Great for Tim Gunn, Not For You

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Tim GunnI love Project Runway, it’s one of the only things I DVR even though I catch it when it airs. I adore Tim Gunn on the show – he is a straight shooter, but does it with class and poise.

“Make it Work”

This is Gunn’s catchphrase, and an appropriate one for designers on a budget and a time crunch. Make do with what you have on hand, and make it the best possible.

This is NOT a great catchphrase for your own wardrobe.

I utterly despise those fashion shows and magazine articles that tell you how to shop from your own wardrobe. Take a stretched out old cardigan and pair with a skinny belt and it’s suddenly chic with a pencil skirt. Take that crepe jacket from your interview suit and pair with a silk cami and jeans and suddenly it’s perfect for a night on the town. Belt that which is too large, layer over that which is too small, and make those highwater trousers seem chic and trés Audrey Hepburn with a pair of ballet flats.

Come on ladies, let’s stop fooling ourselves. These “closet shopping” creations NEVER look that chic. They don’t even look good on the six-foot tall size 2 model, how are they going to look flattering on your real, feminine form?

If you have to make excuses for something in your closet, it doesn’t deserve to be there. If you are making excuses before you leave the fitting room, DO NOT PURCHASE IT! I don’t care if it’s on super duper clearance for $2.99, if it doesn’t fit well, doesn’t flatter your shape, doesn’t work with your personal sense of style or feel good on the body… it’s not worth it. That money can go towards a coffee drink, and all those “great deals” you have purchased and never loved could add up to one highly coveted nice item that gets worn on a weekly basis.

So let’s discuss those “make it work” pieces in your current closet. These are the pants that do weird things in the crotch, are not quite long enough for anything but your Old Navy flip flops, and have a strange texture that not only catches the light like a disco ball but also collects lint better than Velcro. Another may be that white shirt that is so sheer you can see the stitching on your nude-colored tee shirt bra and even that mole on your shoulder. How about that sweater that your aunt gave you for Christmas last year? Yes, it’s from an expensive store and a coveted brand, but it’s a bit itchy, you don’t adore the color and it’s not really your style. And let’s include that suit you feel you need to keep just in case your dream job calls you up tomorrow to schedule an interview. It’s a size too small, is a bit more conservative than your usual style and you have never been able to find a decent blouse that compliments the color and style of the suit.

Get rid of them all. They don’t work, and try as you may, you can’t make them work. I know I sound like a broken record, but you will be better off with very few items in your closet that fit and flatter, than a full closet of garments that take hours to even slightly “work”.

Instead of staring at a bar full of clothing every morning, use that time to pare down to that which always works. Anything that requires mending, have repaired before next week (if you don’t know how to do it, it makes more sense to pay a dry cleaner or tailor to do it than have it sit in your closet and collect dust). Sleeves and trousers that are too long- they too can be fixed for a few dollars at your local dry cleaner or tailor. If it’s stained, Google for a stain removal solution appropriate to the fabric; if there is no hope for the item, get rid of it. Anything that doesn’t fit, doesn’t flatter, and just doesn’t make you feel good should be removed.

It’s ridiculous to think that you can shop your own closet unassisted. Usually that which is not being worn is ill-fitting or a bad purchase in the first place. Instead, follow these tips towards having a workable, flattering, and enjoyable wardrobe:

1. Stop falling for the incredible bargain. I am not saying ignore the clearance racks – believe you me, I love them and most of my wardrobe comes from them. However, stay on track. If you need a black skirt, why are you going home with red cuffed capris? Do you even need or LIKE red cuffed capris? You’ll end up at home with pieces that don’t work with what you own, and you’ll be out the fundage for that still-needed black skirt.

It’s only a bargain if it’s what you need and want and also at a reduced price.

2. Don’t make excuses in the fitting room. If you lose five pounds, if you purchase a different bra, if you get the pockets stitched closed, if you purchase a yellow sweater to match the print, if you wear some Spanx, if you get invited to a black tie wedding… then this item will be perfection!

We have all done this, and this is why these cheap retailers who sell crappy knockoffs of knockoffs stay in business. If you only buy that which you love and loves you back, you will have less closet regrets and actually more money.

Before taking something to the cash wrap, move in the garment. Walk in it, sit in it, stand up and see how it handled such movement. Find a three-way mirror and check out the back view. Ask a stranger what she thinks and don’t just listen to what she says but look at her eyes to see what she REALLY thinks. Finally, don’t purchase that which you cannot afford. A woman is far more stylish in the same pants every day and great posture from confidence, than a woman with an endless wardrobe and stress in her eyes from creditors on her back.

3. Shop smart so you never shop in a panic. How many times have you been at the mall the night before a holiday party or a wedding, searching for ANYTHING that will fit and be appropriate? How horrible of a feeling is that, dashing from shop to shop, and then dropping hard-earned money on something you don’t really like but desperately need?

