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Pare down closet to essentials

Making more from less is the mantra these days. It seems every new fashion book or magazine that lands on my desk reminds readers of this, especially in today's economy.

ShopSmart magazine has a feature in the March issue on "Recessionista Shopping: How to find great deals on designer clothing at secondhand stores."

And London-based lifestyle writer Lucia van der Post has a book out called "Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me" (Da Capo Press, $25) in which she dispenses such advice as "You don't need a lot of clothes to be chic, but if you're short of cash it's vital to avoid mistakes."

Of course, there are women who learned "less is more" long ago.

"In the past I have had closets so full they could burst. Now I prefer to have only a few things, but good ones," the 51-year-old French model Ines de la Fressange says.

I found this quote in the new book by Paula Reed, style director at Grazia, a glossy weekly women's magazine based in London and former columnist for InStyle.

In her book, "Style Clinic: How to Look Fabulous All the Time, at Any Age, for Any Occasion" (Collins, $27.95), Reed includes chapters on figure flattery, dressing your age, shopping smart, finding the perfect pants, accessories and more.

What caught my eye is what she does in the beginning. Like other style pros before her, Reed comes up with a modern checklist of bare essentials that every woman should have in her closet (especially those who feel as if they never have anything to wear, even though their closet is stuffed).

"It's not the last word. Think of it as a skeleton. How you flesh it out depends entirely on your own style," Reed tells us.

As I read the list, I found myself nodding. See what you think:

* A sharp white shirt in a flattering shape.

* A well-made lightweight cardigan in your favorite color. (Note from me: How I miss the lavender sweater I wore for so many years it finally wore out. Every time I put it on, I felt great.)

* A jacket that works with your skirt (transforming it into a suit).

* Three pairs of trousers: denim, tailored, day-into-evening.

* One little black dress.

* A skirt for day, in a shape that fits your figure.

* A sleeveless or short-sleeve round-neck top (a dressy alternative to T-shirts).

* A selection of simple T-shirts or tanks (black, white and gray are good basics).

* Three pairs of good shoes: boots, ballet flats or loafers, and a pair of evening shoes.

Of course many women already have some or most of these items. And this really is just a starting point.

You will need other things, Reed tells us (great coat, knitwear, sneakers, workout clothes, etc.)

But unless you already have your look -- maybe jeans are your uniform -- this list may find you fumbling around less with fashion.

A final quote, this one from legendary French interior designer Andree Putman: "I love America, and I love American women. But there is one thing that deeply shocks me -- American closets. I cannot believe one can dress well when you have so much."

I still miss my lavender sweater.


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