About a year and a half ago, I started working with my client Ms. Astounding who would be the first to tell you that when we met, her wardrobe needed a lot of help. Having just lived through a tremendously difficult time in her life prior to our working together, her wardrobe, understandably, took a back seat. Ms. Astounding lives on the opposite side of the country as me, so my first view of her wardrobe was through photography she sent me that documented its state at the time. From our initial telephone conversation, I came to know Ms. Astounding to be a smart, sharp, secure, and confident person whom I took an immediate liking to. This is a woman who knows who she is, and due to that, I wasn’t prepared for just how much work we had ahead of us. Nothing about who she was matched what she had in her closet. Basically, we were starting from scratch. Flash forward to today and Ms. Astounding has one of the most well-balanced, stylish, and stunning wardrobes I have ever helped curate.
I always explain to my clients during our initial call that my job is simply to get them from point a. with their wardrobes to point b.; point a. being the current state and point b. being where they envision their wardrobe going. Looking at Ms. Astounding’s wardrobe in its entirety recently, gave me a moment to really think about how exactly is my process to achieve this.
HOW TO BUILD A COHESIVE WARDROBE LAYER BY LAYER
With Ms. Astounding’s permission, I am sharing how we built her wardrobe back from scratch by using just some of the pieces she purchased during our time together. Essentially a cohesive wardrobe is a building process that involves looking back before you move forward. In order to do it successfully, you need to think of building like layering. When you build in layers, the past informs what you do next.
MISTAKES WOMEN MAKE WHEN BUILDING A WARDROBE
There are a few problems with most women building cohesive wardrobes. The first is the lack of organic flow. Wardrobes need to be fluid because what we wear is fluid. Women will try to limit the colors they incorporate in their closets, put too many restrictions on what they can and can’t buy, and follow formulas that may look good on paper but don’t work in reality. All of this fights against how we naturally add to our closets. Every season we want to add something different, we’re drawn to new colors, and our style changes. The risk when we stagnate our wardrobes when we don’t think organically is that with every introduction of something that strays from a strict formula, things can fall apart.
The second issue is that women tend to overwhelm themselves from the start with way too many options. Think of this like working backward. Building a wardrobe is like an upside-down pyramid where you start with a few things and add on as you go. Starting with a small group of pieces as your foundation is a much simpler approach.
Color is another huge issue with many women thinking they have to limit their wardrobes to a set amount of colors. While I do have clients who prefer a tight group of colors, I have many others, like Ms. Astounding, where there is a wide assortment of accent colors. There is no real benefit to limiting the colors in your closet unless you feel inclined to do so. As you will see, Ms. Astounding has a large variety of colors in her closet but still manages to keep as versatile and easy to mix as someone who keeps the colors in their wardrobe limited.
The last issue I encounter among women who want a tight wardrobe is the belief that everything in a capsule should work with everything else as if all the pieces that you mix together are meant to work together. While everything should work together, not everything has to work with every thing.
The most effective way to explain this approach of laying your wardrobe is through illustration, so I am going to share how Ms. Astounding and I established our base layer of pieces and how it was built from there so that you can try this approach for yourself. Even if you aren’t starting over with your wardrobe, you can apply this practice to the pieces already in your closet.
ESTABLISHING YOUR BASE LAYER
As luck would have it, shortly after Ms. Astounding hired me, she had a trip scheduled to New York which would give us the opportunity to meet in person. As a woman whose sizes can vary wildly but will most often sit in the size 16-18 range, plus the fact that our primary focus to start would be to establish her work wardrobe, we made a plan to meet for an appointment at the MM. Lafleur showroom. If you’re in the same size range as Ms. Astounding, I don’t have to tell you why I call this size range the equivalent of a cell phone dead zone. Rarely do stores cater to this size and I thank God that retailers like MM. Lafleur offers a wide range of sizing in their clothes. Thankfully, MM. Lafleur didn’t disappoint that day and she walked out with this group of clothing.
This group of clothing became our foundation, or the first layer, so to speak. While this tight group gave Ms. Astounding plenty of outfit options, it’s a bit flat because, typically, the base layer is made up primarily of neutrals and good solid workhorse pieces. The key to this small first layer is that it needs to be a group of clothing that mixes well together on its own even if it isn’t the most accented or exciting. You cannot set your base layer with stray items that have no relationship to each other.
This base foundation layer sets how we have evolved her wardrobe ever since. While I can’t remember the order in which exact pieces followed, I am going to share some additions to show how this building process can work by using some really stand-out items that we’ve added since our time working together, all of which work back to the original base. Again, you don’t have to start from scratch to do this process, you can create your base layer with pieces from your existing wardrobe and then play in other items you also own that will enhance your base. Again, not everything needs to mix and match, but as you layer in, these pieces have to enhance and work with what you’ve already established. Here is an example using some more things Ms. Astounding purchased.
