A Good Time for Makeovers

July 15, 2009 Updated: July 15, 2009

In this issue, we are starting a series of articles that look at Beauty Makeovers—those encounters that raise our beauty to a higher level and give us a view of how good we can look. These tidbits of advice can also give us a boost and even transform our lives at a time when it seems things are spiraling downhill.

In the series, we will assess programs that range from no cost to perhaps thousands of dollars—from watching TV shows and going to the library to research free beauty tips, to hiring professional consultants. Today we start with our wardrobe. Over the next weeks we will look at makeup, hair, how we speak, and posture/body language.

Our first assessment of our wardrobe starts with this question: Do you often feel you don’t have the right outfit to wear to a given event? Or does it take you too long to decide what to wear? If you answer yes, then it is time for a Wardrobe Makeover.

Where do we start? From advice books in the library, do-it-yourself TV shows, and professional consultants, most experts’ recommendations fit into three steps: Clean out your closet, assess your needs and assets, and start building a new wardrobe in an organized way. 

Clean Out the Closet

All of us have heard the rule: If you haven’t worn it in a year, you won’t wear it—so get rid of it.

Our personal reaction to that idea is telling: Those of us who answer, “Yes, but not THIS ONE skirt, surely this is an exception!” are probably the ones with the most unused clothes clogging the closets. Maybe a compromise is necessary to get us started, maybe we need to move all those unworn items to a storage area if we can't make ourselves give them away, just to get our day-to-day closet cleared out.

If you are not sure about whether you might wear something, try it on right then and there while you are reorganizing your wardrobe. Look at yourself in a full-length mirror and see if this outfit makes you look good or bad. If it does not make you look good, don’t waste any time trying to keep it. When I removed the unused clothes from my view, I felt an unexpected sense of relief, and maybe you will, too.

Decide What Looks Good

So how do we determine what looks good on us and what doesn’t? We probably have types of clothing we like because they look good on someone else—but do they enhance our own bodies?

Asking for help from a well-dressed friend or watching TV shows is a good way to get input on body shapes and the corresponding complimentary styles in clothing. Checking out books from the library is also a no-cost way to learn, and hiring a professional wardrobe consultant is a good way to get specific, personal advice.

There are guidelines that can be applied to each item we try on. This part is not the artistic, intuitive part of being stylish—it is more scientific and can be learned, so don’t be daunted.

There are several methods of describing different physical types, so if one way doesn’t suit you try another. When you find the right system, it will flow and become more intuitive as you establish the guidelines as habits. Some books that might be helpful are
  “Always in Style : The Complete Guide”, by Doris Pooser, “Dressing to Win: How to Have More Money, Romance, and Power in Your Life!” by Robert Pante, “40 Over 40: 40 Things Every Women over 40 Needs to Know About Getting Dressed” by Brenda Reiten Kinsel and Jenny M. Phillips, “Diane von Furstenberg's Book of Beauty: How to Become a More Attractive, Confident and Sensual Woman” by Diane von Furstenberg and Evelyn Portrait.

Once you have an idea of what lines and shapes look best on you, you can try on the clothes in your closet to test them. Check for adherence to the requirements for your specific body type and get rid of those that don’t compliment you.

Make a Wardrobe Plan

Step three is to use the resources and information we have gathered to construct a wardrobe plan. Miriam Silverberg, in her “Speaking of Fashion” column, gives a basic list of “must haves” to provide outfits that cover all occasions. When we know what specific pieces we are looking for, we can go shopping and have fun looking without wasting money on impulse-buying mistakes.

Once you start to develop a sense of what to look for and have a list of items to buy, you can go try on clothes at the mall to find current fashions that suit you. Find a place that offers several different clothing stores or a department store with many clothes from many designers. If you get easily disoriented in a store with so many styles swirling around, maybe it is a good idea to make a chart of the different items that you want to try on.

For instance, suit jackets can be in the Chanel style with a round neck, no collar, and no buttons, or in a single-breasted style that is fitted, slightly fitted, or straight. Double-breasted jackets come in the same range of styles. There may be many types of jackets, but if you already know that some are not right for you then there’s no reason to try them on.

Find a sales associate to work with you. Explain that you want to get an idea of what styles will fit your wardrobe plan and ask her to help you find them. She knows the stock and can save a lot of time for you. But be considerate: Since you will be trying on a lot of clothes, don’t monopolize her time. Get the items, thank her, and then try them on by yourself so she can go help another customer.

Also, a sales associate does not always give you the best feedback, so it is good to try the things on by yourself. Try on each style and decide if it works for you. I find that sometimes I try to convince myself that a jacket looks good, or at least it would look good on me if I just lost some weight. But when I try on the correct style, the difference in the way I look is amazing. So by trying on several styles, you can soon see what really looks good on you.

After you have tried on a lot of items and have ideas about good and bad designs for your body type, it’s time to decide if that article of clothing fits your wardrobe plan. If it does, you are ready to buy it. If not, thank the sales associate and ask for her name or her business card so that when you come back to buy you can ask for her. We might only find one item in a whole day’s shopping, but what a good feeling it is to come home with a new piece of clothing that makes us look good—a piece that will be useful not just for the next day but for a long time to come.
By following these three steps, we can achieve a more beautiful look through upgrading our wardrobes. Let’s give these ideas a try—the results we get might be surprising. After I went shopping with Robert Panté,a personal wardrobe consultant, I wore a new outfit to work the next day and made a simple change he suggested to my hair. A colleague walked by my office and stopped, came back and looked in, and laughed, saying, “I didn’t recognize you! I actually thought some stranger was using your office.”

What a difference!