I’m fond of saying that my wardrobe is held together by duct tape and staples. I’m sure this is an overstatement, but it’s hard not to feel this way when confronting the annual onslaught of fall fashion advice. It arrives every year, just around the time that the ten-ton September issue of Vogue lands with a heavy thud on our newsstands.
Much of what we find in fashion magazines is unrealistic, for one reason or another. Each season’s trends range from merely challenging (color-blocking) to puzzling (sequined motorcycle jackets) to downright incomprehensible (lace jumpsuits! furry sleeves!)
What most of us want are practical, versatile basics: what some bloggers call our “wardrobe workhorses.” The most practical advice, usually found in books or on blogs, is often some variation of “Ten items you absolutely must have in your wardrobe.” Unfortunately, it’s very rare that I own more than two or three of these. And given my limited time and money, it’s unlikely that I will tackle the full-time job of assembling this perfectly edited selection of high-quality, versatile clothing.
I think it’s time to acknowledge real-life wardrobes. Imperfect wardrobes, for imperfect women. And I am just the person to do it! I recently did an informal inventory of my wardrobe, trying to figure out what gaps I need to fill for the upcoming year. I focused on clothing for work. (My casual wardrobe usually takes care of itself; mostly, it’s work items paired with jeans, since my workplace is pretty casual as it is).
Today’s post will focus on the most basic basics: trousers, skirts and jackets. I think it’s telling that, even though I love secondhand shopping, most of the items here were bought new. Basics just seem so much harder to find in thrift stores, although many of my readers and fellow bloggers do a great job with this. But as you will see, even when shopping for new, “quality” basics, I still wind up with a lot of imperfection! So here we go.
I own two basic pairs of work trousers:
1) one brown pair in a lightweight fabric. They’re a smidge tight, the zipper gaps open slightly, and they tend to show pantylines. But they’ve always been flattering! I’ve had them for at least eight years, and the manufacturer no longer exists. So I’ll stubbornly continue wearing them, even if I have to try every style of underwear on earth to make it work.
2) one pair in grey wool. These are also a tiny bit tight — what’s up with that? As a result, I get a few whiskery lines across the front. But they’re good enough for now. And they’re good quality, with no pills or scraggly-looking bits after two years of wear. Thank you, Ann Taylor.
I own four basic ones, at least two of which are useful.
1) The brown, knee-length skirt with a slight ruffle:
It looks cute and goes with everything, but after less than a year of wear, it’s started to pill. I knew this skirt was overpriced for the quality (sorry, makers of Sunny Leigh clothing, but it’s true). Good thing I got it on sale. I’m going to try to make it last for another year, at least.
2) A new denim pencil skirt (Levi’s, purchased at Macy’s).
Regular readers know that my favorite denim skirt bit the dust last year. This may not be the perfect replacement; it’s a little shorter than I’d like, and the fabric poofs out on one side at the hip. Plus, Mr. Frump’s eyes light up every time I wear it, which makes me wonder about work-appropriateness. But with a conservative top, long enough to cover the poof, I’m going to give it a try. Plus, I kind of love how this skirt looks and feels.
3) A flared print skirt, made by Chico’s, bought secondhand.
It’s cute and neutral, with a good fit and flattering shape. So why do I feel I always feel frumpy when I wear it? Is this my irrational fear of flared skirts rearing its ugly head again? Why do I feel like I should be reporting for my shift at the organic food coop every time I put it on? The jury is out on this one, though I do intend to try it. With some different styling techniques, I think it just might work.
4) The fabulous wool skirt.
It’s been too tight for over a year, yet it’s still in my closet. Apparently, even with Ann Taylor‘s notoriously generous sizing, I ain’t no size 8 any more. Oh, well. The wool was always too itchy, anyway. But maybe I’ll keep it just a little while longer…. because you never know!
You can never have too many good jackets, but a great one is so hard to find. All of mine have something wrong with them.
1) The brown suede jacket:
It was made by the now-defunct Filene’s department store label, i.e. Oh, how I miss i.e. It looks and feels fabulous, but it’s too warm to wear indoors. Unfortunate.
2) The plum jacket by J. Crew:
This may be my favorite jacket at the moment. It looks great, and I love the color. Unfortunately, it’s so heavy and confining that I’m always finding excuses not to wear it.
3) The black jacket (by i.e.):
I get compliments on this one every time I wear it. It looks great, but once again: so confining. And a bit dark for my color palate. It’s too nice to get rid of, but too uncomfortable to wear more than once or twice a year.
4) The tan jacket (by J. Jill):
This one is lighter in weight, comfortable, and versatile. So why am I never happy with it? I can’t decide if the problem is that it’s too light in color, washing me out, or if I just don’t like the plain, classic tailoring and somewhat boxy shape. I’ve thrown it in the pile of clothes to be donated three times now, but I always fish it back out. I’m giving it one last chance, but that’s it!
4) The cheap brown jacket. And I do mean ridiculously cheap.
I tore the scratchy label out, so I don’t even remember who made this thing. All I know is, it couldn’t breathe if its life depended on it. But it stubbornly insists on looking cute with a few of my outfits, so I can’t let it go.
I have gradually started to realize that, as much as I love the look of tailored jackets, they may be too confining and uncomfortable for my job. I gesticulate wildly while teaching, apparently, so being able to move my arms is important. Plus I run around a lot, and sweat happens. Sure, I can always take the jacket off. But I have to ask: if the jacket comes off within the first five minutes of arriving at work, what’s the point of wearing it?
So I’m on a never-ending quest to find the perfect “not quite a jacket.” Here’s what I have so far:
1) Two loose, flowy cardigan/wraps:
I like both of these and wear them a lot. I just always have this nagging feeling that I would prefer to look a little more tailored. Why can’t I find something that looks more like a jacket but feels (and moves!) more like these? Because I haven’t found it yet, I also own:
2) An odd assortment of collared, button-down shirts that get worn, unbuttoned, as jacket substitutes. There are too many to itemize here, many of which are clogging my closet in a very inefficient manner. But I just never know when one of them might look perfect with something! I mean, if you can’t have one perfect not-quite-a-jacket, why not have fifteen mediocre ones that don’t quite work?
What I really should have are some great cardigans: crisp enough to look professional, but unstructured enough to be comfortable and non-confining. Yet, I own none of these. How illogical is this? So let’s consider that another gap in the imperfect wardrobe, shall we?
So there’s the first part of my list. I haven’t touched upon tops yet, and we all know that shoes are a whole other story! So I think I will continue this list in my next post. Well, unless I lose interest. Because you know, I’m imperfect like that.
But I’d love to hear from some of my readers. Do you try to “get by” with imperfect basics? Do you enjoy the challenge of making your imperfect wardrobe “good enough?” I’m sure that my thrift-shopping readers have tons of expertise in this area! Let’s hear your stories and tricks of the trade.