Closet Therapy & Outfit Formulas

When I am feeling sad, or worried, or confused about life in general, closet therapy always makes me feel better. A good closet rummage, to try out new ideas for how to get dressed or to play with outfit formulas I’ve read about, takes my mind off my troubles. Makes me happier. Makes me feel more in control of my closet. And, perhaps, more in control of my own life, if not the wider world.

So even though trying on a bunch of outfits can’t alleviate the suffering of people in other parts of the world where the situation is dire, or help a friend who is having health issues, or change the fact that Mum won’t be able to see her flowers this summer, or read that book which I’ve just discovered and which I know she’d love, it can help me regain my equanimity. Closet therapy is a great distraction. And as a bonus helps me plan when I might wear in the upcoming days.

Outfit #1

I love outfit formulas. And often use them as a basis for my closet therapy. I was reminded of this when I read a post on Preston Davis’ blog Keep it Chic the other day. In her post Preston commented on two women she had seen recently wearing blazers, flats, and jeans. Preston said that with this outfit formula these women had “nailed transitional dressing.” My first thought was that jeans and flats with a blazer has been a go-to look for me for years. Just not one that I’ve worn lately.

So Preston’s post started me thinking about a closet rummage. About outfit formulas for what to wear in the upcoming few weeks before summer sets in. About whether I will continue my heretofore fruitless search for an oversized blazer. And about how I might play with the flats I have in my closet. At least some of the ones I did not play with in my Spring Shopping Process video.

Here’s what I came up with in my Thursday closet rummage for perfect “transitional dressing” à la Preston Davis.

I like this outfit.

Outfit #1 is very vintage-y. Consisting of an 8-year old pair of Citizens of Humanity skinny jeans, Stuart Weitzman patent loafers from 2014, an oversized striped blue and white shirt from Nordstrom Signature, and my very old Max Mara jacket circa 1998. I dug the jeans out of my storage drawer because it dawned on me that although skinny, the legs are not skin tight, and at the bottom might even be mistaken for a narrow straight-leg. Plus the faded wash looks great with the blue shirt. I like this outfit, although next time I may decide to try a white tee or tank under the shirt.

The blue chandelier earrings are almost vintage. I bought them back in the late nineties. The turquoise ring is real vintage, bought at an antique show years ago, and resized to fit me. The first jeweller I took the ring to refused to resize it, saying that it might make the stones pop out of the ring if he cut it down so many sizes. I wear a 4.5 ring size. I’m glad the second jeweller I consulted was not so picky. I didn’t buy the ring to have it sit unworn, and I was willing to take the risk.

Showing off my vintage turquoise ring.

When it comes to accessories, I really should try harder to wear what I own. Even though I have only a few rings besides my engagement and wedding rings, I almost never wear them. I’m going to try to change that this season. Along with wearing different bracelets, not just my ubiquitous vintage silver chain. Actually keeping on a necklace when I try it, instead of trying it and taking it off. And changing up my bags more often.

Outfit #2

Outfit #2 is not as vintage-y as Outfit #1. My Levis 511 jeans and white Theory blazer are comparatively new. As are the Vejas sneakers and the grey All Saints cross-body bag. The black and white ALC striped tee shirt is pretty old, though. I bought it back in 2015. My black and white bow-shaped brooch is vintage.

I thought the brooch helped pull the striped tee and the white jacket together a bit better. I tried my black Mackage cross-body bag with this outfit first, but it was too stark against all the lightness of the rest of the outfit. I like the grey bag better.

Not loving this tee shirt anymore.

Outfit #2 is my least favourite of the outfits I tried. Mostly this has to do with the fit and fabric of the old tee shirt. It’s too long, and very heavy. It needs to be tucked in but doesn’t drape or blouse nicely over the top of my jeans. I may add a new striped tee shirt to my seasonal shopping list.

I almost like this outfit better from the back. Ha.

Outfit #3 is super, super simple. And is really an excuse to style my Tod’s driving shoes that I mentioned in a previous post. These were pricey, and bought with the Holt Renfrew gift certificate that my friends gave me at my surprise retirement dinner back in January 2013.

I love these Tod’s shoes. They are made from buttery soft leather. And I keep them all wrapped up in their dust-bag in the box they came in… as if I’m saving them. But for what?

Outfit #3

I’m wearing my Tod’s shoes with my old Citizens of Humanity jeans, a sky-blue Everlane boxy tee, my linen Max Mara blazer from spring 1998. And the straw Eric Javits bag I bought back in 2019.

I like this outfit. Mostly because it looks so unplanned. As if I just pulled on a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, and threw a jacket over it. Which I did. Ha. I didn’t think the blue shirt under the tan jacket would work. But it does. And I thought the absence of brightness near my face or lack of any pop of colour would put me off, but it doesn’t.

So simple… but I like it.

Outfit #4 is a variation of Outfit #3. I swapped the blue tee for a white one in the same style, and tied this old yellow and white striped sweater around my shoulders for added colour. I don’t wear the yellow sweater these days because too much yellow around my face is not a good look on me anymore. But I kept it for just this purpose. To be worn more as a scarf than a sweater. The white stripes on the sleeve work well with the white tee shirt. And the yellow brightens up the tan jacket.

Outfit #4

I’m happy with this outfit. In fact I think it’s my favourite of the day. And it gives me an occasion to haul out this old Michael Kors tote bag. I haven’t been using this bag much since I bought my Eric Javits straw tote. And even though the gold bag, the yellow sweater, and the two colours of tan in the jacket and shoes are all different shades… I think as a combination it works. Less matchy-matchy, more haphazard, almost-matching-but-not-really-and-who-cares. I need more of that almost-matching-but-not-really-and-who-cares vibe in my life. All of us recovering perfectionists do.

This is my favourite outfit of the bunch.

So that’s the result of my closet therapy this week, folks. Some of the outfits were more successful than others. But this WAS just playing around. Overall, I think the “jeans, flats, blazer” outfit formula works. But then again, it’s always worked for me. Albeit with certain modifications according to my changing style… and my changing body. These days I prefer the structured jacket worn over an outfit the rest of which is predominantly more casual and looser than I would have worn in the past.

The jacket in a way acts as what Amy Smilovic would call a “style antonym.” The structured, slightly dressier, classic blazer keeps the very casual outfit from being too casual. In fact I like to think of Amy’s idea of style antonyms as a kind of outfit formula. One that I usually put into play even if I don’t realize that’s what I’m doing until afterward when I analyze why I like an outfit.

You know, this post has confirmed a couple of things for me. I won’t be continuing to look for an oversized blazer. I don’t need one. And those Tod’s driving shoes fulfill my quest for new flats. They are soft and narrow and a perfect substitute for the ballet flats that I was considering. My spring shopping list is becoming whittled down. Two items removed. And one item purchased. I bought a new pair of black dress pants back in April. I’ll share those with you in my next fashion post.

Outfit formulas are fun I think. Fun to play around with when one is having a closet rummage. But not to be adhered to religiously. That’s the same for any fashion rule, don’t you think?

I will say that playing with outfit formulas and having a good old closet rummage is a form of therapy for me. Closet therapy.

Playing in my closet always lightens my mood. I guess I never outgrew playing Barbies. As a kid I’d become so immersed in dressing my dolls, fashioning new outfits, using homemade pieces made with my scissors and needle and thread and some scraps of cotton left after Mum had made one or two new summer dresses for herself, that the world would fall away. I guess I’m still like that.

I’m laughing as I read that last paragraph. It’s pretty funny that as a kid I loved to make clothes for my Barbies, and as an adult I ended up hating sewing with a passion. I wrote a post a while ago all about my sewing career. You can read it here if you’re interested.

So, that’s it for me this week. Thanks so much for all the wonderfully supportive comments on my last post. My sister read them too. What a lovely community of women we have become, my friends.

P.S. Below are links to pieces I’ve worn in this post. And links to pieces which are similar to mine, and which I like as much as the ones I own.

Outfit #1 Citizens of Humanity jeans, Max Mara black blazer (There’s a great black blazer from J. Crew here), Nordstrom Signature striped shirt (similar here and here), Stuart Weitzman classic loafers.

Outfit #2 Levis 511 jeans, Theory white blazer (similar here and here), striped tee shirt (looking at this or maybe this), Vejas sneakers, AllSaints cross-body bag.

Outfit #3 Citizens of Humanity jeans (similar), Everlane box-cut tee, Max Mara linen blazer, Tod’s driving shoes (variety of colours and styles here), Eric Javits tote (similar).

Outfit #4 Citizens of Humanity jeans (similar), Everlane box-cut tee, Max Mara linen blazer (similar here), Tod’s driving shoes (similar), Brooks Brothers sweater, Michael Kors tote.

P.P.S. The clothing links above are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will earn a commission which helps to pay for the blog.


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From the archives


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71 thoughts on “Closet Therapy & Outfit Formulas”

  1. Sue, your closet therapy has obviously worked a treat! Good on you for recognising what works for you…both as therapy and as outfit formulas. X

    1. Seconding what you say Genevieve.
      I wonder if anybody feels they have “lost their way” with regard to clothes after the enforced purdah of the pandemic when we went practically nowhere, lived in sweats and joggers and saw few others?
      Faced with an outing or event – however “humble” I’m not talking the Kings Coronation here I am totally at a loss. Wall to wall “nothing to wear”.
      Thanks to Sue I may be beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel but my former outfit confidence is a long way off yet.

  2. While in Porto, idling in the sunshine, watching the world go by from my cafe seat, I noticed lots of different styles strolling by and I was glad I had taken my black blazer with me because it could be a bit chilly in the evenings. There were plenty of jacket-jeans-sneakers in evidence. It’s a handy combination. I spent a day pottering around the clothes shops and noticed that there are loads of platform shoes (very 1974) around and loosely tailored linen, though the prices were a bit eye-popping for me. Zara in Portugal is not the same as Zara in UK, fortunately, so I enjoyed that. Wardrobe rummaging is a soothing occupation in tricky times, imposing a gentle order when the universe seems implacably confusing.

    1. Gentle order is the order of the month for me. By the way, we’re currently planning a Portugal trip. Interested to hear what you have to say about Porto etc.

      1. I am a Portugal fan – lovely weather, friendly people, excellent food and drink – and found Porto a great place to spend a week. It is stunning to look at and walk around, busy and bustling but the beach is just a pleasant four-mile walk away. Transport is easy and cheap as well. If you want some specific recommendations, I would be happy to send them to you and you have my email address. Bom dia!

  3. Your favourites are my favourites . Interestingly , I didn’t go much on the last outfit till you added the yellow bag which made all the difference . I envy you your Tod shoes & much prefer them to ballet flats . Closet rummaging is good therapy . At such times I also enjoy polishing leather bags , cleaning silver jewelry & sorting out the scarf drawer .

    1. Just walking around the house in my old ballet flats was enough to convince me that I did not need another pair. I much prefer sneakers or loafers. But I may haul them out just for a change.

  4. Outfits 2 and 3 are my favourites. Black is a bit heavy for Spring days for me. The Tee in 2 looks good too.

  5. wow. You really hang onto your clothes! I don’t think I have anything from 1998! lol. probably because I put on weight. I love jackets. You look so nice in all of them. I live in very HOT Florida so I wear a jacket in January and February. I know, I should not complain. I do get very tired of the constant tee shirt and shorts look. Even wearing capris in the summer here is torture.

  6. Outfits 2,3 and 4 are my favourites too. I need to find something like your Tods, as I realised that my winter shoes look too heavy now, and it’s too early for sandals. My only problem with these kind of shoes, and also ballet flats is that they are flat ! I’ve lost a little height as I age and really need a lift.
    I do agree that closet therapy is a good way to feel better in difficult times. It may sound very frivolous to say that when we lost our son these little rituals helped.But they did and still do.

    1. I have seen lots of soft loafers in shops when I am out and about. Sadly I can’t remember where exactly. Little rituals are helpful, I agree.

  7. Hi Sue, I did not read your post last week (have just read it), I was still deep in Coronation content. Please accept my condolences on your mum’s passing.
    I’m glad you were able to spend all that time with your sister at your mum’s bedside. Take care of yourself, xx.

  8. Valerie Marshall

    Always love to read your blog…
    Also try to put the outfits together…this year trying more scarves and jewelry..waiting for the sales to get a white jacket!,

  9. HimSue…first of all May I say that you would look great even wearing a sack…you’ve got such a pretty face…fabulous figure and beautiful hair. So…however, as all the other Girls have made comments on your style, I would like to add mine! I choose the first and forth outfits. My honest opinion is that there is too much ‘white’ going on in the other outfits which next to your hair colour isn’t the most flattering. I love the contrast of the navy Max Mara jacket on you…it’s so chic and I also love the yellow jumper over t your shoulders with the creamy jacket and wow…this beautiful shoes picking up the colour of tge jacket pulls it all together.

  10. I love your “closet therapy” concept and your post made me realize that I sometimes do this too but without thinking about it. Sharing your thoughts has made me a little more mindful – thanks!
    Thinking of you and hoping you have a gentle day…

  11. I like all of the outfits you styled from your closet. All of them! You have great reserves to choose from and you put them together in such an attractive way. Good job.
    I woke up this morning miss my Mother too. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Lovely outfits,Sue! You’ve recreated great looks by shopping your closet,I love them all. Camera crossbody bags are so nice and versatile,I find this shape very useful.
    Please,wear Tod’s mocassins,they are so beautiful….Mine are black patent leather,very suitable for a very rainy May! I loved their loafers and ,especially,ballerinas-still have a couple of them just to look at-they are not comfortable enough for me now!

    1. I’m going to do my best to get more wear out of my Tod’s shoes. Seems a shame to just let them sit in the closet for fear of ruining them.

  13. Another recovering perfectionist here. I was so hoping you would have recovered enough to be able to post today. Perhaps that’s selfish of me, but thank you for cheering us up with another wonderful post.
    I like all five of your outfits. Outfit #1 is impressive because you managed to construct it out of older items. Wish I could do that. Outfit #2 is very pleasant, but for some reason I’m getting tired of stripes and the brooch may deserve a better ambience. Outfit #3 is quite wonderful. All of the pieces go together perfectly without looking contrived, and overall the outfit looks like you. (Don’t know why I say that, because of course I don’t really know you. Isn’t it strange what the Internet does to our heads?) You’re really hitting your stride with outfit #4, which has zip. Not sure I can quite define zip, but as someone once said, “You know it when you see it.” And outfit #5 just takes it a step farther. I think you look great, both beautiful and healthy, in pale yellow.
    It’s a relief that you’ve stopped looking for an oversized blazer. I recently reached the same conclusion. They are not flattering on many women, and I predict they will soon be totally out of fashion. As for ballet flats, they offer little support and are often too flat and floppy to be truly comfortable. Now I can’t wait to see what you do with your new black pants. I also have a pair and need styling help.

    1. I think the anti-oversized backlash has begun. I am going to wear my slimmer blazers with my looser dress pants and avoid going oversized all over.

  14. Outfit #2 is my favourite from this batch, but all 4 work really well. Last week I wore a jeans, blazer, sneakers combo to do some shopping in the city and a stranger who was literally half my age told me that she really liked my style! Made me feel great and reminded me how much I like that simple outfit formula.

  15. Big hug to you today!

    I love this classic combo, and you never disappoint. Therapy for you, inspiration for us, and you whittled down that shopping list. Win-win-win.

  16. Sue … you always look so great. … you seem to be a person who really knows her style. I struggle with this. Sometimes I feel that I am ‘missing out’…because, for example, I gravitate to solid colours or neutrals and avoid prints and stripes. Should I trust my instincts or am I really in a rut??? How does a person become confident with style? I’ve always considered myself a confident person – but not with style.

  17. Outfit therapy must work as you look great Sue. Your outfits manage to look relaxed but put together at the same time.

  18. Annette Loscialpo

    I’m going upstairs to my closet now to try to replicate your outfits of today. I have enough similar items to pull it off , but not as high end. My hair is snow white and short but I weigh probably 20 lbs more than you. AND I’m a young 81. I’ll give it a go anyway.

  19. My closet is one of my favorite rooms in my house. My coats of armor are there. I can be anything I need to be when dressed in an outfit of my choice. Control or at least my sense of it comes with outfit planning. I do plan my weeks outfits on Sunday just as I did when I worked. I hope you are having a lovely glass of wine as you work through your closet. Amazing how many forgotten items reside there and a good rummage always results in a smaller shopping list. I admire the quality of your clothes and their longevity under your care. Even though we have never met I have kept you in my prayers and hope the warmer weather, newish outfits and time are helpful to you. Best

  20. Sue, thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us — last week’s post and this week’s post are such great examples of why I love your blog — there’s depth and meaning and sharing life’s journey —the sorrows, the hard parts and the fun parts; and then there’s the “fashion pause” that refreshes, and must lift your spirit just a little, as well as ours. As others have said, be ever so gentle with yourself. ❤️

  21. I think “almost-matching-but-not-really-and-who-cares” is an excellent new outfit category. Well done on identifying it! You are an elegant and thoughtful dresser, and all the outfits work. My favourite is the one with the tan blazer, closely followed by the first outfit. I love those Tod loafers – they are very beautiful and it would be lovely if they spent more time on your feet than in their box. The jewellery in the first outfit is beautiful, especially the ring. I too am guilty of owning some lovely jewellery that isn’t worn often enough. I even stopped wearing earrings during the lockdowns because they were so annoying with masks. However, I’m wearing more of my pieces now during the lovely autumn weather we’re enjoying.

  22. I saw the KIC post too, as well as the one with Linda Wright who had a shrunken jean jacket. I thought hum… I’ve been wearing these combos forever. Oh well something old for some and it’s something new for others. Your outfits are great, and here’s to outfit formulas. On another note my heart goes out to you on the loss of your mom. After three years I still pick up the phone to call my dad to share some news and then it hits me he’s no longer on the receiving end.

