How to Shop Your Closet
A Little Magic and A Little Wisdom
Dreaming of Fashion
When I was in high school I read Walden by Henry David Thoreau, but through the passage of time, I only remember one quote, "I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes." These words came back to me at John Robert Powers Modeling School the summer of my graduation, whenever I shopped my mother's closet for class.
It was 1979, and she was working as an administrative assistant at Hughes Aircraft Company in El Segundo, California. Her wardrobe consisted of clothing inspired by Vogue, Glamour, and Harper's Bazaar then purchased at The Broadway, May Company, and Bullock's Wilshire. For my Saturday lessons I borrowed her silk blouses, A-line skirts, straight over-the-knee rayon dresses, tailored slacks, skinny scarves and mid-heel pumps. This was the first time, in my life, that I had to "dress up" so it took me awhile to feel comfortable in her work attire. The most important thing I learned, from this experience, was when building a wardrobe it's crucial to make it pleasant place to revisit.
Experimenting with Style
During my elementary through high school years her closet was the place I went when I wanted to test my fashion wings. Once at Manhattan Place Elementary School I decided to dress like one of my idols, Janis Joplin, in her crocheted pantsuit, gold chain belt and brown suede boots. Another time, at Westchester High School, I wanted to dress like a Soul Train dancer in a dress over pants combo. I borrowed her dark denim dress then layered it over a striped button-down shirt, and pair of dark flares I already owned, finishing it off with my favorite brown platform sandals.
Despite my few forays into style then I lacked the confidence and consistency to really shine everyday in the outfits I saw in Young Miss, 'Teen, and Seventeen. After three years of attending a high school nicknamed The Fashion School and facing my first time away from home at Holy Names College in Oakland,California I knew I needed a makeover. Montgomery Clift is one of my favorite actors, and I'd just read his biography. The author had included black and white photos of him modeling for John Robert Powers that were absolutely stunning. His poise and beauty stayed in my mind so intensely that when I saw an ad advertising the modeling school in the T.V. Guide I knew that was the solution to my image problems.
"Why do you want something like that, instead of a nice set of luggage?," my grandmother asked me when I told her what I wanted.
Determined, but emotional, I showed her the only mirror I could bear to use-a shattered pocket-sized square that distorted my features and allowed me to stand a face so many had called ugly then. When she heard that she immediately gave me a check for the $150 balance of my $300 course fee. My parents gave me the initial payment of $150, and with this small graduation present, I left behind my cluelessness and became a glowing example of the band box.
The Band Box Look
Initial Training at John Robert Powers
In six short weeks I learned, from professional models, how to walk, sit, get in and out of a car, apply makeup (or make down), do my hair, and wear what was perfect for my body. Challenging, yet fun, the biggest obstacle came when I had to collect clips that fit my personal style, cut them out, glue or tape them to colored paper and put them in my John Robert Powers notebook for my Clothing and Style class homework. We'd just spent two Saturdays examining our facial and body structures so this was a test to see if we could apply what we learned. At 5'8", with a thin boyish build, I looked through my mother's high fashion magazines for clothes I hoped would fit my category. I remember selecting a gorgeous white wool dress, slim two-piece pantsuit, ankle-wrapped heels and a delicately beaded bracelet. Halston was the designer I was most attracted to and my palette consisted of beige's, browns and oranges.
On the Job Fashion Training:
Now, after earning a B.A. in Fashion Merchandising from CSULA, gaining over five years of experience in retail as a salesperson and manager, and working as a professional fashion/feature writer for over 20 years, I'm grateful that John Robert Powers provided the perfect foundation. It was from "shopping" my mother's closet, then learning how to compile my own lifetime wardrobe, that gave me the skills to create a valuable resource of wearable items. Lean financial periods, throughout my life, when the mall and internet were out of my price range haven't really affected me because I have a carefully curated selection to choose from.
