Okay, let’s start with the four questions for intentional dressing:
- What time is it? [Day? Evening? Summer? Fall?]
- Where am I going? [Work? Grocery store? School? Date?]
- Who do I need to respect? [Coworkers? Spouse? Kids? The bride?]
- What are my responsibilities? [Guiding tours? Computer programming? Playing Duck-Duck-Goose?]
After all those questions are answered, ask the last question:
- DO I LIKE THESE CLOTHES?
It’s an important question, but it should be based on the first four questions. Otherwise, we have clothes that spark an emotional response, but have no place in our everyday lives. This leads to the common (but strange) problem of looking into a closet full of clothes and thinking, “I have NOTHING TO WEAR.” If you are a foreign diplomat’s wife and routinely attend cocktail-and-canapé parties that determine the balance of world power, you probably need lots of cocktail dresses. I love cocktail dresses, but do I attend many actual cocktail parties? No. I live in Idaho. (Don’t get me wrong – I love Idaho. Idaho’s great. It’s just not the place you go for sparkling nightlife. Unless you count meteor showers as sparkling nightlife.) So I shouldn’t have as many cocktail dresses as the diplomat’s wife. The answer to my “where” question is usually the office where I work, so I need clothes for my job. Your clothes should be in direct proportion with your life.
For an example, this is an outfit that I could wear to work in the summertime. Let’s answer those questions with concrete examples this time:
- What time is it? Daytime in the early summer when the days start out cool, but get hot by mid-morning. [Special requirements: Clothes that are breathable. Nothing worse than getting halfway through the morning and being all sweaty. Yuck.]
- Where am I going? My office. More specifically, my desk, where I type on my computer and try to find data from foreign governments. [Special requirements: my outfit needs to be okay when I sit down. That seems like obvious, but when you’re trying on that adorable pencil skirt in the dressing room, you’re standing up. Pencil skirts always seems like a good idea when you’re standing up. Find a skirt that works sitting down – then you’re golden.]
- Who do I need to respect? My coworkers. I work in a tech department with a bunch of guys, so nobody thinks twice if I come in wearing jeans. The dress code is pretty chill. I just avoid any shirts that are cut too low and any skirts that are cut too high. We are all there to work and if my clothes are distracting, I’m letting my team down.
- What are my responsibilities? This riffs off the “where” answer. I work on my computer, so I need to look fine sitting down. Another aspect to this question: when I’m at work, my brain needs to be switched on and functioning at full capacity. So feeling ready to face the day is the most important part of being ready. When I feel put together, I feel competent to handle whatever the world throws at me.
So what do I need? A cool, breathable outfit that makes me feel competent and put-together (and doesn’t ride up when I sit down). Simple enough.
On the topic of wardrobe basics – YOU DON’T NEED A WHITE SHIRT. There. I’ve said it. I know people say that everybody should own a white button-down shirt. I have felt guilt over my lack of white shirt, but not any more. Truth is, I’m a clutz. Any article of clothing in my closet will have to handle stains. I also don’t look great in white. So I’ve stopped trying to find the perfect white shirt, because a white shirt is never going to be a staple in my wardrobe, even if it is a staple for lots of other people. Dress for your life and it will become obvious which clothes are your basics – the shirt that you reach for when you’re in a hurry, the dress that fits in all the right places, the jeans you wear out the quickest…. Don’t worry about what you should have in your closet. Figure out what you already have, then build from there!