The Style Guide: “Comfortably Dressy”

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.

“How do you translate a “comfortably dressy” style into everyday life? It doesn’t seem practical for a stay-at-home mom. Don’t you ruin your dressy clothes?”

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.

How do you describe your personal style?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. I’m with you Rachel – though I’m *still* a thrift addict … now I look for the DKNY etc labels mixed in there (yep, I do find them!). I’ve got lots of black clothes and bright scarves. Happy.
    Amanda@EasyPeasyOrganic´s last post…French-Press Coffee with Cacao

  2. I’d rather pay more up front for something (like a sweater) that is going to last longer. I’ve always been a plain-dressing person, so there are sweaters in my closet that are 17-18 years old and I’m still wearing them. That’s either cheap and crazy or seriously frugal and smart. You decide. :-) I don’t follow the fads, and I would say that I’m more of a classic dresser, but you can find me in solid t-shirts (not big and baggy) and a pair of shorts in the summer, as long as I’m not at work. In the end, I’m just me – I want to be comfortable and warm in the winter and cool and casual in the summer – all without looking frumpy. It’s a balance I’m still attempting to master.
    Carrie @ Busy Nothings´s last post…Booking It :: October

    • You and Rachel have me thinking about this sweater thing. I love a fisherman’s sweater (turtleneck, cable pattern down the front) I have 2, a blue and a purple one, but I really want an original looking one in cream color. I know I will wear it for years, so maybe I will bite the bullet and get one this winter!
      Successful Woman’s Resource Center´s last post…10 steps to clean your house fast

  3. That was such an interesting article! Thank you for the great inspiration. In times like these it’s great to go shopping for value and not just this year’s trends. I am really interested in what you were wearing when you were pregnant. I mean did you go for something cheap considering you would wear it for so little? And I’m also interested in your beauty regime: do you use expensive face creams or over-the-counter brands? Do you prefer waxing or shaving or some other kind of getting rid of unwanted hair? Your ways are so practical that I’m interested in learning more.

    • When I was pregnant I definitely considered cost, but mostly I just had a few clothes. By the time the baby came, I was definitely tired of my clothes, but during those last 4 to 5 months of maternity I got by with a couple of pants, a skirt, and about 6 tops.

  4. I have been going thru a revamp as of late. I work so early in the morning (in a radio studio where nobody sees me) that it was really easy for me to slip into sweats and a t-shirt. Then later …I realize how sloppy I looked and how dumpy I FELT. :(

    Last month I went thru and purged my closet of most of those frumpy things and put my casual dressy clothing front and center. I’m with you..dark jeans, boots, knit shirts-layering pieces. And I FEEL better when I am dressed that way :)

    plus-I like to shop-and prefer quality over quantity. So I have added a few really nice classic pieces!
    RadiomomRhetoric´s last post…Menu Plan Monday

  5. When you are shopping, how can you tell whether something will wrinkle?

    • I bunch up some of the fabric in one hand and squeeze it for close to one minute. Release it and look at the result — lots of wrinkles is a big warning.

      Synthetics like polyester usually don’t wrinkle much. I prefer cotton, but I hate to iron, so we have a firm rule to remove things immediately from the dryer and spread out or hang clothes that require it. For cotton knit skirts, tops, and dresses, or for woven cottons like denim or canvas, I fold them very neatly and smooth out wrinkles with my hands. Later I can shake them out and they’re up to my standards of neatness.
      Lori´s last post…Balancing Balance, Part III: Do I Have the Right to Choose My Filters?

      • Thanks Lori!

      • I always do the scrunch test in shops – not just to spot fabric that will pack well, but also to check the quality. A good winter coat should be made of good enough fabric that it doesn’t crease like that, but you’d be surprised how many expensive designer coats have thin low quality fabric that has no spring.

  6. Loved the article! :) I am a nurse and used to wear scrubs everyday. Now I work in an office environment and very much enjoy getting dressed in nice clothes for work. It extends into my days off, too because I am more comfortable with wearing nicer outfits. I actually enjoy putting together new outfits each day and accessorizing with scarves and necklaces.

    One thing I recently did was organize my jewelry into an over the door hanger like this one, a simple cork board on the wall to display my necklaces, and added a few hooks behind the door for my scarves. With everything at my fingertips, it’s just so easy to use these pieces on a daily basis!

  7. Several years ago I read one of MFK Fisher’s books and was arrested by a black and white photograph of her that was probably taken in the 1960s. Her hair was pulled back into a low chignon and she was wearing a simple white button-up, collared blouse. It occurred to me how timeless she looked — the photo could have been taken at any time in the second half of the century.

    That was the moment when my personal style came into focus, and it is much like yours, Rachel. I favor solid colors, especially in nice knit tops, and classic lines. I like to add a piece like a jacket or scarf when I want extra polish, and in the summer when it is too hot, I wear more dresses. For dressier occasions, I lean toward a vintage forties-ish look or Chanel-style suits.

    I’d like to think that if my great-great grandchildren see a photograph of me some day, they’ll think “classy” rather than “so old-fashioned.”
    Lori´s last post…Balancing Balance, Part III: Do I Have the Right to Choose My Filters?

