Chapter One: The Circle of Your Life -- Family, Business, Fun, and Romance
Fantasy and romance play a huge role in fashion. I have seen women buy clothes and say, "This will be wonderful to wear to Ascot," even though the chances of their going to Ascot that season are very, very slim. It has to do with fantasy.
Bill Blass, designer
The scene is all too familiar. It's 8 A.M. and Kay is running late. She has an important meeting and luncheon today. She is in front of her mirror, pulling on one thing, trying another, rejecting as she goes, delving deeper and deeper into her closet as she searches for the elusive ideal ensemble. Now she is tugging a hopelessly snug olive green skirt over her hips. Forget it. Next comes the cranberry pantsuit -- too much, too loud. The green gabardine suit worked a long time ago, but where is the blouse that goes with it? The gray pants are too short. (She'd promised herself she would get them altered.) The new paisley blouse is gorgeous, but it doesn't work with either the gray or green pants. (Come to think of it, it never seems to work with anything.) Kay presses on.
Jumbled among these seemingly unworkable work clothes are several colorful ski sweaters. She passes the ski pants and several colors of lightweight fleece turtlenecks, remembering that she never went skiing once this season, and in fact has rarely gone since she decided to learn three years ago.
Kay impatiently pushes aside three beautiful cocktail gowns in her effort to find her trusty brown blazer. Where is that thing? Oh, no! It's at the cleaners. She avoided taking it there as long as she could, fearing a morning exactly like this one -- when nothing else would please her and she needed to turn to that staunch dependable. Now, at this critical moment, it is missing in action. Maybe the dotted skirt and black jacket will work with a white shell blouse? No, that's too summery. Okay, how about the brown pants and blouse with a muted plaid jacket? Yikes! She just wore that Monday.
Two more skirts are way too tight. In fact, they've been too tight for a couple of years now. Wasn't she going to buy another black skirt? Hmmm. That was the day she bought the beaded evening bag instead. Which, come to think of it, she's never had occasion to carry. It's stunning, though.
Well, what's it to be? Looks like the black wool crepe suit with a black turtleneck. Again. Kay has exhausted herself trying to put together an outfit that gives her the right click of confidence. Surrounded by heaps of discarded clothes on her chair, bed, and floor, the thought once again crosses Kay's mind: I don't have a thing to wear!
Does any of this sound familiar? Have you ever found yourself in a similar scenario? So have we, and so has every one of our clients. But guess what? There's a simple reason why. Get ready to discover the answer by playing the "Circle of Your Life" Game.
A simple circle is the key to solving the age-old mystery of why women have closets full of clothes but nothing to wear. The Circle of Your Life Game is the first step in getting your wardrobe in sync with your life, and ladies, it's no exaggeration when we say that this exercise is a life-altering experience. Time and again, when we go through this exercise with our clients, they are stunned. They come away enlightened and inspired, and they certainly never look at their wardrobes in the same way again. Here's how it works.
The Circle of Your Life Game
You are going to create the Circle of Your Life. This is the first step to finding the real you in your closet. The goal is for you to discover exactly what parts of your wardrobe are missing. Your Circle of Life also enables you to make a shopping list and helps you to understand why your closet needs to be in harmony with your life.
The game takes about one hour, so plan to concentrate, and get ready to find out more about yourself "sartorially speaking" than you ever dreamed. Okay? Here we go!
Step 1. On a blank piece of paper (we recommend 8½-by-11-inch), draw a circle. You are going to create a pie chart, a simple circle divided into slices of various sizes. The size of each portion is based on your life's activities.
Step 2. On a second sheet of paper, list every category of activity you perform (clothed!) in your waking moments. These activities should be comprehensive -- evening, weekend, seasonal, and even occasional activities go on this list, along with those you engage in every day.
Step 3. Estimate the percentage of time you spend on each activity. To get a true picture, base your circle on a four-week period, about one month. We find using a month as a guide gives people a broader sense of how they spend their time, as weekend diversions may vary.
For instance, suppose your average waking day runs from
7 A.M. to 11 p.m.
7 A.M. to 11 p.m. = 16 hours
16 hours x 7 days = 112 hours in a week
112 hours in a week x 4 weeks = 448 hours per month
Now, figure out the hours you spend on each activity in a four-week period. Then use this figure to calculate the percentage of time you spend on that activity. For instance, if you work forty hours a week, you work 160 hours in four weeks. Divide 160 hours by 448 monthly hours: you work 36 percent of your circle. Suppose your social life totals forty-six hours in a month. Divide forty-six hours by 448, and the percentage is 10 percent for social life. If you have children, your activities with them may take, say, forty-two hours a week, or 168 hours. Divide 168 hours by 448 hours, and your percentage is 38. Estimate your activities and percentages until your circle represents 100 percent of your life. Write these percentages next to the activities listed on your paper. You may need to further subdivide these percentages after you have completed your circle.
