Fashion Friday: Closet Essentials, Part 2

This is where my little bit and I were last Sunday:

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What on Earth? 

Is that a freakin’ awesome closet? 

I’m not jealous because this is my best friend, and I’m sure if I ever lose 40 pounds she’ll let me borrow all those cute blazers! 

Seriously, this woman has a great eye.  For her 40th birthday, we spent a weekend in Manhattan and had a blast eating and shopping our way through one of our favorite cities.  She has accumulated quite a collection of handbags, shoes, work clothes, and fun clothes.  She doesn’t change sizes like I do so her outfits have multiplied. 

She has had a walk in closet, you’ll see from the before and after pics her closet didn’t change sizes, but it just was poorly organized.  She’d walk in and feel messy because of the piles of shoes on the floor and no good way to organize them.  Plus she had a bunch of wasted space and no idea how to make functional use of it.  Here’s some shots of the throngs of baskets and shoe racks that weren’t doing the trick:

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So for her Christmas/Birthday/Valentine’s present, her darling husband (who is a seriously master gift giver) hired a closet organizing company to come make over her closet!  Those companies aren’t cheap so that’s why it was her big gift this year, and boy has it made getting dressed in the morning easier. 

I sat her down for a Q&A about her closet, so listen in to the great tips she shared about what works and what doesn’t work.  You could easily incorporate aspects into your closet with just a focused shopping trip to Target or The Container Store.

Me:  What feature(s) do you love most about your new closet lay out? 

Mary:  The section that holds all of my purses, with acrylic dividers, and the baskets that hold my clutches and smaller handbags.   In my old closet, all of my purses were in plastic bins on high shelves.  It was a huge pain to get a ladder to bring down a bin and rummage for a purse (then put it back and the ladder), which made me just use one purse most of the time. I don’t have expensive purses, but I have many that I really like and now I can interchange them with what I’m wearing pretty easily. 

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Me:  What did they suggest that you never would have thought of?

Mary:  To make use of space up high, I wanted a closet rod that had a handle that pulled the rod down, but there wasn’t enough wing-span.  The designer suggested using instead a reach pole like they have in department stores.  So I can still access clothes that are up high without bringing in a ladder.  I put clothes up high that are seasonal, like now I have the summer stuff up there, and I will move them around as it gets warmer.  But since Houston weather goes from cold to warm so quickly, I can still easily grab a pair of shorts if I need.  

They also suggested valet rods, which are rods that pull-out to hang dry cleaning or an outfit for the next day.  So I try to put my outfit together the night before and hang it on a valet rod which makes getting dressed in the morning so easy.  

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I have some really handy jewelry drawers that pull out at the back of the closet and those also help me to keep my costume jewelry organized. 

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Me:  What doesn’t really improve functionality all that much? 

Mary:  The fact that I just have too much stuff, and a lot of it is similar.  We all tend to gravitate to certain brands, colors, and I found that I have many duplicates.  I struggled because they’re nice pieces that fit, so I didn’t want to get rid of them.  For example, I love a denim trouser for work.  It’s not really denim, but it’s blue and is a lightweight denim-looking fabric.  Well, I have four pair and that’s overkill.   So this process made me think about what I need and what I don’t need and just because it’s a good deal or is on sale, I don’t have to buy it.  (Commentary from the Peanut Gallery – Wiser words were never spoken!)

Me:  How do you make sure you rotate what’s in your (pretty extensive) wardrobe? 

Mary:  It’s hard to really figure that out.  I heard someone say that they would turn the hangar the opposite way after they wore an item so you could tell it was recently worn.  I’ve started to do that.  I’ll try to pass over something in my closet that I’ve recently worn and go for something else. 

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(Can y’all tell little bit LOVES her some Aunt Mary?)  So come on, it’s your turn – what works in your closet?  What definitely does not?  What item in Mary’s closet would you love to have?

On Failure: Part 3, Facing Heartbreak

Well, this has been a fun week for me (ahem…).  Nothing like walking down your failure memory lane.  But each post has opened the door to talk to people who have worn a similar failure shamefully for years.  The walking wounded.  Bearing the scars of loss under a smile.  I hope sharing my own story has provided those of you with similar struggles with some freedom.

We covered rejection – I had my fair share in law school.

Then I walked through career loss – when I lost a job I needed.

Today I’m going to share something on the personal side – a failed relationship.

I hope you have not had to walk through painful heartache, but odds are many of you have.  I have never written about this part of my history before, so I asked my husband to review it first to make sure he was comfortable with me sharing about a “pre-him” relationship.

I fell in love three times in my life.  Each time was deeper than the time before.  The third and final time, I was 30 years old and dating my husband.  I love him in a way I didn’t know I was capable of loving before him.  We are about to celebrate nine years of marriage, and I am incredibly thankful for God piecing my heart back together.

The relationship I had before my husband started out as a friendship though we realized there was a bigger connection.  Almost a year after we became friends, we started dating.  As I mentioned yesterday, for reasons I didn’t understand then, I moved to a new city for a job opportunity while the relationship was still young.  I believed it would endure the transition.  We talked every day, and I visited him and he came to visit me.

He said all the right things, and I was a total words girl and fell for everything he said.  There were some warning signs from his past relationships, but I moved forward undeterred.  I believed I would end up moving back in a year’s time when the right job presented itself.

Then one Monday night a friend called from my old town.  She asked some general questions about my life and then started asking me if I was with this man the weekend before.  I responded yes, thinking she meant a full week ago.  She expressed her great relief because she had understood he’d spent the weekend with another woman in another town.  When I cleared up the dates, I realized the time period he had been unreachable the previous weekend he was with someone else.  He arrived in town that week, and when I confronted him with the information, I discovered that he was sleeping with someone else.

I was undone.  My heart was shattered.  Infidelity was a particularly acute fear of mine because my parents marriage unraveled for this exact same reason.

I would soon be turning 30 and had put my hopes of forever after aboard the Titanic.  I spent months questioning myself (not him, that is so frustrating to me now!).  I bore the shame of the relationship failure and questioned every decision I had made.  I very briefly dated bad choices in hopes they could say something that would make me feel better about myself.  I made decisions out of a wounded place instead of a wise one.

It is perfectly appropriate to mourn the loss of a relationship.  It is not okay to let it haunt you and define you and inform your next romantic choices.

I got healthy and was comfortable being alone when I met my husband.  And because of my prior two heartbreaks, I made certain things nonnegotiable in a relationship.  Not an unreasonable list of things, but critical criteria made it to the top of my evaluation in a way they hadn’t before.  At the top of that list was honesty.  All the pretty in the words in the world will do you no good if you can’t trust one of them.  While I didn’t know I was in love with my husband for several months, he had me hooked the first night we met and we engaged in a vigorous debate.  He wasn’t trying to charm me with blowing a bunch of smoke, he was DEBATING me for Pete’s sake.  The quality might not have topped my list five years before, but honesty has created the foundation for an incredible love that I didn’t even know was possible.

It came out of failure.  Broken messy ugly shards pieced into a beautiful mosaic I couldn’t have imagined at the time.

Failures are an indication you are living.  They are a layover en route to your destination.  Do not give up because you failed.  Be thankful you are still here and can try again.  You can take a new route.  You can recalibrate your plan.  You can rest confident in the fact that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.  (Phil 1:6)

On Failure: Part 2, Losing a Job

I’ve had great jobs and not great jobs.  I’ve had great bosses and not great bosses.  I’ve had big career successes and sad failures. 

If you missed yesterday, I’m writing about the purpose in your failures this week.  You can read about it if you’d like more background on today’s post. 

Today I’m talking about something that I told two of my closest girlfriends less than a year ago that I would never share.  I have got to stop staying never.  God takes that as a line in the sand and regularly makes me cross to the other side. 

I’m not planning on sharing any details, but I lost a job. 

I tend to be an overachieving perfectionist so this was a devastating loss. 

I also have no family money, so it was an incredibly fearful period in my life as well. 

There were numerous factors, one of which was a very problematic relationship with a boss having personal struggles beyond my control, but it ultimately led to my boss telling management they had a choice, and I drew the short straw in the choice outlined.  Management delivered the message softly, but it still shook me and shocked me. 

I spent two months (gratefully while still employed) searching for jobs in several cities.  I had just begun a relationship (tomorrow’s post) and wasn’t anxious to move.  I spent weeks in between replies of “we don’t have a place for you,” and “we’re thinking about opening something up in six months” weighing if I would be a good barista and if it could cover my bills. 

I ended up with two offers.  While neither of them were the dream job I’d outlined in my head, one offer made sense and one didn’t make sense.  One kept me in my town and one moved me.  One my best friend supported and one she said was an unnecessary choice.  I choice the latter one. 

Aside from some inexplicable intervention from God to nudge me to the yes to the latter choice, I have no reason to support why I said yes to the latter.

Not to blow the punchline or anything, but the latter choice ended up being the right choice. 

I was miserable for a year though.  

I held on to that job loss grief for far longer.  Everyone thought my choice was voluntary because that is the face you put on those things, but it was not.  I wore failure like a hidden cloak of shame and it tinted every job decision I made for years.  It made me fearful.  It made me insecure.  It made me doubt my abilities. 

I let that go.  Eventually, I released the shame.  I saw the loss was a necessary evil.  One, it brought me to a place I needed to go but wouldn’t have traveled to on my own.  Two, it helped me understand others going through similar losses (I remember acutely empathizing with the throngs of lawyers who lost their job in 2008).  Three, it made me thankful for a job I loved.  Four, it reminded me God provides even when it seems impossible. 

I do wish I could shortcut your journey through the pain though.  The failure still haunting you or that you are in the middle of can often arrest your confidence and color your judgment.  Failure whispers to you to take the safe choice instead of the best one.  Failure encourages you to pick security because you’ve been thrust into a season of insecurity. 

Can you step back for a minute?  Silence the scared voice.  Look at the season or the choices as if they were your friend’s season or choices.  If you were independent, then what would you counsel?  Is there someone you can be transparent enough with to get unfiltered, but wise, counsel? 

This loss does not define you.  This failure is not who you are.  You are capable.  You are smart.  You are strong.  {===>Tweet This}  You will move beyond this and the change in course may offer even brighter opportunities. 

On Failure: Part 1, Getting Rejected

I’ve failed a bunch of times.  I’ve lost.  I’ve made a royal mess of things.

I share that for a couple of reasons.

First, I say I’ve failed because I’m going to write about some of my failures this week.  (Yay, fun.  Just what I’ve always wanted to do – broadcast my losses.)  But I’m doing it because really kind people have said things recently like, “Oh, you are so amazing, I don’t know how you do it all,” or “Wow, you just have the perfect family and career and you’re just so lucky.”  Ahem.  I write a lot about resilience in the face of failure in leadership, but all too often people look at the people leading and don’t see the failures.  They just see the success.

Second, I heard this incredible message on Saturday morning.  It deserves its own post, but the punchline was that when you’re greatest hopes crash into pieces against a rock, you must not become immobilized holding those pieces rather than doing the work necessary to have them restored.

I could write a year long series on the setbacks I’ve had, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t do either of us any good.  So instead I’m going to share three stories this week that caused incredible heartache and despair when they occurred, but looking back now I can see why I had to go through the loss.  Today’s story is especially for the young adults starting out and having a hard time finding their dream, or a career, or even a job.  Tomorrow’s story is for anyone who has ever gotten fired or shredded at work.  And I’ll wrap up Wednesday with a story for anyone who has ever had their heart broken wide open.

