Wardrobe Planning Theories: Aspirational Dressing

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.

We’ve all heard that saying, right? It turns out that this saying can be extended to realms beyond the workplace. Aspirational dressing is all about future-facing wardrobe planning.

As I was reading a stack of books on wardrobe planning, I paid particular attention to the passages dealing with aspirational wardrobes. There’s really only one reason for this: I hate the Chicago climate and don’t plan to live the rest of my days here. When I move, well, that remains to be seen. Because of family commitments, I’ll be here for at least the foreseeable future. But I don’t think of this as a permanent home, and I expect to end up somewhere with more warmth than cold.

So I don’t want to spend too much time and resources on planning my warm-weather wardrobe because I’m just not ready to pull the trigger on a move yet. But I also don’t want to spend too much time and resources on a cold-weather wardrobe because I don’t expect to really need one at all in the future — at least, not the kind of cold-weather wardrobe that takes you through eight months of crappy weather each year, with periodic bouts of “Why haven’t I moved yet?” bitter cold. I have to have coats and sweaters and hats now. They’re not optional. But a few years from now, it’s likely I will only need parkas for travel, not for home.

This means that I’m quite willing to knit sweaters and sew jackets that would be appropriate for, say, San Francisco in July, when the fog turns things nippy and an extra light layer is a good thing. But I’m also not enthusiastic about building a deep bench of down coats, heavy wool coats, and the like. I won’t knit a stack of heavily cabled aran sweaters to keep me warm on minus-15 days, but I’ll knit plenty of midweight cardigans that can move through more than one season. (Okay, I’ll probably knit a couple of heavier sweaters, but that’s just because I already have the yarn in stash.)

Aspirational dressing is about more than just climate and workplace ambitions, though. And this is where it gets a little murky and abstract. We evolve as human beings over time. How will we evolve? That depends on many factors, such as our personal goals, changes in life circumstances, income levels, and so on. A 20-something single girl with little disposable income will dress much different than that same woman at 35, with a husband and a house and a stable career and a couple of kids. When that woman hits 60, is dealing with an empty nest and an unreliable ex-husband and post-menopausal waist thickening, her style will likely be different again. So when we consider aspirational dressing, we’re not just thinking about job applications, but about lifestyle growth and change.

Where to I want to be in three years? This is the question I ask myself when thinking in terms of aspirational dressing. I have some ideas to answer that question, but no firm plans or commitments. Still, it does prove useful to think about how things might change as I plan my new wardrobe. I might be a little more willing to buy an extra lightweight windbreaker, and less willing to buy an extra pair of snow boots. I might give myself permission to sew all the basic summer skirts and sundresses I want, and maybe save the self-control for winter wool trousers. My basics all conform to my current lifestyle, but some of my splurges have definitely conformed more to my aspirations. That might shift over time, but for now, it’s proving to be a pretty useful way of thinking through some decisions.

Do you take a longterm view of wardrobe planning? Do you ever buy something even though you know you won’t need it right away?





Wardrobe Planning Theories: Lifestyle Balance

Okay, so when I realized just how daunting a task it is to try to plan and execute an entire wardrobe in no time at all, I did what any writer/editor/publishing professional would do. I checked out and read a ton of books on wardrobe planning from the library.

Read a bunch of these books at once, and you quickly realize there are three basic approaches to wardrobe planning: lifestyle based, aspirational, and what we might term idiosyncratic. Idiosyncratic planners are those who have strong opinions about particular details in fashion and push everyone to adopt these details — for example, I read a book by one man who insisted that all collars should be upturned a la The Official Preppy Handbook circa 1981. Like this:

upturned collar

OMG you guys, remember phone cords?

I do understand that the popped collar, as it is now called, is experiencing a minor resurgence, led in part by Abercrombie. And by the author of that book I read, apparently, who raved about the miracle of the popped collar about every third or fourth page. The rest of the book was equally idiosyncratic, and anyone who follows that book ought to expect to end up looking like camel dressed as a mid-level manager in the early 80s. The man even gave a thumbs-up to pleated trousers, if you can believe it.

Not my style.

