cuneiform styling

This Is What Happens When You Get a 12-Hour Closet Makeover

There was a lot of wine.

By: Katie Becker
Photography: Weston Wells

I know I can’t be the only one who has looked at her closet some mornings and thought, “What am I even doing with my life?” After years of shopping and gathering, everything I owned was a mix of items I love, used to love, just fell in love with, wanted to fall in love with… But so little of it could come together into an outfit that made me think, “I’m the shit.” And I don’t know about you, but if I’m not walking out my front door most mornings feeling like “the shit,” well, like I said: What am I even doing with my life?

This is precisely why I asked the closet makeover team of Cuniform to my apartment in New York. The duo that runs Cuniform—friends Christine Tran and Colton Winger, who met when they used to work at the boutique Totokaelo—travel around the country for private appointments with clients that include execs at Nike, Diane von Furstenberg, and Shiseido. Their process is multifold: 1) purge closets of bad choices and out-of-place items, and oh so kindly haul away the rejects to donate or consign for you; 2) refill your wardrobe with versatile, new and high-end consignment items they handpick for you ahead of time and bring to your appointment, if you so choose; and 3) style you in chic new ensembles of the old and new, creating a “Wardrobe Rolodex” of outfit ideas in a shared cell phone photo album you can then reference for outfit ideas forever. You can understand then, how once they arrived, 12 hours flew by, though a typical appointment is 5 hours long.



“If you think about it, the most successful people wear the same thing almost every day,” said Tran (see: Steve Jobs turtleneck, Carolina Herrera’s white blouse, Michael Kors blazer, Anna Wintour’s tailored dress and jeweled necklaces). “The main goal is to figure out your brand via clothing, so you shouldn’t have things in your closet that aren’t really options—like a dress that never fits the occasion or a pair of pants from when you were skinnier—because it just confuses you when you’re getting dressed.”

And that’s where I needed the most help, really: At this exact point in my life, what is my brand? This is where brutal honesty, as you’ll see below, comes in. On top of all of this, Cuniform is super-focused on social and environmental consciousness. One part is their consignment arm called Cuniform Recycled, which not only finds new homes for the nice but neglected clothes of their clients, but sell on behalf of philanthropic programs like Dress for Success to help increase their revenue. *Amazing.* Plus, Tran and Winger charge their clients with a tiered system based on that client’s income, so their services are accessible. For example, those earning less than 40k a year pay $200 for a five-hour appointment, and those earning more than 100k pay $600, and there’s everything in between. They even take natural fabric scraps from any small alterations they make and give them to an artist for fabric strip art installations. OK, mind officially blown. See below for how the entire step-by-step process went down, and the meaning of the term “GMC.”

Before: This was my wardrobe pre-Cuniform, with everything long like dresses, pants, and jumpsuits. The fact that it wasn’t cram-packed made me confident there would really be nothing to get rid of. This, I would learn, was not the right logic.

Before: This this was my closet full of tops pre-Cuniform. To start the process, Tran and Winger have you go to another room or run an errand while they do their big dig through your entire wardrobe. I left my apartment to go work from a café down the street.

Upon returning, I found Tran and Winger made two big piles on my bed: one of clothes they “strongly suggested editing out,” and another of “we need to see.” First, I checked the strong nos to make sure there wasn’t something I would die without—there really wasn’t—and that pile was immediately put away into bags before I had a moment to second-guess any of it.

The next step was to try on all the maybes. Tran and Winger would either decide it looked good enough to keep, suggest an alteration, or pointedly explain why the pattern/cut/fabric just really wasn’t flattering on me. The three above—a Marc by Marc Jacobs (RIP) dress, a hippie blouse from my mom, and a vintage dress I found in Amsterdam—were just a few of the fatalities from the maybe pile. Truthfully, Tran and Winger are probably the only people who would ever really tell me, “That just doesn’t look good on you.” My really beloved things (like my mom’s top) were allowed to go into a limited archive of keepsakes that I had to promise would be stored away “and not something you actually see as an option in your closet every day,” said Winger.

It was becoming clear that my abundance of quirky vintage clothes has run their course. Apparently, I’m not Zooey Deschanel. That included this, yes, polyester sailor dress (but so cute!), which I was promised could be replaced in the form of a more grown-up skirt and polo outfit they had in mind. You can see that later on in this story.

At this point, I felt the need to defend at least one seemingly ill-advised item. “What about when I need, like, a solid pair of hooker shoes?” I asked about the pair on the left, trying to explain why platform stilettos come in handy for, say, a bachelorette party. Winger replied calmly: “Yes, but you can look like the Met Ball version or the [the opposite] version.” In other words, the Givenchy heels on the right would do the job when needed—the platforms had to go. Sigh, it was so true.

Some of the clothes in my closet that I never wore had a really obvious solution: alteration. This pair of vintage sailor pants fit me like a glove, but were so long I always had to wear them with heels (which I rarely do). That meant they went unworn 363 days out of the year. Why it never occurred to me to crop them into cute wide-leg, ankle-length trousers, I don’t know, but I’m glad Tran and Winger safety-pinned them exactly where I should have them hemmed, because I now wear them constantly.

Also in the maybe pile was a pair of navy pants I adored, and I couldn’t begin to see what the problem would be until Winger said the words: “Hip jewelry.” As in, these cute gold buttons (again with the sailor stuff—what’s wrong with me?) were a little much. Instead, they had me go out and get navy buttons that blend with the fabric and tone down the whole effect.

After: With a lot of items gone, Tran and Winger reorganized my wardrobe with matching hangers and staged my heels *just so.* The impeccable spacing also goes a long way, no? But, added Tran: “I recommend you don’t buy anything new unless you can think of three exact ways you’re going to wear it.”

After: Again, matching hangers go a long way to looking like you have an adult wardrobe, I must say. Another trick they employ is to organize your clothing from left to right by lightest item to heaviest. A rainbow-ordered closet can look cute, but the more functional M.O. is from tank top to sweater.

Then, we started making outfits. Do you know what cross-tucking is? If you leave the bottom few buttons of your blouse unbuttoned, you criss-cross the bottom of your top as you tuck it in and it gives it a whole different drape. That’s what they did here with my favorite Carven blouse as they tucked it into a pair of consignment 3.1 Phillip Lim silk pants they brought for me. The velvet block heels are from M. Gemi and a pair I wear to death already.

What I love about this combination is it’s mostly things I already owned. The 3.1 Phillip Lim blazer had sat in my closet for about five years and was never worn; the vintage t-shirt belonged to my mom, but I never considered wearing it inside-out; the All Year Round pants were a new pair the Cuniform team brought to the appointment for me; and the Vince shoes, well, I wear those all the time. My Sophie Hulme bag, I do love, but most days I'm usually hauling a giant tote, to be fair.

That vintage polyester sailor girl dress with which I had to part was reincarnated with this vintage Lacoste polo (that I honestly used to wear to bed), tucked into a Banana Republic pencil skirt that hadn’t seen the light of day in two years, and then the team topped it off with this Vince black cardigan they consigned to me and cleverly tied around my waist sideways so it looked a little more interesting. The heels are an old pair of Marc by Marc Jacobs that I wore a ton a few summers ago—Tran and Winger revived their purpose.

This is when the wine came out: It was time to shoot the Wardrobe Rolodex for my phone. Once we had assembled a strong lineup of tops, bottoms, dresses, and shoes, Tran and Winger mixed and matched in every possible combination, noting to which occasions each was meant to be worn. Together we made more than 50 outfits for everything from corporate work luncheon to lazy weekend brunch get-up, but the whole point, said Tran: “They should all look like the same person.”

Winger is a stylist and has worked in fashion since he went into retail right out of high school. My favorite thing I learned from him? There were a few items he kindly referred to as too “GMC,” which, he explained, is an acronym for “General Mall Clothing.” For example, drapey tops that really have no reason to be so drapey. And, you know, he’s not wrong.

Tran has an MFA and has worked as an educator, editorial stylist, buying assistant, store director, and personal stylist. The thing she said that really stuck with me the most: “When you’re getting dressed to run errands on the weekend and someone from work spots you, they shouldn’t be wondering: Is that really Katie?” As in, this 32-year-old should feel like herself even when she’s hungover in line at Whole Foods on a Sunday afternoon. In fact, in the end, maybe that’s the real definition of style.