17 In Styling Tips

Joining a Trinny Woodall conversation on tops

Enjoying a dress as a top

Over the weekend I caught a 15-minute video by Trinny Woodall on tops from her closet. Remember Trinny and Susannah, the UK-based team that hosted the show What Not to Wear and had a book out by the same title? Loved them!

Trinny Woodall
I’m a big fan of Trinny

I stumbled upon her Instagram account where she posts mostly videos. She also has a YouTube channel and a makeup line called Trinny London.

So why have I brought her up? I like her style, energy, and credentials. She’s easy to trust. This video she posted on Instagram called Closet Confession: Tops (oh, wait, I think I’ve managed to get that link!) was entertaining and informative. You might want to check it out!

Making great points about altering tops

She’s being interviewed by the savvy, to-the-point Lucy while standing in front of a section of a closet with tops. Lucy asks her how many tops she has. Trinny says, “You mean in this closet or everywhere?” She estimates she has 150 shirts/tops in this one section, but there are more upstairs. She confesses to having a total of 16 closets.

Wearing men's shirts
Buying a man’s shirt and having it altered.

She makes great points about altering tops, something we don’t all think about. Earlier this year I was shopping the men’s department of Saks Off Fifth, their outlet store near Petaluma where I take my car in for service. (Convenient, huh?!) I LOVE men’s shirts as does Trinny; she buys her men’s shirts at Zara and COS.

I bought this blue Michael Kors shirt knowing full well that I’d have to alter it. This is the first camouflage print I’ve fallen in love with. I wasn’t going to walk away because it needed alterations.

Men's shirt
I might make a deeper curve next time.

I took it to Alterations to Go in Greenbrae and had it shortened and the edge curved.

Men's shirt
One could create slits in the side seams for easier tucking

If I did this over, I’d have had the alterations person cut a deeper curve on the hem and create slits in the sides. See where there are none now? Trinny creates slits up the side seams on her tops and shirts so she can more easily tuck the front part into a pant or skirt and leave the back part hanging out. It’s great styling.

Men's shirt
Wearing my shirt as a jacket

As it is I wear my camo shirt as a jacket. Here I wore it with a sweater underneath because it was springtime and chilly. Now I wear it with rolled-up jeans, sandals, and a white tee.

When your top tears

Trinny talked about another top in her closet that required serious alterations help. It was a designer top–Chloe or Stella McCartney, I believe–that she paid a pretty penny for. She realized too late that she should have bought it in the next size up. How did she learn that? After it ripped under the armhole. Mortified, she tracked down the designer top and bought it in the next size. If I had Trinny’s clothing budget, that’s the first thing I’d have done, too.

But she decided to take this first, torn one to her alterations person anyway who reinforced the area that was torn. She wears the repaired one but is happy to have a backup because she loves it so much.

Altering jackets
Prada jacket needed altering

A similar thing happened to me. I paid more money than I’d ever paid before for a Prada jacket that I purchased in New York while shopping with colleagues at one of my Association of Image Consultants International conferences. It was a bigger size than I’d purchase now because I was a bigger girl back then. It was fifteen years ago, for sure.

I lost a sizable amount of weight (over 20 pounds) in 2006 when I joined Weight Watchers with a friend.

I was swimming in this jacket but really didn’t want to let it go. I took my Prada jacket to an alterations person to have it sized about three sizes down. Success! The fit was perfect for my slimmer shape.

But then the unthinkable happened. One day I was taking it off and noticed that it was shredded under one of the armholes. OMG. I could’ve cried. Maybe I did.

altering tops
The alterations person mended the tear for me

I took it back to the alterations guy and he said, “I can fix this.” I wasn’t so sure. But he did! He did the same thing Trinny’s alterations person did to the underarm of her expensive top. See that zig-zag stitching? I was shocked at how difficult it was to see where it had been repaired. It helped that there was so much design going in the fabric.

mending jackets
No one sees the mending but who’s looking at the jacket? It’s Baby Viv!

I searched for a picture of me wearing that jacket and found this one when Baby Vivienne was only a week old. A good alterations person really can do wonders!

It’s important to have a good looking top to wear under jackets

Trinny also talks about one of her most used tops. It’s by Zara, is sleeveless, and is one she wears in the summer all the time under summer weight jackets. I have total lust for it and it reminded me that I have to earnestly look for a top for this purpose.

What I currently have in this department is a buff-colored silk top that’s gotten a ton of wear. But right now it’s getting on my last nerve.

Silk top
A go-to silk top that’s almost gone.

The thing that makes me crazy is the tiny buttons. When I bought it I struggled only a little to get them buttoned. Now I struggle A LOT. It’s something I’ve learned about myself as I’ve gotten older: I can’t manage tiny clasps on necklaces, tiny buttons, and even side zippers on pants give me trouble.

This teeny button is a bear to handle.

