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The Secret to an Enviable Wardrobe

Hal Rubenstein

The Secret to an Enviable Wardrobe


It doesn’t matter whether you are the kind of woman who, when she hears the word quilted, immediately thinks of Chanel instead of toilet paper, or if you’re that girl who hits H&M so regularly, you actually get nods from the salespeople even though they still wouldn’t dream of helping you.

Regardless of your budget, you will never have an enviable wardrobe, if you expect the clothes to do all the work.  No mi-ladies.  If the woman opening the closet doors doesn’t see herself as one hot mama, one fine women, or one, two, three times a lady, if you’re more crazy about that new angora cardigan than you are about you, wrap yourself up in it, throw yourself on the couch, grab some chips, and turn on Jersey Shore.  At least this way you got a shot at finding someone you think you’re better than.

So, let’s flip the title.  Let’s get a winning attitude first, and then we can talk about the wardrobe.  Which means, because you are women, we’re starting with the hard part.

Now before we go any further, or you get too ticked off, you need to know how I feel about women.  If you’re a regular reader of InStyle, you have picked up on the fact that I’m mad for your gender.   Not hungry for it, mind you.  But I do adore women. Maybe it’s because I lucked out from the get go with the most spectacular mom, the smartest woman I’ve ever met, who, sadly, now has Alzheimer’s, so if your mom can still remember how to dial your number, no matter how often you find her annoying or in your face, take the call and count your blessings.

As for my dad, well he was pretty terrific too, not just because he was the kindest man I’ve ever met, but also because I got to learn about love and women from a man who had an unabated crush on one of them for sixty years.  My parents had the happiest marriage I’ve ever known.  If he was talking to you when she walked by, he’d look at her, look back at you, and you could see it in his eyes, he had no idea what he’d talking about.  “Your mother, she’s somethin’ else, ain’t she.” he’d say.  She was his entire landscape.  And not to stack the deck, but my sister is my best friend.  And whenever my 16-year-old niece sends a text, I drop everything.  Ok, that’s how much I like women.  In fact, I wish all of you could see you thru my eyes.

But you don’t.  And that makes me nuts. So listen up.  I know many of you have that wiser, wittier gay best bud who you invite over so you can tell him everything – or did until he started to creep out your husband – so now you secretly seek him out in moments of desperation because he gives you a shoulder to cry on while force feeding you the truth.

I have to tell you, I’ve been dressing, advising, but mainly observing your sex at close range for 20 years now, and I gotta tell you, you are such a strange lot.

I don’t get it. You’re so smart.  All the women I know are resilient, pragmatic, empowered, wry, funny, nurturing.  To completely invert what Henry Higgins says about men, by in large you are the marvelous sex.

But you are never ever satisfied, always fixing this, tweaking that.  It’s as if everything in your life is just a half an inch off.  Instead of approaching a problem from “what if” you first have to sigh “If only…”

Why do you do that?

You have to ask yourself, how come women don’t rule the world?   Because you should.  But you don’t.  You know why?    I’ll tell you why.   It’s because of just one thing women do, but you do it every morning.

You want to know the biggest difference between men and women?  No, it’s not anatomical; it’s not about equal pay, who gets stuck working off the baby weight, or who gets invited to play basketball at the White House.

It’s this.

When a woman – let’s say you, for example – gets up in the morning and looks in the mirror, what do you see?  What do you do, virtually without exception?   You go right to the 5 things you don’t like about yourself.

Don’t argue with me.  I used to spend my workday perpetually surrounded by seventy-five women, so I hear it every day:  My hips are too wide. My legs are too short.  My boobs are too low.  I have a crease in my knee. I think my cankles are growing. My neck should be longer. I have no lobes, I have no nails, my hair is coarse, I hate my hips, I have no waist, I have no booty, I’ve too much booty, or my big toe is just so gross I can’t stand it.

Sweet Jesus!, –  and I say this as a practicing Jew –  you are unbelievable in your never-ending ability to find fault with yourself.   How do you even make it out the door?   Don’t you know the ugly police could arrest you for indecent existence?

Well get ready my lovelies.  Because, do you know what a guy sees when he looks in the mirror? It doesn’t matter what guy:  Your guy; her guy; the guy in the next cubicle or the corner office; the guy having a late lunch date at the Greek restaurant on Pine Street two blocks away or the guy standing at the end of the bar last night at the Westin who you weren’t sure if he was cute or if it was just the lighting. Every guy, regardless of what he really looks like, stands in front of the mirror each morning and I swear to you as sure as Lady Gaga doesn’t wear flats, that what he sees staring back is someone who is  justthatclose from Brad Pitt.

You think I’m kidding?

