UPDATED: Closet Clean-out – The Woman in Her 30s

One thing with having a blog for this long is that some of my “classic” fashion advice stops being classic. While one may try to buy pieces that will work for decades, few pieces really accomplish just that – shoulders slightly change, the taper on a skirt will increase or decrease over a decade, and items that seemed to be utterly passé return as “fashion staples.” So every so often, I revisit some of my old posts and update them for the new decade.

I have seen a lot of forums and sites complain about my post “Closet Clean-out – The Woman in Her 30s.” They find it too limiting, and out of date. I did write it three years ago, so let’s take another look at that list, and how it fits for women in 2011:

You aren’t 25 any more and you feel it in almost every aspect of your life. Do you feel it in your wardrobe?

No matter how young you can pass for or how many hours you spend in the gym, when you are over 30 you look ridiculous trying to dress like a 25-year old. Now this doesn’t mean once that birthday hits you have to chuck all your indie labels and head to Ann Taylor; it just means you need to add a bit of polish, refinement and respect to your look. You’ll be surprised – a proper closet clean-out in your early ‘30s will improve your reputation at work, your chances at finding a mate, and will actually make you look younger and more confident.

The Standard Closet Clean-out for a Woman in her 30s – Updated for the New Decade

What to Toss:

1. Half your rubber flip-flop collection. Oh this one gets a lot of flack. Am I really asking you to toss ALL OF YOUR BELOVED FLIP FLOPS??? Nope, read it again – I wrote HALF of your rubber flip flops, and note I say RUBBER. There is a difference between a leather flip flop and a cheapy pair from Old Navy, there is a difference between the silver thongs that look so great with your maxi dress, and your smelly pair of Havaianas that have seen far better days.

Keep your Reefs and your Rainbows, but thin out the collection. No need for a pair to match every top in your wardrobe for flip flops are not real footwear.  The more pairs you own, the more likely they will creep into everyday fashion.  Keep a pair that matches your bathing suit, a pair for running out into the yard, a standard black or brown pair in great condition for casual events.

Flip flops are for the beach, the pool, the neighbor’s cookout. They are not street shoes. They are terrible for your foot health, they are dangerous on an escalator, and they look tacky when trying to pretend to be true footwear. Instead, look for flat sandals or leather thongs which are just as easy and comfy, but far more stylish.

2. Ironic tee shirts. Again, another item that gets folks up in arms. So you keep your Hello Kitty tee shirt just for trips to the gym, or your Star Wars shirt just for trips to the grocery store and Home Depot. Don’t you see people when you go to these places? Anytime you leave your home, you have a chance with destiny. Dress for it. Don’t let people make assumptions about you.

Ironic tees are perfect for events like Comic-Con or a music festival; an event where like-minded people get together. These are places where such a tee shirt will be appreciated. When an adult woman heads out into public wearing a tee shirt with Tigger on the front, she will not be taken seriously, no matter how intelligent or composed she is.

3. Any top made out of denim. I type this the same day I ironed my relatively new chambray shirt. Who would have thought that in three years denim shirts would have made such a big comeback? Obviously not me.

So denim is back in, but that doesn’t mean every woman should hold on to her Express denim jacket from 2001 or her L.L. Bean chambray shirt from college. The silhouettes are washes are slightly different this time around, and style is in those tiny details. Unless you are the queen of vintage and can rock Brenda Walsh’s wardrobe in a new and funky way, keep your denim shirt shopping to a minimum. As a 36-year old woman, I chose to purchase only one denim-ish shirt this season, and went with a version from Target so I didn’t make a big investment. Denim went out of favor just a few years ago… and I have a good feeling it will be passé again in a couple years more.

4. Miniskirts (and skorts… and shorts). So shorts are back as well. Leather shorts on starlets, silk shorts on fashionistas, and candy-colored chino ones on anyone who loves J. Crew. Shorts are great when it’s hot out, and they are easy fashion for casual weekends.

The thing is, no matter how much you hit the gym, your 30-something gams won’t be as fab as your 20-something ones. Gravity, desk jobs, spending too many hours on your feet… these take a toll on a woman’s legs and thighs. So wear the shorts and even wear the shorter skirts, but be realistic. Make sure you can sit and pick up something from the ground without flashing the world, do the fingertip test (one should never wear a skirt that is shorter than her longest fingertip when arms to her side), and if unsure, choose the longer version for more versatility (mini skirts and shorts are not professional looking nor appropriate for weddings and religious events).

