"I have nothing to wear".
How many of us start our day by muttering this under our breath?
The experts say that we only wear 20% of the clothes in our wardrobes. I have been hoarding clothes for years and I reckon I only wear about 5%, getting by with the same oversized grey jumper, jeans and boots on casual days, and three or four shift dresses on rotation for meetings.
I know it's a first world problem of the highest order. It's hard not to come across as spoiled when writing a post about decluttering one's wardrobe.
But this isn't just about clothes. It's about confidence, identity, dressing for where I want to go - in the metaphysical sense.
As a recruiter I have given presentations about how to impress in interviews, explaining the importance of first impressions - yet I've rarely given much thought to the visual cues I give out. I seldom feel that I've put much effort into my wardrobe. If I don't care about how I look, what does that say about the care I put into my work? What message does it send out to clients or my kids?
There's a debate in the UK press at the moment about women taking their kids to school dressed in their pyjamas (the mums, not the kids). Just, NO! How can kids take school seriously if their parents can't even be bothered to get dressed?
So I've sought out help in the form of Esther Zimmer, a personal stylist who takes a holistic approach to her work - encouraging her clients to become the best version of themselves.
Here's what happened during my first session, including five tips to help you find your personal style, which I've learned from Esther.
Style tip #1: figure out what's driving your shopping habits
I completed a questionnaire about my personal style and shopping habits, which we discussed during our first session. This revealed that I don't shop with any strategy in mind, and I don't buy clothes that create the style I want to achieve.
I shop because I have free time between meetings, or a couple of hours to myself at the weekends. Spending money is like an addiction - at the till it feels great to find a bargain and as soon as I get my clothes home, I am wracked with guilt. Without a regular pay packet at the end of the month, I can't afford this whimsical shopping anymore. I'm left with a wardrobe full of separates which don't coordinate, because no thought has gone into their purchase.
Style tip #2: go shopping with a purpose
Esther promised to bring some discipline to my shopping habits and to provide me with a list of wants and needs, so when the urge does take me, I'll have a specific goal in mind. I have to train myself to avoid buying something that isn't quite right just because it seems like good value and instead, take my time and enjoy the process of looking for the perfect item. She also suggested that I build in different ways to alleviate boredom between meetings - a coffee and a quiet place to enjoy my book, instead of shopping.
Style tip #3: look for inspiration
Stage two of day one was to define my new personal style.
I've been collecting age-appropriate fashion images on Pinterest for a while. We looked through these plus a couple of dozen fashion magazines to find inspiration. I struggled to find anything I liked - so many of the glossies publish an unattainable image of underweight women in crazy, unwearable clothes. I managed to find a few photos and there did seem to be a theme emerging. Esther took these images away to do some research for day two of the programme.
Style tip #4: dress appropriately for where you want to go (in life)
Most of my clothes are grey, boring, middle of the road, middle range, safe. I definitely dress for comfort and warmth, not style. Unfortunately dressing like this is confidence sapping. Covering everything up in grey and baggy clothes makes me invisible. I don't want to be that person.
I have my own business. I give people advice about their careers and having confidence. I need to dress appropriately to be taken seriously.
She asked me what I like about my body, which threw me. I wasn't prepared for the positive spin on the body question. I didn't think I had hang ups about my body, but I honestly couldn't find anything positive to say. Which speaks volumes.
But Esther's programme isn't about my body concerns. It's about dressing in a way that makes me the best version of myself.
Esther asked me to define how I would like to look if money was no object. I can only describe the look I want as 'well put together'. I'm not bothered about designer labels; I do want to look stylish. No mean feat for a 5ft 2inch, 'curvy', curly haired, stressed out, working mum. And yes, the curly hair does make a difference - if there's just the slightest hint of any moisture in the air, it won't be long before I look like I've been dragged through a hedge backwards.
Style tip #5: have a clear out
Back to day one. After lunch (which she brought with her, if you can call a health bar lunch), we piled up ALL my clothes on the bed. Despite the earlier clear out I'd had, she had never seen so many dresses in one wardrobe
I held each item up to my body in front of the mirror, while Esther asked me how they made me feel. She made no judgements, just watched my reactions. There was so many items that made me squirm. Some were the wrong colour, many looked dated or overly washed, and several of the little dresses I'd kept to cling onto my youth just aged me. They formed a pile for the charity shop.
There were a few items which brought a smile to my face and complimented my skin tone. These were the pieces we would work with during the following session.
We were together for around seven hours, which flew by. Esther usually spends a little less time with clients on day one, and longer during the second session, but she fit her programme around my schedule. It felt both decadent - spending all that time on me - and also cleansing. After our session I drove to the charity shop and donated about three fifths of my wardrobe.
The next morning, I looked at my wardrobe and thought 'I have nothing to wear'. This time it was truer than ever. But I knew that Esther would be back the following week to help me put my new look together.
I write a lifestyle blog at Lifestyle Maven. You can follow me here: