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What I Wore: Four Seasons, One Closet, Endless Recipes for Personal Style Paperback – July 5, 2011

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Getting Started

Taking Stock of What You've Got and Building a Smarter Closet

Between my freshman and sophomore years in college, I took a summer job working in a factory that produced quilted handbags out of a small Midwestern town. Perfect!, I thought, here was my first foray into the fashion industry. I worked on the cutting line-pulling fabric from the bolt onto a long table and stacking it twenty or thirty layers deep in a seven-yard space. I worked with a partner and our favorite things to talk about were variations on If I could only have twelve pieces of clothing, what would they be? and What would you buy with a bajillion dollars? Since then, I've always kept a little running list in the back of my mind of what I'd do in either of those situations-how I could make the most of a closet limited to a dozen items versus what it would be like to completely make over my closet from scratch with a wad full of cash.

Let's talk about your actual budget. No matter how much money you have to spend per season, the questions are the same: What to buy? Where to spend? Where to save? For a four-season climate, your yearly budget should be roughly broken down to:

30 percent for spring (This is when you'll buy most of your warm- weather clothing.)

15 percent for summer (Add-on pieces like sundresses, skirts, and blouses in lighter-weight fabric-which also cost less.)

45 percent for fall (Spend now for the majority of your cold- weather clothing, including a coat, shoes, boots, denim, etc.)

10 percent for winter (Spruce things up with a few heavier sweaters and holiday items.)


Basics: classic pieces in core colors that you wear year after year and that work for every season.

Core colors: neutral building blocks like black, dark brown, or charcoal gray

Secondary colors: bright or bold trendy colors that are season specific (for example, pastels in spring or jewel tones in fall)

Add-ons: trendy and seasonal pieces that round out your closet

Let's start with the basics and add-ons every woman should have in her closet.

Color Story

Pick Your Core Color

When you're getting started with your year-round basic clothing, it's best to stick to a core color-like black, dark brown, or charcoal gray. A lot of women end up with nothing to wear because they've limited themselves to wearing an item only one way (this happens when you shop for head-to-toe "looks"). If everything in your closet flows from one piece to the next, from outfit to outfit, you're left with so many more potential combinations. That flow is best achieved by starting with the following basic items in one core color:

Once you feel your basics are covered in one core color (and you're buying quality, classic clothes that last more than a single season), expand into a new core color.

If you can afford to spend more on the basic part of your closet, do it, especially for investment pieces such as blazers, slacks, skirts, and coats. Although your head-to-toe look doesn't need to cost a fortune, wearing one high-quality (and sometimes more expensive) item can make your entire outfit look more polished. You can get away with spending less on tights, tees, and casual sweaters because these need to be replaced more often and are not usually the focal point of an outfit.

Secondary Color Palette

Next, start to add diversity and pattern into your closet with a new set of what I'm calling your add-on pieces. While your core colors work year-round, your seasonal add-on pieces will be in secondary colors. For this example, I've started with the blues and purples in the prints of the dress and skirt. From there, I've added on a violet cardigan that works with both pieces. For each new garment you add-on, make sure there's something it will work with in your current closet (basics or other add-on pieces). Key add-on pieces include:

I usually spend less money on items that are multicolored or patterned because they have less mix-and-match possibilities than their solid- color counterparts. And while you might wear the same bold-printed skirt two weeks in a row, you probably won't wear it two days in a row like you can with a solid-colored cardigan or skirt.

The idea here isn't to be matchy matchy with every single item you have-your closet doesn't need to look like a color-coordinated boutique. Instead, it's more about buying clothes that flow from one outfit to the next, like the tights and cardigans and accessories that transform your investment pieces into weeks and weeks worth of outfits.

Pro Tip: When shopping, make a rule for yourself that each new piece you buy goes with at least three things you already have in your closet.


Shoes may be a small part of your outfit, but they're an important one. The bulk of your shoe collection will be specific to your needs (standing all day, work safety, lots of walking), but don't limit yourself there. To be covered for almost every occasion, the most basic shoe stash should contain:

Of all these shoes, walkable flats are the pair that need to come with a warning: White gym sneakers should never, ever be worn with business suits, office outfits, or cocktail dresses (or really any place other than the gym). If you have a long walk to and from your job, go ahead and get a supportive pair of walking shoes, but spice things up by going with an old-school color palette (like burnt orange, maroon, mustard yellow, navy) or go with some funky flats with built-in cushioning.

In the following chapters I've paired up the shoes I think will look best with an outfit, but you can always swap out flats for heels or vice versa.

The Foundation

Finally, buy yourself some decent underwear! Get rid of anything that doesn't make you feel good about your body (and you know exactly what I'm talking about). A modern woman might argue that slips are for grannies, but they'll make your clothes flow when you're wearing tights or hosiery. I've had luck finding them in specialty lingerie boutiques, finer department stores, and vintage shops. They've been a lifesaver so many times for me that I'm slowly but surely adding to my collection with different lengths and colors. And the proper length is important-just the other day I attempted to roll the waistband of a half slip so it didn't show under the mini-skirt I was wearing. Big mistake! Within half an hour the hem of that slip started to creep down to reveal itself. Not cute. Slips should always be shorter than your skirt.

