Work that Wardrobe

There’s a scene in the Michael Lee Hancock film The Blindside where a sassy Sandra Bullock (playing Leigh Anne Tuohy) takes Quinton Aaron (playing Michael Oher) clothes shopping to a tacky back street store specialising in clothes for large men. “One thing I do know,” she quips pulling a garish garment from the stand, “and that’s if you don’t love it in the store, you won’t love it when you get home.”

Sage advice from a character known for her style and large bank account. But what about mums with less disposable income? How can we look good and feel good in clothes that need to transition from an office to courtside in the blink of an eye?

After nearly a quarter of a century in the workplace, I’ve picked up a trick or two about investing in clothes that are versatile, affordable and stylish. And that brings me to my first tip.

Look out for clothes that will stand the test of time. I’ve got garments 15 years old (fair enough I’ve worked in 14 workplaces which helps) mainly because I try to buy items that I love and won’t date.

For separates, pick 2-3 colours and work around that. I’m going through a navy and pink stage. So this time of year my uniform is navy trou, navy dress, long pencil navy skirt, long navy and pink tee, sheer pink tee, pink boots and navy loafers. In summer, I’m liking green and melon at the moment.

Splurge on items you’ll wear a lot and over several years – shoes, handbags, coats. Because you’ll wear these more, they need to be well-made. Save on dresses, socks and t-shirts. Easily replaced.

Go for versatile pieces. My best investment is a skirt from Design Withdrawals that can be worn four ways – I kid you not. So simple, so clever – if you’re good with a sewing machine you can probably make one. It’s a simple wrap around style but being on the short side, I’ve found that A-line, knee length skirts are best. Anything too fussy with weird hemlines and I get lost. Too long – ditto.

Here’s a few more simple tricks:

  1. Plan ahead – are mornings akin to Heathrow after a foggy day at your place? On Sunday night, put five combos at the front of your wardrobe so you can grab without thinking.
  2. Know your colours and understand your body shape – the colour thing is intuitive for most people but if you’re unsure, read here.  Same goes in terms of buying for your body shape, but accept that can change over time. Don’t fight it. Adapt.
  3. Invest in designer items – look for sale racks at the back of stores stocking designer labels, especially at the end of season. Try second hand designer boutiques such as Collectibles in Dunedin or the iD Designer Sale which is held at the Dunedin Railway Station as part of iD Fashion Week.
  4. Swap – meet up with a similar sized friend(s) and exchange pre-loved pieces.
  5. Remember what Mum said – solids stay in style longer than prints, natural colours also have a longer shelf life.
  6. Accessorise – scarves, pantyhose, bracelets and belts can transform a bland tunic into a visual symphony.
  7. Visit markets – especially when travelling. Look for things you wouldn’t find at home and then you’ve got a unique item as well as a holiday memory.
  8. Consider what you already own – stand in the changing room and visualise what other items the piece could be worn with.
  9. If it doesn’t fit properly, don’t buy it – it’s all very well thinking you can drop a few kilos but who needs that pressure?
  10. Comfort – your wardrobe needs to work. As a teacher, tunics and trousers are a go to. It’s not a desk job. Primary teachers tell me getting up and down off the floor dictates what they buy.

Most workplaces accept smart casual these days so if you buy wisely, your work wardrobe can double up for weekends too. Enjoy.

The fabulous four-way skirt from Design Withdrawals…



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