Reinventing My Closet with MM.LaFleur’s Wear to Work
January 11, 2019 | Filed in: Your Closet
The new year is a time for all sorts of ambitious, perhaps unrealistic self-improvement plans (this year, we will get eight hours of sleep a night! This year, we will learn to like kale!). But one of the most effective and rewarding new-year exercises, in our humble opinion, is committing to a closet turnover. Here, writer Deanna Pai attempts to reinvent and reinvigorate her work wardrobe for 2019, with a little help from our seminal guide on the topic, Wear to Work.
In the past my work wardrobe has been, shall we say, a bit lacking. I would start the week with the best of intentions, donning my best shift dress or black trousers, before beginning an inevitable backslide into jeans and T-shirts. By Friday, all bets were off, and there’s a good chance you might spot me wearing something that looked suspiciously similar to pajamas at the office.
As this is the year I’m turning 30, I decided it was high time to whip my work wardrobe into shape. I knew one thing that would help me dress better would be to have a clearer sense of my options—so I decided to start with a closet overhaul. To give myself a little direction—hey, I’m still technically in my twenties—I turned to MM.LaFleur’s Wear to Work, which breaks down the process into easy steps.
The first is to envision your ideal wardrobe. If you, like me, can’t think of anything, the book offers two pages’ worth of adjectives to choose from. I went with: “Black, fitted, cozy, effortless, cool, polished, and simple.” This proves that I am perfectly suited for life in the Northeast.
The next phase is the big one: to organize and edit. As a New York City resident, I have just two closets in my entire apartment. Imagine trying to fit your shoes, clothing, coats, vacuum, assorted cleaning supplies, luggage, and sentimental items you don’t use everyday but simply can’t toss into just two closets. I probably should have edited when I first moved in, but alas.
First, I separated my “work” pieces from my “play” pieces, placing my button-downs in the “work” section of my closet, cotton tees in the “play” section, and putting sweaters between them as a buffer. Then, I edited. I finally tossed a grey top I bought in Paris a decade ago—the bottom is studded with holes, not exactly office-appropriate—and brought a sleeveless blouse to the dry cleaner to address what I believe was a soy sauce stain from 2014.
I found the guide particularly helpful in identifying the less-obvious items to toss using two questions: “Have you worn it in the past year?” And, “Is this something an adult would wear?” The latter rule forced me to finally part with a glittery tank top, a lacy “going out” dress, and several tops that couldn’t be worn with a normal bra.
After that, I wrote a list of my remaining work-appropriate pieces, organized first by category and then broken out into style, color, and brand. As the sort of type-A loser who took notes on graph paper in school because it looked neater, I found this extremely satisfying. And it was great prep for the next step: Coming up with 10 outfit combinations, each composed of a dress or separates, knit or jacket, and shoes.
This challenge was rough. I did have some no-brainers: think black pants alongside a structured black top, or charcoal jeans paired with a black mock-neck sweater for more casual days. But my ideas started to fizzle after just six outfits. If nothing else, this exercise helped me see my dresses, once collecting dust in the back of my closet, in a new light.
Next, I needed to fill my closet with new work clothes, lest my boyfriend take the extra space as some sort of invitation. Fortunately, there was a budgeting guide for this step. Because I’m a bit of a tightwad, I went with the recommendation for “If you just graduated from college,” which advised me to put aside $1,000 to purchase new work clothes.
All this led me to the final step: putting together my “Perfect Ten.” Wear to Work posits that no matter what industry you’re in, you only really need 10 different outfits. And once I figured out the outfits I already had, I could see the pieces that were missing. I realized that I could probably use a versatile knit to layer over tops and dresses, like a jardigan, as well as more non-denim pants (the Nakamura trousers caught my eye). Both came in under budget: Score!
After completing my “Dress Like an Adult 101” crash-course, my mornings felt calmer—the magic of a uniform!—and I already feel more confident going into meetings or working in an office. With my newly pared-down work wardrobe, it’s easy to look put-together every day and stick to it, even if I’m just in a coffee shop. Because I’m still working no matter where my office happens to be—and it feels good to dress like it.
Ready to tackle your own too-full closet? We’re currently taking clothing donations to benefit Bottomless Closet, an organization dedicated to helping under-privileged women in New York City find employment, through the end of the month. To learn more, click here.