August 28, 2008
By ELLEN FREEMAN ROTH
she gets wardrobe in order with a clothing makeover
A friend said that when she
first saw me, she thought "Manhattan." Unfortunately, my
style's taken a wrong turn over the past decade. Most of my
clothes didn't look right on me. Recent purchases missed the
mark, and I was reluctant to part with clothes that had
become more artifact than wardrobe.
I'm not alone in this.
Plenty of us have closets packed with clothes that are
dated, unflattering, out of step with who we've become.
Clothes we swear we'll slim down enough to wear again, but
never do. A few misbegotten items with price tags still on
them. And who can part with pieces woven with memories?
I was turning 50 and so, it
seemed, was my closet. I needed to revamp, to look as good
as I felt about the big day. Then came the solution: My
husband got me two hours with a wardrobe stylist, Johanna
The notion that I had my own
stylist made me laugh. My work-at-home dress code trended
toward New Balance, not new Balenciaga. But Foster arrived
with breezy elan. I shared with her my saga of searching for
an ensemble for my keynote speech at an executive women's
breakfast. I'd shopped in desperation, settling on something
She wasn't surprised I'd had
trouble. It's difficult to shop for an event, she said,
because you're limited by what's available that season.
Designers make a lot of mistakes, creating trendy items, so
you need to own clothes that reflect your needs and
The proper closet should be
proportional: Fifty percent of your wardrobe should be
everyday, functional clothes with long shelf lives, she
said. Twenty percent should be timeless dressy items. Only
15 percent should be mementos and sentimental items. The
last 15 percent should be trendy items from the current
season, and since those items have shorter shelf lives they
should be less costly. Ditch anything dated.
Most wardrobes are
unbalanced, Foster said. As if on cue, she parted my sea of
scarves. "You have a lot of these." "I wear a lot," I
protested. "Some were my mother's." I'd drawn a line in the
silk. Foster moved on to skirts, pulling out a short pleated
"My summer favorite," I
"The fabric looks like my
grandmother's curtains," she responded.
Form fitting is better on
you, she advised. Stick with a clean design below the waist;
no little pockets or embellishments that will make your hips
I donned my tuxedo jacket,
ready to wow her. "Wow!" she said. "That's too much for you.
Too shiny, too black, too long."
I tried to toss a black wool
double-breasted jacket I bought years ago, but Foster
wouldn't let me. "That's a beautiful piece! Have it
Last year's sweater? Stale.
The rich navy sweater coat my Nana knitted for my mother 35
years ago? Magnificent. Fashion typically works in 30-year
cycles, she explained, so it's not unusual for something
beautiful like this to come back around.
I was catching on. I modeled
the magenta wrap dress I bought for my engagement party 25
years ago. "Keep?" I ventured. "Maybe bring up the hem and
move the hook?" She nodded.
After the stylist left, more
than 50 percent of my clothing lay in a pile for charity. In
my closet, two blouses hung like workaholics at the office.
A glance at my wardrobe suggested I'd be best suited for a
bike ride or a cocktail party. Yet when I got dressed, my
half-empty closet seemed to offer more options. What
remained was flattering and easy to find.
When it comes to closets,
less can indeed translate to more. We have more confidence
without the reminders of who we're not, the bodies we don't
have, the shopping mistakes we've made.
A week later, Foster and I
met in Boston to shop for the basics I lacked. Paying for
additional time with her was a worthwhile investment.
"Building a wardrobe is like
building an art collection," she instructed. "You add items
She had a rack of clothes
waiting for me in a dressing room, including some things I'd
never buy. Just keep an open mind, I told myself.
I wouldn't have selected
this one, but it's got panache, I said, pulling on a cotton
jersey with a linen stand-up collar. When I asked what to
wear with it, her jaw dropped. "Almost anything. It's a
She was right about the
form-fitting skirts. We selected a chic one for my birthday
party, then, in search of a top, sprinted from Barneys to
Ralph Lauren to The Gap, which Foster said has great design
this season. We squeezed into a dressing room, I stepped
into my new skirt, and she handed me a cotton/cashmere
sleeveless sweater. When I pulled it on, Johanna screeched
as though she'd won the lottery. A match.
The outfit for my birthday
was so easy and sophisticated that I'm hoping I can wear it
for my 80th birthday, too.