Whispers from the Wardrobe: Practical Tips on Cleaning Up Well

Looking good and spending a lot of money isn’t necessarily synonymous! Here are some handy tips I learned from my family on cleaning up well without draining my wallet.

At our core, my family and I are very simple people, and though we still love to enjoy the finer things in life, we elect to spend our money on trips, relaxation, and gastronomic experiences rather than clothes.  Nonetheless, in the 23 years I’ve lived on this Earth, I’ve picked up a couple of tricks from the people I hold closest to me that have aided in keeping me grounded and trimming down my closet expenses without risking the term ‘shabby’.

Now, while a person’s sense of fashion is entirely their own and I have absolutely no intention of swaying yours, I do hope you find something useful in this list to help you as much as it helped me. 

Grooming is absolutely everything

This is something both of my lolas always made sure of and their key to looking good no matter what: simple clothing, good grooming

The main difference between wearing cheap clothes and looking cheap lies entirely on how well you present yourself. It wouldn’t matter how expensive your clothes are. There’s nothing that degrades an entire look more than appearing unkempt. As my sister says, dressing casually doesn’t excuse you for looking sloppy. Doing your brows, putting on some powder, and swiping a bit of lipstick on never hurt anyone. And please brush your hair, lest my grandmothers come back from beyond the grave to haunt you.

Bank on basics, but stay excited.

As a family that looks for longevity rather than trend, basics and normcore chic is our lifeblood. However, that doesn’t mean you should be boring. Having a good amount of basics is perfect for mixing and matching without being overly conspicuous that you’re wearing the same thing all the time, so I like mixing in key items in my closet that get me giddy when I throw them on, like a fun printed crop top or checkered pants or an oversized Korean-style jacket. 

I remember a time when I was shopping with my mother. She found this adorable white tee with really cheery, colorful print and as soon as she saw it, she lit up and knew she had to have it; whenever she’d wear it out on the weekend, she’d feel like more of a fun person. That is the kind of joy your closet should evoke from you, and if it doesn’t, then maybe it’s time for a refresh.

Treat buying clothes as a long-term investment.

This is something I discuss often with my mother, and while she scoffs at me with her Economics degree every time I say the word “investment”, I stand by it. Good clothes should be able last you years, and while it may be tempting to slip into the impulsive snares of fast fashion, it might be good to take a step back before handing over that credit card. Would you be able to wear that style for at least a couple of years? Is the material sturdy enough to withstand the wear and tear? Is it free from time-dependent references that are sure to become obscure after one use? Trends come and go, so you might as well put your money in things that you won’t cringe at when Facebook’s Timehop kicks in. I’m looking at you, unflattering denim bermuda shorts.

Comfort is key. People can see when you’re uncomfortable. 

You know how you can just tell when someone stops feeling good in the heels they’re in? Yeah, that applies to the rest of your clothes, too. Daring to be out of the box with your fashion is all well and good, but if it stifles your comfort so much that you physically have to pretend you’re okay, then please just let it go–for your sake and the sake of prowling, judgmental eyes (sorry). Comfort helps boost your confidence, so don’t let it take the back seat!

If you can only have two pairs of heels, make sure you get them in black and nude. 

I used to laugh at my mom for getting the exact same pair of kitten heels in black and nude, but looking back at it now, I actually see the appeal. Everyone needs a favorite pair of classic heels, and everyone needs them in exactly those colors–two birds with one stone! Having black heels is honestly common sense at this point, but don’t neglect the nude; because they blend into your skin, nude heels help give the illusion of elongated legs–perfect for us vertically challenged Asians–and are incredibly versatile shoes that work well for both casual and formal events.

If you don’t want to be judged, never wear open-toed shoes without having a pedicure first. 

Just because feet aren’t the very first things you see shouldn’t mean that you can neglect them! I have been traumatized one time too many by the look of disgust on my sister’s face as I wore sandals out of the house with my overgrown nails, half-chipped polish, and unsightly cuticles. Never again. And NEVER to a formal event; you are not an uncouth monster. Remember: your nails are an extension of your outfit.

Being thrifty is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean you should buy bad clothes. 

My mother is notorious for falling into the discount trap. I’ve watched her buy sandals on sale despite having a superfluous amount at home or try to convince herself to like sale item clothes just because the deal was too good to pass up. That isn’t to say that I think sales are bad–I love sales as much as the next person–but if the most attractive part of the garment is its price and not its quality, then maybe you don’t need it.

For god’s sake, learn your own silhouette.

I’ve lamented the fact that I can never have a fuller bosom or wider hips for ages, but one thing about growing up in a household with vastly different body shapes has taught me that there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all when it comes to making clothes work for you. My sister is more apple shaped, my mother is more of an inverted triangle, and I am more boxy. Learning how to create the illusion of a more shapely physique, longer legs, and thinner waists all come differently to each of us, so there’s no point trying to replicate something that works for someone else when it doesn’t help you.  

I won’t be getting in too deep with other body shapes, but if you’re rectangular like me (i.e your shoulders, bust, and hips aren’t far apart in measurements), you have to find ways to cheat that waist. You can try pants with a higher waistband to help bring the attention to the length of your legs, or those with wide legs to fill out your hips. Dresses that cinch around the waist and flare out are also great for creating shape, as well as strategic cut-outs and smart color blocking. Fake it ‘til you make it, baby!

One is never over-dressed or underdressed in a little black dress.

This is self-explanatory, but Coco Chanel was absolutely right when she said it. Every girl needs one in her closet and trust me, you will always find use for it.

If you can’t see all your clothes when you open your closet, you’re going to need to Marie Kondo that sh*t out. 

