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5 Commandments Of Building A Basic Wardrobe By Betty Halbreich.

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I’m currently reading the book, Secrets Of A Fashion Therapist: What You Can Learn Behind The Dressing Room Door, by Betty Halbreich. It’s a fantastic read; the style advice, historical fashion accuracy and practical wisdom makes this book a classic addition to my style library. I’m learning so much! There are so many tips I want to share with you from this book, so I’m going to blog my way through it so I don’t overwhelm you all at once.

As you may know, I’m currently building my own basic wardrobe since leaving New York City and my wardrobe behind, I’ve had to start from scratch (which I do not recommend) and it’s been challenging and overwhelming to know how much I really need in terms of building up the basics, and what I can financially commit to at the moment. Add in my affection for clothes and profession as a stylist, and the pain point of not having a basic wardrobe at my fingertips seems a tad greater in comparison to the average shopper.

When You Have The Perfect Outfit, But The Shoes Don’t Fit.

The other night I went to a Costumes For A Cure event downtown, and I had the pleasure of wearing the Paige sequin style dress from Theia Couture. What an honor! The dress was lovely. But I did not have shoes! I used to have the cutest Kenneth Cole strappy heels that were black glitter, simple not gaudy, and I wore them to the bone. I don’t even know what happened to them over the years, but when I found the perfect masquerade ball mask, put the dress on, and realized I was missing black basic dress shoes. Black work pumps wouldn’t go because it was an elegant evening, and the rest of my black shoes were suede wedge heels, or chunky Michael Kors platform sandals with a zipper back. The styles didn’t sync up. I went to both Macy’s and Nordstrom Rack at the last minute to find something and didn’t see anything that would work at the price point I wanted to spend, so I came home empty handed.

The Key To Living A Well-Dressed Life.

I remember the days when I rarely shopped for events. I always had everything I needed in my closet. I was so confident. No matter what I got invited to, I knew I already had something that would work. Somehow, I would switch things up with scarves, shoes and accessories and how I wore the dress or item for the event. I’d pair it with a new jacket, different scarf and jewelry, stockings or shoes to match my mood and how I wanted to feel that evening. Now, when events and social activities come up, I’m realizing how inconvenient and rather costly it is not to have a solid basic wardrobe designed to take me anywhere I need to go. Building a basic wardrobe is essential to living a well-dressed life.

Why Clothing Is So Important (Even If You Think It’s Not).

I know I have a special affection for style and clothes. I’m a stylist, and I love dressing people to look and feel their best. There’s nothing more rewarding than to see the look on a client’s face when they stand in front of the mirror in a well-fitted dress or the perfect suit as if it was made for their body. I love my job. I love working with all different shapes and sizes. I never cared about the number on the scale, or the number on the inside of my clothes, because to me it was always about how I felt and how I looked in what I was wearing.

Think about it. You put on clothing every single day. When you put on sweatpants you feel like you’re wearing sweatpants. But, when you dress with respect (even on the days when you don’t feel like it) you’ll notice that your mood changes based on what you’re wearing. When I get up and just throw on leggings and athleisure clothes with a hat and head out to run errands I feel out of it most of the day. I usually don’t eat as healthy and I feel tired and undone without my makeup on. That doesn’t mean I can’t have days when I do natural makeup compared to a full face, but I feel like you can always dress nice, even if you’re dressing to feel comfortable because it’s your only day off this week and you just want to relax.

Why Athleisure Clothes Aren’t Always Your Friend.

One of the pain points I see in my clients is dressing in athleisure clothes in their spare time. I get it, and I do it too sometimes. But this cannot become your go-to look everytime you’re not at work. Like Betty Halbreich says, “If you’re not enjoying your clothes, than you really are missing the point.”

Betty Halbreich says, “when you’re putting together a whole wardrobe, the key is making sure it all mixes and matches. You need to pick a palette and try to work within it. Great style shouldn’t be formulaic and rigid. It should be as eclectic and edgy as you want it to be. Think of building your wardrobe as an ongoing project, not a chore, but a carefully calculated labor of love. It’s all about the love of clothes and beautiful things that make you feel good.”

The 5 Commandments Of Building A Basic Wardrobe.

Betty says, the first thing you’re going to want to do when building a strong, basic wardrobe is make two lists. The first list should include things you really need right away. Then, make another list of items you think you’d like to add a bit later.

“Part of putting together a great wardrobe– one that grows and matures with you over time– is figuring out how to dress your body to look it’s best. I wrote a guide for both men and women, which you can read here to find your body type and dressing tips for each type:

Dressing Guide For Men: The Well-Dressed Man: 3 Body Types For Men and How To Dress Your Best.
Dressing Guide For Women: How To Dress Right For Your Body Type.

Half the battle is learning how to dress your body to look it’s best. “If you don’t ever figure that out, you can buy the most beautiful clothes in the world, and still end up with a closet filled with pieces that you consistently put on, take one look in the mirror, then rip it off and stuff it back into your closet.” — Betty Halbreich

The important thing to note, is once you know how to dress your body type, then you can start to dress your personality and let who you really are come through your clothes. And that’s the fun part. Without further ado, Here are Betty’s five commandments for building a basic wardrobe:

  1. Don’t try to buy it all in a lunch hour.
  2. No matter how “in” a certain weird color is this season, don’t buy an expensive suit that shade and expect no one to notice when you wear it three times a week.
  3. Shoes, a handbag, and accessories are a vital part of even the most basic wardrobe (but you’ve got to read on to the next chapter (ie: the next blog post) for tips on how to pick them).
  4. There’s a difference between investment dressing and breaking the bank. Don’t buy anything that will accumulate interest on your credit card for years before you will be able to pay it off.
  5. Do buy the best you can reasonably afford. (Hint: think quality. If you can afford either a really good wool sweater or a poorly made cashmere one, get the wool.)

My Favorite Dressing Tips From Betty Halbreich.

As I’m reading her book, Secrets Of A Fashion Therapist, I’m falling in love with every word on every page. I’m about through the first three chapters and wanted to highlight some of my favorite dressing tips that I read:

  • Buy clothes to flatter the body you have now.
  • When you’re dressing up for the evening, it’s especially sexy to go for a low neckline.
  • What all softer fabrics have in common is movement. They flow around the body and cling without gripping, so they make you feel feminine and sexy.
  • If you’re uncomfortable showing a lot of cleavage then just find a top that covers your bustline and no more.
  • Get the pin, the shoes, the accessories and the outfit will come later!
  • If you’re tired of your closet, put it aside and rest it awhile. (GREAT TIP: instead of donating your entire wardrobe before you move like I did. #worstmistakeever #hardlessonlearned).
  • As soon as you’ve gained the confidence to shop anywhere and do it with flair, feel free to discard those rules. After all, fashion is nothing to be feared.

Next Steps: Try This At Home.

Look through the magazines for some inspiration. Make a list of essentials for your basic wardrobe, and a second list of things that would be nice to add to your wardrobe, and then go shopping. Only buy 3-5 pieces, max. Take those pieces home, lay them out on your bed and try to make 10 outfits out of those pieces using the pants, tops, shoes, accessories that you already have. Take a look at your color palette and make sure you stay within it, and when buying bold colors or new colors like marigold or mint, make sure you’re not buying those accent colors in your winter coat but instead in scarves, socks, jewelry and other items that can bring color into your wardrobe to start. You don’t want to end up with a color palette that you can’t mix and match. It defeats the whole purpose of building a basic wardrobe.

Stacy Hamm
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