Regardless of age, lifestyle, body type or economic status, shopping expert Amy E. Goodman thinks it's possible for all women look their best. In her new book, "Wear This, Toss That!" Goodman shares advice and tricks to help women get control of their closet so they can look fabulous all the time — no matter what situation they are in. Here's an excerpt:
Introduction and Welcome to Your Closet
It costs us not to look our best. There, I said it. That’s the premise of my fashion philosophy. Every day — believe it or not — clothes can be a saving grace. Here’s a case in point: Four months after giving birth to my first child, I had a job interview with a major women’s magazine.
The night before, I stood in front of the mirror. My tummy still popped, my breasts swelled full, and my softened body felt suspended between my full-term pregnancy clothes on one side of my closet and the now seemingly "miniature" pre-baby clothes on the other. (I mean, how did I zip up pants that currently stopped at my thighs? Weep.)
I needed clothes to deliver on so many levels: accommodate my new chest, rein in my new curves ... and overcome my lack of confidence. My immediate need was professional, but I still wanted an outfit that could multitask — one that I could wear from the boardroom to lunch with the girls (and preferably breastfeed in later!).
My final selection was a V-neck wrap dress, which highlighted my waist, gave me a lovely hourglass figure, and kept the chest in check. The deep blue hue slimmed and a diamond pattern detracted from my tummy and made me less self-conscious instantly. Though I felt unsettled and uncharacteristically nervous as I walked into the interview thinking about my newborn, one of three interviewers said, "She just had a baby! Doesn't she look fabulous?"
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I got an offer. This wasn't the first time fashion had saved me.
The bottom line is that we all need to look good. All the time.
When we don't dress, it costs us
• job opportunities
• positive first impressions
• confidence and self-worth
• dollars ... lots of dollars
We work hard for our money and then toss it away when we fail to wear what we have or buy things we really shouldn’t. A rock-bottom price doesn’t make a pukey color prettier, a tight-fitting gown looser, or a neon shade less bright.
Packing your closet with clothes you don’t wear is equivalent to stocking your refrigerator with foods you don’t eat. Sounds absurd, doesn’t it?
Thinking of fashion and beauty in terms of value (aside from the price tag) can be complex: easy enough to digest in theory, though a little tough to get kicking in reality.
Why is this? Because closets, clothes, fashion ... for most people, they're something to tackle another day. Until several days later (and several years later) you realize there's a lot you don't like about what you're wearing and you wonder how that happened.
Regardless of what life stage you find yourself in while reading this book (job seeker, newlywed, new mother, divorced, or retired), you need to get dressed — and you need to look phenomenal.
You need fashion answers faster than pronto.
My mission is to help you regain control of your closet by simplifying the choices. I do this rack by rack, piece by piece. Almost instantly, you’ll learn what works, what doesn’t, and why. Being able to reach into your closet every morning and emerge with options you love is liberating. It means that you have conquered this corner of your world, saving you time and money and affording you opportunities. When so often we don’t have power over other areas of our lives — work, relationships, obligations, expectations — reclaiming your wardrobe is a gift you give back to yourself.
Up-styling vs. Downsizing
When I was younger, I was the kind of girl who enjoyed dressing up. I’ve always appreciated what fashion has to offer. I was then and am now the one who overdresses for an occasion. As a regular contributor for shows like "TODAY" and "The View," and with an editorial career in women's magazines, I'm encouraged to be creative with my personal style and it's acceptable for me to show up with a jeweled Indian bindi in the middle of my forehead simply because I think it rocks. Naturally, my friends write me off as the one who always looks put together because of my line of work. But — dare I say — not all magazine editors have style in the same way that not all bank executives dress conservatively.
It's precisely because I like to experiment and switch up what I wear that I have a problem with how we Americans dress. We seem to be obsessed with "comfort clothes." We've adopted the jeans-T-shirt-sneakers look as if it were a national uniform. While dressing down can be entirely stylish, sadly, we define "comfort clothes" as ill-fitting pants, shapeless shirts and please — don’t even get me started on the sweats.
Generally, we turn to clothes as things to throw on and just get us through another day.
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What happens then? We glare in the mirror (or avoid it altogether) and take issue with the reflection. Our clothes don’t fit. The two pairs of shoes we alternate every other day because they don’t hurt are worn out. We look at our closets and wish for a surprise visit from a celebrity stylist. Our hair has been cut and colored the same way for the past five years and we look tired, oh so tired. Some caked eye shadow palettes have followed us from college. The last updo? A ponytail.
As a Japanese-American, I often travel to Tokyo where, if you hop on the subway, you find men in crisp, tailored suits, women with the latest layered tresses, grandmothers dressed to the nines, and students sporting quirky interpretations of the hottest looks. New Yorkers have the same vibe: people dressing to celebrate clothes and showcasing their personal taste. It’s energizing. It’s exciting. Confidence abounds.
Being surrounded by fashion in motion makes you want to downright ... dress up.
So how come so many American women go on fashion furloughs?
