"I have to go out to buy something new to wear!"
It's such a knee-jerk reaction, but it is almost always the wrong one. After many years of thinking this way, and a closet full of pieces that I sort-of-but-don't-totally-love, I came to learn one of the most important wardrobe rules: don't shop for an occasion, shop for your life. Fill your closet with pieces that you'll want to wear over and over again, that make you feel amazing and make you excited to get dressed.
There are plenty of times in your life when you'll want to dress to impress: a good friend's wedding, a class reunion, a first date with your crush, an interview for your dream job. When the moment arises, you'll probably run out and spend a day or two frantically trying to find the perfect thing to wear. And what are the chances that will happen? More likely, you'll find something that seems good enough...but then after that initial wearing, the luster wears off and it ends up hanging in your closet untouched. Or you find something fantastic, but it's a budget buster and you're a little low on funds at that moment.
But when you have a well-constructed wardrobe, your reaction to dressing for a big event is different. Instead of going to the mall, you go to your closet. Instead of trying to find something new, you find something that always serves you well.
So how do you achieve this? For me, it means I am always on the lookout for special pieces that I'll want to wear over and over. I try to be ruthless when it comes to style and fit -- avoiding things that are super trendy, rejecting things that just aren't flattering. It means I shop often, but buy less.
And I know that those dress-to-impress events will pop up, sometimes without much notice. So at any given moment, I try to make sure that my closet is ready.
So if the invitation arrived today, what would I find by shopping my own closet?
The Big Wedding
I can't find an image online, but I definitely have a go-to guest-at-a-wedding dress. It is a fantastic Oscar de la Renta-inspired full-skirted dress with a gorgeous green rose print. The dress is the perfect shape for my figure (nipped in at the waist with a full skirt), the color makes my eyes pop, and it is so comfy I can dance all night in it. Even better, it was a pretty great deal. I think I paid about $60, and then another $10 at the tailor for a minor alteration to make it fit like couture (well, almost!).
I bought it years ago and have worn it to more than half a dozen events, including 5 weddings. When I talk with friends about the shop your closet rule, one of the first things I hear is "but people have seen me in this already!" And to that I say...who cares? When you wear the right clothes, people will notice how great you look in them, not that they've seen them before. If Kate Middleton and Michelle Obama can re-wear their dresses, the rest of us can, too.
My dress is from Loft, but Boden makes a lot of pretty and figure flattering dresses that would be great go-to party looks. When my Loft dress is ready to be retired, I might look to something like this as a replacement:
Even though the print is bold, you'll still be able to make it feel fresh each time you wear it by changing the accessories: a solid colored wrap and simple earrings for a daytime wedding, a sequin shrug and a couple of big cocktail rings at night. When you find the right dress, you won't outshine the bride...but you may just be the happiest girl at the wedding!
The Class Reunion
I have a big reunion coming up in a year and a half, but I already have the perfect dress hanging in my closet. I scooped it up last year at Anthropologie's killer after-Christmas sale for a steal ($30). I didn't have any idea where I might wear it, but I loved the shape and the color, and I figured I'd be able to style it a million different ways. When I got it home, it dawned on me that it would make a GREAT high school reunion dress. It's a little sexy but not desperate, and it's flattering but not fussy.
For the reunion, I'd add my favorite earrings (they make my green eyes sparkle!) and a simple clutch. For some reason I have this vision of finishing the outfit with bright floral heels. They're not in my closet yet, but I'll keep an eye out for something similar to the ones below.
dress (similar)/earrings (similar)/clutch/shoes
The Big Date
I'm single but I kind of hate dating (am I the only one?)...it isn't always easy out there. On those occasions when I do find myself getting ready for a date, I always go for classic pieces that I feel at ease in. Looking in my closet right now, I'd pick a few simple basics and dress them up with a sartorial security blanket: my favorite bold necklace.
maxi dress/jacket/necklace (simliar)/sandals
The Dream Interview
My interview options are a bit limited at the moment -- this is an area of my wardrobe I need to beef up a bit, so a good suit is on my running list of things to look for when I'm out shopping. For now, I could pull together a pretty decent interview look. A simple black blazer and wide leg pants are pretty classic, but I'd add a little personality with a sweet blouse, bold gold jewelry, and great shoes (my only score from the highly coveted Missoni x Target collection).
Over time, my go-to looks for these big events may change, and that's fine. But it is a great feeling knowing that my closet is ready for whatever big events life is going to throw my way!