Our choice of clothing, hairstyle, make up and personal grooming all contribute to our own unique individual style. It's important to be yourself, but it's equally as important to showcase who you are in the best possible light. Why? Because whatever you reflect outwards tends to be reflected back at you. In practical terms, this means that if you don't project an image of polished confidence, competence and self respect, others may treat you as if you lack these qualities. They may therefore be more inclined to try to bully or manipulate you, or not trust you to do things correctly. This could cost you a promotion, a potential friendship or even a relationship.
Although it doesn't seem quite fair, people do judge us on our appearance, and once they've made their mind up about us, it's very hard to change their opinion. So because we have no choice but to interact with people, it's much easier and less stressful dealing with them in the long run if we can give everyone the right impression about ourselves right from the start.
For those of you who might think this sounds artificial or insincere, consider this: someone's perception is also their reality. And the reality of your life is such that if others perceive you differently than you intend them to, they may not treat you how you expect and deserve to be treated. So it's not about being phony, it's about sending a clearer message about who you are to others.
The home page of this site states that every woman has the innate ability to be great. Well, you need to figure out how best to communicate your inner greatness and then celebrate that greatness by ensuring it shines forth loud and clear for all the world to appreciate!
This section of the site therefore provides a number of informational articles to help you define, create and polish your personal appearance so that it more accurately projects how you want others to perceive you.
|Personal Style Articles|
(Click on each Article to reveal/hide details.)
As far as I'm concerned, personal style is a combination of fashion savvy plus attitude. It's about how well you are able to present yourself to the world with pizzazz and flair, and in a manner that clearly and accurately reflects your own unique individuality. In essence, personal style is your own personal medium for self expression.
In Part One of my series on How to Build a Better Wardrobe I defined fashion savvy as follows:
So what exactly do I mean by fashion savvy? First of all, it's knowing what styles, colours and fabrics work best for your body type, suit your lifestyle and are situation appropriate. It's not about sporting the latest fashion craze, but rather understanding what is timeless and therefore always in fashion. It's about how to take a simple outfit and make it spectacular by adding just the right shoes, purse, scarf, jewelry and other accessories. In a nutshell, fashion savvy is knowing how to choose your wardrobe so that it says what you want it to say about you, whatever and wherever the occasion.
The above definition was presented strictly from a wardrobe perspective only. But the way I see it, fashion savvy is really much broader in scope, so that in addition to clothing and accessories, it also includes such factors as personal grooming habits, hairstyle, makeup, body scent, etc. - the complete package, so to speak.
However, personal style involves much more than fashion savvy, which is primarily tied to physical appearance. Personal style also includes the way in which you carry yourself - your body posture, general demeanor, facial expressions, physical mannerisms, the way in which you relate to others, etc. And that's where the attitude part comes into play.
Attitude in this context refers to having the confidence and spunk (and sometimes audacity but never arrogance) to step forward and declare "This is me. This is who I am." (A truly confident person is never arrogant - confidence stems from self acceptance whereas arrogance arises from insecurity. A confident person is warm and open to others while an arrogant person is closed and often condescending in an attempt to mask their insecurities through a facade of superiority. Arrogant people toot their own horn in an attempt to win the approval of others; confident people don't have to.)
In my opening paragraph, I stated that personal style is your own personal medium for self expression. There is of course no absolute "right" or "wrong" way to express yourself - since it's all about you it's totally up to you! However, regardless of what you say or how you choose to say it, how well your own unique personal style makes you stand out from the crowd (whether that's your intention or not) is based in large part on the degree of confidence you have in it.
Your confidence in this area will be based in large part on how strongly you feel the sense of style you've cultivated for yourself fits with your chosen lifestyle and reflects your true personality. If you confidently believe this is truly you, then you will sport it so comfortably and with such consummate grace and beauty that others will see it as a natural extension of your personality. As a result, they will also see you as someone who is always perfectly put together, no matter the occasion.
This is why it is so important to follow your own instincts about what you think looks good on you and to not allow other people's opinions to unduly influence your choice of dress, hairstyle or hair colour, and so on. Nor should you dress a certain way simply because your husband or boyfriend likes it. If you aren't comfortable with what's on your body, no matter how great you might look other people will nonetheless sense your awkwardness. They may not consciously be aware of what exactly is wrong, but they will perceive something isn't quite right with your look, even if they can't quite put their finger on what it is. So not only will you feel at odds with your appearance, other people will too.
When it comes to developing a personal style that is uniquely and distinctly you, I would argue that a confident attitude is at least as important as fashion savvy. It's really not so much what you wear, but rather how you wear it.
Regardless of whether you are conservative or adventurous, new age or classic, reserved or exuberant, as long as you understand what physical trappings (clothing, accessories, makeup, hairstyle, etc.) work for you in terms of physical fit, personality and lifestyle, you will wear them with confidence and thus look (and feel) like a million bucks. And I think most of us would agree self expression doesn't get much better than that!
Although clichéd, it's still very true that you don't get a second chance to make a good first impression. That's because it only takes only a few seconds for someone to form their opinion of you, and once they've determined who they think you are it can be extremely difficult to get them to change their mind.
This sad but true fact of life applies whether you are meeting someone in a business or social setting, and thus affects family relationships, friendships, work relationships, career path, etc. Therefore, it pays to be conscious of the type of initial impression you are giving others about yourself, regardless of who you are speaking with and irrespective of reason. Believe me, life is much easier if your future mother-in-law decides she likes you!
Because people tend to form their opinions of others so quickly, quite often someone has made up their mind about you even before you've had the opportunity to speak. So by the time you say hello, you will have already been evaluated and typecast based on your overall appearance, body language, demeanor, mannerisms and clothing.
You can see then how critical it is that your personal image accurately project how you want others to perceive you, and that a large part of communicating who you are to the world is visual as opposed to verbal.
Here are some thoughts to aid you in assessing what type of first impression you may be projecting and to help you determine if there is anything you might want to work on to improve it:
- Is your overall appearance neat and clean, including clothing, hair, makeup? If you look like you care about yourself, then others are more apt to believe you are worth caring about.
