Month: October 2012

The Closet Refresh

Every so often, whenever I feel like I’m getting stuck in a style rut, I like to perform a ritual I call the “closet refresh” – kind of like an exorcism for all your terrible or unproductive clothing choices that are still hanging on, wreaking havoc on your style mojo. Some of the steps of the closet refresh are things I do on an on-going basis, but I think there is a benefit to going through all the motions, methodically, at least once or twice a year. Here are the four, easy steps to refreshing my closet (or yours).

Step 1: Purge

This sounds very drastic, but it’s not. As a rule of thumb, anything that you haven’t worn in the last year, anything with irreversible signs of wear and/or aging, and anything that is more than 5 lbs away from fitting properly, should go into a “working purge pile”. Be really ruthless at this stage – you can re-consider items a little later on. [If you’re not sentimental about clothes, you can skip the next step and just make your purging choices final from the beginning.] Put the pile away somewhere so that you don’t have daily access to it. Don’t look at it again for at least 3 months.

Then, take another look at the clothes in the pile and ask yourself: did you miss them? Were there any occasions, in those 3 months, when you were looking through your closet thinking “Man, I wish I had x!” If the answer is yes, don’t just put the item back in your closet. Ask yourself another question: “Did I miss this particular iteration of x, or just its functionality?” In other words, is there something special about this particular black cardigan, or do I just need something of this kind (i.e. a cover-up option in black). If the particular item no longer works – because it’s too old, doesn’t fit, whatever the case may be – then keep it in the purge pile … and make a note that it is something you need to replace.

Once you have a “final” purge pile, divide it into things you can sell and things you can donate – extra money and good karma are both bonuses here. Things that don’t sell (or which you don’t have time to sell) can be put aside in a “clothing swap pile”; just make sure the pile resides somewhere other than your closet, taking up unnecessary room, and that you actually do hold (or attend) a clothing swap within the year. Otherwise, donate them. It ain’t a purge if it doesn’t ever leave your house!

Step 2: Mind the Gaps

In going through your closet as part the purge, keep a running list of key items that are missing (or need to be replaced now or shortly) from your wardrobe. “Key items” are wardrobe staples or basics, which you wear all the time or which form the foundation or a necessary component of your favourite outfits. A well-functioning wardrobe relies on these key items, so filling in the gaps as quickly as possible is important. With that said, unless it is a dire emergency (like, say, being down to the last pair of non-ripped pantyhose), I don’t recommend buying things on the fly. The advantage of having a running tally of “gaps to be filled” means that you can be on the look-out for good deals on key items long before their replacement reaches that critical emergency stage. You know what they say – you can never find what you’re looking for when you’re looking for it (and if you do, it will cost you a lot of money).

Step 3: Expansion Plans

A closet refresh is not a simply an exercise in subtraction. The purge process is an necessary first step to give you a better sense of what’s working (and what’s not) and allow you more room to grow – in the right direction. In addition to replenishing missing pieces, the fun part of the closet refresh is plotting out how to strategically expand your wardrobe. The planning part is important, if you have even the slightest shopaholic tendencies, to avoid ending with a wallet-ful of maxed of cards, a closet-ful of clothes and nothing to wear.

Rather than just buying more of the same things, I recommend using this opportunity to try new things that enhance your style. Colours and patterns are an obvious route, and they’re two of my favourite ways to update and spruce up my wardrobe. And there are choices out there for everyone – a whole rainbow of choices, to be cheesily precise. For some people, colour and patterns (or worse yet, a combination of both) can be scary. If you’re not sure about what to look for, and how to put it together, here are some very simple tips.

You can wear any colour. Yes, it’s true. You just might not be able to wear every colour close to your face/head, because some may make you look more washed out/flushed/unhealthy/zombie-like. With that said, some old-fashioned axioms are out of date; for example, red-heads can wear red, as well as pink. If you’re not sure about wearing, say, a mustard yellow sweater, just put it on and look in the mirror. Focus on your face, not the sweater, and gauge your first reaction. If something just doesn’t look right, chances are the colour is not flattering to your complexion. If you’re not sure of your own objectivity, ask a (candid) friend. And don’t forget – you can always try a mustard skirt instead.

Skirt, BCBG; cardigan, Old Navy; shoes, MICHAEL Michael Kors

Learn what colours complement each other. You can start here

Skirt, Club Monaco; sweater, Jacob; shoes, Stuart Weitzman
If you want to mix colours and patterns, use the pattern as a guide to picking the complementary colour(s). The textile designers have already done all the hard work for you; all you have to do is follow the lead, by picking colours featured in the pattern. The colour doesn’t have to match 100%, because the eye is great at tricking you that similar colours are identical, especially from a distance.
Skirt, Tahari; top, MICHAEL Michael Kors; cardigan, Joe Fresh; shoes, LAUREN Ralph Lauren

If you want to mix patterns, use their colour as a guide. Pick patterns from different categories (floral and polka dots; floral and geometric; etc.) and use their colour as a uniting theme. Solid-colour accessories, like belts, can be used to separate different prints and “anchor” them in the outfit.

Skirt, Joe Fresh; shirt, Tommy Hilfiger; belt, Holt Renfrew; shoes, Stuart Weitzman

Step 4: Shop Smart

If you are familiar with this blog (or my articles at Timeless Finance), then you know I am the queen of frugal shopping. In my opinion, the key to frugality is about looking for the best quality that you can afford, and spending not a penny more than necessary for it. So, for me, shopping smart means (i) finding the best affordable quality possible; and (ii) only buying what works for you. I’ve written before about the “where” aspect of frugal shopping [link], so today I am going to focus on the “how”.

The starting point is your signature style. If you’re still in the beginning stages of developing a signature style, check out this post for ideas[link]. The next step is to use your signature style as a guide to discriminating shopping. No matter how cute an item might seem on the hanger or even in the changing room, don’t lose sight of who you are in real life, outside of the changing room stall. If the item doesn’t fit your style (and that includes your body type and your lifestyle), then pass on it.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: never, ever buy something on the assumption that it “might fit some day”. Chances are it won’t, and even if it did, the item would just be taking up space in your closet in the meantime – space better devoted to things that flatter the body you have now.

Another thing to never, ever do is seek out or listen to the opinions of salespersons. No matter how friendly, keep in mind that they have only one goal: to get you to buy stuff. It’s like asking a car salesman if he thinks you need a new car. Chances are that, unless he just sold you one five minutes ago, the answer will always be “yes”. You’ll get the same answer, 9 times out of 10, when you ask a salesperson if those pants look good on you.

One of the most useful tips I’ve ever come across is the Rule of Three. I wish I could take credit for it, but I didn’t invent this and I don’t know who did; whoever it was, he or she was a frugal genius. The premise is simple: if you can’t think of at least 3 outfits, and 3 different occasions for a particular item you’re thinking of buying, walk away. If you follow this rule, any new item you buy will suits your lifestyle, and work with what’s already in your closet, thus avoiding the need to buy new “matching” accessories to make it work (avoiding the dreaded Diderot Effect).

And there you have it – a complete closet refresh in 4 easy steps.


The Remix Challenge, week 4

Sunday, Oct 7: Sight-seeing in Banff

Parka, Winners; sweater, swap; turtleneck, H&M; necklace, Winners; leggings, H&M; boots, Ecco; nail polish, Joe Fresh Mallard

We spent Thanksgiving Sunday driving up to Banff, and enjoying a stroll through the town and a lovely picnic by the Bow River. The temperature was on the nippy side, though sunny – thankfully, I’d brought my winter parka with me. Not the most stylish attire, but I think my fellow Albertans will give me a pass on this one.

Monday, Oct 8: Thrifting and family visit

Pants, H&M; T-shirt, Diesel; shirt, unknown (consignment); necklace, Tiffany’s; shoes, Taryn Rose; no polish

With dad busy in the garage, I took Luka to visit his grandparents (and great-grandmother), and made a detour at the local Value Village, where – lo and behold – I found a pair of almost-like-new Jimmy Choo pumps. In my size. Yeah, I still can’t believe it myself.