Anyone, regardless of their budget, size, lifestyle or personality can do the same if they buy wisely and with vision. Adding new items that can be immediately coordinated with existing pieces is part one of the ongoing process. Giving renewed vigor to older favorites is part two. A brightly patterned blouse or scarf can instantly do the trick.
Recently I went to my favorite thrift store, Council Thrift Shop, and I was looking for a blouse to go with a grayish-brown A-line skirt I'd bought there previously. I had to go to the LAUSD Mid-cities Employment Office to take an exam for "Regular Special Education Assistant" so I wanted to look professional and pulled together. While talking to another shopper at the Designer Rack an employee came up to me and said, "Do you like vintage? We just got some great stuff in the back." She returned about 15 minutes later with an armload of 1970's beauties-a brown print polyester blouse, an orange print blouse, a black print Emanuel Ungaro blouse and the piece de resistance-a while sleeveless evening dress decorated with mirrored pailletes
I bought the lot for under $100, and when I got them home, and tried on the brown print blouse with my skirt, beige mini trench and black men's oxfords, it worked. The proctor at the test even said, "You look very suave today." By starting out with something I wanted to coordinate, and a color scheme, I successfully and inexpensively "shopped" my closet.
A Simple Blouse Can Make All The Difference
Doing Inventory and Making a Plan
Before you begin hunting, experimenting, shopping and adding you need to prep your wardrobe by organizing it on an Inventory List within a special folder titled Shopping. Neatly stocked magazine and newspaper clips of styles you like, you can also place a list of clothes that need to be repaired, altered and dry cleaned, new buys, shopping notes gathered from your research from fashion books, online and print articles, fashion coordination ideas and a chronological diary of how you coordinated yourself whenever you went out. Wish Lists can be added too culled from the plethora of designs offered every season in Vogue, W, Porter, Nylon and others. Sadly, the main problem we have today, is too much information, and not enough guidance.
If the average consumer sees a Levi's ad with someone wearing tight, distressed jeans, a boxy black and white checked jacket, black and white striped pullover sweater and black ankle boots would she be able to take the picture into her favorite store and ask a salesperson to help her put it together? Would she be able to copy it with clothes she already owns? These are the questions I'm still trying to answer in our new world of retail and customer service.
Compiling the List:
Don't worry if it takes awhile to write your inventory list, because you're both editing and partaking in a highly creative process. To begin, all you need is a piece of notebook paper and a pen. Organize your belongings by location then take everything out of its storage space, and separate them according to their description.Chronologically list the items, where you purchased them, or who gave them to you, and their color. In the left-hand margin describe everything simply with one or two words (i.e., coats, capes, etc.,). Since this can become quite tedious, take several small breaks, and limit it to one or two hours. Cataloging your belongings is the first step of this task, followed by step two-trying everything on in front of a full-length mirror, and step three, taking a photo or sketching whatever you try on. Later, when you're ready to hit the stores with your "Wish List," this final step will help you.
Wow, I Forgot I Had This!:
Once you start organizing you'll notice combinations you might've overlooked before. Unearthed and forgotten treasures will be ready to join fresh finds with surprising ease. At some point you will have to make a decision about what to keep, donate, resell at a yard sale or re-gift to someone special. Last Christmas I found two pairs of velour leggings, purchased awhile ago at Forever 21, in my storage trunk, that were still brand new but too small for me. Pleasing and soft they'd be perfect for a young girl with a feminine side who loved burgundy and gold as much as I do. My brother told me my niece, in Las Vegas, Nevada, is a budding fashionista so I sent them to her. Reveling in my good deed, I quickly rewarded myself by replacing them with a pair of burgundy leggings I saw in the Victorian Trading Company catalog.
An old white vintage souvenir "Paris" tee found on the same day was kept and then worn to work with a gray shrug and gray harem pants. It was going to be a rough day at work, and I knew I needed a casual, but professional outfit, so I put this one together easily after transforming the look from someone I'd seen on the street. For fall, I wanted to find another way to dress up my gray harem pants, so I went online to Thred Up and bought a gorgeous linen Linda Allard Ellen Tracy shirt. Heavy enough to be worn as a jacket, I layered it over a white button-down Calvin Klein men's shirt and accessorized with a silver 1980's necklace my mother gave me and my black and silver print Ked's. My other purchase, a beige and white knit pullover by Top Shop, with three gold buttons on the shoulder, gave new life to my old off-white cotton A-line skirt by The Gap and peach print vintage polyester shirt.