- Is your dress situation-appropriate? This includes clothing, jewelry, shoes, purse and other accessories, hair, make up, etc. If you look the part, others are more apt to accept you as a player.
- You don't need to be beautiful, or even all that pretty, to make a good first impression, you just need to be polished. Polish means wearing clothes that fit well and comfortably, are flattering in terms of colour and style and of course are situation appropriate. The same holds true for hair colour and style, makeup, jewelry, etc. Polish is impressive, because it's not always that easy to achieve and there are so many people out there who clearly haven't got it figured out.
- Are you comfortable making eye contact with people and does your smile reach your eyes? Both are indicative of self confidence, and they make it clear to the other party that you are looking forward to interacting with them. Everyone appreciates being appreciated, and your welcoming manner may inspire them to be more welcoming of you.
- Is your posture relaxed, yet straight and "open"? Tense shoulders and/or limbs which are held at stiff, awkward angles are sure signs of nervousness, as are clenched fists and jerky movements. Stand or sit in a relaxed, tension-free pose, with your back straight and shoulders slightly back (but not too far back or it will look like you're advertising your feminine assets). Hold your arms loosely at your sides, with hands open, and feel free to use your hands to make gestures as you speak, as long as the movements aren't too sharp or emphatic. Be sure to face the other person directly, rather than position yourself sideways to them. An "open" posture like this indicates confidence and comfort with the situation, whereas a slouched or hunched over, arms crossed "closed" demeanor is indicative of someone curling up to protect themselves because they are outside their comfort zone. A confident manner invites respect, a timid one doesn't.
- Do you exhibit any nervous mannerisms? By this I mean any sort of action or behaviour that has a tendency to manifest only when you're in an uncomfortable or stressful situation. Common mannerisms which often signal discomfort to the other party include fidgeting, playing with one's hair, speaking too quickly (or too slowly), perspiring, giggling inappropriately, shifting one's gaze continually, saying "uh" or "um", making strange facial expressions, and so on. If you're not sure whether you engage in any of these activities, ask a friend to watch you closely and let you know. While having the occasional attack of nerves is quite human, it nevertheless indicates weakness and so negatively impacts the balance of power between you and the other party. In addition, if your nervousness seems a little excessive for the situation people may wonder if you're trying to hide something from them.
- Is your breathing steady, deep and natural? Some people take very shallow and rapid breaths when they are nervous and this can make their voice sound unnaturally high or "breathy". It also disrupts the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body, which will perpetuate the feeling of anxiety. Again, anxiety is indicative of weakness and so does not reflect well on you. Anxiety also interferes with your ability to think straight and act naturally, thus preventing you from showcasing yourself in the best possible light.
- Is your handshake firm and confident? Many women are not comfortable shaking hands, so they just stick their hand out there limply and give a half hearted wiggle. However, the handshake is a standard North American greeting and so if you want to project an image of confidence, poise and sophistication then you need to know how to properly shake someone's hand.
- The webbed area between the thumb and index finger on each hand should meet so that there is a solid connection. Don't close your hand too soon and prevent this from happening; the other party could mistakenly believe you don't want to make a real connection with them, on any level.
- Pressure should be firm but not crushing. Squeezing too hard can be painful for the other person and perceived as overly aggressive, while not squeezing hard enough can be perceived as timid and lacking confidence.
- Three or four gentle pumps should do it. Hold the hand too long and the other person may feel like they are being held captive, not long enough and they might think you are rejecting them.
- Make eye contact during your handshake (but don't stare as that could be interpreted as a challenge, particularly if you initiated the handshake) and ensure your smile is reflected in your eyes. You want your greeting to be appear warm, welcoming and confident.
- Ladies, don't hesitate to offer your hand first, particularly in a business setting. A number of men (and women) still aren't sure whether shaking a woman's hand is appropriate, so take the lead and show them you know how it's supposed to be done. It used to be that men were to wait for a woman to offer her hand first because it was inappropriate to touch a woman without her permission. I don't think that really applies these days, but there are going to be men out there who are a little confused about what is politically correct. So go ahead and offer your hand first in order to avoid a potentially awkward moment for everyone.
- Make sure you extend your hand slowly and gracefully, as opposed to quick and jerky, and withdraw it in the same manner. As discussed above in my point about posture, quick jerky movements indicate timidity or nervousness. Even if you do feel that way inside, you certainly don't want anyone to know it, so control those movements.
- If your hand tends to be clammy, try wiping it on a tissue inside your pocket before extending it in greeting.
- If your hand tends to be cold, where possible either warm up your hand inside your pocket or rub your hands together to get the blood circulation flowing.
For those individuals who find themselves tongue-tied when meeting people for the first time, take heart because what you say is not nearly as important as you might think. Your warm smile, firm handshake and friendly manner will be remembered long after the actual conversation is forgotten. That's because while people may not always remember what you told them, they seldom forget how you made them feel. So if they felt impressed by your poise and polish, they will remember you as poised and polished. But don't forget that the reverse is also true.
Therefore, when in doubt, strive for simple and sincere as opposed to charming and witty. A modest "it's a pleasure to meet you" is quite effective on its own; an accompanying quick one liner is truly not necessary. Focusing on making the other party feel welcome as opposed to making yourself appear clever or sophisticated will carry you much further in the long run.
Here's a final parting thought. Even though you are aware that people may be quick to judge you, try not to be so quick yourself when judging other people. Give them a fair chance, and perhaps even a second chance, to make a good impression on you. Who knows, doing so may lead to a wonderful friendship or business relationship that you otherwise would not have enjoyed.
Ever stared at your closet full of clothes in despair, absolutely certain you had nothing to wear? We've all been there from time to time, but if this happens to you on a regular basis then it's time to do something about it. You have enough things to worry about without adding finding something suitable to wear to the list, particularly when with a little prep work up front you can build the perfect wardrobe and always look fantastic no matter what.
This article is the first of a four part series designed to help you develop your fashion savvy, critically evaluate your existing wardrobe, plan your buying strategy and then ensure you always look your best, whatever the occasion.
