Ever have those days when you really truly hate everything in your wardrobe? Stylist’s Alix Walker goes in search of a smarter way to get dressed in the morning
Recently I was forced to send a grovelling apology text to my husband: “I’m so sorry I called you a selfish **** before 7am. I realise you’re not trying to ruin my life because I forgot to wash my black jeans. But you have to understand, I couldn’t find ANYTHING to wear!” Wardrobe rage – that irrational anger which causes you to throw every item of clothing you own on the floor and scream expletives at your jeans because you cannot find a single outfit that doesn’t make you look horrendous – can be responsible for some pretty bad behaviour. As the minutes tick closer to your morning meeting, it seems perfectly logical to throw the shoes you once loved at the nearest window.
The truth is, like many British women, I have a lot to wear. Last month alone I bought some printed trousers from Zara, a grey coat from Cos and a bright pink scarf from J Crew and added them to a wardrobe already stuffed with clothes. Research has found we spend 20% of our income on work clothes, equating to around £4,000 a year, which sounds pretty accurate to me. So why have I nearly gone to work dressed in my underwear at least three times in the last month?
I blame my complete scattergun approach to dressing. Working for a fashion magazine I have a fairly decent knowledge of what’s on trend. I know the labels I love –Kenzo, Whistles, Acne, APC, Zara – and I don’t, as a rule, get too swayed by what’s on the catwalk. But I buy without purpose or plan and consequently, when I got those Zara trousers home I realised I didn’t have a single pair of shoes to wear them with (much like other women in the UK who spend £3.5billion on shoes, two thirds of which never make it out of the box). So they got shoved to the back of the wardrobe, tags remaining, taunting me.
I’ve often wondered if there’s a more strategic way to approach getting dressed. One which reduces time spent angrily throwing clothes around the bedroom and prevents the £1.6billion women waste on clothing we will never wear (an average of 22 items in every wardrobe). And although I’m aware that this is the most first world of problems, it is a major time zapper when time comes at such a premium. So, testing the new breed of fashion apps, personal shoppers and other fashion solutions I went in search of a better way to get dressed.
We use technology to hail taxis and record our sleep rhythms – surely that magical Clueless wardrobe app, which we were promised almost 20 years ago has been developed? There are a wealth of pretenders to the Clueless crown; Closet, for example, helps you categorise your outfits and keep you up to date with what you’ve worn; Polyvore provides fashion inspiration by allowing users to create shoppable collages by mixing and matching products and styles. But by far the most exciting option is IStyleMyself.
Ex-Goldman Sachs banker Diana Tkhamadokova has created a unique algorithm which generates looks for its users based on their profile (it takes into account hair colour and body shape), clothes in your own wardrobe and tens of thousands of garments available to buy online. Most crucially, by teaming up with former Tatler fashion director Hannah Teare, the generated looks are actually on trend and desirable – a first in this market. The process is timeconsuming – you have to take a photograph of everything in your wardrobe to generate looks – but it did throw up some really wearable outfits which I wouldn’t have thought of and suggested the perfect Reiss slippers to make those trousers work. This app provides inspiration for anyone stuck in a style rut and taught me to look more closely at what I already own. It also highlighted that while I have some great key pieces, I lack some classic basics that pull everything together.
Fashion apps which help you apply logic to your wardrobe are all well and good, but let’s be frank, fashion is rarely logical. Simply opening our wardrobes in the morning can proffer a startling range of emotions – guilt over the dress you’ll never wear; depression when you see your ‘thin’ jeans (85% of women hoard clothes that don’t fit). So I asked style educator and therapist Samantha Clarke who runs the Dressing Well classes at The School of Life why we let emotions get in the way of fashion.
“Women tend to impulse shop,” she says. “But we need to think about dressing for the present – for the size we are now, for the job we’re in now. It’s a process of streamlining and getting rid of some past negativity before we add anything new.”
Her advice makes a lot of sense, particularly regarding letting go of the things which only make me feel depressed. But it’s also about changing our attitudes to how we shop; for example like three quarters of British women, I shop just for the thrill of it rather than because I need something. Clarke prescribes: “A purse-free shopping day. Go shopping, try things on – how does it make you feel, does the colour suit you? It teaches you to shop smarter.”
With Clarke’s advice ringing in my ears I take every single item out of my wardrobe and pile it on my bed. Using three markers – have I worn it this year? Does it wash well? Does it go with at least three other things in my wardrobe? – I take anything that doesn’t fit the bill to charity or sell it on Vestiaire Collective or Covetique (I made £560). My wardrobe looked bare for the first time in years and my mind felt instantly clearer.
To fill in the new gaps in my wardrobe, I turned my attention to the women who look stylish every day. From the Stylist fashion team to the buyers for Net-a-porter and those who dominate every street style blog around, I quizzed fashion’s biggest names about how they get dressed in the morning. And a pattern quickly emerged. All of these women have a ‘fashion uniform’. A loose template of clothes in a tight colour palette which they rarely deviate from. The more I researched, the clearer it became – whether it’s Anna Wintour in her uniform of Manolo Blahnik mules, a fluted A-line skirt and a giant gem necklace or Vogue Paris editor Emmanuelle Alt in leather trousers, T-shirt and tuxedo jacket – those who look eternally stylish do it in uniform.