For your foundation garments I recommend:

Analyze Your Closet

Now that you know what you need to buy to get your wardrobe into tip- top shape, let's figure out what you already have that's worth keeping. When I take stock of my closet, I remove everything from the shelves, drawers, and hangers and throw it all on my bed (so I can't talk myself out of the job and crash for a nap halfway through). This is the kind of project that takes a lot of energy, so you should plan for an entire Saturday or Sunday with a mind-set of determination. Once you have one giant pile, assess each piece and create three new piles: yes, maybe, and donate/resell. With each item you pick up, use your flash judgment. At the beginning of the process, you'll feel like putting a lot into the "yes" pile, but as you progress, you'll be getting rid of the pieces that don't make you look and feel your best. You might even want to go through the "yes" pile again and try to narrow it down even more. A lot of women hold on to clothes years after the last time they wore an item, telling themselves, "I might need this later!" The truth is, you probably won't need it later, and if you get rid of something you're not wearing anyway, you open the door to replace it with something that you'll love even more.

Now it's time to try everything on. It might sound crazy, but it's a waste of space to put things in your closet that don't fit, and it's aggravating when you reach for that piece when you're in a rush. Anything that's not within one size of fitting perfectly needs to go to the tailor or Goodwill. (I make one exception to this rule. On the back shelf of my closet I keep one pair of "skinny" jeans for when I'm feeling extra sexy and one pair of "slouchy" jeans for when I'm not.) Take everything that doesn't fit or is no longer to your taste and put it in another room so you're working only with the good stuff. While you're trying each item on and checking it out in a full-length mirror, ask yourself:

Does it flatter my body?

Did I feel great the last time I wore it?

Can I remember the last time I wore it?

If you answer no to any of these questions, get that item out of your closet, pronto.

The important thing to remember is to build your closet around the life you're living now. If you spend most of your time at the office, buy work clothes. If your primary interest is comfort, find ways to be practical yet stylish. If you love nightlife, buy yourself some sexy tops and dresses. It's all about balance to suit you and your time. I'll go into more detail on your basics, add-on pieces, shoes, and accessories for each of those situations in the following chapters.

In Your Closet or Store for the Season?

Now that you have separated out the best of your wardrobe, everything should be clean and ironed before it goes onto a hanger and back into your closet. Just like clothes that don't fit, it doesn't make sense to have wrinkled pieces that put up a big ol' roadblock when you're already short on time. If you hate to iron, keep that in mind when you head out on your next shopping trip, and stop buying fabrics that get wrinkled easily. I find that most of the time, if you hang your clothes up right after they're washed and dried, you'll be fine. Otherwise, send anything that needs to be pressed to the cleaners if you can't bear to iron it yourself.

What about seasonal gear? Only keep out the current season's clothes and put everything else out of sight. Granted, you'll have crossover items that work from season to season (or even year-round) like jeans, button-ups, blazers, and basic dresses, but anything for extreme weather should be packed up. I have pretty small closets, so it's absolutely essential for me to pack away out-of-season clothing in space-saving bags, big plastic tubs, or in unused suitcases and store them out of sight. (For me that's the top and back of my closets, but dry attics and basements also do the trick.) I know so many women with closets that are packed to the brim who still always end up feeling like they have nothing to wear, which is true if you have sundresses hanging in your closet in winter or puffy coats in summer. So do yourself a favor and only work with the ingredients for the season and the weather outside your door.

Tools of the Trade

After the clothes and shoes and accessories, there are a few things every gal should also have on hand to take proper care of her wardrobe:

. Cascade-style flocked hangers to save space

. Full-length mirror near your closet

. Ironing board and steam iron

. Lint roller

. Small sewing kit containing scissors, safety pins, straight pins, black and white thread, small multicolor thread set

. Jar for all those extra buttons that you may never use but will be very happy to have in one place should you need them

. Tape measure for cross-checking measurements when online shopping

. Shoe polish kit

And if you're really into having fun with your closet and have the space:

. Folding clothing rack (great for packing and laying out/ organizing a week's worth of outfits)

. Upright steamer

. Three-way mirror (always check your front and backside before dashing out of the house)

. Dress form to display scarves and bags (or even full outfits)

. Wig forms for hats (either very awesome or very creepy)


Flocked hangers are covered in slip-free fabric to prevent your clothes from falling off

Wooden hangers are ideal for heavier items like jackets and coats or suits

Plastic hangers can work double duty for hanging slacks or blouses

Trouser Clip hangers are ideal for skirts or pants hung by the hem

Wire hangers aren't great for long-term use-they can easily snag clothing and leave permanent poke marks on the shoulders of your blouses. Toss 'em!