  8. I wrote a post about the same subject some days ago (see the link at the bottom of this post). Now that my kids are getting older (no throwing up anymore, no dirty shoes ruining your skirt :-)), I decided to wear more skirts/dresses combined with tights (cotton, not the itchy ones) and when I leave the house I wear boots with high heels. I always try to wear a matching necklace and when leaving the house I add a bracelet (after all I make most of my jewelry myself). I must say that I feel a lot better knowing that I don’t look a mess when somebody rings the doorbell.
    Natacha´s last post…Ester Elenora

  9. Celeste in Dallas says:

    I panic when thinking about my wardrobe. I always over-think and analyze everything and go shopping before special occassions. This has not been good on my budget and I often go from looking very put together to very messy. I’ve been wanting to transition into dressing Comfy-Dressy daily (starting with the tip to use scarves) and it’s been good so far. I have clothes to give away and am working on weeding through good vs clothes I’ll never use. It’s a work in progress, I’m trying not to panic and instead prepare.

  10. Thanks so much for the encouragement! I’m going to get that cashmere sweater from Lands End. I will look at it as an investment and not vanity – even though it is so pretty.
    Candydawn´s last post…Homeschool: To Co-Op or not to Co-Op

  11. Oh, that is a good question! I would like to say classic, with a touch of whimsy. I know I buy too much and I love your theory of buying a smaller number of more expensive, but wearable and timeless pieces. Time to go through my closet…again!

  12. Love your style Rachel, wish I could replicate it, but I get all goofy when I go shopping and start buying random things. Can’t wait to see the Shopping Guide!
    P.S. Dying to see how the renovations are going, give us a peek soon, okay?

  13. Rachel, your posts on outfits and clothes are so timely for me right now. I’m beginning the same journey – figuring out how to combine the things I already have, taking mental notes of the types of quality I want to own, and so forth.

    THANK YOU for sharing your wisdom. I can’t wait to read your upcoming shopping guide as I am pretty sure it involves NOT a lot of actual shopping for new at the department store. yeah!
    Katie at´s last post…Can You Spot Any Remodeling Progress?

  14. I love your style guides! They are so practical and don’t overwhelm me like clothing catalogs do, when I feel that my wardrobe will never be adequate. I also am going through the transition from college t-shirt/jeans to wearing professional office clothes and also wanting to look a bit more dressy and put together. I have found the book The One Hundred to be helpful in guiding me to classic pieces and giving me ideas of how to use one article of clothing for different looks. Looking forward to your shopping guide!

  15. I’m with you on so much of this. My husband always mentions that he likes when I wear t-shirts, but I hate wearing them; I feel frumpy. I only wear them when I’m working out or sometimes as pajamas.

    As far as my everyday style, I’m the same; I like it classic, but casual. Jeans with a tank top (to layer) and a comfortable blouse, combined with jewelry or a scarf. I used to spend a lot of time combining outfits, but now I just make sure that the colors complement each other and go.
    Jennie´s last post…Simply Ten Good Things

  16. You know, I was always a classic dresser until I started reading blog. Suddenly, my style became a little more bold. Lately, though, I’m realizing that although bold style is inspiring, it’s not really me. After I finish the current decluttering project I am on, I will focus on my wardrobe and bring it back to the classic, comfortable, and quality collection of pieces it once was.
    Jules´s last post…Day 11: 31 Days of William Morris

  17. I’m a little more casual than you but basically the same idea. I am struck by your out-of-hand dismissal of t-shirts. My wardrobe staples are t-shirts which I have in white, black and every shade of gray I can lay my hands on. They are fine on their own in hot weather, they go under button downs, sweaters and tunics and when they get a little stretched make great PJs. And in the end they cut up into rags. They must fit properly, you can’t steal your husbands or wear the one-size-fits no one shirt you got free when you ran that charity 5k.

    • T-shirts are a classic staple in my wardrobe too. Plus I also like to wear until they get faded — then I like to use them for pj tops (they can feel so soft & comfy) or to clean — when they get too faded & frayed they become rags, too. It’s a fully circle thing. But T-shirts can be pretty, dressy & very classy depending on the style. I like the idea of the dressy knit tops, also.

      My wardrobe fits in half my closet like Rachels, and I don’t have a chest of drawers (my undies, shoes, & everything else fits in half of my closet. The other side is my place to blog & surf the net — besides other things computer related.

      • Hear, hear! I love t-shirts. Simple v-necks in any color look cute under jackets or cardigans and can be matched with scarves and long necklaces.

  18. I’m so glad to read your article on this subject!! I could have written this article in terms of where my style has gone and finally landed! Knit tops, a few classic capris (and fewer pants), skirts, and a few dresses seem to fill my closet these days. And because we live where it is very cold, some classic sweaters. The same clothes I wear at home are often the same clothes I wear when going out, including to church, with the exception of a special occasion dress. An apron helps me feel feminine and protects the clothes when doing messy work such as cooking or gardening.

    One tip I’ve found to help when washing… I do all my clothes on the delicate cycle with real soap (not detergent) and if it’s a load of darks, I always do an extra rinse. This helps remove residual soap that can accumulate and make darks look dingy.
    Amy @ Homestead Revival´s last post…Barn Hop #31

  19. I have been thinking about my wardrobe again lately as I am pregnant and am now needing to dig out my maternity clothes. The funny thing is that my maternity clothes are much dressier than my regular clothes because when I was pregnant with my second daughter I was working in an office atmosphere. I needed clothes that were dressy enough to wear to work, but comfortable enough for an already uncomfortable pregnant lady. After my maternity leave I chose to stay home instead of going back to work and I unfortunately adopted the jeans and tee wardrobe. Always a dark wash and always a flattering fit t-shirt, but no accessories and when it’s cold a hooded sweatshirt goes on. Now that I’m in my maternity clothes again I’m feeling great and will definitely be updating my wardrobe after baby comes!

