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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 24, 2014

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Too many choices can lead to a fashion disaster.
Too many choices can lead to a fashion disaster.

15 wardrobe essentials to prevent fashion disaster

My wardrobe is overwhelming me.

I try not to be a clothing hoarder. (Hashtag: #FirstWorldProblems.) I diligently make routine donations to Goodwill. Bags full of garments I am willing to part with exit my home regularly and yet, so much attire still remains. Gazing at "my side" of the closet, I am overwhelmed by the collection of fabric hanging wistfully. Open a drawer and my heartbeat quickens from the stacks of T-shirts that no one person could get through in a year. One human certainly does not "need" this much variety.

In fact, too many choices inevitably lead to a fashion disaster.

Enjoying style is one thing. But the over-consumption of attire I have participated in is confronting me every time I meander into my closet. I am a bargain shopper, so if it’s on sale for $5 and it intrigues the avant-garde in me, I snatch it up and add it to the masses. But, those purchases add up, pile up and crowd together.

As I get older, I understand the concept of investing in better quality, most likely more expensive wardrobe basics/staples and having less of them.

There is a part of me that wants to part with the majority of it. Pare down the clutter into minimal basics. Inspired by an email from ModCloth.com that touted "15 Pieces, 10 ways," I wondered if I could reduce my wearables down to the basics, a scant 15 items. Would my inner fashionista be satisfied with fewer choices? Perhaps she’d even be relieved at a clearer picture of coverings. Maybe reducing volume would inspire creativity in the mix and match realm.

Before I attempt to downsize on my own, I queried some of Milwaukee’s most influential style mavens for their advice. If they could only have 15 pieces in their entire wardrobe, what would it come down to? I went to an array of sources, so find the gal you identify with most and heed her advice! Or mix and match their suggestions to create your own custom, 15-piece collection! Be mindful of their overlaps like black leggings or the "little black dress" – those items are must-haves! They’ve collectively created a "simplify your style" bible that will work for anyone, maybe even me!

Carrie Arrouet, owner of Third Ward boutique Lela, immediately recognized my dilemma and reminded me that Lela actually offers a service for closets bursting at the seams or those needing guidance in filling it up. For $250 you get three hours of personalized hand-holding for cleaning out your closet. Then, under the direction of a Lela personal shopper, you can fill that closet up with the likes of Arrouet’s 15 wardrobe essentials:

  1. Black pencil skirt
  2. Good quality black sweater (whatever style you like best, turtleneck, crew, v-neck)
  3. Wool trouser (neutral color of your choice)
  4. Printed silk blouse – short sleeved or cap sleeve (for summer and fall and under jackets in winter)
  5. Printed silk blouse – long sleeved (to wear with skirts trousers year-round)
  6. Casual sweater
  7. Fitted blazer (in a pattern or texture)
  8. Trouser jean
  9. Wool coat (not bulky, but warm)
  10. Spring coat (water-resistant)
  11. Black dress (that fits like a glove and makes you feel fabulous)
  12. Work-appropriate dress (not too tight, not too low cut, just a comfortable one-piece that you can put on and be out the door in under a minute!)
  13. Printed skirt (in your favorite color)
  14. A black and a white good-fitting T-shirt of good fabric
  15. Scarves (Pick your favorite colors, patterns and prints and use them often to change the look of your outfit. Long and narrow, 5 feet by 12 inch shaped scarves are the easiest to style.)

Arrouet adds, "Once you master this list by finding good quality (which doesn’t mean that it was expensive) items, you can add to this closet with pops of color and fun things that catch your eye when you are out shopping. Always make sure your closet includes polished shoes, good-fitting undergarments and the name of a good tailor!"

Emily Johnson, Stylist and co-owner of Freya Salon in Bay View had a catharsis after answering my request. She told me, "I have a bad habit of buying cheap stuff at Target or Forever 21 when I get bored, wearing it once or twice, and then I want something new.

My closet is literally overflowing and slowly taking over half my bedroom." After completing her list, she told me she did a total clean out and closet organization, but like a true fashion addict "somehow ended up at DSW and bought a new pair of shoes." Here is her totally hip, mostly black, rocker-chic list:

  1. Motorcycle boots
  2. Gladiator sandals
  3. Black platform wedges
  4. Black leather jacket
  5. Black denim jacket
  6. Long fuzzy cardigan
  7. Faded black skinny jeans
  8. Black leggings
  9. Short oxblood pleather skirt
  10. Short black lace skirt
  11. Some sort of rock tee (Do I really have to pick only one? Come on!)
  12. Black tank top
  13. Stretchy black oversized tee
  14. Long-sleeved black knit shirt (You know, a nice one! Emily’s fave is from Michael Kors.)
  15. Classic black dress (For weddings, date nights, work parties, etc.)

