A Complete Wardrobe Revamp

Wardrobe Revamp | CorporetteReader R has a great question that every woman — probably at multiple times in her life — needs to ask: how to update your look?

After letting my corporate wardrobe decline for the past 8 years, I’m hurting for new clothes. I went through several pregnancies, and then a long period of professional malaise coupled with new motherhood, which left all of my clothes looking old, drool-stained and generally schlumpy. I need to re-vamp both my attitude (I’m young and still have many working years left) and my wardrobe. The attitude, I can deal with, but I don’t even know where to start with my wardrobe. I don’t want to buy cheap clothes, but I also don’t want to drop $10k getting my wardrobe back on track. Where should I start and what should I get? I don’t really need suits (I work in Silicon Valley), but rather office-appropriate pants and tops. I try to shop when I can (which is hard with kids and a full time job), and I pick up one or two new things here or there, but that doesn’t do anything to address the fundamental problems with my wardrobe. I need to figure out how to get a new, fairly complete wardrobe quickly, and without totally breaking the bank (Banana Republic/Ann Taylor-type prices are fine for me). I’ve discovered Zappos and gotten some shoes you suggested, so I think I’m OK in the shoe department for now. If you ever have the time and inclination to address this issue, I would be eternally grateful.

I have a theory that we’re all going to need to address this question at multiple times in our lives. Some times are obvious — if you graduate school, or start your first “big girl” job, or have recently lost or (sigh) gained 35 pounds — the fact that you need to rethink your style is not news to you.  Other times are more nebulous — you wake up one day and suddenly realize that your style has gone off kilter, somehow, from the path you think your real life is following (or wish it were). (Pictured:  Mom Jeans, the old SNL fake commecial — hilarious!) Reader R is right that a lot of this has to do with attitude — maybe for Thursday’s post we’ll talk about how to revamp your attitude. But stylewise… now that’s another issue.  As you’ll see below, clothes are probably the last thing you need to worry about — unless you take care of the first few steps, you’re still going to look and feel schlumpy no matter what clothes you own.

Step 1. Get New Bras. If your style feels schlumpy and you haven’t been properly measured for a bra in more than six months, get thee to a good bra fitter. Look for an upscale department store (Nordstrom) or a boutique like Bartenders in NYC or Rigby & Peller in London. Prepare to purchase at least two new bras, one that’s black and one that matches your skin tone. Depending on your bra size, this may run you about $150 — so be sure to prioritize and get bras that you can actually wear to the office. While you’re there, you may want to also assess your body — do you need new foundation garments like Spanx, control-top tights, a control camisole, or the like? For my $.02, these are great to have around for occasional uses — I can’t imagine wearing one every day, in and out — but I’ve heard of women who even wear Spanx to yoga. The trick is to know what kind of woman YOU are, and invest accordingly.

Estimated time and money:  One hour of uninterrupted shopping time; about $150-$250 for bras and Spanx.

Step 2. How’s Your Hair? When was the last time you reassessed your hairstyle? If the answer here is “mid-90s,” get a few magazines or catalogs that represent your lifestyle. Watch television anchors and hosts (and then find printed pictures that show the anchor or host with her hair the way you like it.) Throughout it all, keep in mind the realities of your hair TODAY.  Has it gotten wavier or curlier with age?  Do you need highlights (or need to grow out highlights that are a pain to maintain with your current lifestyle)?  Make an appointment with your stylist and come armed with pictures.  Also, make sure the stylist sees your hair dry, so she or he knows the actual texture of your hair.  (If you don’t have a stylist who you trust, ask yourself which of your friends or coworkers has consistently great hair — and then ask her where she gets it cut, and by whom.)

Estimated time and money: For research: about an hour or two of flipping through magazines, TV channels, or doing Internet research; about an hour or two for your cut.  Prices will vary widely based on where you go, so we’ll say $15-$250.

Step 3. Reassess your makeup and skincare. (I’m not a dermatologist, so take this bit with a grain of salt (and perhaps see a dermatologist).)  Every woman needs a good daily SPF and moisturizer; hopefully this is not news to you.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve added an under-eye cream, and I’ve replaced the clay masks I used to use in my teens and 20s with occasional skin-regenerating scrubs in my 30s.  (Right now I’m using Aveeno Active Naturals Positively Ageless Firming Eye Cream and just finished a bottle of Clean & Clear Steam Soft In-Shower Facial, which I don’t think is being made any more — I have plans to purchase Neutrogena Pore Refining Cleanser on my next trip to the drugstore, primarily because it has both alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acid and I’ve always liked Neutrogena products.) I also really (really) like Caudalie Lip Conditioner for my overnight lip gloss.  But the point is — if you haven’t done a reassessment in a few years, get on it.  You may also want to reassess your makeup, because it will be little, small things that may “date” a look — for example, if you’re the only one wearing under-eye eyeliner or mascara at your office, you may want to rethink that.

Estimated time and money: This varies based on how you’re doing.  Maybe it just requires you to be a bit more observant at office meetings.  Maybe this step requires you to make an appointment with a dermatologist — and maybe it just requires a trip to Sephora or the drugstore.

Step 4A.  Clear out your closet. Go through your closet.  First, take out everything that makes you cringe when you look at it.  Next, take out the items that have seen better days — that blouse with the stain you keep hoping people will think you just got on there that morning, that sweater that has pilled so much that it looks like a cat attacked, and that favorite black tee that now looks gray.  Either toss them (or donate them, if they’re in good enough shape), or relegate them to a weekend-wear-only section of your closet.  See what’s left.  Do the colors still work on you?  Do they fit your current body?  Whatever does not work, get it out of your closet.

Estimated time and money: Depends on the size of your closet; I’d set aside at least two hours for this.  Cost should be nil, unless you decide to take some old favorites to the tailor to be fixed or whatnot.

Step 4B.  Buy current, well-fitting separates. Because you’re in a casual office, and because you feel like you need to revamp your whole wardrobe, we would start with separates.  The best way to build your wardrobe is to focus on bottoms that you can wear once a week without people saying “Oh, she’s in her floral skirt today.”  Look for solids, or classic patterns, and pay attention to details — does the width of the leg opening flatter your body?  Does the waistband flatter your body?  We’d advise taking a pair of shoes with you to the store to try on clothes, because things always seem to look differently if you’re standing in bare feet versus with heels.  (It’s the same with trying on bras, for some reason — I always have to put my top on before I can size up how the bra actually looks.)

In terms of colors, if you’re buying a new wardrobe in one or two trips, your colors should a) compliment YOU, and b) compliment each other.  Personally, I like jewel tones, and see no problem with wearing emerald green, royal blue, fuschia, and purple together, or with blacks, grays, whites, and navies.  Every so often, I’ll add a pale blue or a lipstick red into the mix, but for the most part, that’s my palette.  On the converse, I don’t buy a lot of browns, beiges, creams, oranges, and corals — they don’t flatter me and they’re harder to mix with everything else in my wardrobe. Try to keep the colors you’re buying at the forefront of your mind.  (If you’re really not sure about colors, focus on buying mostly neutrals — blacks, whites, grays — and add a pop of color only if you see a piece you really love — and that looks great on you.)


  • Buy a few suits that you can wear as separates — the jacket, pants, and skirt.  You don’t have to wear them together, but be sure to dryclean them together.  AK Anne Klein sells a line of separates at Macy’s (it’s their EDV, or every-day value line) that is really affordable (and comes in petites and plus sizes); Banana Republic and J.Crew also sell suits as separates.  The trick is to really scrutinize each piece, and make sure you feel comfortable wearing the pants and the skirt by themselves.  (This isn’t always the case with suiting pants, for some reason.)  We’d buy a black and a gray set, and then you have 2 pairs of pants, 2 pairs of skirts, and 2 jackets.
  • Buy another pair of pants (or two) that flatter your body, are able to be worn frequently, and looks decent with the blazers you just bought.  Mixing fabrics is fine, so long as it’s clear to other people that you don’t think you’re wearing a suit.  So, for example, don’t wear a black blazer with non-matching black pants — but a black wool blazer worn with a pair of gray cotton pants is fine.
  • Look for a cardigan or two that works for your body and your lifestyle.  (Check out our guide to cardigans here.)
  • Buy 4-10 tops that can be worn under the cardigans, with the blazers, or by themselves.
  • Buy a sheath dress that works for you.  Look for one that compliments the colors of the blazers and the cardigans.

