Forbes reports that more than 4.5 million Americans between the ages of 50 and 70 are currently engaged in some form of “encore” career, and another 31 million would like to, according to the LA Times. It took me a few years to fully transition from 'corporate career' to 'fine artist,' but I have loved every minute of it. If you are in this season of life, or preparing for it, I am so excited for you! If you are not there yet but want to start thinking smarter about your approach to dressing (and making the most of your budget), read on.
For decades, I worked in an office environment. In the late 80s and 90s, it was shoulder pads and heels. By the time I retired in 2017, I was wearing slacks, mules, and simple linen and silk shirts to work. Yet when I got home? I always changed into ‘something comfy’ to play in the studio, work in the garden, and walk the dog.
Now that I am a full-time artist in what I consider my best years, the notion of changing outfits all day and keeping up with trends is at the bottom of my to-do list. Like everything else I tend to do in life, I approached setting up my ‘artist wardrobe’ with the same principle of keeping things simple, beautiful, and entirely functional. I went through a process over the course of two years to transition from a work and play wardrobe to a wardrobe that works for all parts of my encore life.
I have decided to write a series of blog posts designed to inspire you to re-think how you approach your own wardrobe. It is geared toward those of us who have taken the step to move from powerful careers to fuller lives with encore careers, yet the principles can work for women of all ages. This first post sets the foundation we will build on: your basic outfit.
Your Basic Outfit
There is a term that has been around for a while in the fashion world: the capsule wardrobe. At the core is what I like to call ‘the basic outfit.’ It is what a person wears most days, and everything is built around it. Most of the examples I found of capsule wardrobes are geared toward minimalism-loving Millennials, so the focus was on work clothes. But for those of us in our prime and living our best encore lives? Why not choose a basic outfit that we can wear no matter what we are doing?
The Basic Outfit consists of tops and bottoms that work together and can be easily accessorized with different shoes, jewelry, scarves, jackets, etc. As a metal artist, I had to think about clothes that could survive a hot and dirty shop and still look good. In my own wardrobe, I have a few pairs of very well-made black bootleg yoga pants, one pair of black dress trousers, and a black midi skirt. For my go to top, I chose a charcoal grey v-neck t-shirt made with pima cotton and a hint of spandex. It is a heavier weight top that looks nicer than a basic cotton Hanes, but I am not worried about getting covered in silver dust and soot. I also feel safer in the shop because the cut is more form fitting and I do not have to worry about material being sucked into dangerous machinery or getting caught in a torch flame.
Step 1: Choose a core color (or two) for your basic outfit
Neutral colors tend to form the center of a capsule wardrobe. They include black, white, gray, and sometimes brown and beige. But do not feel limited by this: your neutral color may be olive, eggplant, blue or even pink! Choose a color you are drawn to for the core of your wardrobe. This will become your basic outfit: the tops and bottoms you will wear most often as a uniform of sorts.
Neutrals are good choices to form the core of a capsule wardrobe.
Here are some things to consider when choosing you core color:
- Take a moment to look at the clothes in your closet already. Is there a common theme in your color choices? This may be the start to defining the core color for your basic outfit. For me, it was clear that black was my favorite ‘neutral’ with all the suits, dress clothes, and business-casual office clothes I collected through the years.
- Pull out some of your favorite accessories: jewelry, scarves, hats, etc. Can you narrow down choices of your basic outfit’s core color to match most of them? In my case, black and grey went so well with the silver, turquoise, antique jewelry, and enamels I tended to gravitate toward in my jewelry box. And I am happy to say all those scarves I could not part with from the 90s? They look amazing with those colors, too.
- Now, do the same with your shoes. This one can be tough. If you are like me, you may have a shoe collection to rival Imelda Marcos. I really had to narrow down my shoe choices to those which made sense for my encore life. I kept a few ‘fun shoes’ to quickly change the way my outfit looks, but on most days you’ll find me in a pair of black Merrell lace ups or Danner boots I can clean up easily.
- When you think about your days, are there colors that would work better with the happy messes you make? In my world, I am surrounded by glass dust, soot from torches, dirt from my garden and muddy dog paws. Black and grey are good choices for me because they are easily kept tidy with a damp cloth and a good shake throughout the day as I move from the studio, to life, and to town.