Doesn’t matter if he’s a dead ringer for either Hugh Jackman or William Shatner’s less attractive older brother.  Real or delusional. Most men walk out the door thinking THEY ARE ROCKIN’!  The arrogance of Mad Men is neither overstated nor confined to that era.

So guess who starts each day with an advantage? You, who just tore yourself apart and then, got dressed to camouflage your flaws instead of accentuating your strengths?   Or some guy who just walked out in the world so pleased with him he can’t help but smile?

And that’s not even the worst of it.  You are as hard on each other as you are on yourselves, while men give each other a break at every turn.  I mean, have you ever been anywhere on this planet, be it a family reunion, your kid’s soccer game, or a wedding and heard one man say to another?  “I don’t think that shirt does you any favors”, or “don’t you think maybe you should do something about those split ends”, or “bro, I’m only saying this because you have that wedding in a few weeks and I know you want to get into that blue blazer.  Maybe you should rethink that order of guacamole and chips.”

You laugh.  But it’s true.   In business, men can be sharks, skunks, rats, or wimps but when it comes to appearance, men are nice to each other.  They turn a blind eye.   Maybe it’s because deep down they know they’re so damned flawed, and this is their way of compensating.   But you, my dear ones, have made comparisons your commonspeak, and every time you do it, you set up yourself up to fail.

For example, last month, I was in Chicago speaking to 500 women who work for Ulta, the cosmetics chain.  A really cool roomful of women.  And one of them, a women in her mid-40’s, very attractive – maybe two sizes larger than she would like to be -and a better haircut wouldn’t have hurt – and her jacket needed taking in – but lovely, stands up and says “I know I spend all day selling beauty products.  But I’m not a beauty.  No matter what I apply, I’ll never have Jennifer Aniston’s hair, or Angelina’s lips, or Kate Hudson’s eyes.  So what should I do.”?

Well, for one, you could stop trying to be somebody else’s understudy.  One by one, I chose twenty women in the room, and asked them to stand up as well.  And each time I asked the first woman if any one of the twenty looked like her.  Naturally, she said no.  I could have had every woman in the room stand up and the answer still would be the same.  Because here’s the deal.  No else in the world looks like you.  No one.  Come on.  Even if you have a PhD in self-deprecation, don’t you find that even the least bit amazing?  That you’re an original.  I do.  Knowing that I’m the only person you will ever meet that looks like me.   That is so cool.   Don’t think so?  Well, you’re wrong.  Terribly, utterly wrong.

So, since I’m right – and you know I am right – well, then, here’s your new plan.  One that you are going to follow, because you know I’m right.    Tonight, tomorrow, sometime before the end of the week or the next time you go shopping, I want you to go to that go-to mirror, the one you look at more than any other, where you judge yourself in all your imperfect glory and I want you to stand there.  Naked if you can take it.  If not, at least put on your best lingerie.   And you are to remain there, for as long as it takes – I don’t care if you have to order out for a pizza or until you have to shave your legs again – but you will stay until you find 5 things you love about yourself.   Not 5 things that you like, or are ok, or that you can live with. No, Five things you absolutely adore because they define why you look unlike anyone else you know.

Got ‘em?  Good for you.   Now I want you to go get a pen and a pad.   Then go back to the mirror.  Now write down exactly what you see that you admire.  You must write them down.   Not because you won’t remember them, but because if they are not permanently inscribed on a piece of paper you will find a way to dismiss them.  Then, either put this list in your top drawer, your purse, your wallet, someplace where you always know exactly where it is.

And the next time you go shopping, for that winning wardrobe which we will get to shortly, you are not to leave the house without that list.  More importantly, regardless of what we are shopping for, whether for work, formal, or weekend, you will not buy anything, and I mean anything, that does not amplify, glorify and verify at least two of those five items on that list.

This is first step in selling yourself. In fact, what you may think are flaws, may in fact, be strengths because they emphasize your individuality, your idiosyncrasies, your quirks, your inordinate passions, whatever it is that makes you special. Note them.

Celebrate them.  Never conceal them.

The ultimate irony is that men are not only more forgiving of each other, they are more forgiving of you.  How many here are happily married, or in good relationships?  Whatever your partner’s shortcomings –  that’s for another session entirely –  he really does think you are more beautiful than you think you are.   So don’t ask him “Do you think I look fat in this?”   Not because he doesn’t need to be trapped, but because odds are he always thinks you look fine.  Men are jerks about a lot of things.  But not about the women they champion and love.   So they give ‘em a break.  The one you won’t give yourself or each other.   If nothing else, it’s one thing you can learn from men.

Or at least from me.   And now, if you don’t want to tear me limb from limb.   Now we’re going to work on getting that winning wardrobe.  And we’re going learn how to shop.  Because I don’t love the way you do that either.