It’s raining and chilly, so today was the day to go through the closet. This is a once-a-year-torture, but it has great results. Everything in the closet that hasn’t been worn in several months gets tried on, judged, put back or put in a pile to donate. The main focus is on professional clothing, not what I wear around the house. As long as I’m working in my home office, sweatpants and T-shirts are fine. But standing in front of a class? Professional clothing has to look professional.
What makes an outfit worth keeping?
- It fits well; it’s flattering for my figure. This is also a reality check. No clothing is going to make me look decades younger or significantly thinner. What clothing must do is make me look tailored and professional.
- It is comfortable. Because teaching adults in corporations or businesses means wheeling in a box of supplies, the clothing has to allow bending and leaning over a table, reaching up to a whiteboard, crawling on the floor to connect electronics. For me, that means dress pants, low heels, a blazer or tailored top with three-quarter or long sleeves.
- It must be soul-comfortable. It should follow my values of good fit and style over fad. Khaki may be the “it” color this fall, but it looks awful on me. Snug or clingy fit? Not for me. Skimpy knit tops, bustiers, and tube or scoop-neck tops that show bosom and shoulders or bra straps doesn’t make me feel comfortable or professional, so I don’t buy them.
What makes me give an outfit a pass? Some classic mistakes I’ve made more than once:
- It was on sale. Sigh. Roll my eyes. Shake my head. But I’ve made that mistake more than a dozen times. A great sale and I’ll think I’ll get used to the color, wear higher heels, lose 10 pounds, put a belt on it. Change the buttons. But I don’t. So, no. Just no.
- It’s a color I don’t ever wear. Most of my clothes are suitable for Victorian ladies in their second year of mourning: black, gray, dark blue, dark purple, forest green. I never wear pink, orange, yellows, tans, or yellow-greens. Occasionally I think I should try one of those colors again; they seem cheerful. But I shouldn’t. Not unless I want to look ill, not cheerful.
- Buy bold or busy patterns. The one jacket I have with a floral pattern stitched into it always requires consideration. Its saving grace is that the jacket is black with off-white, not-too-busy embroidery. Every now and then I think that one of those flowy, flowery jackets or vests will look great on me. But while I love the idea of it, I look like an unmade bed in those tops. So I steer clear.
It took me a while to make the connection, but my clothing values are also values I have to choose friends. They need to be a good fit, comfortable, not crazy (no manic pixie dream friends of any sex), not wild and loud (no worries, the loud and wild people won’t like me, either). Good friends will be flexible, stick with me under unusual or difficult conditions and not make me feel like an unmade bed. Clever, dry humor, a touch of sarcasm, good problem solvers are all winners over aggressive, bad-ass, in-your-face personalities. (Bad-ass behavior is popular right now, but it’s just not me. I’m basically kind-ass.)
I’m consistent–from clothing to shoes to friends, I value comfort over fads. What’s in your closet and what does it say about you?
—Quinn McDonald is a writer, creativity coach, and corporate trainer who loves making artist books without the pressure of having to sell them.