So what exactly do I mean by fashion savvy? First of all, it's knowing what styles, colours and fabrics work best for your body type, suit your lifestyle and are situation appropriate. It's not about sporting the latest fashion craze, but rather understanding what is timeless and therefore always in fashion. It's about how to take a simple outfit and make it spectacular by adding just the right shoes, purse, scarf, jewelry and other accessories. In a nutshell, fashion savvy is knowing how to choose your wardrobe so that it says what you want it to say about you, whatever and wherever the occasion.
Since not too many of us have an unlimited clothing budget, we all need to plan our purchases carefully to avoid ending up with a closet full of "mistakes" so that in essence we truly do have very little to wear. To help you successfully sidestep some of the fashion pitfalls out there, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Don't put comfort over style; choose instead a style that's comfortable. In other words, make sure your clothes fit versus letting them hang loosely over your body. Loose and shapeless may well be seen by some as sloppy or slobby, and these people may infer from your choice of clothing that you have a poor self image. This in turn will affect how they treat you - often people who believe you don't think highly of yourself will assume you're not all that worthy of their respect either.
Rare indeed is the woman who can purchase something off the rack and have it fit perfectly. Therefore, you need to budget for alterations for most purchases. If you don't currently have your clothes tailored, believe me, you will be absolutely amazed at the difference a nip here and a tuck there can make. So that you better understand and fully appreciate what I'm talking about, the next time you purchase a suit or jacket and skirt/pants coordinate take a trip to the local tailor, tell them you're not sure about the fit and ask them what they think. They'll be happy to pin it up and show you how it should be fitted to your body. And you'll be quite happy to pay the nominal fee to have it done!
Often there will be a tailor right in the local shopping mall where you can have your clothes fitted immediately, before taking them home. For example, Stitch It, a national chain which offers complete clothing alterations, has 85 locations across Canada (as of July 2009). If not, the clothing store may have a local person they call, or perhaps your local dry cleaner may offer an alteration service.
In general, jacket and skirt or pant coordinates work well in today's more casual work environment, although of course nothing beats a suit for job interviews or other important meetings. But for everyday wear, coordinates allow you to mix and match several items to create multiple different outfits, an important consideration given the social pressure out there for women not to wear the same outfit too often.
Most likely you will require a separate wardrobe for work and play, but this will depend on your personal situation. Just as your work wardrobe depends on your job (i.e. do you wear a uniform? are you in the public eye? do you work in a formal industry such as banking or law or a more casual one like radio or IT? ), your after work wardrobe will depend on what activities you like to do for recreation.
For example, if you're single perhaps you like fine dining coupled with live theatre or maybe going out clubbing with the girls, but if you're married with younger children you might prefer having dinner in a family restaurant before going to the movie theatre. Or, you may spend more time at the cottage, beach or local park enjoying family picnics and other outside activities. Active people might play baseball or soccer and then go for a bite to eat afterwards, whereas more sedentary individuals might prefer to meet a friend for coffee and a chat.
Whatever your preferred recreational activities, your wardrobe should accommodate those needs, so don't forget to factor them into both buying strategy and budget.
Never buy something simply because it looked good on someone else. Unless it looks just as good on you, leave it on the rack for the next person. Similarly, don't invest heavily in the latest fashion colour if that colour is wrong for you. However, you may be able to skillfully incorporate a few carefully chosen pieces as an accent colour so that your wardrobe seems more up to date.
For additional thoughts regarding dressing appropriately for any occasion, please see my article entitled Dressing Respectably... And Respectfully.
Okay, so now that you're more in tune with what your individual fashion needs may be, it's time to hone your fashion savvy skills by experiencing a little live action in the field. In other words, it's time to have some fun!
The following exercise can be done with a girlfriend if you feel more comfortable having someone with you for moral support or you think it would be a fun way for the two of you to spend a day at the mall, but it is more likely you will achieve greater benefit by going on a solo mission. Why? Because in the end you need to be comfortable in your clothes because you like the way they look on you, not because somebody else told you they look great. If you allow someone else to override your personal feelings, you'll simply end up with another closet full of clothes and nothing to wear.
Your assignment? Spend the day at the mall trying on anything and everything in your size, especially the styles and colours you normally pass over on the clothing racks. Visit the stores you don't normally frequent to make sure your hands don't automatically grab something you're familiar and therefore comfortable with. If you're not a dress person, make sure you try on lots of dresses. If you're not a suit person, then temporarily become one for the day.
Your objective: Determine exactly which styles and colours look best on you so that when it comes time to build your Master Wardrobe Plan you'll feel much more comfortable and confident putting it together.
Note there are a few principles related to which clothing styles work best on various body types you should be aware of before you begin trying on clothes. Be aware these are principles rather than hard and fast rules, because not everyone falls into one single body type category. Every body is different and so sometimes someone might share characteristics from more than one body type. Therefore, don't be afraid to push the envelope a bit because you won't know definitively if something will or will not work unless and until you give it a try.
Rather than list various body types and related principles in the body of this article, I've found a wonderful site called Dress Your Body Type that shows you how to determine your own body type and then provides the principles you need to know to choose the styles and colours that best flatter your figure. While this site does not cover all the different body types, it does provide some basic information that will be helpful for everyone. Click here to give it a read and make any appropriate notes about what you should or should not be looking for during your day at the mall.
Here's how to get the most out of this exercise:
- Ensure your hair and make up are nicely done so that you experience the full effect when trying on clothes. Otherwise you may not feel as elegant as you otherwise would in some of the more formal styles and fabrics, particularly if you're not used to wearing them.
- Wear something comfortable that is easy to get in and out of without messing up your hair or rubbing off your makeup. Make sure the fabric is light so that you don't overheat in the store.
- Don't forget the accessories. Consider bringing a few pairs of shoes with you so that you can more fully complete the look of what you're trying on. And if the store sells belts, scarves, necklaces and other accessories, be sure to make use of them.
- Bring a pen and notebook and record both what you liked and what you disliked on you in terms of colours, styles, fabrics, etc. Make sure you write down enough detail so that you clearly remember everything after you get home.
