I went shopping with my friend, Jules, and suddenly I was no longer invisible.
I’d love for all of you to meet her. Jules is incredible, the kind of woman you want more of in your life. A fabulous children’s writer and teacher, a fashionista with a history in couture, a businesswoman, a wife, a mother. A fierce and loyal friend…but best of all, the kind of friend who makes you laugh so hard you snort your martini (while looking fabulous, Darling).
You get it, I’m sure.
Anyway, Jules took me shopping. And in one afternoon, I was transformed from suburban school Mum to glamorous (again). I had so much fun.
It’s strange the power our clothes have over us. It’s something so personal I almost don’t want to talk about it. We can hide behind them and pretend they don’t matter. We can feel like they’re a prison. Or we can create a ‘uniform’ and wear the same thing on repeat.
It’s all too easy to fall out of fashion. So after our successful shopping spree – which, by the way, was shockingly affordable…so affordable that anyone, even on a tiny budget, could do it – I asked Jules to share her wisdom. I hope you enjoy her responses as much as I did!
Jules, what’s the biggest shopping mistake people make?
When you’re trying to work out what to buy, you have to ask the bigger question: what do you need for the lifestyle you lead?
The first thing to do is get a glass of wine or a cup of tea, put some nice music on, open up all your wardrobes (closets!) and drawers and go through every single thing. Start with your underwear drawer: bin all those daggy things that are uncomfortable, where the elastic’s not right, get rid of all the bras you’re not going to wear. Then go through outerwear and shoes.
Make three piles: bin, donate, or share with a friend.
Then assess what you have and look for your gaps. To be more fashionable you’ve got to be prepared to consider fresh styles and fresh looks, fresh colour, and try things you might not have tried before – and go into stores you might not have tried before.
It’s not about expense?
Absolutely not. It’s about styling. There are two things: clothing and style. Where women go wrong is that they go out and buy clothing; they don’t actually buy fashion or a style. They think, ‘Oh, I really love the colour of that blue dress,’ and they buy it, but it doesn’t work with anything else in their closet. Where would you wear it? What would you put it with? You’re not sure…and that’s the issue. You’ve just bought another useless piece of clothing, and have nothing to wear.
When you go to a fine dining restaurant and they put that meal in front of you, it hasn’t just happened. The chef has planned the meal: the ingredients, how to present them to you, what will look good on the plate.
When people don’t come from a design background, they assume that dressing well just happens. And it doesn’t. It takes work and thought and planning. It’s not that some people ‘have it’ and others don’t. Style is a process and it can be learned.
Here’s a big secret: you have to spend time styling. For example, the night before I go to work, I plan my outfit. I have it chosen. I look at the weather, think about comfort, how far I’ll be walking etc, and I plan in advance.
For people who are time poor, or perhaps not that interested in fashion, what do you suggest?
I suggest that they put together a basic six or seven outfits each season that they know look good. Then wear those. You'll know what to grab in the morning.
What does it take to dress well?
You have to be prepared to put in some time. If you say, ‘I can’t be bothered. I just don’t have the time,’ that’s fine – but you need to accept the fact that you’ll be in social situations and feel uncomfortable because your outfit isn’t right. And remember – this isn’t about how much you’ve spent or whether something is new or not. It’s about having the right pieces to pull together a lovely look that you feel comfortable in, and that makes YOU look good.
There’s nothing worse than being in a situation where you feel uncomfortable because everyone else is appropriately dressed and you’re not. Let’s face it…that feels terrible. It affects your confidence and how much you enjoy yourself. It’s all about caring for yourself.
How should we shop? With a friend?
Here’s a golden tip: always shop on your own. Unless you happen to be using the services of a stylist you love – which can be expensive – it’s best to shop alone. Here’s why. Other people can say things they think you want to hear. And the shop assistant is there to make a sale. You will have an instinct about what truly makes you feel good.
What should we wear shopping?
Always wear nude underwear and a good nude bra, and something easy to get into and out of. Slip on shoes or boots. No big chunky jewellery. And a cross body handbag is a must, so you have both hands free.
Let’s say I try on an outfit. How do I assess it?
You need to be open to new things. You need to be prepared to make some changes. Start by sitting down with magazines. Magazines are there to entertain, so don’t be put off when they feature expensive things, like the $5,000 Gucci dress. You don’t need to buy that. High street fashion copies high end fashion. That Gucci dress will be knocked off in Zara for $69.95. But you have to sit down and look for styles you like. You can look online at your favourite shops as well. Often they put together complete looks and you can copy them – either at that shop, or at a price point that works for you. Seriously do not overlook Target or Zara. You can get some great pieces there!
