One thing I love to do with my girlfriends is invite myself over to their homes to overhaul their closets, give them unsolicited style tips, and put together outfits for them using things they already own. It's sort of like "happy hour and shopping on a Friday night" but backwards and costs a lot less. It typically involves a couple bottles of wine, lots of emphatic tossing of things on the ground, and rounds of forced try-ons and posed pictures to file away for future reference. It tends to be a ruthless process with A LOT of items ending up in the 'toss' pile and some third-degree questioning about why certain things needs to be saved or why others are never worn. It's also extremely rewarding in that it yields many new outfits that had been sitting there all along, results in a short shopping list of items that are truly needed to round out what's left in the closet, and feeds my insatiable need to be in charge at all times. (Just kidding, of course.)
After going through this process with many of my friends, I've learned that we all struggle with the same things when it comes to getting dressed every morning. Over time, I've realized that there are five common mistakes most people make with their wardrobes and I wanted to share them here along with some thoughts on solutions in case you run into these pitfalls, too.
#1 They spend too much on trendy, occasion-specific items rather than investing in basic, everyday staples
We all fall into this trap, but avoiding it and instead committing to allocate your money towards the items you'll truly get the most cost per wear is a surefire way to develop better style. When my friend Gill and I went through literally every item in her closet, it amazed me that she had several extremely expensive designer cocktail dresses that were literally collecting dust in her closet yet didn't own black jeans, high quality cotton tee shirts, silk blouses, or a great tailored blazer. To survive this closet of many gaps, she wore Lululemon leggings everywhere.
Without a collection of great basics that work well together, getting dressed every day is difficult and requires more effort and thought. Before spending money on a new dress for a special occasion, think about what basics your wardrobe is lacking and whether that money might be better spent on something that will get more mileage like a great tote or a pair of tuxedo pants that fit you perfectly.
#2 They overlook really amazing items because they're not sure how to style them
Leather skirts, cage heels, and trendy items like bell sleeves are great because they have the power to spice up an otherwise basic outfit. I have many friends who buy these things but don't wear them because they're not sure how to incorporate them into an outfit. One of the best styling tricks I've learned is to pick one item as the focus and balance it by choosing opposing items that are different textures, shapes and colors. For example, a leather skirt is an edgy, tough fabric that needs to be balanced with a softer texture like cashmere or cotton and dressed down with flats to make it appropriate for day. A shirt with 70s style bell sleeves needs to be balanced with simple classics like distressed jeans and basic pumps.
#3 They don't make the time to plan outfits in advance
Whenever I fall into a rut with my closet, I intentionally carve out a couple of hours on a weekend to go through it item-by-item and put together outfits, try them on and take photos so I'll remember the combinations. It gets my creative juices flowing and gives me a great reference file of outfits to pull. Every night before I go to bed, I pick out my entire outfit (starting with the shoes) based on the weather and what I have to do the next day. It guarantees that my outfit will look put-together and helps me get out the door faster. Advance planning is the only reason why I can put together a stylish outfit in one minute.
#4 They fail to assess gaps in their wardrobe before going shopping
This is the root cause of pitfall #1 above, and it the most difficult habit to break when it comes to developing style. In a culture of instant gratification, it's so much easier to think that your wardrobe woes can be cured with a trip to a store to buy new things rather than recognize that you have work to do in evaluating what you already own, how your wardrobe works for you, and your purchasing decisions.
The absolute best thing you can do to develop great style is to buy less and spend more strategically on items that will truly fill a gap in your wardrobe. Prior to my "No New Things" challenge, I was a victim of 'bargain' impulse purchases that didn't serve what I really needed. Now that I'm older and wiser, I've realized that it's actually cheaper to make investment purchases. After spending a lot of time planning and assessing my wardrobe gaps for a year, I've spent in the ballpark of $2,500 on just 7 pieces: a couple of high quality flats that I'll use for the next 5 years, a few timeless dresses that can be styled for countless occasions, an amazing oversize woven tote bag that can go anywhere, and a timeless trench coat that fits me perfectly and can be worn with literally everything.
That might sound like a lot of money to some of you, but I'm convinced it's far less than what I would have spent if I didn't have a plan. How many times have you spent under $100 on a 'bargain' dress, or pair of shoes, or a bag or jacket that you didn't really love and just took up space in your closet until you eventually donated them? Wouldn't it have been worth it to omit those purchases and save that money for a few thoughtfully selected pieces that will really serve your lifestyle for years to come?
#5 They lose focus on what works for them, their shape and their lifestyle
Getting brutally honest with yourself about what works for your body and your lifestyle is a challenge, but will help you have better style. Cap sleeves, the color yellow, empire waists, and strapless styles are examples of items you will never (or extremely rarely) see me wear because they just don’t work for my broad shoulders, pale skin, or boyish shape. Learning to avoid wholesale the things that don't work for me and selecting items that highlight my assets has been a game changer. It's also been a game changer to really look at my lifestyle across a 365 day span and consider the percentage of time I spend in various settings such as work, lounging at home, on dates with my husband, out with friends, or at parties and fancy events. Making sure that my wardrobe reflects that lifestyle has helped me to refine my everyday style and focus where I build my wardrobe. For me personally, this means spending more on versatile items that I can wear to the office or dress both up and down, and deciding to buy cashmere sweatpants that work for both reading in my living room and for the times my husband successfully drags me out to a neighborhood bar on a Friday night.
In addition to these common mistakes, I also tend to find common gaps in my friends wardrobe or missing staples that would help to create dozens of new outfits. And I think this is a problem that can be hard to diagnose without an outside perspective. Many of you have also emailed or left comments in the past asking for thoughts on the basic, foundational items that everyone should own.
Although I'd love to be your online personal stylist and Skype-edit your closet, I figured it would be easier to just create a checklist of spring + summer wardrobe staples to help you take inventory of your own wardrobe, guide your purchasing decisions, and develop better personal style. If you're interested in my wardrobe staples checklist, please join my email list for access to a free copy!
P.S. This post is dedicated to my friend (and beauty vlogger) Pam Sanchez and the 300 flow-y tops I forced her to donate. May they rest in peace.