  23. To add to my previous message. I’m on the hunt for some soft loafers/Driving Mocs for the fall. I have Bass loafers but they are a little stiff. Tod’s are out of my price point. Any suggestion from anyone?

  24. You look lovely in all of your outfits, but I like the last one with the jaunty bag and loafers. You always look very pretty in whatever you wear. Happy to hear that the styling brings you comfort.

    I’ll have to read your sewing post when I get back home and have more time. I lost interest in sewing for many years, but have been back at it for at least twelve now. For me it’s not about the clothes I own per se, or about fashion. It’s about using my hands and enjoying the creative process, and being connected in that way to what I wear. I had never stopped knitting, so I suppose that’s just how I’m wired.

    Take care.

  25. I love these outfits, cannot pick a fave.
    But your phrase “almost-matching-but-not-really-and-who-cares vibe” REALLY resonated w me! LOVE it! I want that as my new mantra.
    (You should trademark that….. delete this comment if that sounds like a good idea!)

  26. These are all great looks (I’m very partial to the striped blue shirt and blazer! And I love the ochre/gold loafers) — and I’m so glad your Closet Therapy helped you. Yesterday would have been tough. big hugs xoxo, f

  27. I think of a blazer and flats as quintessential Sue, in whatever guise/incarnation. I agree completely about the “style antonym.” I always feel like it’s a way for “me,” whatever that might be, to show up more clearly. Glad your therapy was so fun and productive. ❤️

  28. A blazer and jeans is such a good look. I like all of the outfits. I don’t see the flaws in the striped tee shirt in outfit one, but your outfit probably hid them from view.
    The Tod’s shoes look great and so comfy. You’ll probably get so much more wear out of them versus a pair of ballet flats.
    Glad that you had a little closet therapy and it lifted your spirits.

  29. Admire how thoughtful & how much insight you have on your wardrobe & personal style. A blazer, jeans & flats are classic & lend themselves to multiple style combinations which you do so well. However, I have to disagree with your plan to ditch an oversized blazer. One reason is because I think this year especially, proportions have really changed. The fit of shirts, pants & jackets is very different from a few years ago. I really see that in my own closet. All my jackets – good for years, seem wrong. Ditto slimmer fitting pants (jeans & trousers) & tops ( shirts & blouses). Btw, thank you for helping me be more analytical about my closet!

    1. I agree that my eye has changed. But in the past month I’ve seen a lot of UK vloggers and Instagrammers wearing more fitted pieces. So I’m wondering if the oversized trend has hit its zenith. Right now I’m wearing my looser skinny jeans with much looser tops and feeling good in them.

  30. Margaretanne Clinton

    That #4 is stunning. !!
    I have all those elements already. I took a photo of it and am instantly going to copy it. ❤️
    (Can’t wait to hear people say how great it is. )
    And , tell them about your site.
    I have 4 different totes to change it up.
    I’ll wear this combination all summer .
    Thanks for the post.

  31. Sue, I missed last week’s post, so please accept my condolences on the loss of your mum. She always sounded like a feisty, fun person, with whom you had a strong bond. Closet therapy, time with friends and alone, a good book and lots of tea will be just the thing in the next while. I remember that after Mum died, I wasn’t capable of too much for a few weeks.
    Your loss has made me think anew about people I hold dear and how much I want to spend time with them. Also it’s made me think about stuff I’m holding on to – and whether I need to continue to do that.

  32. Michelle Hamric

    I had to laugh a bit at the parts about sewing and playing with formulas. As a kid, I too, loved sewing Barbie clothes from leftover fabric from my mom. But, as an adult, have I liked sewing? Not so much. It just doesn’t have the same “feeling” to it that sewing Barbie clothes possessed all those years ago.

    Playing in MY closet is a very satisfying activity for me. My closet is on the small-ish side, so it’s not as if I get lost in a huge walk-in closet! That being said, I still can get lost in time and space in there. I can literally spend hours rearranging, sorting, imagining new outfits, and playing dress up. My husband might walk into the bedroom, at any given time, and say, “Oh, I see you’re playing with your clothes again and having great fun.” Of course, he’s always right!

    Playing in my closet and using new outfit formulas always helps to lift my mood, keeps me from going shopping, increases my creativity, and helps to be entertained rather than bored.

    Have a beautiful MEMORIAL DAY. ( Is that a thing in Canada, too?)

    1. No, we don’t celebrate Memorial Day up here. But last weekend we had Victoria Day… which I assume you don’t celebrate. I love how your husband gets a kick out of your closet adventures.

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