I have more patience in the morning when I put this on, but when I take it off at night, I have zero patience. One of these days I will just cut my way out of it and call it done. It already has a stain on the front that won’t come out. I use it as a layering piece but mostly covered up like in this outfit with my Fortuny-like blush pleated skirt.

silk top
Silk top under sheer side slit sweater

Another top takeaway: have some fancy ones

Navy artful top
A more fanciful top for me.

Trinny says to look for tops with drama. Maybe the sleeves are ruffled or the neck is interesting, just fancy in some way. Although this navy blue top doesn’t have show-stopping drama, it’s the amount of drama I like. The fabric has body like silk taffeta. It’s a Japanese designer and I like the artfulness. When you’re up close (cocktails anyone?) you can see the interesting way they’ve manipulated the fabric. It’s really quite fascinating.

I’m interested in having more tops like this in my wardrobe. I think of them as standalone tops. They don’t need a jacket to finish it; the silk tassel necklace and bangle are just enough.

Wrapping this top episode up

T-shirt tops
A quality T-shirt under a linen shirt is a go-to combo.

From watching Trinny’s video on tops, I feel happy to realize I’m doing some of the things she talked about: buying shirts from the men’s department, altering tops, having workhorse tops to go under jackets, and selecting tops with drama. She’s inspired me to take my tops up a notch.

Tunic top
Color can bring drama like in this tunic top.

I must confess: I did have some top envy. She shops lots of big designers as well as low-end stores like Zara.

So what’s your top situation? Do you love them and own a variety of them? What are your shopping sources? Do you have trouble with tops? Let’s talk!


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  • Reply
    Linda B
    July 23, 2019 at 6:41 am

    First of all, I love the grandma picture with sweet little Viv the best–but that is because I am also totally reveling in my own parallel stage of grandmotherhood these days. Isn’t it just amazing?

    On to the tops conversation, which actually is somewhat related to the grandmother one in my case, as just before my granddaughter was born I retired. And I moved just for the summer up to Oregon, to help my daughter and son-in-law (and enjoy everything fabulous about summer up here!) I brought a very limited palette of clothing, and that has been interesting. At times, I am glad to just throw on another tee and jeans for the day. . .other times, I crave drama and interest in my clothing choices. But when I am basically just a stay-at-home grandma, there is not much reason to dress up. Wah. I keep looking online at fabulous summer tops, but . . . don’t buy anything. Not sure what will evolve with this when I go home in 6 weeks. I still won’t have real reasons to dress for anyone but myself, much of the time. . .Guess this comment is more general than just what to wear in terms of tops. Maybe I need to expand my vision of the “new me”!

  • Reply
    Jeri Ray
    July 23, 2019 at 7:49 am

    Linda B and I have a lot in common. I’m retired and actually live in Oregon full time. I love it here as the seasons are well defined. Tops are my biggest challenge. I’m home most days but walking the dog and seeing people so I always want to look put together in a casual way. I’m petite so I’m challenged to find a variety of tops that look nice at a reasonable price point. Tops include casual jackets – wish I could find the perfect one.

  • Reply
    July 23, 2019 at 8:42 am

    I really enjoyed watching Trinny’s video and learned a lot. Thanks so much for posting it! I’m 5′ 8″ with long arms and torso, and I’m going to start shopping in the men’s department more frequently.

  • Reply
    Sandra Sallin - Apart Frpm My Art
    July 23, 2019 at 9:40 am

    This was so interesting. I have such a tough time with tops owing to my ample busoms. I find Trinny’s energy off-putting. But I will watch this video. I see I have much to learn. Where do you find high quality tee shirts? our do you not recommend tee shirts for big boobs? How about a blog about tee shirts and various body types? Loved this blog and will certainly take a look at the mens department. You always have so much to offer. Thank you, and aint it grand being a grandma?

  • Reply
    Sandra Sallin - Apart From My Art
    July 23, 2019 at 9:43 am

    Oh and PS. I’m so impressed with your weight loss. Good for you. Wish I had your determination. Looks like I cave in where food is concerned. I used to be so good.

  • Reply
    Elaine @ Following Augustine
    July 23, 2019 at 11:04 am

    I realized this week that I have a tops situation that needs to be remedied. Our retired teachers association has been using stock photos in their publications, advertising, etc but they’ve decided to invite some of the group members to participate in a professional photo shoot in order to create a collection of photos that would more accurately represent the organization. If I’m selected to participate, I need to have a variety of possible outfits to wear and the tops must be in solid colours with no logos showing. I seldom wear logos, so that’s not a problem, but I’ve suddenly discovered that I have a serious shortage of tops in solid colours! With the exception of my golf shirts, almost everything is patterned. Obviously, this is a great excuse to do some shopping! I’m actually going to start by checking out our local thrift shops.

  • Reply
    Kathy H
    July 23, 2019 at 6:36 pm

    I love how your topics are often a bit off the wall, Bren. Original and so easy to relate to. Tops are a great subject, and I loved Trinny’s closet exploration. Closets are personal and a way to get to know someone better. I have been a Trinny and Susannah fan for many years and own every book they ever published.

    Although I adore both of them, I always identified with Susannah due to having too big a chest for my size. That hasn’t changed, and when I shop, I am always looking to see if a top to which I am drawn will be able to camouflage the girls properly. BTW, I own that lovely top that Trinny is wearing in the video, and it is perfect for the boob issue and heavy upper arms as well! Found it at Dillard’s in Florida several years ago and just love it. It is the only top I own about which my husband always tells me how beautiful I look. Right there, it was worth the money, I say!

    I do love men’s clothing too, and often look for special pieces when I am thrift store cruising. Your ideas on the slit and curved hem are good ones that I will pack away for the next time I find something special.

  • Reply
    glenda moran
    July 23, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    hi all, Glenda from Melbourne Australia here. it has been a cold winter here and I found some lovely cashmere/cotton blend jumpers in the Mens section of Zara. on special for Aus$60.00. the Womens had nothing similar! I got the small mens ( i am a medium size ) and they fit lovely.

  • Reply
    Martha O
    July 24, 2019 at 4:42 am

    I need to carefully consider a top before purchasing because of my large upper arms. If it does not have stretch or is not at least elbow sleeve, then I do not buy unless it will be worn under a jacket.

  • Reply
    Annette Rubery
    July 24, 2019 at 5:41 am

    I don’t have lots of tops – I am more of a dresses gal – but I bought two interesting ones in the sale at a big department store in the UK the other day. I think they would qualify as “tops with drama”. The fabric is very low-key (a faded denim colour with a very fine pinstripe) but the cuts are interesting – one has sizeable bell sleeves and the other has a tiny ruffle on the tops of the sleeves and a tie-front (that tie is useful for petities I think). I can see me being able to wear jewellery with them, because there isn’t a strong print going on, and meanwhile, the cut is quite dramatic.

  • Reply
    Anne Sowden
    July 24, 2019 at 1:53 pm

    Oh Brenda this is so timely. I looked at all my tops the other day and decided I had far too many. It was time to retire some but I just couldn’t do it. And now I don’t have to–you (and Trinny) have given me permission to keep them. I love tops. They’re an easy and inexpensive (potentially) way to up date your look. I’ve got plain, pattern, Breton stripes, florals but your article has made me realize I don’t have a top with drama. I’ll have to go shopping!

  • Reply
    July 25, 2019 at 3:53 am

    Ima sucker for a good top! I have well quite a few! With all the talk of minimalism and letting go I find it reassuring that my secret life as a top hoarder can be justified. I like being able to wear my clothing different ways but I like options too! My tops fall into my friend category and I rarely part ways!

  • Reply
    July 27, 2019 at 7:11 am

    Yes, I do alter my tops! It was either Clinton & Stacy or Trinny & Susannah who mentioned that you should be altering just as many tops as you are bottoms. I have a tall straight figure and find that shortening tops and taking them in a bit at the waist can make a huge difference. Clinton said to “never wear a rectangle”. Unfortunately, many tops on the market are rectangles! Trinny & Susannah crack me up. I always hope that they don’t make their incisive remarks to their clients in person!

    • Reply
      August 6, 2019 at 3:45 pm

      Oh gosh, I thought that too. Most of those makeover shows were a little harsh to the client or reckless with their assessments. But they did/do have great ideas. I love that advice about altering tops as much as bottoms. That’s a whole mind shift! I like hearing that. I do have my clients alter tee shirts even. It makes such an important difference.

  • Reply
    September 10, 2019 at 10:16 pm

    I usually wear a size small in most tops and jackets but find I have to size up due to my upper arms (disproportionately bigger than the rest of my body). I rarely find tops or jackets that have enough room in the shoulder region and it drives me nuts-I feel like I’m in a straight jacket if I don’t have ample room and I can’t reach up, around, or move comfortably. So it’s either tops that end up being too big overall or random luck finding those with enough room that look proportional overall. I want tp save up for liposuction on my arms (which I am seriously considering!)

  • Reply
    Kathie Adams
    October 6, 2019 at 1:12 pm

    I am just now starting to “get into” buying tops, because of you, Brenda. They can be so interesting & fun to take into most seasons. Layer under, layer over, add scarves & vary the accessories, & it’s a whole new look! I mostly go for silk, rayon, drapey fabrics. And yes, I alter. Myself. I have some sewing experience, so I play with them to make them right for me. Taking them in, taking sleeves up, switching out buttons. I shop mostly eBay & TJX.

    • Reply
      October 17, 2019 at 10:48 am

      Is anyone living next door to you? Can I move in if the place is empty? You’re so talented! I’d love to watch you do your own alterations. You’re so right about tops and all they can add. You’re inspiring to me! Sounds like you have creativity galore.

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