Skip to Content

How Stylish Women Build a Wardrobe

Links may be affiliate links.

“This book is dedicated to those who have the courage to make their lives better one piece at a time.”

So begins the book You Are What You Wear by Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner, a clinical psychologist. She understands how our clothing communicates so much about who we are and what is going on inside.  I hope to share with you tidbits from her pages over the next few posts, but I do recommend you pick this one up for an enlightening, informative read.

How Stylish Women Build a Wardrobe

Let’s begin with wardrobe crafting, and learn how to stretch the basic workhorses we should all own. Baumgartner takes a typical woman and demonstrates how to place her wardrobe needs into categories which fit her own unique lifestyle.  Her example, Tessa, lives in these worlds:

Level Four: Formal

Level 3:  Night Out

Level 2: Office

Level 1: Weekend Casual

While it would be fun to attend a formal event, even once every two years, I do not need Level 4, but I do need to include in my Level 3 a desire to look stylish for fashion events I attend as a fashion journalist; styles I believe could also work for a night out.

However, I do not see a need in my life for four levels. My work level is changing and I will be open to how those changes might affect my clothing choices.  Some work atmospheres are more relaxed than others.

The workhorses are our basics or the simple, classics which work over all levels.  For many of us, they might be a perfect fit black pant, dark denim jeans, a neutral suit, a pencil skirt, and the classic white button down shirt.  The book gives examples for Tessa’s life using the white blouse, and the examples reveal she is a young professional.  So, I changed them a bit for our purposes:

Level 4: Formal:  Wear the shirt with a tuxedo pant or long satin skirt, strappy shoes, a simple necklace or strand of pearls, and hair pulled back in a low chignon (bun)

Level 3: Night-out: Wear the shirt with a fitted skirt, or well-fit jeans or black pants, black leather flats, boots, beautiful sandal, or, better yet, leopard flats!

Level 2: Office:  Wear the shirt with a neutral suit, classic pointed-toe smaller heel in red or a neutral.  Keep accessories simple, but do not shy away from a color in the accessories.

Level 1: Weekend casual:  Wear the shirt with leggings, skinny or boot cut jeans, consider a vest or even a boyfriend cut jacket or cardigan, and boots or flats in prints and colors.

These are just examples to show how a “workhorse” piece will literally work in any situation.  To own and trust several of these garments in your closet, provides answers to appropriate looks every day.  Baumgartner writes, “According to the Gestalt theory, the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts. Even if your closet includes fabulous pieces, the whole of your wardrobe will fail if the pieces are disjointed from each other.”

So, please allow me to ask, two questions:

  1. Can you place your lifestyle into levels? How many would you have?
  2. Do you have workhorse garments in your closet right now?

Please join in our conversation in the Joy Boutique…thanks for stopping by…and have a glorious day!


Pamela Lutrell

Pamela Lutrell began her blog, over50feeling40, July 2010 with a desire to encourage women over 50 to walk in strength, confidence and joy. Of course, head turning style makes each day fun!

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus


Wednesday 3rd of June 2015

I;m with Lisa and her 5 levels. As children age and get married I've attended more weddings in recent times and that has bumped up my formal wear. I used to have formal wear for Christmas parties but self-employment didn't come with employer paid parties so that category went down the tubes.

I'm OK with the blouse concept, but I think most of us probably wouldn't wear the SAME blouse to all levels. You might want a silk one for a formal event, something tailored and wrinkle-free for work, something cotton and cool for casual. You could make your signature style to wear a white top , but not be limited to the same one.

Sarah Liz

Wednesday 3rd of June 2015

I love the concept of different levels - I've never quite worked this out but it makes sound sense. Thank you :)

Barbara Hammond

Tuesday 2nd of June 2015

Since I work at home and live a pretty laid back, beach, lifestyle my primary wardrobe is casual. I keep a few classic pieces for formal(ish) events. b


Tuesday 2nd of June 2015

As a professional by day, I can put my clothing choices into three levels. Level 1 is work (since most of my waking hours are spent here), Level 2 is casual wear for weekends, Level 3 would be night out. I positively have workhorse pieces, from the black pants, pencil skirt, blazer and white shirt, to basic dresses. This can get really boring on a daily basis, so I amp things up with prints and color. I love to change out shoes. Jeans are my workhorse basics for weekends, and bermuda shorts in the summer. The fun comes in with tops. I could truly not have a wardrobe without basic, workhorse pieces though. I have found over the many years I've spent in business professional environments that I can wear the same black pants several times a week and they look completely different; same with the skirt and even my basic black dress. They also work for the 'night out' wear. Nice to have pieces you can count on to mix with so many different things. Your tips are great with how to mix a white shirt across the various levels.


Tuesday 2nd of June 2015

Very interesting; I think of my wardrobe as having several levels. 1)workout gear 2)loungewear at home 3)weekend wear 4)nights out/dinners out clothing 5)formal events clothing 6)vacation/resort wear There isn't much overlap between them, but there are a few pieces that can work in several categories.

Comments are closed.