Tuesday, Oct 9: work

Jacket, Club Monaco; turtleneck, Winners; skirt, Esprit; earrings, Banana Republic Factory Store; shoes, LAUREN Ralph Lauren; bag, Chanel; polish, Chanel Frisson

Getting dressed for the office after a four-day weekend is always fun – especially since I am more fond of my work clothes than my “casual” ones. I recently re-discovered this skirt in my “maybe purge” pile, which had been packed away in a suitcase in the basement and promptly forgotten. I love the mossy green colour and the cool devoré effect of the fabric, but the cut of the skirt is not the most flattering on me – plus, I always seem to struggle to accessorize it. When it doubt, go with black. Still, I think the skirt remains in wardrobe purgatory for now.

Wednesday, Oct 10: work

Skirt, BCBG; shirt tunic, H&M; vest, Costa Blanca; pearls, thrift; shoes, Jimmy Choo (thrift); bag, Chanel; polish, Chanel Provocation

My mom calls this my “schoolgirl” outfit, and she’s not necessarily wrong. I love that it’s simple and classic, and so easy to wear. As it happens, Wednesday witnessed the first snow of the season, though luckily it didn’t stick around long. For anyone wondering about my apparent imperviousness to the climate, know that I wore boots on my commute to work. And, for the record, you will never a see a picture of any of my commuting outfits. But hey, they make up in practicality what they lack in style.

Thursday, Oct 11: work

Dress, The Limited (thrift); jacket, Tristan; belt, Betsey Johnson; earrings, Winners; tights, HUE; shoes, LAUREN Ralph Lauren; bag, Louis Vuitton; polish, Zoya Kristen

This was an outfit I’d worn a few times already in the summer, and I wanted to get one more wear out of it before the weather made it completely impractical. Making a small concession to the elements, I added coloured tights. Transitional dressing for the win!

Friday, Oct 12: work

Jeans, iT Jeans; shirt, Tommy Hilfiger; cardigan, Joe Fresh; belt, Tommy Hilfiger; earrings & ring, Swarovski; shoes, Goldenbleu; bag, Mulberry; polish, Dior Blue Denim

This was my second take on this Tommy Hilfiger shirt, and I love how versatile it is. You may remember that I wore it a few weeks ago with a skirt, and now here it is in a more casual ensemble. I also love that its colours allow me to pair with both red (skinny belt) and cobalt blue (nails and ring) – two of my favourite accent colours. In retrospect, though, I think I should have worn lower heels with these jeans – they’re an inch too long for this heel height. Lesson learned!

Saturday, Oct 13: family outing @ Whitemud Crossing

Dress, Zara; sweater, Joe Fresh; belt, Holt Renfrew (via consignment); trench, The Gap; boots, Winners; bag, Mulberry; no polish

With the weather taking another (last?) turn towards warmer temperatures, I figure it was best to make the most of it – so I wore a summer dress, layered to death. And coloured tights, of course.
And that concludes week 4 of the Remix Challenge. Originally, I had only planned on running it for 4 weeks, but I am glad that I thought better of it – I still have so many more outfit ideas! Care to make a bet about how long the Remix Challenge will last before I run out of inspiration?

Friday Flashback: Real Housewives and My Inner Snob

This week’s Friday Flashback, titled “Don’t get me started”, was originally published in March 2009.

Regardless of what you may have heard, I’m a pretty nice person. Tolerably humble, a ‘live and let live’ sort. True, I can be grouchy from time to time – particularly with young whippersnappers Pogo-ing across my metaphoric lawn – but that’s all bark (and as for its wit, hardly biting – zing! Saved you the trouble.) Now, when it comes to my inner snob, it’s a different story. I’ll be honest: my inner snob is kind of an asshole. Luckily, he’s a reclusive sort,1 and probably less motivated than Linda Evangelista on a random Wednesday in the early 90s. A few things make him raise an eyebrow, though. People named Cletus. Avid Twilight fans. Sarah Palin. And The Real Housewives of Orange County.