So it’s easy to disregard the idiosyncratic stylists, or merely to adopt tips here and there from their arsenals. These books are the fluff of wardrobe planning and styling, entertaining, but not to be taken too seriously.

That really only leaves two categories, lifestyle and aspirational. At first, I thought lifestyle would be a reasonable approach to creating an entire wardrobe out of thin air. It turns out to be a good approach, but it is not without its pitfalls.

In the lifestyle approach to wardrobe planning, the basic idea is that you think about categories of activities for which you need clothing of a certain kind. You don’t wear cocktail dresses to the gym, right? So you come up with your categories of activities, and you think about roughly how many waking hours you spend on each one over the course of a week. Mine would go something like this:

  1. Gym gear, 7 to 14 hours per week. I work out every day (or try to), and I need things like running tights, good running shoes, wicking tees, zippies, sports bras, good socks, etc.
  2. Work at the shop, 10 to 14 hours per week. My family owns a construction company, and I pitch in there a few mornings a week. What I need there are clothes that look professional enough for the front office, casual enough for construction, and cheap enough that I won’t cry if I get mastic on them. (Mastic NEVER comes out all the way. I have a pair of Chelsea boots that are living proof of that.) Good jeans or pants, skirts, a sweater or tee — this is the basic outfit for the shop.
  3. Work at home, 40-60 hours per week. I work online, and I write and edit as a freelancer, so this allows me to work from home. The only goal here is casual and comfy. I wear slippers, not shoes, and I tend to dress in layers because my house is too cold eight months of the year. Tights under yoga pants or sweats, sweaters or sweatshirts over tees or thermals — some of these items also double as gym gear. In the warmer four months of the year, a skirt or sundress works well — some of these items also work for the shop or outings.
  4. Outings such as dinner with friends, shopping, etc., maybe 5-10 hours a week these days. For these events, I tend to wear the same things I would wear to the shop, except I’m willing to wear things that cost a bit more. I won’t wear a hand knit sweater in good quality yarn to the shop, but I’ll wear them here.

So that gives me three categories of clothing, and a time estimate of 98 hours total per week (on the high end of the range) of all activities combined. Break it down into percentages, and that means I need roughly:

14% gym clothes

14% shop clothes

61% at-home clothes

10% going-out clothes

According to the lifestyle theory, the contents of your closet should roughly match these percentages. That means almost 2/3 of my closet should contain the things I wear at home. But there’s simply no way I’m going to pack 2/3 of my closet with at-home clothes. Seriously? 2/3 of my shoes should be slippers? That ain’t happening. I have four pairs of slippers — lightweight summer sandals, clogs, full shoe style, and boot style. I choose my slippers based on how cold my house is that day. When one pair of slippers wears out, I replace that style. I don’t stock my shoe bags with 2/3 slippers.  And it won’t be 2/3 sweats, yoga pants, thermals, etc., either. I get by with three pairs of sweat pants, which is plenty for my needs.

Not only are your closet contents supposed to be allocated according to these percentages, but so are your clothing allowances. In other words, only 14% of my spending should be on athletic gear. But sports bras and shoes are crazy expensive. A good pair of heavy-duty running tights can set you back $40, and that’s if you get a cheaper pair. This isn’t something to skimp on, either, because function is so vital to performance and comfort (and injury! Cheap shoes can mess up your feet, knees, hips — really, it’s just not worth the risk.). And frankly, I want to spend a little more on wardrobe options for going out. Yesterday I bought a little Lauren Ralph Lauren Lauren sweater for about $60, which I will never wear except for going out. But it looked so great on me that it was worth it, even if this technically should be the place where I skimp on spending, according to that percentage system.

That said, even though the percentage approach is filled with pitfalls, I did find it useful to think about clothing categories and figure out how much I needed in each category. Because I had spent time contemplating the lifestyle wardrobe planning approach, when sweats came in stock for the fall weather (and every single sweatshirt or sweat pants I owned was size XL up to a couple weeks ago!), I knew I could just round up three pairs of sweat pants and two plain crew sweatshirts, make sure the colors mixed, and be done. Five objects, eight bucks each, all in size small, and that part of my wardrobe is complete now at far less than the nearly 2/3 allocation the books would have assigned it.

