I’m sure you know that sinking feeling when you’re getting dressed. You’re running late and you open your closet and start looking through it, hanger by hanger. Nope, nope, no. Wore that Monday. Too summery. Too fancy. Too casual. Hasn’t fit since 2016. Ack! Definitely not.

You get to the end of the rack and start to panic. How can this be? You’ve got a closet packed with clothes and you still have nothing to wear.

Face it. You need an intervention. And this is where a wardrobe consultant like Michelle Alegria can offer some advice. She ran a clothing store in Yakima called Bonita Boutique for five years before getting a degree in business and marketing. She now works at Heritage University and runs a company called The Closet Consultant on the side.

The 36-year-old mother of four has loved fashion since she was a little girl. “I was about 9 or 10 and I would sit and look at my mom’s magazines and I promised myself I’m going to dress like that when I get older,” she said. Michelle grew up in Granger and said nobody there dressed like the people in the magazines, but she wasn’t going to let that stop her. “I’m going to get there,” she vowed.

She offers personalized wardrobe consultations, where she’ll come to your house and go through your closet to determine if the items you have are a good fit for you, create multiple looks with the clothes you already have and create a list of key pieces you’re missing. She also offers after-hours style clinics. I attended one of them at Wildjay on Front Street in Yakima and learned some great tricks.

First of all, she says outfits are like building blocks and the key to putting them together easily is to start with the basics. She brought several racks of these basic wardrobe essentials, along with some statement pieces, then showed us how to combine them with a simple pink A-line dress to make dozens of different outfits. Here is the list of what she says every woman should have in her wardrobe:

WARDROBE BASICS:

  • Black & white tank tops for layering
  • Black & white T-shirts for layering
  • Black or neutral A-line skirt or dress
  • Fine-knit black crew neck sweater
  • Classic black blazer
  • Fitted black pants
  • Fitted white pants
  • Neutral trench coat
  • White button-up blouse
  • Classic black pencil skirt
  • Pair of fitted blue jeans
  • Leather/pleather jacket
  • Jean jacket
  • Quality fitted undergarments (black, tan and white bras and one strapless bra. At least one set of Spanx or other shapewear.)
  • Black and white cardigans
  • Black and nude pumps
  • Black and nude flats
  • Nice pair of sneakers

These basic items, which are black, white and neutral, are what you build on. “Once we’re done with the foundation, then we add,” she said. “That’s going to help you use everything else in your closet.”

So, for example, you could throw on the black pants, white T-shirt and black flats as a foundation. Staying with your basic wardrobe, you could add the jean jacket for a casual look, or the blazer or trench coat for a dressier look. Or you could add a statement piece and accessories to create other looks.

Say you have already have a lightweight red jacket in your wardrobe. Throw that on over the black pants and white T, add a scarf with some red in it and some red earrings. Voila! You’ve got an outfit. Change out the scarf and earrings and you’ve got a different outfit tomorrow. You could go with the white pants, white tank and nude shoes in summer, then top it off with a belt and lightweight knit with some pattern or color. It’s all about building from the foundation.

And don’t forget the bra. Buy smooth or T-shirt bras. Lace bras look bumpy under clothes. If you wear the same bra every day, experts say you should replace it every six months. If you rotate through four or five bras, replace them every year. They wear out and stretch out, just like shoes. They’ll keep their shape much longer if you hand wash them and don’t put them in the dryer.

“Work your way from the inside out. The underwear you choose to wear, the bra, the Spanx, you want to make yourself look put together. Because if you’re wearing a bra that doesn’t fit you, your boobs are going to be flat,” Michelle said.

A few other wardrobe tips from Michelle: Always roll up your jacket sleeves because it makes you look more stylish. You can wear white after Labor Day. When shopping, “The first place I go in any store is directly to the clearance rack,” she said. She’d just picked up four pairs of name brand shoes from Macy’s for $99 on a four-hour flash sale. She finds out about those by getting on the email lists of various stores.

Look at the washing directions on every garment before you buy and choose items you can wash and dry or wash and lay flat. I rarely buy anything I have to dry-clean, because dry-cleaning a $50 dress costs me $13. For four cleanings, I could have bought a brand-new dress. Wool jackets are an exception.

Marie Kondo’s minimalist philosophy works in your closet too. Get rid of things you haven’t worn in a while or that don’t bring you joy. “A good way to utilize everything in your closet is to flip your hangers backwards. And in a year do an inventory in your closet and if you’ve never flipped the hanger forwards because you’ve never picked that item up, rethink it,” Michelle said.

Most important, she said, is to be yourself. She put it this way: “Wear what you love and love what you wear.”

Her goal, when she’s styling someone’s wardrobe, is to make them feel confident and beautiful. “When you look good, you feel good and you’re able to express your feelings through the way you look,” she said.