As Vera Wang confirms, “In the end there is a uniform that works for you. It’s an editing process. And as you become more certain of your own vision, and your own taste and your own style, you do end up in a uniform.” The reason all of these people cite is time. Whether you’re at the forefront of fashion or a Goldman Sachs banker, you still have to get to work on time. New research in decision fatigue shows that the more choices being thrown at us, the more our brains search for shortcuts so it makes perfect sense that the super-successful seek out a fashion uniform. Even Barack Obama has said: “I only wear grey or blue suits… I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m wearing, I have too many other decisions to make.”
So, a fashion uniform is the smartest way to shop. But what should that uniform consist of? I tasked Harvey Nichols personal shopping service with helping me find mine. Just one of a wealth of really brilliant personal shopping services available – I also loved Topshop’s and Asos’s offerings – the appointment is free with no pressure to buy. I sent over a brief on what I was looking for with details on my body shape and the brands I like and Ruth, my personal shopper, pulled out two rails of clothes. She’d edited down countless jean brands into two styles she thought would work for me (J brand Photo Ready and Paige Boyfriend) and found me the perfect black trousers (Theory) and black leather trousers (Joseph). Trying on a careful edit of clothes in a stress-free environment helps you to make better choices, and the best part is all of your wardrobe is put online so you can take time to mull things over before investing.
Taking what I learnt from my team of experts I believe I’ve found the formula to the ultimate fashion uniform which will get you through the entire season. This uniform isn’t rigid. For example, if you can’t wear jeans to work then swap them out for a pair of tailored trousers – I love Cos’s side zip trousers – and the colour palette of black, grey, navy and white is just a guide of what worked for me, you may prefer rust, navy and prints.
After a few weeks of wearing my uniform I have not had one fashion tantrum and no more apology texts. It’s the slickest way I’ve ever got dressed in the morning and crucially, it gives me one more hit of the snooze button.
Your ultimate fashion wardrobe
1. Crew neck Cashmere jumpers
Invest in three in grey, black and navy and buy a size up for a ‘loose’ fit. Protect cashmere by using a piling brush to remove any loose fibres. From top: £89, Autograph Marks & Spencer; £59.90, Uniqlo; £99, Boden.
2. Leather trousers
A slim fit leather trouser is essential. Every fashion director has Joseph’s leather stretch leggings, £495 and Denham’s faux leather jeans, £180 (above) are universally flattering. Wear with a structured slipper by day and courts at night.
3. Boyfriend jeans
Wear with your cashmere jumper, blazer, white shirt and Isabel Marant white trainers. The best are Paige’s Jimmy Jimmys £208, or Gap’s Sexy Boyfriend cut, £44.95 (above).
4. Point toe Court
Christian Louboutin’s Pigalle courts, £425, are the ultimate investment. Karen Millen’s suede courts are a close second, £125 (above).
5. Oversized Coat
This clean-edge pale grey coat, £135, Cos, perfectly captures the silhouette of the season.
6. Silk blouse
Taking you from office to an evening out, the Equipment shirt (£295) a streamlined Adalynstyle is a must.
Practical, stylish and crucial to your fashion uniform. Try Isabel Marant’s Bart’s, £270 (above) or Adidas Stan Smiths, £67.
8. Neutral scarf
Choose a black or grey scarf from Zara, £25.99 (above) or Eric Bompard, £90.
9. Shift dress
A versatile basic that is smart for work, dressed up with heels for evening and layered over a roll neck for day. This geometric print shift ticks every box. £149, M&S Collection
A black blazer will instantly smarten your look. Try Zara’s tailored range or invest in Stella McCartney’s Ingrid, £735 (above).
11. Leather pencil skirt
Pair your shirt or cashmere knits with this classic skirt shape. Try Oasis’s Grace skirt, £85.
12. Skinny Jeans
Essential in black and dark indigo. Buy MiH Bodycon, £195 (above), J brand Photo Ready jeans, £159.89, or Levi’s Revel jeans, £100. Wear turned up with Chelsea boots.
13. The Chelsea boot
Thanks to the price and brogue detailing Office’s Baron boots, £80 are the fashion team’s favourite.
14. Black smart trousers
Find black trouser perfection in Theory’s Jin wool blend pants, £275, Stella McCartney’s tapered Tamara’s, £400, or Reiss’s Saint, £120 (above).
15. White shirt
Every season our fashion team stockpile Gap’s boyfriend shirts, £29.50, and wear them under their cashmere.
Every fashion name opts for delicate gold jewellery and layers long necklaces with short necklaces, for example. Gold pendant, £495, Astley Clarke; diamond pendant, £195, Links of London; bracelet, £275, Astley Clarke; earrings, £49, Astrid & Miyu; rings (from top), £60, £365 and £90, all Pandora.
17. Printed mini skirt
Add a colour pop to your fashion uniform with a Carven wool miniskirt, £270 (above). Wear with thick black opaque tights and trainers.
The mini messenger bag by 3.1 Phillip Lim, £690 (above) is the ultimate bag of the season.
19. Polo neck
Buy two in cream, black or pale grey. Again, Marks & Spencer, £15, and Uniqlo, £59.90, cannot be beaten.
20. Pea coat
The classic style. Head to Joseph for its sturdy Melton Wool Balfour, £595, or to Uniqlo, for its £69.90 offering (above).
Buy three in white, grey and black and wear with your blazer or under cashmere. From top: £19, American Apparel; £9.50, Gap; £55, Sunspel.
22. Structured slipper
These go with everything in your wardrobe. LK Bennett’s Amina Kid style, £175 are your go-to pair.
(Photography: Ram Shergill)