The Clean Hippie

Seeking the sustainable life in New York City

Wardrobe Revamp!! April 25, 2010

This is a nice follow-up to my last post about only buying what you love and need. I’m pretty good about culling my closet, but last weekend when I pulled my big suitcase out of the closet and another plastic bin out from under my bed, and began taking out summer clothes, I was a little overwhelmed.

I pulled out skirt after skirt, and dress after dress. There were summer shorts and a capris as well. But mostly just skirts and dresses. I started to count the number hanging in my closet, and stopped at 23. That doesn’t even include the cotton dresses waiting to be ironed that I had thrown in the corner.

It’s an interesting but true fact that the more choices you have, the less happy you are. [TED Video] Well, I certainly wasn’t happy. Even with all that wealth, I was completely demoralized. Do brightly-colored cotton dresses even work in New York City? The huge collection I had amassed at my four years at Washington and Lee suddenly seemed awkward and useless. I wore a pink, plaid, silk dupione skirt to work one day, and felt so conspicuous and dumb, that I vowed not to wear it again. In short, I was completely lost within my own wardrobe.

On top of that, I met up with a friend for a night out on the town with her friend who does PR for Pucci. She told me to dress “fierce.” “Ok, I can do that,” I thought. I pulled on what I thought was a hot outfit, but when I got to her downtown apartment, she gently asked me if maybe I should ditch the skirt and just go with leggings. I was sufficiently chastened to realize that I needed help. Maybe even professional help.

So I decided to get a wardrobe consultant. That’s right, I hired someone to come in and help me weed out the duds from the divine. “Why pay someone to do that?” You might ask. Well, I had run out of ideas, and I needed an objective, New York eye to look through my things and do what I wasn’t brave enough to do: declare some stuff ugly.

I found my girl on Craigslist, believe it or not. Her name is Stella Lee, and she has an impressive resume – Vogue and InStyle are both magazines for which she has styled shoots. After exchanging some emails, I decided that she sounded like she knew what she was doing, so we settled on Saturday morning at 11.

By 10:15 on Saturday I was in a panic. The idea of someone so fashionable and discerning walking into my apartment was frightening. I took a fresh look at the apartment and didn’t like what I saw. The doorknob is broken, the linoleum kitchen floor is in dire need of replacement, and there is cat hair everywhere. And even after I took out the recycling and trash, I was convinced there was a funk when you first walked in the door.

Vicki emerged from her room where she had been hiding from the frenzy of cleaning and laundry activity all morning. “Are you ok?” she asked. “No!” I wailed. “I didn’t have time to mop or vacuum. She’s totally going to judge me! I bet her other clients have so much nicer apartments.”

“That is not your fault,” Vicki chided. “And there is NO smell.”

“There is, I have to find the reason why!” Vicki shook her head and went back to her room while I folded t-shirts. Luckily for me, Stella was late, so I had an extra 20 minutes to get myself ready. Which wasn’t enough, but whatever.

When Stella walked in, I knew I had chosen a winner. She looked like she was straight out of a Refinery 29 post. I would have taken a picture, but I was way to intimidated, so you’ll just have to trust me. She had on a loose black top, a grey wool capelet, cut off boyfriend shorts, black tights, and nice black boots. This is a look I had been trying to emulate for some months, with varying success. Of course, it helped that she’s a good five inches taller than me, with that slim build that Asians seem to always have.

She placed her leather purse on my vanity, threw her capelet over my chair, and went to work. She pulled each item out of my closet with a deliberate air, contemplating it. If an item was deemed acceptable, she would take it off the hanger and rehang it, so that everything was facing the same way. “Anna had a thing about that,” she said. “So I always do it.” Anna meaning Anna Wintour at Vogue.

If she didn’t like something, she would say “Is there a story behind this?” She seemed to understand how you can get attached to a piece of clothing even if it is ugly. Sometimes there was. Often I would say, “I got that in Paris,” or “It was a gift from a friend,” or even more often, “It’s a vintage piece.”

