Building a Professional Wardrobe

Fashion Projects

This wardrobe planning project for my Fashion Strategies for Consumers class has undoubtedly been one of my favorite assignments to date. Not only did we plan wardrobes for our future careers, we also got a chance to find out which colors and styles looked best on us as well as organize and de-clutter our own, current closets.

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This assignment offered the opportunity to reconnect with some old contacts from my time interning in the Los Angeles Fashion District. A few years ago, under a Fashion Merchandising program for a small school called Fashion Careers International, I spent a summer learning about and working within the many layers of the fashion industry. My short time there is what truly made me decide to pursue fashion as a degree and career, so I was incredibly excited for a chance to return. Joe Farrell, the head of the school, kindly helped me get in touch with the showroom owner I had regularly worked with, Jamie Prince. Being back in her showroom I felt the same wonder and excitement as when I’d first begun interning in L.A., and my interview of her felt less like an uncomfortable paparazzi attack and more like a great meeting between old friends. Her background in the industry was impressive, giving her incredible insight into professional wardrobe creation. She suggested investing in a few great pairs of pants, basic tops in neutral colors, sturdy functional layers, and bold, clean shoes (advice I seem to have subconsciously incorporated into my wardrobe through the past few months). These basic items can be combined into almost endless variations without requiring endless closet space, which is especially handy when traveling for work as Prince often had to. Beyond the advice and pleasant chatting, my day in Los Angeles held an unexpected opportunity. From talking with Joe (and giving him a thank you card as suggested by my instructor), I ended up with the promise of a future job in the L.A. showrooms I’d missed so much. Next time you’re going for an interview or meeting someone with an interesting career, try sending them a thank you card. The extra effort will make them remember you, and you never know what the outcome of such a simple act may be.

Color Analysis:

I’d never truly paid attention to whether I was a “spring” or “summer” or any other season, much less really understood what any of it meant. We found our colors by, strangely enough, holding felt sheets in slightly varying tones and chromes over our necks. First, we determined whether our skin responded best to warm or cool tones, and then to strong or weak chroma (aka vibrant or subtle). The key to this is to alternate between the alternate options and pay close attention to variations that occur within the face. The goal of a “good” color is to make it look as though one is wearing makeup (rouged cheeks, less baggy eyes, brighter complexion). The seasons correspond to the different colors, spring being warm hues with strong chroma, summer being cool hues with weak chroma, fall being warm hues with weak chroma, and winter being cool colors with strong chroma. Though some people (like me) see little change between the different hues, others have very strong reactions to different colors. Determining which types of colors look best on your individual skin helps immensely in choosing garments and can eliminate unnecessarily wasted time when searching for the perfect wardrobe. Of course, if you love a certain color outside your recommended spectrum, you can obviously still wear it, but for the most part sticking to the guidelines helps minimize the imperfections we all face daily (who doesn’t want to get rid of eye bags by merely changing shirt colors?)

Wardrobe Audit:

After determining which colors and silhouettes looked best for me particularly (despite a reversed order on the slides), organizing my closet seemed an easy, though somewhat time consuming (and apparently very lengthy to explain), task. The key here is clearing out “space invaders”. No, not aliens, but rather the things that distract from your clothing “collection”. Visualize your closet as a gallery for your garments, rather than a storage space for that random basketball, old teddybears, or those piles of clothes you’ll fit into “someday”.

First, remove everything (seriously everything) from your closet and CLEAN IT. Dust, dirt, and other particles build up on your hangers, shelves, and even hanging poles, and all contaminate clothing. Not to mention, unkept closets can become breeding grounds for moths and other garment eating pests (avoid mothballs by avoiding dirty closets). So, deep cleaning each area you empty out is a great way to create a clean slate for your new wardrobe.

Now, (after putting away those basketballs and bears) it’s time to sort clothing into piles. Try on each garment (this may seem daunting but if you set up next to a mirror it can be a fairly quick and sometimes fun process) and place each into “keep”/”yes”, “maybe”, and “toss”/”no” piles. A loose criteria for the “yes” pile would be it fits well, you like it, it fits your color palate, you’ve worn it in the past 6 months, and it’s in good condition. Garments needing mending should be dealt with THAT day, not put off and kept in a corner as that just adds clutter to your otherwise newly cleaned closet space.


