Let’s face it, when the weather gets really hot, and there is so much to do, we reach into our closets for the same old friends over and over again. A simple cotton dress to wear out to dinner. A pair of denim cutoffs for a day of sailing. The oversize hoodie for bonfires at the beach or a night at the outdoor concert. Your daily choice of clothing may be dictated by your job. Life is fast, and at least for me, I don’t want to spend hours in front of a mirror trying to find the right outfit.
When it comes to dressing for ourselves, what makes us feel confident and beautiful are those pieces we choose that never let us down. No matter how many great options we may have in our wardrobe, there are the chosen few that prove themselves time and time again.
Hold that thought.
When I was young, the women in my family felt it was important for me to learn to knit, crochet, and sew. This learning began at a young age. I remember sewing my first outfit around 10. I was always inspired by fashion and New York City — the fashion capital of the world. And my uncle worked in the Empire State Building for DuPont, a company that began developing synthetic textile fibers in the early 1910s. He would bring us stacks of sample fabrics to create with. The wonder of a manmade fiber, rayon, acrylic, polyester, nylon. He was my rockstar (and remember, I was 10). I knew at a very young age that fashion would be part of my life. I received a B.S. in fashion merchandising — a four-year degree from Seton Hill College in Greensburg, Pa. We studied textiles, tailoring, draping, pattern drafting, chemistry, and business. My understanding of manmade versus natural fibers became much clearer, especially when I did research on a wonder fabric, Qiana. From Wikipedia: “Qiana is a silky nylon fiber developed in 1962 at the DuPont Experimental Station by Stanley Brooke Speck. The fiber was named Qiana when introduced by DuPont in 1968. Initially intended for high-end fashions, it became a popular material in the 1970s for faux-silk men’s shirts, displaying bold patterns.”
This was a time of many discoveries, including plastic and all of its virtues — we know where that has led us today. It was also a time that underscored my love of natural fibers — for drape, durability, luxury, and sustainability.
In my studies and reading of all the fashion magazines, a few ideas have stayed with me decades later: You build a wardrobe with investment pieces that you can use over and over again. You can use these pieces for almost any occasion by swapping out accessories, shoes, and accent pieces. Back in the ’80s, I remember reading something like this: Europeans will have very few items in their closets, but they will be quality — simple in style and made of natural fibers: cotton, wool, silk, and linen. Typically in black, navy, or any neutral color. So I have tried over the years to do just that.
In my city life, the basic pieces were different from what they are today, but the concept is still the same: Build on basic pieces while shopping, instead of buying “outfits.” Let’s just say I knew a woman who always bought outfits, and had the same ceremonial biannual “seasonal closet change” that took days and lots of storage. Or when going on vacation, she needed three large suitcases just for her clothes. If this sounds like you, read on.
Simplifying your closet can simplify your life, and also make you feel better. Remember those go-to items we identified at the top of the story? Think about why you continue to grab them — this is your personal style. Build off those styles and designs when you need warmer clothes for the winter, or just want to punch up your wardrobe. For me, it’s a great pair of jeans, a rocking black or navy blazer, that “little black dress,” a crisp white shirt, chunky sweaters, white and black turtlenecks, great silver jewelry, or a nice felt hat. Go through your closet and see what you have, then pop over to Martha’s Closet or Chicken Alley to fill in the gaps.
This summer, I found a knit racerback black dress for $8 from Martha’s Closet, originally from Abercrombie and Fitch. It’s become a regular; I wear it with platform sandals, little white Keds, or big chunky silver bracelets. And as it gets cooler, this sleeveless dress will double as a jumper when I layer it with that white crisp shirt I found in the mens’ section at Chicken Alley. It’s a 100 percent cotton Brooks Brothers dress shirt, $10.
Teresa’s tips for second-hand shopping:
- Arrive prepared: Wear easy clothes so trying on finds is simple. Leave your bags in the car, and if you can, put keys and money in your pockets. Usually these shops are bustling, so you have to be ready to move fast.
- Take a first lap: I pull anything of interest in my basic colors: black, navy, natural, and olive. Fabrics: Cotton, wool, silk, or linen.
- Browse all racks, and don’t trust sizing. Try things on, and remember to browse the men’s section, as there are great shirts, blazers, and other finds.
- Take a second, maybe third lap: There are many shoppers doing the same as you, and it’s easy to miss hidden gems.
- Quality-check: Check seams to ensure there are no holes. Hold the items up to the light to look for fraying. Check to see if plaids, stripes, or patterns are woven into the fabric or just printed on. Fabrics with prints will wear off in friction areas such as collars, cuffs, and elbows. Even at $2, $3, or $4, you want something you can wear at least for the season.
- Be bold: If you see some off-the-wall piece (color, lace, fringe, embellishment), try it on! These are the cool “accent” pieces you can use to make your basic items pop.
Have fun and remember, “Fashion changes, but style endures.” –Coco Chanel