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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Dressing for my drycleaner

Discussions around forces that influence the average Western woman’s wardrobe generally include peers, parents, significant others, media, workplace rules (explicit and ouija-boardesque), teenage children, and lifestyle.

While not immune to choosing—or failing to choose—items based on various nefarious and/or encouraging messages, there’s really only one person in my life from whom I seem to crave textile-oriented approval: my favorite tailor/drycleaner. Because the Dapper Drycleaner does more than just run a cleaning emporium and perform minor alterations and repair: he makes suits from scratch.

[Not mine, alas, not mine. Which doesn’t stop me from staring balefully at fabric bolts, thumbing through his books of Italian fabric samples, and daydreaming about his ~ $2K creations whenever I stop by for alterations.]

So when I roll in with my cleaning and DD is there in his exquisitely-fitted suit and stylish tie to assist me, I wait. And wonder. And sometimes get rewarded with a chat that centers on what he thinks of my various (dirty, alas) garments.

So far, he’s partial to three of my winter mainstays:

These three wardrobe mainstays have received my Dapper Drycleaner's seal of approval

Though admittedly he has a love/hate relationship with the tweed looks-vaguely-vintage-but-is-from-2004 jacket.

Tweed, slightly deconstructed (much to the Dapper Drycleaner's regret)

The jacket's plethora of (thankfully sturdy) seaming helps create curves on me

While our conversations are always short, I enjoy seeing what he looks at first. Or again.

DD: Impressive construction. I like the red. Unusual.Though this…[makes moue of distaste at deliberately deconstructed edges].You buy it in town?

Me: “Yes, several [5!] years ago at a consignment shop.”

DD: “How much?”

Me: “$200.”

DD: “Good price. VERY good.”

Awwww, I love the upside of my Contrarian Classicist style persona: favorite items end up with a delightfully low cost-per-wear!

Naturally, the thing he HATES about the tweed—the deliberately frayed, oh-remember-when-that-was-popular detailing—is what I love most. [Well, aside from the lining.] And while it may be booooooring, the edges and the curve-creating structure are why I always pair this jacket with dark solids + heeled boots that have a little attitude.

How could anything (else) retro or ladylike do it justice?

L, it's an inside job; R, I like to pair my vaguely vintage pieces with modern/classic mates

Ignore my waxy, mega-ghostly-looking skin in that one B&W shot, because I have an urgent question: Should I admit that for 5 years I've mostly worn this jacket with a) a column of black or b) a column of brown?

After several years as his customer I’ve figured out that The Dapper Drycleaner, while a master tailor who adores structure, is also a sucker for the softer side of style.

THAT MAKES TWO OF US, DD

He especially likes my ridiculously long flounced-hem wool skirt, even though he and I both know it makes me look like I’m standing in a hole when I’m not in motion. Good thing I’m in motion a fair amount of the time when I wear it—and since it’s so damn fun to sweep around in, perhaps I’m in motion even MORE than usual.

Apparently the reward for wearing too-long skirts and bad photography is that one gets to head for the light

DD: This is quality wool. Drapes well for its weight. Hard to find.”

Me: “It’s made by a local shop and the owner always makes her things out of beautiful fabrics.

DD: “A long skirt for you, yes? Mostly I hem at your knee.”

Me: “Yes, way too long. I love it, but I’ve learned to only wear it with dark boots.”

DD: [turning it inside out] “Strong technique. Clean.”

Me: “I’ve had it for years and it’s worn really, really well.”

DD: “If you get tired of long and want short, come to me—don’t throw it out.”

These days, I like pairing the skirt with deep scoop necks. Bonus points for waywardly draping underlayers in blobby patterns—especially ones purchased for job interviews—since they ALMOST make my wayward hair look intentional.

I tell myself that the silk animal print top + sheer merino scoopneck sweater add up to some retro glamor when paired together...so I figure why NOT toss them on with a skirt of vintage-y length?

I must say that while I have no way of proving it, I ALSO think DD and I are united on preferring clothes that mix one from Column A and one from Column B.

Give us structured AND stupendously womanly, and we’re in heaven:

When a (c. 2005, deep black in real life) jacket looks this awesome on the hanger, odds are good it will do something even more amazing on a live person

DD: Nice jacket. Very feminine. Vintage, yes?”

Me: “No, I got it on sale years ago, but it was from the brand’s current line.”

DD: “You sure? Beautiful seaming. Heavy.”

Me: “Yes I’m sure! But I agree it has a vintage look. Check out how the fabric acts more like a wool knit.”

DD: “Huh! I like this. Wise choice for your shape, too.”

Given my mad photography skillz, it’s lucky I snapped the front when I bought the yes-brand-new jacket in 2005. While my little molded friend shows how the jacket adapts to an Hourglass’ ins-and-outs, the INSANE amount of seaming means even an H/Rectangle such as myself ends up with a few curves.

L, the jacket when new (2005); R, still helping to create some curves on me

Unlike my truth-telling, unforgiving tweed jacket, this favorite topper is 98% wool and 2% beautiful, glorious lycra. And as if the bit of stretch weren’t enough, my 5’4 self really appreciates the vertical seams here there and yes, everywhere. So much so that I have lots of legwear (some more ancient and held together with clear nail polish than others) with which I like to echo said lines:

I often echo the vertical seaming on the jacket's body + sleeves with linear legwear

There’s no doubt that the chance of getting a positive review from The Dapper Drycleaner makes it slightly less tedious to drag my accumulated flotsam and jetsam in for care. Now if only my washing machine would weigh in on my socks and underwear, maybe my laundry pile would stay manageable….