1. I hate my body right now. Why bother? For the very reason that you deserve to look fantastic no matter your shape or age — 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. As we mature, our bodies play tricks on us. We expand and contract. We flatten and thin. We have a baby or two or three (the belly button is never quite the same, is it?). Even when we do manage to hit the gym, our muscles may firm but our post-childbirth or 40-something skin may still sag. Finally, we’ve got wrinkles to remind us of the sun-scorching years of our youth.
This book can trump your body’s tricks. I acknowledge women’s changing appearance and strip down dressing essentials so that you no longer need to hide behind your clothes. I offer save-me styling tips that accentuate your body’s strengths and the current life stage of your skin. It’s the instant boost you need to reclaim your looks.
2. I don’t have the time. Sure you do. The issue may be putting in the initial hours to get the clothes you really want. With that in mind, I spell out how to sort through the clothes you have, take inventory of what you need, and build upon what you've got to create a winning wardrobe. Before you know it, you’ll be throwing an ensemble together in a flash and looking fresh and fabulous every day. Think of this as an investment that will save time in the long run.
3. Clothes are complicated. That’s right, sister. Trying to figure out what fits and what doesn't is a long labor of love that can last a lifetime as our bodies morph over the years. My goal is to show you easy fashion swaps, hanger by hanger, one piece at a time.
Once you get the basics down, I’ll show you how to take it to the next level with fun details that speak to your personal style.
I’ve done the homework, so you’ll be the expert: at the dress department, jeans table, suit section, shoe racks, cosmetics counter, haircare shelves, and more.
4. Money is tight these days. I hear you, and so do designers. That's why many of them are developing budget-friendly lines and distributing them through mass merchants for easy access. Clothes are actually more affordable than ever.
I will decode what you really need to construct a fashionable wardrobe and give you a wealth of ideas about where to shop and save money. Did you know there is a website that will send you an alert when an item you're eyeing — let's say it's a flirty ruffled shirt from J. Crew — goes on sale? Or that you can get cash back at your favorite stores by shopping through a particular source? A recent Consumer Expenditures survey by the U.S. Department of Labor found that a 2.5-person family making $63,000 before taxes spends nearly $2,000 on apparel and nearly $600 on beauty/personal care annually. I think those numbers are a conservative estimate, but regardless, we need to make every one of those dollars count. Whether shopping in the mall or on the Internet, I'll steer you toward the best deals when paying full price is not an option.
5. I happen to like casual! Of course you do! Trust me, I do too. I’m not one to go to the gym in dress pants and heels. But there is a snazzy way to wear casual. I’ll explain how to find jeans that fit figures of all types (Chapter 2) and show you tops that'll make you sizzle in Chapter 1. (I have more classic options, too.) Before you know it, your "casual safari" will go from bland and drapey to sophisticated and sharp. You’ll become queen of your own fashion jungle. My goal is to get you to rethink everyday dressing. I want you to roar, "I never knew casual could look so chic! I never knew this could be so easy!"
Who is this book for?
I'm here to share all I know with fellow busy women, regardless of age, lifestyle, location, or fashion IQ. This book is for those who want to wake up their look and shake off under-dressing without having to categorize their body as a fruit, vegetable, or geometric form. (Am I shaped like a pear? An eggplant? An inverse triangle?) Yes, good fit is essential, and we'll talk about it plenty, but I've never understood the value of buying a book that defines every body type or identifies every body problem, thus leaving you with only one chapter — or worse, a few pages — that are relevant to you.
Perhaps your body is and has been the same size since you were 18. For the rest of us (raise your hands, majority!), our shapes have changed over the years, whether or not our clothes have kept up with us.
Perhaps you’re still trying to squeeze into your old "skinny" jeans, hiding a bit of belly after having a baby or hitting a certain age, or redefining your style as you re-enter the workforce. The key is to no longer hide our figures based on where we’ve been or where we think we're headed. We need clothes for now and we need to switch things up because, like any good stock, investing in ourselves pays off.
Why me? Because I get it
I’m not a fashionista. I grew up in a rural part of northern California, where my earliest fashion memories include my mother’s handmade and matching mother-daughter dresses (she was Kanga, I was Roo) and my multi-pocketed cargos for scaling trees in my backyard. As a preteen, I navigated the fashion-forward 1980s with my 9-year-old mentality: jelly bracelets, jelly shoes, a can of AquaNet (for teased bangs, of course), and glow-in-the-dark neon. I watched with my good-girl mouth agape as Madonna single-handedly made lingerie a daytime staple.
Although I attended college on both coasts — Los Angeles and New York City — and my work is in big cities, I currently reside in a suburb of Washington, D.C., and juggle (don’t we all?) my roles as wife, mother, daughter, friend, and worker bee. I type these pages pregnant with my second child, on my bed between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. — my quietest and most productive hours. I call sources on Bluetooth in my car, where my toddler daughter unfailingly chimes in at full volume. As a journalist, I cover fashion, beauty, and lifestyle, while shopping the latest sales at CVS, Target, and Loehmann's — and I clip coupons from Saturday circulars to save on sandwich bags.