- Make careful note of which colours make you look healthy and vibrant and which ones wash you out. Note also which styles flatter your figure and which ones draw attention to the wrong areas.
- Leave your credit card at home. Your objective is to learn what best suits you so that you can incorporate it into your Master Wardrobe Plan. If something fits into your plan (and your budget), then you can go back and purchase it at a later date. Should you be tempted to ignore my advice and bring your card anyway "just in case", ask yourself how you wound up with a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear in the first place.
- Your day at the mall can be split over several days or even weeks if that's what it takes to do it properly. The reality of many people's lives is that they simply don't have the time to spend a full day doing nothing but try on clothes. However, it would be much easier for them to tackle one store at a time.
- Store staff will appreciate you visiting them in off hours and indeed might enjoy helping you put together all sorts of great fashion statements, provided they have the time to do so. So take advantage of their expertise, particularly when it comes to how clothes should correctly fit. If you are fortunate enough to find someone who really loves what they do then they will be more than happy to visually show you where and how things should be altered, thus allowing you to envision the true potential of an outfit.
So there you have it - now go and have some fun. And when you're done, the next installment will show you how to critically evaluate the contents of your closet based on what you've learned at the mall.
In Part One of this series, I suggested a practical and fun way to learn which styles, colours and fabrics looked best on you, and if you've done your homework you should have a much better idea of what you would like to see in your wardrobe.
Your next mission is a little tougher, because it requires you to be as ruthless and disciplined as possible. So set aside a morning or afternoon where you can concentrate without interruption, roll up your sleeves and prepare for action.
Here's what you need to do first. Take every piece of clothing out of your closet and drawers one at a time, and based on what you learned at the mall, place each in one of the following five piles:
- Absolutely perfect the way it is
- Looks great but needs altering
- Not the best, but it's okay to hold onto for now
- It really doesn't work on me
- Damaged and not worth repairing
Try to evaluate each piece on its own merit, without worrying about when and where you would wear it - that comes later. Believe me, this will be harder than you think. But rather than get frustrated and give up, if and when you do start to feel overwhelmed take a short break and then come back to it. Take the time to try things on and critically evaluate how they fit compared to the items that looked best on you during your fact finding mission at the mall. You should ideally use a full length mirror; if you don't have one they are fairly inexpensive at places like Wal-Mart or Zellers.
When you're done, toss the "Damaged and not worth repairing" pile directly into the garbage, and pack up the "It really doesn't work on me" pile for charity.
Now with the remaining 3 piles, do the exercise again with the following in mind:
- Absolutely perfect the way it is - these are the main pieces you will build your new wardrobe around, so make sure they look really good on you.
- Looks great but needs altering - these will be going to the tailor before they go back in your closet, so make sure you like them enough to pay the alteration fee.
- Not the best, but it's okay to hold onto for now - these you will keep for now, and slowly retire them as you add new purchases to your wardrobe.
You may wish to go away and come back before making these same decisions a second time around to give your mind a bit of a rest - so much decision making in a short period of time can be exhausting and stressful for some. Others may find that it's better to repeat the sorting exercise right away since they're already warmed up and feel like they're on a roll. If you feel this way, all the power to you, but be careful not to be too ruthless because your mind is too tired to think straight.
If in the end you have very few things in either the absolutely perfect or looks great but needs altering piles and a number of items have moved from the okay to hold onto for now pile into the box for goodwill, take heart as I do believe most women will be in the same predicament. It's not because we have no fashion sense, but rather because we lead such busy lives we've never taken the time necessary to critically analyze our clothing purchases. Instead, we run into a store to buy whatever catches our eye and fits our budget and then rush to pick up groceries, kids or whatever before whipping home to cook dinner, clean the house, help with homework, on so on. As women we tend to put others' needs ahead of our own, and so we have neither the time nor the inclination to spend what little free time we do have for ourselves on something as "frivolous" as planning out and shopping for the perfect wardrobe.
However, look at it this way. A well planned wardrobe that makes you feel good and look great will add to your self confidence. This in turn increases earnings potential because when you believe in yourself others are also more likely to believe in you and your abilities. You will be treated with more respect and your opinions will be more valued. Thus your confidence will further increase and so you'll be more likely to move up the corporate ladder, so to speak, although I'm not referring only to office jobs here. For example, if you work in a warehouse you have more potential to move into a supervisory position. (Obviously you're not going to wear suits in the warehouse, but if your clothes fit nicely and their style and colour suit you then you will appear more professional and competent than your fellow workers and thus more likely to be considered for a promotion.)
A well planned and organized wardrobe saves time and therefore lowers stress levels, particularly in the mornings when we're generally rushed for time. If we're not as rushed and stressed, we will have more patience with our partner and/or children. So not only do we begin our day in a better frame of mind, so do the people we love.
From a practical point of view, I'm convinced that pre-planning your wardrobe to ensure it meets all your lifestyle requirements will save money in the long run. When you know what you want and take the time to find it, you will require fewer articles of clothing in your closet and you will wear each piece for a longer period of time. You will feel less inclined to keep adding to your closet because your closet will feel more complete. (It's embarrassing the number of items I've given to goodwill with the tags still on them over the years until I learned the hard (and expensive) way that clothing is an investment and therefore all clothing purchases should be carefully planned.)
But best of all, the above considerations are of benefit not only to you, but also to your family, particularly your children. When your children see you as a confident and successful person, it teaches them they can be that way too. I believe there's no greater gift we can give the ones we love than teaching them to believe in themselves.
Are you sold yet? If so, stay tuned for next week's installment: Planning your buying strategy.
Now that you know what suits you and have evaluated your current wardrobe accordingly, you need to think carefully about all the many hats you wear so that as you plan your buying strategy you take your entire lifestyle into consideration, not just one or two aspects of it. Many women, myself included, tend to focus primarily on their work wardrobe so that when it comes time to spend a casual night out with friends they're hard pressed to find something appropriate to wear.
Make a list of all the various activities you do on a regular basis and then group together those activities that share similar dress codes. Aside from work, do you go out a lot on the weekend or do you prefer to entertain at home? Where do you go when you go out and what kind of impression would you like to make? Do you spend time outdoors or do you prefer inside activities? The more carefully you think about this, the more flexible your finished wardrobe is going to be.
