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Other Stuff to Know - 6
Building a Wardrobe — Women
Creating a wardrobe that is right for you depends on your lifestyle, occupation and social life. What works for a student is obviously a lot different than what is appropriate for an investment banker. Women in advertising, the entertainment industry or retailing can wear more fashion-forward clothes than those in the legal profession, financial services or government.
Your objective should be to assemble a versatile wardrobe that is stylish, flattering and in sync with who you are and what you do. You want to be noticed without having to shout or make a fashion statement. Your clothes should enhance your appearance, not detract from your looks.
How you dress for going out with your friends or on the weekend can be worlds apart from what you wear to the office. In the latter case, you have to project a confident image that is in keeping with the type of work you do and the various people you deal with professionally. After work, you obviously can dress in a totally different manner. Nevertheless, keep in mind that your appearance and how you dress telegraphs to everyone how you feel about yourself.
Basic Principles
Here are some recommendations for assembling a basic wardrobe, especially for women with a business, professional or office-related career:
  • Divide your clothing budget into four categories — basic fashion garments, footwear, casual wear, and accessories.
  • With everything in your wardrobe, pay careful attention to the fit. All of your clothes and footwear have to fit you properly and comfortably. Buying anything that is too tight or that stretches and pulls when you wear it is usually a mistake.
  • Follow the “less is more” principle in your purchases of basic fashion garments and footwear. In both cases, concentrate on buying a limited number of items whose quality, versatility and styling will enable you to get a lot of wear from them. One well-made, simply designed, black cashmere sweater is usually a much smarter purchase than buying six wild cotton sweaters.
  • Remember that clothing, accessories and jewelry are one of those rare cases where you do not always get what you pay for quality-wise, particularly when you purchase items with designer labels. Often, too much of the price is for the name of the designer or brand as opposed to the quality and workmanship of the item.
  • Mix and match your clothes and accessories to create your own individual look for going out in the evening to a party or restaurant. Consider wearing a classic traditional item of clothing from another part of the world from where you live, such as a silk Chinese jacket or Indian sari.
  • If you want to purchase an expensive item for your wardrobe, wait until it goes on sale or, better yet, try to purchase it second-hand at a knock-down price through eBay on the Internet. Vintage shops are another excellent source for affordable and unique-looking clothes and accessories. For the U.S. and Canada, other sources on the Internet for second-hand designer accessories and clothes are, and
  • For assistance in selecting your wardrobe, develop a relationship with one or two knowledgeable salespeople who can offer you good advice on what looks best on you. Just remember, however, that salespeople selling dress clothes and footwear are often paid a sales commission, so it may be better to shop with a friend whose opinion you trust.
Keep in mind when you travel that the dress codes for women in countries outside of North America are usually dressier and more formal in the case of business and office attire.
Dress Clothes
Take this approach with dress clothes for your wardrobe:
  • For your dress clothes, stick to purchasing garments and shoes with simple, cleanly designed, classic styling that will remain in vogue for a considerable period of time. Avoid anything with an extreme or exaggerated “look”. Do not speculate on what is currently hot and trendy when it comes to your main clothing purchases. Why splurge on something that may only last one season? As Coco Chanel once said, “Fashions come and go but style is forever.”
  • For most of your basic dress clothes, select neutral colors such as black, camel, gray, navy-blue, bone or white. Keep in mind that darker colors tend to make you appear thinner while lighter ones may do the reverse. Having dresses, suits, pants, skirts and jackets in neutral colors makes it much easier to co-ordinate them with the rest of your wardrobe. As with all your clothes, the color you select should complement your own natural coloring.
  • In a recent interview, the designer Donna Karan described why the color black is so prominent in her clothing collections. She said, “Black is the canvas, the backdrop to a woman’s personality. Her skin, hair and spirit become the color.”
  • Go for the best tailoring you can afford for your principal dress clothes. This is important when it comes to having fitted garments that minimize the “negatives” of your figure and show the “positives” to your best advantage. Garments that are well-made retain their proper shape and last longer.
  • Start your basic wardrobe with the purchase of two classic suits you can wear both to the office and for social events. The choice of pantsuits versus suits with skirts depends on your own personal style and what makes you feel most comfortable. Both types of suit bottoms can be worn with sweaters and other jackets, especially if the bottom is in a neutral color.
  • Next, select two to three dress pants, mainly in solid colors including one in black of a light-weight wool or gabardine fabric. Go for pants with classic styling and a zipper-fly versus a button-fly. To ensure that your pants are hemmed to the right length, try your pants on with shoes whose heel is the height that you are most likely to wear with the pants. The hem of your pants should ride just under half an inch above the ground.
  • Elegant black pants are highly versatile – mix and match them with other items for all types of occasions. Similarly, other solid color pants are easier to match with different tops and jackets.
