My Closet, Myself


By hiring an image and wardrobe consultant, our writer learns, among other things, that there’s no place in her closet for a purple leather miniskirt.

I think I do a reasonably good job of dressing myself.

But when my editor asked me to go see a wardrobe consultant and write about the experience, I was a
little nervous.

Would the consultant laugh when she saw my closet? Make me throw out half my clothes? Insist I spend gobs of money to start afresh (my husband’s greatest fear)?

As a 42-year-old stay-at-home mom/freelance writer, I live in casual clothes, but also occasionally require the professional interview suit and all-out glam evening dress. I want to convey a hip, youthful, sort of “Desperate Housewife”-ish image, yet still dress appropriately for my age.

So I make an appointment with wardrobe consultant Stephanie Cumberland, owner of presenting YOU, a Sacramento image and wardrobe consulting firm, to meet at my house. She’s going to bring her hatchet. Straight to my closet.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

“Lord have mercy, you’ve got a lot of clothes!” Cumberland trumpets, riffling through the closet I share with my husband.

“Now,” she says briskly, grabbing an armful of clothes off the rod, “let’s get down to business. Time for the guillotine.”

One by one, I try on tops in various shades of blue that she’s chosen for the first “batch.”

“Let’s figure out which blue is the most harmonious with your skin, hair and eyes,” she says, “because if you wear this color blue, you can’t wear that color blue.”

Cumberland decides the best blue for my blond hair, blue eyes and tanned, ruddy-toned skin is not a bright blue, but a “dirty,” toned-down blue. Out goes the bright blue sleeveless top I bought at the Geoffrey Beene outlet in Truckee this past summer.

We continue to explore other colors and patterns. I’m a 5-foot-4 size 4, and, although I’m well-proportioned, I have to watch for shapes that can distort my body, Cumberland warns.

I try on a button-down, three-quarter-length-sleeve coral blouse with a stand-up collar. Cumberland shakes her head no; although she likes the color, it emphasizes my scrawny neck, which gives my head a pumpkin-on-a-post effect.

Then it’s on to a black cotton long-sleeved shirt with horizontal white stripes. Cumberland looks at me as if she has just seen a cockroach.

“I’m gonna read you the riot act,” she declares. “It’s always ‘Danger, Will Robinson!’ when you see stripes going across. Horizontal stripes going across the waist make you look broader. And it’s boxy, not fitted, so now it looks like you’ve added 20 pounds to your midsection.”I notice I don’t feel as ashamed of these mistakes as I imagined I might. Cumberland critiques clothing in a way that never sounds like “You look terrible in that,” but rather “That garment doesn’t deserve to drape your glorious body.”

I try on a succession of other tops. Most of them Cumberland likes for their deep V-necks and cap or flounce sleeves, which give my body that X shape for which we all, says Cumberland, should be striving.

“That means your waist is really tiny, and your hips are balanced underneath your shoulders,” she says. I beam like a struggling student who has received an unexpected A.

But then Cumberland finds two duds: T-shirts with shallow Vs and sleeves that reach to the middle of my upper arm.

“Look,” she says, guiding me to the mirror, “at how this V and these sleeves make your boobs look waaaay low.”

It’s true. I’m sagging! I’m horrified I ever went out in public in those shirts. I can just imagine passersby singing under their breath, “Do your boobs hang low, do they wobble to and fro, can you tie ’em in a knot, can you tie ’em in a bow?”

Just when I think we’re through contemplating my breasts, I whisk off one shirt to don another. But Cumberland stops me in my tracks.

“Whoa, whoa. What do we have here, the Grand Canyon? Your bra doesn’t fit at all. Look at those gaps! I want you to go up to Nordstrom, Arden Fair mall, third floor, and get a proper fitting.” Roger that. I make a mental note to put new bras on my to-buy list.

OK, now for pants. Cumberland gets that “cockroach” look again when she sees my tropical-print Tommy Hilfiger capris.

“Colors on the bottom should be the equivalent of carpet colors, and trust me, you don’t want a carpet like that,” she says. “You want your pants and skirts to be basic and neutral so they go well with and play off the colors you wear on top.”

“OK, so I guess I can say goodbye to this purple leather miniskirt,” I sigh, taking it off the hanger. Actually, I haven’t worn that skirt in a decade, but I was keeping it for sentimental reasons, just as I’d been keeping my prom dress, my high-school track jacket, my college sweatshirts and a baffling number of Señor Frog T-shirts.


“Sentimental items have a place,” says Cumberland. Like the garage. “But if it’s in your closet and you can’t wear it, then it is not part of your wardrobe.” 

We move on to my dressier things. Cumberland falls in love with the French-styled brocade Neesh by D.A.R. jacket I bought at Five Figs Couture boutique in Davis (“Winner, winner, chicken dinner!” she crows) and the Berek faux-fur-lined, velvet-belted leopard-print cardigan I bought at Nordstrom. (“That is exquisite. It defines your waist and it makes your legs look longer because it creates a point of interest at the waist.”) But she definitely doesn’t like the oversized red-and-black checkered blazer that I’ve worn to so many Christmas parties. (“Who are you, Paul Bunyan’s girlfriend?”)

By the end of an exhausting but exhilarating morning, we’ve got most of my closet edited, the dangling participles and misplaced modifiers safely dispatched to the Goodwill bag and the “winners” grouped not by type of garment but by occasion.

Surprisingly, Cumberland says I don’t have very many wardrobe gaps to fill: just the bras, of course, along with some brown boots, a jean jacket and a few more tank tops or camisoles.
Boy, will my husband be relieved.

A Makeup Makeover

Cumberland and I later meet in the Nordstrom cosmetics department at Arden Fair mall. She’s promised to help me correct several makeup mistakes she says are aging me.

We’re ready to turn back the clock 10 years. On the plus side, Cumberland likes the Laura Mercier Golden Beige foundation I’m wearing. My main mistakes, as she sees them, are lining the upper lid too heavily (which makes my eyes seem droopy) and using shimmery eye shadow. (“If you want to sparkle, save it for evening or apply it over your brow where the skin is tighter.”)

For daytime, Cumberland chooses Bobbi Brown shadow—Vanilla for the lids and Blonde for the creases—and lines my eyes with Bobbi Brown Sepia Ink gel liner, all the while talking about how essential a good makeup brush is. She adds that, on the whole, it pays to invest in department-store brands because they really are better than drugstore brands.

Next comes a dusting of Berry Brown blush by Bobbi Brown, followed by Laura Mercier Chestnut lip liner. Cumberland does half of my face and lets me do the other.

“Now remember, don’t use the point. Definition is what you’re looking for, not a line,” Cumberland advises. “Finish with a gloss to give your lips fullness.”

With the finishing stroke, I regard myself in the mirror. Unbelievable! I really do look years younger. The thought of going back to my old, mostly dime-store makeup is out of the question, so I purchase the eye shadows, the blush, the eyeliner, the lip pencil and five brushes while trying not to think too much about the Visa hangover I’m about to suffer.

The New Me

My experience with Cumberland translates to about nine hours of one-on-one time at my home and an hour in the Nordstrom cosmetics department buying new makeup, plus time spent chatting in follow-up phone calls. At Cumberland’s fee of $65 an hour, that’s about $650, give or take: a bargain when I consider how much I would have continued to fork out for the wrong clothing and cosmetics.

I haven’t taken all of Cumberland’s advice—not because I don’t agree with her, but because I need to pace myself financially. But even the small changes I’ve made make a huge difference in how I view myself. Others are noticing, too. For the record, here’s what it took to go from hit-or-miss to “I love mirrors!”: two new bras, $100; a Live a Little denim jacket (Nordstrom), $49; BCBGirls tall boots (Macy’s), $139; La Prairie Anti-Aging Eye Cream SPF 15 (Nordstrom), $135; eye shadows, gel eyeliner and blush (Bobbie Brown), lip liner (Laura Mercier) and a set of small M.A.C. brushes (Nordstrom), $169; a dresser for the closet (HomeGoods), $99; shoe organizers and whimsical wall hooks (Ikea), $35. Oh, and let’s not forget confidence: priceless.

Dressing in the morning is a snap now that I don’t have to wade through a bunch of ratty T-shirts to find a decent outfit. As for my husband, he’s just traded up for a younger- and sexier-
looking model without the risks and expense
of Botox injections or plastic surgery.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

* Give Yourself a Makeover

Wardrobe consultant Stephanie Cumberland offers these tips for looking your best:

•   Don’t buy on impulse. “Spending $200 for a gown for a special event is not good. Shop throughout the year and spend $39 for a gown on sale,” she says. “Always be on the lookout for a one-of-a-kind item you may need for a special occasion.”

• If you’re older than 40, figure out your best feature and emphasize it. “Do you want to show off your arms? Your legs? Your décolletage? Pick one and go with that,” she says. “When you see it all, it just becomes too much.”

• Wear one trend at a time. Otherwise, you look like a caricature.

• Become a label snob. “I’ll tell you a trick. If a label is woven, it’s a better quality item. If the label is stamped, stitched in all the way around, it’s not a good label.”

• Make your closet an inviting place, like a boutique.

• Use wood or plastic hangers, not wire hangers—they ruin the integrity of your clothes.

• Invest in quality make-up—not the drugstore stuff.