Label a separate blank sheet of paper for each activity (activities that share similar dress codes can be placed on the same sheet). If you're not sure exactly what I mean, here are some thoughts to get you started:
- Your job - Most likely this will be one list only, but if your job entails meeting customers regularly you may have one list for formal meetings and another list for more casual wear on days when you're not in front of customers. You might even have a third list if your job requires attending company trade shows or evening social events.
- Outdoor leisure activities - You may have a different list for each season.
- Evening entertainment activities - You may have more than one list here depending on how many different things you like to do. For example, if you like to occasionally treat yourself to a fine dining and theater experience and other times you prefer a casual night out at the local pub, you will need two different types of clothing styles to be appropriately dressed for each event. And if you like to entertain at home you might require a third list, depending on the formality of your events.
- Family leisure activities - Backyard BBQ's, a day in the park or an afternoon at the beach might fit in here.
- Personal time - Do you like to garden, meet a girlfriend for lunch, volunteer for a charitable organization or perhaps spend a day at the spa?
- Vacations - Consider how you generally spend your vacations. Do they consist of family visits, summer camping excursions, winter ski trips, sunshine destinations or ocean cruises?
Although all these lists might seem like overkill, the more you think about what needs to be in your closet, the more likely it will end up there. You will not be purchasing a separate wardrobe for each list - very few of us have either the size of closet or the budget required to do so. Rather, this exercise is to make you think about all the different activities in your life so that you can incorporate their requirements into your Master Wardrobe Plan.
You will also need to consider contingencies - for example, weddings, funerals, christenings, etc. How often you expect to attend these types of events will dictate how much you need to invest in this area. You may not have to purchase anything specific, you just need to know what you can wear from your existing wardrobe so that you don't run out in a panic to buy something new for the event.
Once you have your lists complete, you need to carefully think about how you can make one clothing item work for more than activity type. For example, perhaps a pair of pants can be worn with a blazer at the office and matched with a nice sweater when meeting a group of friends for dinner. Then this same sweater can be worn with a good fitting pair of jeans for dinner at the pub, entertaining at home or attending a casual party at a friend's home. Similarly, the same dress could be worn both at the office and to the theatre, simply by changing your jacket, shoes and jewelry.
Though this might seem like a difficult task, you are most definitely up to the challenge. Not only do you now know what you need, you know what looks best on you and so the trick is to marry the two into your Master Purchase Plan. There are several ways to do this, but here is one suggestion.
Take a single sheet of paper and list all your lifestyle activities in columns across the top of the page. Down the left side of the page list the various clothing items from your "absolutely perfect the way it is" and "looks great but needs altering" piles. Now for each item, put a check in all the activities for which you feel it can be worn.
When you're done, take a look at each column to see what you already have that works and think about what else you will need so that you have enough clothes in this category to satisfy your ongoing requirements. For example, you might want to have enough outfits for work so that you can wear something different every day for one, two or three weeks, depending on your personal comfort level and clothing budget for this area of your life. (I'm not talking about 5, 10 or 15 completely different outfits, but rather 5, 10 or 15 different looks created by mixing and matching your various articles of clothing.)
If you don't go out to a fancy restaurant very often, perhaps two outfits are all you feel you require, just so you can have a change each time you go out. However, if you love to get "dressed up" and you can afford it in your budget, then maybe you want 4 or 5 outfits. There is no right or wrong here, and it's totally up to you. After all, it's your wardrobe and you're the one who has to wear it!
Next, start thinking about everything you tried on during your trip to the mall in terms of how different styles looked on you and how they might be made to do double or triple duty, not only for outfits within the same column, but across the columns as well. Refer back to the notes you made while at the mall as necessary.
Make a list of the various articles of clothing you feel will be most flexible within your wardrobe. Try to be as specific and detailed as possible. For example, don't simply list dress pants, try to include colour, cut and even fabric if possible. If you haven't already guessed, these are the articles of clothing you will include on your shopping list, so the more detailed you can be now the easier it will be to go shopping later.
While this is not an exhaustive list, here are some things you may wish to consider:
- I highly recommend shopping at boutiques as opposed to department stores or retail chains in order to find brands and styles that have a more limited distribution and therefore won't be part of everyone else's closet. This way you will stand apart from the crowd and everyone will admire your unique sense of style. For those of you who reside in the west end of the GTA, you may want to visit The Fashion Network in Brampton, which carries a great selection of premium clothing lines at an extremely reasonable price. Sherron and her staff are very welcoming and have a good eye for what works best for each individual's colouring and body type. I purchase the majority of my clothes there and I never have to worry about running into someone else wearing the same thing I am.
- Since you want your clothing to maintain its colour, shape and finish for as long as possible, go for the best cut and fabric quality you can afford.
- If you stick with similar colour tones, it will be easier to mix and match the various pieces to create multiple outfits. Consider also style and type of fabric - although colours may match, if styles and fabric do not the pieces will not work well together at all.
- Your basic pieces should be solid, neutral colours so that they take you from season to season and year to year without making you look dated. If your base colours are too bright you'll stand out like a sore thumb wherever you go, which is why neutral tones are key. However, the exact shade(s) you choose must match your skin tone so that you look vibrant and healthy in them as opposed to pale and pasty.
- You can purchase more colourful tops and accessories as accent pieces in the current season's colours to spice things up a bit. However, too many colours can be distracting and therefore make you look loud as opposed to chic. Rule of thumb - wear no more than 1-3 colours at a time.
- When considering your accent pieces, keep in mind that wearing too many prints will make you look way too busy. So as a general rule, wear a pattern on the top or the bottom, but not both.
- Think about how you might be able to layer items so that they can work for all seasons. Consider also how a change of shoes, belt or jewelry can take you from season to season with polish and flair.
- Your shoes should be from the same colour family as your clothes. Your handbag, however, does not need to follow this rule, but it shouldn't be too loud or trendy unless you're on your way to the beach. Note that matching shoes and bag are no longer in vogue.