One item I would add to this list that I would not have in ’08 are the distressed denim mini skirts. While this was a fun look a couple years ago with a fitted tee and beaded necklace, this look now is dated and a bit Rock of Love. Instead choose denim cutoffs in a flattering length or a dark denim refined skirt, free of tears and bleach spots.

And as for skorts? Leave them to the tennis players.

5. Cheap bras. Read my recent post on getting a professional bra fitting. Look at my before and after photos. Read the comments from fellow readers. A quality bra that fits can totally transform not only your look, but your posture and health. You’re an adult, and you deserve quality underpinnings that support and flatter this beautiful adult body.

6. Laura Ashley Dresses. Another item that has gained popularity thanks to the vintage fashion darlings. I know some women (the blogger La Petite Marmoset comes to mind) who looks utterly adorable in a Laura Ashley dress. She knows how to rock it with some big chunky sandals, a hat, and a crazy accessory. She inherently knows how to make it work for her, make it look modern.

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t have the innate creative fashion sense of these vintage fashion bloggers. That’s okay, neither do I. And for that, we must steer clear of the polyester rayon challis calf-length dresses covered in calico prints.

7. Cheap polyester skirts. I still see these skirts being sold in some department stores like Kohl’s and PC Penney and it makes my stomach turn. A polyester tube of fabric covered with a tube of polyester mesh is not a flattering look on ANYONE. For a similar and more stylish look, consider a pencil skirt. I have found some great pencil skirts at all price points of stretchy Ponte de Roma, stretch denim, lined wool crepe, sturdy chino, lined silk and more.

8. Club Tops. Club tops are slowly disappearing from retailers (unless you shop at Frederick’s of Hollywood) but what is in their place are the teeny tiny camis that can’t be worn with a stitch of underpinnings. Be they spandex tubes or flimsy silky camisoles with lingerie straps, they can be seen as sexy… or desperate.

In my original post I mention both camis and tube tops as good alternatives, which can be seen as a conflict with the paragraph above. The difference is that I mention pieces that are flowing, blouson, silk. You don’t need to show off the indentation of your belly button to be sexy. Elegance and confidence are far more sexy attributes to show off.

9. Cheap suiting. Cheap suiting still exists, I see it in every discount retailer and on the Victoria’s Secret website. Unless you work at a very high-powered corporation or on The Hill, you probably don’t need to wear a suit to work every single day. Invest in one or two simple, basic suits in colors like black and gray so they can mix and match and work year-round. For other days, consider separates – trousers that don’t cling to your rear, skirts that hit around the knee, blouses and dresses that aren’t too tight.

If you do need to wear a suit every day, again choose quality and subtle colors so you can get away with wearing each piece more often. Break up the monotony with blouses and shells and subtle accessories.

And per my original post, shop career-friendly retailers in their sale departments for reasonable prices, and if you are torn between a cheap suit and a crisp shirt and skirt or trousers… go with the latter. Fit trumps uniform for interviews, business meetings, and corporate events. You will lose credibility faster in an ill-fitting polyester suit than in a blouse and trousers that fit and flatter.

What else I would add to this list:

  • Cheap pleather bags. This isn’t saying you can’t use vegan bags, but look for bags that are well-made. No more patent-leather designer knockoffs from Target, vinyl blinged-out purses from Payless, and NEVER pay for a fake designer bag (read this if you’re still considering fakes, & do a little Googling to see the true cost of purchasing fakes). If you can’t afford a designer bag, you’re not alone. Choose bags with fewer details – less metal, fewer studs, fewer trends. Go to the classics – even a small L.L. Bean Boat and Tote can be a chic summer handbag. Buy vintage – it’s en vogue and a stylish way to recycle and reuse while staying on budget.
  • Belly rings. Unless you are one who rocks piercings and body modification, little rhinestone belly rings are past their prime.
  • Silly Bandz/Cause Bracelets. My daughter wears Silly Bandz, and she is two. As for cause bracelets, my husband is a cancer survivor, but my Livestrong bracelet has been tucked very far in the back of my jewelry box for almost a decade. You can show your support for a cause without wearing rubber around your wrist.

Do not think that once you have your 30th birthday you have to dress in all gray with skirts past your knees. On the contrary. The point of this list isn’t to make you a Stepford Thirty-something, but to help you be realistic with your wardrobe. Show your personality with color and prints, use your post-college paycheck for some fabulous pumps or a well-made handbag. Notice what you are drawn to, and work on creating a signature look. Every woman’s personal style is different, instead of hiding behind your dated and inappropriate closet pieces, embrace this new stage of your life and find that look that is unequivocally, completely you.

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25 Comments

  1. Steph
    December 28, 2011 / 6:38 am

    as a 32 year old woman living in the heart of fashion in New York City, I’m slightly appalled at some of your comments. you say no denim shirts, but admit to owning one yourself. and a simple denim shirt tucked into a high waisted pencil skirt or a cropped denim jacket over a long flowing maxi dress would look fabulous. you say no club tops, but a tight fitting cami or hell, even boustier would look amazing under a blazer or soft cardi. as for shorts and minis, the most fashionable thirty something’s know that paired with opaque tights and booties, that’s a killer look.

    perhaps some of us have more confidence than others. some of us take pride in how we look and continue to be in the greatest shape of our lives. and some of us don’t want to be held back by the rules and regulations of a number. 30 in this case.

    my apologies for being harsh, but a full figured gal from middle America might find value in your self-imposed rules. but most of us read fashion blogs like yours for inspiration, and not to find a finger pointed sharply at us telling us why we’re wrong.

  2. December 6, 2011 / 12:42 am

    You crack me up Leah! The other day I was walking down the street and I saw a woman in a magenta snakeskin print polyester skirt that I had from Express circa ’99. She was wearing it with a black fitted scoop tee, a big necklace of magenta clear faceted beads, and black pumps. So in theory, she pulled together an okay outfit… if she was 22 and it was 1999. Instead she was in her 40s and it is 2011.

    I saw this was on Reddit on my blog stats, and saw that I did ’30s instead of 30s. I have NO CLUE why I did that! Off to fix! LOL!

  3. December 6, 2011 / 12:42 am

    AUGH, THE CHEAP POLYESTER SKIRTS! I have a part-time gig at Kohl’s, and OH, that crap kills me every freakin’ time. I did not know that a piece of apparel could actually inflict pain upon my soul. I… just… I don’t even.

    In other news, hey! You got another Reddit link! This time it wasn’t even me! Congratulations, you’re awesome! *looks at what she just typed* Hm… Needs more EXCLAMATION POINTS!!

    Hm. I actually feel great about all of this advice, and I’m not even going to turn 30 for another 3 1/2 years. Good points, all around. And there are plenty of ways and opportunities to dress with youthfulness and fun, I mean, c’mon.

  4. December 6, 2011 / 12:28 am

    30 is a pretty kickass age. I look back and wouldn’t want to be younger again. It’s awesome to be an age where you can do whatever you want and have the means to accomplish it. If you’re dreading 30 you’re interacting with the wrong 30 year olds. 🙂

    Though 19 rocks as well, take full advantage of it!

  5. Dowabie_chama
    December 6, 2011 / 12:28 am

    I now dread turning thirty… and I just turned 19 2 hours ago.

  6. Lori Carter
    December 4, 2011 / 5:22 am

    This article has been extremely helpful as I am transitioning into a career in IT from one in retail whereas the environment is quite different. Additionally, at the age of 30 you kinda feel stuck because you don’t want to totally abandon your youth but also embrace womanhood. I was at a complete lost before finding this site, but now that i have it’s been added to my favorites.

  7. Alice H Huang
    November 3, 2011 / 5:50 am

    I love this post and your original closet cleanout post – I read the first one when I was 29 and about to finish graduate school and was feeling like nothing in my closet was appropriate for the new time in my life.  The post was such a huge help in identifying what was wrong.  Since then I’ve developed a style that feels much more like me.  Your site is one I check regularly; even though we don’t necessarily like the same things, I enjoy the spirit and good sense behind all of your posts!

  8. BoutiqueGirl
    August 2, 2011 / 10:18 am

    I am so behind with the blogs but on reading this today I have to agree with pretty much all that you say. When I read your first version a few years ago I was younger and childless and did not agree with as many.

    I turned 30 in June and already my wardrobe has become more refined. Sundays are no longer jeans and a tee, they are now jeans and a chiffon floaty blouse or cotton sleevless top from J.Crew or the likes. I have had my rubber flip flops on jus the once this summer (the noise of them flip flopping woke my daughter from her nap) I have since tossed them. They are no longer me. Thanks for all the tips!

  9. cosmeddicted
    July 31, 2011 / 11:48 am

    Oh dear, I still have some polyester skirts.  If only I could get clothing in my size in Japan… sigh.

  10. Shoeaddict 17
    July 29, 2011 / 9:32 pm

    I don’t own any of the above except for a cause bracelet. My grandfather has ALS and everyone in my family wears one. He loves it and we love supporting him like that. I can’t wear flat, thin rubber flip flops because they hurt my feet so, I don’t own them. I’m sick of seeing people wear them AND put their kids in them. 

  11. July 29, 2011 / 9:05 pm

    Oh I loved this post. It is a good guide.
    I feel like it is a confirmation that I am on the right path…
    I have only 2 pairs of flip flops ! 🙂 
    then again have about 4  Ironic shirts 🙁

  12. Lowenthalista
    July 28, 2011 / 7:10 pm

    Hmmm, the pattern of that floral skirt is ugly but the shape to me looks fine. A pencil skirt can be almost as uncomfortable as pants! I also sincerely don’t care if people at the gym or whoever may be in the alley when I am taking out the trash see me in a silly T-shirt. And some of us could not get away with an ill-fitting bra OR short shorts even at 22.

    For me, lists like this seem to be dominated by things I never wore anyway at any age. Yet I do gravitate toward a somewhat girlish, Anthro-esque style and wonder when I’m going to be Just Too Old.

  13. CC
    July 27, 2011 / 4:48 pm

    But skorts are a great solution to the chub rub!  I have several that completely conceal the shorts beneath and no one is the wiser.  Looks like I’m wearing a straight cotton skirt – my favorite summer casual look.

  14. Bec
    July 27, 2011 / 4:45 pm

    I like this list, though I would add it doesn’t hurt to keep the odd, sentimental piece.  I have the torn-down David Bowie tee I wore compulsively in highschool, and my 20something vintage eyelet sundress (to remember particularly lovely summer evenings) but it also feels good not to try to squeeze into the person I used to be.  I like that your blog embraces change, Allie, and doesn’t see style as something that belongs exclusively to the 17 – 25 year olds.

    (also, I’m not sure about the fingertip test– is it height-dependent?  If I followed it my skirts would be SHORT, but I do have really long legs and a super-short upper body.  Add heels and I would feel positively scandalous)

  15. Mary_meier
    July 27, 2011 / 6:51 am

    Allie, I ended up at Wardrobe Oxygen because of a link to your original list in a forum. I came over, read what you said and agreed with pretty much all of it. I know what you mean about the ladies in forums bitching about your advice and saying that they would never give up this or that. If you want to you don’t have to, but if you are looking for style advice it is a VERY good place to start.

  16. July 27, 2011 / 3:31 am

    A great reuse for those ironic tees if you have a daughter? Nightshirts! My 2-yr-old loves to wear my old cartoon, & college cropped tees when she sleeps.

  17. July 26, 2011 / 9:58 pm

    What a hilarious idea for a post! I agree about ironic tees, flip flops, cheap looking anything and I threw out my “club” shirts in my 20s. I think bloggers would disagree about Laura Ashley prints and minis because they refashion them into cool looking outfits 🙂

  18. July 26, 2011 / 8:31 pm

    Allie, did you know I’ve never owned a pair of flip flops? I guess I’m one of a few and when I see those rubber flip flops flapping to work (on the Hill) it so annoys me. But, to each his own.  With the execption of #2, I don’t own any of the above.  I guess I must be doing something right.  😉

  19. July 26, 2011 / 8:10 pm

    Great guidelines for most any age, Allie. Those long shapeless floral dresses give me the willies.

  20. realgirlrunway
    July 26, 2011 / 7:40 pm

    Great post!  Lots of women hang onto outdated styles or fashion that is now too young for them. It can be hard for many to admit they aren’t 20 anymore. Dressing for your body and your age is flattering and timeless.

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