The Clear-the-clutter Closet Makeover

We have more clothes than our closets have room for, and yet getting dressed in the morning is always a frenzy of trying on and flinging off. In principle, we all agree that quality, not quantity, is the key to a smart woman’s closet. Open the bulging door, however, and “more is more” seems to be the operating standard. 

Celebrity stylist Monica Schweiger, who has worked with such stars as Debra Messing, Gwen Stefani and Mandy Moore, believes that a well-edited closet will cut down on morning stress and make you a better dresser. “With closets and drawers bursting at the seams, it can be more difficult to find something to wear,” says Schweiger. “But when there is space to actually see your clothing and accessories, it gives you the opportunity for creativity.”

Identify and evict your wardrobe’s deadwood with these tips:

Main squeeze We cling too much to clothes that cling too much to us. Not only do we believe we’ll eventually fit into that slinky dress once again, we even buy new too-tight items as an advance reward for future weight loss. Weight may fluctuate, but the solution to the sausage-casing problem is clear-cut: Ditch the blouses with buttons that gape. Ditto for those trousers with the too-snug crotch, and jackets that whisker too much in the armholes.

Yesterday’s news Let’s say you’re lucky enough to wriggle into garments from a decade ago. If the miniskirt fits, wear it, right? Wrong, most of the time. If you’re no longer club hopping or attending karate class, you need to dispose of the leather pants and martial arts whites. On borderline cases, seek a second opinion. Invite a friend over to give you tough-love advice on what still works on you.

The frivolous frock Inexpensive garments from fast-fashion shops are easy to part with after a season or two, but what about the teddy bear print designer dress that you splurged on? Put up for sale any designer piece of clothing that you haven’t worn in a year, on an auction site like eBay. This tough bottom line will benefit your bottom line since brand-name labels fetch a premium price.

The sentimental keepsake You turn a blind eye to the hand-knit sweater squatting in your chest of drawers. It was a gift. It was what you were wearing when you met your boyfriend. It’s a family heirloom. The reality is that while provenance is important for artifacts on “Antiques Roadshow,” it is not a reason to harbor a moth-eaten pullover. As long as you have worn the “cherished” piece one time for your friend/boyfriend/relative to see, you’re home-free. Let it go.

Ladies in waiting You’re savvy enough to recognize that fashion is cyclical, so why let go of anything that may make a comeback in, oh, a decade or two? After all, aren’t the neon colors and slouchy boots of the 1980s hot again? True, but style revivals always bear an update. Marc Jacobs’ new line of ’80s getups for fall looks current; the power suit with lumpy shoulder pads from your attic most decidedly does not. Solution: Allot yourself one head-to-toe look of your favorite retro pieces.

Logo OD The college sweatshirt says you love your alma mater. The swim team jacket hints at your athleticism. Clothes make the woman, but it should be the cut and materials of your clothing -- not the advertising plastered on it -- that telegraph who you are. Eliminate any item with a graphic bigger than your fist; keep the rest strictly for runs to the mailbox or corner market.

How to Build a Year-round Wardrobe

You don’t have to stuff your closets and drawers with separate wardrobes for every season to look great all year round. With a little advance planning, you can build a wardrobe that’s in style spring, summer, fall and even winter. The advantage: You get to wear the pieces you love 12 months a year, you save money, and you invest your fashion budget in versatile, luxurious fabrics.

Wardrobe Tip No. 1: Think layers.

Head to the store with the three t’s in mind: tanks, T-shirts and tights. “The trick to any great wardrobe is layering,” says Shane Cisneros, a fashion stylist who has dressed stars, including Zoe Saldana and Vanessa Minnillo. And keep in mind that you can layer under as well as over. For example, slip a long-sleeved black cashmere or jersey T-shirt under that brightly colored summer dress to give it a cold-weather feel. Complete the look with leggings, chunky boots and a green army jacket, leather motorcycle jacket or structured tweedy blazer.

Wardrobe Tip No. 2: Choose a consistent palette.
Every season, Jacqueline Krafka, designer of the casual chic line T-Los Angeles, builds her collection with a core group of basic colors (black, white, nude and heather gray) and adds a pop of color (orange, purple or turquoise) in items like tanks and pocket T’s. Follow Krafka’s example with cardigans, skirts and jackets in interchangeable neutral colors, reserving more vivid hues for accent pieces like scarves, handbags or lower-priced T-shirts.

Wardrobe Tip No. 3: Aim for natural fibers.

Few fabrics are truly seasonless, but such natural fibers as silk and wool come close. New weaving and knitting techniques allow manufacturers to create light but strong fabrics with a luxurious feel and a built-in resistance to wrinkling. Krafka adds that luxury versions of natural fabrics, such as fine-gauge cashmere and silk georgette, can offer polish along with the comfort of a T-shirt. Even better, these multiple-personality pieces are easy to dress up or down.

Wardrobe Tip No. 4: Invest in classic fashions.

Some items are more or less disposable: white tanks, T-shirts in the hue of the season, trendy pieces from low-priced retailers. Core wardrobe staples, however, will last season after season, always looking polished and feeling great against your skin if you choose superbly tailored pieces in beautiful fabrics. “Every woman should have a little black dress,” says celebrity fashion stylist Nicole Chavez, who has dressed Scarlett Johansson and Catherine Zeta-Jones. “It should be special, so invest in one with a really great neckline, sleeve or embellishment.”

Wardrobe Tip No. 5: Accessorize.

Women’s accessories are the cornerstone of a fashionable, adaptable wardrobe. Whether she’s shopping for her red carpet clients or for her own weekend wardrobe, Chavez selects a few statement accents that she can pair with any fabric, season or style. “The best thing to have in your closet is a leopard scarf or a leopard shoe,” says Chavez. “Leopard is almost a classic color, and it goes with every color,” she says. Krafka also keeps a supply of belts handy that can turn a long summer tunic into a neatly cinched blouse-and-tank combo.

Wardrobe Tip No. 6: Train your clothes to play well with others.

With today’s ultralight knits, tanks with gaping armholes and show-every-curve leggings, it’s trickier than ever to build outfits that don’t require 15 other pieces. “Make sure each piece can stand alone as well as works as a layer,” says Krafka, who suggests looking for high-quality fabrics and modest-enough cuts that provide sufficient coverage.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/Alija

Your Most Flattering Neckline

When it comes to choosing a T-shirt, blouse, sweater or dress, it’s the neckline that is likely to make all the difference between a look that flatters your figure and one that accentuates your less-than-perfect parts. “Often, when an outfit doesn’t work, it’s because of the neckline,” explains Houston stylist and fashion show producer Todd Ramos.

On the other hand, choose the right cut, and you’ll appear taller, slimmer and more stylish. How to create this magic? You have to factor in your bust size, neck length, height and even face shape. Here’s a guide to discovering which necklines work for you.

Sweetheart, Scoop Neck, V-neck and Square Neck
The collarbone and decollete region is one of the most alluring parts of any woman. Wearing an open neckline that shows it off is going to make most women appear longer and leaner, says Ramos. Lower, open necklines like a sweetheart (which is shaped like the top of a heart), scoop, square or V-neck tend to look good on almost every body type and size. “They bring attention to your face and elongate your upper body, especially if you’re petite or have a short neck,” says Ramos. Just make sure you don’t reveal too much.

  • Tip: If you’re not well endowed, sweetheart and scoop necklines are best at creating the illusion of curves.
  • Bottom line: Great for everyone, unless you’re top heavy or have an especially long neck.

Crew Neck and Boatneck
If you have a long neck, narrow face, small chest or sloped shoulders, a high neckline -- one that rests on or very near the collarbone -- is your best bet. Crew necks and boatnecks draw the eye out to your shoulders so you appear more balanced and proportioned. In this case, the more substantial neckline gives the illusion of square shoulders, a shorter neck, a fuller face and more ample bust.

  • Tip: If you’re pear-shaped, look for dresses in this cut to balance your upper and lower body.
  • Bottom line: Crew necks and boatnecks balance out narrow necks, faces, shoulders and small chests. But on the flip side, these necklines can make you look bigger than you are if you have generous curves, a short neck or broad shoulders.