- While there is no one colour that goes with absolutely everything, white and black come the closest. Therefore, a good quality, great fitting pair of black pants and a white blouse are great assets in any closet. A little stretch in the blouse fabric will make it less susceptible to wrinkling. But note that while the white blouse is a recommended staple for any woman's closet, she has to watch carefully for yellowing at the armpits and be prepared to replace it on a regular basis. Note also that too much white can make you appear larger than you are, so avoid solid white pants or jackets unless you're naturally tiny.
- A formal suit is a great staple as it can take you a lot of places, and can always be broken up and worn separately to create more casual outfits. The jacket can be worn over a good pair of jeans, and the skirt or pants can be matched with a fancy top for an evening out on the town. A mid-weight fabric can be worn year round and a neutral colour such as black or navy offers great flexibility as either can be matched with much brighter colours to create a completely different look.
- Blazers are wonderful assets, since they add finish and polish to any outfit, even if it's simply jeans and a t-shirt. The right mix of blazers can transition your other pieces from season to season and from day to night. Look for structured cuts that hug your body and accentuate your waistline versus those that hang straight without shape. However, if you do find a straight fitting one in a colour and fabric you absolutely love, you can always have it tailored to fit your body.
- Knee length dresses and skirts are the most versatile as they are generally appropriate, whatever the occasion. The traditional "little black dress" that should be in every woman's closet doesn't have to be black, but it should look great both on its own and layered with a jacket or wrap. For greatest versatility, the dress should be kept simple and neutral. Instead, use colourful shoes, belts and other accessories to add drama and flair to your outfit.
- Just like blazers, sweaters can add versatility to any closet. Finer, lighter fabrics are dressier and definitely more modern in terms of style. Cashmere is best, if you can afford it.
- Although jeans come in many colours these days, traditional denim will offer the greatest versatility. Make sure you have at least one good pair long enough to wear with heels. According to Stacy London of What Not To Wear, the most universally flattering shape is a straight leg or a small boot-cut with a mid rise--about two finger widths under the belly button. For the longest, leanest leg line, look for a uniformly dark wash.
- Short pants and skirts make most women look shorter, stockier and bigger on top. Therefore, if you are under five feet six or seven, stick with longer styles that will lengthen your frame.
- If you like to wear your shirts and blouses out, look for rounded rather than square hems.
- Don't forget about outer wear. You need a good quality jacket and boots for that final touch of polish and class. According to Chatelaine Magazine, a trench coat can take you from season to season and the simplicity of its structure brings out the best for every size and shape.
- And don't forget about accessories, either. These relatively inexpensive items (as compared to the cost of individual pieces of clothing) add a great deal of versatility to every wardrobe and are a great way for you to express your unique style and personality. However, don't over accessorize or you will look too busy, which may give people the impression you are a disorganized person. Keep in mind that short chains and chokers tend to make the neck appear larger and that necklace length should be appropriate for the neckline of your outfit. Unless you are a large person, avoid chunky jewelry.
- Allocate your clothing resources to each activity column based on its importance in your overall lifestyle. For example, if you work full time you spend five days of the week at work. Therefore, you will want to allocate closet space for your work wardrobe accordingly, particularly if you're ambitious about moving up the corporate ladder. However, the percentage of time spent on each activity shouldn't be your only consideration; if your favourite leisure activity is going out partying with the girls every Saturday night then by all means ensure that you have enough of the right kind of clothes in your wardrobe to accommodate your needs.
As you are preparing your list, take time to really think carefully about what you need to purchase in order to create the most flexible wardrobe for your needs. There is no need to rush; after all, you've survived this long with what you already have on hand so a few more days, or weeks, won't hurt. Spending the proper amount of time now will pay huge dividends down the road when you can open your closet and always find just the perfect outfit.
While the task may seem daunting to some, a disciplined approach will get you through it. However, if you truly are overwhelmed by the task and don't know where to start, you can always hire an expert to help you through it. If you reside in the Greater Toronto Area, Rene Munro from Image Matters would be an excellent choice.
Once your list is complete, you need to think about how much money you can realistically afford to spend on clothing each month. It doesn't matter if your budget isn't huge - remember your "Not the best, but it's okay to hold onto for now" pile? Well, that is what you will use for fill-ins until you can afford to replace them with the items on your shopping list.
To help you effectively prioritize the order in which your new items should be bought, take a look at your "Not the best, but it's okay to hold onto for now" pile and identify which items on your shopping list are not even partially covered by something in this pile. Those are the items you may need to focus on initially. Start with the basic pieces first and then slowly build from there, so you don't end up with odds and ends that don't coordinate with the rest of your wardrobe.
When going shopping, take your time to find just the right piece in terms of colour, fabric and fit. Focus on quality and purchase the best you can afford. Don't settle, or you'll just end up replacing it down the road long before you need to. Don't go shopping unless and until you're in the mood, otherwise you may not have the patience to keep looking for exactly the right piece. Always keep your shopping list in your purse so that you have it on hand should you suddenly feel the urge to shop.
Ready... you're done your homework. Set... you know what styles and colours suit you best and you know what you need to purchase in order to create your perfect wardrobe. Now you go girl!
During the next and final installment of this series, we'll review a few key tips that will ensure you always look your best, whatever the occasion.
Okay, so you've done your homework. You now know what you need to buy as well as how you're going to budget your disposable income in order to build yourself a perfect wardrobe without running short of cash in other areas of your life. Reality first, after all.
In this fourth and final installment of Building the Perfect Wardrobe I want to provide some final suggestions about how to ensure you always look your best, so that people stare at you in admiration as you walk by, secretly wondering to themselves "how does she do it?"
For the most part, it is quite true that the expensive, higher quality garments fit better and last longer than those you pay more of a bargain price for. However, while it's your clothes that make the initial statement, it's those little finishing details that create the sophisticated polish. So it's not always about buying expensive clothes; how you finish your look is just as important.
Although it might be tempting to demonstrate you're fashionably up to date by sporting the latest styles and trends, be careful it doesn't come across like you're trying too hard. Honestly, understated is much classier and also more indicative of confidence. When it comes to fashion, as a general rule less is more.