  20. I would say my personal style is a bit mix matched right now. My goal is to have a wardrobe of clothes that fit well and make me feel beautiful and feminine. When I saw what this article was I was so excited to read your ideas about dressing. You have a way of being direct and clear but also write in a way that is enjoyable to read! I am very much looking forward to your shopping guide as I am looking to rebuild my wardrobe and find shopping so confusing and exhausting sometimes!

  21. curious about your cashmere! Does it say dry clean only or do you find some that is machine washable? I’m still learning about laundry care and am desperate to avoid the dry cleaner too!:)

    • My cashmere sweaters all say to hand wash or dry clean. If you hand wash wool, use lukewarm water and minimal agitation.

      If it says “dry clean only” then it might be more prone to shrinkage.

  22. I love the idea of cashmere, and it always feels soft in my hands, but after just a few minutes of wearing anything made of wool, I am unbearably itchy. I guess I just have sensitive skin. So no cashmere for me. But I don’t want to have to replace my sweaters every few years, just because they’ve worn out. Do you know of any stores that sell higher quality acrylic sweaters?
    Amy´s last post…I am a stay-at-home mom

    • I would try Lands’ End sweaters.

    • I have a similar problem (particularly with cashmere) and find a 50/50 mix of wool and cotton sometimes works out fine, if the wool is soft. Silk is also a good fibre to mix with cotton because keeps you warmer than cotton alone.

    • Also have the same problem. I tend to wear a camisole or in winter a jersey long sleeve top under knits. I go for mostly cotton or cotton blends, even manage a few low level cashmere/angora blends as cardigan. I much prefer cardies at the moment, so practical for much of the year in england when the weather is unpredictable. I have 3 long ones and 3 short and they go with almost everything I own.

      • I love the long-sleeve tissue tees from Jcrew to wear under wool sweaters in the winter — very thin so they don’t add bulk.

  23. I always enjoy your posts on clothing. While I have done well in pairing down my closet to the items that I like, use, and fit well on me, I’m still learning how to stay away from the t-shirts post college (2 years out). I’ve found that working from home I’ve lost that incentive to put my best self forward. It’s always been a rule of mine to never wear sweatpants unless working out and I never work in my pjs, but I still feel sloppy in a t-shirt. You’ve inspired me to consciously choose non t-shirt tops this week to see if I can form a new habit!

  24. I have NEVER heard to turn denim inside out! I’ll try that.

    I wish my wardrobe were a little more dressy. I think I need to put more effort into finding knits that will wash well.

    Thanks for the info – and inspiration :)
    Dana @ Cooking at Cafe D´s last post…31 Days To a More Organized Life: Day 10 – Simple Safety Tips

  25. Great article! I think collared shirts add a sense of class that other shirts can not. I’d rather go trendy with jewelry than clothing to “spunk” up an outfit. Great tips!
    Donna´s last post…Hey Cute Ghoul!

  26. Conservative…except when I’m not; never trendy or fashionable but always look pulled together and am known for wearing scarves and hats. I make and wear a lot of costume jewelry, including freshwater pearls and find it’s a great way to enhance my wardrobe. When I go someplace special with Dave, I wear the good pearls which were his Christmas gift to me years ago.
    My work clothes are jeans and tee-shirts or flannel shirts but that’s what’s needed when mucking out a barn.
    I am SO tired of seeing people in skimpy or non-existent clothing; I am SO tired of seeing body parts that only a spouse should see and I am SO tired of seeing women’s bra straps.
    It seems there’s no modesty or propriety anymore and that’s something I miss, terribly!

    • sad but true about the lack of propriety! what are these momma’s teaching?! i cringe when i watch anything on ABC Family and see the teens clothes…

  27. It’s funny. I just had a big meltdown about my personal style the other day.

    See, I’ve lived in land of hand-me-downs for the last three years, and don’t get me wrong. I am thrilled to get my hot little hands on the stuff others don’t want, but somewhere in the past few years, my closet lost the me part of it. I’d love to get that back.

    My style? Vitage with accessories that pop.
    Amy Sullivan´s last post…On Sneaking Away to Mass

    • I know exactly what you’re going through. I feel like I’m looking at a stranger’s closet. I am grateful for the hand-me-downs and I always look nice when going out, but I don’t think I even know what “my” style is anymore!

  28. forgot to say…when washing clothes, turn them inside out because that’s where the clothing is soiled the most. It also saves wear and tear on the outside of the clothing.
    As for dry cleaning…never happens because I always wash/soak everything clean in the washer.
    When I travel, I never use the sink but always use the tub (when it’s available). The churning motion of the washing machine is more easily duplicated in the tub; the sink prevents clothes from getting very clean.
    Sandra´s last post…Good Stuff

  29. I like the idea of comfortable dressy but my day consists of on the floor, in the dirt, at the sandy park, on walks in the rain, laying in leaves (right now :-), painting, etc. With little ones and all of the mess we get into I don’t feel comfortable with anything other than a t-shirt. I do have nicer t-shirts and look put together…but I also do notice the mom’s who look so cute at the store. That’s not me right now and I’m fine with it.
    I second the cashmere though in the winter! I think we are less messier in the winter too.
    One buying tip I use – no lint collectors. There are some nice black or darker items at attract lint – I will never buy!

