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.