You also need to invest in styles and colours that suit your particular body type and fit you properly. Believe me, you will look much smaller in a size 10 dress that fits you well than you will in a size 8 dress that is so tight it calls attention to excess cellulite. Similarly, blouses so tight across the chest the material gapes open between the buttons are never in vogue. So shop by fit, not by size, and don't hesitate to get your clothing altered to properly fit so it better flatters your figure.
Here are some other points to keep in mind in terms of proper fit:
- There seems to be some leeway regarding proper sleeve length for women (for men it is to the base of the thumb when the arm is hanging straight), but long sleeve shirts and blouses should fall at least to the point where the hand attaches to the wrist to avoid looking like they are too short for your arm.
- Pants should fit your curves, but not be so tight you can see your panty line, or heaven forbid, the outline of your crotch. The hemline should fall between the top and mid-heel of the shoe, dependent upon what is needed to allow the front of the pant to lightly graze the top of your foot without breaking the straight line of the pant. Note that narrower cuts can be a problem as they need to be of shorter length so they don't bunch up at the top of your foot. This sometimes shows your ankle bone and makes the pants appear too short. Therefore, it's always safer to choose a slightly wider cut.
- When it comes to polish and sophistication, don't underestimate the importance of properly fitting under garments. Panty lines are a definite no-no; thongs are an alternative if the shape of your derriere does not allow standard sized underwear to fit correctly. If you wear a slip, make sure the length is appropriate so that it neither shows at the hem nor sits too high above the hem that the slip itself is noticeable through the material of your skirt. Make sure your bra fits and supports you properly - it shouldn't ride up in back, slip off the shoulders or allow you to sag in the front. Avoid coloured bras and underwear that can be seen through clothing. Note that a beige or skin tone bra under a white top will be less visible than a white one.
To maximize your polish, consider the following:
- More mature women, such as myself, should avoid showing too much flesh; particularly if it's not as smooth and supple as it used to be! Harsh, bright colours or youngish prints will only age us more; we'll draw attention to our age by coming across as trying to look younger than we really are.
- If you match your pantyhose to the colour of your shoes as opposed to your dress or skirt, you'll look taller and trimmer.
- Ensure your makeup is appropriate for both the outfit and the occasion. Keep it lighter for daywear and again, remember that less is more. For a detailed overview on make up application techniques, visit my Makeup Tips and Tricks section.
- Nails should be clean, evenly trimmed and not too long if in a business environment. Keep a nail file in your purse to smooth away snags and tears as required. And if your polish is chipped, then fix it before going out the door. If you have trouble keeping your polish chip-free, then lighter colours will render chips less obvious, with clear polish being the safest.
- Before changing your hair colour, think carefully about whether it will change the way the colours in your wardrobe look on you. Highlights may be the safer route, and there is the added benefit of lower maintenance fees.
- Don't try to do so much with accessories so that your look is messy or overpowering. Instead, choose only one or two key pieces (such as purse, scarf or funky sunglasses) to enhance your outfit. For example, if a funky belt is the focal point, go easy on the necklace and earrings.
- Scuffed shoes and purses are no-nos. Clean and/or polish shoes regularly and use a felt tip marker on scuffs. Invest in good quality footwear so it stands up to normal wear and tear. Avoid running shoes unless you're at the gym; flat or low heeled shoes are almost always more appropriate, even with jeans.
- To prevent your dress shoes from getting scuffed at the heel when you drive, purchase a comfortable but inexpensive pair of flats that are easy to slip in and out of. Wear these flat shoes while driving to save your good ones.
- To minimize the time you take each morning to decide what to wear and to avoid always gravitating to the same thing because it's easy and you're in a rush, preplan your potential outfits, right down to the accessories options. Set aside some "me" time and have fun experimenting with how many different looks you can get from mixing and matching your wardrobe items. As I've previously noted in my Time Saving Tips section, if you plan in advance what you're going to wear to work for the week, you'll always look perfectly turned out with very little time and effort spent pulling yourself together each morning.
And finally, some tips for keeping your wardrobe up to date from season to season:
- Remained disciplined about future wardrobe purchases. Avoid buying odds and ends because they're on sale - unless they will serve a specific purpose in your wardrobe believe me, they're no bargain. If they don't belong with the look you've worked so hard to create, they shouldn't be in your closet.
- Review your wardrobe in advance of every season to see what is worn out or no longer fits and therefore needs to be replaced. Before you retire anything, consider how many outfits you might lose by removing the item from your closet and make plans to replace it accordingly.
- Evaluate how the new season colours will work with your skin tone and hair colour. If it's definitely you, you may wish to invest in one or two good pieces, provided the colours will tie into the rest of your wardrobe. Alternatively, if it's not your colour or budget is perhaps an issue, maybe a scarf or belt is all you need to look current. These smaller investments can more easily be donated to goodwill at the end of the season if you don't see yourself wearing them again.
So there you have it... almost. Just one more final parting thought: Please consider everything I've presented in this four part wardrobe series as guideslines rather than gospel, because when it comes to self expression there are no hard and fast rules, except to perhaps make sure you express yourself in a way that is genuinely reflective of the true you. So when it comes to what you wear, make sure whatever you put on reflects who you are with style and flair!
I believe what we choose to wear is reflective of both our level of self respect and the degree of respect we have for those we are with.
In terms of self respect, it's been my personal observation that although everyone cares to varying degrees about what they're wearing, it's the people who are the most self assured and also those who are the least self assured who make the strongest fashion statements.
I've also observed that when someone is insecure, their focus seems more on making themselves look physically attractive (i.e. sexy) as opposed to dressing appropriately for the occasion. Unfortunately this often backfires, particularly for women, because in the wrong situation they can come across as trashy, whether that be because they are baring too much skin or because people think they aren't sophisticated enough to know what's appropriate attire for the occasion. Neither interpretation is particularly flattering or commanding of respect.
However, when someone has a relatively high level of self esteem, it seems wherever they go they're beautifully turned out and their clothing selection is absolutely perfect whatever the event. I'm not sure whether it's because they care enough to make sure they know what's appropriate attire or because their confident air allows them to wear just about anything without other people questioning it. Most likely it's a bit of both, since as far as I'm concerned, personal style is a combination of fashion savvy and attitude... but we'll get to that in a later article.