    • I’m in that phase too, but I’m also at the school gate twice a day and want to look nice when I go to groups etc. I wear a lot of fitted tees and jersey tops, but I try to make sure I put on a cardigan, and a scarf or some beads and I’m trying to wear my decent shoes/boots when I don’t have long walks in my day. Just staying away from baggy things and wearing something on my neck helps me feel more put together. It takes seconds to put on a necklace but it looks like you have spent time on yourself and thought about your outfit rather than just thrown clothes on.

  30. I love your style and advice! I hate shopping and thinking about what to wear but also don’t want to look sloppy. Can’t wait to see your shopping guide!

  31. I’m so glad to see this post; I’m a teacher, and my husband never sees me in my dress clothes I wear at work. As soon as I get home, I’m in sweatpants mode (most of the time, they’re HIS sweats!), so when my husband gets home from work, he sees me in full frump mode. I need to work on building my causal dress wardrobe, and this was great inspiration!

  32. My style is pretty much jeans and t-shirts. (Except that I swap the jeans for yoga pants at home). Inspired by your earlier posts on your wardrobe though, I’m slowly working on it. Last time I went shopping I bought two polos instead of two tshirts! They’re just as comfy, but the collar makes them just a teensy bit dressier.

    And the reason I wear yoga pants at home is that my jeans get so so wrinkly if I wear them all day that I can’t get another wear out of them. So I “save” them for leaving the house. Maybe I should just buy another pair of jeans though…
    Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm´s last post…The Assassin in the Marais

  33. My style is more on the “last forever Classics.” I am thankful everyday that I mostly bought pieces that can’t be dated. Solids, classic styling and cut. Now that I am retired, I don’t get the opportunity to wear suits that often. But when I do, I just select from my prior 9 to 5 wardrobe. I have enough of the classics to last forever.
    Donna´s last post…Quilted Table Runner Inspired By Macrame

  34. Thank you for this timely post. I am a stay-at-home mom to 23m old twin sons so my wardrobe has been tracksuits and t-shirts. I vowed this fall to start wearing my casual yet comfy clothes. If I leave the house, then no changing when I get home. If my boys are in nice clothes, then I’m in nice clothes too. I still need to weed through all of my business and pre-pregnancy clothes to find the stuff that really fits and makes me feel good.

  35. Very helpful post as I start to think about considering pondering the contents of my closet. As I sit here, without even looking at my clothes, I realize there’s quite a bit of pink…that maybe that’s a problem.

    Then I think, “But I like pink. And I look good in pink.”

    So to each her own, I guess…I’m just still figuring out what that looks like for me; so far, “pink” is all I’ve got–but it’s a start!
    MK Jorgenson´s last post…A Platform to Meet in the Middle

    • Figuring out what colors look best on you is a great place to start. People who look good in pink typically also look good in blue. I have a lot of pink too, and I notice that people are extra nice and polite to me when I wear it.

  36. My clothing style and my decorating style are similar: almost all solid colors. This dawned on my last year. If you look at my living room and my closet, they are very similar in both colors and patterns (or lack thereof).

    Some days I like to wear comfy/frumpy clothes at home, but doing it day after day depresses me. I have to make sure I wear clothes fit for the outside world as well.
    Katherine´s last post…Make Your Compulsive Nature Work for You

    • I totally agree about the frumpy day after day blues…

      I suppose there are seasons as a mom where we just do our best and sometimes that means we’re just surviving but I know that long term I feel so much better when I really get dressed for the day. Pretty simple concept but it seems to have such an impact!

  37. I would say very similar to your style – but I am still more in a transition…

    I feel so much better when I get dressed and wear simple jewelry – a necklace does wonders! I have also noticed over the years that as I have tried to scrimp and spend very little at places like Target I don’t get to wear those clothes for long before they are just done after a short time! The quality is generally not there. Because I have a small wardrobe whatever I have gets worn often. I stick with things that I can mix and match. Some of my favorite items are those that I purchased in my single years from the “nicer” stores (when money grew on trees! Ha!) and those items have just lasted so much longer. However back in the day it never even occurred to me that having a “wardrobe strategy” would be helpful and allow me to really plan things out and know what I “need” when I am shopping and so that when I buy something it lines up with my wardrobe mission statement… :-) I am still in the process of figuring that out but I know that I have come to different way of looking at this whole wardrobe thing because of time, money, and tastes. I have a very limited wardrobe at the moment but I don’t plan on adding to it unless I have a solid plan and vision because every penny counts!

  38. Thank you for this. I need to try this ASAP. Can you come to my house and help me?!??!! :-)

  39. Thanks so much for this! I’m so right in that transition phase. I’m trying to be a pretty mom with clothes I can be in all day. This is so timely.

  40. Love your blog and have been following for quite some time but never commented before. You inspire me, nonetheless. I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. Having cancer has given me a new outlook-I don’t have time or room for clothes that don’t make me look and feel beautiful. I am doing a major purge of clothes. I tried consigning some items but it was not worth the effort. This last batch was too nice to take to the Goodwill, so I put them on Freecycle. Someone picked them up that day and she even emailed me to tell me that the clothes worked for her. It was win/win. And, by the way, I love cashmere. Look for great cashmere bargains after Christmas at Bloomingdale’s! Looking forward to your shopping guide!

