My Closet Is My Vision Board, or How Clothes Help Me Grow

True confession: what’s hanging in my closet has a lot to do with growing my business.

Of course, building the infrastructure for the business itself is on the to-do list. Filing documents, creating systems, automating, building team. But then there’s the creative inspiration needed to bring that puppet to life. That’s where my wardrobe comes in.

Warning: the details which follow come under the heading of “Too Much Information.” Continue at your own risk.

“You can be anyone you want to be if you have the right clothes,” I’ve said for years, only half joking. And though my daytime work clothes consist of jeans and whatever’s on top of the laundry basket layered with a Tibetan denim jacket and a scarf, my “vision board” for the life I intend and actively cultivate is hanging in my closet.

With a strong sense of personal style, I am passionate about clothes, the way a painter is passionate about the pigments of a palette and the ability to evoke light, color, mood, line, movement. I adore the way the right attire hits the key of a perfect C, allows one to feel at ease at a soup-to-nuts networking event, or to set the tone for dinner out. Last week, a classy little blue-gray dress paired with a red, jet-beaded cardigan and Audrey Hepburn flats paired nicely with a ’20s beaded purse for an upscale after 5 event. The result? I felt and looked put together. I met lots of nice people. I relaxed. Had a glass of bubbles. Smiled a lot.

Relaxing is easy when your hem isn’t held up with masking tape, and smiling is effortless if you’re not worried because your waistband is cinched with a safety pin. (Yes, we’ve all been there!)

My friends Stephanie Pederson of New York and Ann Brosnan of London asked me this week to share how I indulge my love of fine clothing at a great value. Here’s my secret. I get an intuitive feeling that I need to go to a certain place to shop. Then I just skim through the store until I feel I’m at the right rack, and start looking. No kidding.

But once I’m there, the rules change. Here are the top 10 go-to techniques I use to help my intuitive side hone in on super values to build a high-end wardrobe to take me to the next level in my business:

1. Know how to choose well off the rack.
My mother is a true seamstress, and so was my grandmother. They taught me to choose clothing by fabric and drape (the way it’s cut on the bias) first, then pattern (the structure of the piece). The label is less important.

2. Understand how brands design patterns.
Brands tend to have one base pattern which determines their sizing. So, I memorize the name brands with a base pattern which flatters my curvy figure, and place additional attention on those. For example, I know J.Jill and Jones New York size 14 suit my figure, that with knit cardigans or A-line pieces I need to go up a size, if it’s a fitted shirt from J.Jill, I need an XL petite (not sure why) and to stay as far away from Talbot’s line as possible no matter how great it looks on the hanger.

3. Embrace the adventure of the intuitive search.

The place I shop really doesn’t matter, as I’m equally at home in a fine boutique or at an off the grid gathering. My intuition takes me to all sorts of spaces and places, and the adventure of the search is a bonus which feeds my spirit.

4. Keep an open mind about the place you shop.

I keep an eye out for places like nice consignment shops or a local Goodwill which receives new, high end mall and catalog clothing. Plus, the wide variety of clothing types make it a great place to spend an afternoon to try on a variety of cuts and styles so you can refine your personal style choices before investing in new looks. But don’t shy away from “expensive” clothing stores, and don’t confine your search to the sale racks. Be willing to place a priority on quality and value.

5. Quality never goes out of style.

A real designer label piece which flatters one’s body type and/or coloring never goes out of style in my limited world view (my friend Linda Heitel of WNC Woman Magazine would agree wholeheartedly with this one). One of my most beloved scarves is an Oscar de la Renta I bought at full price in 1985 during my junior year of high school. It’s gorgeous – and still in style.

6. Work from a base, then layer for visual interest.
I choose a lot of base pieces in solids to cultivate a long silhouette, then mix with signature pieces such as a great jacket, one of a kind jewelry or beads, and accessories. It’s the quality of the piece that matters, and the way you look and feel when you wear it.

7. Don’t be afraid to mix in vintage which suits your personal style.

I adore memorable vintage pieces: a 70s “Mary Tyler Moore” patchwork skirt, a 1969 “Midnight Cowboy” original fringed jacket, a NY designer hand-sewn needlepoint coat from the late 60s in a heritage pattern from great Britain, shirts from the 70s which feature Nouveau themes on the fabric, great clutches and handbags from every decade. Remember that Erma Bombeck tale of going to a dinner party, and wearing a dress made from the same fabric as the drapes? That never happens when you add a bit of vintage to your mix.

8. The notions make a difference.

Pay attention to the neatness of the seams and the notions, i.e., the quality of the buttons, the slide of the zipper, etc. Many years ago I worked in a pants factory sweatshop as it paid better than journalism, and I needed to eat. The difference between Casual Corner and Kmart? Not the fabric. The pattern, finish and fit. Casual Corner would choose more elegant finishing elements, and the cut would be better. But the fabric and print? exactly the same.

9. Window shop before you drop big money on new trends.

Watch emerging trends in magazines or online and try to shop one season ahead of the wave. Last fall’s new trend will actually be popular next year. So if I can catch the wave in advance, but at the end of a season, I’m sure to get a great value on a piece I can wear for years.

10. Pay homage to the classics.

Creating a base wardrobe with structure and timeless appeal means you always have a solid canvas from which to express your spirit. When travelling, I always make certain I have a classic “little black dress,” a great pair of jeans, a well-fitted (wrinkle proof) white dress shirt, a couple of versatile tops in solid colors, a bright cardigan, comfy walking shoes, a go-to jacket which flatters my figure, a favorite pair of black flats, and a pair of dangly earrings. Change up the accessories, and Voila! it’s all about you – and your business – no matter where you find yourself.

P.S.  A good bra or undergarments and Spanx hosiery are must-dos if you’re dressing to impress. Just saying.

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