Towards a closet with more method than madness, or Making the most of my style personas

It’s been more than 7 years since a friend shocked me into sartorial self-examination by observing:

In the nearly 20 years I’ve known you, you’ve always been prone to wearing clothes that are black and baggy. But now they’re black, baggy, and covered in cat hair…and that’s just one thing too many.”

She was right.

Unfortunately her assessment failed to magically create a closet perfectly aligned with my lifestyle, budget, and preferences. So I got to work. Along the way I encountered lows (my dependence on solid-colored dark neutrals) as well as highs (having a fabric I loved turned into a top that makes me feel like a walking vintage book cover).

Gradually, my studies and experiments made it clear I gravitated to modern classic looks. Progress! Except that I found “modern classic” a stunningly broad and deeply useless category name since I coveted items both staid and flashy, classic and boho, and on opposite ends of the color-color vs neutral spectrum.

How to indulge all that? Should one indulge all that?

I wanted the answer to be yes. But without setting boundaries and thinking through how I’d wear Basic or Exciting Potential Items, I was neither close to closet nirvana nor maximizing my wardrobe dollars.

After even more navel-gazing, I realized:

  • too much classic feels wrong to me
  • too much boho feels wrong to me
  • too much “muchness” feels wrong to me

Which led me to see that overall I like to mix classic with shiny things, classic with color, and classic with boho. Ah, the joy of being a simple woman with simple needs!

Except I don’t like being THAT simple. And the formula wasn’t—and isn’t—enough to keep me on track when shopping. I needed glitz, I needed jazz hands, I needed to cheat my way through all the typical style quizzes/worksheets and christen more than one style personality. I gave myself an A for effort and a ratio for guidance:

1 part Minimalist Magpie : 1 part Contrarian Classicist  (with fluctuations to make room for their unacknowledged love child, the Persnickety Bohemian)

Wearing representations of my 3 style personas (left to right, top to bottom: Minimalist Magpie, Contrarian Classicist, Persnickety Bohemian)…and realizing I can find elements of all in this fountain

I confess my labeling is both loose and highly subjective, and I don’t fret if things teeter on the brink of multiple categories. When shopping, I just evaluate items with a dominant persona (and color palette) in mind, then try to cross-pollinate items across all three descriptors. Advantages: a smaller closet and more for the shopping money, honey.

How to  Placate Multiple Style Personas With a Cross-Pollinated Closet

Below, a not-at-all-comprehensive glimpse at how I attempt to use one item to meet my varied stylistic whims. [It all boils down to a lot of looks that are Vaguely Vintage or Barely Boho.] Disclaimer: one-note posing, Missoni fabric by the yard, and snoozy shoe choices abound!

Black leather blazer (with knit sleeve insets and edging) + Black knit pencil:

Back in black: with a few tweaks, it’s easy for my leather blazer and knit pencil skirt to suit both my Contrarian Classicist and Persnickety Bohemian sides

Rose-brown wool jacket + (multi-way) Periwinkle silk blouse + Emerald herringbone pencil skirt: 

A classic dark rose-brown blazer and emerald pencil skirt get mixed and matched with a boho luxe periwinkle silk blouse that can be worn multiple ways, keeping my Contrarian Classicist and Persnickety Bohemian sides happy

Barely Boho scarves worn with classic items + Classic scarves worn Barely Boho style: 

Top, a fringed knit scarf goes from work to play, while a silk scarf wraps around hat, hair, and waist; Bottom, a simple blue jersey dress skews Minimalist Magpie when worn with a glass pendant and shell bracelet, then serves as an underlayer for a boho scarf-as-dress

My custom Ultimate PMS skirt + Velvet burnout scarf:

My Ultimate PMS Skirt goes classic with a pink panther-esque pairing…then takes to bohemian life by pattern mixing with a sinuously blossomed velvet scarf…while the scarf goes on to rescue a staid corduroy/sweater outfit (creating a Contrarian Classicist and Persnickety Bohemian toss up)

Rosy Missoni by the yard pencil skirt and tank + Custom plum wool jersey jacket 

Budget boho luxe items—my Missoni by the yard pencil skirt and tank—work across all my personas, but straddle the line between Contrarian Classicist and Persnickety Bohemian when paired with a equestrian style wool jersey jacket, plain-Jane knee high boots and colored net tights, or simple sandals

Vintage, vintage, and more vintage—including a mohair capelet, Whiting and Davis mesh bag, and BettyDraperBlue silk scarf—mix with streamlined shapes 

I often use (inexpensive!) vintage items to either put the magpie into my Minimalist Magpie ensembles or amp up an outfit’s Persnickety Bohemian factor

5 year-old grey skirt suit (together and apart) + Heeled moto boots

Left, a 5 year-old classic grey wool skirt suit pairs with everything from white cotton to chain belts, boho blouses, and knits; Right, buckled boots decrease the sweetness of a flounced midi skirt and the ho-humness of a stick-straight skirt

Items with a retro flavor pair up with modern classic basics 

Retro-flavored items are Contrarian Classic staples, but contain elements—the red glass pendant, the bucket handbag—that easily cross over into Minimalist Magpie and Persnickety Bohemian outfits

Pewter silk charmeuse animal print top + Sharkskin blazer + 13 year-old black spiderweb wool dress

Appealing to both my Minimalist Magpie and Contrarian Classicist side is easy with a little presto chango: Left, a silk animal print top and sharkskin jacket pair with each other and more casual items; Right, a 13 year-old black spiderweb wool dress with a d’Orsay cork wedge in 2007 and with shinier pals in 2012

Enough…more than…about me. As an inherently nosy person, I have to ask: who’s playing this game with their own style goals/preferences?

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6 Responses

  1. WOW! I say you have sooo many choices of mix and match I would be dizzy trying to figure out which way to go? Your pieces are exquisite and all PERFECTLY YOU!!! You the Gemini being a mix of everything not only your fashion choices. Your colorful VIBRANT and charming personality definitely comes through your style!!!!!!

    • I’m betting this is Ms B…thank you for earning your rep as The Gilded Lily with the compliment! I may play it much safer than you clothing-wise, but you’re still a style inspiration. And if my choices imply “charming” even a little bit then they are earning their keep, ha!

  2. How I just wished I could clearly define my style personas, it obviously works – you’ve got a beautiful wardrobe!

    I’m really impressed by how every item works with most others, including the accessories. It takes an experienced stylist to get such a perfect collection together, and on a budget too!

    The best thing however, is how you’ve got beautiful photos everything. It’s so inspiring to see how you’ve remixed the items, and how you’ve created little capsules based on colour.

    I do hope you have a job that allows you to make use of your wonderful creative talent!

    • Hi Kaffe/Tine—

      Thank you! I found thinking through the persona thing let me be both analytical and intuitive, and I certainly see both those traits coming through in your posts about your style. Maybe you’re heading on definitions but just don’t know it yet?

      And yes, limiting the colors I buy each season has helped boost the flexibility of my wardrobe. Though this season I’ve been deep in black/grey and had to force myself to think about color-color. Love color on others like you, still easier to default to my comfort shades!

      ps Re the job: Yes and no. That’s one reason I force myself to sit down and create the photo themes, gratuitous color shots etc!

  3. I love your look(s). Are you available for hire? I feel way too classic/boring by comparison: I think you have the balance of styles just right.
    In honor of Thanksgiving, I gave you a little shout-out at my blog today. :)

    • Hi Pauline—

      Hey, if you have a couch, frequent flyer miles, and can guarantee me some NoCal sunshine I’m sure we can make a weekend of closet/shopping exploration out of it!

      Based on my experience, I have to tell you making classic/boring less so is probably the easiest change to do. You (and others, much to my shock) will get excited when you throw on color or pattern or have cool shoes/accessories, ha!

      ps Many thanks for the blog mention; I *have* followed you to 3 sites now, right? What can I say? You just lure me in with the change in focus!

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