 15, 2013 / 10:27 am

    You know what happened to me? Just as I was done, my clothes totally suiting my life, I left my job!!!!!

    Having to start again, but without the salary to fund the project:). Oh well, it’s always fun to solve problems.

  16. Duchesse
    October 15, 2013 / 10:54 am

    Some of the ‘odder’ clothes are surprisingly versatile; I wore out velvet palazzo pants (not to work…but as lounge/leisure wear, terrific.) You have always encouraged us to not save things “for good”, and the logical precursor is to buy things you love.

  17. Laura
    October 15, 2013 / 12:04 pm

    A very thoughtful and supportive post, I just love your real world philosophy. Revamping my wardrobe, I’ve managed to avoid the fantasy life clothes for a while now but still struggling with neutrals. I know they make dressing so much easier but….I find grey to be depressing, dark dark brown hard to find, navy off putting for some reason and black too severe. Telling myself that I can add colour, which I love, through scarves, etc. isn’t helping much. I guess I don’t really ‘get’ neutral dressing. Do I have to pick just one or can they be combined without looking dull and drab? You seem to have the knack, maybe I’ll eventually figure it out.

  18. October 15, 2013 / 1:10 pm

    I like the outfit on the right – that’s the kind of thing I’d wear. I’m pretty practical, I live in jeans and jackets and so don’t really veer into velvet palazzo pants territory.

  19. October 15, 2013 / 1:11 pm

    You’ve beautifully expressed one of the reasons for many of my wardrobe mistakes, with the other piece being that I am still learning to work with my silhouette. Getting closer all of the time!

  20. October 15, 2013 / 2:26 pm

    I am only able to dress the way I do because I have no workplace rules about clothing, no kids, no travel requirements. You certainly manage to look together and chic with lots of dashes of naughtiness thrown in to suit all the needs of your lifestyle. When I think of you, I think of fabulous scarves, awesome boots, and attitude.

  21. Mrs C
    October 18, 2013 / 9:21 am

    Sensible dressing is the best! You are lucky to live in LA, the weather is beautiful all year round 🙂 I truly enjoyed my stay in your ‘backyard’ 😉 By the way love the skirt/sweater combo.. wish I could pull off something like that!

    GREETINGS FROM DUBAI
    MRS JACK OF ALL TRADES (a fashion and life-style blog)
    http://mrsjackofalltradesdaily.blogspot.ae/

  22. October 20, 2013 / 9:56 am

    I like both of these looks, yet neither would work on me… not now, not 10 years ago, not 30 years ago!

    Oh, how many times I’ve bought (even simply) for the life I “wanted” to lead rather than reality… aspirational is one thing, then there’s common sense.

    🙂

  23. Laurie
    October 20, 2013 / 3:19 pm

    Hi – I just love your blog! This is one of my favorite posts. I’m learning to stop buying clothes that don’t fit my lifestyle. I’m one of those grandma’s taking care of a baby 5 days a week. So thank you,thank you for this timely and inspiring post.
    Laurie

  24. October 20, 2013 / 9:25 pm

    I retired 2 1/2 years ago, live in the country and no longer commute to the city, and it has taken me all that time to realize how incredibly casual my wardrobe needs to be. It’s a bit of a struggle for me to buy better, more expensive casual clothes but that’s what I need to look and feel good. I’m steeling myself to spend $150 for shoes to wear around the house but that’s what I (and my feet )need. I think slippers can be as schlumpadinka as sweat pants.

    I just did a massive purge of my closet. Removed a number of items bought in retirement that still have tags – all of them too dressy without being special occasion. What surprised me the most was the degree to which what was left in my closet looked like me – spare, casual and very, very autumnal. What I was buying for variety just didn’t pass the looks good, feel good, love it test.

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