Estimated time and money: Probably 4-5  hours of shopping, uninterrupted.  If a certain brand of clothes always fit you well in the past, head there first.  Our advice:  go by yourself, or with someone who can a) devote themselves to helping you and b) will be honest about how you look.  In terms of budget, set aside at least a $1000 for this.  It seems like a lot, but you say you haven’t done this in more than eight years — and you may not do it again any time soon.  Prepare to spend a little bit.

Step 4C.  Update your jewelry. Maybe your jewelry is A-OK, and has held up to the test of time through the years.  But maybe it hasn’t.  Give yourself a budget here (maybe it’s $50, maybe it’s $500) and swing by the jewelry counters while you’re out.  Look for a colorful necklace or two (perhaps in the popular touresade style) to compliment the other colors you bought.  But also pay attention the next time you’re sitting in a meeting — what are the other women wearing?  Some pieces you may want to save up for include a good watch, a good set of pearls, or some statement pieces (rings, earrings, necklaces) of a favorite stone.

Estimated time and money: Maybe 30 minutes at the jewelry counter.  Stick to whatever budget you’ve set; it’s easy to overbuy on jewelry if you haven’t done it in a while.

Step 5.  While you’re out, update your non-work style. Primarily:  get a new pair of jeans and a new “hot mama” dress.  For jeans, focus on what looks good on you, not what’s popular right now — there is no need to wear skinny jeans or boyfriend-cut jeans if you don’t want to; just get a new pair of bootcuts or flares that fits and flatters your body as it is right now.  And, yes, a new “hot mama” dress — something that makes you feel absolutely amazing and sexy and wonderful.  And then make your husband take you out somewhere nice to celebrate being done with this wardrobe revamp!

Estimated time and money: This can take a bit of time, finding a good pair of jeans and a good hot mama dress.  Really, just keep your eyes open — even if you’re primarily looking for work clothes, these are things that you should give yourself permission to buy on this shopping trip.

Step 6. Keep an eye out for pieces you love — maybe it’ll be our TPS reports, maybe it’ll be driving by a shop window; maybe it’ll be someone walking down the hall with a fabulous blouse on.  Keep your eyes open.

Readers, what are your best tips for revamping your wardrobe?  Which pieces are absolute must-haves for you?


  1. I highly recommend the book “Trinny and Susannah Take on America,” which addresses this very issue – getting into a wardrobe slump because of motherhood. They have great general suggestions about how to glam up a wardrobe so that you remember you are a woman, not just a mom or a corporate drone.
    I recently revamped my wardrobe after I realized I had been very much gravitating towards (for lack of a better word) mom clothes: washable, stretchy, muddy neutral colors, baggy, somewhat shabby separates that I wore for both work and casual purposes when they were appropriate for neither. I also realized that none of what I was wearing was pretty or sexy, and I do consider myself to still be pretty and sexy. I watched a lot of the American What Not to Wear and also watched Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style via Amazon streaming video, and read the abovementioned Trinny and Susannah book. I realize a lot of people hate Trinny and Susannah, and I don’t really enjoy their show, but their books are really good and very helpful (What You Wear Can Change Your Life is another good one). It didn’t take buying a lot to change things up – I mostly had to dig out things I hadn’t worn in a while (like skirts from suits, and sheath dresses) and repurpose them. I also love Kat’s suggestion about buying new jewelry, because that really can modernize and change up a very basic look easily. Target actually has great unique-looking “statement” jewelry, both in-stores and online, for not that much money. Thrift/vintage stores are another good source for cheap, funky jewelry. On that note, consignments stores are a great place to buy clothes on a budget. The one I go to has a sale 3 times a year where everything in the store is 50 percent off, which makes it easy to load up on new pieces.
    Anyway – I feel the OP’s pain – it’s so easy to get into a rut, then one day you look in the mirror and just feel worse about yourself. I can say that looking nicer has been a big mood booster. Even if your job is not what you want it to be, it feels good to walk in the door knowing you look good and feel good about yourself. It also has provided a nice little boost to my marriage – I think husbands do appreciate it when you change up your look a little, especially if the change is of the pretty/sexy variety. Good luck – realizing you need a change is the first step towards changing!

    • I love Trinny & Susanah!!! Haven’t seen much of the new show but I used to love watching their (original) What Not to Wear.
      Congrats on all the positive changes :)

      • Chicago K :

        I also love them. I think the clothes showcased on their show are much more classic then what the American version shows. Of course, the UK version shows a ton more clevage than any of us would ever show at work – and probably outside of work too!

    • Anonymous Today :

      I love Trinny and Susannah as well! What You Wear Can Change Your Life is another good one!

  2. What a helpful post. Thank you.

  3. Is it bad that I had to Google “toursade necklace”? Maybe I need a jewelry revamp!

    • hahaha – Anon. That is the first thing I did when I finished the post! I am horrible with jewelry . . .

      This is such a great post, Kat. It is so helpful, even if you haven’t had a major weight or life change. I am the person who just woke up one morning and realized that every single shirt I own is black/grey/white/ or khaki — and I love bright colours! I just fell into the “I don’t have time to shop” rut. I need to revamp!

    • oh, man, I googled it too and the only reference I got was to this column! What the heck is a toursade necklace?

      • It’s usually spelled torsade, and it’s the multi-strand twisted necklace usually with small pearls.

  4. Whoa, great advice! I’d second all of that, in that order!

    Do you live by any great outlets? I always like to hit my favorites before I head to the regular store – that way I know I wasn’t missing out on some great deal elsewhere.

    Also, I know it will take some time, but as you collect pieces, try to put together a few weeks of outfits and literally write down the combinations. I posted my (probably OCD) process last summer, but it always helped me to 1) get dressed in the morning wayyy quicker, 2) always go to work with a smile on my face knowing that I was wearing something I truly liked, and 3) by evenly rotating my wardrobe, it lasted longer.

    I think your attitude makeover will be no problem once you’re feeling pretty and stylish again!

    • NGO doesn't mean No Good Outfits :

      I understand the getting dressed easily in the morning bit, completely. I usually think about what I will wear the next day on my bus ride home, or while I’m trying (and failing) to get to sleep before 2 am rolls around.
      That being said, I have a big ‘thing’ against women (and men) that have “outfits” where they wear the shoes that match the skirt that matches the cardigan etc, and then wear those pieces together without fail every few weeks. I had a friend who in high school (!) had a few ensembles (there is no other way to describe them) that were the same down to the jewelry. I see women with these ‘outfits’ on the bus often and it projects a lack of creativity to me, although I’m sure they are plenty creative and just trying to save time.
      Knowing which of your pieces works together is definitely a plus, though. I second Kat’s recommendation of buying complementary colours!

      • Ohmygosh no! I didn’t mean I dress in matchy-matchy outfits, I would hate that! It’s just that over time, I’ve discovered what tops go better with skirts versus pants, what cardigans go with what (thanks to a recent Corporette post), things like that. I started doing it to make sure I was using all my good stuff that I felt good in, not end up wearing black for 5 days in a row, and for the time-saving aspects. If I write down what I have, it’s easier for me to visualize instead of standing at my closet bleary-eyed in the morning. I’m constantly switching out accessories and pulling in “alternate” tops or bottoms, so everything does stay fresh. When I get bored of it, it’s easy to tell what kind of similar thing I’ll be on the lookout for next time I’m out shopping.

        • NGO doesn't mean No Good Outfits :

          Oh, my mistake!
          I wish that I had the time/self-control/muster to do that for my work clothes. Especially since I am still accruing work appropriate clothes (I’m finishing undergrad, but have an internship in DC so I had to be work-appropriate earlier than some) I haven’t figured out what works together best yet. Sigh.

          A side note… You don’t need a store window to go window shopping! On my bus/metro to and from work I stare out the window and look at the different outfits women are wearing around town. I see outfits/colour combinations that I love and make a mental note to seek out pieces like that next time I’m shopping, I even will keep a clothes shopping list in my mini notebook I take everywhere (dangerous slippery slope but useful). It can be tricky because you don’t know the designer or store they came from, but you can often find similar items from every store out there. Looking through magazines and keeping a stack or envelope of tear outs works the same, just make sure to check out gossip/celebrity mags (Star, InTouch, etc) as well as fashion.

      • AnneCatherine :

        I actually kind of like the “bundled outfit” look, on others, and sometimes on me, but I have to admit, I do try to switch up my outfits/accessories/shoes so I’m not always wearing “the nude shoes with the purple skirt with white blouse combo” or whatever. That said, I do love (though not to emulate at work . . . ) the “Emma Pillsbury look” referred to a few weeks ago (Emma being a character on Glee who is a genius at theatrical dressing/outfit construction, but outfits of a very particular type).

    • Great idea! I also put together some outfits as I was revamping my closet. You know how you randomly pull out three pieces and realize that they look fabulous together? If I don’t write them down then next week when I’m searching for a combo-I’ve-never- worn-before I totally forget.

  5. I recently read “The Pocket Stylist: Behind-the-Scenes Expertise from a Fashion Pro on Creating Your Own Look,” which is fun to read, and brimming with insights and tips. Might provide some guidance on what to keep, tailor, or update in your current wardrobe!

    • Kathryn Fenner :

      Best advice from that book was to measure your clothes (bust, waist, hip) and take a tape measure with you when you shop, so you can rule out clothes that have no chance of fitting! Also can be useful if you shop online (eBay!!!)

  6. Don’t forget outerwear (such as a trench) and handbag, unless you already own timeless classics. Those are two places I would invest money.

    • Yes! A great bag makes me feel good even in my “schlubbiest” clothing. It’s like it says, “hey, yeah I’m wearing what is essentially glorified PJs to run out to get my nails done but see my bag? I am totally not usually like this!”

      • I think a good bag is the difference between looking cool and collected and looking frazzled. I feel like a Real Grownup when I carry a high-quality, elegant designer bag. It basically conveys the message that you can afford nice things and that you have style.

        I understand that shoe people feel the same way about shoes, but I’m firmly on team bags.

        • i have to admit, i’m completely on Team Shoes and didn’t even realize it until this past weekend. i cleaned up my closet which includedorganizing my shoes. i discovered that i have just over 80 pairs. i thought my sister was going to choke when i told her i didn’t have room for my boots and asked her advice.

      • I feel the same way (and I do it too often) but sometimes when I look at other women who have fabulous bags but are dressed like complete slobs, it appears to me that they’re using their bags to “excuse” their look. It’s like, “Look, I’m carrying a $1,500 bag, I can walk around in a trash bag if I want”. Not saying that you do this (and definitely not trying to start beef on this thread!) but sometimes some women do come off this way.

    • Amen. I am incredibly cheap about clothing, but own and a few very timeless, high-quality handbagss.

      A timeless leather bag will last YEARS and, for me, is far more worth the investment than expensive “stylish” clothing that will look dated and worn out, despite my best efforts, in no more than 2 or 3 years.

  7. As part of the closet clean out, I would also identify which of your clothes do not need to be revamped and make a list of tops and bottoms, to keep track of what you actually have and what you might need. That can help identify where the holes are in your wardrobe. A close friend could be helpful for going through the closet, especially one that is objective.

  8. Without coming off as shilling for my blog, I’ve completely coincidentally blogged on this topic the last couple of days. In my first job, I often felt invisible/ignored and I realized that it was in part due to how I dressed – I dressed like a young girl and was treated like one. I also was sick, and although you can’t always hide being sick, I looked sick and it led people to think I wasn’t up to snuff. So once I figured out that I needed to step up my outward appearance, I was very happy to revamp my wardrobe into a grown-up one. I also got my health under control and lost weight and then got to revamp it again! Shopping has been my friend over the last year especially with the weight loss – perhaps too much so!

    Anyway, as to specific advice for shopping – sign up for the email deals list for all the stores you like. Set aside a monthly budget for shopping, and save it until you receive notification of a sale. There’s no reason to ever spend full price for anything – most stores have something on sale every month at least. But once you’ve spent the monthly budget, and this is key, stop shopping. It doesn’t matter how good a deal something is – it’ll go on sale again, and it’s not worth blowing your budget over.

    • Legally Brunette :

      Congrats on starting the blog! I read your blog entry and I enjoyed your post. All the best.

  9. Great suggestions, Kat!

    I quit my job to be a SAHM but didn’t realize that 90% of my wardrobe was completely inappropriate. I had lots of work clothes or clothes for going out. What was left were the clothes I had for lounging around the house, cleaning the house, doing yard work, etc. Call it “Mommy daze”, but I spent most of 2008 in black sweatpant, jeans that had seen better days, and very unflattering shorts and t-shirts. (I will say that I could still rock my Citizens for Humanity jeans when needed!)

    I woke up one day and said enough. Dressing that way just made me depressed. I cleaned out my closet. Bought new staples in my new size including bras. Got everyday basics that are flattering *and* mom-appropriate like dark wash jeans that go great with flats and a wonderful pair of chocolate brown cords. One of my tricks was to go through magazines and catalogs and find pictures of clothes or outfits that I liked and tried to copy them. I’m now rebuilding my work wardrobe.

    I would also recommend that if you are thinking of getting a new hair style, you might want to think about changing your stylist. I’ve noticed that women who are stuck in a hair rut have been going to the same stylist for years.

    • What’s the difference between being stuck in a hair rut and finding a style that works for you and sticking with it (something classic that isn’t so trendy as to become dated, a la Jennifer Aniston’s Friends ‘do)?

      • I think the difference is how you feel when you see yourself in the mirror, especially right after a haircut. Do you feel freshened up and happy? Or just kind of, meh?

      • Hair texture and thickness changes as you get older; mine got much thicker and darker in the last six or seven years, while my mother’s is getting coarser and thinner as she gets older. If you’ve been wearing the same hairstyle, or dying your hair the same color, for 10 years or more, it’s a good idea to re-evaluate.

      • I think that even a classic style needs small tweaks & updates throughout the years. So you can have a signature style like, say, Anna Wintour — but if you look closely it has been carefully updated throughout the years. I would say if it’s exactly the same as it was 20 years ago, there’s a good chance you’re in a rut.

    • “I would also recommend that if you are thinking of getting a new hair style, you might want to think about changing your stylist. I’ve noticed that women who are stuck in a hair rut have been going to the same stylist for years.”

      Agreed. I recently “broke up” with my stylist because she basically stopped listening to what I wanted (which was to grow my hair out) and kept cutting it the exact same way – she cut off 2 inches at my last appointment when all I wanted was a 1/2 inch trim. I tried talking to her about it to no avail, so I moved on. I had been with her over four years, so it wasn’t easy and I am not sure who I’ll go to next – I usually shop around until I find someone I click with. But I think having a stylist that will always, always listen to you and find a way to do what you want and what will look good on you is really important.

    • I’m specifically thinking of someone I know who still has the Farah Fawcett. All feathered and late 70s looking. I live in the land that time forgot. RI is very stuck in a time warp! I see 80s hair all the time.

      • For finding a hairstylist, you might look at community colleges that offer community, fun, type classes. Ours does a “right hair for your lifestyle” class. I took it and loved one of the instructors. He’s been doing my hair ever since (and I get compliments every time I get it cut).

    • What if you don’t have a style, per se? My hair just kind of does its thing. It’s curly. I have a great and expensive stylist, but so long as my hair is cut well, it always looks the same. The only thing I can vary is the length, and I don’t like it long because it gets on my nerves so it’s been chin-length for years.

  10. “for example, if you’re the only one wearing under-eye eyeliner or mascara at your office, you may want to rethink that.”

    Do you mean this literally? Is eyeliner out now? And mascara??? (that one seems particularly hard to believe)

    • Now that Kat mentions it – I certainly haven’t seen anyone under the age of 50 wearing under-eye eyeliner since I started working a few years ago. Eyeliner – yes. Under-eye eyeliner? No.

      And I don’t notice mascara much either, which might mean that subtle mascara or no masacara is in? I never figured out how to avoid spider-lashes, so I just don’t use it.

      It’s also an office-specific thing; women at my law firm are more likely to go without makeup than wear heavy makeup. While I was in government, the opposite was true (oh, the blue eye shadow!!! yikes!).

      • I may need to pay better attention — I was still under the impression that the under-30 crowd lined the waterline. My how quickly we fall out of fashion ;-)

        • What’s the waterline?

          • The waterline is essentially what AnneCatherine referred to below as the “inside” of the lid, just above your lashline on your bottom lids. It’s more or less the lower-lid equivalent of “tightlining” your upper lid.

