Susan Thurston

c.2012 Tampa Bay Times@

TAMPA — Wardrobe consultant Jackie Walker says getting dressed means more than putting on pants and a shirt. It's about wearing a persona that reflects who you are on the inside.

Walker blends fashion and the psychology of clothing to advise clients on how to use their closet to improve their lives — a concept that earned her the title Dr. of Closetology. Over the years, the half Tampa/half Chicago resident has advised thousands of women on how to achieve "closet harmony" by showing them what to buy, keep and ditch.

Walker was at International Plaza on Friday to kick off Tampa Bay Fashion Week, which runs through Saturday at multiple venues throughout the Tampa Bay area. She led three workshops on how to choose the right clothes for your figure and personality, and how to make your look edgier. She also was promoting her new book for girls, Expressionista: How to Express Your True Self Through (and Despite) Fashion.

In an interview with the Times, Walker talked about why brick-and-mortar stores won't go away, and why most women don't have a thing to wear.

As business attire has evolved, do you think workplaces have become too casual?

I think there has been great relaxation of the dress code corporately. But when it started to relax, men understood it. Men knew that they took off the tie and put on a polo. They took off the suit and put on a blazer with khakis. They got it, because their choices are finite. For women, it was very confusing, and they went all the way to the other end of the spectra, and it became almost a pajama party. I believe that when the workplace becomes business casual or relaxed, it's a slight relaxation of the dress code.

What about wearing flip-flops in the office?

It just depends if you are interfacing with the public. I don't think you're going to see anyone in flip-flops if they are Realtors, but it all depends on what you do for a living. For years, I did training for companies with employees in cubicles. I said to them, "When you are working in a cubicle and have to sell something over the phone, your voice is going to make that sale. How are you going to feel when you are not dressed to be able to do that?" I've had a home office for a thousand years. I get up in the morning, get totally dressed and I go down to Starbucks for a cup of coffee. Then I come back to my house and walk into my office as if I were walking into a corporation. That's the way I've trained myself to work from home so I have energy in my voice, so I'm sharing the passion of my work. I just feel better. I'm not in a suit, but I'm ready to work.

How has the shopping experience changed in this age of showrooming and mobile shopping?

A woman shops for emotion and a man shops for need. The facts are that a woman wears 20 percent of her closet. A man wears 90. A woman says she has nothing to wear when she stands in her closet but that's because she has nothing that makes her feel good. What happens is when you shop online you can't touch it. You can't be excited about the way the visual departments create a look. I don't think you can ever replace that feeling for a woman.

How is it possible that women only wear 20 percent of their closet?

Because the problem is they buy "someday" clothes. Someday I will wear this, and they never do. They buy something on sale when they really don't have anything to go with it. They buy for mood. Women wear 20 percent because that's what makes them feel secure. Those are the things that make them happy — the black pants or white blouse. So the rest of their closet is outdated, but they can't bear to throw it away because they spent money on it. Or there are things that don't fit and probably won't ever again. With a man a tie is a tie. With a woman, a skirt is a story.

There's a lot of talk about clothing designers and manufacturers catering more to older women as baby boomers retire. Any thoughts?

I believe if a woman ties her self-esteem to a number, whether it's sewn into the back of her pants or her birthday, she dates herself. The way a woman dresses should not be about her age, it should be age-appropriate. For example, my daughter-in-law will wear stiletto heels, and I will wear a kitten heel. She'll put on a trendy jean and cuff them. I'll wear my jeans plain. She'll wear a leather jacket with studs. I'll wear a simple, elegant leather jacket. We are dressed identically, but we are age-appropriate.

Any areas where you think retailers aren't hitting the mark or need to focus on?

I am huge on customer service. I was taught something by my father, who was in retailing. Never sell, always teach. When you're in sales or retailing, you teach customers the features of that item, that blouse, the skirt, and the benefits it has to her. When a woman learns, it carries with her every morning when she stands in front of her closet.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay or (813) 225-3110 or @susan_thurston on Twitter.