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Shopping strategically and cleverly can save you time, money and frustration – and improve your image. Suppose you juggle your career with your duties as wife and mother. One minute you need to dress for success and the next minute you are hauling the kids to the baseball game or going biking with your husband. Even if you don't have a career, you will need clothes for fairly formal occasions such as weddings, church, important dinners or luncheons, fundraising events, etc., so it is a good idea to buy basic items with versatility in mind.

Rule No. One in building a good wardrobe is to choose solid colors instead of patterns or prints. Garments in solid colors can take you to a casual event or a very formal one.
Prints, with the exception of stripes, usually look less dressy. Also, large prints often make you look larger than you are. Stripes have more versatility than any other pattern, as their crisp lines look businesslike, but they perfectly at home at sporty events. In dramatic colors, they can look very dressy.  

Wool gabardine is one of the most versatile fabrics, as it spans several seasons; unlike heavier wools, which are limited to winter. Wool crepe comes in textures that span all the seasons. For summer months, silk, linen and cotton twills are highly versatility. Denim, terrycloth, and waffle weaves tend to remain informal, so they have less versatility.

The most versatile tops are the basic shells that come in a myriad of colors and fabrics. They can be found with short sleeves, long sleeves or no sleeves at all. Those expensive shirts with animal and other emblems will lock you into a sporty look. Choose a plain or ribbed knit shell top with a scoop neck. It will go with jeans or a very outfit. Wear it as-is with jeans, but imagine it with a fabulous straight skirt in black. Just add a spectacular belt, some great earrings and a pair of simple black heels with sheer black stockings, and voila, you are ready to go to dinner in a fancy restaurant.  

Look for jackets with clean, simple lines. Pockets can add bulk, but most importantly, they often lean toward a sportier look. Jackets with collars are slightly less versatile than those without. For example, they may be too warm when there is no air conditioning; and the variety of blouses, necklaces or scarves is sometimes limited.  

Choose skirts with simple lines. Once again, pockets generally tend to make skirts look less dressy, and if you are hippy, they will add bulk in the least desired area. Skirt lengths are important, and there are four choices. (1) mini skirts; (2) knee-length, which can be above, below or just at the knees; (3) mid-calf length; and (4) ankle-length.  

The most versatile length is knee-length, and your legs and knees will determine the best length for you. If you have knobby or plump knees, your skirt can either end at mid-knee or an inch below that. The most flattering length enables you to see the curve above the calf, just under the bend of the knee. This soft line flows and curves gently down to the ankles and is very harmonious. Even if your skirt covers the knees entirely, this curve should still be visible. With mid-calf skirts, it is hidden, and it tends to make the legs look unshapely and rigid. In addition, it looks matronly. In the end, your legs or your age will tell you whether or not you can wear a true mini skirt. Angle length skirts are not as versatile as knee-length ones; however, unlike mid-calf skirts, they are not usually unflattering.

Make certain extra pockets are discrete so they do not look too sporty – or add bulk. Pleated pants tend to be slightly dressier than plain ones, mainly because of the generous amount of fabric. If your hips are wide, they may be less flattering, however. If you are larger on the bottom than on the top, choose pants in dark colors. If the reverse is true, choose lighter colors.  

It is better to purchase an item when you run across it, rather than purposely going out to buy something for an event, as this is when compromises are made. Make a list of important items that are missing from your own wardrobe, and begin looking for them at your own pace.  With your list in mind, you shop without pressure, so you will have made no compromises.  Compromises end up in the back of the closet.

Last but not least, buy quality rather than quantity.  It is truly better to have one well made, perfectly fitting, superb skirt that goes with all your jackets, blouses and sweaters, than half a dozen ill fitting skirts in varying styles and colors. Take the time to learn which styles flatter your figure. This means you must know your figure critically and brutally from every angle, a piece of advice that is given to every student at the famous John Robert Powers Fashion School. Your image is too important to leave to chance!

Sandy Dumont is a total image consultant based in Virginia. She is known as THE Image Architect, specializing in corporate and individual workshops that help people improve their image skills. For more information and free eBook go to


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