      • FWIW, I’m 23, and use eyeliner on my “waterline” every day. Black eyeliner no less, although I do have very dark hair. I think the key might be that you haven’t noticed it … perhaps we “younger cohort” members are just getting better at applying it? :)

        • I actually think of the under-eye look as being trendy for teens — or for really older women who got into it in the 80s. For those of us in their mid-30s… tread lightly on the under-eye liner. (Unless, of course, you’re appearing on television or vlogging, in which case, weirdly enough, under-eye liner/mascara is necessary. Go figure.)

          • I’m 26 and I weara very line line of under- eye-liner in plum or brown, and white on the waterline (supposedly makes you look more awake but I’m not convinced)…My friends wear eyeliner too!

          • I am pro under-eye liner. Go figure.

        • imo, it makes the dark circles stand out more and i’d rather fewer people notice the circles under my eyes. so, no daily waterline application for me. the only time would be when i’m preparing for a night on the town.

      • Oh my gosh, say NO! to undereye and waterline eyeliner. Ages a woman faster than hot pink blush. Makes your eyes look tiny, beady and tired, emphasizes wrinkles, emphasizes dark circles, emphasizes prominent lower eyelids (my issue). I grew up on the 60’s Bazaar Beauty Guide (although I was born well after that) and have never been a fan of anything undereye. Waterlining is like outlining your lips in dark eyeliner – always looks tacky no matter your age. Leaves you open to eye infections as well.
        Clean undereye = clean and lifted face.

    • AnneCatherine :

      I think that referred to “undereye eyeliner and mascara” with the emphasis in “undereye.” The trend for a few years has been only to line the top lid (with liquid or gel eyeliner) (and to sort of extend the line out, sometimes, at least at night) and only to put mascara on the top lashes. That said, while I never did wear mascara on the bottom lashes (too clumsy; I hated the look on me; I have dark lashes anyway), I always have, and will likely continue to, used either powder or gel eyeliner with a slant-tip brush, on the bottom (outer portion) of my lids, because, on me, that looks better, with my eye shape and heavy upper lids. I’ve experimented and experimented, and I look tired without it, and am often complimented on my “big’’ eyes or “nice” eyes with it, so I stick with it. So, I’d say, know and be aware of the trends, then see what works for you. Also, all that said, black eyeliner on the bottom can look harsh, so I stick with brown, and I blend the “line” with the brush (there should be as little “line” effect as possible, despite the name . . . ). Probably/possibly people don’t even know I have on eyeliner.

      • AnneCatherine :

        Oh, and I never line the “inside” of the lid, always on the lash line.

      • Agree 100% but would just add that what often looks particularly dated is undereye liner that goes under the whole eye; not just smudged in the outer corners. And doubly so if it’s in a harsh line.

      • surrounded by lawyers :

        Agree. I stopped wearing liner under my eye for about a year (because I heard it was gauche) but then started noticing in pictures that my eyes were kind of getting lost. I have dark features but a round, fair face and I realized I needed to give my eyes a little more help. As has been suggested, though, I go very light on it and don’t follow the line all the way across. Think “dot and smudge.” And no exciting colors.

        • Makeup Junkie :

          I use shadow as under-eyeliner. It gives me some color and definition without closing up my eyes. That’s the real problem with under-eyeliner; it tends to make some people’s eyes smaller and kind of beady. Some ladies can really rock it though.

    • Goodness! I hope not! Frankly, I live in Texas and I can’t imagine mascara EVER going out of style here, but even if it did, I could never give it up due to my so-blonde-they-look-clear eyelashes.

      • Mascara is not out! At least not until everyone starts getting eyelash extensions :)
        I think the mascara reference above was just to clumpy mascara and/or mascara on the lower eye lashes (which, again, is only out if it’s totally noticeable)

        • Laura Mercier makes a really nice ‘cake’ eyeliner – you use a straight, stiff brush and dampen the powder, then push it right along the top lashline. It doesn’t really appear as ‘liner’, just like your lashes got thicker and somehow just opens your eyes, in a nice ‘kitten’ (not scary catwoman) kind of way. And – this is key – it’s pretty idiotproof in terms of application. I can barely get lipstick on without messing it up, and eyeliner is generally a major challenge, but this product is just easy. I think all the Laura Mercier reps know the technique and can demo/teach it….

      • I’m with you! I look like a lash-less alien if I don’t wear mascara, and I find under-eye liner (I use not a pencil, not liquid, but the inbetween thing) makes my eyes pop.

        • I have the same issue. My top eyelashes are not that bad but the bottom ones are almost invisible. It just looks weird if I put mascara/eyeliner only on the top. Sometimes I skip the bottom eyeliner, but I never skip the mascara.

    • I’m 27 and I use a kohl eyeliner in my lash line and one coat of mascara on my lower lashes. I couldn’t imagine not doing that, because it just simply looks better. As far as I’m concerned, subtle, natural make-up that flatters you is never out-of-style.

    • Can someone explain the waterline eyeliner application to me? I always wear makeup, but for some reason, this is one thing I can’t master. Applying eyeliner to that area seems uncomfortable, so maybe I’m confused as to how it’s done.

    • I think she meant mascara on the bottom lashes, though sometimes this looks nice–depends on how spidery it’ll look on you I guess.

  11. How about a personal shopper? Some department stores have them in-house, and they get a cut of whatever you buy (for better or for worse), and then there are some independents who shop the stores you like but will probably charge you an hourly fee. Either way, they’ll be more able to assess what looks good on your body, what is new and fresh, and steer you away from those “comfortable” standards you’ve been wearing. A good one will also help you build a cohesive wardrobe that will make getting dressed in the morning much easier.

    • Have you used one before? I am considering hiring someone to help find the balance in a young professional wardrobe. I have young and I have professional, but very rarely do they meet. I would love to get feedback from someone who has used a personal shopper and whether it was a worthwhile experience.

      • SAW,

        Haven’t used one myself, but I am one (recreationally) for friends/family and am a young professional! Where are you located?

        From what I’ve gathered, it really varies depending on the personal shopper. Most upscale department stores will have them available to you, and I’ve heard good things about Nordstom in that department. Would definitely recommend going in with a firm budget in mind and make sure to speak up about what you want!

        • Thanks for the response -j-, I am in Southern California. From your blog, we are on opposite sides of the coast. Bummer. Btw good vibes and wishes on your bar exam.

          I used to work retail way back in the day and felt in tune with what clothes looked good on me and were fashionable. Now I am many years removed and am adjusting into the role of attorney (I am only 1 year ahead of you). I find that I am dressing to age myself in hopes that it gives me an experienced look. I at least know there is a problem, I just need to find the time and money to fix it.

          • Bummer indeed! Know what you mean about dressing to age yourself – being a young, female attorney (or summer as my most recent experience) is a weird place to be in re: deciding how to put your best foot forward. C’est la vie. Good luck with your search – I’m betting you’ll get into a groove and it’ll become second nature again :).

          • Whoops – also, many thanks for the good vibes! So glad to be done. Now just praying I don’t have to do it again in Feb.!

  12. I second the recommendation for a personal shopper/ stylist. I hired one last year and have used her 3 or 4 times. First we went through my closet, I tried on all my clothes, and she told me what to keep and what to ditch. This took about 5 hours on a Saturday. Then, she made a list of what she thought I needed. She went shopping and put items on hold. This was a weekday she went from about 10 -12 to a local mall. Then I went with her and tried on all the things she had put on hold and bought some. This took from 12-2 on the same weekday. Then I took a Friday off work, and we went to the house again and made up outfits for me. This took about 3 hours. I had her take pictures and I made a little book that I use to decide what to wear. I realize this sounds like a lot, but I must tell you I look way better than I used to. And I am learning things, too. Now I will buy stuff by myself (usually on line) and then every couple months have her come back and help me make up outfits.

    • How did you find your personal shopper? I am planning to make an appointment later this year, and would like to get away from the ones who are tied to a department store (I’m a petite, and department stores keep scaling back petite departments).

    • anon for this :

      Can I ask, about how much does this cost? I’ve considered this but the cost factor is kind of scary to me.

      • You can find great assistance at some of the department stores as someone already mentioned. Also, building relationships with smaller boutiques can be very valuable. They learn what you like and what works for you and can keep you updated.

        If you google personal stylist or style coach you will also find many options. Some charge hourly and others offer services through packages. My company provides package services because we believe that you shouldn’t have to worry about a clock ticking. You may also be interested in style coaching programs that teach you information to apply to your style like this one http://www.charlestonstyleconcierge.com/services-stylish-inner-circle.cfm.

        Hope that helps!

      • also anon for this :

        If you go to Nordstroms, the personal shopping is free. They don’t go through your closet, but it is their job to know all of Nordstrom’s inventory by heart and to be creative about accessorizing it.

        If you go the Nordstrom’s route, it will take at least two appointments before she really gets your style and can help you push your boundaries.

        To Emily — I swear I’m not shilling for Nordstroms, but they have a good petites selection. My family and I have worked with at least two shoppers in the Philly area; our favorite one could dress my mother (40+, petite and conservative), my father (45+, tall, with a belly, a distaste for shopping and a wardrobe to prove it), my sister (14, looking for a bat mitzvah/middle school graduation dress), and me (at the time 18, looking for a prom dress).

        Anyway, there’s a reason Nordstrom’s inspires such brand loyalty, and it’s stories like that one that prove its worth.

      • I’d like to second the request for Lobbyist to share how much the initial private-shopper experience cost her…there’s no Nordstroms where I live so a private shopper would be my only option, and it would be really helpful for someone who knows what they’re doing to go through my closet with me.

      • I found mine on the internet. I have a friend who used the ones at Nordstrom and they are free but she had to buy everything at Nordstrom and her clothes cost a lot (she looks great, though.) My lady advertised once on a blog and was just gettting started (I was her first client) and was only $25 an hour. Thats part of the reason I hired her. Another woman in my town charges $50 an hour. I was sort of afraid the established lady would make me buy expensive clothes. My sister in Chicago pays $100 an hour with a four hour minimum.

  13. I wear ‘mom clothes’ at home. I am still in the baby stage, so what I wear gets baby spit from the baby on it, and then gets toddler hand prints wiped on it, so needs to be washable! I also am wearing nursing bras 100% of the time, and nursing tops whenever I am at home.

    However – I just did a mini-revamp when going back to work after #2 and found the following:
    – new bras (my old nursing bras were all stretched) do make everything look better!
    – jewelry – I have good luck at forever 21 (go figure) where everything is under $10, and some things at banana.
    – new jeans – I got a pair of gap skinny jeans in an in-between size (not quite pre-preg) so that I looked good. Stacy and Clinton always say to buy for the size you ARE, not the size you WANT to be, which really helped me this time.
    – Get rid of those things that you think you shouldn’t get rid of for no good reason. I had an old blazer that I NEVER WORE and always hung on to, and recently got rid of it – don’t miss it at all.

    • Any luck at finding nursing bras that aren’t Horrible? I’d love to find a bra that fits, but my nursing bras range from “Fine I’ll wear a t-shirt just to stay in this sleeping bra” to “I could probably make something better with rubber bands and a few paper clips.”

      • I went to breakoutbras.com. I had to order several – the key is to measure yourself, email them and ask what they would recommend. I do wear different bras for sleeping – my boobs get bigger overnight since baby only wakes up once to eat – and then put the reg bras on during the day after feeding baby in the am.

        I was surprised by the cup size- I had previously been wearing a 36D or DD and it turned out that I was a 34F instead!

  14. Legally Brunette :

    This is an EXCELLENT post, Kat. Chock full of great information.

    If the OP has limited time and a good sense of the kind of shape she has, I would recommend doing some online shopping at Nordstrom. They have free shipping over $200 and an extremely easy return policy, so if you’re pressed for time I would search around online, buy some nice dresses, skirts, and slacks, and see if you end up liking anything. If you end up returning something, I’m pretty sure that there is a Nordstrom at the Stanford mall, not too far away from you.

    I don’t even have the excuse of kids, but I’m very busy and I don’t like spending my weekend at the mall. I’m a big fan of online shopping, but it will only work if you have a good sense of what looks good on you.

    Good luck!!

    • There is an Ann Taylor outlet store at the Gilroy Outlet Malls. They seem to have a fairly large inventory. I like the color stories as well.

      If the quality is up to par, this may be a good way for R to pick up some basics for less $$$.

  15. For a complete wardrobe makeover, stick with either a major department store like Macy’s or Dillard’s*, or a smaller store that carries their own line, like Talbot’s or J Crew*.

    Stores that carry complete lines will have more things that mix and match, and more sizes available.

    Don’t try to find bargains on a complete wardrobe at a discounter like Ross or Loehmann’s*. While fantastic buys can be had there, they rarely carry everything you need all at once. Nothing worse than finding half a suit in your size, with no recourse for ordering the other half! Save those stores for when you’re in the mood to pick through and let something grab your eye.

    It’s a very different kind of shopping. If I need a black dress for a funeral this weekend, I’ll never find one at Ross. But if a simple black dress is something I want to add to my closet in the next 6 months, it might appear at Ross in September. That’s great for “recreational” shopping, but can be frustrating and depressing if you’re trying to replace many items efficiently.

    *I’m not advocating these particular stores; go with what suits your style best.

  16. I loved this post. It is such a great reminder to women everywhere that often the key to great style is taking time to evaluate if your clothing is relevant for who you are and the life you currently lead. Style is a constant evolution.

  17. I have used the personal shopping services at Saks and Nordies. I couldn’t be more thrilled with them. In both cases, they glanced at my body, listened to my preferences as to material/style/look, wandered away and left me to sip a cappuccino, and returned 30 minutes later with a handful of items, all of which LOOKED TERRIFIC ON ME, MET MY BUDGET REQS, AND WORKED TOGETHER. I couldn’t spend 4 hours in a store and find so many things that fit me on the first try, (or second, or third).

    • how did you set up an appointment with them? Is the personal shopper a complimentary service?

      • also anon for this :

        yep, Nordstrom’s is complimentary. Just call and ask for an appointment.

        (See my post above for why Nordies rocks so hard).

    • Did you have to make an appointment to use these services? How much did it cost? Did they bring you sale items as well as full price? Those are why I’m still on the fence about using personal shoppers.

      • I used a Nordstrom personal stylist for the first time this past weekend. It was a fabulous experience! If you go to the Nordstrom website and search for “personal shopper” it will bring you right to a page where you can enter your information and a personal shopper will call you to make an appointment. They’ll ask you information about what you are looking to buy, your size, color preferences, etc. Then when you show up at your appointment, they will have a bunch of stuff to try on and will bring you more stuff as they get a feel for your preferences. Their services are free (they get a commission on whatever you buy). My stylist brought me both full price and sale items. In all, it took me 1 1/2 hours to find two basic suits (including getting them fitted for alterations), and a lovely plum-colored short-sleeve turtleneck. Alterations were also very cheap as many alterations there are free; I ended up paying a minimal amount because I needed the jackets nipped in.

    • I made appointments beforehand. Nordstroms is often so busy, you really have to if you want serious help.

      They brought me things from all over the store, although now that I think about it, nothing from the sale-sale racks, because I was shopping for the upcoming seasons (you know, the clearance sale racks as opposed to the Nordstrom’s anniversary sale racks). However, also know when sales are coming, and have put things aside for me to be billed at the sale rate. They also oversee all the alterations, which are often free or a minimal amount, which is the REAL TRICK to looking truly put together.

      With respect to price, I said something like, “I need 3 pairs of pants and I have budgeted X for them.” They complied, but they also brought me things a little more, I think, and pointed out they could hold them for me until they went on sale. I bought at all price points and there was no pressure to buy anything. Their best customer is a repeat customer, which doesn’t happen unless the customer is thrilled the first time, IMHO.

    • you can also do this for brand stores, like j. crew or ann taylor. if you go to a store a few times, find the sales person that seems 1) the best dressed 2) the most knowledgeable and 3) whoever you like, and ask them if you can set up an appointment to do a fuller consultation. when i worked at ann taylor (i promise, having worked there i do not plug for their brand unless the stuff actually is decent, employees figure out what’s good and what’s bad pretty quickly), we had a client book so that customers could record their preferences/sizes and then set up appointments with the more experienced (been there 5 years or more or taken an “exam”) sales people.

  18. AnneCatherine :

    I find this post very interesting. I second the recommendation to watch What Not to Wear. Yes, it can be over-the-top but it does help you develop an “eye” for fit, and, as long as you are watching a fairly new episode, it will clue you in on current styles, as well.

    I am going to offer some advice to the OP and please, OP, don’t be offended if some of it seems obvious to you, or too simplistic, or has inherent assumptions that don’t apply to you. Take it for what it’s worth!