  41. This is such a great and helpful article!

    I definitely prefer classic clothing to trendy. I also have always believed in buying quality items over cheaper ones. I would rather have a closet with a smaller amount of high-quality clothing.

    When I was a teenager I bought a beautiful wool and angora black cardigan sweater (that was hand washable–I hate dry cleaning!), and I still have it! That sweater was very expensive, but think of all the years of use I have received out of that one classic piece. It is now getting a bit thin, so it isn’t one of my “best” sweaters, but I still wear it for everyday.

    Thanks for clothing inspiration!
    Joy @ Artful Homemaking´s last post…Romantic Hair

  42. I don’t really have an issue with t-shirts and comfortable clothes for wearing at home and something nicer to wear out. I tend to stay home a lot, cook and clean a lot, and often get stains on my clothes. If I changed and rinsed out a shirt every time I got a stain on it, I would probably end up changing more than I do if I just put on new clothes for going out. I also like to be available to dig in the dirt with my boys, and there’s no way I would be wearing something nice for that. I actually like the idea of housedresses too (not mumu styles, though – cute dresses that are made in durable fabrics) – I think that this would be my solution instead of having clothes that I wear at home and to go out.

  43. I have been enjoying all your posts on style and living with a smaller wardrobe. I’m in transition now after having my second baby. Not quite back into all my pre-pregnancy clothes. After that I plan on taking a good hard look at my wardbrobe and making better choices here on out.
    Bethany´s last post…Fall Inspiration

  44. What perfect timing! As of last week I am officially out of my maternity pants (Praise the Lord!) and all I have is one pair of jeans and 2 pair of dress pants from when I was teaching. Though I had to talk myself into the dress pants originally, I have found in the last 2 days that wearing nicer clothes has put my brain in a better place and I enjoy it! Thanks for the tips to make this a wardrobe way of life and not just this size of clothes.

  45. This is a great article and all of the tips are very good. I’m currently working on building a true wardrobe rather than different pieces that don’t work together. Can’t wait for the shopping guide!
    anne´s last post…Things I’m Loving Lately

  46. I think I have made the transition with age. More focus on quality.

    That said, I am perfectly happy with wearing PJs all the time. :D But I am cheap, and I prefer clothing that I can wear in the office and also on the weekends. One wardrobe for the most part. During the workweek I might wear my tops with nice slacks, and on the weekends I might wear them with shorts.

    & I have always been far too lazy for clothes that need ironing, dry cleaning, etc., nor would I settle for uncomforable. I think with age I have just gotten better at picking the fabrics I know will hold up and be the most comfortable and easy to keep up.

  47. Christine says:

    Can. Not. Wait. For. The. Style. Guide!

  48. Oh, I absolutely love this post!! I have a pretty small wardrobe because we simply can’t afford to buy a lot of clothing right now, and while I do want to upgrade a lot of the items in it, I’m happy making do with less. My typical “uniform” is a pair of tailored, dark-wash jeans with a pretty blouse or sweater in a jewel tone of some kind. I also wear a lot of jewel-toned tanks (and not the skimpy ones) with cardigans. Sometimes the cardigan are neutral, sometimes in a bright contrasting color. I switch things up with my shoes and accessories, and I try to focus on buying colors and styles that look good on me.
    Cate´s last post…Frugal Meatless Meals: Crunchy Tofu Fingers

  49. Catherine says:

    I just edited my wardrobe for the 6 th time in 1 year. I finally got 4 seasons on one bar– yay. I also started wearing my dressier work cashmere at home as I’ve been a sahm for over 3 years now and I want to finally wear my clothes instead of saying it’s “too dressy”. I uses to shop a lot and took perfectly good trendy clothing to consignment every 3 months. It didn’t seem like a lot of shopping at the time but it was. Now when I edit I don’t have the consignment bag anymore. I also lot-ted and sold my maternity clothes and wedding dress. I am very careful now when I shop and put a lot of thought into each piece– no more retail therapy here. My style is leaning toward classic with a trendier siloullette ( love my gray skinny jeans). I appreciate fashion but have chosen to stay within the lines— it looks better on me and my wallet.

  50. Isn’t it funny how clothing related posts always draw so much attention? What’s truly interesting to me is how different everyone’s needs are. Some ladies are more inclined to dressy styles while others understand their nature to be messy or just plain don’t want to worry about it so they decide to go the more casual route. Personally, I really like dressier styles, but I’ve been at the mercy of a minuscule budget. I love your style though; you always look so pulled together.