In terms of respect for others, I'm referring to the degree one acknowledges the status and/or accommodates the intentions of the person or people they are with. For example, when meeting your partner's parents for the first time, depending on the formality of the occasion (i.e. are you meeting them at a restaurant versus a family barbeque?) it's always a good idea to dress a little more formally so they get the impression you care enough to want to make a good impression. Similarly, one generally doesn't wear T-shirt and jeans to a formal wedding unless they really don't care if they offend the bride and groom by their lack of respect for the formality of the event. When one goes to a job interview, they dress to impress in order to sell themselves as the best overall candidate for the position. When meeting friends for a casual dinner and a movie, one generally dresses a little differently than if they were dining together in a high end restaurant and then going on to the theatre.
So how will you know what's appropriate to wear in a given situation? Since none of us have a crystal ball, there's no way to guarantee you can get it right 100% of the time, but the following common sense rules should help your average:
- When in doubt, dress up rather than down, particularly for more formal occasions and larger social gatherings, whether they are business or personal in nature. However, don't go so overboard that you look like you're putting on airs. In other words, don't wear a high end designer outfit with stiletto heels to an outdoor garden party. Instead, wear a skirt or dress pants rather than jeans unless you're certain that everyone else will also be in jeans. And if you do wear jeans, make sure they are a good cut that is well tailored for your body type.
- When in doubt, dress in a way that you can easily tone up or down as required. For example, the black cocktail dress that makes you feel like a million bucks could be a real confidence booster in an uncertain situation. But your bare back and shoulders may make the outfit appear too formal if no one else in the room is showing any skin. So bring a matching jacket that you can either keep on or remove once you get there and can determine which would be more appropriate based on what the rest of the group is wearing.
- When in doubt, choose an outfit that fits you well. That way if you happen to show up in a pants suit when everyone else is wearing a dress you'll stand out in the best possible light. One of the most valuable things I learned from Rene Munro of Image Matters is that many of the clothes I had hanging in my closet weren't doing me justice because they didn't fit properly. But when I put them on and Rene showed me how they should be fitting by making a nip here and a tuck there, I was amazed at the difference. Rene told me it's the rare person indeed who can get a perfect fit off the rack, and so when I purchase something I should have it fitted properly by a good tailor before hanging it in my closet. Believe me, this has proven to be sound advice and that's why I'm passing it on to you now.
- When in doubt, dress comfortably and in a style you are comfortable with. People will feel much more comfortable around you, because they won't be mistaking your shifting and fidgeting as signs that you are uncomfortable around them. If your top or dress is bunching up at the waist because it's too tight, you'll be constantly tugging on it to straighten it, whether you're conscious of what you're doing or not. If the material is itchy, you'll be shifting and twitching to keep if from touching the more sensitive areas of your body such as around the collar bone, neckline or inside upper portion of the arm. If you don't feel comfortable in the style, you'll be somewhat distracted by your self conscious feelings. Those you are speaking with will be aware something is wrong and may incorrectly believe they are the cause of your obvious discomfort.
- When in doubt, dress conservatively and add your own distinctive flair with accessories such as shoes, purses, jewellery, belts, scarves, etc. that reflect your personality. This works well when some members of the group are either older or higher ranked on the corporate ladder than you. They will interpret your conservative dress as respectful and in turn respect the way you have chosen to express your individuality.
- And the best advice I can give you: if you feel you have to ask someone whether it's appropriate attire, it probably isn't.
By Renee Munro, ImageMatters
Your personality plays a starring role in the development of your personal sense of style. That style tells the world about your competence and confidence levels so it is in your best interest to pay close attention to it.
When you open the doors to your wardrobe, what do you see? Are your clothing choices truly reflecting the person you want others to see, or is your split personality responsible for the items hanging in there? Be honest when you read about the shoppers below and determine which of them sounds familiar.
The Vicarious Shopper: She wears the clothes that other people like or buy for her. She lives vicariously through their ideas of who she is and has not yet acknowledged her own sense of self.
The Shopaholic: Whether this woman will ever wear what she buys does not seem to matter to her. Her closet is full of clothes with no rhyme or reason to them, so she never has a thing to wear.
The Sale Addict: This shopper will scout the sales racks to get the very best deals and makes purchases based on price alone. Style does not seem to matter and so her closet is full of items that do not flatter her, that she will never wear and will forget she even owns.
The Age Blocked: She became emotionally attached to a particular time in her life, and has been dressing for it ever since. This kind of shopper is no longer aware of current fashion trends and continues to purchase clothing the way she always has. The years have passed and what used to look cute on her then might not be saying the same thing today.
The Repeat Offender: A woman can never own too many pairs of black slacks, button-down blouses or ballerina slippers. There is a particular colour or style, which manifests itself in every outfit this woman wears. Why would someone continually shop for newer versions of what she already has?
The Closet-Paralyzed: She loves to shop and may or may not have money to spend. She has closets full of beautiful clothes (many of them duplicates) and yet never has an occasion to wear them. There is no more closet space to fill, and yet she struggles each morning to find something to wear for work.
The Size-Deluded: This shopper purchases big and baggy clothes to cover the extra pounds OR she prefers the look of tight-fitting garments to help her look thin and sexy. She has not seen herself in a full-length mirror lately and she really should.
The Colour Blind: Big prints and loud colours make her feel good. She could care less about the effect her sense of style might have on the people around her. Any sense of appropriateness is lost on her.
Are any of these women shopping for a reason or with a goal? Is lifestyle, body type or personality even entering the thought process? Their emotional shopping habits will not give them the respect they want and deserve in life. The physical images they present do not reflect the smart women that they are. Being passed over for promotions or other job opportunities will continue to bewilder them until they decide to raise their Deserve Level.
Learning to formulate a credible image and investing in quality shopping time will ensure a much stronger position in their careers and personal lives. This process is also guaranteed to make each one of these women feel so much better in their own skin.
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