Manolo for the Big Girl Fashion, Lifestyle, and Humor for the Plus Sized Woman.

October 19, 2008

Twistie’s List of Ten Wardrobe Essentials

Filed under: Be Super Fantastic,Fashion — Twistie @ 11:50 am

I was watching Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style the other evening. I would watch Tim Gunn read the phone book. He’s totally my imaginary gay boyfriend and one of my greatest ambitions in life is to feed him homemade scones while he repays me in sweet, sweet ProjectRunway gossip. But enough about my fantasies. Back to what the show inspired.

Overall, I think TGGtS is probably the best makeover show going. In fact, I think the only real competition is How to Look Good Naked, which I’ve also been known to dip into now and again. I like the fact that the women being helped are the ones who asked for it, not women who have been bushwhacked by their nearest and dearest. I like the fact that while Tim and Gretta offer advice during the wardrobe replacement process, the ultimate choices are left up to the women who will wear the clothes. I like the fact that there is often some sort of confidence-building exercise to help the women discover the diva within. And of course I love it when Tim pronounces something ‘a lot of look’ or begins channelling the OED at someone.

But there’s one thing that’s always kind of stuck in my craw: Tim’s list of ten wardrobe essentials.

It’s taken me a long time to decide what, precisely, is so wrong with it, but I’ve finally put my finger on it. It’s the specificity of that list. You will own a pair of black dress pants! You will own a trench coat! You will own a white blouse! You will own a little black freaking dress! And then at the end of this list of specifics, there’s one shining light of individualism: an alternative to the sweat suit. It’s color and style are left up to the person who’s going to wear it. It can be pants and a blouse, a dress, a skirt and top, and it can be any color she likes.

That’s when it hit me. The concepts behind the other choices are completely valid. It’s just that they’ve been expressed in such a way that there’s less room for personal expression than I believe should be in a wardrobe. I’m fine with owning, for instance, a multi-season coat that will carry me from casual to business needs. I do not, however, wear trench coats because I’ve yet to find one that flatters me. I always wind up looking like I’m trying – and failing miserably – to be Sam Spade. I agree that having a relatively simple dress in a neutral color that can go to a wide variety of occasions with dignity is a good idea. Mine will never, ever again be black. I don’t look my best in black, I don’t like wearing black, and there’s nowhere on Earth you can wear black that you can’t wear navy blue or chocolate brown, or even a medium grey, all of which flatter me a lot more.

So what are my ten wardrobe essentials I think every woman should own? Read on to find out.

1: A good multi-season coat in a color that makes your eyes sparkle. If you’re outdoors, a lot of people will see you in that coat. Make sure they see you before they see the coat. That doesn’t mean it needs to be drab or lackluster, but that it needs to enhance the person wearing it: you. Find a cut that shows off the best of you and a color that makes you glow.
2: An outfit that makes you feel superfantastic even when the most exciting thing you’re doing all day is folding laundry. Just because you’re hanging around the house doesn’t mean you can’t look and feel your best. Besides, you never know when someone interesting will appear on your doorstep. If Tim ever decides to pop by for scones without warning me, I want to looksuperfantastic!

3: Something you can wear to a funeral if you need to. Once, in my own sordid, very long-ago past, I needed to go to a funeral at short notice. Alas! The only thing I had in a sober enough color (a very dark purple) happened to have shisha mirrors on the skirt. I had no cash or credit to get a new outfit. Not superfantastic. I will never be caught out like that again. I always have something conservative in a neutral, somber color just in case. But the color is flattering, the line is great on me, and I don’t feel a need to save it just for funerals.

4: Something you can wear to a party or wedding on short notice. This can be fancier than the funeral outfit, if fancy is your style. In my world, this means a bright color, some funky details, and quite possibly a really great hat…but in your world it might mean pastel or neutral colors and minimalist lines. Just be sure that if you get a sudden call to go out for cocktails or a last-minute invitation to hold a friends’ hand while the girl who got away marries someone else, that you’ve got something spiffy to wear.

5: Something you can wear to a professional meeting or job interview. The specifics of this outfit need to be based on what your profession is and what level you’re at in it. It’s going to be very different for an accountant than it is for a graphic designer than it is for a high school teacher. Make sure it looks not only professional, but like your profession.

6: An accessory that makes your heart sing. It could be the most wonderful belt in the world that makes you feel like you really do have a waistline. It could be a hat that makes you feel like a femme fatale in a Marlene Dietrich movie. It could be a scarf that looks amazing (but isn’t long enough to get caught under the wheels of the Bugatti you’re riding in). Just make sure it’s something that you truly love.

7: Comfortable footwear you can use to kick the ass of the world. Seriously. The right footwear can make you feel strong as well as gorgeous, and a good pair of shoes or boots will always be comfortable. If theyaren ‘t comfortable, then don’t wear them. Even the highest heels can be comfortable if they fit correctly and are made well. And just because a shoe is flatdoesn’t mean it can’t be kickass.

8: An outfit in which you rule the damn world. It could be one of the outfits above, or it could be something else, but every woman needs an outfit to wear when she needs reminding that she is the hottest of the hot and the most powerful of the powerful.

9: Something that reminds you of your childhood dreams. Whether you grew up wanting to be Cinderella or Indiana Jones, you had a dream. There was someone – or something – you wanted to be and there was a look you associated with that dream. Whether you choose to own a sparkly necklace you think Cinderella would have worn to the ball, a pair of rugged boots that could survive a quest for an ancient treasure, a dress you think Uhura would have worn when off duty, or a blouse that puts you in mind of Frida Kahlo’s paintings, find your dream and put it in your closet. Make sure it looks good on you as you are today, but never forget what you dreamed of being. Every wardrobe needs a fantasy or two.

