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Monday, September 15, 2014

Your Personal Dresscode: Building a Wardrobe When Living Paycheck To Paycheck

The children are finally back to school. You've outfitted them with their clothes and supplies and now can take a much needed break!  (If you're a smart shopper, you may have picked up a bunch of those school supplies and ferretted those away for stocking stuffers later in December ( Now that everyone else is taken care of, have  you looked at your wardrobe lately?
Dior's New Look (Google Images)

As moms we are often the last people on our own list to get our wants and needs met.

I realize you probably are or feel like you are tapped out after outfitting the kids, but the reality is that September is one of those milestones for all of us. Its an unofficial "renewal" or "rebirth" where we begin the year anew. September is the perfect time for us to revamp and renew ourselves and we can begin with what we wear.

Don't think what you wear matters? Au contre. Every time you walk outside of your home, you are representing not only yourself but your family. Many people you encounter in a day may never talk to you, but based on what you are wearing, will make observations and tailor how they treat  you based on your appearance. If you are dressing frumpy, the message you are projecting to the world is that you don't care enough about your appearance to put any effort into it. The unconscious message the public perceives is that, if you don't care what you look like, then there is no reason for them to care about you or your opinions because obviously you don't care about them either. Really do you think it's appropriate to go outside with the description "JUICY" written across your bum? Or worse yet, pajama bottoms in public that basically shout, "I was too lazy to get dressed this morning?" Is that really the message you want to send out?

I didn't think so.

I'm no fashionista... not by a long shot. But I have had several decades now of experience and worked in jobs as diverse as runnning a register to representing a multi-million dollar company to CEOs, presidents and salespeople from all over the globe. I've seen the decade of the 1970's where women where encouraged to dress like men to get ahead (what were we thinking, they wouldn't notice we were women?) to the neon clothes, legwarmers and the power suits and bows (yes power bows) of the 1980's. I learned how to interview in the 1990's and worked my way through the remainder of the next two decades. So, to quote the song lyric, "I know a little... baby I can guess the rest"....

And for most of the time, I was living paycheck to paycheck.

Here is what I've learned through all these years: when you are living on a budget you need to develop a strategy to build a all encompassing wardrobe.

How to Build a Killer Wardrobe, One Paycheck at a Time

Audrey Hepburn
1. Think Audrey Hepburn, not Lady GaGa..A classic wardrobe is always your best bet when funds are limited and your wardrobe has to cover a multitude of life scenerios. It's called classic for a reason and that is that these are well cut clothes in shades of navy, black, brown, grey and burgundy that can take you from the parent-teacher's conference, an interview, meeting with the bank to grocery shopping. They can be dressed up or down and mixed and matched.

2. Ammortize...When considering purchasing a garment, determine how much wear you are realistically going to get from it. Is this a piece you are going to wear once a week or something you'll wear only a few times a year. If you are going to wear this every week, maybe that $40 is worth it for a nice pair of pants verses $85 for a dress you'll wear at Christmas and put away for the year.

3. How Well Made is the Garment?  No matter how cheap a piece of clothing is, it is never worth taking home if the garment is cheaply made. Hold the fabric between your fingers, does it feel substantial or does it feel inferior? Does the pattern meet up at the seams or is it obviously misaligned? How well has it been sewn together? Are there obvious threads hanging off it that should be clipped?

4. Does it Need to be Dry Cleaned? Dry cleaning is not only a money suck, it's a time

suck. I often refer to it as having to go break my clothes out of "clothing jail". When considering a purchase, be realistic with your lifestyle. I own very few things that need to be dry cleaned because I simply don't have the time. In writing this, I just realized I have my husband's dry cleaning to pick up. I had completely forgotten about that and I'm sure he has too. In general, it's just not worth the time if you can avoid it.

5. Not Everything Has to Be Brand New...Ebay has really changed the way most of us think about buying clothing. Growing up, I avoided wearing hand-me-downs like the plague. Going to the Goodwill was completely off my list as I hated those clothes (it was the 1970's-1980's so lets face it, there was a lot of polyester so that is part of it). Nowadays, it's not uncommon to make a purchase of clothing on Ebay that is gently or nearly new. One of my favorite brands of clothing is Coldwater Creek. Even on sale I really can't afford them. On Ebay, however that is often a completely different ballgame and now my local Goodwill carries brandname, often designer clothing for mere pennies. I've bought a nice leather jacket for as little as $15 and my favorite shirt that I wear about once a week cost me $4. The best thing? No one has any idea these aren't from a major department store and now it's stylish to be "green". Also with people buying ripped jeans and distressed jackets, you are now styling and authentic.

6. Shop Your Closet...  And have someone else help you. Sometimes we wear the same thing over and over again out of habit. They say you only wear 20% of your wardrobe 80% of the time so now is the time for new eyes. You bought these things for a reason but maybe it is time to have someone else shake things up. Have your husband pick out something he'd like to see  you in and something to wear with it. Have your daughter do the same. You may not always like the outfit they put together but it may be enough to get your creative juices flowing and see a piece in a new light.

An interesting accessory can make an outfit.
7. When You Can't Buy, Accessorize.   While you may not have the funds to do a complete make over, try adding something to the outfits you have that you may have never done before. A scarf when you've never worn a scarf before, a steam punk necklace with a conservative shirt. Something that brings new life to your outfit can make you feel brand new.

From Google Images.

8. Go To The Mall.  In this instance your not there to buy, you are there for reconnaissance. Window shop and see what the upcoming styles are and how to add them to your wardrobe. The mall windows are great inspiration and as they are in your neighborhood, are more likely to reflect the taste of the local culture. 

In this world, you never know when you are going to have to get a job. Medical issues arrive, divorce happens or maybe you've decided to go back to work after the kids have left. Maybe, like me, you've always held a job outside of the house. Regardless, you need to always have a navy blue interview suit at the ready. I've seen people wear horrendous things to a job interview. You are trying to sell yourself as the perfect candidate for a job: reliable, trustworthy, responsible. So you carefully choose, A JEAN SKIRT???? Jeans are for casual wear, wearing them to an interview is telling the interviewer that you don't take the position seriously. If you aren't taking the position seriously, why are you there? Never forget that they have to sell you to their boss as the best candidate and why, so they aren't going to recommend someone that may make them look bad. Your interview suit should in generally be blue as psychological tests seem to indicate that most people view blue as stable, reliable and trustworthy. (Why do you think standard checks are generally blue?) It's a color that is almost universally liked. You can get away with black or brown, but often these colors seem really harsh in an office environment.

10. If You Like it, Buy Several and In Many Colors. As a mom, you know that the first time you wear a white shirt will probably be the last time you wear it. You'll end us spilling something on it that will stain it the first time. If I like a cut of a shirt, I'll buy it in several colors because as soon as you decide you need another one, you won't be able to buy it again. Stock up when you can. Use layers to dress it up and look different.

Ultimately, the best fashion advice is own who you are and relay that in your confidence. There is almost nothing so fashionable or sexy as confidence. Own who you are and what you've done. Few of us have beautiful figures that we can dress like a supermodel but then, we've done something that is magnificent, we've brought forth human life! We manage households. Some work outside of the home. Some work in the home. We raise children. We cherish our relationships. Fundamentally we are the caretakers of our sanctuaries and the caretakers of the future generation. We are fashionably awesome.


  1. Audrey Hepburn was always a favorite of mine due to her classy wardrobe and ways. I think the basics are the best staples and have found many nice, new clothes at second-hand stores too. I happen to be a J.JILL gal and these pieces have been found for a few dollars :) Thank you for sharing your fashion tips on the Art of Home-Making Mondays! The point about good-quality is a very savvy statement. You want to spend money on something that will last!