Concocting A Look
Reworking Your Stuff When Life Throws You A Curve
In 2010, after being diagnosed with Stage II A Breast Cancer I had to shop my closet for clothes according to a list given to me by an advice nurse before my left breast mastectomy and chemo therapy. Literally overnight I had to protect my bald head, and sun sensitive skin with face brimming hats and long sleeves. Prior to breast cancer, I was diagnosed with lupus in 2008, so I was used to wearing solar protective clothing and accessories. Instead of letting it be the end of my swagger I used my fashion history background to copy two style icons from my childhood-Audrey Hepburn and Edie Sedgwick. Famous for big quirky hats and over-sized shades their signatures became mine as well.
Adding Flair to Classics:
Frida Kahlo, an artist who was similarly motivated to disguise her many maladies with traditional Mexican blouses, skirts, dresses and jewelry became "my sister in pain" and role model during my chemo visits and post-cancer days. One afternoon I saw some photos of various Hispanics dressed in her mode for the Frida's Quinceanara event. Truthfully, while I was inspired by their efforts, I thought the majority looked too costume-y and overdone to be effective.
After studying a woman in a long multi-tiered dress, and another in a black shirt with colorful embroidery worn with beige khaki's, I went to my closets and recreated their ensembles. In place of the black shirt I coordinated a white Mexican shirt, decorated with turquoise embroidery, with a pair of beige khaki's, then accessorized with my grandmother's old white and black beaded necklaces and a black fringed shawl.
Following a visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art I found a lovely black and white postcard from 1929 of Kahlo, in a long print dress, standing next to Diego Rivera. Petite and timeless her elegance in this photo gave me plenty of ideas for the collection of long dresses I'd acquired over the years, and a way to recreate the first outfit I saw from the Frida's Quinceanara. Breaking it up into two pieces, I took the white Mexican button-down,paired it with a beige print skirt I found on the dressing room floor at my favorite Goodwill Thrift Store once, then added an off-white wool shawl and black espadrilles.Later, for a dentist's appointment, I directly emulated Kahlo, by turning a multicolored long summer dress, from Ross, into a jumper, by putting it over a light blue button-down shirt, then adding a gold statement necklace, orange flower pin and pink and yellow floral Converse.
Men Can Shop Their Closets Too
Keeping up with fashion isn't just a woman's game anymore, men are getting into the act too, and their wardrobes can reflect that with a set of basics spiced up with fun extras. Jeans, khaki's, sweatpants, wide-leg shorts and tailored slacks can be combined with luxury tees, bomber jackets, vintage blazers and coats or cardigan sweaters and vests. Pantsuits in wild prints, such as florals or peacock feathers, corduroy or vintage 1950's and 1960's are wonderful foundations for traditional button-downs and ties or kitschy art tees and sneakers.
Constantly evolving and growing a wardrobe's main purpose is to house the clothing and accessories you add to it. In order for it to earn its keep it must also be one of your best friends and an ally against embarrassment in the outside world.
Fashion Isn't Just for Women, Men Can Work It Too
Does Shopping In Your Closet Make You Happy?
Do you ever shop in your closet when you don't have the money to go to the store and buy something new?
Finding Good Things Is Always Fun!
- Thred Up Clothing Company
Online second hand clothing company with great brands and great prices.
- Victorian Trading Co. | Victorian Gifts, Romantic Clothing, Decor
Victorian Gifts & Collectibles. Shop vintage-inspired Romantic Clothing, Home Decor, Antique Reproduction Furniture and Heirloom Jewelry.
- Council Thrift Shops
National Council Of Jewish Women /L.A. Council Thrift Shops.
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