  • Several dress skirts should be part of your basic wardrobe, including a black A-line or pencil skirt that fits relatively close at the hips and narrow at the knees. In the fashion world, hemlines go up and down almost like stock markets. For maximum versatility, however, you probably should keep the hemlines of most of your dress skirts at or relatively close to your knees. On the other hand, long skirts work well for dressier events but the longer the skirt, the more it needs to define your waist and the fuller the skirt, the more it should have the fluidity of a lighter fabric. Before you purchase a skirt, walk around and sit down in it to make sure you can do so comfortably.
  • Find one or two basic, simply styled dresses in solid colors that are elegant enough and versatile for wearing to many different occasions with varying accessories. These should have an attractive neckline without any fussy details. One of them should probably be black.
  • Shirt dresses that have buttons to the waist and tie around just above your hips are also a good choice for both work and after-work. Knockoffs in the style of Diane von Furstenberg’s classic wrap dress are another attractive option.
Tops and Bottoms
Consider these points regarding other separate tops and bottoms:
  • Purchase a single-breasted, dark-blue or black blazer in a conservative style to wear both at the office and socially. Having this garment in a lightweight fabric enables you to wear it year-round. As an alternative, select a similarly styled jacket in a medium- to dark-colored fabric for more individual character than a blazer.
  • For the most use, select solid-color, relatively light-weight sweaters or cardigans that can be worn over a white shirt, pants or a skirt. The type of sweater-neck you choose depends on what you find most flattering for your shape and neck. Light-weight cashmere and silk-cashmere blends are usually the best sweater fabrics if you can afford them.
  • Pick tailored, cotton dress shirts that will go well with your suits, pants and skirts. White and cream-colored shirts are the most versatile and dressy but shirts with a subtle stripe or pattern in a complementary color also look good with solid-colored jackets and bottoms. Avoid shirts with overly large, frilly or floppy collars.
  • Include four to five T-shirts and tank tops of a fine cotton, silk or microfiber fabric in your wardrobe. These can be worn with your suits and jackets as well as with jeans and other casual wear.
  • Depending on where you live, you may need to have a cozy, long, classically designed wool overcoat, ideally in navy, black or camel, and a practical raincoat you can wear with both dress and casual clothes, such as a trench coat. Both types of coats should be knee length or even longer so they cover any skirts you may be wearing underneath them. Button-in wool linings add to the versatility of trench coats.
  • Jeans are an essential part of most wardrobes. Splurge on an expensive, snug-fitting pair of chic jeans that you can wear in the evening. More casual, less expensive jeans are ideal for the daytime outside of the office or work.
Footwear and Accessories
These recommendations apply to footwear and accessories:
  • Consider having four types of dress shoes in your wardrobe – at least two pairs of comfortable flats, a pair of pumps or slingback shoes with a two-inch heel, a pair of pumps with a higher heel, and a pair of black evening sandals or shoes. In cool climates, it is also a plus to have a pair of black or brown leather high boots. With footwear, remember the “less is more” principle when it comes to quality and only purchase shoes that fit well, no exceptions.
  • Do not wear shoes with long pointed toes or heels that are looking scruffy. Either polish them or get them repaired.
  • Use accessories such as handbags, belts, scarves and jewelry to vary the appearance of your basic clothes and highlight your own sense of fashion taste and flair. Adopt a “signature look” by frequently wearing a certain type, style or color of accessory that demonstrates your individuality. My mother frequently wore a lizard pin.
  • Belts should be in a color that complements your pants and comes as close as possible to matching the color of your shoes.
  • Handbags or purses usually should complement the clothes you’re wearing, especially your footwear. For this reason, the more neutral the color of the handbag or purse, the more versatile it is in terms of coordinating with different outfits. Resist putting a lot of unnecessary stuff in your wallets and purses. Also, avoid carrying overly large handbags or purses at work. The editor of Vogue Magazine in the U.S., Anna Wintour, does not carry a handbag, only sometimes an agenda or notebook.
  • Obviously, selecting jewelry of any kind is a highly personal matter. While jewelry does not have to be expensive to look smart, think of buying good quality jewelry as making a lifetime investment. Most of the time, simple classically designed pieces are preferable to overly large and clunky jewelry. This is another area where less is more, especially at work. Wear a few selected items of jewelry as opposed to wearing too much. For budget reasons, costume jewelry is often a good option.
  • Wear hosiery and lingerie that complements the rest of your outfit. At the office, wear neutral or conservatively styled hosiery. In some offices, you can get away with wearing no hosiery in hot weather. Also, it is not necessary to wear hosiery with open-toed shoes such as sandals.
  • At work, avoid wearing tight or revealing clothing, too high heels or flashy jewelry. Skirts shorter than four inches above the knee are also not appropriate for the office. Your objective should be to look attractive, feminine and professional at work as opposed to provocative or sexy.
It is helpful to find a capable seamstress or dressmaker who can do alterations so your clothes fit better, do any necessary repairs and even make some of your basic garments, such as pants, suits, dresses and coats. Sometimes, you will see a picture in a magazine of a garment that really appeals to you and the best way to obtain it is to have it made for you on a custom basis.
Let Steele know if you have any questions about the Citizen of the World Guides or your life and career.

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