Jodi Been, Milwaukee native and owner/designer of Jodi Been Bags had fun with the dialog accompanying her list. She counseled me that when pairing down a wardrobe to basic pieces, accessories become crucial. Her list is for the sexy, sleek minimalist with an emphasis on fit and the additions of some daring colors and killer shoes.

  1. Skinny dark denim jeans (must-have staple)
  2. A pair of wide legged jeans (lighter shade, distressed, or dark indigo)
  3. Black leather moto jacket (I prefer colored ones, like oxblood red, or emerald green but, if I have to pick a "staple" non-fringe option, black is the most versatile.)
  4. Black leggings
  5. Black pumps or nude/blush toned pumps (For 5’ 2" gals like myself, the platform ones with 4.5-5" heel are the best. Neutral colors elongate legs and look amazing with casual attire as well as dynamite with dresses for perfect gams!)
  6. Printed/patterned shirt
  7. Blazer that fits perfectly (The key here is fit. It can be a dynamite hot pink color or a simple black. I'm still so into my over-sized white style I bought two years ago.)
  8. Short black booties (heeled version.)
  9. Basic tees/tanks (Bright colors/neutrals. Note: you can get some of the best options at places like Old Navy and Forever21. It does not have to be a designer tee made in fabulous cotton bearing an $85.00 price tag. Find a cut – v-neck, scoop neck, tank, etc - that is a flattering cut for your individual body type and buy in multiples)
  10. Over-sized brightly patterned/printed scarf (Ahem! AntoniaBee.com!) (Seriously, when I run to the store in black yoga pants and a tee, there is something that a loosely wrapped scarf adds to the overall look. Just makes one look more polished and put together.)
  11. Perfect LBD (little black dress)
  12. Over-sized sweater coat (Free People makes amazing ones)
  13. Statement necklace
  14. Skirt (stretch fit/body-con, A-line or skater-style. Any skirt silhouette that is flattering to oneself, in a solid color. It can be worn in so many different ways for a multitude of looks.)
  15. Over-sized clutch (This silhouette never goes out of style, and can easily be mixed & matched to both day, and night ensemble.)

Jessie Freschl, of Gigi of Mequon and Covet Closette (an amazing women’s designer resale boutiques that benefits charity) adds her "Fresch Style" with her top 15. She counseled me that color choice was key. She said she goes for a black, grey and white palette while some women like their "basics" in navy, cream or camel.

But, she says, "keeping basics in the same color palette will extend the wardrobe."

  1. LBD in a ponte or good quality jersey that can be dressed up or down for day or night.
  2. A great pair of fitted skinny jeans, darker wash.
  3. Five tops – layering pieces (Combo of tanks and tees, short and long sleeve, in a combo of black, grey, white and one pop of color.)
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  9. A great-fitting black suit (Can be paired together or each piece worn on its own.)
  10. A cashmere knit (This can be a chunky sweater coat or a longer cardigan preppy. It depends on personal style.)
  11. A classic white blouse
  12. A great moto leather jacket (can be worn with LBD or casual)
  13. A dress – not black (one you feel pretty in that can be dressed up or down.)
  14. A trendy top (This season all about the florals.)
  15. A well-fitting legging (to wear leisurely.)

And finally, 5th generation jewelry designer and owner of A Trio Jewelry in the Third Ward Amy Shallow (also – my sister-in-law) rounds out this group of fashionable powerhouses. (Of course, she included perhaps my favorite item of all – diamonds. When you wear ice, do you really need anything else?) A working mom and graduate of MIAD, her suggestions are sensible, functional and body-conscious with an emphasis on shopping local.

  1. High-waisted pencil skirt (So versatile! I use mine all the time. Day, work, dinner, cocktail party...this piece can do it all!)
  2. Skinny jeans, dark wash (I love the brand Black Orchid. I get mine from the Stephanie Horne Boutique in the Third Ward.)
  3. Skinny jeans, light wash
  4. Black leggings (Total must!)
  5. An awesome comfy T-shirt (My current fave was purchased from the "Too Much Metal for One Hand" line at Fred's Too Much Metal Showroom in the Third Ward.)
  6. LBD
  7. Black blazer
  8. Tight white tank (I'll wear this with jeans and heels, under the blazer with leggings, with my high waisted pencil skirt. I could not live without my white tanks!)
  9. Over-sized comfy sweater (I wear mine all the time!)
  10. Black cardigan (I prefer the longer style that falls just below the hips.)
  11. Colorful scarf (I have quite a few, but one fun scarf with a punch if color can add some pizzazz to any outfit.)
  12. A great pair of leg warmers (If I had to have just one pair I'd go with dark gray. Super cute and super warm during those winter months. Under boots or over leggings, I personally love leg warmers!)
  13. Diamond stud earrings (The bigger the better! You can wear these every day. Dressed down or dressed up diamond stud earrings are perfect for any event. And yes, jewelry should be part of your wardrobe for sure.)
  14. Button-down blouse (I like prints for these.)
  15. Nice pair of black pants

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