My personal clothing style is “comfortably dressy.” Long ago I stopped wearing t-shirts and chose to focus on building a longer-lasting, higher-quality wardrobe, much like the “classic wardrobe” that magazine articles talk about (but without the trench coat, skinny jeans, and other garments I’ll never wear.)
I didn’t change to that overnight, it took several years of transition starting from when I was in high school in the early 90’s: I wore lots of earthy greens or beige scoop-necked tops, I borrowed old shirts from my dad, and I was briefly in the Earth Club. Then in college I primarily wore thrift-store shirts (I still have my favorite one that I got for ten cents!) with overalls (which I’m kind of surprised about, but everyone else wore them too.)
A crisis happened after graduation when I started working full-time and I needed a new wardrobe, but with no idea what to wear, nor the funds to afford anything nice, I ended up with a variety of cheap-fabric shirts and suits. I had lots of clothes, but only a couple of outfits that really felt “right.” A few years later I over-corrected, and I started to dress too fancy, and some of those clothes are in my daughter’s dress-up bin now.
So where did my style eventually land?
Comfortable = no panty hose, no itchy fabrics, no dry cleaning, minimal ironing, clothes that I can wear all day.
Dressy = I always feel like I have the right thing to wear to any occasion, instead of looking at a full closet and feeling at a loss. My clothes are dressy enough that I don’t have to go shopping for a particular event.
One more thing: I want to get dressed in about two seconds without having to think about it too hard.
My goal is that I want to look good at home and be able to go places without having to change clothes first. I don’t want to look over-dressed, but I do want to feel confident. If I’m going to make a small, stylish wardrobe work, then my clothes need to remain on the dressy side. I can’t wear the t-shirts that looked good in college because now they make me look like a mom who stopped caring. I want to be a pretty mom.
When I lived in Italy earlier this year and saw beauty every day…
it made me want to dress up more. This summer I started to wear more dresses.
When I came back, I got a JCrew catalog in the mail, and it was a shame. The theme of the catalog was “weekend wear.” It was pajamas! You can be comfortable without looking like you are wearing pajamas.
It’s a common question with a pretty simple answer, so let’s break the style down into elements.
My first strategy for this look is washable knits: shirts that feel like a t-shirt, but look like a blouse. Comfortable knit tops that won’t wrinkle and can be layered. Clothes that can be thrown in the laundry at the end of the day. I don’t want to pay for dry cleaning; it’s too expensive. I would rather use the money to buy good shoes.
I use these two laundry habits to keep my clothes nice:
1. When something spills on me I rinse it out in the sink right away. Almost every potential stain can be washed out with water and a little soap if you don’t wait. Then I hang the garment on a towel bar to let it air dry before I toss it in the dirty clothes hamper to wash as usual. I do this for my kids’ clothes too, and it saves lots of time that I used to spend on stain treatment.
2. I turn denim inside out to keep it dark and air dry it on the line. Dark denim looks dressier and hides spots, so I wear jeans a few times before they need to be cleaned.
I don’t get that dirty when I do housekeeping. I’m mostly just doing the dishes and picking up. Dust washes out. Dishwashing doesn’t leave stains. I use a soap-based cleaner instead of bleach to clean the bathroom. (Bleach isn’t a good cleaning product; it’s mostly used for sanitizing, and I think soap does a better job.) Since we’re doing a home renovation, I do have a dress that I wear when I’m painting, but I don’t consider that part of my regular wardrobe.
I value natural fibers. Most of my winter sweaters are cashmere. Is that impractical for a stay-at-home mom? Baby spit-up washes out of cashmere the same as it washes out of acrylic. Acrylic sweaters last for a season before they start to pill up and lose their shape. Cashmere sweaters cost twice as much, but they last for years. I wash wool and cashmere sweaters in the washing machine on the wool cycle (turn them inside out) and let them air dry. Wool can be aired out to freshen so I don’t launder them every time I wear them, just once in a while.
It takes two extra seconds to put on a necklace. I have nice jewelry, but I mostly wear the fake pearls that little hands can grab, pull, and stick in their mouths.
Since I don’t want to think too hard to coordinate outfits, I play it safe with solid colors and mix in scarves.
I know in the photo above I’m wearing house shoes, so before I leave the house I’ll put on boots, wear a scarf and big sunglasses. Big sunglasses are a must.
Coming up: the Shopping Guide
If your style is less conservative and more artistic, Megan at SortaCrunchy is making her wardrobe better reflect her artistic nature with more colors and vintage pieces.