When did you last open your wardrobe in the morning only to think: “I’ve got nothing to wear”?
Last week, I found myself in this predicament.
But unlike most mornings when I can’t find anything I fancy to wear, this time it was because there really was almost nothing in my wardrobe.
Action woman: Alison Tyler took action over her tired wardrobe
I had enlisted the help of Elika Gibbs and her company Practical Princess to make-over my wardrobe: a service that would involve stripping my wardrobe of all the dead wood – old clothes, things that no longer fit or don’t flatter – but all much loved. Gibbs was ruthless.
“How can you find anything to wear if you don’t even know what’s in your wardrobe?” she said, as she cast a critical eye over the jumble sale arrangement of my cupboard.
“There are so many women who have great clothes, but they present them in this crazy manner.
“You would never have gorgeous food and just throw it on to a dirty plate, so why do people think they can treat their clothes like that?”
With a glittering client list that includes big names in fashion like Tamara Mellon and Melissa Odabash, Gibbs has carved a niche re-organising the wardrobes and lives of the rich, famous – and messy.
When she was here, one such client phoned, inviting her to hitch a ride on their private jet to go skiing for the weekend; another wanted to shop for a selfesteem boosting, post-baby wardrobe.
“Many of my clients have been through a life-change – perhaps their career has taken off, they’ve moved to the country or had children,” she said.
Some clients don’t even need to shop, she adds.
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Overhaul: Alison’s wardrobe has been totally revived
The process of re-hanging their clothes and re-inventing their outfits can be just as valuable.
I am chaotically messy.
But that’s not why I called in professional help. After two years of working from home and steadily gaining weight, I entered my 30s dressing much the way I had entered my 20s; rather scruffy.
Stuck in a style rut – often going for jeans, T-shirts and trainers – I wasn’t sure how to get out of it.
Fortunately, Gibbs was.
I want to be seen as a professional, yet creative, businesswoman. The process of
opening my wardrobe to a stranger was embarrassing and deeply personal – something I hadn’t been prepared for.
Blonde, glamorous and bossy, Gibbs is like a searingly honest sister who’s prepared to tell you what she really thinks you look like, not just what you want to hear.
Trembling with shame at the sight of her on her hand and knees wiping dust and grime out of the bottom of my cupboards, I apologised for my grubbiness.
“No one cleans their wardrobe, not even women with nine maids,” Gibbs reassured me. “I actually enjoy this.”
Gibbs set to work furiously purging my wardrobe.
“The wrap-dress is just – forget it,” she scorned, as three frocks joined the growing pile of wardrobe rejects.
She moved on to a flared white skirt I love.
“These were cool four years ago – we all wore them – but not now.”
Another one for the heap.
And then she picked up a zebraprint dress still bearing its price tag.
“That was a mistake,” I stammered, and then, as though to make up for it: “It was in the sale.”
Gibbs softens sympathetically. “Everyone’s done this, but that’s no reason to keep it in your wardrobe.
“Most women wear only 20 per cent of their wardrobe 80 per cent of the time.”
In fact, my wardrobe is full of impulse buys – sequin boleros, frou-frou dresses and party shoes – pieces I am keeping for the sake of it, not that I intended to wear.
I still have the dress I wore on my hen night, the outfit I graduated in and my favourite shoes I wore to death but can’t bear to throw away.
But this is one of Gibbs’ main messages: be ruthless.
“There’s nothing wrong with keeping sentimental items, but if you’re not going to wear them, they shouldn’t be in your everyday wardrobe. Archive them,” she said.
I was shocked to be told that several of my clothes were “mumsy”, that many more looked “tired” and that half “did nothing for me”.
Flicking through my clothes she suddenly turned and asked if I had a ‘thing’ about my arms.
I do, but I hadn’t realised this was reflected in the clothes I’d bought.
“You shouldn’t worry, you’ve got great arms. One day you really will have bad arms, so you should show them off while they’re fabulous.”
Three hours later, having tried on every item of clothing I owned, the pile of clothes to throw out ran to five bin-bags and included my best coat, a top I bought just two weeks ago (that I had been complimented on by a friend only the day before) and 15 pairs of shoes.
My fashion radar had taken a battering.
But there was no time to argue or mourn my old clothes – we were about to hit the shops.
Elika was to help me select the perfect ‘capsule’ wardrobe. In order to build the perfect wardrobe, I had to go back to basics.
First on Elika’s list of musthaves was a pair of jeans.
We went straight to Donna Ida, a Chelsea boutique dedicated to designer jeans where customers can book an appointment and try on many different brands with advice from the effervescent owner.
“Jeans are one of the hardest things to buy, and yet we probably wear them more than all our other clothes, so getting the right pair is crucial,” said Donna.
Good jeans should be ones that you can dress up or dress down, and if you’re over 25 they shouldn’t be low-rise – which is where I was going wrong.
Elika gave me a pair of jeans that were a size smaller than I’d normally wear.
“If you can fit your hand into the waistband at the back, they’re too big.”
Half an hour and £178 later, I walked out with a pair of J Brand Bardot jeans, the most flattering on the market in Elika’s opinion.
She was right: my legs look longer, my bum smaller and my stomach flatter. They may be expensive, but I know I’ll wear them to death.
For basics, we went to Gap, where I bought a sleek pair of black skinny trousers, a cute summer day dress, two everyday Tshirts and a smarter navy top to go with the trousers, all for £90.
Marks & Spencer was the surprise hit of our shopping marathon.
“I take all of my clients to M&S, and I shop there myself,” says Elika.
“You can’t beat it for qualitycut basics and the Limited Collection and Autograph labels are strong.”
She chose a purple, one-shoulder, figure-hugging cocktail dress; very on trend, and a steal at £45.
Elika also earmarked a shape-skimming black mac, slouchy brown suede bag and some killer peep-toe shoe-boots.
We moved on to Reiss, where I tried on this season’s hot trend – a jumpsuit.
Black and silk, it was surprisingly wearable, and is a great alternative to party dresses.
I also picked up a pair of black mesh heels.
Elika taught me to try on things in several different sizes.
In French Connection, I bought an extra-large plum vest top, a medium poppy-red shirt dress and an extra-small chunky-knit cardigan.
In Topshop, we zoned in on the boutique section, where Elika found a Todd Lynn tuxedo jacket with quirky dropped pockets.
It made my scruffy jeans and T-shirt look much edgier.
I wore it that night when I met friends for drinks.
Not one person guessed it was from the High Street.
“Shoes and bags are where you should invest your money, for everything else the High Street is brilliant,” Elika said.
Back home, Elika replaced my hangers with her own slim-line ones so my new things hung at the same height.
She arranged my clothes by colour, folded every T-shirt and jumper, and took photos of my shoes and stuck them on the front of shoe drawers so I could find them easily.
She also lined my shelves with scented drawer liners. Even my underwear was folded and put into zig-zag drawer dividers.
“If you can find things easily, you are much less likely to have one of those “I’ve got nothing to wear” meltdowns in the morning,” she said.
“It’s all about organisation.”
I may not have many clothes left, but I can definitely say that I wear 100 per cent of my wardrobe.
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