One of my lovely loyal readers has just returned to the workforce after having taken a few years to raise two young children.
She asked me for tips on where to go and how to build a wardrobe for work as she has had a very casual existence for the last few years, she felt "a bit daggy" and she hadnt had much time to devote to shopping.
Our reader is a teacher and she is a nicely proportioned size 10 on the top and bottom.
I am going to use this post to provide an outline of the types of workable wardrobe pieces she should aim for, together with suggested stores to find those pieces.
Obviously without spending face to face shopping time, its impossible to select an entire wardrobe for her - this is because items that work on paper, may not work on her body (& vice versa).
But my suggestions will work to get her started.
I think our reader has recognised that she cant just go out willy nilly to shop - that she needs a plan.
Yes - a plan!
Her big picture steps are:
1. Assess - what sort of life do you live and what are its needs?
2. DeJunk - edit ruthlessly even if to allow you to see what you have
3. ReNew - shop for what's missing
Typically, all three should be carried out together, but in this case, we have been asked just to focus on the third step, ReNew.
Before we do that, lets start with 5 tips:
TIP 1. Hitting the pavement
You cannot build most of this wardrobe by shopping on-line. As you have been away from the shops for a while, we need to narrow down the brands/styles that suit your shape by trying on various high street brands. If you attempt to do this on-line it will take far more time and frustration than you will ever anticipate.
I suggest you start (now) lining up a relative, hubby etc for a few baby sitting sessions on a Saturday or Sunday when you will be at the shops. Under no circumstances should you attempt hitting the pavement with the kids in tow.
Once we have narrowed down what brands and shapes work for you, for future purchases, you can use on-line facilities as you will be more confident with particular brands and their sizing.
TIP 2. Rome wasnt built in a day
Do not expect to buy all the suggested items in one session or one shopping trip. If you force yourself to do this, you may compromise fit/quality for the sake of having a complete set of the items on your list. The best way to handle this is to buy a few of the items on the list, the ones you absolutely love, then to add to them as you find more of the pieces on the list. Only buy an item when it is PERFECT for your shape/budget and has great quality/fit/colour flattery.
TIP 3. Shop your closet
Go through your closet and see if you already have items that are on the list.
This is the DeJunk step above.
You may be surprised that you already have a few things. If you do, then try them on & if you have ANY doubts about size/fit/suitability, take a photo and email it to me. I will give you an honest & constructive opinion on how the items is working for your shape and whether it looks fresh and appropriate.
TIP 4. Co-ordinated pieces
The pieces I will suggest will be interchangeable - this means that they will all work together in complementing tones so you get the maximum value for money.
Such an interchangeable wardrobe needs a base colour around which everything works. This will typically be a dark-ish colour. Black is very common, but it can also be navy, brown, bottle green, taupe, camel & grey. Ultimately the reader - you, will need of select this colour.
Some of the benefits of a darkish colour are that it doesnt get as dirty as lighter colours and they are also more slimming than lighter colours. Note also that of all the women who select black as a base, only about half of those women can wear it near their face. The other half are too fair for it. So have a look at your hair, skin & eye colour in the mirror and decide whether black will be too harsh for you. If so, select one of the other base colours.
The seasons & layering
I am sure you already know that you wont be buying a winter wardrobe now & then another whole new summer wardrobe in six months. That would be crazy, oh and a waste of money. You see, most of the pieces on this list are transseasonal - in a country like Australia, that is important. Yes, you will add the odd piece of very summery or very wintery piece, but most of the items will work year round - this will give you the greatest value for money.
The way to make this work is to layer pieces. In winter you can wear the coat with a scarf, over a jacket over a cardigan over a shirt. No one says the jacket has to be a warm nubby tweedy wool.
Get the drift? They are many ways to combine the pieces & you may need to set some time aside to play around and get the maximum combinations which work year round.
TIP 5. Maintenance
Even if we shop on the high street, clothes can be expensive. Hence we want them to last for as long as possible and to look smart during the time we wear them. In order to get the best value for money, I will show you how to look after the items as well as give you tips on what fabrics work best
Now, lets get to the good stuff:
THE TEACHER'S WARDROBE
After having a think about my teachers at school and specifically what the women wore, I have come to the conclusion that I dont want you wearing anything those women wore. Plus they were all about 20 years older than you and looked 50 years older than you!