I know what you’re going to say: it’s a bit cheeky to raise a hue and cry about it, when you’re tuning in to watch (again and again) in the first place. I could respond with the usual justification reserved for things we’re too embarrassed to call ‘guilty pleasures’: it’s a train-wreck, and I’m milling in the vicinity like a paparazzo on a slow news day. I could say that, and it might even be marginally true – though this might be more appropriately described as a train-wreck that comes along and pokes you in the eye. But I’m not going to resort to justifications. Sometimes, a person does things without really knowing why – like picking at a particularly nasty scab, or reading poetry.

Admittedly, The Real Housewives2 is easy to pick on. It flaunts its own vapidity for one thing, perhaps understandably so considering that vapidity is by far its most endearing quality. This doesn’t really bother me; after all, I willingly watch shows like Gossip Girl. Here’s what bugs me though: these people are vulgar. No, wait – indiscriminately vulgar. Dress, language, manners, deportment, you name it. And yet, these are not people picked off the street by Maury’s minions for the 98347549th show exploring the age-old question of “who’s your daddy?” These are people who enjoy a certain status in their community and, more importantly, a certain amount of wealth. OK, maybe they didn’t come from privileged backgrounds, and didn’t have opportunities to absorb certain lessons at an early age. (Having said that, most people I know seem to have managed just fine, and it can hardly be said that I move in aristocratic circles). One would assume, or hope, however, that having ‘gone up’ in the world, they would make some effort in that direction. Or at least pretend for the cameras. Yet, an air of vulgarity clings to them persistently, much like stench on seventeenth century French aristos. They seem … oddly proud of it. I don’t get it. With oodles of money at their disposal, surely – surely – some might be spent on acquiring the slightest patina of class.3 The thought of that inevitably pisses me off. What’s the point of being nouveau riche when you can’t even be bothered to try to emulate the ‘old guard’? There are plenty of people who could put all that lucre to better use.4 But these people … these people don’t even care. Bah!!

Even though it may sound like it, I don’t begrudge anyone their wealth or their 15 minutes of fame. What my inner snob despises is the way in which some people choose to fritter the former. If this is the American Dream, then I want no part of it. There are many great and wonderful things in the world – and they’re not all gold-plated and diamond-encrusted, by the way – and, sadly, many of them cost more than my kidney on the black market. I’m not going to make you read a maudlin philosophical paean to Beauty here, save to say that there is such a thing (and it isn’t the same kettle of fish that the advertisers are trying to sell you), and there are worse ways to re-distribute your wealth than by chasing that ideal, if pure altruism doesn’t appeal to you. Heck, if you don’t want to chase Beauty, try Knowledge – I’ve heard she’s quite an accomplished lady. But whatever you do, by Jeeves, stay classy.

1. Yes, I did say “he”. Is that a problem? If Spike Jonze some day decides to make a film about my life and times, my inner snob would be played (voiced?) Stephen Fry.

2. A growing phenomenon soon to encompass New Jersey, of all places. I’m feeling more confident by the minute that my little middle-of-nowhere town can look forward to its own set of grandes dames by 2017.

3. And by “class”, I don’t mean anything to do with social rank. I mean taste and manners, and perhaps a certain modicum of style.

4. You could get the ‘goop’ on that from Gwyneth Paltrow, for example. I think it involves cashmere socks.


Editor’s comment (October 2012): Turns out that I was quite prescient about the expansion of the Real Housewives brand, given the most recent Canadian incarnation. After Vancouver, Toronto would surely be next (with Calgary to follow?), but there is still a possibility that Edmonton might finally “arrive” on the international entertainment scene at some point this decade. On the other hand, considering how heinous the West Coast specimens proved to be, do we really need a local gong show of that magnitude?

In other news, I’m still bothered about people with more money than taste. Not because I think there is something obscene or immoral about frittering away money, but because it offends my aesthetic sense. I know – so elitist of me. Blame my inner snob.

What does your inner snob – oh, you know you have one – get worked up about? And who would supply the voice of your inner snob?