After all, how often would you reach for something that you don’t remember is there? A useful tip my mom taught me was to remember the last time you wore that article of clothing. If it’s been more than three months and you haven’t thought of it one bit, then it’s safe to say that you won’t miss it when it’s gone. Learn to let go, girl. 

Own a small purse. 

If you’re like my mom and you like carrying your entire house in your purse, I urge you to attempt a smaller bag. More often than not, we tend to carry things that we don’t really need just in case an occasion would call for it, and when it comes to fishing things out of that monstrous bag, it takes more than a few moments of wildly flailing our hand around to finally find it. Smaller bags not only cut that process out, but are also easier on the back (which is necessary, if you have scoliosis like I do) and often come in wider arrays of designs. 

Of course, that’s not to say that you should ditch the big bag entirely. It’s good to have different sizes for different occasions, but for days where you’re just off to the supermarket or going to have coffee with friends, do you really need all that stuff weighing your shoulder down? 

Always have stain remover on hand!

My sister found this magical thing in Japan once that highly resembles correction fluid, and it has changed my life. While it isn’t something I’m proud of, I’m not exactly the neatest eater; having this (or the more accessible Tide marker) tucked inside my purse was a godsend for the days I slurp up ramen and accidentally drip some of the soup on my shirt. Not a good look, darling.

Never underestimate the power of accessories. 

Need to zhuzh up a simple outfit? Accessories. My Lola Tindeng had been known to sport gorgeous, glittering accessories at all times, from formal events to simple potluck dinners in her condo to her hospital bed–with good reason! Accessories are a sure-fire way to elevate even the most basic t-shirt and jeans combo, so it’s always nice to accent your looks with a little somethin’ somethin’–even a simple gold necklace and studded earrings can have a big impact on your overall look. Just be sure to match it to what you’re wearing! While I personally prefer gold for everything, if you needed to choose between gold and silver, it’s good to remember that warmer tones look best with gold, while cooler tones complement silver

Rings are also something my sister and I fawn over. If you aren’t like her and don’t have a husband to give you a giant diamond ring (ugh), a large statement ring or a series of dainty stackable rings are also great ways to add personality. 

Also, please, please own a belt, damn it! I remember stubbornly refusing to accept that I needed a belt other than my old, worn clasp belt from high school and sorely regretting it when my jeans started slipping and I had no other choice but to look horrendous. A good rule of thumb is to have at least these two: a classic leather belt, and a skinny belt you can use for daintier looks or for cinching dresses.

Save your best designer sunglasses for the city. 

My family loves sunglasses, and while it would look great flaunting your favorite designer pair at any given moment, it’s good to have more than one. Aside from adding variety into your wardrobe, this also makes sure you don’t wreck the expensive one prematurely. We like owning what we call the “disposable pair” for lesser occasions, a.k.a the pair you like but wouldn’t cry over if it fell into the ocean or was accidentally rolled over at the beach.

Get to know a good tailor. 

Being a dressmaker, Lola Tindeng greatly emphasized the need for clothes to fit well. If buying off the rack doesn’t hug your body the way you want it to but you can’t get over the style, don’t think that all is lost. Tailors exist for a reason, and when you find one you like, do not let him/her out of your sight.

When in doubt, shirt-dress it out. 

This one’s my mom’s favorite because it’s easy to put together, comfortable to wear, and can be dressed up or down with accessories!

Do not, I repeat, do NOT be stingy with your intimates. 

Your underwear is the most essential part of your closet, as it dictates both comfort and hygiene. They also help shape the way your clothes cling to you, so why settle for frumpy, misshapen granny panties when you can get quality, form-hugging pairs that’ll last you years? If you’re above the age of twelve, ditch the cheap 5-packs (or, at least, save them for shark week) and move on to greener pastures. Trust me, you’ll feel much more confident in more ~mature~ styles and you won’t have them wearing down on you after a year or so. 

Stop settling for ill-fitting bras. 

Not only will it make you infinitely more comfortable, but it’ll look much more polished too. If there’s a gap between the pad and your breast, if your boobs are spilling over to and fro, or if your band isn’t sitting horizontally on your torso, then it’s the wrong size. 

If you have itty bitties like us, this rule definitely still applies. There’s nothing that makes me feel more awkward about myself than the infamous bra-to-shirt Grand Canyon, and while I wish I had a fuller chest, there are a lot of ways to look stunning regardless. Jazz has a wonderfully helpful article on styling and how to embrace your smaller cup size, so read it here if you’re interested!

Learn to treasure your sewing kit.

Did you ever go to your lola’s house and reach for that signature tin of cookies and opened it to find a sewing kit? Did you also scoff and wonder why you needed so many dang colors of thread and wished it were cookies instead? Yeah, girl, me too. I don’t know if it’s early adulthood talking and I may just be getting older, but my perception of the sewing kit has changed so drastically that I’ve come to wish for my own little tin can of sewing materials. For small fixes and easy length adjustments that don’t really need the trip to a tailor, these will do you a lot of good. 

Having a portable one in your purse will also save your skin. I remember the time I had to attend an event and ripped my dress quite unattractively up the back (I had added a little weight on the derriere from a family trip and tried to deny it), and never was I ever as grateful for a complimentary hotel sewing kit as I was that day. Be grateful for your Home Economics class, children. Be grateful.

Hopefully, these small nuggets of wisdom I picked up from my family help you in some way. If there’s anything your ancestors have imparted on you that has made an impact on how you dress, let’s chat in comments! We’d love to read them.

And do watch out for Jazz’s article on the insightful tips on grooming and personal care coming out next week! 

Until next time!

💋 julia

A 25-year-old writer with an obsession for beauty and an ineffable love for all things sharp—from cacti to hedgehogs to intense winged liner.

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