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The Working Closet

with Susan Wagner

The Working Closet is your source for the best of what's hip and fresh in fashion and beauty. Susan Wagner keeps you up-to-date on trends and offers tips and tricks for making everything in your closet truly work for you.

You can also catch Susan over at Friday Playdate.

Why yes, I DID get dressed in the dark. Why do you ask?

Categories: basics


Imagine this: it’s Tuesday morning and you’re trying to get dressed. But while you’re standing in front of your closet in your underwear, your husband is asking where his black socks are and your three-year-old is jumping on your bed and singing the alphabet song and your five year old is telling you a long complicated story about someone from Sesame Street. Or maybe Shrek, it’s hard to tell.

And you haven’t had any coffee yet. And did you just hear the cat throw up? Argh.

Even when you have the most organized, functional closet in the universe–one that holds only clothes that fit and flatter you, clothes you have carefully tried on in every possible combination to make SURE you can wear them ANYWHERE–even with that perfect closet, there will still come a morning when you quite literally canNOT even THINK what goes with these pants and oh my god that WAS the cat!


These are the days when you need a Go-To Wardrobe: two or three outfits that you KNOW work, that fit properly and don’t require any complicated decisions (this blouse or that blouse? and where is the bra for under that blouse? ) and that you won’t regret two hours from now.

Your Go-To Wardrobe should include the following:

woven shirt (not a tee, but something with real buttons up the front, either in white or in a color that flatters your own coloring)
light-weight sweater in either a crew or V neck (thin enough to wear under a jacket, if need be)

flat-front trousers
in a neutral color
A-line skirt, also in a neutral color

jacket (something that goes with both the trousers and the skirt–a three-piece suit is ideal)
mcintosh or trench coat

fuss-free shoes

optional but strongly recommended: dress in a classic cut and color/pattern (the easiest possible way to get out of the house, really)

Any and all of these pieces can mix and match without much effort–or, really, much thought. Pair the shirt with the trousers and the macintosh, or the sweater with the skirt and the jacket, or the dress with the jacket (or by itself!), or . . . you get the idea.

Think broadly about what constitutes “neutrals.” Sure, black is always acceptable, but brown is a terrific neutral, as is gray (both light and charcoal), and khaki is perfect for long summer days. A great fitting pair of jeans can also stand in for the trousers, as long at your workplace allows this; however, I would caution you about ALWAYS showing up for work in jeans–no matter how casual your office, eventually you will look like you’re just not trying.

Keep in mind that the Go-To Wardrobe is a fall-back for days when you don’t have the luxury of even five minutes of uninterrupted thought to pull together an outfit, or when the part of your brain that makes the decisions about which blouse to wear under what suit has been up all night with a sick toddler or a big project. We’re not looking for a uniform here, we’re trying to find a head-to-toe look that can carry you through the day when there are more important things on your plate than blazing a new fashion trail at the office.

Be sure that your Go-To pieces fit well and are comfortable; the last thing you need is to spend the entire day tugging at your waistband or wondering if you’re flashing a client. Keep them cleaned and repaired and, if you like, hung together in your closet for easy access. Think, ahead of time, about what shoes and accessories are appropriate for each outfit, so that you can quite literally just get dressed and walk out the door.

Thursday: basics for YOUR working closet (because now that you’ve gotten rid of all those extra clothes, we need to do some shopping).

Have a question for The Working Closet? E-mail me at fridaystyle DOT susan AT gmail DOT com.

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13 comments so far...

  • However, it’s still not fair that everything in a guy’s closet is “go-to”, and, they feel no remorse:

    Elizabeth  |  May 29th, 2007 at 2:35 pm

  • You said it, sister.

    Susan Wagner  |  May 29th, 2007 at 5:09 pm

  • Don’t forget navy! Navy is my new favorite neutral. But this is incredibly sage advice, to have a couple of go-to outfits that require no thought.

    Can I just add that these go-to pieces should be WRINKLE-FREE so that you don’t find yourself going to them and smacking your forehead for forgetting to iron? Not, um, that that’s ever happened to me. Mercy, no.

    Hey, look over there! Something shiny!

    Mir  |  May 29th, 2007 at 8:06 pm

  • Navy! Thank you. I KNEW I missed one.

    And yes, wrinkle free is crucial. I love to iron (yes, really!) but not at six am.

    Susan Wagner  |  May 29th, 2007 at 8:15 pm

  • Speaking of navy - what color shoes are the go to shoes if you are wearing navy pants? Yes, I am 31 and this is a serious question I’ve not yet been able to answer. Don’t laugh too loud.

    Nataly  |  May 29th, 2007 at 9:49 pm

  • I am in solid agreement with everything here. My wardrobe basics are mostly black and gray, with navy and brown sprinkled in. I’m not a big fan of ironing or dry-cleaning, though, so most of my clothes are cotton-blend knits and stretch twills (a little spandex goes a long way when it needs to!). I don’t like scrambling around to put an outfit together in the morning, though, so I go to the opposite extreme - on Sunday evening, I pull out all of my work outfits for the week. My husband laughs, but it does help me get out the door just a little quicker each morning.

    Florinda  |  May 29th, 2007 at 10:30 pm

  • Nataly, the short answer is NOT BLACK. Otherwise, the world is all before you.

    Seriously, with navy blue pants your shoes can be any color that you would choose for a blouse or sweater or tee. Be careful about navy shoes with navy pants, though, because you may wind up being mistaken for a flight attendant. From the 1970s.

    Florinda, the Planning Ahead solution is a great one; we all do it when we travel, after all, so why not do it for every day?

    Susan Wagner  |  May 29th, 2007 at 10:30 pm

  • Ok, got it, not black. I’d like to say I knew that :)

    You know, now that I re-read this post, it made me think of a conversation I once had with a friend. She said she wanted to dress more like French women do - have less pieces, but all the pieces be stylish and classic and in great neutral colors. I’ve been to France many times and yes, many of the women do seem to have this effortless style. So this whole idea of a go-to wardrobe made up of neutral colors is really really useful!

    Nataly  |  May 30th, 2007 at 8:13 pm

  • I think having small kids has forced my outfits to be like 80% go-to lately. And recently I’ve gotten really into dresses, which I never used to wear at my conservative/casual/unfashionable workplace - didn’t want to look like an admin. But they are so easy, especially as I often pack the gym bag at midnight the night before - wrinkle free wrap dress, pumps, underwear and I’m set.

    Nicole/wksocmom  |  June 1st, 2007 at 6:17 am

  • [...] Tuesday we talked about your Go-To pieces, which are the core of the basics wardrobe, but honestly, those pieces alone are not enough to get [...]

    Work It, Mom! | A Community for Professional Moms  |  June 1st, 2007 at 6:17 am

  • Nichole, I love the dress idea for work; there are so many great dress options this year, too, and quite a few of them do NOT require dry cleaning or ironing (ahem, Mir).

    I think the real secret to a wardrobe that works is neutral basics and then colorful pieces that mix in with the basics. And the color can come from shoes or sweaters or handbags or jewelry or . . .

    We should talk about that, and soon.

    Susan Wagner  |  June 1st, 2007 at 11:38 am

  • Hello! Good Site! Thanks you! gaeygthork

    ziofblyvrx  |  June 18th, 2007 at 8:28 pm

  • [...] of pieces that transcend seasons and move easily from work to weekend. But how do you keep your go-to outfits from starting to look like a [...]

    Work It, Mom! | A Community for Professional Moms  |  July 13th, 2007 at 5:39 pm

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