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What to Wear?

With the party season well into full swing I thought it might be nice to take a moment to talk about the issue so close to many of our hearts – what the heck am I going to wear? While the put-together and totally self assured among us (and probably those with their perfectly curated capsule wardrobes) might not have these moments (you lucky thangs) the rest of us usually do. In an ad hoc survey conducted over a lunch table and outside the door of laboratory, four out of four female scientists say that one of the most difficult challenges of laboratory work is trying to decide what the heck to wear. So you can rest assured when you are sobbing into your pillow and running ten minutes late for a party due to your ‘nothing to wear’ crisis that you are not alone in this feeling (sometimes in these moments I just want to run full pelt into the wilderness wearing nothing but a towel). Some of you might think ‘meh… the world has bigger problems than fashion-decision-making-crisis’ and you would be right. However, it’s hard for the movers, shakers, and change makers to get out there and do their thang with confidence when they are wearing nothing but a towel and can’t find their left shoe, or work out what bag to carry. Which is just ONE of the reasons getting dressed is important to being an influential and effective person. Now we have argued for the important of getting clothes on your naked body in relation to your ability to change the world for the better, lets look at fun fashion stuff to help you get dressed.

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Analysing the event.

Most closet crisis are associated with an event and the rules, restrictions or requirements of that event. For the scientists above it’s the combo of lab coats, closed toe shoes, and looking professional but not too sexy that posed the biggest problem. Weddings are always a tricky one because you are required to dress to suit a theme and you as a guest are responsible for making the happy couples photos look cohesive. While a mohawk is totally awesome (seriously… I love these and my BFF’s high school boyfriend had an epic one) it’s generally not what most people would deem to be wedding appropriate in a Bride Wars kind of wedding scenario. So analysing what the event requires can really help take the stress out of getting dressed, allow you to fit in comfortably in your own way on the day, and avoid the need to buy new items. Check the event invite, Facebook page, website or google for photos of past events (great for festival info) for the following clues

  • Themes: black tie, smart casual, glitter, pimps and hoes, 80’s, garden party, business attire – the possibilities are endless!
  • Colours: is there are colour theme for the wedding or party? Is the office you are about to work in formal- do you need to wear grey or black?
  • Safety Requirements: closed to shoes, hard hats, high visibility colours, pulled back hair, sun protection etc.
  • Cultural Requirements: not just limited to religious requirements for body covering or adornment, some offices, workplaces -even whole countries- have written or unwritten requirements for dress social norms.
  • Movement: is the event one where you will be sitting or standing, will there be dancing, do you have to work, are you going to eat so much christmas pudding you will need pudding-belly-pants-space, is there a chance you will need to do some handstands or headstands (some events I attend for yoga require this kind of movement)? Getting comfort and movement right is KEY to having a good time.

Checking the weather and your care label.

Confused? Good. That means you are in the right place. The weather and your care label are about 80% of the reason you have a good or a bad time in your outfit. Dress wrong for the humidity or temperature and you will suffer! No one feels like having a good time when they are too hot or too cold. Firstly lets look at the weather (which is one of my fave science-nerd things to talk about). You might think that temperature is all you have to check. However that’s only going to tell you hot or cold not sweat factor of whether you need an umbrella or a sunhat. You also need to check for sun and relative humidity to really gauge what’s happening. Luckily for us most phones now tell us this with very little effort. iPhone offers a great scrolling day of the weather, relative humidity and the sun/rain/cloud/wind factors.

Then you have your care label. This little tag lives in your clothing and tells you what it’s made from along with loads of details on how to care for your item (more on what the other bits of your care label mean in the video above if you are curious). Natural fibres (depending on treatment, weave, blend or finish) are more breathable than synthetic ones that trap your sweat next to your skin and don’t let it evaporate like it should in order to cool you down. Sweat held next to the body cooking in a warm little environment makes for a bacteria party which is why you can get stinky in synthetics on a hot day.  The semi synthetic fibres made from cellulose (viscose, rayon, bamboo, modal, etc.) are also (generally speaking) pretty breathable but again it depends on the type, blend, weaver or knit and any finishes.

All of this needs to be  taken into account with the weather conditions to get the right outfit to make your day as happy as possible. Is this all starting to sounding like too much work? It’s worth the effort I promise. Let’s break it down some more.