10: Something cozy you can snuggle up in when you need to cocoon. We all need to retreat now and again. We all have times when wounds need licking, when blues need chasing away, or when we just need a break, already. Whether it’s fleece or flannel or velvet or jersey, have something that feels like a warm hug every time you put it on. Then put it on when you need to.

A good wardrobe is about attitude as much as occasion. You want to present the best version of you to the world. Never forget the part about it being you.


  1. I am glad I found your site. Very interesting and informational. :-)

    Comment by jaila — October 19, 2008 @ 1:09 pm

  2. Fantastic list! I love how open-ended they are, and how non-specific as well. Because those Top 10 Lists don’t work for every woman, and I like to see event/mood related clothes as opposed to anything else.

    Comment by Ashe Mischief — October 19, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

  3. That’s what’s always bugged me, Ashe Mischief. Most of these lists tell you the precise color and/or cut of the items you need. I just don’t believe a wardrobe can be so cut and dried. Your size, your shape, your coloring, your activities, your personality all need to be in there. There aren’t any ten specific items that are universally perfect for all people.

    Comment by Twistie — October 19, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

  4. THIS is a list I can live with. ‘Excellent choices, Twistie! I’m going to check my closet right now.

    Comment by Fran — October 19, 2008 @ 3:46 pm

  5. I’d like to second listening to Tim Gunn reading the phone book.

    Comment by Olivia — October 19, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

  6. I’d like to mention that a lot of these can be separates, too – especially things like the funeral outfit. I had a short-notice funeral this spring, and made it work by putting together a high-necked yoked shirt and a knee-length pencil skirt. Normally the shirt goes with a miniskirt and the skirt goes with a low V-neck, and they’re both pretty daring-sexy-secretary, but I can put them together for Young and Conservative if I need to. And I don’t have a dress hanging in my closet that only has one purpose.

    Comment by Scarlettb — October 19, 2008 @ 4:56 pm

  7. Twistie’s list is wonderful, but I must put in a word for Mr. Gunn’s. I think for the people that need his list the most; he must simplify and specify. For those with some fashion intelligence, it can be a guide; but I’m afraid some people need a map with turn-by-turn directions.

    Comment by Carol — October 20, 2008 @ 6:58 am

  8. Carol has a point. There are people who need to be spoon-fed the basics, and then there’s people who can build an outfit in 10 minutes.

    I think for the average person, though, that there’s a rather happy middle ground between the two lists. The fantasy outfit is, in my eyes, the purpose of the trip to the fancy designer. (How does he know what designer to take them to? Clearly, Tim is magic.)

    And yes, Tim can read the phone book to me anytime.

    Comment by ChloeMireille — October 20, 2008 @ 11:16 am

  9. I couldn’t agree more. Any list that has the word “dress” in it ain’t my list. I *do* own a couple of dresses, but it’s an awful long time since I wore either of them. I also have a piece of purple crushed velvet hanging in my wardrobe and a length of purple & gold brocade to go with it. They were for the dress & jacket I was going to wear to the Christmas do in 2001, before my marbles went on temporary walkabout. What I need now is a decent pattern and the motivation to use it.

    Comment by Fenny — October 20, 2008 @ 6:51 pm

  10. You’ve inspired me, Madame Twistie! Love your list, so I’ve made my own…

    Madame S XXX

    Comment by madame suggia — October 21, 2008 @ 1:33 am

  11. I like how your 10 outfits are for occasions and events rather than for one basic, boring black wardrobe with a white shirt.

    Tim Gunn is ALSO my hero. I’d love to be friends with him in real life.

    Comment by Fabulously Broke — October 22, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  12. Oh, how I’d love to have a cup of tea and a dish of snark with Tim Gunn! I can accept his list as a wardrobe MapQuest for the completely lost-at-sea; so much of what he lists as a must-have (so does Lloyd Boston, for that matter) are items that don’t suit me, my build, or my life.

    I desperately need a good raincoat, for instance – but unless I make it (and I don’t want to!) a trench coat is not going to be a good choice for me; ditto the black trousers, etc.

    Comment by La BellaDonna — October 27, 2008 @ 1:09 pm

  13. Something interesting I came across in the archives of another forum. Way back, last year, when TGGtS had been on the air for all of a week, I found his list of ten fashion essentials , as he specifies them in his book. And it’s a very different list from the one that’s used on the show. For one thing it’s the *top ten* essential items, not the *only ten” as the show implies. For another, there is only one item that is specific; everything else is a *type* of garment or a garment for a type of activity.

    Here’s the book list:

    Top Ten Essential Wardrobe Items (According to Tim Gunn)

    1. The Trench Coat
    2. The Sweat Suit Alternative
    3. The Boot, The Pump, The Ballet Flat
    4. The Shapely Jacket & Go-Anywhere Top
    5. Signature Jewelry
    6. The Under Arsenal
    7. The Day Dress
    8. The After-Five Look
    9. The New, Cheap, Terribly Trendy Item
    10. Denim

    The show has dropped #3,5,and 10, split and narrowed #4 into two items, narrowed the “go anywhere top” into the “classic white shirt”. #8, “the after-five look” has been narrowed down to “the Little Black Dress” And #9, the “new, cheap, terribly trendy item” has been removed from the list and turned into a prize for playing along.

    I like the book version much better.

    Comment by rabrab — October 29, 2008 @ 1:31 am

  14. That is interesting, rabrab. Clearly, I need to read the book.

    But as much as I adore Tim Gunn, I’m still not getting a trench coat.

    Comment by Twistie — October 29, 2008 @ 12:51 pm

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