Delisa Schlachter understands the importance of a having a well-edited, workhorse wardrobe. With six children ranging in age from 12 to 25, a career as a personal stylist serving international jet-setters, and an unpaid side gig as coach of her son’s regatta team, the 47-year-old knows how to shift from ballet flats to black tie with ease. Here, she helps us answer the question “What should I wear?” once and for all.
Assess & Eliminate
When Schlachter takes on a new client, she begins by helping that person streamline her existing wardrobe. After separating clothing into seasons, the stylist banishes stained, pilled, or hard-pressed synthetic pieces (i.e., unsightly shiny fabrics). She then assigns the remaining items to one of three categories.
“These are the go-to pieces you wear all the time,” Schlachter says. “They look great, fit great, and make you feel great when they’re on. Think of them as the backbone of your wardrobe.”
This category requires courage. “These are the pieces you wear every once in a while, so the trick is determining the reason behind the infrequency,” Schlachter says. “If you feel like a rock star when you put it on but rarely wear it because it’s a special occasion piece, it’s a keeper. But let go of the pieces you end up taking off every time you put them on, even if you love them in theory or paid a lot for them. If you never feel quite right in something, bequeath it to your BFF, consign it, or (if it’s unworn) return it. Just get it out of your closet.”
Get ruthless at this point. “If you haven’t worn a garment in two years or longer or you’re waiting to lose weight to fit in it, toss it,” Schlachter says. “Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Keep in mind that when you do lose weight, you’re going to want something new. Cuts and lines change. No matter if you paid more than your monthly mortgage, trust me, you will never wear those pleated pants again.”
Bone Up on the Basics
Now that you’ve streamlined, it’s time to fill in the holes. According to Schlachter every woman should have the following 15 items in her closet. Missing a few? Let’s go shopping.
1. Black pencil skirt. If you are curvy, consider something with a slight A-line or trumpet shape. For the most modern look, the hemline should hit either right above the kneecap or just below, right at the curve above your calf.
2. Pointed or cap-toe flat. Schlachter loves how chic a point looks but says a classic round toe, à la Chanel, works too. J.Crew makes an inexpensive, highly wearable version.
3. Unstructured blazer. Most women already own a tailored black blazer, so go for something with a softer shoulder, ideally in a neutral like cream. Schlachter likes Céline’s unstructured blazers, but if you’re working with a smaller budget, Zara is a good bet.
4. LBD. This is your go-to, something that can be easily dressed up or down with accessories. Go for crepe wool or double-face knit and, as with the pencil skirt, opt for a modern hem length.
5. Dark, straight jeans. No whiskers, no holes, no fade, just clean denim with a knockout fit. You can’t go wrong with a pair from J Brand or Gap.
6. Black cashmere turtleneck. Make sure it’s fitted so you can layer it under blazers but not so snug you can’t wear it on its own.
7. Worn-in moto jacket. This is the perfect piece to layer over filmy dresses and tops to add contrast. The trick to keeping it feminine is going for the softest possible leather.
8. Strong statement bag. Invest in a good bag. You’ll never regret it. And go strong, as even a petite woman needs a structured bag. Trendy bags are tempting, but when you’re spending a significant amount of money, selecting something timeless is the best bet. And no fakes. Ever.
9. Classic belt. An Hermès H belt makes even the most humble pair of jeans and a Hanes t-shirt look like a million bucks.
10. Animal print. Think of leopard, zebra, or snake as a neutral. A small amount in a belt, t-shirt, or kitten heel adds major interest to any outfit.
11. Classic, man-tailored white button-down. For the most timeless cut, veer toward masculine shapes in shrunken sizes. If you’re petite, check out the boy’s section of department stores.
12. T-shirts and tanks in black and in white. Not boxy, but not fitted. You’re shooting for cuts that skim your body in silky cottons. Rag & Bone makes Schlachter's all-time favorite fits.
13. Striped t-shirt. Always and forever. (Extra credit: pair with floral or animal print.)
14. Nude shoe. With a dark shoe, the eye goes straight to the feet. Sometimes your shoe just needs to disappear. Plus, a nude shoe with a low vamp creates the illusion of longer legs (always a bonus).
15. Oversize clutch. A clutch imparts instant chic. Carrying one is the easiest way to dress up a casual outfit.
(from top): No. 9 Hermès H belt $780, hermes.com; No. 12 Rag & Bone pocket t-shirt $255, rag-bone.com; No. 15 Givenchy studded leather clutch $1,250, neimanmarcus.com
Delisa Schlachter's Wardrobe Rules
Don’t be a slave to trends.
Study other stylish women and emulate them. Schlachter guides her thirtysomething clients to look at images of Gwyneth Paltrow, Julianne Moore, and Miranda Kerr for inspiration.
Simplicity is key.
Before you leave your house, take one thing off. It’s not a new trick, but it works.
Trust your intuition.
If in doubt, don't wear it. (If you think it’s too tight or too young, it probably is.)
Tailor, tailor, tailor.
Almost everything looks better with a little tweak. Europeans buy less but they look great because they buy the highest quality they can afford and they live for impeccable tailoring.