Cowl-necks, Mock Necks and Turtlenecks
By choosing the right amount of coverage, you’ll find there’s no need to shiver in the name of beauty. A true turtleneck that hits a couple of inches below the chin will whittle away your height, making it best for those who want to offset a long neck or face. A cowl-neck, which is a looser version of a turtleneck, naturally drapes at the chest, creating a vertical line that elongates the body. A mock neck hits slightly lower than a turtleneck and serves as a good midpoint if you can’t part with your more covered-up sweaters.

  • Bottom line: Trade turtlenecks for mock necks or cowl-necks unless you have a long face or neck. 

A Universally Flattering Neckline
Whatever size you are, a halter will flatter your figure. “It gives support and lift to a big bust,” says Ramos. If the halter has a built-in bra, it can create curves where there are none, which is why you see a lot of halter-style bathing suits and wedding dresses. If your arms or shoulders are your trouble spot, Ramos advises topping the halter with a fitted jacket.

The Neckline to Avoid
Strapless clothing may be on every rack in every store, but stylists agree it’s a hard look to pull off -- unless you’ve got flawless proportions and a yoga bod like Jennifer Aniston. “A strapless cut can make top-heavy women spill out, and tall, thin women look giraffe-like,” says Ramos. The silhouette may, however, be a boon to petite women, helping them look taller.

Tweak Unflattering Necklines
If you wore crew necks before you figured out it’s not your most flattering neckline, work the scissors. “Cut a crew neck a few inches straight down the middle,” says Ramos. A T-shirt may fray a little, but that’s in vogue, he says. And if you cut a sweater, a few minutes in the dryer will prevent it from unraveling.

With any lower necklines, there’s the risk of going too low and looking inappropriately sexy. Whether your top goes too deep or a V-neck is not your best look, try it over a camisole or slim-fit collared shirt before you toss it. “Layering can breathe new life into a too-revealing top,” says Ramos.

The Most Wearable Leggings

Leggings. The word sends shivers up the spines of women packing even an ounce of extra padding below the waist. But the clingy bottoms -- which traipsed back into style a few seasons back -- aren’t going anywhere. In fact, some of the edgiest names in fashion recently unveiled amped-up new versions of the body-hugging staple for spring 2010.

Never fear. You don’t have to be a size 2 to rock the hosiery-inspired pants. With everyone from Marc Jacobs to Lindsay Lohan creating leggings collections, there’s an avalanche of fabrics, patterns and fits to choose from. And the best news is, leggings -- when they fit properly -- can feel as comfortable as a pair of flannel pajamas.

Leila Baboi, the West Coast staff stylist for Women’s Wear Daily, contends that there’s a pair of stretchy, skintight leggings for every woman -- regardless of age or body shape. What’s the key to pulling off the look? “Pair them with a long and slouchy top,” says Baboi, who has dressed Scarlett Johansson and Ashlee Simpson. “A cropped top or a too-tight tank will throw the balance off.”

Here are some of the stylist’s savvy tips on how to work the lean-and-mean look -- without adding extra pounds or delving into overly trendy territory:

Choose Long Over Cropped
Capri leggings are for spinning class -- not the office. They cut up the line of the body and can make your bottom half look shorter and chunkier. (We’ve yet to meet a woman who wants that!) Instead, get a long-and-lean look by choosing leggings that hit at, or even slightly below, the ankle. Skip the gimmicky stirrup legging: It’s an overly complicated style that’s likely to peter out soon.

Skip Prints
If you wouldn’t have stripes or polka dots on your regular pants, don’t try to pull them off in a legging. Cheetah-print or metallic leggings are strictly for fashion-forward 20-somethings -- and if worn with something simple and oversized on top, can be adorable. Over 35? Stick to solid black leggings or subdued prints, such as a gentle acid-wash or tone-on-tone all-over paisley. Designer David Lerner’s weighty, well-made versions have a marked slimming effect.

Opt for Big Tops
Avoid looking like you’re wearing a unitard, which means you’ll want to balance the tightness of a legging with a roomier style up top. That’s a cinch these days, since big is definitely huge in fashion right now. Boyfriend blazers, oversized tunics, slouchy button-down shirts and baggy sweaters are all perfect companions for leggings.

Look for Length
Pear-shaped figures aren’t exempt from wearing the look but look best with an even longer top. A fetching outfit: Leggings paired with a roomy tank or tunic underneath a knee-sweeping cashmere cardigan.

Legging Jeans
Denim leggings, coined the “legging jean,” are a sexy alternative to all-jersey leggings and offer a bit more thickness of fabric than all-knit varieties. Citizens of Humanity, J Brand and Goldsign all make chic legging jeans. Choose ones that have five-pocket styling on top to avoid the maternity-ish elastic waist.

Leather Legs
Leather and PVC leggings aren’t just for Rihanna and Lady Gaga. The decadent-looking drawers are a chic nighttime option when paired with towering stilettos and jackets and tops that are cut on the longer side. Nor is it a look solely for the young. Worn with a crisp white button-down shirt and statement earrings, leathery leggings are uber sophisticated. But be prepared to sweat -- your legs won’t be catching even the suggestion of a breeze all night.

Shoe-pairing Options
Leggings work with a bevy of different shoe styles. Ankle boots -- heeled or flat -- strappy sandals (again, high or low) and classic flats are all cute options. Just steer clear of ’80s-esque pumps that don’t have a covered vamp (the part of the shoe that covers the smooth, top side of your foot), which can turn a leggings ensemble from sassy to sour in seconds.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/KRproductions

From the It Bag to the Do-it-your-way Bag

There’s good news for style seekers who couldn’t afford the it bags in previous seasons. Today, even celebrities and the most hardcore handbag fans are seeking out styles that don’t scream Gucci or Balenciaga. Instead, in what might be a response to these economic times, fashion buffs are craving something low-key and singular. There’s plenty to choose from: Some designers are hand-stitching peace logos onto sleek little clutches, and others are using faux skins like ostrich and snake and adding a metallic sheen to them.

“I think what’s happening now in handbags is about people having a better eye, about seeing something different,” said Los Angeles-based Daniel Schiffer, whose Endless Leather peace sign-stamped leather bags have been purchased by singer Pink (in pink, of course) and Michelle Obama. “Women want to find a bag that’s classy and that has a real vibration to it, without spending thousands of dollars.”

With prices running anywhere from $100 to over $1,000, consumers have a lot to choose from. The core fall and winter trends include crushed leather, fringe and surface details like studs and grommets. The key? Make it a bag that is not instantly identifiable as coming from a highly publicized designer.

“Having everyone know how much you spend on luxury goods by carrying the obvious it bag is not in good taste anymore,” says Lainie Schreiber, national sales director of the niche handbag line Latico Leathers. “Subtle brands and the confidence to carry bags you love is what’s hot.”

Here’s how to shop the trends:

  • Skins These are important for fall, but if you can’t afford -- or don’t want to carry -- an all-over python bag, look for something with even a patch of faux exotic skin, says Chad Ypon, co-founder of New York-based bag line The Divine Tribe, whose bags have been carried by Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and Uma Thurman.
  • Shape Jennifer Furio, design director of bag line Tre Vero, predicts that satchels and feminine, chic briefcase bags will be a strong style for women, and Ypon forecasts a demand for roomy totes.
  • Color The colors that define this season are rich jewel shades, including gold, emerald, deep purple, metallic brown, burgundy and steel.
  • Details Look for little surprises on a bag -- a lining in a vintage-inspired pattern, an extra-wide zipper, hidden pockets for coins and cell phones. The hardware -- clasps, locks, zippers -- are all-important, in finishes ranging from antique brass to gunmetal.

Want to try your hand at designing your own bag? Designers say you can easily update the bags you already have in your closet. Charms and pins offer an instant fix. “Many of the couture fall bags are vintage-inspired,” says Schreiber. “Hunt for old pins, buttons and brooches in grandma’s attic or at flea markets, and simply affix to the flap of a favorite worn-in bag.”

Ypon suggests stitching or pasting on a leather or fabric flower patch, or stringing chains and charms through the zipper pull. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, Schiffer recommends cutting up an old, soft leather jacket and stitching together a little clutch. Not so handy? A couple of coats with a dark polish from a shoe repair store is an almost foolproof way to “stain” a leather bag, creating the popular distressed look. Bags made from canvas or fabric can be easily updated by sewing on beads, silver charms or even earrings.

Whatever bag you choose, always wear it with confidence.

Photo Credit: @ iStockphoto.com/WilshireImages