There have been times over the past 18 years of being a personal stylist where I have wondered if it’s time to move on. Being self-employed is not for the faint of heart and after doing it for this long, I do fantasize about what might be next. But then I think about what my next dream job would be and I come right back to what I am doing. Despite my complaining at times, I really do love my job. At the core of that love is my clients. Not only do I love working with these incredible women, but I enjoy the challenges of solving their problems. What the world thinks personal stylists do and the reality of it is quite different. On the surface, it looks like personal stylists get to play dress up, and in the simplest of forms, I guess we do. But it’s far more complex. Think of your own fashion struggles, like finding clothing that fits your very unique set of circumstances, these very real-life problems that seldom get acknowledged by the fashion industry, and then multiply that by like 100. That is what it is like to be a personal stylist and likely why so many people give it a try in this profession and don’t make it. They realize it’s not at all what they thought it would be.
But for me? This is what I enjoy about my work, the figuring it out. As a kid, I always loved brain teasers and the way I could almost feel the gear shifts in my brain working overtime. I love those moments in the shower or in the middle of a workout where an epiphany comes to me about how I am going to solve whatever fashion crisis a client is dealing with. Obviously, none of the crisis I deal in are life threatening or all that earth shattering but for the client who believes the world of fashion forgot about them it feels good to help them find their way.
This brings me to my client and, much to my surprise, not one I have blogged about before. Mrs. Wondrous, the alias I have chosen for her, has a set of complex and interesting circumstances. Not only is she a petite woman who is a tricky fit with what she would refer to as a bit of a midsection, her life and therefore her wardrobe needs are unique. I met Mrs. Wondrous about six years ago when she lived in (or was just moving to, I can’t remember) Jakarta, Indonesia due to her work with the U.S. Government. Jakarta being primarily a Muslim country, my first challenge was finding clothing that not only fit her unique body shape but was also modest and provided enough coverage while addressing the swampy temperatures of the country. I was thrilled when she moved to another Asian country that was less conservative, which is where she has lived for the past few years and she recently found out that her next post will be Senegal, another primarily Muslim country where she needs to dress more modestly. When I found out Senegal is a much more temperate country, I was elated because at least we wouldn’t have to contend with modest coverage and 90 percent humidity. I was also elated to learn that the time difference between Senegal and NYC is only about 5 hours vs. the 13-hour difference Mrs. Wondrous and I have had to contend with, meaning one of us is up super early while the other has to work after hours when we meet.
HOW I HELPED A CLIENT CREATE A CAPSULE FOR A YEAR OF LIVING OUT OF A SUITCASE
When Mrs. Wondrous moves postings to a new country, a whole set of steps is put into motion, unbelievable ones that the average person couldn’t handle, hence the alias I gave my client, Mrs. Wondrous. The bulk of Mrs. Wondrous’s family’s possessions go into storage with the government and what we have been working on is preparing the suitcase that she will need to live out of for the next year during this transition. The agenda is they will come back home to the west coast in a few months, take a family road trip across the country during the summer, stop in NYC (I get to actually see her in person, something I have only done once before), and then the family will make their way down to Washington D.C. in the fall where the whole family will stay for a few months while Mrs. Wondrous tests out as fluent in French, the official language of Senegal. By early next year, they will be in Senegal and it will take about 3-5 months for all their belongings that were originally put in storage to make it. So a year, a whole year, living out of one suitcase. Not only does she need clothing for the casual and professional parts of this trip, but there will also be season changes. Did I mention? She has also three kids.
With Mrs. Wondrous’s permission, I am sharing the capsule we created for the professional part of her life as this post would be too long if I also included the casual part. I will also share how we arrived at the decisions we made along with the 90 different outfits that can be created from just these 17 items.
These are the pieces of Mrs. Wondrous’s wardrobe that made the cut for the suitcase for the professional part of the next year. Some items you may recognize, like the Theory Treeca Pants, M.M. LaFleur’s Etsuko Dress, Deneuve Top, Katie Dress, Graham Cardigan, Soho Skirt, Eileen Top, J. Crew’s Going Out Blazer, Lady Coat, and Sophie Blazer Cardigan, Halogen’s blush cardigan, and a pair of M.Gemi loafers. Other pieces are either no longer shoppable or, like her grey suit and the floral top, Mrs. Wondrous had constructed overseas.