How would you apply a lifestyle approach to planning? Do you see other ways it might fail to suit your needs?




About those scarves

I think I hit on a storage solution for my necklaces — a wall-mounted mug rack with pegs to hold the chains. I’m going to paint it white as soon as weather permits me to leave it to dry outside. I might hang my bracelets there, too, as long as I’m at it. I can mount it beside my dresser and mirror. It will be out of the way there, but still very accessible, and it will get the tangle of necklaces off the corner of my mirror.

Still thinking about scarf storage, though. I wear a lot of scarves of all shapes and sizes during the cold months. They’re an easy way to add a bit of style and warmth.Here’s me today, in nothing more elaborate than ordinary jeans from Macy’s, a Ruff Hewn cotton-acrylic sweater, and Steve Madden boots. But I think the scarf elevates this from ordinary to slightly more polished than ordinary.


Please excuse the wet hair — I was in a rush, as always!


So this is a very typical fall-winter look for me. But I really do hate digging through stacks of plastic shoe boxes looking for just that one scarf I know is by God in there SOMEWHERE. A friend suggested hanging them on hangers, the pants hanger type with the little rods that slip into metal slot, like these:



Those rods and slots would keep the scarves from ending up in a heap on the floor. I might do this with the scarves in heavy rotation. It would make it easier to access them. But I can’t use this method for all of my scarves, because even if I double them, I’d still end up needing about 40-50 hangers. My closet is big, but it isn’t big enough to hang all the scarves.

But some scarves, like the Calvin Klein gray snakeskin-print challis in the photo, need to be somewhere other than the top of my dresser. There are a handful I wear frequently, once every week to ten days, and these hangers would eliminate some of the mess and fuss there. And then maybe the plastic shoe boxes with my other scarves won’t irritate me as much because I won’t have to dig through them as often. So this might be a solution, unless someone else has something better to offer.

I do have FOs to show off, and some thoughts about wardrobe planning, and I look forward to sharing all that in the next few days.

In the meantime, keep those storage solutions coming. I appreciate the help!


Storage Questions

Now that my closet is empty, I would like to be smarter about the way I refill it. I’m a pretty tidy, organized person in real life, and my closet tends to reflect that. But there are a couple of trouble spots, so here are the questions I’m trying to solve now.

1. What is the best way to store scarves? I have probably 70 or 80 light silk scarves that currently live in clear plastic shoe boxes, organized more or less according to color. I also have knitted scarves in a separate storage box. These are bulkier and harder to store. I’m not crazy about these storage boxes because they’re hard to get in and out of the closet and, even though clear, I end up digging and mussing while searching for the one scarf I can never seem to find.

2. What is the best way to store necklaces and earrings? Right now, my necklaces are looped over the corner of a mirror, where they are in a predictable tangle. My earrings are in crystal boxes in a jumble that makes finding two of the same almost impossible.

3. How do you store boots, booties, and platform heels too large to fit into shoe bags? I’ve been on a buying kick with footwear lately, and none of my five new pairs of winter shoes will fit into my hanging shoe bags.

Okay, so here’s the new skirt

Nothing special — I just happened to wear the new skirt yesterday and thought I would post a photo to replace the hanger shot from last week. I love the way this skirt wears and feels, but it needs a lining or a slip. Despite being a smoother-than-average cotton ribbing, it kept sticking to my tights.


I bought the sweater last week at Carson’s. They’re having the Goodwill sale now, and believe me, I have clothes to donate and trade for discount coupons. This sweater in red was just interesting enough to come home with me — plain enough for everyday wear, but that fringed cowl elevates it from being just another sweater. Sweaters and tops are a fairly safe purchase right now because I think I’m about as small as I’m going to get up there. With only eight pounds left to lose, and with my hips and legs still fairly, um, generous in proportion to the rest of me, I suspect most of the last eight pounds will come from this hips down. My mouth to god’s ears, right?