    I would say, take it slow, and don’t be overwhelmed. All of the tasks set forth above by Kat (while great advice!) can sound overwhelming to someone who either (A) doesn’t enjoy shopping/fashion or (B) doesn’t have time for it. Coming from a family of women who have mostly eschewed makeup, and had little patience for fashion (because they were mostly busy raising children), I know that, when they have reintroduced themselves to getting their hair done, to accessorizing, etc., they have done it slowly. I think it can be a lot to take in at once. While I have dozens of necklaces, say, hearing that might make someone think “Wait, what, now I have to worry about necklaces?!?!?”, so I’d say as you phase back into things, stick with a silver or gold chain and hoops or studs, one set of go-to jewelry you wear every day. As and after you build your wardrobe, then you can worry about accessorizing in a more “creative” way.

    Also, consider what it is about fashion you do enjoy. My mother loves dresses, my sister loves shoes. My sister has built up (after having kids in quick succession) a cute wardrobe based on simple bottoms (shorts, capris, or skirts from ATL), cute semi-embellished tops from JCrew or ATL, and a different color of embellished sandals/slides/flip-flops for each outfit. Clearly, this won’t work for you for work, but the point is, what got her back into shopping is the cute shoes, and she built one outfit around each pair. Meanwhile, my mother likes dresses, so she has gotten back into fashion, getting her hair done, etc., by first shopping for dresses, then flats (which she also likes) for each dress, and that sort of reinvigorated her. So, if you like cardigans, or shoes, or dresses, consider building five outfits around one thing you like.

    Start small. You only have to have seven or so outfits to begin with, and each piece can be a part of two or three different outfits. Personally, I would say to stick with solid colors to begin with. I don’t even happen to like most prints, anyway (though some are beautiful) but also, they are harder to incorporate into multiple outfits.

    • Little Lurker :

      This is also fantastic advice, and something I have had to learn as well (re: integrating new style slowly).

  19. Another tip: take some digital photos of yourself wearing outfits that you might typically wear to work, out to dinner, to a cocktail party, etc. I did this recently and was able to assess my overall “look” far more objectively than if I had simply looked in the mirror. That photo session (which was itself prompted by the dawning realization that I might be in a style rut) was eye-opening, to say the least. It motivated a major closet clean-out (good-bye 90s era suiting).

  20. My version of having a personal shopper (in addition to Corporette, of course!) is my subscription to the Shop It To Me website. You pick your brands, your sizes, the types of clothes you want, and your level of discount, and you get a daily email with your matches at various stores (including Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Macy’s, BR, AT, etc.). I do a lot of my shopping online so this totally works for me.

    What has also helped me is cleaning out and organizing my closets. I set myself up with the Rubbermaid closet organizing system from Home Depot and it has changed my life. It was a lot of physical work, and probably a bit more of a financial investment than I would have liked, but the peace of mind I now have, knowing my closets are organized and I can see all my clothes, is truly priceless.

    • Seconded on cleaning out the closets and then organizing them. I simply limit myself to owning the amount of clothing that I can keep in plain view in my closet/drawers. If it’s out of sight it’ll be out of mind too and I won’t wear it or think of it when I’m putting my outfits together.

      I normally lay out my outfits for the week on Saturday or Sunday, although sometimes I do it the night before. I think of my outfits as, essentially, a billboard along the highway advertising my brand. Just like a company wouldn’t just throw together an advertisement, I don’t just throw together my outfits. How I look influences how others perceive me.

  21. It’s great reading everyone’s tips! I went through the same issue as R when I left grad school and started working again. I had debt and was working for a nonprofit and yet I still had to wear something other than a t-shirt and jeans to work… and my pre-grad school wardrobe had basically fallen apart.

    I’m also an idiot when it comes to shopping (like I don’t know what a “basic” is to save my life), so I found a style book that made sense to me and used that as my guide (I bought the one from Lucky Magazine- Lucky guide to style, or something?). There are a ton of books like this out there, and I bet there are free lists on the internet, too.

    Anyway, it lays out exactly what you need for a serviceable, basic wardrobe (e.g. 3 winter pants, 3 summer pants, 6 work blouses….) and after I culled the still-wearable clothes from my closet I went through the book and noted everything I needed to buy new or replace. Years later I still keep a running list this way, so if I get the urge to shop I can keep myself focused on pieces I really need.

    • “my pre-grad school wardrobe had basically fallen apart.”

      This illustrates to me why quality, not quantity, is so important. Clothes, especially professional clothes, should last at least a few years!

  22. Anonymous :

    I strongly recommend buying “outfits” rather than a few tops and bottoms to mix and match. It may sound like the same thing, but it’s not. When I buy outfits, I spend more initially but put more thought into it as well and feel and look great. When I buy pieces to mix and match, I end up with a closet full of clothes, nothing to wear, and the blues. You can still mix and match, but you will have a selections of thought-out go-to outfits.

    You can also make an appointment with a personal shopper at Nordstrom or Macy’s. Go in with an open mind and they may be able to give you some great tips, save you some time and give you some direction. (But you don’t have to love or follow all of their advice.)

    • This is just me, but I completely disagree with the advice to buy “outfits.” Esp. if you are building back up a wardrobe. I shop with a friend who only buys “outfits.” She wanders around the store holding up skirt, shirt, jacket, tights, jewelry and then purchases it all. And then you see that same outfit every third week or so each season. I personally think you get more bang for your buck and a more individualized wardrobe when you buy things to mix and match. Start with solids and basics. Like Cat said, know your color scheme. It will take you much much further. And you never run the risk of looking all matchy-matchy (which I personally hate).

      • That assumes that your original outfits are matchy-matchy. They don’t have to be. I have been where the subject of the post is and I stand by my point that if you create/purchase outfits up front, they work well for someone who is not used to thinking every day about their outfit. And there’s nothing wrong with “repeating” an outfit periodically. Ironically we claim that men are lucky to have a “uniform” and then we criticize women who adopt a uniform of sorts as being uncreative. I think most of us think we need much more stuff than we do. And note I did say that mixing it up was fine, but it makes sense to start with outfits for some people. If you throw together a basic tshirt with a basic top, you’ll just have … something basic. If you want a look that is pulled together and polished, get some outfits. And no this doesn’t mean buy a head-to-toe mannequin from Ann Taylor; it means an outfit appropriate for you that you put together, on your own, or with a friend, a stylist, a sales assistant, your mom, whoever. I’ve also asked complete strangers in a fitting room whether a color works for me or a piece fits me in the back, etc. If you watch a show like What Not to Wear, I think it supports my point. For someone who feels they are starting from scratch and want to look at themselves in a new way, you need to look at outfits. And please, let’s not be so literal in commenting on the comments.

    • I dislike that approach because I find it ends up in spending much more over time. It’s much harder to find full outfits on sale and if one piece wears out earlier than the others, you’re stuck with another piece that goes with nothing in your wardrobe. I tend to stick to fairly basic bottoms in gray, black, khaki, and navy that I can wear with several different tops. I usually end up retiring tops much faster than bottoms, so if I buy a bottom that is a trendy style/color, I rarely get much use out of it.

    • I think this might be a helpful tip for people who aren’t good at putting things together themselves and need to have prearranged outfits, but believe me, I have never bought an “outfit” in my life and I have never, ever had “nothing to wear.” Quite the opposite because I have so many tops that can go with so many skirts, etc, that I get overwhelmed with glee and regret that I can’t wear all six of my favorite cardigans at once, you know? I think my experience is more common for women.

    • I think the optimal strategy is somewhere in the middle. If you’re buying basic pants or a basic tops, don’t worry about creating an outfit. If, on the other hand, you’ve fallen in love with something in a funky color or print, or with a strange shape, don’t buy it unless you either already own something it will go with, or can buy it at the same time.
      This is especially important for skirt – I think Kat had a post recently about avoiding “orphan skirts”. If you don’t own a top to go with a specific skirt, either buy skirt and top at the same time, or don’t buy the skirt.

      • NGO doesn't mean No Good Outfits :

        I was gearing up to type something similar, but you said it so well all I need to do is agree.
        I would never buy an ‘outfit’ with my grey pencil skirt, but I did buy one with my oversized-watercolour pattern skirt.

  23. I would highly recommend online shopping for stores that are easy to return to – this depends what stores are close to where you live, but Nordstrom’s, Banana, Gap, Ann Taylor, J.Crew, Talbot’s etc. all have great return policies. (BE CAREFUL WITH FINAL SALE ITEMS) Also, Land’s End can be returned to Sears.