  51. I’m looking forward to the shopping guide! I, too, prefer the comfortably dressy style, but shopping for it is quite a challenge! I know what I like, but I can’t seem to match that up with what is available. I don’t wish to buy cheaply made items, and that rules out the bulk of options (since poor quality can even be found at expensive prices). I am also anti-dry-cleaning as much as possible (it just doesn’t make sense for my mom lifestyle). Most knits I find are full of spandex, and I don’t love the fabric hug around my middle. And then there’s the battle of having a long torso versus the Britney Spears look…
    I’m definitely open to some shop recommendations!
    Jennifer´s last post…KCWC delayed

  52. First – thank you for linking to that post! I’ve been having so much fun with my sorta mid-life makeover.

    Second – I so agree that it does NOT take that much more time to dress up a bit. And the dresses and skirts/tops that I have been wearing are every bit as comfortable as a t-shirt and jeans. People don’t seem to believe me when I tell them that, but it’s the absolute truth!
    Megan@SortaCrunchy´s last post…dear pink scar

  53. The whole time I was reading this I was thinking to myself, “I need to ask her to post a shopping guide.” Well, looks like you’re going to! Thanks. I love keeping a simple wardrobe, but I LOVE TO SHOP. It’s a sickness :) When I do shop though, I always go for white, cream, navy and gray colors so dressing is easier. I wear a lot of solid colors too. Then I just jazz it up with a scarf or a cute necklace. Simple. Classy. Love this post!

    Jenna@CallHerHappy´s last post…Ellen’s First Fall

  54. My personal style: classic comfortable. Solid colors, mostly. Jeans, cords, boots, sweaters for fall/winter. Skirts, capris, flats, light cotton tops for spring/summer.

    A year ago I couldn’t have told you. Participated in Project 333 last winter, and it completely changed my relationship with clothes. I’ve given away so many garbage bags of clothes (good “bargains” all) that I lost count. Now my closet is lighter, and has only items I really like. My spirit is lighter, too. And I spend WAY less time trying to figure out what to wear.

    Like so many others, I’ve also learned that there’s good reason to look/feel good every day, not just the days I leave the house. Thanks for the chance to reflect–
    Rita´s last post…Welcome to our world

  55. I have a toddler and a six month old and as I head into my mid-thirties, I’m ready to start dressing a little nicer than whatever I find at Target. Where do you shop and where do you find quality clothes that last?

  56. Great inspiration! You have fabulous style. I’m a work in progress on the clothes front, especially less 8 months out from having the bebe. However, I definitely need reminding to improve the wardrobe to make it more functional and easier to have things that look great without much thought or effort. Hehe, I will probably have a little more splashes of colour and patterns, though, since I do have an affinity for ethnic prints, jewelry, etc. But, classic, plainer basics are perfect foundations for any style! Something to definitely strive for.
    Jules @ Lovely Las Vegas´s last post…Lovely Las Vegas: Loews Lake Las Vegas

  57. Your link has an extra h in the http, so it is not working. FYI

    I live in very few pieces and love them. I like to be trendy though, so I buy a few inexpensive pieces each year and I usually wear them out, which is o.k., because I’ll want something new next year anyway.
    Megan@declutterdaily´s last post…Days 239 – 241 – While I was there…

  58. I’m having to learn to redefine my style as well, now that I’m a stay at home mama. I’ve gravitated towards the comfortable/dressy style as well. I work really hard to not wear yoga pants and a grungy t-shirt every day, and make an effort to put on makeup every day! It may take me until lunchtime, but I’ll look decent by the time my man get home! I think it can be totally practical for being a mom (I have a 2 month old). I wear comfortable dresses, and cardigans are the new burp cloths!
    Kait Palmer´s last post…Tatum’s Tenth Week

    • Congratulations on your little one!
      Cardigans are definitely a good thing for new mamas, you can take them off/put them on easily, they are good feeding covers when out, and they are more forgiving of the changes in your body over those first few months/years! I am still wearing long open styles I bought when working with a toddler, losing weight, they saw me through my second pregnancy and still look good on me a few sizes bigger with this baby now a toddler.

  59. Great article! I cleaned out my closet and took an inventory. I’ve lost weight so I was able to give many cute outfits to a friend. During my inventory, I found that I actually have a good start with my basics like jeans and camisoles/t’s for layering. I’ve decided anything that I add will be a quality piece and look not just good on me but great (including being my color and a flattering fit)! I definitely like my fall/winter wardrobe better than my spring/summer.

  60. This was so very helpful. We recently moved overseas and most of the women look so pulled together….even if they are just staying at home with their little ones. It has inspired me to really rethink my own wardrobe and slim it down. Thanks for all the great ideas! Looking forward to the shopping guide.

  61. What a wonderful blog you have! I discovered it a month ago and I have been reading it from the beginning – I also bought your Simple Blogging book and it was an eye opening book to me – so, thank you!
    take care,
    Rita @ the busy minimalist´s last post…Why I love the blogosphere

  62. Where do you find good quality clothing? What stores do you recommend? (That would have a Canadian counter part)

  63. This is so true. The first time I was in Italy, I was at my cousin’s home in Rome. The thing that struck me was that they had only one small wall with a built in closet unit and no dressers. After we returned, I started clearing out my own wardrobe and I discovered what you already know. The less you have to wear, the more you have to wear. I laugh to myself because at school, (I’m a high school teacher) all the women, and the female students, think I am so well dressed. The funny part is that NO ONE believes me when I tell them that I no longer own a dresser. All of my clothes are in my small, non walk in closet….it’s funny because they insist that I must own more. If anyone took the time to actually document what I have on, they would go about three days before they would reach a duplicate piece. Shhhh, it’s the world’s best kept secret.

  64. I’d describe my personal style as being very close to dressy casual but with a little rocker thrown in.
    I like to stay away from fads but choose pieces that are different and unique. And of course, no dry cleaning, ironing, or science projects here! My clothing is pretty easy to wash, wear, and maintain.
    Christyn@StrivingforSimple´s last post…Living Within Your Means: Thou Shalt Not Covet

  65. Rachel, I always love it when you discuss wardrobe. This is so much fun!
    I just wanted to add that I’ve found over thie years that the single most important factor for me when it comes to selecting clothing is FIT. If the blouse, sweater, jacket or pant is not cut JUST right for my body, I will never want to put it on no matter how perfect the color or the fabric is. It is taking me quite some time to figure out what really works best for me.

  66. I’d have to say I have absolutely NO style! I have been getting rid of the things hanging in my closet that I hate and buying more solid colors (especially black because everyone always asks if I’ve lost weight when I wear black!). My one fashion goal is to never advertise for a company on my body again ;)
    Lisa Medley´s last post…Appetite for Destruction – Day 11 of 31 Days of Blogging

  67. So, I’m kinda in the pajamas camp myself….
    Lindsey´s last post…Cute & Easy Pumpkin “Carving” with Mr. Potato Head Pieces

  68. Janey Backer says:

    I would love to see you a do a post on how you wear scarves throughout the year. My European transplant friends almost always wear scarves and look so sophisticated.

  69. Janey Backer says:

    Also, I do like your style and see it in my wardrobe. However I garden, clean the chicken coop, canning/food preserving, mowing and I must have separate “working” clothes to prevent damage to nicer items. But I don’t think that is your lifestyle. ;-)

  70. very similar to yours! I’m willing, however, to wear things that need to be ironed. I love a tailored look. I also make some of my skirts, which is so nice to pick the exact color and style that will be a workhorse in my wardrobe. I have some chestnut-colored tropical weight wool waiting for the next one.
    Margo´s last post…Applesauce, Apple Chutney, Apple Crisp

  71. Thank you so much for this post.

    I’ve been trying to retool my wardrobe this year and the information in your post is a big help. Your advice/key wardrobe selection are exactly what I’ve been looking for.

    I’m going on 30 and this year I went from a dressy job to a casual dressy job (i.e. blouses/tops & jeans/denim trousers). I’ve tried taking cues from my immediate boss (the only one in my office even remotely close to my age), but most of the clothes I’ve bought in vein have made me look over 40.

    I had to get rid of a lot of clothes when we moved and took the opportunity to purge my closet and I’ve been trying to build it back up and now I know exactly what to fill it with.

    Thankfully am already set with great accessories as my sister-in-law gave me some great advice and helped me pick out a few classic key statement pieces a number of years ago. I just need to find the clothes to go with them.

  72. Decided to go with long skirts now that I’m in the autumn of my life. Denim to be exact. Goes with lots of things and is rough and tumble enough to survive day to day living. I still need to weed out more stuff in my wardrobe even though I’ve already weeded out a lot.
    Lilian´s last post…Beach Shells

  73. love this! hate messy everyday style

  74. I’m in the transition phase of moving from “less expensive” fabrics that quickly look “cheap” to solid value pieces, and struggling for how to find quality pieces that will last and truly be classic. Learning to knit has been amazingly helpful, in that I don’t plan to ever buy another sweater, but I’m rather at a loss for everything else — and am at a point in my career where I need to have a suit available every day of the week. I’m looking forward to this ongoing series!
    Lissa´s last post…And We’re Done

  75. Magdalena says:

    I know how you like wearing scarfs Rachel
    I’ve just found a tutorial showing 25 ways how to wear a scarf:

  76. I’m excited for the “Shopping Guide” coming next! As I was reading this, I was agreeing with much of what you wrote. But I am tall (5’10”) so I often have to order tall sizes online and can’t try them on in a store first. I find I am hesitant to buy expensive, high-quality items when I don’t even know if I’ll like the way they look on me.

  77. Rachel – this post got a nice shout-out today on “Already Pretty” on her weekly “lovely links” – great post!

  78. As much as this inspires me, I am so not there yet. Maybe it is bc I live in Colorado and my typical day involves so much activity. I cannot imagine not wearing yoga pants almost every day especially with toddlers and babies around. Or maybe it is because I am a young mom and I don’t want to grow up into “mom clothes” yet or maybe it is because this season of life allows me to be casual without being frowned upon and I simply love that. Maybe someday I will grow up and I will actually have the desire to dress well. Until then, lululemon is my best friend.

  79. This summer I found a small fabric shop with the most beautiful fabrics from France and Scandinavia. I had four aprons made, and now I don´t have to be afraid of spills and stains while cooking! So I can wear nice clothes for cooking, and then just remove the apron. And yesterday I opened the door in my apron, and the post lay actually complimented me and asked where I had got it.

  80. Of course I meant post lady!

  81. My clothes used to be catagorized, and the result was 4 separate wardrobes and unseeming piles to manage. As a teacher, I was tailored. A mother covered. A bartender embellished. And wife displayed. I’ve now pared to one polished wardrobe by following some simple rules of comfort and coordination. The key seems to fall with selecting a uniform 3 piece outfit and 3 piece embellishment format for every outfit everyday. Each item I purchase also needs to be wearable for every role ( excepting fancy occasions, house scrubbing, or specific events). The upgrade of a shoe vs sneaker or tights and boots also establishes an outfit worthy of self respect and public viewing. Years ago I encountered the fly lady who extolls the virtue of getting dressed to shoes every day for establishinging efficiency in keeping a home, her lessons are well worth checking out for all new mothers. She helped me discover a strategy for styling myself, and now I am proud to be the fancy casual dresser I’ve become.