In shop windows you’ll see what’s newest in the shop. So stand in front of the window and really look at what’s happening. There may be one jacket worn in three different interpretations. If you see something you love, you can copy it. You can also watch what stylish women are wearing and copy the look.
What are some of the rules?
Essentially you wear three pieces: a top, something on the bottom, and a jacket. If you don’t get the two basic items right from the get-go, it makes it hard to look good. With those two items (top and bottom), you need to look at the proportion, the colour, the style you choose, the neckline. For example, a lot of budget clothing has a deep cut round neckline that is so unflattering. It’s unflattering to everybody. The boat neck is the best neckline you can ever buy.
What about colour?
I think if you want to feel like you have a lot to wear, you can never go wrong with a basic palette of black, white, cream, the right colour of beige, and then putting something with it. If you’ve got white pants, put a striped top with it. Or a bit of colour.
What about size?
Ignore it. Forget about it. Sizing is all over the place. It’s all about fit. The label doesn’t matter.
Here’s another take-home message: never be afraid to leave it on the rack. You can always go back and get it, or order it online. Ask about the return policy. Most places are very accommodating.
What do you mean when you talk about ‘line’?
Silhouette is everything. For taller people, over 5’6”, look for longer lines. Longer tops, over leggings or pants. Look for silhouette and shape. For example, taller women can wear dresses as tops. Sometimes the dresses in younger women’s shops make perfect tops for taller women. They’re inexpensive and stylish, but far too short to wear as a dress.
Try a ¾ pant. Women tend not to wear these enough, but they look so good, especially when they kick out a bit.
For shorter women, petite size clothing will have the right silhouette and shape.
Can you be stylish on a budget?
Absolutely. Just like with buying food – where you buy what’s in season – a good shopper will know what’s available this season. Walk through the shopping mall and look through the window displays. You’ll see, for example, a certain retailer may have a really good range of faux leather jackets. It doesn’t matter if it’s a shop for 22 year olds. You should pop in and try one on.
Can you develop having a good eye?
Yes. You can get better at becoming a good shopper. But you need to be conscious of not being the person who always buys dresses, dresses, dresses. You need to think about how you can wear a piece across seasons. You have to style yourself to get better at it! Have fun, try things on together from your wardrobe.
What are the right questions to ask yourself about your own personal style?
What is my lifestyle? Where do I go? What do I want to wear? Essentially we lead a casual lifestyle, but we don’t want to make it look casual and DULL. There will always be things in your wardrobe that will last and last. I have jeans that are ten years old, but I can put them with a contemporary top to give the jeans a new lift.
What’s the big take home message?
Clean out your stuff, look at your gaps, and ask yourself honestly…who am I doing this for? What’s the heart beneath all this? Do I want to look better? Will I commit to spending some time to get there? Women who look good – it doesn’t just happen. It’s exactly the same as making a beautiful dinner. You can’t throw it together. You have to plan it. You have to think about what you’re going to serve, what goes with what, what will work together. Fashion and style are really about planning…and playing. Think about what jewellery you’d choose. What bag you’d use. It’s good to put some possible outfits together when you have time. Then you know what to wear when you’re ready to go out.
In all my time styling women, I would ask, 'Have you ever taken the time to play with your clothes to see what looks good?' No one ever said yes.
How should we be thinking about our clothes?
With gratitude! And a sense of fun. I think most women can improve their relationship with their clothes and improve their sense of style. You’ve got to love your clothes. You have to spend some time caring for them. There’s a wonderful shop in Australia called Shop For Shops that sells great hangers. Certain hangers work for certain clothes. If your clothes are well-presented and well-organised, you can see what you’ve got – and you can appreciate and love what you have. Dresses, for example: evening dresses, little black dresses, sundresses, floral boho dresses…I hang all these in blocks.
There should be beauty coming from your wardrobe. You deserve that! Your clothes deserve some care. I’m not a label queen. But you should care for what you buy and take care of what you love.
Would anyone be interested in an affordable, quick style workshop in Sydney with Jules?? She's not working as a stylist at the moment, but loves fashion and people. Email me if you're up for a fun afternoon of fashion...and I'll see if I can convince her! (If you're on a budget, no worries -- Jules isn't a label snob. She finds fashion everywhere, and shops at places like Target and Zara and Witchery, which is hard to believe when you look at her.)
You can find Jules Van Mil at her Author's website.