Having some basic wardrobe staples will prevent this situation from taking place. Having a simple black dress will work for an awards ceremony, a cocktail party, a wedding, a holiday party, formal night on a cruise, silent auction at the church and much much more. Have some versatile pieces like black trousers, simple skirts, a pair of pumps and a nice blouse or knit available for coffee with an old flame, a luncheon with the mayor, your first week at a new job. Shop when your calendar is light, when you can cruise the mall or Internet shops with ease and time. Have the space and ability to compare prices and fit, and take the item immediately to the tailor for any necessary alterations to make it utterly perfect for that unexpected last-minute event.

4. New doesn’t equal better. It’s so tempting to go shopping for that first date, for your high school reunion, a vacation. But here’s the thing: those you will see won’t know whether that dress is brand-spanking new or a decade old. If it fits, flatters and is in great condition… why do you need new? If you know you already own something good for an event, stick with what works. Consider spending more time on your hair, getting a new lipstick, or possibly a manicure or more expensive brow grooming to change your look and feel fresh. Rarely do we judge a woman by how current or trendy her clothes are; we see the whole package – how she is groomed, how the clothing fits her frame, how she accessorizes, how she pulls it all together. Often when you ask a stylish woman where she got a garment, she will admit she has had it in her closet for years. Quality, carefully chosen garments can be worn to your five, ten and fifteen year reunions without a single attendee realizing it is the same. Newness can come with an updated hair style, a current heel on your pumps, a switch in lipcolor; that sort of newness is far more chic than a once-worn dress gathering dust in your closet.

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 came across this old post, and wow it’s so true! Just yesterday I was going through my closet, trying to get rid of some things that are collecting dust, but I kept leaving them all and justifying it with “I can make it work.” No, I probably can’t. Thanks for telling it like it is!

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  3. Preach it, sister! I forwarded your post to a bunch of friends. It is so easy to by something that is cheap and cute-enough, but that does not a wardrobe make.

  4. I totally agree with this post. Those creative,cute “shop from your closet” outfits only work with perfectly fitting clothes and a clothes that complement eachother. I love this post 🙂
    It has to work in a regular to “make it work” in a chic cardigan-belt-pencil skirt combo. Once again, greatt work Allie 🙂

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  6. I went to my uncle’s funeral at Arlington Cemetary a few months ago; people were in everything from sheaths to trousers. I wore a work-level dress with boots because it was cold, but think a sheath would be fine – just bring a wrap or cardigan in your bag in case to toss over your shoulders. It doesn’t have to match – I am going to a funeral tomorrow and plan on tucking a pink cardigan in my bag to wear with my black dress. Not everyone will be in all black and somber colors, and if you do end up using the wrap or sweater, it will be understood as to why.

  7. Allie you have outdone yourself!

    Very well said, and thanks for the great advice on how to keep up our personal wardrobes.

    I have gotten better about letting go of clothes that have faded, don’t fit right or are outdated. I wish I was better at anticipating what I will need in the future, and shop the sales.

    Like Erma Bombeck said, “How come anything you buy will go on sale next week?”

  8. Another good post on Wardrobe Oxygen. A few reliable and loved basics go far.

    I have a question, having shopped ahead some, but maybe not enough. I attend an outdoor military funeral soon, where the weather will be hot. Is a dark sleeveless sheath dress appropriate? Should my arms be covered? I don’t own a matching jacket or dark cardigan.

  9. That is good advise. I have a question, having shopped ahead some, but maybe not enough. I attend an outdoor military funeral soon, where the weather will be quite hot. Is a dark sleeveless sheath appropriate? Should my arms be covered? The alternative to this is a black pant suit, but it could be uncomfortable in the heat.

  10. My mom and I are going to a wedding next week and for the past 2 weeks we have been frantically searching every store around trying to find her an outfit to wear. She has bought and returned 3 different outfits already. She really, really needs something and keeps buying stuff she doesn’t really like all that much. It proves the point – don’t shop when desperate. You just grab whatever seems okay but then you get home and you realize that it doesn’t really work. I myself have several dresses in my closet that I bought because I “needed” something right away. It’s much better to go out and take your time finding just the right thing. I am determined to hit the shops and find the perfect little black dress so that I am prepared for any event which might arise. As for the wedding, I luckily have a dress that was bought on a leisurely trip to the mall and am all set. Mom finally found an outfit a few nights ago and seems happy – finally.

  11. There are so many things that are great for Tim Gunn but not for me…

    I think this is part of why I love him in Project Runway but can’t stand to watch his Guide to Style.

    I have never believed that every woman should own a trench coat, for example. Seriously, of all the things to be a wardrobe basic… why that?

  12. Excellent post! I use these rules when I ‘edit’ my closet. If I have to make an excuse for it, it goes in the ebay or salvation army pile. If it can’t be worn as-is, dont wear it at all! Ah, another gem from my girl!!

  13. Wow, what a wonderful post. I should print this out and stick it in my purse so that I can reread it the next time I’m tempted to fall for a wonderful deal online or at the mall, only to find that it doesn’t fit/doesn’t flatter/doesn’t pair with anything else I own.

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