How To Save Yourself

Pile of Clothes on the floor

Life, I’ve decided, is too short to spend dithering over what to wear. And so I post the question: how long did it take you to get dressed this morning? Two minutes? Ten minutes? Half an hour…? Over a lifetime, dithering over clothes all scarily adds up, so it seems. A couple of years ago I was almost struck dumb by a survey which totted up that women on average spend almost a year – yes, a whole, precious year of our lives – deciding on our outfits.

Some events, of course, are always going to be more sartorially challenging than others. According to that same survey (from an online fashion company), we can be looking at 34 minutes for a first date – and an equivalent chunk of the day preparing a look for meeting the potential in-laws for the first time. Friday and Saturday nights out ratchet up 23 minutes of dithering – but even getting dressed for work gobbles 12 minutes out of the day, apparently. And beyond that, according to another jaw-drop-inducing survey (by Marks & Spencer for their ‘Schwopping’ campaign this time), almost 62% of women have actually suffered ‘wardrobe rage’ – completely irrational tantrums about not having anything that you want to wear at all.

Well, I am determined not to be that person. And I’ve most definitely got better things to do with my life – that year of it, all-in – than faffing around over whether to accessorise the blue jacket with the Kenzo scarf, or which heel-height is most appropriate with a knee-length skirt (oh, and should I go diamanté, or pearls, for the lapel brooch?) A year could translate to a ‘gap’ year (um, if I could only find the time to take it…) It could definitely be spent working my way through the stack of books and magazines which regularly avalanche off the bedside table and onto the floor. It could be enjoyably frittered away hanging around my husband, family and friends. Or gardening. Or cooking. Or staring at clouds, for heaven’s sake. But really, deciding what to wear? Well, I guess this means there are women (and I’m not just talking professional fashion stylists) who get active pleasure out of this. But personally, I’ve long filed under ‘Life’s too short…’ Even when much, much younger.

So here’s what I’ve learned. Deciding what to wear the night before trumps trying to decide what to wear on the day. (I do always check the weather app on my phone first.) Of course, I’m lucky enough to work at home a lot of the time (in which case I will literally pull back on the pair of jeans I wore the day before (M&S, if you’re interested), and a clean top. But if I have meetings, I’ll lay out my clothes – down to the underwear and shoes – ready to be out of bed and out of the house in ten minutes, washed and dressed, and heading for the train.

But even pulling those outfits out of the wardrobe doesn’t take long – because I’m a long-term believer in what’s the equivalent of a ‘uniform’, but for grown-ups. In my case, that means black for winter, navy for summer: some tailored jackets, a few skirts (if I find one I like, I’ll bulk-buy), and identically-cut wide-legged trousers. Legend has it that if Jackie Onassis liked something, she bought it in every colour. My version is to buy several – er, in exactly the same colour. Just because one day, the original might wear out, and then where would I be…?

Any splashes of brightness come from scarves (neatly stacked into coloured piles in my drawer, because I’m a bit OCD like that). I’ve a selection of costume jewellery, mostly sourced by a friend with a super-stylish Fairtrade project in Kenya, which can be thrown on with pretty much anything, while on the leg front it’s Wolford Velvet Deluxe opaques in winter – and in summer, This Works Perfect Legs instant fake leg tint. Shoes? In winter, a stout pair of rubber-soled lace-ups is my footwear-of-choice, which seem to go with pretty much anything except evening wear, thereby saving me the trouble of thinking about which pair I’m going to pull out of the shoe cupboard. Summer? A lighter-weight alternative to Birkenstocks, from a company called Oak & Hyde (by comparison, Birkies feel like lead weights). I’ve written about footwear before, here – but my key priority is that shoes should positively invite me to walk the requisite 10,000 steps a day for optimum fitness.

Having finally caught up with the last season of House of Cards (a somewhat hypocritical guilty pleasure, since I always claim that one of the reasons I get so much done is because I never watch TV), I remain in awe of how the wardrobe department has always restrained itself to give the lead female character Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) the most brilliant work ‘uniform’, of the type I admire on other businesswomen, and which her cool, calm, ruthless character would absolutely 100% wear: generally, white shirt, pencil skirt, high heels. There are no Villanelle-(of-Killing-Eve)-style frills and flounces; instead, Calculating Claire’s wardrobe is based around a palette of monotones in chic which I know full well from personal experience would cut deciding what to wear down to a couple of minutes each morning, max. I have a couple of businesswomen friends who can pull off the white shirted ‘uniform’ à la Claire and remain crisp and uncrumpled at the end of the day – and I wistfully wish I could be like them. Alas I’ve always found that on me, a white shirt magnetically attracts tomatoes or coffee stains from an apparent radius of about ten metres. Hence my own particular dark-toned uniform: much more spongeable.

Because at the end of the day – or the end of the year, if that survey is to be believed – haven’t we got a higher purpose than throwing piles of discarded outfits on the bed, in the quest for that ‘perfect’ look…? I’m really hoping so.

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