A possible cheat sheet for cleaning out your wardrobe

Note: You may want to make another pile for “memory” garments. But these will be put in storage space OUTSIDE of your closet. Don’t throw away pieces you want to keep for their memories, but don’t keep them out with your everyday garments or they’ll act much like those basketballs in taking up unnecessary space and adding clutter. Clothing should never be stored in plastic containers (that goes for dry cleaner bags as well) because although they seem as though they’d protect the garments, the plastic over time deteriorates the fibers. So, if you’re short on extra drawer space and want to store your memorabilia shirts, pick up some fabric boxes from the container store and feel free to store them away (always be careful of silverfish, other pests, and weather damage when storing). Anyways, back to the sorting:

Once you have your basic “keep” and “toss” piles down, moving onto the maybe pile may be slightly difficult. Be sure to keep in mind the amount of different kinds of garments you have already saved, though this does vary by type (you probably don’t need 20 sweaters, but you might want 20 tops). PLEASE don’t actually hrow away your “toss” pile; there are too many landfills filling with textile waste every day. Instead, attempt to resell them (eBay, Buffalo Exchange, etc) or donate them (Goodwill, clothing drives) so they can have a chance to be reused or even recycled.Onward to the “keep” pile…

Invest in good hangers; even just the cheap, velvety-covered ones from Costco are great compared to metal laundry mat hangers which may rust and destroy clothing. I personally have amazing wooden hangers (that I got from Jamie Prince actually), but they may be too bulky for small closets. Avoid plastic hangers – as I’ve said before, plastic damages clothing – but ultimately the hanger choice is really up to your personal preferences and budget.

Before putting your garments back haphazardly into your closet, create some sort of system for yourself. On a basic level, organizing by color may be helpful. On a more complex level, organizing by sleeve type may be even more helpful (ex. tank tops then short sleeve then 3/4 then long sleeve then dresses by the varying sleeve lengths, etc). If you have drawers, designate an area of each for a specific type of clothing and then fold the clothes neatly. Taking good care of clothing helps extend the garment’s life and reduces the need for ironing (which also helps keep the garment’s integrity and reduces the amount of time you spend getting rid of unnecessary wrinkles in your clothing).

And you’re done! Now, each morning planning outfits is easy because of the minimal amount of static in the background of your closet to distract you. Upkeep is actually easy as well; after washing garments simply place them back into the system you’ve created and every few weeks wipe down your closet to keep it clean. When shopping, try to keep in mind the “yes” pile requirements so as to not spend money on something you’ll want to toss in the next few weeks. Every six months or so you may want to recreate your piles to eliminate excess unused clothing from your wardrobe and keep your “gallery” looking fresh, but otherwise the process is basically a one time overhaul.

Wardrobe Planning:

Beyond the advice and hopeful future job opportunity, the project made me realize planning my “professional wardrobe” did not mean finding pantsuits and long pinstripe skirts. Trying to hard to be the “perfect” professional may in theory seem like a good idea, but it may actually not fit with the company’s (or your own) aesthetic. Especially within the fashion industry, personal expression is actually encouraged, and I found it more fun (and realistic) to incorporate my own style into the typical professional mold. Creating a theoretical budget also helped determine how much I could truly afford to spend on clothing with my hopeful future career. It also made it easier to see how saving for a few months for higher quality garments made more sense than spending frequently on cheap garments that would rapidly become obsolete. Though the entire project was somewhat long and covered many different (though indeed related) things, it was incredibly helpful. And no matter which industry you plan to steer your life toward, planning your appearance (though it sounds shallow and frustrating) may further your likelihood for success.

If you’d like to take the class (which I highly recommend), it’s called FMD 251 Fashion Strategies for Consumers and is offered at CSULB. It counts for the “life skills” section of GE’s so even non-fashion majors can take it.

Also, if you’d like to check out FCI, visit their website at I highly recommend the merchandising program, as it is much, much more accelerated than similar programs at much more expensive schools like FIDM and OTIS (and even CSULB). And while they do not offer a bachelor’s degree, they do offer hands on experience and groundwork that is immensely helpful when getting started in the fashion industry. I have not yet participated in their design program, but I have been to one of the fashion shows (which was incredible) and plan to attend in the next few years. Let me know if you’re interested and I can set up a referral with Joe! He’d be happy to have another student on board (:


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