  • High Temps+ Sun + high relative humidity (looking at greater than 60%) will result in a sticky kind of day as the air is already full of moisture and sweat doesn’t evaporate as easily. Avoid synthetics such as polyester, acrylic, PVC leathers and the like or you will be trapping sweat next to your skin, overheating, and may end up stinky.
  • High Temps + Cloud + high relative humidity  (looking at greater than 60%) will be just as sticky as above but might not feel quite so hot as the cloud cover can provide relief from the sun. You might be able to get away with more coverage or a cinched waist depending on your heat tolerance capacity and whether or not you are naturally a sweaty person. Check for storm warnings. These are ideal tropical storm conditions.
  • High Temps + Sun + Low relative humidity (looking at 50% and below) will be hot and make you feel dry but sweat will evaporate and cool you down. Wear lightweight and loose natural (cotton, linen, hemp, ramie) and semi synthetic (viscose, bamboo, lyocell) that quickly absorb sweat away from the body and dry fast in the sun. It’s also a good idea to wear long sleeves and covered shoulders to protect from sun.
  •  High Temps +  Cloud + Low relative humidity (looking at 50% and below) this will be warm and dry but likely more pleasant than the day above because you will be warm and comfortable but won’t have to deal with the searing rays of the sun (unless you like that kind of thing… but sun makes it more of a bikini day than an outfit day really). Stick to natural fibres but you might be able to sneak in a bit of polyester if you feel like you can get away with it.
  • Lower temps allow you to maximise your warmth. Its good to stick to natural fibre types (including the semi synthetics like viscose and rayon) as they can biodegrade when you are done. However, synthetics are a great way to trap hot air and body warmth in. Many of them are also water proof which is essential on wet and snowy days. Wind will always play a very important part in how you dress for cooler or cold climates and days.
  • Wind: Just when you thought you had a handle on it the wind comes gusting in. Wind can change plans and temps totally. Depending on the direction it comes from and where you are located geographically it can bring hot dry air, cold gusty air, or moist sticky air. Get to learn about the conditions where you are. Here on the east coast of Australia our southerlies are generally cooler, easterlies are full of moisture from the sea, the northerlies are warmers and the westerlies are dryer. If you have a strong southerly breeze on day with high temps here and low humidity your outfit choices on the Sunshine Coast of Australia will be more varied than a hot day with high humidity, cloud cover and sticky moisture filled oceanic breezes (bikinis and a cold drink are all that one should adorn themselves with on a day like that). It’s also important to remember that wind can blow hats off, umbrellas inside out, ruin hair and makeup and result in skirts being blown over heads.
  • Fabric factors to consider. Wool is great in both hot and cool temps. It’s unique in this ability to thermoregulate and can keep you comfy on a hot day and warm on cooler day depending on the fabric construction. A lightweight merino knit will be comfy in summer on it’s own but might be better layered on a breezy winters day as the wind can move right through the knit and make you chilly. Although polyester is pretty gross to wear in high humidity and heat due to it’s hydrophobic nature, you can actually use this to your advantage. If you have to give a presentation on a blistering hot day and know you will sweat a lot polyester will help hide your sweaty shame. If you wore a red cotton shirt to this presentation then you may end up with big tell-tale sweat patches. While you might get warm in polyester your sweat will be safely trapped on the inside of your shirt not seeping through to the outside. Uncomfy? Yes. Possibly stinky? Also a yes. However it could be a whole lot less embarrassing than being that sweaty-pits person at the conference or presentation (especially if it’s being filmed for future reference).

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Assessing your closet.

While it’s a little tricky to explain the whole process of assessing your closet and putting together an outfit in one post (which is why I’ve been writing you a whole book) we can do a quick fix for your outfit dilemma by following these steps.

  • Having reviewed the requirements of the event under the previous two headings, put all the possible contenders from your closet together in a pile in front of you. Don’t judge them or try to make an outfit just yet.
  • Check the pile you have in front of you for their ability to perform under the weather conditions. Read the fabric content on the care label. Put it back if you don’t think it’s going to suit the weather.
  • Assess what’s left and ask yourself ‘are any of these items going to be uncomfortable for the event‘. Put those items back that you think may be uncomfy.
  • Look at the remainder and ask yourself ‘do I feel confident in these items for this kind of occasion‘. Put back anything that you decide belong in the ‘no’ pile.
  • Ask yourself ‘have I worn it before‘. Think about what events you have worn it to in the past and how you felt in it. If you felt good keep it out. Bad? Back in the closet. Haven’t worn it before? Put it tentatively with the ‘maybe’ pile. Be really wary of these ‘never worn’ items as large and important events are often not a good time to test out new shoes for pinch factor or try a dress only to find out it’s see through in fluorescent lighting and you didn’t wear a slip.
  • Assess what’s left to work out some outfit possibilities. Work through the same process with your accessories. Lay the potential outfits in front of you.
  • Try your outfits on. You can ask someone for an opinion or take a picture of them if you want to get a better (less mirror biased) look at them. Check the photos for the best contender.
  • Ask yourself ‘is the outfit missing something?’ If the answer to this question is yes research what it’s missing by having a look at simmilar outfits online, or read some magazines. If you decide you want  to add to your outfit see if you can borrow the item (from a friend or a rental service), make something simmilar, buy it secondhand, or buy new from a conscious label. The last resort should be buying new from a fast-fashion store with no ethical or eco credentials. If you choose to do this try to buy quality items that are made from natural fibres.
  • Nothing to wear at all at the end of this exercise? Try to borrow or thrift a whole outfit. Costume places make for easy event clothing rental. You can borrow dresses for fancy events from places like this, and you can even hire jeans for a whole year from here.

Remember that this is just a guide to getting dressed in a ‘nothing to wear’ emergency not a full how-to style process so you can adapt to suit your occasion or requirements. I will let you know that my book The Closet Scientist is on it’s way and is jam packed with easy to follow tips on outfit creation and closet curation, however it’s release has been a little sidelined for a couple of months. The book is more than just a book in so many ways, one of which is that fact that it’s part of a (hopefully very) long-term study into the way we interact with our closets based on our reading material. So while you guys are playing Closet Scientists you will also be a part of a real life study (if you want to be… you are in it by choice -unlike lab rats). Because this book is part of a study and my current masters study situation is a bit of a mess due to department closures its release is temporarily delayed. I’m in the process of changing Uni’s (and possibly turning my masters into a PhD instead…scary stuff) and I’m hoping like heck that once all this yucky admin stuff is sorted I can have my survey written and the book out to you some time in the fist few months of 2017. However Uni’s aren’t the fasting moving institutions so I can’t guarantee it just yet. It’s coming I promise… just a little slower than I had hoped. Which in a way kind of works- I’m going to call it slow fashion literature ;-).

I hope that you have enjoyed this content. Please share your tips for outfit creation or your very best ‘I have nothing to wear’ tantrum in the comments below.