A few weeks ago a gentle reader posed the following question:
I moved to New York ten months ago and realized my wardrobe needs a major overhaul due to lack of closet space and the simple fact that what worked for me in my home state does not work here. My closet is extremely small, and my budget is somewhat limited.
Additionally my clothes don't even work well with each other—I have bits and pieces of an "adult work wardrobe," a preppy suburban wardrobe for weekends, and a few "city" pieces.
I suppose a general question for you is how you curate your wardrobe—when do you keep and when do you get rid of items? Is it according to age, wear, how pieces fit into your life? Also, did you ever consciously decide on a "style" and begin to buy for that, or is it constantly evolving? Any insight into your buying strategy and closet purging would be most appreciated.
I remember when I first moved to New York, while writing my dissertation. I moved out of my university town to take a position at a Big Apple Publisher, keeping one eye on the brass ring: a job at a Conde Nast publication. (I interviewed at two of them but was overqualified—almost-PhDs don’t schlep coffee, apparently—or underqualified—I didn’t have editorial experience at the time.)
Anyway, I remember buying my lunch and bringing it to Bryant Park that first July week, feeling pretty fine in an oatmealy DKNY linen skirt and yellowy J Crew linen shirt. But then, as I gazed out upon the sea of polished urbanites with their gleaming heels, expensive hair, and tailored suits in colors that commit(!), my steadily rumpling linen felt like it belonged among the stacks in a research library.
That moment was when I decided to redefine my style. And lucky me, I had all of Manhattan to research it—no dusty stacks here, but the polished floors of Bergdorf Goodman or the smart little boutiques of Soho to ponder.
So what to buy first? As my job was entry level, I had a modest income, and wanted to make the most of my clothes. So I picked my best city colors—navy for fall and winter, a tobacco-y flax for spring and summer—and built around them.
My good clothes were these: I chose a navy DKNY trouser suit, with a cool, buckled, nipped-in waist (this was 1996, OK?), a navy DKNY skirt to switch off, an oxblood Tahari trouser suit with self belt, an inky Calvin Klein trouser suit (I know, perhaps too much blue), a tobacco-y flaxen Jaeger trouser suit (which I already owned, having found it at Canada’s Holt Renfrew earlier), and my still-favorite go-to piece: my navy Prada belt-buckle nylon jacket.
While I was buying it at BG, a lovely dark-haired lass was moaning to her mother that she was “sooo sick” of Prada nylon jackets, but immediately corrected herself when she saw me trying it on, so as not to hurt my feelings. I am not sick of it yet and probably never will be.
To complement these neutrals, I had some shoes already in my closet: Via Spiga lace-up oxford high heels in oxblood and black; knee-high boots in brown and black. I have never been able to find a black dress/skirt shoe I like, and so that gap still remains in my closet.
As for color, I could have punctuated the suits with some bright shirts, a la Gwyneth in her velvet Gucci suit days (Ok, ok—her suits supplied the color, but use your imaginations!), but trailblazer that I was, I preferred to wear my suit jackets sans shirt, buttoned up, of course. This felt less office-y and more publishing rock star, which was, of course, the look I was going for, if I had to give it a name.
I even had an innocent “All about Eve” moment when my VP complimented my oxblood suit and I responded that I was “dressing for the job I want, not the one I have.” “You’re aiming high,” she said, and I embarrassedly realized that I probably implied that I wanted her job. (I didn’t. I wanted Holly Brubach's job. Still do.)
Some twelve years later, I still follow those principles that guided me in the city: good neutrals in strong shapes, shoes with equally strong shapes (nothing annoys me more than a blah shoe), with spots of color or trends.
I find that the pieces don’t have to be expensive as long as they have character. For instance, I just bought two J Crew cotton taffeta skirts in dark fog and buttercup to wear this fall with my cashmere crews. The lines are clean, which I appreciate, and strong, so they don’t wilt on the body, but they don’t “wear me” either.
As for closet purging—oh dear—I still have those original suits and yes, I still wear the DKNY jacket. The trousers are sadly passé—but the jacket still rocks.