    Then, order more than you want – keeping in mind that not everything will work – and let it all come in. Try it on at home and make sure it works with the existing pieces you can keep and with each other. Fit this in when you can – at evening, on a weekend morning, whenever.

    Then put the “to be returned” stuff in a pile and take it to the mall – even returning things to a couple of stores will take less than an hour.

    I would highly reocmmend against concentrating everything into one or two brands. You don’t want to look like the Ann Taylor storefront window, especially if you are trying to make a large group of purchases at once.

    Second – get the basics now, but then slowly build up the rest of your wardrobe. If you buy your entire wardrboe in one purchase, it will all wear out at about the same time. It is much better to get on a cycle of shopping with buying a few pieces every month or two. And when you buy something new, think seriously about what you can/should throw out.

    • This is exactly what I do and it works really well for me. Not everything I buy online ends up working out, but a lot of it does.

  24. Backtowork :

    About the bras — I bought a bra at Soma a couple of years ago, and I may never buy a bra anywhere else. They are the most comfortable bras I’ve ever worn — and that goes for the rest of their lingerie as well. Warning: if you put on a pair of their travel pajamas, you may want to live in them (frowned upon by most places of employment!).

  25. Jane Bingham :

    I wear daily black under-eye liner. My eyes are my best feature and it really makes them pop. Sephora pencil eyeliner works great. I have no idea where this myth that under eye makeup is out came from. If it works for you, doesn’t scream clown, and makes you feel confident, go for it. We aren’t lemmings people.

  26. Don’t let anyone– hairstylist, personal shopper, makeup artist at sephora– push anything on you that doesn’t feel like “you”. You may not feel very corporate appropriate right now, but you know what you need to do and know how you feel in certain clothes, certain makeup, and certain hairstyles. Make sure you aren’t trying to change too much. Throwing on a whole new personality is hard and almost impossible to keep up with.

    I am in the position of having to purchase all new suits (husband thought dry-cleaning meant goodwill, and accidently donated all my suits). I am sticking with black and navy for suits, and have always used black or grey pants and skirts almost exclusively. If a shirt, jacket, shoe or anything else goes with black, it will work with grey or blue. I don’t have any suits, pants or skirts in brown or red, for example, because I find them hard to match.

    Saving-money wise, I have found that it takes awhile to find the good deals. I get my black pants from Target, and I love them. They are lined, they fit perfectly, and are around $25 a pair. I would never buy a shirt there, though. None fit right and they all wrinkle easily. I buy my sweater sets at the Jones NY outlet, as they are high-quality, but the one sheath dress I spent a lot of money on from Jones NY was not worth it.

    I would go to the mall and try stuff on in each store that you like. Note what sizes and brands you like, and once you know your sizes and brands, check Ebay. I’ve built up a very good wardrobe this way. You usually can’t return on ebay, so you do have to know your brands. I do almost all of my shopping online, as the nearest big shopping area is 2 hours away.

    Also, as noted above, nordstroms has a good selection of clothes from a lot of different brands, so it is a safe bet for shopping. Especially if you want to hit one store and be done with it. I’ve never had any luck with personal shoppers, but I am plus sized so I only have a small section to look over by myself. I am also a habitual shopper, so I can usually tell right away if something will fit or not.

  27. I really appreciate this post. With a jumpstart that was triggered by my discovery of this site, a few months ago, I sort of started the ‘revamp’ (much needed after babies, weight loss, stagnation of wardrobe owing to chasing aforementioned no longer babies and a few other major lifechanges like moving and getting remarried, and um, getting to a more ‘mature’ age). But the checklist and tips really help – I’ve been going at it in a pretty random way (with lots of returns from semi-crazed online shopping sprees), and this gives me a better gameplan.

    And I also appreciate the info/experience re personal shoppers and some of the additional insight (eg, AnneCatherine re ‘timing’ for integrating new style and and backtowork re bras – something I’ve been struggling with – for comfort and size reasons but didn’t even think about as part of the exterior look) .

    Because timing is everything, in the course of starting this over the last three months, I have managed to gain ten lbs for no good reason (am trying hard to turn this around with renewed commitment to exercise and some more measured approaches to diet). Which means that a lot of my ‘revamp’ focus has been shoes and bags and more ‘forgiving’ dresses.

    Which brings me to a specific point: Kat did a really nice job of ‘blazer over dress’ in the Moment video. Like wearing flats, I have never figured this one out – my blazers only look good with the suit pants or skirt they came with. How does one identify the ‘right’ blazer for a dress – to me, they all look boxy and ‘off’ with a dress…and the cardigan thing rarely seems to work with a dress – I can do it with skirts but with a dress it seems like my pear shape just becomes a lumpy train wreck under a cardigan. Any other pear shapes have any experience/suggestions? TIA :).

    • I think the key to blazers is to look for a nice, simple blazer that’s a separate in a basic color, e.g., black to start. These tend to be a better bet for looking good w/a dress b/c it’s meant to be worn with different items. It may also help you to see it as a “different” look & not like a mismatched outfit if you get something you don’t associate with a matching bottom.

      I would recommend putting on a dress you like & going to a department store & just trying various options.

      • Excellent suggestion – simple and one I never thought of. Thanks Lucy! Will try this. and look forward to Sara’s input re Target (one of my fave haunts for weekend and kid garb, and 99% of domestic items).

    • Try belted blazers or slightly shorter, fitted blazers…because those cinch at the waist, they often look the most flattering over my dresses.

  28. Good post Kat. My suggestions:

    1- Target has good shirts for under suits /cardigans online only in synthetic fabrics (looks a tad fancy but machine washable)- I ordered a bunch on a whim and kept most of them. Black, black and white, etc.

    2- Second hand- consignment stores- you can get far higher end stuff than you might otherwise, with unique designs. Easily half of my clothes are second hand.

    3- accessories. I recently revamped (gov’t to corporate job) and this was one of the harder areas. My belts had frayed areas; I had no decent pantyhose, I got a few new brooches, a few new bags (second hand though- Coach, perfect condition, $25), a trench coat at BR, a few silk scarves (consignment), a few gorgeous necklaces at an antique shop (spent a few hundred on jewelry but got real stuff vs. modern crap).

    My process took about $3000 total including hair appointments etc. While a bit painful, I looked at it as an investment- I got the dream job and hopefully will get big raises in the future that will more than cover the investment. Even with much of it second-hand stuff- it added up quickly.

    Good luck!

    • Which target shirts & cardis? I am a bit overwhelmed by the selection!

      • Sara – I love the consignment option and your apparent success with it. Do you mind sharing generally what part of the country you are in? My city – midsize Fla. – is maybe a little ‘short’ in this regard, so I tend to skip it over, but I am inspired by your experience. Oh, and congrats on the move to corporate – good luck!

        • I have a friend who found amazing stuff at consignment stores, both for clothing and furniture. I think we’re in the same area, and you just have to stick to the older, wealthier parts where the upscale consignment stores are located. My sister got a great Mad Men-era suit at the store that’s known more for vintage clothing. There’s a lot of interesting stuff there if you want to go for a quirkier look.

          • Like Hyde Park v. Ybor? If we are in the same area, please name some stores! I’ve only been here a short while and haven’t really made much headway in finding much beyond the obvious mall and Target situations. TIA :).

          • La France in Ybor is great, and there are quite a few in S. Tampa. I haven’t really visited the S. Tampa stores to be able to direct you to specific ones. I think MoshPosh on Howard is supposed to be nice but the one right nearby supposedly has rude staff. I think there are some in Westchase too, but I haven’t heard much about them.

          • Thanks so much – I am gonna pop in to LaFrance soon, and next time I am around South, will check out MoshPosh.

          • Hi Suze! (YAY, I survived!) I was at MoshPosh the other day, and the stuff was definitely well-edited and higher end, but there isn’t a *huge* selection as it’s a pretty small shop. Definitely worth a gander, though – some cute options, and the inventory changes all the time. There was only one girl in there when I was there, and despite the fact that I was the only customer, she didn’t engage me until I said hi and attempted to make conversation. I wasn’t particularly annoyed, but she was a bit aloof if nothing else.

            Tangent: Unfortunately, the fabulous TJ Maxx I referred to in the post is not in the area :*(. It’s up north where I went to law school, sadly. Will keep my eyes open for good local shops, though – sounds like we’re in the same boat!