I also bought these great Vince Camuto booties last week. I think Vince Camuto is about the most interesting label in the mid-range department stores these days. He’s sharp and urban and sleek, and he’s never dull or basic. I like to put a bit of pizzazz into shoes, bags, jewelry, and other accessories because it’s an easy way to change the overall look of a simple garment, and I think these boots with black tights do the job here, adding a whiff of a city vibe. Imagine this skirt instead with a close-fitting tee, bare legs, and kitten heels, and it’s easy to see how the accessories make a big difference.


Yes, I know, the fashion magazines have taken to calling this style shoeties instead of booties, but really. I have my limits. Shoeties is an awful word and shall never again be typed by my fingers. But I do still really like this pair. They’re perfect for fall, the silver buckles and zips add a little shine, and the heel height is super comfy. Plus they’re right on trend — I think all I really need now are knee boots and snow boots, and I’ll be in pretty good shape for footwear heading into the cold dark months.

Do you have your eyes on any particular items to freshen up your fall wardrobe? What will you add to your closet soon?


An End to Whimsy


I keep a lookbook, a binder of pictures from magazines and fashion websites containing things I would like to make and wear. In fact, the criteria for my lookbook is exactly that: Would I make it? Would I wear it in real life? I might buy instead of making, but if it isn’t something I find interesting enough and pretty enough to make, it doesn’t go into the book. It’s got to be worth either the time (making) or the money (shopping) in order to qualify.

My lookbook pictures have notes scribbled on them to remind me why I included them. In the picture above, on the left page, the note mentions the placement of the gores on the Vince Camuto skirt. On the right page, the note is about the way the waistband, hem flounce, and waterfall flounce are colorblocked. The loose page above, awaiting notation and filing in the proper section of the binder, is going to include a note about the combination of red boots and purple jacket — not a combination I’ve worn before, but it works here because of the very casual nature of the clothing. Also, red boots. Want.

This might seem like a waste of time, but it’s actually been a hugely helpful process. I have a real wardrobe dilemma on my hands right now. The summary version of that dilemma can be broken down like this:

  • I own almost no clothing that fits, after dropping from a 22 to a 6/8 rtw.
  • I have a decent clothing budget, but I need so much that it cannot possibly be enough.
  • While I was busy being sick and gaining and losing all that weight, the cut and styles of clothing changed enough that I can’t always judge how something will look on me just from eyeballing it. This inability to predict means I have to try on everything, all the time, and am frequently surprised by the results.
  • I got used to dressing a heavy body, and the clothing is dramatically different in plus sizes than in regular sizes. What worked in a 22 absolutely does not work in a 6/8.

That last point is the real tipping point that turns the fun of shopping for a new wardrobe into a confusing and sometimes frustrating experience. I blogged about this before with the blue mullet skirt. This skirt is a shrunken-down clone of a red skirt I wore the crap out of when I was a 22. It looked great on me then. Looks sort of shapeless and lumpy on me now. That skirt taught me an important lesson: all my dressing preferences for the heavy body are done and over with. I can’t rely on any ideas I used when dressing in a 22.

One of the weird things about plus-sized clothing is that it doesn’t rely on style lines the same way regular sizes can. The majority of shirts, for example, are all cut basically the same way — no waist, boxy body shaping, deep armholes, floating hems — to accommodate the needs of a larger body. Instead of creating a sense of style through style lines, these garments rely on things like color, pattern, and maybe a bit of embellishment. This is why so many things in the plus size department are bedazzled, sequined, beaded, or look rather like a muumuu. When you can’t manipulate style lines, these are the details left to manipulate.

Which brings me to whimsy. I’ve never been a native fan of whimsy as a style mode, though I can certainly appreciate it on other people. But it’s just not something that ever felt like it was generated from my personal preferences, more like something I fell into because plus-size dressing is limited in options. I bought a few whimsical pieces because they were available, and they were at least interesting, which is more than can be said for a lot of plus wear. Add into that the fact that I have a friend who is so deep into whimsy as a style mode that she sort of pushes it on everyone without probably even realizing she does it. I’ve been fabric shopping with her a couple of times, and I always ended up buying whimsical prints while under her influence. This is not to say it’s her fault — it’s not. It’s more like one of the factors that led to me buying fabric such as this.


That would be a hot pink quilting cotton printed with white daisies. I no longer remember which quilt shop supplied it, but I know I was shopping with my whimsical friend at the time because those are the only fabric stores she will visit. I have zero interest in quilting and would never shop in those places otherwise, even though they’re stuffed with inventive, fun prints. But because we went shopping together a few times, I have a couple of other quilting cottons with similarly whimsical prints, two of which have already been made into pajama pants (here and here), and two which are casual summer skirts (here and here). Of those finished garments, the black and white floral Ungaro-inspired flounced skirt is the one that is most native to my natural style in a normal size. The pajama pants — well, it’s fine to get a little crazy with a print there and use something you might not wear out of the house. That’s why the pink daisy stuff, which I’d originally thought would make a fun casual summer skirt or shirt, will now be another pair of pajama pants. Whimsy might have felt adventurous when I was a 22 rtw, but now it just feels out of step with my style.

While I was at it, prepping and cutting this fabric, I pulled out all the other whimsical prints I’d picked up when plus-sized and shopping with my whimsical friend. One of those prints will be a fourth and final pair of pajama pants — really, four is enough — and some will be made into project bags. The rest went into the donation pile. Letting go of those prints feels a bit like letting go of my make-do mentality, familiar to many people uncomfortable in their bodies. You don’t shop for pleasure or for a sense that you can make yourself look good. You shop out of necessity, and the only goal is to find something that doesn’t look straight-up horrid. Lack of revulsion was the same as approval when approval was out of reach.

Now when I shop, I am rediscovering the idea that I can pick and choose among several options. I don’t have to buy something just because it fits and isn’t revolting. I can find things I like, that fit well and look great, and reject all the other “almost but not quite” pieces. This is liberating, and the lookbook helps a lot with controlling that process. By focusing on the things I like, and the reasons I like them, I’m a more discerning shopper when I hit the stores. It’s not just about identifying trends. It’s about identifying a style that will work for me on this body.

How has your style evolved over time? What made it evolve?


Paging Mr. Cash

I’m not a big fan of country music <—understatement), but I think Johnny Cash was cool in any genre. Whenever I wear an outfit like this, I feel like I’m taking a page right out of his style book.


another terrible selfie … ack!

Black Jones New York jeans, black buttoned shirt, silver chain and leather belt, a big onyx and silver ring, and onyx and silver drop earrings.I’m wearing black platform sandals, but boots would obviously work. (Not cowboy boots. I’m a city mouse.) I still have a few extra pounds to remove from my hips, as you see, but I’m pretty close to goal weight now. I did a little shopping this afternoon, and not one of the mediums fit me. They were all unwearably big. Every shirt and jacket I tried on was small or extra small, though I’m still in a size 8 for pants. My hips will be the last part of me to reach goal, I guess!

Sometimes the style is in the details, the small items rather than the big pieces. The shirt and jeans are plain, really, but the belt — I love this belt. It’s a no-name, no-brand trinket I picked up at Carson’s for like $30, a bargain for as much use as I get out of it.


check out the leather lacing through the silver rings — very nice

And the ring, another detail that takes this from ordinary to a little more pulled together.


desperately needing a camera that doesn’t turn everything orange and blurry

I wanted to wear a necklace, too and tried on several. Every one of them competed with the belt and made the outfit look overdone.


The silver leaf necklace in the middle is part of a set that belonged to my great-grandmother. She had an amazing collection of deco costume jewelry, and I was grateful to get a few bits when she passed. In any case, love and nostalgia aside, none of the necklaces worked with the belt.

So this is what I’ll wear to a casual family gathering for birthday cake at my sister’s house tonight. There will just be a few of us, and I’ll probably be overdressed because the others will be in sport shorts and printed tees. Par for the course. Yes, I’ll wear head to toe black in August. I can hear my grandmother scolding me for wearing black in summer, but oh well. That was one childhood fashion rule I was more than happy to drop as an adult. I’ll also wear head to toe white any day of the year, if I feel like it, cuz I’m just a rebel that way.

What childhood fashion rule did you abandon as an adult?