Mighty Life List
Jul 9 2012

Mighty Closet: Susan Wagner

Susan Wagner of The Working Closet always looks like she just showered. It took me years to figure her out, because her exterior is so calm, but her brain is like a hamster on a wheel.

I’ll see her at a conference in some sensible American sport ensemble with a glass of wine resting in her hand. She waves me over, “I haven’t talked to you forever!” And I come-to three hours later with a notebook full of Beautiful Mind scribbles and six new business plans.

Susan likes to get stuff done, son. I’ve never known her to have fewer than four jobs, and I’m pretty sure she’s optimized that way. She is busy, but she is tidy.

Remember last week when Natalie said she always wished she could be a person with a minimalist uniform? Susan is that woman. She’ll come to your house, throw out everything in your closet, and somehow make you feel like you have more to wear afterward:

I’m a style blogger, not a fashion blogger — my preoccupation isn’t with what’s on the runway but what’s in your closet. Or, in this case, in my closet. And honestly, there are fewer things in my closet than you might expect.

Although there are a lot of striped tees.

This is a little ridiculous. (And there are actually more — a couple were in the laundry. I need an intervention.)

Despite my ridiculous collection of striped shirts, I spend a lot of time preaching the gospel of the Carefully Edited Wardrobe, which goes like this:

Less is more, and having fewer things creates more options.

Every successful style makeover starts with a closet clean-out and ends with a small collection of perfect pieces. Repetition is the key to personal style, and accessories are an easy way to upgrade even the most basic outfit.

Amen.

Tee on me: StyleMint
Tees from left: J. Crew, Lands’ End, Forever21, Lands’ End, GAP, Forever21
Shorts: Old Navy
Necklace: J. Crew

This is my uniform.

I work at home, so my everyday look is pretty casual. Among other things, I’m an editor for a pet website, which is hilarious because the only pet my family owns is a Betta Fish, and it’s kind of a miracle that we haven’t killed him. Yet.

Because I work from home, I spend a lot of my day staring at a screen, but I’m also a full-time mom, and a partner in a boutique social media consulting firm (Engage OKC). That means a normal work day can include editing copy, meeting with clients, and hauling kids to karate and baseball. My go-to look is a T-shirt — usually striped, of course — and a skirt, which is appropriate for everything from lunch out to an hour of kickboxing.

Watching kickboxing, of course. No one kickboxes in a skirt. At least not around here.

I wear a lot of belts; I truly believe that a belt can change your life. Or at least your look. A belt creates a waist and gives your shape some definition; it’s also an easy way to change up a look. I wear a belt with just about everything, including cocktail dresses. I buy them a little long so I can wear them either at my waist or around my hips, depending on my outfit and my mood. I just loop the extra length through the belt and voila!

Tee: J. Crew
Skirt: GAP
Bracelets: Stella & Dot
Belt: Target
Watch: Vintage
Sandals: Jack Rogers

I live in Oklahoma, where the average summer temperature is something akin to the surface of the sun. That means that my main style goal from March to October is not to be hot. If you want the truth about my summer wardrobe, it consists largely of running clothes and swimwear, neither of which will be making an appearance here. You’re welcome.

(Ed note: I totally want to know what Susan wears when she’s running. Thanks, Google.)

I spent years not wearing shorts because … well, just because. I had a bit of a mid-life crisis a couple of years ago, where I pined for all the things I would never get to do (like live in Paris or work for Vogue). But that got boring, so I decided to do something constructive instead. I started running (Couch to 5K FTW!) and in the last year I’ve run four half marathons.

I also started thinking about how silly it was to waste time being sweaty and uncomfortable solely because my legs didn’t look like Heidi Klum’s. This summer I’m obsessed with shorts, although fortunately for my wallet the ones I’m really in love with all come from Old Navy and cost less than $25. Score!

I totally believe in dressing shorts up, although I do not believe in “dressy shorts.” I wear my shorts with pretty tops and blingy necklaces and even a blazer. I do not, however, wear shorts with heels. I have my limits, y’all. And you should, too.

Tee: J. Crew
Shorts: Old Navy
Necklace, bracelet: J. Crew
Sandals: Jack Rogers

I’m a big believer in mixing high- and low-end pieces. I do most of my shopping at J. Crew, Old Navy and the GAP, with an occasional stop at Forever21 for cheap t-shirts. The J. Crew catalog — which they’ve just rebranded as their “style guide” — is my bible; I tear out photos and recreate those looks with pieces from other places. If I could, I would shop exclusively at J. Crew, but I have two kids who need things like food and clothes and running water, so that’s not really an option.

My shopping strategy is to choose specific investment pieces — ideally, things I can wear over and over and over — and then pair them with less pricey pieces. This spring, my investment was a denim shirt which I wear aaaaaallll the time, no joke. Totally worth the $98 I paid for it. (Also totally worth the investment, two blazers: one in wool flannel, one in chambray. They go with everything and dress up any outfit.)

Shirt: J. Crew
Dress: Old Navy
Belt: Target
Earrings: Stella & Dot
Sandals: Jack Rogers

Did you think I was kidding about wearing things over and over? Hey look, it’s that same chambray shirt! Back again! I also own this skirt in four different colors — navy, pink, and khaki linen/cotton for summer, and purple wool for winter — and I wear it almost constantly, in one iteration or another. (Ed note: If you recognize the skirt, you might have seen Susan recommend it in Wardrobe Basics for Real Women a while back.) And hey, it’s that same belt from before! And the same shoes. Go figure.

(I have ugly feet, largely from the running, so no closeups of my sandals. Again, you’re welcome.)

I get dressed every single day, and I don’t mean that I change out of the yoga pants I slept in and into a different pair of yoga pants; I mean real clothes — a dress or a skirt and tee or some other not-my-pajamas kind of outfit. I wouldn’t say that I get dressed up, although I hear that from people quite a lot (as in, “Why are you so dressed up???”) but I do wear clothes that are not designed for exercise or sleeping for the parts of my day when I am not exercising or sleeping. It’s a simple thing, and it makes a big difference, both in the way I look and the way I feel.

Try it — #getdressed. It’s easier than you think.

Here I am, pretending that I’m in a J. Crew catalog. And by that I mean leaning over awkwardly, for absolutely no reason:

My biggest closet secret is that I hand-wash and line dry almost everything I own.

Jeans go in the washing machine, inside out, in cold water, but other than that, everything I wear gets a bath in the sink with some extra delicate detergent (or baby shampoo). I don’t really like to shop so I work extra hard to make the things I love last.

Shirt: J. Crew
Skirt: J. Crew
Belt: Target
Shoes: Jack Rogers
Necklace: Stella & Dot
Clutch: Ellington Handbags

Speaking of things I love, is my go-to look for summer cocktails. The dress is cotton, which is nice when it’s 1,000 degrees outside, and it has pockets, so I can skip taking a bag (leaving both hands free for drinks and food and hugging). I wore this same outfit a few years back to interview Tim Gunn and he admired my shoes. Life = complete.

Please note my sash. One of my super powers is the ability to tie the perfect bow. Unfortunately, this means that if I run into you at a party and your sash isn’t tied right, I will be compelled to untie it and start over. Of course it also means that if I live next door to you and you’re trying to wrangle your toddler into her birthday dress and cannot get the bow right, I will come to your rescue.

Dress: J. Crew
Shoes: LOFT
Necklace: White House | Black Market

In general, I would describe my look as fairly classic and conservative. But every once in a while, I like to mix it up a little. And by “mix it up” I mean pile on multiple huge necklaces, shimmy into some skinny jeans, and add a pair of reallyreallytall platform sandals.

It’s good to keep people guessing.

I love this outfit because it’s basically just jeans and a tee, all fancied up. The blouse is silk but it’s washable silk, which is pretty much a gift from God. I wore a version of this outfit to the Versace party at Mom 2.0, but with red shorts instead of the jeans. Love.

Blouse: J. Crew
Jeans: Old Navy
Necklaces: (from top) White House | Black Market, Stella & Dot, Madewell
Bracelet: J. Crew
Sandals: Dr. Scholl’s Shoes
Lips: Butter London Lippy in Snog

So what’s the take-away here? Shop smart, don’t be afraid to repeat outfits, and when in doubt, pile on the necklaces. It’s that easy. I promise.

Thanks so much Susan, for the photos and the wisdom. I miss you and your little pink shoes, my dear. I pinch your ruddy cheeks.

You can see more of what Susan’s been wearing at Working Closet, she just wrapped 30 days of outfit snapshots for her #getdressed project. Next up, accessories.