Sunday, January 9, 2011

New Year's Resolution: A Wardrobe for Life

A few months ago, Cathy Horyn wrote in The New York Times about going around with Nan Kempner to the fashion shows. (For those of you who don't know, Nan Kempner was a whippet-thin socialite with a world-class couture wardrobe and a great sense of humor.) In Horyn's article, she said spending time with Kempner made her realize Kempner didn't shop like a lot of us do, grabbing something cute and tossing it in the basket. When she shopped, she was adding to a lifetime wardrobe.

Nan's closet, a small portion of the jacket section.
What does this mean, really? I think it means thinking of your wardrobe as a whole rather than as a motley assemblage of sweaters and cocktail dresses. I think it means creating a wardrobe that has the right clothing to serve your life--clothes for work, meeting up with friends, mucking in the garden, lounging in front of an old movie on the couch--and replacing or updating as needed, always aware of where clothes can do double duty. I think it means choosing clothing that suits your style and body (which means knowing your style and body, of course.) It also means thinking of quality when you buy, and maintaining the clothing you have.

The first step, then, is to take stock of the sort of clothing your life requires, and see if your existing wardrobe is thin--or overly abundant--in any of the areas. For instance, I work part time in an office. Four days a week I need to wear something suitably professional for a nonprofit organization. My solution is vintage skirts, cashmere sweaters, and 1940s jackets. I also work freelance at home. Here, too, skirts and sweaters are good, and for late night writing sessions I like dressing gowns with leggings and cardigans for warmth. My wardrobe has an o.k. selection of these.

But if you looked in my closet you'd think I was a hostess at a casino in Monte Carlo. It's chock-a-block vintage cocktail dresses in there. Same with the jewelry box. I have enough rhinestones to bedazzle an elephant. Clearly I need to put the brakes on buying cocktail dresses and think more practically. I also have way too many coats. And a few (cough, cough) purses.

The next step is to see that your wardrobe hews to a consistent style. "Wait a minute!" You may be saying. "You can't pin me down like that! I'm like Walt Whitman--I contain multitudes!" O.K., my literary friend, I don't mean that you always have to dress always in black and white or as a glamour puss or whatever. I mean that your clothing should reflect your personality.

Think of ChloƩ Sevigny. Whatever you think of her style, as diverse as it is it's clearly her own. You could probably pick up a shirt and say whether she'd wear it or not. Do your friends say that about you? Could they walk into Xtabay and pick a dress that they say "looks like you"? Style may come to some people early and easily, but a lot of us spend years experimenting with different styles of clothing until we find a look that feels both comfortable and exciting. I find as I watch old movies and see people on the street, I'm constantly refining my style (sadly, the non-cocktail dress part of my wardrobe seems to involve a lot of plaid.)

To build a lifetime wardrobe, you also need to know what works with your body. The two largest categories of female bodies are (1) not much of a waist; and (2) a definite waist (and hips and breasts.) Often the "not much of a waist" women are long-waisted, too. These women look fabulous in 1930s and 1960s cuts with slightly higher or even empire waistlines. The "waisted" women often have shapely hips to manage and look great in 1940s and 1950s clothing. The bottomline is that you have to try a lot of different shapes and colors to find what works best on you. Come into Xtabay, and you'll get great help identifying your best skirt lengths, necklines, colors, and silhouettes.

Nan's sweater collection.
Finally, you--like me--may need to sort through your closet and get rid of clothing that doesn't fit into your wardrobe. I know you've heard it before, but if you don't wear something or don't feel comfortable in it, pass it on. I just got rid of a fabulous Lilli Ann cream mohair coat with mink trim, but it didn't look as good on me as most of my other coats. It shouldn't be languishing in my closet when it can go out on the town on someone else's body.

Unlike Nan Kempner, we may not leave wardrobes worthy of being donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art when we die. But we can save money, feel confident in our clothes, and know we have something in the closet for just about every situation just by thinking of our clothing as part of a whole wardrobe. A living, evolving wardrobe for life.

~ Angie

1 comment:

  1. Bravo Angie! Thanks for the fabulous post! My wardrobe at the moment is chock full of spectacular vintage coats with fur collars and wild prints...and little else. I need to work on bringing in more wearable day dresses and tops. Thanks for the inspiration!