  82. First of all, I loved your ebook. It really helped me as I transitioned to a new website that would allow me to expand from where my original blog. I keep going back to my Nook and reading info again! Perfect post and validating. I am a teacher and have always tried to have a comfortable dressy style. It have never been quite right for me to wear the current fashions with my middle school students. I lean toward comfortable, washable, and outfits that I can dress up with sparkly add-ons. Kids notice that. We are very similar in our taste. I do have to rotate more often because stuff just wears out more, but thank goodness we have done away with classroom chalk… the worst on clothes!!

  83. Tracey@CntrolTheChaos says:

    I have always been of the opinion that a small high quality wardrobe is much more useful than a large poor quality wardrobe. This is evidenced by the fact that most people with a big wardrobe wear the same few outfits over and over. But once I started living in Europe I saw how much more polished people look in clothing you describe. People take you more seriously too. Where I live no one goes out in sweatpants unless you are exercising, so I started to dress up my wardrobe to match those around me. And I found I am not uncomfortable at all…like you said, dressing nicely can be comfy too.

    Fantastic post. Now, for the big question: where do you shop???

  84. Tracey@ControlTheChaos says:

    Major typing issues. 2 year old helping. Just wanting an idea of where you think offers high quality clothing like you describe.
    Tracey@ControlTheChaos´s last post…Day 15: Instamatic Fun

  85. Rodrigo Valenzuela says:

    I like your wardrobe and your idea of dressing. I have seen many women who feel at loss when they do not know what is right for the occasion owing to the overstuffed wardrobe. I feel every woman or man should have a set of dresses for every occasion instead of randomly gathering new clothing.
    Rodrigo Valenzuela´s last post…Importantes consejos para conquistar a un hombre.

  86. I just discovered your blog and am in love with it.
    I really don’t know what my style is exactly. I am a stay at home mom and while I am in the house I am in sweats.. but I make a point to change into jeans whenever i head out. But on the weekends or when we are going out I like to glam it up a bit.. a red lip, big earrings.. it all about one or two main features and the rest I keep simple.
    hena tayeb´s last post…Something New from the Great White North

  87. I am in the process of updating my wardrobe and this post was so helpful. I’ve been influenced by Italian friends and family and aspire to be well-dressed with fewer quality items.

    I always read those lists of classic items every women should own and know that it doesn’t work for me. For example, I just can’t take care of cashmere no matter how I try so while I do have a few cashmere sweaters, I have found that cheaper cotton or wool sweaters last longer or just as long. I also can’t keep white blouses clean for long so that’s “out” for me in terms of classic items.
    oilandgarlic´s last post…October 19: Learn A Few Recipes Really, Really Well

  88. Do you really wash your cashmere and wool sweaters in the washer? It seems like all of the care instructions on those say dry clean or handwash. How do you keep from ruining them?

    • My washing machine has a special cycle just for wool that mimics hand washing. I wouldn’t throw them into a regular cycle or with regular clothes. But sometimes I just wash them in the sink. Always use luke warm water, never hot.

  89. my clothes shopping rule is simple: if I can’t sleep in it, I don’t buy it… and I have been known to lie down in a nap position on the changeroom floor in a business suit! :) generally, my rule means I don’t buy clothes I don’t wear ;)
    angelvalerie´s last post……more on the “to do” lists we have to manage…

  90. Right after college, I realized that I needed to “name” my personal style to help with clothing purchases, and I came up with “cute casual.” As I hit my late-20s, I realized that I needed to sophisticate my overall style, so I upgraded to “polished casual.” I work in a very casual environment, but I didn’t want to dress down too much. “Polished casual” means for me: great-fitting jeans (usually designer jeans from eBay) or khakis, a top with some detail (embellishment, ruching, cute neckline or sleeves, etc.), and a statement necklace. The shoes are important too– always heels: a sandal that could pass as a high heel, or open-toed heels, or a great heeled boot. (Heels don’t have to be uncomfortable- Aerosoles are my secret weapon!) I can go from work to the grocery store to a night on the town without changing! Love it! :)

  91. We are moving in less than two weeks with less than half of our “stuff”, and I am 3 months pregnant. As such, we have purged a LOT of clothing in addition to the “stuff,” and now I find I’m down to a few nice winter sweaters, college-style T-shirts and Wranglers! While it’s a panicky feeling, knowing I don’t have anything decent-looking to wear to an interview or a job, I’m trying to look at it as a fresh start – I can start my wardrobe over, with the option to put in only what I want! This article has been extremely helpful, as I’d like to minimize the stress of getting dressed for work, home, or a date with my husband without stressing too much over what I have. Especially with our first child on the way!

    My biggest issue is finding quality women’s jeans that will fit, wear well, and last. I’m sure I’m not the only one! I don’t fit into most high-dollar jeans; I’d say I’m an athletic fit, fairly muscular, and long-legged. For some reason, it’s hard to find jeans that fit well, so I end up wearing men’s jeans instead. That used to work well, until I needed to wear something that didn’t look like I was going to the barn. Any tips? Thanks!
    Kate´s last post…Big life-changing announcements!