What I recall vividly was that Ms. Astounding bought this now-sold-out scarf from Poetry pretty early in our work together. What was amazing about this scarf was how it did not just work well with all her base pieces but it also broke open some new directions in terms of bringing in accent colors. With each new addition, you don’t just support what you already own, you have the opportunity to broaden your wardrobe while still keeping it tight and cohesive. With each new piece, the item should work back with what you already own but should also open up more avenues that will make your wardrobe more well-rounded.
If you recall my styling strategy called Road Map Styling, this scarf is a great example of how it can be used to start playing with color direction. What happens here is the scarf connects the base layer but also establishes new directions and as a result, the base layer and the second layer get connected. As we introduced new shades, like shades of blush, some teals, more navy, and a versatile ivory jacket, Ms. Astounding’s wardrobe grew but in a way that was very strategic. With every new item, we played it back to her base foundation. We looked back before we moved forward.
So when you look at the new group of items, you can see how there is a relationship between all the pieces, a clear narrative, and a color palette that mixes well. By building in colors that work back to what you’ve already established, you can grow the palette of your wardrobe while not losing the connective thread of the whole thing.
It’s not just about colors working but pieces working. As you add pieces to your capsule, you play them through what’s already been established. Again, not every item needs to work with every piece in your established group, but each item should work with enough usefulness to make sense of being there. For example, the ivory fabric moto jacket in Ms. Astounding’s wardrobe works with just about everything, the rose tank works beautifully under the navy and olive blazers, the teal pieces look amazing on their own and with the lighter neutrals, and, of course, the scarf works with everything.
Available pieces in this group (but not necessarily available in these colors): Veronica Beard Miller blazer, Duo boots, MM. lafleur Harrington Vegan Leggings, M.Gemi Adelaide heeled loafers, M.Gemi Mia slingbacks, Jenni Kayne Everyday Sweater, Quince Cashmere Duster, Carisa booties, Vince raglan sleeve cashmere sweater, M.Gemi Lizza Nuova Sandals
Here is another group of items that Ms. Astounding has purchased. Just looking at them, it’s hard to imagine how these pieces work with what’s already been established. However, each piece easily had a place in what already existed while also setting a new direction in color.
With each new addition of items, you need to step back and look at where your wardrobe currently stands. What we do with our clients is lay out in visuals much like you see here for this reason, it gives us an overall view at any time. As a result, we are able to identify what’s needed, where there is an imbalance, and how new things would work with what’s already been established. In Ms. Astounding case, I could tell when she needed things like more prints, more novelty, etc., and from that were able to move forward smartly and strategically by looking back before we moved forward.
ADDITIONAL ITEMS WE’VE ADDED BY LOOKING BACK BEFORE WE ADDED ON
Available items in this group (but necessarily available by color): Quince, Organic Cotton Cardigan, BA&SH Fida Top, Vince Painterly Stripe Oversized Shirt, Nic + Zoe Punchy Plaid shirt, Quince Cotton Fisherman Sweater, MM Lafleur LaGarde Shirt, MM. Lafleur Regina Dress, Vince Double-Breasted Crepe Blazer, Vince Tapered Pull-On Pants,
CREATING SMALL CAPSULES FROM MS. ASTOUNDING’S WARDROBE: ALL THE DIFFERENT LAYERS WORKING TOGETHER
If you’re curious how things mix, here are some actual capsules Ms. Astounding and I have put together from her wardrobe when she has needed to travel. As you can see, with each addition, we have been able to grow her wardrobe to be more well-rounded, versatile, and interesting.
LARGER TRAVEL CAPSULE
LOOKS MS. ASTOUNDING HAS PUT TOGETHER
WARDROBES ARE ORGANIC
Wardrobes are organic, they’re not a set-it-and-forget-it type of thing. We always get the itch to shop, we move on from some things and let them go. Therefore the mindset of looking at what has already been established as your way to make sure what you want to add works is the best way to ensure that as your wardrobe grows it remains cohesive.
STEPS FOR BUILDING A COHESIVE WARDROBE THROUGH LAYERING
- Start with a group of pieces that are solid and primarily neutral that have a relationship to one another and mix well on their own. This doesn’t have to be the most exciting group but they should be good workhorse pieces.
- If you are working in your closet or shopping over time, with each piece you add in, look back at what you’ve established and see if this item enhances what you already own. Does it play well with your base layer?
- What new direction is established through the additional pieces you have added? Where can your wardrobe go next as a result?
My thanks to Ms. Astounding who generously allowed me to give a behind-the-scenes view of part of her wardrobe. May it help you successfully layer your wardrobe in a way that supports what you have already established.