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Ajit Berg, Published February 04 2012

SheSays finds the perfect candidate for a ‘Closet Makeover’

WEST FARGO - When Peggy Steinmetz opened her closet, she was often overwhelmed by what she found.

The 54-year-old had worked hard over the past year to lose 30 pounds by cutting out soda and watching what she ate. But despite fitting into clothes several sizes smaller, she still felt uncomfortable.

Her closet contained a wardrobe full of either ill-fitting older clothes or newer items she just didn’t quite feel comfortable in.

“I don’t feel like I know what to put together,” said Peggy, a wife, mother and grandmother who operates a day care out of her West Fargo home.

When her day care kids started arriving at 6:40 each weekday morning, Peggy usually greeted parents at the door in sweatpants and an oversized T-shirt. On nights that Peggy and her husband, Terry Steinmetz, would go out for dinner, she left the house feeling less than confident.

“She still wore some of her baggy clothes,” said her husband of 38 years. “I told her she needed a makeover.”

So without telling anyone, she submitted a letter to The Forum asking for a makeover in response to a SheSays column by Ajit Berg, a former Los Angeles stylist to the stars.

Of the dozens of emails Ajit received, she chose Peggy as the perfect candidate for SheSays’ first “Closet Makeover.”

Berg made three trips to Peggy’s home and helped her identify a number of outfits from her existing wardrobe. Then, with $100, Peggy and Ajit hit the mall in search of a few items to bolster the rest of her closet.

– Heidi Shaffer, SheSays Editor

Right fit, look can result in drastic changes

As a stylist in Los Angeles, I shopped for celebrities, studio execs, stay-at-home moms and even grandmothers who just wanted to look stylish.

It was exciting to see how fashion could change their lives. I got to watch the transformation give them not only joy, but confidence and strength. I missed that experience and decided it would be fun to see how fashion could change the lives of women here in Fargo-Moorhead.

Part of my job in L.A. was to show clients how to make the most of what they already owned and what they could purchase to update their wardrobe.

I spent hours in their closets, putting together outfits that worked for their lifestyle. I would photograph the outfits from head to toe, including jewelry, shoes and handbags, to would help them remember how we put it all together.

After reading the letter I received from Peggy Steinmetz, I knew she was the perfect candidate for my first closet makeover here in Fargo.

Peggy had just lost an inspiring 30 pounds, but she was unsure how to dress her new body. She found herself wearing old, baggy jeans that she could pull down without even unbuttoning.

One of her goals for the makeover was to look good in jeans. As a 54-year-old grandmother, she still wanted to look stylish and even sexy at times. Peggy wanted to be “pretty grandma” not “frumpy grandma.”

I began by going through what was the biggest area of concern for her: jeans.

Peggy had purchased a couple of pairs since losing weight, but most of them she had never worn because she didn’t know whether they were flattering or how to put them together to make an outfit.

First she tried on a dark denim skinny jean – a definite keeper. The dark wash and skinny leg gave her a flattering and slim look.

Next was a regular-wash, boot cut jean that was a perfect fit on her – not too big in the waist or leg. These were keepers as well.

She also had a casual jean that was not as fitted in the leg but, at the same time, not too wide. These would be attractive and comfortable enough to replace her baggy sweats for work.

Peggy’s most recent jeans purchase was a pair of distressed jeans with rhinestones on the back pockets and large white stitching down the leg. These were not my favorite.

As a rule if you have anything shiny or with lots of stitching on the back pockets, this will draw attention to your lower half instead of your whole body. Having a solid wash is the best way to get a streamlined look.

I chose the first pair – a dark denim wash skinny jean – and decided to build our outfit around them.

We then went through her shoes. I found a great high brown suede boot with a buckle and stacked heel (very in style this season) that looked great with the skinny jean.

Peggy said she was just about to throw these out. They were 15 years old but still in perfect condition – a great example of a vintage item that’s still in style.

She had a couple other pairs of black boots that were good staples to keep. The only boot I felt she was missing was a sexy, high-heel ankle style, which she purchased on her own the following week. They turned out to be the perfect boot for our outfit.

Next I was looking for a chic, fitted top and a loose, flowy cardigan. I didn’t find exactly what I pictured for Peggy, so I put it on my purchase list for her updated look.

We would also need jewelry. Peggy had a lot but was never quite sure when or how to wear it.

Here were the areas of concern for me in Peggy’s closet:

After our makeover experience, Peggy’s new mantra will be to avoid buying clothing just because it was on sale; I told her to make sure it fits great, and she has other items to wear with it.

We also decided no more baggy sweats and her husband’s shirts with her day care kids. It was important she felt and looked good all the time, not just some of the time.

I encouraged her to wear a simple gray turtleneck with her dark, casual jeans and a newsboy cap she got at a garage sale that looked so cute on her. She tried it the next day and said the kids’ parents were so surprised they wondered whether she was working that day.

Next stop, shopping

After cleaning out Peggy’s closet, we set out to buy some new items to go with her skinny jeans and ankle boots.

At Macy’s in Fargo’s West Acres Shopping Center, I found a fitted top that was not only sexy but classy. The lower neckline and criss-cross detail was very flattering on Peggy. With the fitted sexy top and slim-fitted skinny jeans, we needed something flowy to keep the proportions right.

Women should stay away from wearing tight items on top with tight bottoms. I found a black cardigan that offset the outfit beautifully.

Next, I took a pair of silver hoops she’s never worn (she didn’t know dangly earrings were flattering on her) and mixed them into our outfit. We put on her high-heel ankle boot, which made her look longer and leaner.

Fashion tip: Wearing a heel with skinny jeans will instantly make you look skinnier.

I also found a gorgeous cuff bracelet for her (a big fashion trend for fall) at Forever 21 in West Acres. It was a knock-off of a designer we carried at the store I worked at in Los Angeles called Munnu, which retailed for $30,000. Our bracelet for Peggy was just $10.80.

Lastly, Peggy needed a clutch bag to make her outfit runway chic. We found a gorgeous one at Forever 21 on sale for just $11.99.

To complete her look, I tucked Peggy’s hair behind her ears to let her beautiful face shine.

Voila. Peggy was transformed into the “fashionista” she never knew she was. She looked 20 years younger, 20 pounds thinner, but most importantly, she felt gorgeous. Mission accomplished.

Peggy wrote a letter about her experience with me, and I was really excited to hear she remembered some important tips I gave her:

1. If you wear skinny jeans, make sure to match up with something loose on top, whether it’s a sweater or top.

2. With bootleg jeans, wear something tighter on top.

3. Everyone needs a clutch purse.

4. Most important, don’t just buy something because it’s on sale.

Only buy something that you really love and that fits great, and make sure you have something to go with it.

My philosophy is this: “It’s better to buy one item that fits you great and you can really work into your wardrobe, than two items that fit OK and were just a great deal.”

Ajit Berg is a former personal shopper and stylist for Barneys New York in Beverly Hills. She now lives in Fargo with her husband and daughter. She can be reached at abergfashionista@yahoo.com.