She wasn’t a huge fan of vintage pieces, that’s for sure. Stella is no hipster. She frowned at my mom’s sparkly 80’s dress, and cringed when I told her I wore it to a Christmas cocktail party. She gently encouraged me to store the colorful silk scarves, purses, and dresses from Annie Creamcheese’s in Georgetown that I was so in love with. “They are too old for you,” she said.

Mostly, my clothing was just too Southern. Soon I had a huge pile on my bed of j-crew skirts, linen Sperry flats, and Susan Monaco dresses. (The Lilly Pulitzer stuff is long gone, at least.) “You can store it, or take it down to Maryland,” she said. “Just get it out of your closet here, it’s not doing you any good.”

Sometimes she would ask to see stuff on me. She shook her head at the voluminous skirts and pleated pants – they weren’t right for my curvy figure. And she made a pile of clothing that needed to be tailored – long pants, skirts that fall below the knee, and a sequined top whose lining is falling out.

She went through my shoes, grimacing at the worn out heels and cutesy flats. “I knew I would find a pair of these,” she said when she pulled out my Tory Burch flats. “Non-negotiable,” I spat. I actually said those words several times. “Non-negotiable” to the white Susan Monaco dress. “Non-negotiable” to the demure vintage navy blue dress straight that looks like something Jackie Kennedy would have worn. “Non-negotiable” to the rainbow scarf I bought in Chile, my only purchase while I was there. She would only nod at these points, hang the offending item up neatly, and place it back in the closet. She knew to choose her battles.

It took three hours to go through both closets, the shoes, scarfs, t-shirts, jeans, and tanks. The whole affair ended with seven bags of reject clothing, a nice neat closet of good stuff, and a rather bruised ego. Yup, the whole process was exhausting. Think about it: I basically just invited someone in to judge my taste in clothing, and the results weren’t always pretty. Some stuff which I absolutely adored was unceremoniously tossed into the get-rid-of pile. There were points, where I could tell she was struggling not to say, “For heaven sakes, I don’t care if you got it at a vintage shop in Paris for a steal! It’s hideous!” as I clung to some item with the ferocity of a mother protecting her child from a pedophile.  By the time she left, I felt both cleansed and battered. I needed time to assimilate what had just happened to my closet, to ruminate on my style and wonder about all the times when I thought I looked adorable or funky, and just looked stupid. I felt grateful I had decided to to this, but also listless.

The price for all of this? $450.

Woah! You might say. Why the hell would you pay $450 to someone so they could tell you what stuff to get rid of? Actually, I think it was money well-spent, despite the pain of letting go.

Most women wear only 20% of their closet. That’s thousands of dollars in clothing that never gets worn and languishes. In my case, I’ve been determined to wear everything, so I carefully cycled through each piece. Everytime I wore something, I hung it in the back of my closet. So all the stuff I don’t wear floated to the front, staring me in the face, challenging me. “Make it work,” the salmon, Forever 21 top with a low back whispered. And what I ended up doing was wearing some questionable things to work and out on the weekends. I probably looked like a schizophrenic to my coworkers, wearing a different, probably inappropriate, piece every day. I needed someone to finally tell me that the artsy yellow dress was a bad buy, like I suspected. I needed someone to inform me that I am no longer in Virginia and it’s time to move on from flowers and madras. I needed someone to tell me that my vintage pieces were making me look older, instead of the fresh twenty-something I am.

She also told me what to look for next time I go shopping: simple jeans with large back pockets sans embellishments, and some more knitwear. “Other than that,” she said, “you’re pretty much set. You have all the shoes you need for a really long time,” she added. That much is true, and it was good to hear that I didn’t need to go out and spend a bunch more money.

In fact, I discovered things I didn’t realize I had. She gave me the courage to finally use the beautiful Dolce and Gabanna purse I bought in the South of France and have always been to scared to use. She paired an old vest with a white blouse, giving them both new life. Less is more, right? Well, even with less stuff, I have so much more.

Every time I go shopping from now on, I will think back to those three hours and say, “Will this end up on the chopping block in a year, six months? Is this a classic? Does it look good on me?” She gave me some valuable tools. And it was really nice getting dressed today and knowing that whatever I choose, it will be a good choice for me and for my life in New York.