There was one young teacher who wore a different pair of jeans every day. She was pretty and petite, drove a Ford Laser and all we were besotted by was those hundreds of jeans.
Seriously, give or take, your teaching wardrobe should consist of the following items:
Single breasted suit with matched skirt and pants
Jeans - 2 pairs
Tee shirts - 3 white & 3 coloured/patterned
Blouses & tops - 2 patterned
Jacket with pop
Flat front trousers
A line or pencil skirt
Dresses - 2
A single breasted suit with a matched skirt and pants
A good suit, well taken care of, will give you more credibility than any other item in your wardrobe. In a non suit wearing profession, you only need one which you will wear for presentations, formal events etc.
However, you you will get your mileage from this by wearing the three pieces as separates with the other items in your wardrobe.
Your suit must be in your base colour.
If it is patterned (texture or pin stripe is OK), make the pattern subtle (so it can mix with the other items in the capsule)
Make the fabric lightweight (so you can wear it year round).
Try to avoid viscose blends (they dont wear well & start to look fluffy around the seat, sleeves, hips etc)
Aim for approx 90% wool/10% elastin (wool = quality & elastin = gives you room to move)
If you hate pants (like moi!), buy two skirts
If you hate skirts, buy two pants.
Dont worry about wearing the same thing on the bottom - people notice what is on top, not what is on the bottom
The suit will need to be dry cleaned on a regular basis - but did you know that the chemicals in dry cleaning are very bad for natural fibres like wool? That means. apart from the cost, we have another incentive not to dry clean too often.
So after each wear, hang up to pieces outside the wardrobe so air flows around the garment for 24 hours - this will help the wool get back to shape. Use a lint brush to brush off dead skin cells from the collar and the inside of the cuffs & I can guarantee these simple steps will significantly reduce your need to dry clean.
Oh, sorry to be a pain, but you MUST dry clean all three pieces together. If you dont do this, the varying rates of dry cleaning on the three pieces will cause fading at different rates. Trust me, there is nothing worse than a suit that almost looks matched.
Where to buy?
The Winston Suit (black)
The Mavrik Suit (navy)
Jeans - 2 pairs
One with yellow stitching (to complement tan/camel accessories)
One with white stitching or very dark stitching
Suggest dark wash (much smarter than faded jeans)
Suggest bootleg cut (gives a longer line & is more elegant than skinnies or wide leg)
Where to buy?
I wont go through places to select jeans - perhaps you already have favourites. If not, go to Jeans West & Just Jeans & get fitted. Make sure you also try the Levis Curve ID range too.
Once you know what style works for your body, I'd also go to Target & Kmart for much cheaper versions. You never know your luck.
There is also another brand to try - Not Your Daughters Jeans which guarantee to make you look a size smaller & they have a higher waist than others so they suck you in better. They are in selected boutiques. Check out their Facebook page for details.
In a lightweight poplin with an opening all the way down the front (not tunic style).
It can be ruffled, pleated, or plain.
Remember that the plainer it is, the more versatile it is.
Try to stay away from rayon/viscose (such as Sussan's Pretty Utility Shirt) and get cotton or a strong cotton blend. It will look better in the long run.
Down the track you should aim for a long sleeve and a short sleeve version.
Where to buy?
White Origami Shirt
Kelly Stripe Shirt
I'd suggest you dont get this one - the self stripe is distracting & will take away from impact of the other pieces
Cue also normally have great white shirts - but i couldnt find any on the web ATM - go instore.
The other stores where you can find white poplin shirts include Kmart, Target & Big W. Just make sure the blend is a cotton poplin. The prices in these stores will be alot cheaper than the links I have attached.
If you are the sort of person who really likes classic shirts, you may want to buy another in a colour such as pale blue or pink or even a brighter or deeper shade. The above stores normally carry colours depending on whats in season.
You need a few of these in solid whites, solid blacks (or whatever your base colour is), solid brights or pastels (whatever you prefer).