Step 2: Choose your best bottoms
Now that you have chosen a core color (or two), it is time to start thinking about the literal foundation of your basic outfit: your bottoms. Like I mentioned earlier, in my own closet, I have a few pairs of very well-made black bootleg yoga pants, a pair of dress trousers, and a midi-skirt. Does this mean that is all that is hanging in my closet? Nope! But these things are front and center. My basic outfit is what I wear almost every day of the year, summer included, because pants are a necessity in the metal shop.
So, what to do about your bottoms? Here are some tips for deciding on the bottoms for Your Basic Outfit:
- Think about how you live your life in terms of the number of days each week you are likely to be wearing Your Basic Outfit as you go about your days. For me, it is 7 days a week! I do not work on Sunday, but my basic outfit suits my life so well I wear it then, too. Whatever you decide, you will need enough bottoms to cover your derriere on those days.
- Are you driven by trends and styles or would you prefer to let your own pragmatic style develop? There is no right answer here, but it is important to be honest with yourself so you can make the best choice for Your Basic Outfit.
- If you are a trends and styles follower, choose bottoms that are current right now (if you believe Pinterest, high waist flare-legs are on the rise in 2021). However, be aware you are likely going to be buying new pants often as things like waist height, cut, fabric preference, and so on change with the times.
- For the practical pragmatists like me? Now is your time to shine. What kinds of styles are most flattering on you? Is there a fabric and fit you see over and over in your closet that you tend to wear often? These are the bottoms that should become the workhorse in Your Basic Outfit.
- How do you see your bottoms fitting in with your encore life? I am always amazed at the beautiful Instagram profiles of young Bohemian influencers gardening, camping, and cooking in dresses, skirts, and flowy peasant blouses (FYI – this trend has a name: cottagecore). Maybe that works for some people, but for most of us? Wearing loose clothing in a workshop with lots of moving parts like bits and blades is not just impractical, it is dangerous. What kinds of cuts, bottom lengths, and so on work best for the activities in your life? Deciding these things is the basis of building a wardrobe that works for you and lets your own style begin to define itself.
- After you have thought about styles you like and narrowed them down to suit the activities in your life, are there more days in the week a certain cut and style works better for you? If this is true, make sure you have more of those on hand than other bottoms that may also work. For me, black bootleg yoga pants are what I am wearing most days of the week. If I need to dress up a little, I pull out my dress trousers or midi skirt. And, if I am in the metal shop in the morning, going to lunch with a friend, then back in the metal shop again? My choice is easy: yoga pants in the morning, swap them out for another option at lunch (or just change shoes and add a little jewelry), then put them back on! My top stays the same and my wardrobe works for me.
- One last thing to consider: care and maintenance. Are there fabrics that fit better with your lifestyle as far as keeping them tidy? How does wearability work for you? I personally look for as much natural content in the clothes I choose as possible. Cotton, hemp, wool, silk, and linen are excellent choices for bottoms and tops that form your basic outfit. However, sometimes a little bit of stretch provided by an additive like Spandex can make clothing more comfortable and last longer.
Step 3: Choose tops that work for you
Now that you have selected bottoms in a core color that work beautifully for your busy life, it is time to think about tops. Using the same principles as choosing bottoms, think about tops that would work well for you:
- How many do you need to cover days you’ll be wearing Your Basic Outfit? Are there more days a certain style is more desired during the week?
- Is there a cut and style that you are drawn to?
- Are there practical choices you need to make about your tops such as closer fitting shirts for working with machinery?
- How do care and maintenance affect your choice?
At this point, you should have a good idea about what Your Basic Outfit needs to consist of. If you already have tops and bottoms in your wardrobe that fit the bill, I highly recommend re-organizing your closet and drawers to put these in the most accessible spaces. Put them together so they are easy to see and pull out for the day.
If you need to build up your basic outfit pieces in your wardrobe, here are a few of my favorite brands for sturdy clothing that works in the shop and can transition to lunch dates, too.
- Duluth Trading Company (I love their Workday Warrior Chino Trousers for my dressier basic outfit pants)
- L.L. Bean (Their Perfect Fit Pants are a good choice for basic black mostly cotton yoga pants – a necessity in a hot metal shop as polyesters can melt and burn)
- Garnet Hill (Their Side Slit Midi Skirt is so comfortable and easy to dress up or down and is one of my go-to styles for art shows.)
I hope you have enjoyed the process of starting to make your encore lifestyle wardrobe work for you. I would love to hear your thoughts. Please drop a comment below or reach out to me directly and stay tuned for some ideas to add style to your basic outfit with toppers, shoes, etc.
Articles in The Encore Artist: Making Your Wardrobe Work for You series: