Sunday, November 7, 2010

Closet Therapy for Florence

The average Frenchwoman’s entire wardrobe fits neatly into an armoire, and she wears everything in it. By contrast, Surveys show that the average American woman’s wardrobe is bursting through the seams of her walk-in closet, and she wears less than one-third of what’s in it.

Every morning the American woman opens her closet, stares at its bulging contents and says the same thing, “I don’t have anything to wear.”  How can this be? What’s wrong with this picture?

Here’s a clue:

French Fifi and American Florence walk into a store. Each tries on a blouse.

Fifi wrinkles her nose and asks, “Est-ce bien mon style?” (Is this my style?)

Florence looks at the tag and asks, “Is this on sale?”

Get the idea?

Fifi chooses each piece she buys with great care. She likes a bargain as much as Florence, but she won’t buy something just because it is on sale if it is not bien son style. As a result, she wears everything in her armoire because everything in it is bien son style.

Fifi will walk out of the store with the perfect little white blouse which will look fabulous with at least five other pieces in her wardrobe.

Florence’s closet, by contrast, is stuffed with stuff she never wears because she does not ask herself the right question at the store.

Florence will walk out of the store with a fuchsia top that doesn’t go with anything she has, and she will never get around to getting the anything that it would go with because, in fact, the color doesn’t looks quite right when she gets it home, so she’ll never wear it. But, hey, it was 50% off! Can’t pass that up, or can you?

After years of shopping this way, Florence’s closet is experiencing a major identity crisis, and I have been called in to help.

Florence is a woman of a certain age (“une femme d’un certain âge”), by which the French mean any woman over 40. It’s a polite way of saying, “It’s none of your damn business how old I am, mon cher.”

Florence runs a successful business from home, the last of her children has been packed off to college, and after two years of widowhood, she would like to start enjoying a social life again, particularly the company of the opposite sex; but before she can do that, she needs some serious closet therapy.

A survey of Florence’s closet shows that, as I suspected, it breaks down into roughly three sections:

(1) Flo the Frump: This section contains the uniform of the American woman who has given up on her appearance – sweats, shapeless sweaters, T-shirts, flip-flops, sneakers and worn-out slippers. True to form, the clothes she wears most whether working at home or running out on errands come from this tiny section at the front of her closet – the grab and go section.

(2) Flora the Floozy: The other tiny section in the very back contains items that she wears when she wants to play “dress up.” With a few exceptions, it consists of items that are not flattering, if they ever were, as they are too revealing, too tight, or just too, too much. In short, they are not age appropriate and they look cheap because most were bargain and impulse buys.

(3) Where is Florence?: The rest of the closet contains a dizzying mish-mash of unrelated items. Here we find the fuchsia top that she bought along with other items like it still wearing their tags. Here and there among the mass of mismatched items are stuffed power suits from the 80s and other reminders of younger, thinner times, what I like to call the Nora Desmonds of a woman’s closet who wait for Mr. de Mille to call them for their close up – a call that will never come.

Florence leads a busy, complicated life. The last thing she needs to face each morning is a complicated, schizophrenic wardrobe. What she needs is a wardrobe of great basics like those in Fifi’s armoire. These are the great classic pieces that are versatile enough to be dressed up or down at a moment’s notice for any occasion -- your “go to” pieces which form the backbone of every well dressed woman’s wardrobe. Think Chanel and casual chic.

I go over my list of Wardrobe Basics with Florence and we get started. Flo the Frump can stay, for now, if Florence promises never, ever to let her appear anywhere other than in front of her computer screen. She agrees. Flora the Floozy is banished to the bin.

The dizzying mish-mash that had overtaken the bulk of Florence’s closet like creeping moss has been removed.

Over the next few months, Florence channels her inner Fifi and begins to pull together not only a great wardrobe, but a great sense of herself and her own style. Flo the Frump is making less and less of an appearance.

Florence discovers a love for scarves and displays a great knack for picking the perfect accessory that will add that all-important je ne sais quoi.

Family and friends begin to notice and clients are responding positively to Florence’s new sense of sleek confidence.

I get regular updates.

Yesterday an e-mail arrived from Florence.

“Just had to tell you the latest. I was browsing in Nordstrom and a handsome gentleman came up to me with a dress shirt in one hand and three neckties in the other.

‘Excuse me,’ he said, ‘but, which tie do you think goes best with this shirt? You look like someone who would know. You’re so put together, and I love your scarf.’

“We had dinner together last night. I think he might just be my style. What do you think?”

I think Fifi and I are delighted.  For the next step in Florence's therapy, click here.


  1. What a great article! I imagine reading this in "More" magazine. Viola - perfection! I wonder what Fifi would say of my closet? : )

    This article - I mean post - was well worth the wait. Looking forward to reading more.

  2. I think I have too much in common with Florence! I am inspired to find my "Inner Fifi" and do my own clean out! Thank you :)

  3. Delighted you liked my post, Cynthia, and that you felt it was "worth the wait." I may do more pieces along these lines.

    There was actually much more to the process of reclaiming Florence's closet than outlined here.

    If you would like a few more details (i.e., a behind the scenes look, so to speak), I'll include them in my next post.

    Let me know.


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