These will work under the suit jacket, under a cardi or on their own.
Go for cotton/lycra
Avoid 100% cotton - they look a bit furry & ratty after a few washes & their colour fades.
Start to notice necklines - a scoop or vee neck will allow you to show a nice necklace.
If you have plump arms, dont end the sleeve at the widest part of your arm.
Keep the length at the top of your hip, so that it can be tucked in (without too much bulk) or left out.
Sometimes stores (like Witchery) do very long line tees (for layering) - these are probably not the smartest look - better for playtime.
Where to buy?
You cant go past Giordano, Kmart, Target, all will be less than $10 each.
Stores like Witchery so alot in viscose and seem to charge too much for them.
Blouses & tops
You will need a selection of these - to start with, probably two.
The good thing about these is that they will add a bit of pop without you having to think about what jewellery goes with what. For that reason its best to use a print or a colour that pops.
If you are using a print, make sure it's predominant colour looks good on you.
In selecting prints & colours, think about what sort of person you are:
Romantic - go for a floral or a ruffle top
For floral & girly, try Review or Alannah Hill
Playful - go for a bright floral or spots
Review - Minnie skirt
Dramatic - go for colour blocking
Modern - go for a digital print
Ginger & Smart - Watermark sleeveless dress
Sporty - go for a animal print or a military look
Leopard Tuck Tee $50
Classic - go for a stripe design or a solid colour
Flat front trousers
This is in addition to the suit pants.
They will be your go-to pants.
The reason the suit pants wont be the go-to will be because if you wear them alot more than the other suit pieces they will dry clean more often & fade faster as a result.
These will work with all the tops and tees.
Where to go to buy?
All the places that had suit options, have pant options.
Also I liked this one at Trenery
Pencil or A line skirt
This is in addition to the suit skirt. It will be your go-to skirt.
The reason the suit skirt wont be the go-to will be because if you wear it alot more than the other suit pieces and dry clean it more often, it will fade faster as a result.
This skirt will work with all the tops and tees.
Where to go to buy?
All the places that had suit options, have skirt options.
A cardigan is a softer option than a suit jacket and more comfortable in the classroom.
It may be a good idea to have a couple to start with.
Select one in a similar plain colour to your base colour - so you can wear the skirt/pants with the cardi as a "suit".
Then select the other in a contrast colour, interesting texture, or a pattern or with embellishments that you can wear with the skirt/pants as a another "suit".
Sussan snake print cardi
If this wasnt white (would get insanely dirty), I'd look at it.
The other option is one of the drapey cardis that can also double for play.
Jacket with a bit of pop
This is addition to the suit jacket. It will be more "exciting" than the base colour jacket - an interesting colour, an interesting print or textures. Dont forget, generally, the more you pay, the better the quality and the longer it will last. You should expect this to do double duty as well - lunch with friends, dinner with hubby, mothers club.
Dont go for anything too "out there" though - I've seen some tuxedo styles and jackets with sequins, which would be too memorable to do alot of wear for you.
Sussan is showing four which give you an idea.
I'd invest in say three sweaters to start with.
Firstly I'd suggest a dark one that blends well with your base colour.
I can guarantee that this will be a go-to.
You may want variety with a long one
and a shorter one
Country Road - a 3/4 sleeve knit
Sussan - a cable sweater or a wide stripe sweater
It a good idea to have a few dresses. They can be worn with a jacket (more formal), with a cardigan (softer) or alone (in summer).
For colours, I'd suggest one in your base colour, or something that compliments your base colour.
Another may be in a print - along similar lines as the prints I laid out in the "Blouses" section.
Try not to wear anything too figure revealing or skimpy.
You can usually winter-ise a summer dress by adding tights too.
The style depends on your figure shape and your preferences.
Think about whether you want a straight style with a slim skirt, or an A line skirt.
Alternatively, you may prefer a fuller skirt.
What about a wrap dress? Easy to wear and flattering
Seriously, there are truck loads of options out there.
Review have the best selection of full skirted dresses and skirts.
They are also wonderful with prints.
Have a look at the Gardenia dress.
