There's no doubt about it, I'm one of those women who notices right away when someone, be it a colleague, friend, family member, celebrity, or celebrity dog, wears the same ensemble twice.
And I'm not talking about recognizing the same patterned DvF wrap dress two days in a row - anyone can do that - I mean my capacity for fashion recall is so vast and so quick that as soon as I came across this photo of Ice-T's wife Coco at the Die Hard premiere yesterday, I immediately woke Monte out of his afternoon slumber with an outside-voiced, "Look, it's a knock-off of Gwen Stefani's L.A.M.B. dress from the 2005 MTV Music Awards!"
Point is, there are lots and lots of women just like I am, who, despite your carefully-planned wardrobe rotation, are gonna know you wore that blouse with that skirt and those shoes to work last month, to the bar a week before that and to a housewarming party the season before that. That's just life, and unless you're Sarah Jessica Parker playing Carrie Bradshaw and you have a well-connected stylist who manages to wrangle 365 hot outfits for you a year - every year - we're all bound to be caught by someone's watchful, observant eye.
So, what is a resasonble amount of time in between professional wears? A week? Two weeks?
This is a complicated question, because there are several variables to consider, including color, cut, season, complementary options, among others.
For most solid pieces, especially those in neutral colors, the minimum duration with which I'm comfortable is somewhere between two to five days. Honestly, two days. I own nine black at-the-knee-length skirts, all of which, when paired with different permutations of shoes, tops and accessories, lead to a seemingly infinite number of very different-looking, very cute work-appropriate outfits. As I do with workout songs ("Pour some sugar on me") and reality shows ("Bridezillas"), often I'll go through phases where I become so one-track-minded that I just have to wear a high-waisted, pencil or tulip-hemmed skirt and nothing but a high-waisted, pencil or tulip-hemmed skirt. Problem is, I only have four, three and one of each, respectively, and since I just spent last month's, this month's and next month's allotted mad money on two dinners in New York, I'm stuck with what I got for the forseeable future. But instead of sulking and wearing that which doesn't satiate my current style obsession for the sake of maintaining wardrobe rotation integrity, I say "f**k it" and wear that one tulip-hemmed skirt on Monday, re-wear it on Tuesday and re-wear it again Friday night. As long as you mix up the complements, a neutral solid is free and clear to see the light of day and candlelight of evening as frequently as you feel inspired to let it.
For extremely bright and patterned pieces, however, I advocate a much more disciplined approach. The rule of thumb I follow - because yes, I do own a few - is one wear per two full work weeks. This is a tough schedule to swallow when you're just starting out in the workforce and don't have a lot of options, but that reality is exactly why I believe in investing early on in blacks, browns, ivories and navies, and then once you've created a solid foundation on which to build a wider clothing rotation - and once you're in a position to increase your wardrobe budget - you can introduce the less stylishly malleable leaf-green graphic print sheath, red swing jacket with gold piping, pink boucle Jackie O. skirt-suit or the eyelet peasant blouse. A woman who only has the funds to purchase five work outfits is much better off, in my opinion, buying high quality mix-and-match neutrals than than five shocking, easily-burned-to-memory, one-trick-pony pieces.
I suppose that means I'm more a Miranda than a Carrie. But again, I should remind you we're talking professional, not weekend wardrobe here.
I realize this isn't going to be a popular prescription for those of you who build your identities around wearing rainbow polks dots and animal prints, but you have to understand, I'm writing from the perspective of and primarily for a professional woman with a conservative bent who believes in sacrificing quantity and trendiness for quality and versatility. I love bold bursts of color and pattern, and I think there is definitely a place in the professional world for that kind of creativity, but I'm so (yawn) over DC fashionistas who claim all-black or all-neutral to be tantamount to "lazy," "easy," or "typical." An all-black or all-neutral outfit certainly can be lazy, easy or typical (just as a loud outfit can cross the line from eccentric to haphazard), but the trick is to find the unique sleeve, hem or embellishment, not to mention the perfect fit, that sets this black blouse apart from that one and the one that not only complements this pair of grey wide-legged trousers but those nine black skirts and that pair tweed city shorts as well.
In the end, there is no set timetable one should follow for when to wear and re-wear an outfit other than the timetable with which you feel comfortable.
Because I can promise you, even if you change up the look of your jersey dress from chunky turquoise jewelery and patent leather pumps one day to simple pearls and tweed ballet flats on another with a two-month window in between, there's always going to be someone like myself who watches you walk in the door and thinks to herself, "Didn't she wear that on Tuesday...back in the first week of March?"