Finding Fashion That Works

Podcast Episode 08. Matching clothes to the occasion is a challenge for us all. This week Elika Gibbs, owner of Practical Princess, is here to help. She professionally advises her clients on fashion and the organisation of wardrobes. Elika introduces us to the ‘look book’, and discusses the challenges of helping a young person with additional needs organise their wardrobes. She believes in the value of organisation and suggests this is one of the many keys to independence.

Show Notes
[.35]   – About Elika, her company and what she does
[2.30] – Think about lifestyle and what works for that
[3.30] – Developing your own style
[7.00] – The look book
[10.45] – The importance of repetition in being organised
[11.30] – Everything has a place in the house
[13.30] – Dressing when fine motor skills are an issue
[15.00] – Be patient and encouraging
[18.30} – Dealing with personal hygiene issues

Key Takeaways
Find Your Own Style
The Look Book

Show Full Transcript
Podcast Transcript
DEBRA: This week we’re talking to Elika Gibbs who runs a company called Practical Princess which is an organizational company in terms of organizing your wardrobe and things like that. Welcome, Elika. Tell us a little bit about yourself and the organization?

ELIKA: Hi, well thank you for talking to me. I have a company called Practical Princess and we do a number of things primarily we organize wardrobes. I started out as a stylist and I realize that when women came to me and asked help for them to get to dressed, I realized that their wardrobe were in a mess and they weren’t utilizing the clothes that they had and guessing the best user with them. So, I discovered that the way I kept my wardrobe was actually was going to benefit other people so it’s a very, very simple process. Less is more so you’re not completely overwhelmed and keeping things in its garment type. For example, when we keep all the trousers together or skirts together, or shirts together, all dresses together and keeping them in color coordination so it’s really easy to find things. That’s kind of the basis of the business. The business has also grown into helping people through the house as well because that’s sort of basic formula seems to work all over. So quite often now, we’ll move our clients and that sort to say that everything has a place. And that makes somebody’s life a lot less stressful.

A lot of people don’t have time to implement that but that’s what we do. So, for instance, your passport is always in a certain place, your files, or whatever you spare cleaning for us, so we make everything very, very organized and it is for a reason not just… people think it’s just for the sort of super rich or being lazy, there are reasons behind it. And it does help one’s life run a lot more smoothly.

DEBRA: Okay. In terms of sort of wardrobe, do you go through and look at people’s wardrobe and say, “You should keep this or get rid of that?” Or how do you do that?

ELIKA: Absolutely. Well, if somebody wants me to edit their wardrobe, what will happen is that we will go in and get them basically to try on some things that you can just look at but it’s about as we grow and change people, one of the things one has to look at is lifestyle. Some people have started working after the city, moved to the countryside, you need a completely different attire. As one gets older, I’m certainly not going to be wearing a mini skirt or pants anymore. Will frighten a lot of people. So, I think as we get older, one needs to start to sort of change. You then become fatty dirty but you just have to adapt and those are the reasons.

I think it’s important to keep looking at what you’re wearing as well if you in sort of situations like before we get divorced or the kids have left home. It’s amazing how we do need to keep changing and sometimes it’s that thing ‘fake it to make it’ feel better on the outside and then the inside feels better.

DEBRA: So, in terms of sort of younger people because they’re bit of trained to buy lots and lots of clothes, do you give people advice what suits them? Is there a sort of formula for that?
ELIKA: I do give them advice on what suits them. None of my clients look the same, and the reason is that I try to develop their own style. I think some people have always got a look about them and then it’s just using that and adapting that. I think it’s important that people aren’t changed to the point of recognition. Like say for instance, when I look at my daughter, who by the way hates clothes which is the most terrible things to do to go shopping with, she will only wear things with elasticated waist. She doesn’t like zips; she doesn’t like buttons. There’s a lot of sensory things going on for her. She doesn’t like girly stuff. So, I’m not gonna force her to wear girly stuff but I tried to help her develop her look with stuff she likes. And it’s the same kind of thing with my clients is that some might not like very, very fitted stuff. Most people want more floaty. So, I try and take their essence and amplify it to make it better.
DEBRA: What you’re saying is not necessarily follow the trends but actually find your own style and fitting with that?

ELIKA: Ahuh.

DEBRA: It’s interesting talking about your daughter and what she likes, so if you have a young person with additional needs, you really need to look at their style and fit around that rather than trying to make them a fashionista.

ELIKA: Absolutely. For me, it’s been the most interesting thing being a mom of a child with learning difficulties and doing my job because actually, I laugh and say, “If she was one of my clients, all my clients were like her, I wouldn’t do my job”. And I mean that with all the love in the world. Primarily because my daughter doesn’t really care about clothes. So, it’s a really interesting thing that I have to sort of do some soul-searching and think, “Am I dressing her for me? Or is it for her? Where does this normalize her?” And actually, I have given up enough of point but what I do realize is that one does have to wear clothes otherwise one is going to be naked. Going shopping with her has been an interesting thing but more and more, I let her be her within a reason.

DEBRA: With normalize, you mean sort of follow the trends or…?

ELIKA: Might see things that run trend for teenagers and go “Oh, that’s really cute!” I’m not talking about crop tops and showing your tummy and she’ll go, “No, no.” and I have to accept that which is an interesting thing.

DEBRA: Because you’d want her to be, I suppose on trend like we all do?
ELIKA: Yes, yes, we will do but she has definitely her own look and I accept that now and actually I’ve become to admire it.

DEBRA: When you say she has a right look; do you still try and make sure that there’s nothing to a little bit too random about it?

ELIKA: Do you know the funny thing about it is that because fashion at the moment is so random, she actually looks probably as good as any other teenager. The weirder you can be, the better. So it’s almost like throwing prints with different textiles and everything’s over-sized. And there is a part of this look at the moment and it does look like she’d just fallen out of bed and grabbed the clothes off the floor. And pretty much that’s my daughter’s look. And she’s getting away with it at the moment but that cycle will change again and I’m still trying to teach her for going forward in life about appearance and I have to remind her to brush her hair, to wash her face. She doesn’t have that natural teenage thing where they look in the mirror and want to put a makeup.

I’m trying to teach her about her appearance and about things that go together. Something that I do for her though is one of the things I do for my clients is something I call The Look Book. So, I realized as I got further down into my career that a lot of my clients, I was buying them clothes but actually they were not wearing them with the right things. So, what we do is I take the new clothes and old clothes and I put looks together and photograph them. So, sometimes if Macey’s going away, I will put outfits together, photograph them on her iPhone so she knows what to put together so it’s not so random. Or when I’m packing for her, I’ll pack her outfits into little bundles so that she knows what to put together because I’m separated from her father, I’ve realized when she went to him, she’d come back, she’d have a rather random look on. That’s a very helpful thing where what I’ve done for my clients can translate for her.

DEBRA: And I mentioned that’s really useful as well as visual. A lot of young people with additional needs like the visual side of things. So actually, that is a very useful tool and enables you to, I guess as well, look at what’s in the wardrobe and make sure things match. And teaches her long-term what to actually do.

ELIKA: Yes, for me with Macey, it’s repetition and I think for her for have this self-help skills, she will now go upstairs if we repeat an outfit a few times. She knows what to go and get and I don’t have to baby her and say, “Do this, do this.” So, I think a lot of repetition and keeping things simple I think is the most important thing.

DEBRA: Do you mean colors?
ELIKA: Well I was going to say colors, trying to keep things simple. Don’t have so much, they have so much these days. And I think the internet has become… some of my friends’ kids’ wardrobes are heaving with clothes. Don’t do that. Give them less and then it becomes easier for them.

DEBRA: Do you think there’s an optimum amount of… do you think that’s a good idea to sort of say, “You’re going to have 4 pairs of this…”?

ELIKA: I think so and let them wear them and then get rid of them. I’m not asking them to live like they’re like in the poor house but I just think sometimes less is more. Some of the most stylish women, I mean Colografel said this, “The most stylish women have the smallest wardrobe.” Because they have to be more creative. So, I think sometimes just having less and something them into mixes in with one another is helpful for them. For instance, with Macey, she never has that nice dress because she doesn’t like them but that’s kind of okay. I just try and keep it minimal.

DEBRA: So, do you sort of have some outfits then for different occasions for her? You talked about the look book do you have.

ELIKA: Not really because the thing is her life doesn’t really… we don’t do that. I mean when she goes to school, she comes home on weekends, we can go for lots of walks and we go out for lunch. Her life is quite simple but the problem is always if there’s a christening or a wedding, that’s when we do have hit trouble. But I’m just saying in general, her lifestyle is sort of one dimensional. Where when she was with me, I might have to do work things and have different looks. I’m just saying for this these kids….

