IF YOU ARE LIKE MOST of the women in America, a good portion of your morning routine is spent standing in front of your closet asking that age old question, "What am I going to wear?"
It seems that no matter how quickly we learn to slap on our makeup and mousse up our hair, the bulk of the morning rush is spent throwing every outfit we own into a huge pile while looking for something exciting to step into.
This daily fashion challenge used to be invigorating, only now that priorities are more focused on family, friends and a comfortable home, many women are finding that they have neither the time nor the inclination to worry about the latest hemlines or the most current style rage.
Fashion must be fast, fabulous and above all -- easy. So, we've asked fashion experts and women who were once at their wits' end to help us speed up the style process with some get dressed quick advice.
And surprisingly, everyone agreed that easing the fashion woes all starts with the shopping.
Catalog it: "The best way for me to save time on clothes is to do as much shopping as possible through catalogs," says Darcel Mittle, a 28-year-old teacher from Baltimore. "The less time I have to spend in the mall the better. I usually get most of my weekend clothes through J. Crew, and I buy a lot of my work clothes through Spiegel and Talbots.
According to Ms. Mittle, catalog shopping works well for buying in bulk. "Let's say I need some new turtlenecks, I open the J. Crew catalog, pick up the phone, and in two minutes I've bought one in every color that I need. I started doing bulk orders with Victoria's Secret. That way I can get all my underwear and pantyhose at one time, rather than rush out on Saturday afternoon because I don't have a pair for that night."
Simplify your style: "Have you ever heard the expression 'you can't see the forest for the trees?' Well I couldn't see my wardrobe for the clothes," says Janet Hardiston, a 32-year-old, Columbia-based accountant. "I had a closet full of things that didn't go together and I was constantly shopping for more and more things that added to rather than coordinated with what I already had."
Ms. Hardiston's solution was to pick three basic colors -- navy, cinnamon and ivory -- which work well for both her wardrobe and her personal style. Anything that did not coordinate with these colors was taken to a thrift shop and the proceeds used to buy scarves and shoes that would compliment her new look.
"I guess most people would think that this is a pretty boring way to dress, but it's become sort of a signature look for me," she explains. "And I save a lot of money too, because I spend money on the good things that I know will work rather than wasting money on outfits that can only be worn as one outfit."
Ms. Hardiston also says that since achieving her simplifying goal two years ago, she has added other neutrals such as black and gold -- as long as they blend with what she already has.
Tonal attraction: If Ms. Hardiston's three color palette seems too restraining, think about expanding your choices to include a whole color family.
For example, base your wardrobe around earth tones, or jewel tones, or bright primary colors. By staying within one color family you greatly increase the blend-ability of your wardrobe.
Choosing a color group and sticking with it also helps to coordinate your weekend wardrobe. Many items such as scarves, shoes and cardigan sweaters can easily work for both home and office.
Accessory to style: "Accessories are the most important part of personal style, because they are what people can use to paint a hTC picture of themselves," says Jane Gabor, co-owner of About Faces Spa in Towson. Ms. Gabor teaches an image awareness program that first helps a woman identify her personal style then teaches her how to assemble a worry-free wardrobe.
"Many times people come in and I have to tell them to loosen up with their accessories because they've gotten into a rut. Accessories should be used to add excitement to a very basic outfit," she says.
For this season Ms. Gabor recommends suede shoes, ropes of chains and pearls, oversize brooches and cuffs, lots of coordinating scarves and a touch of tartan (maybe in a headband, pocket square or button covers) to update your favorite looks.
"By adding an element of surprise to a tried and true outfit you make it look new and exciting without having to spend a lot of time shopping and trying things on."
Ms. Gabor also adds that buying the basics does not have to be boring. For example, a traditional coat dress looks new and exciting when done in a nubby, boucle wool. A tartan skirt can look very updated when it is hemmed to above-the-knee and worn with a longer, fitted jacket.
"All you need is one thing, be it a skirt or a button, to really make a look."
Outfits only: For some women, the easiest way to simplify the wardrobe question is to prepare a few ready-to-go outfits that can just be thrown on without a thought.