  29. I can’t say enough how using a personal shopping service has helped me.

    I use the Nordstrom right by my office. I have no issues telling them I am on a budget and don’t want to pay an arm and a leg. It saves SO much time. They have everything picked out, they know what I already have and pick pieces to go with my existing wardrobe and suggest full outfits with accessories (which I rarely buy but it helps to get ideas). Once your stylist gets a grasp on your style they can keep an eye out for pieces you would like and save you the time of checking. This also helps me get a lot of sale items before they are picked over.

  30. Target shirts- I don’t know if the same ones are there now, but mine are short-sleeved, one is black with v-crossover neck, one is black/white pattern with tie at waist and square neck, etc. They do have a lot- I want to try out more soon as they are easy to throw on, wash, pack for business travel, etc. I haven’t seen any of them in-store especially in petite sizes which I need.

    Consignment- I’m in Seattle now but also used to live in DC, NY, and Miami which all have great options. Not sure about central FL- maybe check out places when traveling? I’m going to LA in a few months and already got some recommendations there to check out just to see what they’ve got to mix it up.

    I really have had luck with it, coupled with buying new stuff, over the years. Italian silk skirts, merino sweaters, wool slacks, designer tops (Marc Jacobs, Rebecca Taylor, etc.) you name it. I am lucky in that I can pop by places in my neighborhood every few weeks to see what’s new. The only downside is that I’ve gotten spoiled on preferring the higher-end fabrics and cuts, so don’t like my Ann Taylor/ BR stuff that’s store bought much anymore:) It is amazing the gorgeous stuff people get rid of for whatever reason.

  31. Just checked Target’s website- they don’t have the ones I got a few months ago anymore or anything comparable at the moment- but a good place to keep an eye on.

  32. I want to echo the comment about personal shopping services, specifically at Nordstrom. If you find a good shopper, who really listens to you and pays attention to what you like, it can save you a lot of time. I use a shopper (personal stylist) at the local Nordstrom and she has helped me to revamp my work wardrobe (after 10 years and two kids, my closet needed it). Nordstrom has a range of price points and their return policy is excellent.

    I am a big believer that you get what you pay for, so I recommend buying the nicest basics you can afford (blazers, pants, skirts, shirts) and then accenting with trendy items that are less expensive.

  33. lawyergrrl :

    Great post.

  34. Re: Bras
    Turned out I had been wearing the wrong size bra forever. If you’re in DC, I cannot oversell the Dor-Ne Corset Shoppe in Silver Spring, MD. It has a cheesy name and looks like nothing from the outside, but their fitters are AMAZING and they carry hard to find sizes and brands (I’m a 34F).

    Call ahead to make an appointment to be fitted. I bought a nude basic bra and a strapless bra there. They were expensive, 70-85 bucks a pop, but completely worth it. I then knew what size in those two brands I was (I’ve noticed brands can run a it differently) and then ordered a few more new bras on sale online from HerRoom (another shameless plug, that site is amazing).

    People ask if I’ve lost weight or upped my work out regimen. A new bra in a proper size makes everything better.

  35. Even if your wardrobe seems puny, it is better not to buy a lot of things in one season. It is always better to add pieces gradually, not matter what amount of money you may have to spend. Start with a good suit in a neutral color that particularly flatters your coloring, and try to find one that can be worn in three seasons of the year. If you look good in black, it is useful to have a number of black tops in various styles. Some of these can be bought at Wal-mart for less than $10. a pop. Silk skirts are good to have if they are heavy enought to wear year-round. Black pants always look great. Don’t forget a perfect coat. That what you will wear day after day if you are in the northern tier of the country.

  36. All the posts about “outfits” makes me think about my own strategy. I wear skirts/tops/jackets nearly daily. When I shop, I keep the following in mind = color and pattern. I use black/grey as my neutrals. Then I have a few main colors – for me, it’s red, blue, purple…in true hues. Any accents are typically variations on those three colors. With the items in my closet arranged by type and then color, it’s fairly easy to throw on an outfit … even with 2/3 of my skirts being patterned. Everything “goes” (nod to WNTWear) for the most part. Even when I love something in colors that aren’t in my closet, I don’t buy it. Besides, I know I don’t have it because I don’t look well in that color. Hope this helps.

  37. I was in the exact situation described in the question. My answer was to task my 7 -years younger sister to do the wardrobe overhaul for me. (She found the stuff, I paid.) Not only did she have the time to peruse stores that I don’t (two kids and a job) but she is not weighed down by ’90s fashion-sense. I’m so grateful to her. Find a female whose fashion sense you admire, and get her help!

  38. Catherine :

    Many great ideas here!!! I would recommend:
    -Clean out your closet.
    -Take inventory of what is left – you likely have a few good pieces.
    -Build from there.
    -Are there any classic or basic pieces?
    -Can anything be repurposed or altered for a new look (like change the sleeve length on a jacket? or add a ruffle this season?)
    -What are your colors?
    -Why style compliments your body shape?
    -Which styles and pieces fit your work and life styles?
    -Start with (expand later) a basic wardrobe of classics in light and dark colors to mix and match for many options:
    black, brown or navy: blazer, skirt, slacks and dress
    tan, cream or pastel: blazer, skirt, slacks and dress
    White shirt, turtleneck, shell, four trendy tops in your fave colors.
    A coat with classic lines (can be updated with a scarf or trendy accessory)
    Accessorize: good quality shoes, handbag and watch are basics. A current trendy item (a scarf, a pin, a piece of jewelry) can breathe new life into an outfit.
    Jewelry: starting out, stick with basics then build as time and budget allow – a strand of pearls and pearl studs are timeless and go with everything; a gold necklace and gold earrings; a trendy piece each season
    -Look for items that are multi-purpose, versatile (can that blouse be worn with the skirt and jeans? can the trendy cardigan work with the black dress and the slacks? will that trendy pattern go with the dark slacks and the light skirt? )
    -In your computer search bar type “basic wardrobe essentials for women.” Check out the basic lists and combo ideas (great way to research while the little ones are asleep)
    -Consider online shopping: can be done as your time allows, saves time, great deals and ideas. You can try on items in the privacy of your home as your time allows. Or you can compare the same item at different places – amazing how prices differ for the same or comparable item!
    -Never pay full price unless it is an item you simply cannot live without.
    -At first, invest in classic pieces, limit trendy pieces (although adding a few trendy pieces will quickly update the basics).
    -Outlet stores and consignment stores often do have good deals. However, will they have the item you need when you need it?
    -As others stated, a new hairdo, fresh makeup and undergarments are important.
    -A positive, can do attitude will do wonders! A smile is your best accessory.
    -Bottom line, buy items that flatter your body and lifestyle, that meet your needs and comfort. Start with basics, interchange, add trendy pieces and build.
    Good luck and best wishes!!!

  39. I just gained 20 pounds, so I’m right in the midst on my own wardrobe revamping.

    Tip 1: Shop end of season sales. You just missed the July ones, but wait until January to stock up on winter items. Next July, stock up on summer stuff.

    Tip 2: Thrift, thrift, thrift. To make it easy, search for a few brands and search for sizes that fit you. Banana and Ann Taylor are pretty easy to find at my favorite local thrift store, along with Express, Gap, Old Navy and H&M. It really helps to know what brands (designer and chain store) fit you well and comb the racks for those brands.

    Tip 3: Don’t turn up your nose and places like H&M and Old Navy. You can find some extremely inexpensive, interestingly cut, stylish, work-appropriate clothes at store like these. If you shop the sales racks, you can get even better deals.

    Some of my recent thrifting deals:
    Banana Republic white button down, thrifted, $2
    Old Navy grey patterned trousers, thrifted, $2.50
    Ann Taylor LOFT pale pink pleated skirt, thrifted, $3
    BCBG Max Azria sleeveless dress, thrifted, $6
    BCBG Max Azria short-sleeved brown dress with turquoise detailing, thrifted, $6
    Express red stretch blouse, thrifted, $1
    Old Navy Grey Cardigan, thrifted, $2
    Ann Taylor LOFT button-front brown pencil skirt, thrifted, $3
    Ann Taylor beige trousers, thrifted, $2.50
    Banana Republic Linen striped skirt, thrifted, $3
    Cynthia Steffe dark magenta cardigan, thrifted, $4
    Steve Madden cognac leather knee-high boots, thrifted, $6

    Just to make sure we’re on the same page, my thrifted clothes are stain- and tear-free, and the fabric is in excelled shape, i.e., the pieces look like new.