It is an abundant and multitasking life. Recently, I hosted a 40-person mother-child brunch where assorted muffins, waffles and coffee cake were served. A friend took one look at my crumb-covered floor and exclaimed, "Better call your housekeeper!" (Save the phone call: You’re looking at her.) People also assume I have a nanny. Nannies must be godsends, but we don’t have one ... at least not yet.
This was written with my friends' everyday questions in mind: Do these shoes go with these capris? Is this skirt length appropriate for my age? How can I make my shrinking boobs look bigger? (Okay ... the last question was mine!) What do I wear to a conference in Las Vegas? How do I make sense of organic makeup lines? Where should I shop? We're a single-income household and the kids come first, so how can I look good without spending the milk money?
So no, I’m not a fashion stylist, but I know about fashion. I'm not a makeup artist, but I love dipping my hands in everything beauty. I leave hairstyling to the pros, but I always take note of what they're using. And I’ve compiled years of curiosity, questioning, and research into this book.
Good looks bring big returns in bad times
There isn't a woman alive who hasn't experienced one of those horrific days that drains her emotionally, professionally, or financially. Think about it: The days you can't get out of bed. The job search that makes you feel unskilled. The horrific, unsettling date that left you questioning your character. The news that a loved one is hospitalized, that your teenager is suspended from school, or that your paycheck falls short of this month’s bills.
At these crucial moments, dressing down is oh-so-tempting. But it costs us even more. It makes us fall into habits that are counterproductive. When did wearing pajamas all day help you get out of bed? When did not brushing your hair better prepare you to face the outside world?
Looking good can jolt you with self-generated power. It can shift your paradigm when things aren't looking up, so you feel stronger.
This is supported in findings by the 2010 Gamma Beauty Study (conducted by Research Solutions), in which nine out of ten women ages 18 to 64 said makeup can make you feel more confident and that this confidence extends to a positive self-image.
In fairness, I've put this philosophy to the test. Late one night I got a call that I had been let go from a job. The news hit me when I least expected it, without warning and with dirty dinner dishes getting crusty in the sink. Though I was told it wasn't about me, it certainly didn't feel that way. I was thoroughly and utterly shell-shocked.
In the days that followed and, because I'm a creature of habit, I continued to dress as if I was prepping for work, applying my makeup as if I had someplace to go, even though I would have a meltdown and cry 30 minutes later. Sitting in bedclothes would’ve made me ambivalent. I gave myself some time to “mourn,” as I called it (I did mention the bawling, right?), but then I dusted off the résumé and started making calls. Within three months, I’d landed another dream job.
At that time, I could’ve easily gone down a path of self-loathing (picture "Friends" reruns, unanswered e-mails, and bags of Baked Lay’s Potato Crisps), but my physical routine of dressing and maintaining my exterior kept me in check when my interior needed it most.
Armed with clothes and accessories that work and fresh makeup options, anyone can pull off the greatest of deceptions. That’s another dividend of fashion and beauty: They are ideal cover-ups for the particularly tough days or nights.
Why this journey now?
In the beginning, I talked about what a dressy girl I am. One reason for that — aside from my mother’s obsession with dresses for her only daughter — was my early exposure to fashion. My grandmother, a first-generation Japanese-American, was a seamstress (she still sews at 88!) from the moment her ship landed in this country. She subscribed to the best fashion magazines ("This the latest in Paris!" she'd exclaim), which her society clientele flipped through as they streamed in and out of her house for fittings. Luxurious fabrics pouring out of Britex bags from San Francisco, half-cut muslins, fitting forms, straight pins between her lips and precariously littering the floor ... these were all a part of visiting Grandma Peggy's house. So I was spoiled. If I bought something at a store, she would tailor fit it to my body, and she custom-made numerous gowns for me. Perched on the arm of her sofa (since the cushions offered no sitting space, being stacked high with sewing supplies and pattern packages scribbled with measurements) is where my fashion education began.
I report deeply and write passionately, knowing that we all bring our unique experiences and bodies to the table. While I personally abhor harem pants, some of you out there swear by them (along with the one runway model from Russia who wears them perfectly). For that matter, fashion wouldn’t be fashionable without change and evolution and opinion. Though I’ve tried to make the wear-and-toss fashion choices crystal clear regardless of trends, nothing I’ve written is an absolute: A toss is not a toss if it truly works for you. (Make sure a discerning friend heartily agrees and that it’s not your stubbornness holding out.) What I do hope to offer are general guidelines, formulated with the best possible intent, as to what works and what doesn’t for most of us.
People always ask me who the "us" is in this book. Unflinchingly, I say "real women." So let's keep it real. Let's not waste another minute, and let's do this stylishly.
From "Wear This, Toss That!" by Amy E. Goodman. Copyright © 2011. Reprinted by permission of Atria Books.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive