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Video: Gunn's guide to bags and shoes

TODAY
updated 4/25/2007 4:22:13 PM ET 2007-04-25T20:22:13

Whether you're a fashionista or a fashion igonramus everyone can use a little style advice. And who better to help you out than the mentor of Bravo's reality hit show, “Project Runway," Tim Gunn, who coined the phrase "Make it Work." Well add author to his resume because he has a new book titled, “A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style.” From how to shop, dress, clean your closet or improve your posture — this book has it all.   

Here are some of Tim Gunn's tips on cleaning your closet:

Diagnosing the Common Closet

“I love America, and I love American women. But there is one thing that deeply shocks me—American closets. I cannot believe one can dress well when you have so much. ” —Andrée Putman

The Lesson: What is a closet, really, but a catalogue of the different personas we have auditioned and discarded? Hanging there in our closets are reminders, both good and bad, of who we are, who we’ve been, and who we’ve hoped to be. No wonder things can get a bit muddled. In this chapter we will take a two-pronged approach, both practical and theoretical, to getting those racks in order. Think of this chapter as your closet’s quest for its authentic self.

Closets are often where we hide things: skeletons, forbidden loves, terrible birthday gifts we couldn’t return. It is for this reason that deciding what to wear while staring into those murky depths can be not just daunting, but emotionally exhausting as well. That lace bed-jacket bought at the antique store in Vermont? Those velvet jeans that were already too small the day you picked them out? That cocktail dress purchased especially for the party that was an absolute dud? You remember them all. How could you forget? They stare back at you every time you open your closet door. The time has come to wipe the slate clean and cleanse your sartorial palate.

Ultimately the following process should allow you to divide your closet into four distinct piles. Choosing what stays and what goes can be intimidating, but we have nothing to fear if we listen to Søren. He counsels that the unmediated choice is the only choice one will never regret. That means no agonizing over whether or not to keep the jumpsuit. If you have to ask, the answer is: Throw it away. If, however, the item causes heart palpitations of happiness, it goes in pile number one:

  • The Soul-Stirring Pile. Keep in mind that this pile is not just for fantastic items; that flattering cotton tank you love goes in this pile, too.
  • If a beloved garment needs some attention, put it in The Repair Pile. You now have exactly five days to go to the dry cleaner or tailor. Do not allow items to languish. If this is a temptation, perhaps the item is not important enough to fix.
  • The Give-Away and The Throw-Out Piles are where things often get hairy, as in filled with dangers or difficulties.
  • Let’s look at what remains in the common closet after the Soul Stirrers and Repairs have been set aside, and decide what to do about what’s left on the rack.

Items that don't fit
This is a broad category that ranges from the aforementioned velvet jeans to items that do indeed fit, just not well. There is no reason to have something taking up space in your closet that does not make you feel good. These items must go. Perhaps you like to torture yourself by trying on some jeans from a few years ago to see if you can button them. Clothes do not exist to humiliate their owners. Please do not force garments into performing psychological tasks for which they were not designed. Furthermore, please be kind to yourself. They don’t fit. Toss ’em.

Items so expensive you feel horribly guilty getting rid of them
Mistakes were made; find the unloved items a new home. These items are especially pernicious because one remembers the moment of plunking down all that cash or credit every time one glances at them. This can often lead to face-flushing, feelings of unhappiness, and self—recrimination. Since you never wear them, they should be in good condition and therefore avoid the Throw-Out Pile. As they hit the Give-Away Pile, whisper a solemn oath to not make such silly purchases again. Repeat: Cheap Is Chic, Cheap Is Chic, Cheap Is Chic. There, all better. If you feel you must recoup something and the item retains its value, there are always consignment shops, but eBay is much more au courant.

Abrams Books

What you love
Well done! The wheat and chaff have been parted. Only delightful pieces should remain. Now that they are all mingling together and not lost in the closet, look for a connection, a narrative through-line. In other words, is there something that the pieces you love have in common? Bright colors, marabou trim? Sumptuous fabrics and shades of gray? Sometimes seeing all of one’s favorites grouped together can be a bit of a shock. One may think of herself as a Jackie Bouvier type, but her most beloved pieces are more like burlesque star Tempest storm. What to do?

First, congratulations—your soul has spoken! A discovery has been made. look closely at the pieces. What do they have in common? Is it a shared silhouette? Are they waist enhancing or perhaps light and ethereal? What the pieces have in common can be thought of as their form. If, for instance, favored pieces tend toward the ethereal, it does not mean that dressing head-to-toe like a fairy is a good idea. It means that incorporating pieces light of form will ensure that you are happy when the closet door opens. let us now return to Mr. Kierkegaard for the second of his two important ideas.

Imagine a gin martini served in a pint glass or a Wagnerian opera–version of Sex and the City. Both might have their . . . intoxicating charms, but neither would be a flawless fit. The martini would be undrinkable because it would get warm much faster than you could quaff it. The glass the martini is served in is an essential part of the martini itself. Carrie Bradshaw wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if she and Mr. Big both drank a magic potion and sang the same infernal love duet for four hours. The thirty-minute television format is the ideal medium for her banter and romance.

So should it be for you and your clothes. For Kierkegaard, a “classic” results when form and content meet in perfect harmony. In our case, the content is the person inside the garment; the form is the garment itself. Some form and content marriages are quite obvious. Examples that come to mind are Paris Hilton and the line Heatherette, or Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy. Rarely, if ever, have those four names appeared in the same sentence. Nonetheless, what is important is that the particular strengths of the content—Paris and Audrey—are showcased by the form. What isn’t successful is choosing a rigid form and trying to wedge one’s unhappy content into it. If one is lucky enough to have a Monica Bellucci-esque figure, wearing a Hedi Slimane Dior man’s suit might be difficult. Borrowing androgynous elements while respecting the line of one’s figure, though, will be chic. A more quotidian example might be the financial consultant who goes to work every day in black slacks and pumps, but loves anything related to ballet. By switching those black slacks for a softer, slightly full skirt, paired with a slim black turtleneck and a belt at her true waist, she can bring some of the form she loves into play without sacrificing loyalty to her content.

“Yes, yes,” you say, “form and content are fine, but what about this collection of soul-stirring clothes now outside of my closet?” lovely question! Those are your clothes for the next seven days. each day you must wear one soul-stirring item. Think of it as strength training for the style muscles. Too often we “save” things we love for a special occasion; as a result we rarely wear the very things we love best. Perhaps that silk slip dress could go to work with black tights, flats, and a cashmere cardigan. Throw that sparkly cardigan on over a tank top and jeans. Just get them in the rotation. The confidence you’ll gain is the reward for all your hard work.

The Blind Spot: If getting rid of things were easy, there wouldn’t be an overstuffed closet to be found. After you have assembled your soul-stirring Pile, take another look. Does everything deserve to be there? Be ruthless. If the thought of giving away an item that was so fun five years ago makes you sad, by all means grieve. Then get rid of it.

Excerpted from “Tim Gunn's Guide to Quality, Taste & Style” by Tim Gunn and Kate Maloney. Copyright © 2007 Tim Gunn, Kate Maloney. All rights reserved. Published by Abrams Books. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.

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