Fashion Purging the closet
Hallie King remembers reading about a surefire way to cull a cluttered closet. Turn all the hangers in one direction and whatever is worn goes back in the reverse direction. At the end of year, those not flipped need to find their way out the door.
“Sometimes, though, I pull it out to look at it and forget which way it went,” the 23-year-old says, laughing. “I can’t always tell if I want it.”
Trish McQuillen stands before King’s closet. “I think we can be honest with ourselves,” she says. “You know, unless it has sentimental value,” she adds, not quite completing her thought as she pulls out a long black-and-white dress. “Do you have a need for this one?” she asks. “What is this story?”
And so it goes for a couple of hours on a recent morning in King’s Norwalk bedroom. King, a recent college graduate and aspiring physician’s assistant, needs some pieces that are casual, sophisticated and practical to wear. McQuillen, who has run Style Design Inc., a Norwalk-based wardrobe consulting firm, is particularly interested in such “redirections” when it comes to the threads people don in their personal and professional lives. After a career at Giorgio Armani, her intent is not to impart her own style or change anyone else’s, but rather create outfits that fit and look well, and educate her clients in how to build their closets so they don’t have to ask themselves why they are not wearing certain pieces and how they got there to begin with.
Finding a signature look in an era of fast fashion and outdated fashion rules is a tricky landscape to follow. There are even meggings (aka leggings for men) out there, after all, and they have proven popular. McQuillen looks at each client individually, rather than decreeing a “top 5” list, say, of what to buy and not to buy at various points in a person’s life.
It is a matter of transitions. McQuillen swoops in as a young person moves from their collegiate garb to a professional wardrobe. A retiree may want to stay stylish and chic but ditch the formal suits. A thirtysomething man wants to graduate from bro fashion to a sharp, casual style.
“When people get to the point where a.) they have a new life coming up ahead, or, b.) they get into their closet and realize they can’t see the forest from the trees — basically what to purge — I step in,” she says. “They don’t want to purge the wrong thing, so they don’t purge anything, and they are left with so much stuff that they can’t figure it out.”
McQuillen breaks it down, instead, to a series of questions. What does her client plan to do with his or her time? Where are they headed? What pivotal
pieces will still be working in the next five years? What is his or her style goal?
Breaking it down to the most basic of questions, McQuillen is ultimately asking, what are you going to wear to work tomorrow and, its variations — what are you going to wear to dinner, to the school event, to meet a friend, go on vacation, volunteer, etc.
“It’s almost like grocery shopping on a Sunday,” she says. “You have to plan it out and figure out what everything is going to go with. Otherwise, you are going to be left with those artichokes that go bad because you didn’t think about how you wanted to cook them, or you don’t have the spices and herbs you need. If you think about your week in your personal life and work, and what it is going to be like in the next couple of months or a year, or more, you can gear what you are buying toward that goal.”
McQuillen quickly jots down notes for King’s new pieces on a yellow-lined legal notepad. More professional, fitted T-shirts, white stretch capri pants and some cute (but chic) sandals top the list. This is part of McQuillen’s home consultation, during which pieces are purged, others saved and lists created as to what is needed.
King’s immediate style goal has evolved rather rapidly in the last seven months while working at the Americares Free Clinic in Stamford. “I tend to go simpler, but I do want to look more grown up,” she says. “There are some days that I realize I could be mistaken for a high schooler.”
“Buy more things like that,” says McQuillen, looking at the black-striped, white fitted T-shirt King has just tried on, paired with black fitted pants. With a scarf, King can carry off a chic French look that is simple, sophisticated and casual, and that King is confident to wear.
The secret to that confidence? McQuillen says it starts with finding one’s style, learning which shapes and styles flatter, and, then, with conscious intention and effort, pulling together the pieces that make it work. Chuck the underbrush, so to speak, that’s just cluttering up the view.
Or, to continue the food metaphors, McQuillen says one can always find the “icing” — a glittery top, bold pattern pants or a whimsical tie, to create a bit of sparkle and spontaneity. “I will always get a doughnut,” she says. “But, the core, building the core, you need to think how that is going to work for the new life you are imagining.”