Susan Maxwell dives headfirst into wardrobes
By Molly Each
Susan Maxwell enters my small walk-in closet. I am embarrassed. This means that someone (aside from myself) is witnessing my overflowing hamper of dirty clothes, my makeshift shelves, my unorganized heap of purses and my old/outdated/just plain awful clothing that I haven’t yet brought over to the Brown Elephant.
But Maxwell doesn’t even flinch. She’s a consummate pro, even complimenting me on my casual-to-dressy clothes organization and the fact that I keep my laundry in my closet. She notices that I’m cringing, and she tells me not to worry. “I’ve seen much worse.”
I un-cringe slightly, pleased that someone who lives and breathes style semi-approves of my closet. Maxwell is the woman behind design co-op Suz Maxwell, a group of designers with various backgrounds who come together under the philosophy, “life-style-space.” It’s a concept that they’re spreading through the entire city of Chicago by offering style services in all areas of urban life: interior design, art advice, event planning, wedding registry services and closest consultations.
Maxwell, donning a black dress, black tights and tall black flat boots, looking like she just stepped out of In Style, begins by recommending organizational tools.
“The more you see, the more you’ll wear,” she says, advising that I pull my fancy shoes out of the boxes and display them on a shelf. As for the heap of purses, she notes that I’m not using all of the vertical space in my closet, and that adding a shelf or two (or even a pegboard) would prevent the smaller clutches from getting lost in the pile.
I’m starting to think things aren’t so bad, but then: The Purge. Step two involves an examination of every piece of clothing and accessories, determining what needs to go. I’m not ready for this. What if she determines my wardrobe to be a big ol’ unstylish failure? Am I about to find out that my credit card debts were all for nothing?
She explains the purging method. “First, I make three piles: fix, garbage and donate. Then with each item I ask questions. Does it still look crisp? Are there holes, tears, stains or underarm marks? It is outdated? How often do you wear it? Is it versatile?” She rifles through my wardrobe as she talks. The first few pieces, mostly cute tees, pass the test. But she grabs a plaid button-down shirt and holds it out.
“No,” she says. I protest. “But that’s my favorite shirt!” I tell her that I wear it with jeans and Converse All-Stars, when I am running to Target or hanging out at home. She allows me to keep it, as long as I promise not to wear it out to dinner or parties or bars. I promise.
My lime green J. Crew pants aren’t as lucky. “No,” she says, handing them over for the “donate” pile. “But I wear them in the summer with a white tank top and…”
“No.” Her tone is kind and positive but she’s not messing around. I don’t argue; I just put the pants in the pile reluctantly. “I’m honest in my recommendations,” she says. “Because if I’m not, what’s the point of being here?” She has a point.
The rest of the consultation goes smoothly. More items are pulled and donated, interspersed with several “cute” and “this is great” comments about the clothes that get to stay, making me feel good about my collection. I’ll pay my Visa bill confidently this month. After the purge we plan outfits together down to the accessory. Maxwell recommends sitting down on Sunday nights and planning a weekly wardrobe, which saves time. She advises me on how to don pieces that never make it out of the closet because I have no idea how to wear them, and shows me how a few old bridesmaid dresses could be turned into cute summer cocktail dresses, which is a talent unto itself.
We make a list of items that I need to purchase, both for my wardrobe and for my closet organization, and my homework is to create a buying budget for these new, wardrobe-completing pieces. We’ll reconvene in a few weeks for our joint shopping trip and then for another closet organization, where she’ll see if I’ve actually ditched the “donate” items. Smiling, she tells me she’ll likely be harsher the second time around.
Taking a deep breath, I nod. I’m excited that it’s not even 2008 yet and I’ve already conquered one of my resolutions: To clean out my closet.
Service rates vary between members of the Suz Maxwell team. Find out more by calling (312)409-8565 or checking out suzmaxwell.com.