Step 4. Returning to your circle, divide it into slices according to the percentages you have just created.
Step 5. Within each slice of your pie, list a life activity. Next to the circle, list the types of clothing you wear to perform this life activity. For your work slice, write what you wear to work. For some women this means corporate suits, trousers, twin sweater sets, and knit layering pieces, while for others it may mean a more business casual mix, such as khakis and sweaters, with dresses, skirts, and suits only occasionally.
Note: If your work tends to neatly divide itself into casual and more formal corporate dressing (for instance, if you are a consultant who works at home in jeans 60 percent of the time and dons designer suits for meetings with clients the remaining 40 percent), you might want to subdivide your work pie slice accordingly. With the changing rules about workplace dressing and the millions of people now working out of their homes and in flexible work situations, the individual variations on work dressing requirements are endless. That's why we have devoted an entire chapter to the nuances of business casual dressing.
If you work at home and commute electronically, list that percentage and what you usually wear to work at home. If you dress in business clothes to work at home, put that down. Many people do so to mentally get in the groove of working. We know men and women who get up, get dressed in a suit, walk to their office at the other end of the house, and take their jacket off. On the other hand, many businesspeople working in their homes plop down in front of the computer in jeans, slouchy cotton knits, or pajamas. If that is you, put it down.
And speaking of pajamas, if you come home from work and immediately change into loungewear or jammies, we would categorize that as casual. Sleepwear to us is a different thing.
Next, list your clothing choices for your other waking activities in the appropriate pie slices. You might wear similar things while doing various family duties, such as grocery shopping, carpooling, and volunteering, so write those in one slice of your chart. You may need dressier things for club meetings and luncheons. Working out may mean leggings and a sports bra for aerobics classes, but khaki shorts and tees for your daily two-mile walks. Write those down in separate slices and assign percentages. Here is where you may need to divide your percentages further to reflect this breakdown.
On the other hand, feel free to cluster types of clothes. For example, if you wear similar things to go antiquing and attending club meetings, list them both in one pie slice and determine a percentage. Beach and boating clothes are often similar and could share a slice. If socializing means going with friends or colleagues straight from work and not changing your business clothes, you should note this under your business clothing pie slice. Clothing you wear when entertaining at home or going out with friends on weekends may be the same and can be combined in a slice.
Why You Have Nothing To Wear
Now for the moment of truth. Your circle chart should look something like this:
Suits, jackets, tops, pants, pantsuits
Evenings out 15%
Dresses, separates, long skirts
Evening gown, cocktail dresses, and dressy suits
At home casual 13%
Jeans, knit pants and big tops, shorts, shifts
Dressy casual tops, pants, skirts, tees
Now take the Circle of Your Life and go to the place where you start each day...the closet! Separate the clothing you actually wear into the categories that correspond to the pie slices on the Circle of Your Life. Create a separate category for those items that either don't fit into one of your categories, or are items you cannot or do not wear. Now compare the percentage of clothes in each category you have created with the percentages on your Circle of Your Life chart.
We guarantee the percentages will not match.
You may work full-time, but is 38 percent of your closet ready and willing to take you there? Do 20 percent of your clothes meet the needs you have for leisure activities? And why does that pile of unworn items represent 30 percent of your closet?
Diagnosis: your closet is not in harmony with your life.
We often inquire, "What percentage of the clothes in your closet do you actually wear?" The answer: 20 percent to 40 percent -- at best. If you wear only 20 to 40 percent of what is in your closet, how can you dress 100 percent of your life?
Let's take the case of Kay, a working mother with two small children, whom we met at the beginning of this chapter. She is a real-life client of ours. When Kay completed the Circle of Your Life activity, she was shocked by the results. Although she had started out thinking she had plenty to wear to work (35 percent of her pie), after she separated out the work clothes she never wore, she was left with only a few basic pieces. Kay realized that in an effort to vary the blacks and browns and neutral tones she preferred, she had been purchasing bright colors and prints that she never wore once she got them home -- they just didn't feel right.
She found also that although she wore her leisure/kid time jeans and tee shirts over and over, she never felt good in them. Yet when she shopped, she spent no time or effort on acquiring casual pieces that made her look and feel good, despite needing to wear these clothes every day. Kay also learned she was a bit of a dreamer, refusing to get rid of outfits and pieces she wore ten pounds ago but that hadn't looked good on her for years. Ditto her unrealistic attitude concerning sportswear: lots of beautiful ski clothes, but no skiing! And yet, once again, why did she make no effort to find flattering jeans and chic tops and sweaters for the many day-to-day activities she needed them for? Finally, Kay got an eye-opener about her shopping habits -- lots of glamorous, often-expensive pieces that played no role even on her occasional evenings out with her husband or friends. Why was Kay making these same mistakes over and over?
Whether we realize it or not, many of us make the same mistakes again and again in our own closets. Once you understand why you are not creating a wardrobe in sync with the Circle of Your Life, you can start working on how to fix the problem.
Does the Circle of Your Life reflect a nonexistent social life? No black-tie balls or spiffy cocktail parties and dinners? Then why are those three beaded and sequined dresses with markdown tags hanging in your closet? Or maybe your Circle reflects no time for exercise, yet there are those flashy workout clothes, hiking boots, and jogging clothes, or lots of impractical ski wear.
These are your "Someday Clothes." Someday Clothes are expressions of intentions that have not materialized. Someday I will join the gym. Someday I will get back to my social life. Why is your closet filled with clothes to dress for what you never do, and missing the clothes you need for who you really are? Remember, your activities dictate your wardrobe needs. This principle is a key to "closet harmony."
Are we saying that women shouldn't have goals to improve their appearance or their lifestyle? Should Kay abandon forever her desire to lose a few pounds? Do we advise her to let go of all efforts to ski as an unrealistic daydream? Of course not! We encourage every client we talk with to strive to be the best that she can be. But, ladies, we encourage you first to streamline, update, expand, weed out, and improve your closet for the body, comfort level, tastes, preferences, self-image, lifestyle, and Circle of Your Life you have now.
Changes and Transitions
Often a woman sabotages herself by failing to recognize life transitions that affect her clothing needs. Transitions mean that you may need new clothes. Here are some examples of "out-of-balance" closets. See if you identify with any of these real-life situations.
Susan is a real estate agent. In the last year she gained fifteen pounds due to stress and a new medication. Like Kay, very little in Susan's closet fits anymore. Each day she looks in her closet and becomes depressed. She works seven days a week, yet only 10 percent of her clothes are available to her. Is it any wonder her friend Linda comments, "I love that dress! I love it every time you wear it." Neither Susan nor Kay wants to give up forever the goal of losing some weight. But neither one can afford to buy an entire new wardrobe in one fell swoop either. So what's the answer?
First, both Susan and Kay need to accept the reality -- however temporary -- of the numbers on their scale. By refusing to alter clothes or buy any standard pieces in a larger size (such as basic black pants, black skirt, etc.), they are condemning themselves to a daily ritual of misery when they go to get dressed. In chapter 5, we will look at realistic solutions for updating a wardrobe that no longer fits you without starting from scratch -- and we'll give you a plan for taking those too-small "Someday Clothes" and selecting the best pieces to keep for when you reach your weight goals.
Barbara has just changed jobs -- she's gone from a strict corporate environment to a business casual dress code. Everything in her closet feels stiff, stuffy, and too serious to wear when calling on her new clients. She doesn't have a lot of disposable income to go on a shopping spree (who does?), and she leaves the house every day feeling uncomfortable.
What do we tell clients like Barbara? First, try to make use of what already exists. Start with the pieces you have. Perhaps Barbara's corporate suits can be separated, and the jackets made to look more casual with khaki pants. Trousers and skirts can be relaxed with a twin sweater set. There are economical ways to make Barbara's Circle of Your Life work within her current closet. Chapter 5 will take a closer look at practical solutions to this very common situation too.
Stella has been transferred from Orlando to San Francisco. In Florida, silk suits and bright colors slipped perfectly into her business wardrobe. Suddenly she is cold all the time -- even in July and August -- and everyone seems to be dressed in beige or black wool gabardine suits. It's easy to tell the tourists from the professionals in this City by the Bay. What a change from Orlando, where the casual lifestyle influenced everyone's wardrobe. Stella feels out of step and out of place.
New jobs and new locations often dictate changes in clothing patterns. Stella is not in Disney World anymore. San Francisco is a big city reeking with sophistication and filled with high-powered executives. She needs to sharpen her awareness of what clothing styles prevail in her new business culture. She'll need to rethink her entire wardrobe, starting with the purchase of a good all-weather coat plus three pieces -- a blazer, skirt, and pants -- in dark gray or black. Mixing her bright blouses with these dark basics will instantly start her wardrobe on a big-city track.
Brittany just graduated from college. Four years of jeans and logo tee shirts made it a breeze to get dressed each day. Then came her dream job offer, an executive training position in New York City. She accepts, and while still in Tuscaloosa, she rushes out to purchase two suits, one navy and one gray. Two weeks into life in the Big Apple, Brittany stares into her closet in despair. She has nothing to wear. Already she is losing her fragile newfound sense of confidence and competence. Brittany should have planned her wardrobe search right along with her career search, analyzing the dress codes of the companies she met with during the interview process. This is a major change in life, and women facing such a transition will need to create a Circle of Your Life for their brand-new life, not for what they've been doing prior to this. Building a wardrobe takes time. Building a lifestyle wardrobe takes a plan.
A woman needs to rethink her wardrobe when she makes changes in herself, her career, and her lifestyle. Getting a new job, moving to a new city, getting married or divorced, or making any new, positive lifestyle choice means a woman may have to create a new Circle of Your Life for the new woman she is becoming.
The Pitfalls of Poor Shopping Habits
Shopping habits may be your downfall in getting your closet in harmony with your life. Impulse purchases, super bargain buys, and Web catalog clicks may have set you off in the wrong direction more than once. In Kay's case, she tends to forget what her goals are when she enters a store -- making glamorous impulse purchases such as a sequined bag is more fun than trying to find flattering casual pieces for the "mom" segment of her Circle of Your Life, or dealing with the need for a more updated dark suit for business meetings. Right now, shopping is not about buying what she needs but about making herself feel good. In chapter 9, we'll show you how we helped Kay and dozens more of our clients find pleasure and satisfaction in working on real-life wardrobe goals when shopping.
Margo is a single mom. She works as a human resource executive in a major law firm. Her passion is bargain shopping, and she loads her closet with "steals" she cannot live without. She purchases for price, rather than desire for what she really wants or needs, then forgets to ever buy anything to match these orphan wardrobe pieces. Each day, her mornings are spent changing clothes at least a dozen times. Like thousands of us, Margo purchases out of emotion instead of using a plan. She lets her feelings take over, and she charges on without reason or thought. Before purchasing an impulse item, Margo needs to ask herself two questions: How many ways can I wear this? Will this fit into my Circle of Your Life? Margo desperately needs to create a Circle of Your Life and adjust her shopping habits accordingly. In chapter 9, we'll also learn how bargains and sales can help create the wardrobe you need instead of a closet full of unworn items.
Clone dressing can come over you so subtly you don't realize what's happening. It may strike because of your geographical location -- in the Southwest, broom skirts, western boots, and denim are considered wardrobe backbones. Or the people you work with or your crowd of friends may dictate it. Even the place you shop.
Cassie, a young mother on a tight budget, discovers a little shop specializing in crinkle rayon separates and long casual dresses. After her first $200 in purchases, the store offered her a discount of 10 percent off all future purchases. Now whenever Cassie needs something, she shops there first and usually finds something that will do. Her husband doesn't compliment her much anymore, and everything in her closet looks vaguely alike.
Cassie took the easy way out by confining her shopping to one place, selecting a store that specialized in "one-look dressing." Despite the discount, Cassie should shop in a larger department store or a boutique that offers more variety. There she can get to know a savvy sales associate who will help her locate the pieces she wants within the budget she has to work with, including targeting special sales to fit Cassie's level of spending. Never let habit, budget, or lack of confidence make you into a clone dresser, repeating your purchases until you become a clone even of yourself.
But wait a minute. What about Kay's bright colors and busy patterns, which she purchased to avoid the unrelieved clonedom of blacks and neutrals in her wardrobe? She wants to vary her look, yet she doesn't feel comfortable in these louder colors once she's purchased them. Or take Virginia, who had been wearing the same black pants and matching jacket once a week for two years. She needed to replace them with another suit, but she worried that black had become too blah. So she bought a red suit and a deep purple coatdress. Now Virginia notices she's still wearing the black outfit at least once every six days, and the seat of the pants and the knees are getting worn and shiny.
There's a fine line between wearing the same few things every day and purchasing styles, colors, and patterns you are uneasy wearing just because you think you should. Like Kay and Virginia, you will end up pushing these often-expensive purchases aside every time you go to your closet, reaching for that same tired ensemble while lamenting that you don't have a thing to wear! There are solutions to varying your wardrobe while staying true to your personal style. The women we work with learn to do just that and come away with wardrobes that make them feel attractive, comfortable, powerful, sexy, and completely themselves -- every day. The strategies you'll find in chapters 3 through 5 will help you to avoid clone dressing while making the most of the real you.
Create a Clothes Diary
What happens after you've created the Circle of Your Life and compared it to your closet? Well, it would be nice to think that changes in shopping and wearing patterns happen overnight, but in most cases this simply isn't realistic. As we have seen, the motivations for buying and wearing what we do can run deep, and it is going to take some effort to establish new and improved wardrobes in keeping with who we are. Chances are that even when you've had your closet epiphany, you'll still be tempted by impulse purchases, Someday Clothes, clone dressing, and other old habits. This is why we recommend that women follow up their Circle of Your Life with a clothes diary. After keeping this diary for three to six months and shopping for clothes within this period, you will be able to clearly see shopping patterns and needs, and can make adjustments accordingly.
Start keeping a diary of everything you buy to wear. You can keep it with you at all times by adding a notepad or index cards to your pocket calendar. If you use a notebook-style date book such as a Day-Timer or Filofax, add blank sheets in a designated Clothes Diary section in the back.
First write down the month, and then list any items purchased, the date of purchase, and their approximate cost. You want to describe each item sufficiently so you will know what it is when you look at the description six months or a year later. Bonnie, a black-belt bargain shopper, finds it helpful to write the store name beside the purchase and whether the item was regular price, on sale, or a super bargain.
After you have been keeping your diary for about six months, get three colored Magic Markers. We use pink, green, and blue. Use pink marker to highlight purchases that have become favorites -- things you wear and love. Use green to highlight clothes that have now become dependables -- "best friend" clothes that help form the backbone of your wardrobe. Then use blue for mistakes -- things you never or rarely wear.
You will be surprised how revealing this exercise is! Many of our clients confess that their emotional purchases are costly, and that most super bargains prove instead to be super mistakes. You may also be startled to see which purchases have become your best friend basics.
Linda, a college psychologist and mother of two teenagers who lives in Chicago, must shop carefully and watch her budget. Her diary looks like this:
Throughout the three-month period that Linda kept her diary, she found herself still frustrated with her closet and her shopping. Despite keeping a record of her purchases, she still never seemed to have a thing to wear on a daily or weekly basis. Yet Linda thought she did a good job of shopping and planning ahead. Note the Christmas party purchase of a red silk jacket in September, and her November purchases in anticipation of an island vacation in January. What did Linda discover when she began analyzing her list and highlighting her favorites, dependables, and mistakes?
First, Linda was amazed to realize that her cranberry wool dress had become a real dependable, one she reached for week after week. When she originally bought the dress, she had assumed its vivid color would make it an occasional wear only. But in examining her preferences, Linda realized that the dress's simple lines, body-skimming fit, and cozy wool (for Chicago winters) made it wonderfully versatile. She immediately began shopping for a similar dress in another color or print. Linda also learned that her plan-ahead purchases were expensive and had short lives. In Chicago, a red silk jacket is not something you wear to work in winter or summer, so her idea of making an appropriate purchase for the holidays backfired. The resort outfit was marvelous and glamorous for her week in St. Thomas, but it was impossible to fit into her social life in Illinois. Only Linda can decide if the cost of this outfit was worth it.
After the Circle of Your Life reveals what you are missing, make a list to help you shop right now. Then begin your clothes diary as a good follow-up to give you insight into what clothes are basics for you and what styles and colors you love to wear. Those "mistake marks" will help you realize what leads you to waste your money: often so-called bargains, impulse buys, or pushy sales clerks or friends who talk you into wearing something that is their taste.
We have added a sample clothes diary page you may photocopy or use as a format in the back of your daily appointment book. Keep your diary near your wallet, so you'll always have it handy when shopping. (We'll learn lots more about shopping strategies in chapter 9.)
Once you are well on your way, you will want to redraw the Circle of Your Life every year or two. This way you can track how your activities change, your career grows, and your personal life goes through transitions. The Circle is an immediate check on why your wardrobe isn't keeping pace with the path you have taken in your life.
The Circle of Your Life is the foundation of our plan to help you gain insight and understanding into the psychology of your closet. It's the first step toward rethinking your closet, your clothes, and your life. In the following chapters, we'll provide you with the know-how to change the way you choose and organize what you wear and, more important, the way you feel about yourself!
Copyright © 2003 by by Judie Taggart and Jackie Walker