There is a point in every young woman’s life when she looks at her wardrobe and realizes a majority of her clothing is simply inappropriate for adulthood. I’ve had a couple wake-up calls.
There was the time right after college when I thought I’d shrunk all my clothes while I was getting ready for work in the morning. In reality, I had simply been wearing them much too tight. Another time, while preparing for a fancy dinner date with my new boyfriend, I showed my roommate the dress that I was planning to wear. My roommate kindly informed me that a gray spaghetti strap cotton dress that had a seam that was visibly falling apart might not be up to the restaurant’s dress code, especially since men were required to wear suits. Never mind I had worn the same dress before to a very fancy dinner with another boyfriend — who also wore a suit. (For that occasion I also chose Old Navy black wedge flip-flops for footwear. Eesh. What was I thinking? At least this time I had been planning on wearing pumps.)
I’ve always enjoyed unpacking my summer clothes and putting those bulky sweaters away. But this year, as I pulled out a mountain of sundresses, I noticed something odd about all of them: They were too short. In one year, my body has changed very little, but it seems my perspective has. And so, as I fully embrace my adulthood, I’ve decided to also fully embrace a grown-up wardrobe. Here are three important things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Quality is king (or queen).
My first lesson was the value of quality. I’ve had an Ann Taylor black shirt-dress that has carried me from client meetings at a previous job to interviews for a teaching job this year. I’ve had it at least three years and it still looks new and wears great. I bought it on eBay for $30. At the time, $30 sort of seemed like a lot to pay for someone’s hand-me-downs, but for the price of two cheap dresses, I have a high-quality dress that has lasted me more than twice the length of time those cheap dresses would have lasted. Which brings me to my next lesson.
2. Some brands are better than others.
Vet your quality. Figure out which brands work for you. I love Ann Taylor because its petite sizes fit me like a glove — and not in the way my clothes did when they were too tight. They also don’t fall apart after a couple cleanings. Another friend of mine loves Bananna Republic. She’ll hop on eBay, plug in her size, and see if anything pops up. She’s gotten a lot of great work clothes this way. It works for guys, too. My fiancé looks great in anything Calvin Klein makes. When we saw Calvin Klein T-shirts at Costco the other day, we were happy to pay $14 for each one because we know they look great, he can wear them with both jeans and shorts and they hold up to repeated washings. Knowing your brands lets you be a more confident shopper. My fiancé wasn’t planning to buy shirts on that particular trip, but it was a worthwhile splurge knowing he will be happy with them, and they will last.
3. Know where to shop.
The third lesson is to know where to look when you want high-quality clothing but don’t want to pay a fortune. I’ve mentioned eBay and Costco. These probably aren’t the first places that pop into your mind when you think of buying nice clothes, but they are great places to start. If something is made of good quality, it will still wear great even if it was secondhand. I love browsing eBay for items in my size and brands I like. The key here is browsing. It can be difficult to find a specific item on eBay: Sometimes an item might not be in your size, or in the exact color you want. Be patient. Don’t waste your money on something that is almost what you want. Instead, wait until you find something you actually want. I’ve pulled the trigger a couple times on something I was unsure about, and almost always the item has landed in the back of my closet, never to be worn. It doesn’t matter if it is a designer brand, it’s just not right for me.
Another great place to browse is Goodwill. A few weeks ago, I found a gently used Coach purse for $12. I’ve bought some cute dress shoes there as well. The multitude of clothes on hangers overwhelms me, but I love checking out the accessories.
Outlets can be good places to browse for high-quality brands, but be careful to check the prices: Sometimes the sale at the regular store might be cheaper. I’ve stocked up on my fair share of J.Crew cardigans for $20 at the end of a season at the J.Crew outlet. Unfortunately, the store’s tank tops are the same price, so don’t think that just because you’re shopping in an outlet that you’re automatically saving money.
As I’ve grown into a more mature wardrobe, I’ve given away many short, thin sundresses since that fateful day of summer unpacking, though I must admit I still have a few in my closet. After all, they are perfect for pool cover-ups.