Kerry, What’s in Your Closet?

A few weeks ago, we received an email from soon-to-be graduate student, Kerry:

“I’m moving from the South to the Pacific Northwest, probably not taking my car, and I’m trying to think about what I am going to take. I’ll probably ship some boxes to myself, but I still need to really pare things down. Do you have any advice for someone who kind of needs to replace things in her wardrobe that she has had since the beginning of college?”

It was kind of hard to imagine giving wardrobe advice to someone you can’t see, whose budget you’re not in control of, and whose current wardrobe is a million miles away. So I asked Kerry if she’d like to try a little experiment: she takes photos of every piece of clothing she owns, sends them my way, and through looking at what she’s already got, we’ll get to what she needs to get rid of, what to keep, and what to put on her shopping list. (You could call this “shopping her closet” but then that would make it seem played out and boring, which this is not!)

Kerry responded with a “YES!” and proceeded to send me… wait for it… 54 photographs. If you were wondering how many items of clothing a random, seemingly normal woman you’ve never met has, you are weird. But fine: it’s around 80. Before we get to them, I asked Kerry what she really wanted out of her wardrobe:

Okay, the look I’m going for… this is hard to articulate! I really like kind of a slightly androgynous look, like I enjoy wearing skirts but I am more drawn to things like plaid and denim jackets and straight pants. I like texture, too: denim, flannel, corduroy, suede, and leather sometimes. I guess you could say it’s menswear-inspired but still somehow feminine? And though I like colors, I am always drawn to dark, natural tones. Brown, dark green, black, gray, etc. If I could start over, I would love to dress more like Charlotte Gainsbourg (though it would have to be slightly different because her body is a lot more boyish than mine) or Alexa Chung, sometimes. I also really admire how effortlessly cool Patti Smith and Cat Power always look.

So, how’s she doing?

The Diagnosis:

Let’s start with what Kerry is doing wrong, because that is more fun than what someone is doing right.

1. If you were looking for the T-shirts, look no further. Kerry has all of them. Check it out:

I told her I was going to make fun of her for this and asked her to explain herself:

Yes, feel free to make fun of me. I deserve it! Why do I have so many T-shirts? That is a good question. I don’t know. Help! haha.

2. Kerry loves flouncy skirts, especially ones of a certain color:

The skirts have all been acquired on sale at Anthropologie (except one, which I bought because it has deep pockets and had a gift card) (I love pockets), I guess because they seem easy to wear, not because they particularly speak to me.

3. Kerry has three plaid shirts, which, upon first glance, I thought were flannel but she assures me one is not. But which one?:

5. And lots of dark pants. She says one pair is green and not black, but the impression is the same. Here’s a selection:

Points 6 and 7 we’ll present without photos: Kerry has only neutral-colored shoes and she owns very few dresses. Alexa Chung wears lots of dresses. So do the other women she mentioned. I asked her how she felt about them:

I don’t really have an aversion to dresses but I just don’t know how to shop for them, maybe? I think I’m bad at finding dresses that can be really casual and also flattering. Like dresses that kind of fit in with [my androgynous look]. Or, wait. Something else has occurred to me, which is: until the past couple of years, I did have an aversion to dresses and makeup and that kind of thing, and I don’t anymore, but it’s taken me time to get used to wearing a dress and not feeling really dolled-up and you know how when you wear lipstick or something people are like “Ahh you are wearing lipstick!” and it’s kind of annoying? I think when I was in school I felt like that about ladylike things in general and it is silly now because it would be fine. (I do wear some makeup now, btw, so it’s just dresses that I don’t know how to shop for.) ALSO. And sorry this is so long but… I think I would like dresses a lot better than skirts because they are a whole easy outfit.

She’s right — they are a whole easy outfit.

The Good Stuff:

1. Kerry’s got a few excellent blouses.

I really hope her dry cleaner can get the spot out of that last one because it’s perfect for the look she wants.

2. This girl has outerwear DOWN. Tons of it in a huge variety. This is where she’s getting all that texture from: corduroy, denim, faux fur, etc. She’s only lacking one waterproof, warm coat for rainy days. Maybe an insulated trench? And depending on how far north she’s headed, a puffy down coat might be needed. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of her picking faves from her closet to bring with.

3. She has some nice, classic sweaters. Perfect for where she’s headed:

4. Kerry bravely sent me a photo of what she intends to take to Goodwill, and you know what is a bummer? I actually like these better than the T-shirts she wants to keep! At least they have something going on?

5. Though they’re all in neutral colors, Kerry’s shoes are perfect for the look she wants.

Treatment Plan:

1. Pare down the multiples. You only need one or two black tees. Same goes for orange/red/pink skirts, black pants, and plaid shirts. Getting rid of this stuff will make room for…

2. More variety in each category. For example, in pants you could have a pair of cords, some ripped jeans, a printed jean, some heavy weight leggings, and a pair with some silkiness and drape. Imagine a wide-leg, silk pant and a plain T-shirt and those oxfords. Cute! Ripped jeans with a silk blouse and boots: cute! Corduroys with an argyle sweater and heels: cute! You’ve done well with the sweaters: pullovers and cardigans in a variety of textures and colors. Now extend that to your pants, skirts, and tops.

3. Get some Hunter boots in dark green. They’re hot and will keep you warm and dry in your new climate.

4. Try more dresses! A dress is easy and usually looks better than a tee and orange skirt. To stay in line with your dream look, browse Helmut Lang’s styles and purchase similar dresses at H&M or on Etsy. Go for neutral colors that you like in luxe fabrics and bring color and interesting details in the form of tights, belts, or other accessories. Speaking of:

5. Find your signature accessory. Maybe you’re the woman who always wears a giant silver cuff? Maybe you’re into suspenders or a tie? Maybe you like HUGE girlie earrings with your more rugged tops and boots? Or you might have a glorious handbag? Find it and make it yours.

6. Shop for quality, not quantity or “a good deal.” This is the hardest rule to stick to, but in a year you’ll be glad you did. All those ratty T-shirts could’ve been a few high-end, luxurious T-shirts (the kind Charlotte Gainsbourg rocks) you’ll wear for the next few years.

7. This is going to contradict point 5, but I don’t care: Let yourself off the hook every six months or so and go crazy at Target or TJ Maxx or Buffalo Exchange or Goodwill. Set a spending limit of $100 or $200 and just go nuts picking up a bunch of items you wouldn’t normally wear. That is the key. Then take them home, try them on with some of your existing wardrobe, and return whatever truly doesn’t work. It’s a better game plan than just passively amassing clothes you didn’t think about at all.

Who is next? Email Jane if you’d like to expose your wardrobe.