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It starts with socks

Posted by on November 19, 2008

On Christine’s recommendation, I bought and read The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own. Christine posted a really helpful and entertaining distillation of this and a few other how-to-dress books here, and I’m not going to repeat that. This post is for women like me, who really despise the idea of someone else being an expert on our own closets.

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Normally, as I say, I would hate this kind of book, as I always hate it when people try to mess with my personal style, not to mention hating canons of any kind, but actually it’s quite helpful. And author Nina Garcia states at the beginning that you should be adapting this list to suit your personal style (as Christine did with her checklist), so I don’t feel dictated to when I read.

Also, a lot of the items are not what I’d expect. There are a few designers listed as must-haves, but she also lists tough-looking flat-heeled boots and a sturdy tote bag. And many of the items are menswear, which Michele and I have become interested in recently, so that’s exciting. I especially liked the suggestion that women who aren’t into perfume might try wearing men’s cologne. I like the idea of sharing cologne with Gene: why does she smell like her boyfriend? What have they been UP to?

My favorite thing about the book was that I realized you really can have a closet full of things that are both attractive and comfortable (I always thought of the two as separate species). But to get it, you have to take Christine’s advice. You have to go slow and not buy things that almost-fit just because they’re on sale. You have to shop with a plan instead of shopping with a magpie’s eye that will pick up and purchase anything sparkly or bright-colored regardless of how well it fits. (I added the last part. But trust me, it’s relevant.)

The incomparable Closet Shopper Tracy has been telling me this for years. It’s not that I can’t wear a fabulous bright-yellow-and-pink Wonder Woman t-shirt. It’s that I should find one that fits me better and is more comfortable. (I mean, I don’t know Tracy’s position on Wonder Woman shirts in general. But I think this is what she meant.)

Most of all, this book is helpful because it’s a book, not a person. When a person looks at my ballet flats and says pointedly, “Do you want to go shoe shopping?” then I feel attacked. If a book suggests a new pair of flats, that’s fine. After all, the book cannot possibly see or have an opinion on my current flats. Not being on the defensive lets me actually consider the suggestions being made and choose the ones I agree with.

I think Christine’s checklist is a great base for any woman to start with in revamping her wardrobe. I would just add: socks. I’ve only recently begun to address the sock question now that I have boots I like, and I’ve realized that cheap socks tend to lose their shape and color and softness quickly. For quality socks with exhaustive descriptions and free shipping on all orders, I suggest Sock Dreams, which Michele introduced me to. They also try not to sell socks made in China.

I’d also suggest, for those who are as daunted by the list as I was, not to think of this as a project that has to get done all at once. I think Tracy often tells her clients to start by finding only one perfect pair of jeans. (And maybe also the perfect bra? I forget.) I think the theory is that walking around in your perfect jeans will give you the confidence and energy to start on the rest of it.

I am going to be even less ambitious than that and say: start with your underwear drawer. Throw out everything that’s ill-fitting, uncomfortable or unattractive. Then look at the things you kept and figure out why you like them. Think about material, size, style, coverage and color. Use these guidelines when you shop for new stuff. This way, when you move on to buying the rest of the wardrobe, you’ll get a glimpse of your first brilliant success every time you undress in a changing room.

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