David Lawrence - the wrap
You will probably need a coat.
Ensure it is at least 80% wool.
Make sure you try it on with a jacket and move your arms around like crazy to ensure it fits and doesnt cut off your circulation.
Further, as much as furry vests are the "in" thing, they dont really keep you warm. Look out for a warm coat - not a fashion accessory.
I dont see alot of coats now in the Aussie market. I'll keep a look out for you.
These babies are what will give your clothes extra mileage.
Alternate 3 pairs of low heel shoes.
Pair A: in the base colour
Pair B: something that complements the base colour but is still neutral
If the base colour is black, then Pair B can be tan, eggplant, grey, even red. This is important - make sure this complementary colour appears as part of the colours of your tops and dresses, otherwise it will look out of place.
If you are finding this choice difficult, then make Pair B another base colour pair of shoes, but in a different style/design to Pair A.
Pair C: something more zingy/contrasting than Pair A or Pair B
The zing can be in colour or in design.
Dont forget, the trendier the shoe (platforms, huge thick straps, cork) the less versatile it will be.
Suede is a killer to maintain in winter/rain - try to avoid this.
In summer, you will need another paid, Pair D: a sandal.
The rotation process means you must never wear a pair two days in a row - not because of what anyone else will think, but because rotating will ensure your shoes last way longer than if you didnt rotate. You see, leather needs time to relax, for the moisture to evaporate and to go back to its original form, before you wear them again.
Check for scuffs regularly and use a bootpolish to remove them.
If you wear the base colour shoe 2 times a week, rub in a neutral shoe cream every 3 weeks to keep the leather supple and soft.
Keep another pair of flats for when you can relax but are still at school (loafers, ballet flats, canvas sneakers)
Where to buy?
All the shoe stores in a typical Westfield will have all of these.
Belts can be worn with dresses, tops and pants. If the skirts have belt loops, then the belt can be worn with those too.
Apply a similar way of thinking to the belts as we did to the shoes.
Scarves can provide no end to the variety of a fixed wardrobe.
Summer scarves in cotton, linen or silk blends easily work to pretty up plain coloured clothing.
You will also need at least one wool scarf, or if you save some more pennies, a cashmere one.
Watch this video to get 25 ways to wear a long scarf. Its priceless.
Third, a handbag
You will need a handbag that is smart enough to appear with you at a formal meeting with the principal but that isnt too stuffy to carry around every day when you deal with your non school life.
All the stores mentioned above carry bags at every price point.
Also look at Strand Bags for cheaper options.
Myer and DJs too.
The trick is to figure out what works for you.
My suggestion is to think about the handbags you have had in your life which have been most convenient. Ask yourself, what their features have been. I have list some features to get you thinking.
colour (light, dark)
finish (matt, patent)
pattern (plain, pattern, animal)
hardware (gold, silver, antique, none)
shoulder strap v arm handle or both
zips v flaps
My only suggestion is buy leather - it will look so much better than anything vinyl.
I am also sure you will be carrying students' work home to mark it. So you will need another larger tote for that. Please dont use those Woolies green bags. Buy something a bit classier, that will give you a professional image.
You dont need anything fancy here.
Unless jewellery is your thing, a watch, a simple necklace (gold or silver depending on your best metal), maybe a bracelet (Pandora style). You can add to this as you go.
Lastly, under garments
Fact: 85% of women are wearing the wrong size bra.
Please go to a bra shop or to DJs/Myer and get refitted - 85% is a huge statistic.
Make sure undergarments are invisible - no visible panty line (VPL), ever.
If you are wearing a fitted top or tee, wear a tee shirt bra that is smooth.
If the shoulder line on your top is cut narrow, get the clips that bring the straps together in the middle of your back (Lorna Jane, Bras N Things)
Bras under white tops should be skin coloured - a white bra will show up in this case.
Underwear will last heaps longer if you handwash. If time necessitates machine washing, select the gentle cycle and use a wash bag.
This wardrobe is obviously not static - you will add a piece or two here and there each season to complement what you have and give your look a current slant. At the same time, ensure that your core pieces are always in good condition and wearable, and you will always have something to wear.