How we Built the Wardrobe Capsule
It’s likely the process of how we arrived at these pieces for the capsule that is most relevant to you, particularly if you are interested in maximizing your own wardrobe.
First, we started with one piece that Mrs. Wondrous stated she definitely wanted to pack. It was this grey suit that she had made where she currently lives in Manila, Philippines. To maximize this suit, my goal was to add pieces she could wear with it and also that she could use to break this suit apart and use it as separates. We looked at her pants first. At the moment, Mrs. Wondrous doesn’t have black pants (they need to be replaced) and we chose a pair of her burgundy pants that would work well with the jacket better than navy pants would. This set the base of her color palette. Next, Mrs. Wondrous pulled out several of the basic ivory tops she owns. We arrived at the two selected because one has sleeves and the other has small cap sleeves and is basic enough to go with everything.
When adding items to a capsule, you have to imagine it like running each piece through what has already established. It’s somewhat like building a pyramid upside down. I mentally play each piece in my head and roughly make outfits to make sure it works with all or at least the majority of what has been selected. Whenever I do this, I jokingly think of Sebastian Manicscalco’s Subway bit about “Running it through the garden.” So when we got to the pink short sleeve top, I mentally ran it through. Can be worn under the suit, can be worn with pants, can be worn with her burgundy pants and the grey blazer? Yes. Move on. Next, the black top, same process. The floral top. I can’t remember if the pink cardigan was picked first or vice versa, but we tried the floral top with the burgundy pants and the grey pants with the blush cardigan and it worked. Each and every piece, one by one, selected and run through what had already been established the same way until we got to the black skirt which was chosen not only because it worked with the capsule but when worn together with the black top, it created the look of a little black dress.
It was then on to shoes, admittedly, the harder part of the equation. We settled on a total of five pairs that could fit in the suitcase, for both casual and professional. Keep in mind, these shoes would need to cover work needs, casually, and a family vacation trekking across the country. How we came to these two pairs took a lot of negotiating but we ultimately decided on the grey slingbacks with a slight heel and the grey loafers because both shoes offered the most versatility. The casual shoes Mrs. Wondrous will be packing will be a pair of sandals, a pair of sneakers, and a pair of weatherproof boots.
90 Outfits for One Year of Living Out of a Suitcase
Mrs. Wondrous and I spent an hour figuring out this capsule and after our appointment, I asked for her permission to blog about it. It was only then that I sat and mapped out each outfit option fully from the 17 pieces selected. The bonus for Mrs. Wondrous is she can now reference the looks in completion anytime she wants. Will Mrs. Wondrous be tired of these pieces after a year of wearing them? There is no doubt that no matter how many combos she attempts she will be tired of them. However, given the unique situation where she is forced to work with less it, is the best possible outcome. Here are the 90 outfit options created from this tight suitcase packable wardrobe.
In these looks, the jacket will be subbed for these cardigan alternatives and she has the choice of shoes.
The Burgundy Etsuko dress top left can also be worn on its own without coverage.
While putting together Mrs. Wondrous’s capsule, we identified the need for two to three more tops and a pair of black pants to give her a bit more variety. These new things could also help Mrs. Wonderous feel a bit more excited at the prospect of wearing the same pieces in different ways for the next year. Above are a few of the possible shopping suggestions I made. Just like in building the capsule, I ran each potential piece through the capsule to make sure it would work. As I explained to Mrs. Wonderous, not all pieces need to work with every single piece, but each piece should earn its place. Perhaps a challenge you could try is working these new items into the capsule and see how you do.
Mrs. Wonderous is an intelligent, generous, and impressive individual I not only have the pleasure of working with but knowing as a lovely friend. My sincere thanks to her for allowing me to share this process and a sliver of her life.