The Power of a Prepared Wardrobe

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Last weekend I went to a wedding. It was out of town and would be outdoors with the reception in a tent. I knew I wanted to wear something with long sleeves and/or long length to keep me warm. I looked in my closet and everything seemed wrong. Too summery, too formal, too casual, and yes, too tight. So I did what I know so many of you do, I went on an online shopping spree at places I knew did free returns. I ordered four different things hoping SOMETHING would work.

I’ve done this before, and the results have never been positive. I often end up with something that is fine, and often that fine piece is the most costly of the bunch. I return the rest, keep the fine piece, wear it and feel awkward and usually never wear it again. But what am I to do? I was stuck, right?

Well the four things arrived and all of them were terrible. I had no time to visit a mall before our trip, so I had to make it work with what was in my closet. With a second trip through the hangers, I found garments that before I wouldn’t have considered, and ended up choosing my black Karen Kane jumpsuit. I wore it with two long strands of pearls from Nordstrom (seen on the blog here), and used the chilly weather as an excuse to don my grandmother's sable stole.

Life happens. Weddings, funerals, court hearings, baby showers, job interviews. Be prepared. No need to have a closet full of cocktail dresses or business suits, but think about the potential year ahead when shopping for clothing. You may not have to attend a wedding this weekend, but you do know your niece just got engaged so likely an invite will end up in your mailbox in the next several months.  You know your company just won a contract with a client in California so you may have to do some business travel.  Live in the present, but consider the near future.

I’ve let my wardrobe of staples slide with my fluctuating figure and my arm, and it almost cost me with a mediocre dress I’d wear once and resent forever. My list of wardrobe staples for women is a bit dated, but the general concept still stands. Shop thoughtfully, shop with purpose, and shop for the actual life you lead and the events you’re likely to attend. Classic pieces like a black sheath dress and leather pumps don’t go out of style in one season, so they can be waiting when the next social event arises. A wrap dress in matte or silk jersey will still fit and flatter if you gain or lose a few pounds and can dress up or down easily with a switch of accessories.

Social events are stressful enough; do yourself a favor and always think not just about the upcoming season but your upcoming life when you shop for clothes. It will save your time, stress, and money in the long run.  I know I'll be taking my own advice with future wardrobe purchases!

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. I love this- thank you! Over the last year I have lost 25 lbs and 2 dress sizes. I was buying Med Regulars and I am now a XS/S Petite. This has meant a major closet overhaul, re-thinking of my body (late 30’s with 2 kids), and lots of shopping. I hate last minute shopping- nothing ever works out right. I am a SAHM and set for great jeans/tshirts/sweaters from BR (I love their petites section and amazing return policy!) but was really struggling with the “occasion” wear. I have spent hours scouring your archives and the vivienne files capsules and I finally found what I hope are wardrobe staples and no last minute crises. And check out my prices!!
    1) Origami black wool sheath dress at JCrew $70 (from Whoorl’s Closet)
    2) a v-neck drape dress 1 in turquoise ($50) 1 in black ($35) at BR,
    3) burgundy sheath dress at BR $26
    4) Bridal shower/baby shower/garden party dress Tory Burch Libby Dress $180
    5) Day dress Anthro Aven Dress $80
    From pre-babies, I have 1 pair of black strappy sandals from Beautifeel, a Cole Haan black peep toe, Cole Haan nude pump, Tory Burch nude peep toe, and black Clack wedge sandals.
    I love getting dressed everyday and I feel amazing!

  2. Excellent advice and some that I need to heed. I don’t usually have surprise weddings (in fact I haven’t been to a wedding all year) but I do find myself suddenly short of something to wear out on a Saturday night or a nice outfit to wear out shopping in town. I’m prone to focussing on work clothes to exclusion of other stuff.

  3. Allie,

    Do you have a picture of you in the jumpsuit with the stole? Sounds interesting. I would like to see the outfit. Maybe on your Instagram page?


  4. Great post! Your tip about shopping with an eye for what’s coming up in your life is a good one, but I also think that doing regular closet inventories are essential! I just wrote a post yesterday about the Serious Business of Playing Dress Up (!

  5. I wholly agree and have bought some neutral dress options from Lands End this fall – a gray sheath, plum a-line and black wrap– that are reasonably priced, flattering, and machine washable. Best of all, they dress up and down so much depending jewelry and accessories, and I find myself reaching for them over and over, for work, even just weekend kicking around, but also family events and dinners. Versatility is great– and their neutral nature gives me a lot more room to play with them. (those pearls you show may well have to make an addition – i ordered some but they were way too big for my 5’2″ frame — interesting how even jewelry has to be proportional to the person!)

  6. Such good advice. I need to update my closet with a few of these things. There is nothing worse than an approaching deadline for an event when you have nothing to wear to it. So many times I’ve had to settle for something I didn’t really like and of course I always spend too much on it since I didn’t think ahead.

  7. It’s taken me a while, but I finally have a few cocktail dresses in my wardrobe that can work for either weddings or fancy dinners or the symphony, basically, all of the standard reasons I have to dress up (that aren’t actual costume events or goth club type activities 😉 ). And I have dresses that fit me in a small range of sizes bec. I fluctuate, & those fancy events tend to be less frequent. It’s pretty common that I’ll pull a dress out a dress the night of the event, start to put it on, & find it’s snug somewhere it wasn’t the previous year. So instead of the sheath dress, it’s the full-skirted dress, for example.

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