DEBRA: What you’re saying is just keep it simple, really?

ELIKA: Yes. keep it simple.

DEBRA: So, about the look book, how do you encourage her to sort of keep what you do for them? You get it all sorted for them and then do you have a system when you say to them, “This is how you keep it up”?

ELIKA: Yes, because again, everything has its place. It’s very sort of segmented. So skirts are hung together, trousers are hung together, dresses are hung together, t-shirts are folded together, and so it’s about learning to put things back. I don’t have a magic wand here. The one thing my daughter is very well-behaved in school. Things she gets troubles with most? Her wardrobe’s organization because her wardrobe’s always a mess. So, it does show her and when she comes home, I think a lot of that is laziness but it’s easy for them to access and she can do it when she’s sort of told off but she knows how to put things back because it’s simple. There’s a formula and I think once there’s a formula, it’s easy for these children to learn as long as repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition.

DEBRA: So that’s the formula, isn’t it? Repetition. Just repeating the same thing. So how do you replicate that in the rest of the house then? You mentioned that you do that.

ELIKA: Well, for instance, I think that everything should have a home. We can’t always stick to it but Macey knows we have the things of this cover that drive it to another, this chip place is only for cleaning products, if there are batteries, there’s only one place they’re going to be. I just have a little bit of OCD and have been able to translate that into my… rather than have therapy or pills. I thought I’ll have some money out of it. It’s a far safer option. So, with that, ironically, it has helped Macey because you’re not running around looking for stuff and it really helps these children because they need to know where things are and then you put them back. And I think if it gets too chaotic for them, it is almost they don’t progress so much. That’s what I think. I could be completely wrong.

DEBRA: I’m a big fan of label-maker to be fair. Do you use labels or is just knowing; she just knows after a while where things are?

ELIKA: I used to use labels when she was younger. I wouldn’t actually use words; I would do like sort of paint brushes and that’s where the paints where and then bricks. Those were visual aids for her to know where things were. If only I uses labels with my labels for my clients and offer my tools. But I think that we’ve lived in this house pretty much since she just about 3 so I think things haven’t changed that much and she just kind of know.

DEBRA: So, you just have a routine and you know where everything is?

ELIKA: Yes, creatures of habit. Repetition. Repetition.

DEBRA: Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

So, going forward, do you think that she’ll keep those skills that you’re teaching her? The look book and that sort of thing?

ELIKA: Look, the only way she’s going to do the look book if that comes from me. That’s just on the telephone. That’s just to help her and she asks for that. She likes it. I don’t think she’s ever going to be as tidy as me.
DEBRA: So, we talked about the clothes side of things and you mentioned before about sort of staying tidy other ways, what do you do there?

ELIKA: One of the things I remember with Macy was trying to sort of teach her when she’s getting dressed because her fine motor skills are quite impaired, it’s using the other body parts to help her. So, for instance, when she first learned to put her last lacy skirt on, putting the shirt down, I get her to use her teeth to hold the skirt up. So, she had both hands underneath to put it down. Things like that. Teaching her to fold towels, using her teeth in the middle, that kind of thing really has helped. It’s like, what was she capable of and what wasn’t she? And because of this sort of fine and gross motor skill issues, so it was about me pushing her to learn to do the dishwasher, cleaning the glass table and it being okay if it wasn’t perfect because I think that sometimes we seek perfection where I definitely do. These things take a long time to learn so it’s just letting them get on with it and do it. It’s like if you put some knives and forks away, it’s okay if they’re upside down. I think that’s the kind of thing I’m trying to say. Macey might not put them the right way around whereas as I put them.

DEBRA: But start to build those skills?

ELIKA: Exactly. I think that’s what I’m trying to say. It’s really difficult to articulate what you do you sometimes it sorts of breaking it down and I starting to realize I sound like a complete and utter knit freak.

DEBRA: I think what you’re saying really then is to take it slow with that sort of thing and not expect too much but start them on that journey.

ELIKA: And I think it’s very easy to criticize and sort of I’ve had to watched myself and let’s go back to the knife and fork thing, if they put them in upside down, instead of going “No, no, no”, it’s just saying the next time they’re going to do it, “Oh that was really great, you helped me, but can we just make sure that they go this way?” instead of giving them the negative. And I’ve had to teach myself that because I suddenly heard myself criticizing. But these skills do take a lot longer and you do need patience and we don’t always have them and I don’t. Sometimes just end up wanting to do them myself.

DEBRA: Is that the same with clothes then?

ELIKA: It depends. It really, really depends. It depends on what we’re doing, where we’re going. I guess, I suppose that if she’s going to her father’s, I will change her and say, “Look.” but if she’s going to bum around the shops with me or something, it doesn’t matter.

DEBRA: So, you pick your occasions?

ELIKA: I pick my occasions. Or if we’re going to meet some friends for lunch and she did sort of have her pajamas, part of her pajamas still on in, it got too random then yes, of course, I would intervene. Otherwise, I just think we become too critical.

DEBRA: And that impacts on them?

ELIKA: Their self-worth, you know.

DEBRA: And they’ve got to find their own way as well.

ELIKA: Yes, and that’s important. It was an interesting thing the other day because I took her shopping and I saw this… she thought of it has of hideous metallic pink jacket and I thought it was wild and wacky and fabulous. I said “Oh that was fabulous!” She was going to hate it and she went, “I love it”. I went and kind of second look her and I’m thinking, “Are you joking me?” She said, “I love it. I love it.” And I said, “Are we going to buy this and then you’ll not wear it.” Anyway, she went to school in this jacket and all the girls were going, “Oh we love your jacket” and it was the first time that I saw that sort of pride of when people say “You look good” because they all kind of did at the same time and they were like “Oh, it’s lovely”. And I think it’s that thing of pride and finding your worth. It does feel nice when people say, “You look lovely today”.

DEBRA: You think that’s one of the issues that I know I have is that I want my daughter to look good when she goes out because I think I want her to get that positive thing “I like your jacket” or “I like your shirt” and all that. So, you don’t want them to leave the house looking ‘scrappy’ because then you don’t want them to not get that positive feedback the same way. My older daughter when she goes out, always looking ‘on trend’ and her friends are on trend and she’s part of that.

ELIKA: I think the other thing is that exactly what you said is that (I don’t know how you feel about this but) those basic skills as well like brushing hair or washing face and now Macy is now teenager and her body is developing. So, for instance, her legs started to get very hairy and it was like “How do I manage this?”. It’s about self-respect. So, I took her to get her legs waxed. She probably looked at me like I was having her sort of tortured but it’s again about trying to find ways to manage those basic things. I don’t know whether I was doing that right but that’s what I’ve done. I remember the first time I got a few hairs on my legs; I used my dad’s razor. And again, Macy doesn’t care about those kinds of things so I have to push her and think that’s what we have to do.
DEBRA: Do you think then it’ll become a routine for her that she goes for example once every… I don’t know how often?

ELIKA: I think it’s about putting that stuff into a routine and I was taking her with me for a manicure to make her girly, to try to engage her about being, taking care of herself. Whether she has red, white, and blue multi-colored. You just try and make it a bit more fun because I think that stuff is important.

DEBRA: It is when they’re going out and you want them to be independent. They are going to be judged. It’s not nice but they are judged on the way they look and they brush their hair and what they’re wearing.

ELIKA: Does your daughter like wearing clothes?

DEBRA: I best describe her as a rock chick, actually. She has got that rock chick look and she likes t-shirts with bands on them and that sort of thing. She loves the hairdresser; she has a very good hairdresser and they have a lot of fun together. And she enjoys that process and that’s something that we’ve had from when she was very young and I’ve always been lucky that I’ve had people who were being good with her and patient and chat to her. So, going to the hairdresser for her is a wonderful experience. I think I’d be stealing your look book idea because I think she doesn’t always know what goes with what.

And she tends to have favorite things that she desperately wants. “I love this and I’m going to wear this all the time” and it’s not always the right time to wear it. But interestingly, she had work experience a few weeks ago and she had a nice pair of trouser and a nice shirt and she did seem taken a lot of pride in herself. I think that was partly because she was going to a job. So, I think that sort of nice and a bit like you and the pink jacket, she really kind of took on board “I have to dress for work”.

DEBRA: So, thank you to Elika for sharing those ideas on fashion and general organization. So, my key takeaways this week: get organized. Easy to say, I know, but certainly important for my daughter and her future independence. Accept that everyone has their look and work with it. And personally, I really like the idea of a look book which I will be using with my daughter.

Useful Resources
Practical Princess Website

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