Always and Never

Although I'd like to believe there aren't a whole lot of rules left in fashion, there are some things I'd classify as "Always" and "Nevers." My fashion favorites and pet peeves:


. Wear what flatters your body, regardless of the trends

. Remember, how you feel about yourself is the most important part of getting dressed

. Have a go-to outfit ready in your closet for mornings when you feel uninspired

. Find time to play dress-up and create new outfits (like on Sunday night with a glass of wine)


. Wear pants with dragging hems

. Sport a muffin top

. Buy something just because it's on sale

. Wear flip-flops (except for the salon and the beach)

. Wear brown corduroy in summer, yellow chiffon in winter

. Leave the house in a dirty or wrinkled outfit

. Wear bunchie undies under body-conscious garments (or ever?)

. Resort to safety pins instead of a tailor (except in emergencies, of course)

So now you have a wardrobe that may be a bit smaller, but it's full of clothing that you love, that's clean and pressed, and that fits. You're off to an excellent start!

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (July 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345526104
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345526106
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.3 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,176,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Like another reviewer said, this book is all about Jessica Quirk. Every drawing in the book is simply a drawing of an outfit she's worn. Something else that really bothered is that she encourages you to make your wardrobe appropriate for your situation in life (office worker needs more professional clothes, student needs more comfortable clothes, etc), but then all of her "advice" in the book is aimed at someone who works in an office-type setting. This is evidenced by the work outfits she talks about for each season (which, by the way, are just drawings of her own clothes). I can see why she's proud of her book. It's perfectly applicable to...her. A lot of the book is centered around her (winter dressing can be fun because that's when her b-day is, back to school shopping meant her mom was going to sew clothes for her, or the fact that upon hearing she's lived in NY, people in Indiana ask her if she's seen celebs everyday). Besides all of the drawings being her own clothing, the advice is geared to someone in her socioeconomic class, culture, and work setting. Even though she claims that you can follow this advice on a "lean" budget, and says explains the idea of reduced cost per wear, the simple fact is that many of us do not have tons of money to drop on "investment" pieces or the privilege of time (and money!) to sew our own clothes. I don't begrudge her that lifestyle, and I honestly have not problem with it, but I feel like a style manual should be a lot more accessible and universal to people of different tastes, income levels, and life stages. Even if you do live the same lifestyle as her, you'll find that there is very little content. If you look at her blog, it's heavy on the pictures, very light on the writing.Read more ›
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I bought the e-book version of this book because I have been a reader of WIW and wanted to support Jessica but I felt like this book was only about Jessica and not about what EVERY woman should wear. When I read this book I realized it is a 1 note kind of thing. All of the outfits are what would look good only on her body type and it's not about what would look good on several different body types. I don't fit the mold so I don't relate. I'm sure she would say, "then it's not for you," but that's what I thought style books were about - how everyone can translate something into something that works for them. Reading this also made me realize that her outfits have become less creative and fun as her blog got more attention and popularity and that a lot of these illustrations are pictures of things she's received c/o a brand. Is that more advertisement? I'm a little disappointed and would suggest you buy Nina Garcia's book or a What Not to Wear book if you're really looking for a global style perspective. Perhaps her next book will be more inclusive and not exclusive.
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By kc2010 on July 13, 2011
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I was excited to get this book after seeing it on her website.
My first disappointment was to see how tiny and thin the book was.
I was hoping it was more about how to build your own wardrobe and tips on how to put outfits together.
HOWEVER, this book is mostly all about the authors wardrobe/style. Some of the looks in the book are quite dated... and very vintage looking, as in non modern.
I thought that she would use real photos of what she wore and drawings of outfits she could think of and give examples of to individuals that will look good on them-- however all the drawings were of her and her old outfits. If i just wanted to see her old outfits i would have looked on her blog.

In the book it said that she used to work for a high end designer, well after reading this book i would not think she could have.
Another thing that bothered me is the outfits that she picked only compliment her body type-- therefore it would not help most of the women who have another body type.
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First of all, I've followed WIW for a long time but when I saw that this book is just a vanity project filled with doodles(not photographs) of her exact wardrobe I was appalled.
For starters, you don't even have to buy the book for the drawings because they're all on her site and since she's digging up outfits from years gone by, there are items that are seriously dated and aren't staples at all.

Secondly, Jessica doesn't take her own advice and this is what is truly disappointing. Her closet is full of clothes that are given to her for free by sponsors and anything of quality was GIVEN to her so I don't know how she can give advice on telling women how to spend their shopping budget. Whatever she has purchased without sponsor $$ have been completely hideous. Oddly enough she's showcasing her shoe collection but she only wears two pairs in any given season, both impractical for walking admittedly.

Another reason why this book is a serious disappointment is that it's all about her, I'm not 5'9, I'm small and wear a size XS. I don't really find anything useful visually and I get more practical advice and examples from any fashion magazine each month.

Last but not least, if you are trying to wear a half slip or any slip at all with a MINI skirt, I'd think you're better off buying a lined skirt(ahem, quality) or wear a boyshort underwear in the same color as the skirt or "shapewear" briefs so the skirt moves independently of the skirt if you want some additional coverage and won't ride up exposing your hoo-ha's.

I liked Jessica for what she was back when she was into thrifting and was much MUCH more creative and dressed appropriately for her age.
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