Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Investment Dressing

Image from Mademoiselle Coco Chanel Summer 1962 book.  J'adore the cocktail ring.

Following on from my previous post, in which I professed my love and admiration for the Country Road store in the nineties, I’d like to relate to you my first experience with investment dressing around the same time.

I worked for a financial planner then, as her secretary.  One day an incentive arrived in the mail from one of the companies we dealt with.  Submit $X of new business by a certain date and qualify for a Country Road gift voucher.  It was a decent amount for twenty years ago, I think $800.  I couldn’t believe it, that gift voucher would be my dream! 

When my boss saw the promotion, she promised me if we reached the target, I could have the voucher.  I’ve never worked on commission before but all of a sudden I saw how motivating it could be and I was ringing customers and updating profiles like nobody’s business.  We reached the target and ‘my’ vouchers arrived in the mail.  My boss made good on her promise and off I went to see what to buy. 

I eventually settled on a wonderful basis for the perfect capsule wardrobe looking back (Janice at The Vivienne Files would be proud).  

I chose, all in the same mid-weight black crepe:

- a pair of slim-leg flat-front pants
-a just-above-the-knee wrap skirt fastened with two buttons on the waistband
- a figure skimming unstructured blazer style jacket (three buttons I think)
- and a lined sleeveless round-neck top with an invisible zip in one side seam. 

I made the following outfits with these pieces:

- Top and skirt
- Top and pants
- Top and skirt, with jacket
- Top and pants, with jacket
- Jacket (done up) and skirt
- Jacket (done up) and pants 

Each piece mixed in with many other items in my wardrobe, and I also wore different scarves with my black outfits.

Wearing just the jacket done up over the skirt or pants felt quite cosmopolitan and fashiony to me, and paired with high heels and a scarf I was dressed for dinner or an evening event, but I also wore each item in work outfits often.

I wore those four pieces for at least a decade and always felt good in them.  That was probably my first lesson in investment dressing.  I bought the entire outfit all at once and paid full price (with my gift vouchers of course).  

That in itself was sadly highly unusual for me.  My usual mode of operation would be to buy lots of mis-matching items on special and have no actual outfits to show for it.  I think because the voucher was ‘free money’ it gave me ‘permission’ to ‘blow it’ on something outrageous like, gasp, full-price merchandise.

Thinking back, if I’d carried on like this, only buying outstanding clothing items I really loved and needed that were purchases which fitted into my overall wardrobe plan, I probably would have spent a similar amount or less money and had a small yet amazing French-style wardrobe.  C’est la vie!  It’s never too late to start though, is it?

I obviously didn’t make the connection at the time between buying the pieces full price all at once and loving and wearing those items to bits over the years.  It reinforces one does not need to shop often, but wait until you really need something and by then hopefully the money is saved and you can go out shopping for that perfect item at the beginning of the season when all sizes and colours are still available.

Thinking back to my Country Road four-piece outfit experience, it has reinforced that I want to enjoy the clothing I already have, streamline out items I don’t care for much, and wait to shop until I have gaps in my wardrobe that need to be filled.  At that time I will make considered decisions on what items to buy and how they will best enhance my personal style.

What kind of shopper are you?  What kind of shopper would you like to be?


  1. You did good with that gift card! And a very smart way to shop too.

    I try to bring in pieces that match with what I already have. I may catch flack for wearing a lot of black, but I remember when I would buy random things in random colors and had a completely nonsensical wardrobe where nothing matched. Now my wardrobe is versatile and much easier to coordinate than it was 10 years ago. Within the last 2 years, I’ve focused on buying clothing that are suitable for my real life. I want things I can wear week after week, and less “museum pieces” that I get to wear once a year (if that!) The majority of my wardrobe are basic pieces: black bottoms, blue jeans, black or white tees, cardigans (buttoned for work, open for casual), but when I do buy “designer” I go for distinctive pieces. I don’t think everything has to be expensive or designer either. The majority of my clothing purchases this year have been cheap and chic (<$32) from F21, H&M, Gap, Banana Republic, Target. I know I can cut corners on tops, but I will spend more on jackets and accessories. When I looked back at what I was spending on fashion purchases every year, I realized I could have bought a Cartier or Bvlgari ring instead! That said, I can’t seem to stop buying blingy junk jewelry.

  2. What a wonderful story, thank you for sharing. Janice would be proud of you.
    I recently took out all my summer clothes, looked for the blank spaces, wrote some notes and went shopping. I bought exactly what I wanted; some tops. costume jewelry and 2 lovely scarves. I'm on the look out now for 2 pairs of stylish but cool summer pants. Each year I'm moving more and more towards a stylish and highly workable capsule wardrobe.

  3. Pret a Porter P, you've hit the nail on the head there. It's hardest to want to buy the daily items and much easier to buy things that you'll wear hardly ever. I've worn my DVF wrap dress twice since I bought it in January. I do love it, but just don't have that many occasions to wear it. Maybe I need to work out some ways to wear it more casually (if that exists). Good idea to buy distinctive big-ticket items too. Why not show them off. I often see distinctive cheapies and think 'well, everyone's going to know that dress came from Kmart'. It's easy to see in hindsight what you money could have brought, but harder up front (hence fun purchases like blingy junk jewellery!).

    Claire, thank you. And your summer wardrobe story is exactly the ideal way to do it! Well done you.

  4. I think you made great choices with your investment purchase. It makes me think about my own approach and always gravitating toward the sale rack instead of deciding what I need first and then shopping from there, even if it isn't on sale.

  5. Your capsule wardrobe sounds very chic and classic.
    I do not shop on a whim anymore as I have learned how to dress using fewer pieces....Vivienne has helped me too.
    It might be boring to some but I keep going back to black basics with a bright scarf for a punch of colour.
    I made a mistake purchase about a year ago and the dress has hung in my closet gathering dust so it is off to the charity shop pronto...no need to keep reminding myself of that error in judgement!

  6. Stephanie, glad I'm not the only sale rack shopper. There's nothing wrong with things on sale of course, but ONLY looking on the sale rack and ONLY buying something just because it's cheap are not good enough reasons for me anymore. And I know you too.

    Hostess, we might think we bore people with our minimalist clothing choices and love of a certain colour, but how many people do you think notice our outfits as much as we do. Probably not as many as we think! They're all more worried about their own clothes.

    I decluttered a dress I bought a few summers ago and I bought it because of the label and the price. I wore it once and felt really self-conscious. Never wore it again and eventually it was decluttered. It wasn't cheap at $99 even though I thought it was. I am much happier it is not staring at me from my wardrobe anymore and it has taught me a valuable lesson (I even had to talk myself into it in the shop, gah, what was I thinking).

  7. I have just culled so much of my wardrobe, its ridiculous! Due to weight fluctuations, I had three different sizes looking at me, stressing me out even more. In answer to your question Fiona, my shopping habits were random to say the least! So, rolled up sleeves at the ready, I got everything out,I managed to end up with a manageable amount of 60 items of clothes, including seasonal items, not including bags, shoes, scarves, jewellery ( about 100 with accessories) this sounds a lot, but its not, my shopping habit now, is well non existent, I had all I needed, just could not see it! It was emotional and exhausting, but worth it.

  8. Hi Fiona,

    I love this post. Investment dressing is the way to go -- I always regret deviating from this approach.

    Regarding making the DVF wrap dress more casual, one way to do it is to wear flat black boots with it -- particularly the kind that have the suede-like material calves that are fitted and comfortable too. A friend does this a lot with hers and it looks great. She also wears a fitted tank underneath in a colour that is in the pattern and lets it show a little at the neckline, which also makes it a bit more casual. She wears this look quite a bit during the daytime.


  9. Anonymous, your wardrobe cull story is very inspirational! I'll bet you just LOVE getting dressed in the morning now and everything will seem brand new and exciting. And I can only imagine how emotional and exhausting the process was, but exhilarating too? Thank you for your comment.

    Alison, thank you very much for your tip on making a DVF dress more casual, I really appreciate it.

  10. I still shop mostly in thrift shops. Being retired makes it difficult to justify more expensive clothes, though there are pieces I'm sure would be good 'investments' all the same.

    Things I do right:
    - Stick mostly to a few neutral colours that suit me
    - Know what I want before I shop (ie a black wool cardigan or taupe linen trousers)
    - Keep my real lifestyle in mind and shop for that
    - I'm picky about the quality of fabric; I prefer natural fibers to synthetic even though they require a bit more care. I really don't mind ironing, thankfully.
    - Pay for good shoes. I walk a lot and blisters are not acceptable. I value my mobility, particularly as I get older. I see my quality of life as directly related to being able to walk comfortably.

    Things I don't always do right:
    - Don't always insist on proper fit (narrow shoulders require petite clothes, hard to find in thrift shops); I end up with things that I'm not 100% happy with. The shoulder area is very expensive to have altered.
    - Buy too many 'sewing projects' which may or may not get done
    - Pay full price for 'special' occasion pieces I won't wear very often instead of for quality jeans, for example. I think I'm trying to buy confidence for those occasions; I'd probably be smarter to rent a dress instead.
    - Hoard my old clothes in the attic. Mind, there is some nice fabric up there, but unless I do something with it, it will be wasted. Fabric lasts a long time (longer than most of us keep clothes), but not forever, sadly.
    - Buy inexpensive jeans. I think I'd get value for money from some nicer jeans, I wear them so much. Just need to bite that bullet and do it while mid-to-high rise jeans are available!

  11. I've gotten pickier about fit these days- if it's not right then it goes back on the rack, no matter how much I like it.

    I like a slightly boho look- it suits me. Howvever, it has to be done well to avoid a holdover hippie feel. I do buy basics on sale- cotton knit tops and such, but I've had to learn to be willing to pay full price for some things.

    Sometimes an investment for one person might seem odd to another- I had an Indian embroidered blouse I wore for five years and always got compliments. I spent more on that than I usually do, but it was so worth it! Ditto my two skirts with ruffles running vertically down the skirt. I wear them every winter and they're wonderful. Not everyone's cup of tea, but they suit me.

  12. I too shop thrift but look for the expensive gently worn investment pieces. I just pay less. One thing I have learned is that fit is paramount. If it doesn't rate a 9.5 or 10 then it gets left behind. I hate synthetic fabrics and always look for natural fibers. Your story about the investment pieces rings so true. I have a casual lifestyle and have adapted this technique to my wardrobe.

    Thanks for the reminder


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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