Ask The Kit is the real-talk advice column you never knew you needed. Every week, writer Leanne Delap answers your pressing beauty and style questions. How can I find good plus-size options? How can I get shiny hair? How do I define my style? Send your Qs to [email protected].
I had been avoiding a pandemic closet clean-out, as I know I have gained a *little* weight and I didn’t want to face it. But as things start to open up, I know I have to get merciless. Should I keep things that don’t fit any longer? What should I be looking to buy? –Pam, Toronto
Yes, Pam, I can with certainty speak for all of us when I say we feel your pain in this matter. I’m soooo ready to light a ritual bonfire to burn the sad, saggy WFH repeat outfits I’ve been clinging to. (Though of course, that’s not an environmentally sound fantasy; I just like the flaming imagery.) To connect to your question, like a method actor I put on my dreaded flannel shirt, the one that I’ve worn like Linus’s blanket throughout this pandemic. Despair, rage and apathy are woven right into its buffalo-checked pattern.
Witness the transformative power of fashion: as soon I take off my sad-sack shirt, and lob it onto the donation pile, I get an immediate boost of endorphins. Next comes the heady possibility of manifesting a new look and a new life, all just a click or two away.
But this is work that requires an expert shoulder to cry on. Tackling unruly closets is the bread and butter of a personal stylist’s work. Julianne Costigan had been working as a fashion stylist for advertising and editorial clients, as well as dressing celebrities, but, she says, “I felt I wasn’t being fulfilled.” She made the decision to focus her business to make a difference for what she calls women of influence (and occasionally their husbands): executives, entrepreneurs, doctors, “women who have an understanding that image is important to their success.” Today she runs a multifaceted fashion consultancy with five employees.
“How you dress tells people what you are capable of,” says Costigan. Luckily, she can’t see me in the Dolly Parton concert T I’ve replaced the flannel abomination with, or she’d conclude I’m pretty much only capable of a career as a bedazzler. “You have to get dressed every single day,” she says. “So why keep pieces that make you feel bad? Our closets can be a place where we build ourselves up every morning, or they can be a place that brings on a lot of guilt.”
Guilt can come from pieces we spent a lot on and never wore, or, as Pam alludes to, that don’t fit right now. “Stop clogging your psyche up!” she says. “Get rid of pieces that don’t fit, first of all. If you say, today I’m going to get healthier, and you don’t do that, you dig yourself into a deeper hole.” If you plan to lose weight, great, but move the too-small stuff into another closet, or put it in a container under your bed. “Don’t look at them every morning, it’s just not good for your mental health,” Costigan says.
First of all, switching out and cleaning out should be done seasonally. The goal, she says, is fewer items, but more outfits. “We tend to wear 20 per cent of our wardrobe 80 per cent of the time.”
Leave room to think. Don’t stuff too much in your closet: a good rule, says Costigan, is that you want to be able to reach in and pull an item out and put it back in with ease. Merchandise by item like in a retail store—skirts, blazers, blouses, dresses—and then by colour within the category. “The great thing is that when you swap things out seasonally, it’s like taking a toy away from a kid: When you bring it back, it feels new.” If you find a piece that you never wear, put it in a different place: You can’t see it at all if it’s hidden.
The golden styling and home organizing rule—one in, one out—is easier said than done. I quite like Costigan’s idea for designating (a few, carefully curated) items as heirlooms, or things you are keeping for posterity, to pass down, or for sentimental reasons—first date with your husband, the day you found out you were pregnant. I can see myself abusing this rule, but it’s a good place to start. Do take the heirloom candidates out of your actual closet, though.
So you’ve weeded and pruned, and now you have some space and some holes in your wardrobe. What to buy next? Costigan likes a uniform, and item-based shopping. Items combine into outfits. She herself is a blazer, top and trousers fan. If it’s a casual day, she says, that means distressed jeans and a T-shirt with a blazer. A day requiring more polish would mean black pants and a collared shirt with the blazer.
Costigan is a big fan of Canadian brand Smythe for an investment blazer. “They have fit down to a T. You wear a Smythe jacket and it holds your shoulders back. It accentuates every woman’s best asset: confidence.” That said, she is also a fan of injecting a fresh coloured piece in to make a seasonal statement. In her digital style guide, which she makes available to her wider client community via Instagram, she selected a great pink double-breasted blazer from Mango to get us out of our pandemic doldrums.
I like her biggest piece of advice very much, and can say that when I have followed this plan in my own life I have felt the best about myself. “Our bodies change, but our style doesn’t. Find a uniform, and concentrate on great-fitting items. It keeps you from overconsuming.” And it keeps you from standing in front of your closet, crying. Trust me, I’ve done that, too.
Shop the advice
Pick some uniform-building items and keep everything organized
Stylist Julianne Costigan made this blazer a key item for her monthly Digital Style Guide. In the guide for her personal shopping clients, she shows seven different outfit ideas to pair with it, including closet basics. How many things could this go with that are already in your closet?
Andrea Lenczner and Christie Smythe have put the blazer at the heart of their line—called Smythe—for two decades. With fans like the Duchess of Cambridge, a Smythe blazer is an investment piece that will become a long-term classic always worthy of pride of place in your closet.
Bed, Bath & Beyond has these great suiting hangers, with non-slip grip and a slim profile to take up less space and keep your shoulders squared
Can’t bear to part with a special piece? Keeping it safe, but out of sightlines in your closet will keep your focus lasered in on your best look for the day.
Unless you want to be a modern-day Carrie Bradshaw with your Manolos in the oven, a shoe rack is a necessary closet organizer to keep your options in view and your pairs paired.
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