I went to Vanderbilt Law School with grand plans.  Since I didn’t get accepted at University of Chicago, I figured I’d find a job in Chicago out of law school (I’d fallen in love with it at 18 and wanted to get back there).  My entire life, I’d been a very shy, very obedient, nearly perfect kid.  I made straight As, worked from the time I was 12 to help my family (we had very limited means), taught Sunday School, and made the peace.

Then I went to law school.  And I sort of went wild.  For the first time since 7th grade, I didn’t have a job besides school and I hung out with people that were well practiced at the art of partying.  I did fine my first semester, but my second semester I tanked.  To top it off, I spent the summer studying in Oxford so I didn’t add an ounce of practical knowledge to my resume for the fall recruiting season.

I cannot even count the on-campus interviews I gave.  A bunch.  For law firms at most cities in America.  I did not receive ONE call back.  Not one single solitary employer was interested in giving me a second interview (and most definitely no one in Chicago).  I thought about dropping out of law school.  I wasn’t loving much but the social aspect, and I clearly was unemployable.  But I owed Vanderbilt $33,000 for my first year.  Oh, and I owed Oxford some money.  So I decided I better get a degree.

The one thing I had NO plans to do was move back to Texas.  But it turned out, Texas was one of the few markets hiring in 1997.  So I wrote a lot of Dallas/Fort Worth law firms letters (you see, this was before everyone had email addresses), and I bought myself a plane ticket and met a bunch of lawyers.  One wonderfully brave law firm extended me an offer for a six week clerkship that summer.  I joined a class of 8 clerks.  I have never been so grateful.

But I still had another half of my summer to fill.  And no job to fill it.  So while my fellow law students did big firm summer splits, I moved home with my mother for six weeks and took a job with a temp agency as an assistant at Compaq.  I told people that I worked in their law department, which ironically I was stationed in, but never mentioned that it was through a temp agency as an admin.

I share this story, which still creates that well of insecurity in me, to let you know that I have no pedigree.  My family has no money or connections.  I went to a tiny undergraduate school in Arkansas that folks still can’t pronounce, and I still don’t know exactly how I ended up at Vanderbilt.  I hung out with people that had way more money that me and I got in a lot of credit card debt.  I stayed in law school my second year because I didn’t feel I had any options.  I only ever had one real law firm clerkship and thankfully they extended me an offer.

If you had told that insecure law student that she would work for a global energy company and write a book and have a family and win some awards, she would have told you to sober up.

Those failures, academic, personal, professional, made me stronger.  They introduced me to a community I would have never known and for which I am ever so thankful to have found.  They paved the path that needed to be paved.  I took some detours that didn’t need to happen, but God used even those to teach me something about myself and others.

Don’t be embarrassed about the way you got to where you are.  And don’t be scared that your current situation defines your future potential.  It. Does. Not.

Fashion Friday: Closet Essentials, Part 1

Meet my fun friend Cyndi.  She is a smart entrepreneur who is busy and colorful.  Well, everywhere but in her closet.  When we explored its depths (and I mean depths, she got a bigger closet this year), we found she wasn’t very adventuresome or colorful (except for in one category, keep reading!).

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Welcome to the first of a three part series for Fashion Fridays on Closet Essentials.  What must you have as a part of your wardrobe?  What should you ditch?  What could you change?  How should you be thinking about what’s in your closet now?

That’s what we’re going to tackle with this series.  Cyndi was gracious enough to serve as my first guinea pig!  Cyndi’s lifestyle is a mix so her wardrobe has to be as well. She owns her own law firm so a workday could mean anything from working on her computer from home (very casual), to meeting with clients in her office (professional but business casual), to appearing in court on behalf of her clients (suit is a must).  She has an active daughter so weekends are busy running errands, and she’ll rarely dress up – perhaps for an evening out with her husband since even Sunday church isn’t particularly dressy.

This is what Cyndi was doing right:

Summer Casual!  She had a closet full of gorgeous dresses in every color and pattern you could imagine.  A casual maxidress for running errands or bright sundresses for movie night or brunch with friends.  She also had an assortment of wedges that she could pair comfortably with the dresses.  A great look for casual summer weekends.

 

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This is where Cyndi was missing the mark:

Everything else.  While her dresses reflected her colorful and interesting personality, her winter wardrobe and work wardrobe was primarily made up of black, brown, bland gray, and creams.

Here’s what closet essentials Cyndi was missing:

1.  Neutral work pumps.  This is not black or brown.  These are actually less neutral than bone, taupe or gray.  And Cyndi didn’t have a single solitary pair in that color family which left her stumped on what to pair with a couple of her lovely, but rarely worn, work suits.  Now Cyndi does have some medical issues with her feet that leave many of the mass market shoes out of reach, but there are supportive shoes that can feel modern and work appropriate.

VANELi, Cole Haan, Rockport, and others all design heels for comfort, and if you hit Nordstrom’s during a semi-annual sale you can pick up some of these higher priced pumps for $100 (often well designed comfort shoes are pricier).  It will require a lot of work, and I told Cyndi she’d probably have to spend a few hours in a shoe department in order to understand what shoes offer the support she knows her feet need.  Here’s some great options:

Cole Haan Bethany wedge – colehaan

VANELI peep toe pewter pumps – vaneli

Geox snake skin embossed pumps – elina

2.  Colorful shells.  Cyndi has to wear more conservative suits to court and most of her suits were black.  However, she normally paired her black suit with a black shell or possibly an ecru or gray shell.

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My advice:  STOP!  Here is a wide open opportunity to infuse a work wardrobe with bright color.  With her skin tone and hair color, she could easily shine in reds, purples, turquoises, and pinks.  Luckily, you can nearly always pick up work shells on sale and she needs about five to jump start her work wardrobe.

This bold red patterned number from Loft comes in at under $50 – shell2

As does this mauve mosaic shell that’s on sale at Loft this week – shell3

Some blouses can go on their own or with a simple cardigan for those business casual days – like either of these from Macy’s:

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3.  Accessories.  Cyndi has virtually no necklaces or scarves.  The few necklaces she does have would pair well with a tunic and jeans but couldn’t be worn for work, and there’s not much in the way of color and texture in the scarf category either.  This is the simplest and cheapest solution.  While she mentioned she’s less comfortable accessorizing with necklaces, she was completely on board with picking up some interesting scarves.  I always start at Charming Charlie’s for entry price point color and infinity scarves are the easiest to style.

This turquoise ocean inspired infinity scarf only runs $18 – scarf

While this dot infinity scarf comes in around $40 from Macy’s (without coupons) but in gorgeous colors like fuschia, cherry, and iris – scarf2

But don’t exclude statement necklaces just because they’re not typically in your comfort zone.  It’s good to have a couple pieces that you could pair for work or a night out.  Stella & Dot or Chloe & Isabel are great places to get inspiration (and catch sales to make them more affordable).

I like this Meridian piece from Chloe & Isabel – necklace

Here were the list of tips left hanging inside Cyndi’s closet door along with a few action items:

1.  If you are wearing three of the same colors when you get ready to leave, then swap one of them out for something brighter.
Have fun – mix patterns and colors and textures!  (Here was one of OUR experiments shopping in her closet!)

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2.  Get a color wheel and tape it to your door – experiment with coordinating and contrasting instead of matching all your outfits.

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3.  Accessorize!  Throw on a scarf or necklace or interesting earrings before you walk out the door.

4.  Tailor your suits.  Take in your best fitting, most modern blazer and have at least three of your suit jackets hemmed up several inches to modernize them.  Also, consider converting them from two buttons to one button for your frame and modernizing the buttons.

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5.  Shorten your shirts.  Tunics don’t actually hide your bum, they accentuate it.  Consider instead wearing a shorter shirt with a casual blazer (in a color other than beige! – she had three).

How about you?  When’s the last time you evaluated your closet?  What are you missing?  What do you love best?  And let’s all give Cyndi a huge shout out for being the first in our series!  Next week, you’ll travel with me to my best friend’s closet reno!