Wardrobe 101

Dress it Up or Down

Dawn-to-Dusk Dressing

Happy day, dear reader!

Many of our shopping and wardrobe attitudes and habits come from our upbringing, which is a great reason to get a handle on poor shopping habits, unless of course you want to share them with your offspring! (And their offspring. Ad infinitum…) I wrote last week about a shopping question that can save us money, and prevent wardrobe orphans.  Can you style it at least three ways?

So how do you know if you can style something that is begging to go home with you three ways? One answer comes from my mother… “You can dress it up or down.” Dress it up or down is a close cousin to and expansion of the Style it Three Ways question.

As a girl, I remember shopping with my mother and hearing “You can dress it up or down.” It was clear from her tone of voice, and willingness to purchase even at a higher price point, that this was high praise, indeed. A wardrobe purchase that could only be worn for one kind of occasion was not what was wanted. Of course, there are exceptions. Most women don’t expect to wear their wedding dress again. And wearing a bridesmaid’s dress a second time feels like a major victory!

To this day, when my mother shops, the same pronouncement is important, even though her lifestyle has (maybe) two dress-it-up occasions (like dressier than tennis shoes dressed up) a year, and we laugh heartily when she says it. With years of her training, I prefer dresses and separates that I can dress-up-or-down. And why not? It means that I will get more use out of my clothing, saving me money, and time! How can you determine whether an item is a Dress-It-Up-or-Down piece?

Know Your Lifestyle and Play to the Middle

Your lifestyle is where and how you spend your time. Think about your stage in life, employment, geography and climate, and your social life. I do a Lifestyle Analysis with my clients to determine what kind of clothing they need, and how much of each Level of Refinement. For one person, a dress-it-up-or-down piece might be a sheath dress. For someone else it may be a pair of dark jeans. (As much as this makes some unhappy, leggings are not Dress-It-Up-or-Down. They just Down.) The Levels of Refinement in your closet need to reflect the life you actually live! If you live your life at Level 3 and in Leisure/DIY Wear, Level 2 may be as high as you go… For you, a Level 3 piece will be more versatile than a Level 2.

Not everything dresses up or down well… Generally, mixing between adjacent levels of refinement works beautifully, as long as the pieces support and relate to each other. One’s mix well with Two’s, Two’s play nicely with Three’s. Mixing One’s and Three’s is generally avoided, unless you are a real rebel. If so, you are the kind to wear a ball gown with Converse high-tops, and make it work. Level 2 items (in the middle) are often the most versatile, meaning they are the easiest to mix.

Reality check: For many working women, the Level 2/Business Wear type items are not the ones we want to buy. We want to buy play clothes. We often shop with our emotions, and find ourselves with a closet loaded with special occasion wear, and DIYwear or leisure/athletic clothing. I get it. We think of play at both ends of the refinement spectrum, and see the middle as boring and workaday. But that’s where we spend most of our time. If you want versatile, avoid the leisure/reno and special occasion wear shopping fun trap. Level 1 may be fun to buy, and Level 3 comfy, but our most of our wardrobe budget should be spent on what we spend most of our day wearing!

Select Colors and Styles Carefully

When looking for pieces to dress up or down, neutrals, classic colors, and subtle prints or patterns are the most easily adaptable. Simple styles like a sheath or fit and flare dress, mid-rise straight leg trouser, or straight leg jean are more dress-up-or-down friendly than clothes with lots of detail or embellishment. The dress here, with its simple lines and solid color (although not classic) has the versatility to play across levels.

Here’s a skirt that plays across the spectrum. Its classic color and style give it versatility. The hem detail gives it that extra oomph that would prevent your average grey flannel skirt from dressing up to Level 1.



These are the icing on your sartorial cake. The frosting that takes your Level 2 pieces wherever they need to go. Take the same basic outfit and change the shoes, bag, jewels, and toppers. Work, soccer field, and dinner out. I would rather not change my clothes three times in one day. I prefer to dress for work, and change my shoes and jewelry to get through the rest of it. Think of it as Dawn to Dusk Dressing! The extras can fit in a tote in the back of the car…

If you need to build (or rebuild!) your wardrobe, Dress-It-Up-or-Down basics are a great place to start. They can take you farther than a whole closet full of heroes. You need heroes to prevent boredom, but heroes by their nature get less wear than those workhorse basics.

How about you? What Level of Refinement pieces are your favorites to shop for? What do you find the most of in your closet (or drawers)? Is your wardrobe working for you, or do you need to work hard to make outfits you love? Let’s start a conversation in the comments below… I love to hear from you!

Stylishly yours,

Many thanks to Catherine at Not Dressed as Lamb for the Link-Up!




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