Decades of working in fashion taught me an invaluable lesson – how to plan outfits for the week

Jo Elvin - Andrew Crowley for The Telegraph
Jo Elvin - Andrew Crowley for The Telegraph

Think of it as batch-cooking, but for clothes. Some people spend their Sundays prepping a load of casseroles they can pull out of the freezer for a speedy weeknight meal. But for almost a year now, I’ve spent about an hour every Sunday checking the weather, cross-referencing my diary for important meetings, events etc and prepping my outfits for the week ahead. And it’s been a game-changer.

It’s a practice that has its origins in fear. Fear of fashion. When I was the editor of Glamour, for 17 years I attended the bi-annual catwalk shows in the world’s fashion capitals. In all that time, I never really shook the worry that my outfits didn’t quite measure up.

Former women's magazine editor Jo Elvin at the exclusive screening of Sex and the City's 'And Just Like That...' in London - Getty Images Europe
Former women's magazine editor Jo Elvin at the exclusive screening of Sex and the City's 'And Just Like That...' in London - Getty Images Europe

As a working-class girl from the wrong part of Sydney, who cut her teeth writing for teen mags, I was not one of those maddening creatures born with the cool gene. But I’d been smart enough to hire a whole fashion team of those, and I leaned heavily on their guidance to help me get dressed for the terrifying fashion exam that is taking your seat on the front row. So paranoid was I about getting it wrong that I’d plan each day’s outfit for these fashion shows with detailed lists.

Every outfit, down to the belt, bag, even scarf, was written down, then crossed off as it was methodically packed into my suitcase. If there were lots of fashion dinners or fancy black tie events I needed a clear evening look, and if there was a lot of walking around, I’d ensure I had a multitude of comfy but stylish footwear. Then it was simply a matter of praying to the BA baggage gods before arriving in a fashion capital with all my pre-planned ‘hopefully no one will laugh at this’ looks.

Jo Elvin: 'Every outfit, down to the belt, bag, even scarf, was written down, then crossed off as it was methodically packed into my suitcase'
Jo Elvin: 'Every outfit, down to the belt, bag, even scarf, was written down, then crossed off as it was methodically packed into my suitcase'

That ritual launched a habit. I don’t go to the shows any more, but every Sunday for years now, I’ve always worked out a rough plan in my head of what I’ll wear every day of the coming week. A few months ago, I thought it might be fun to actually get it all out of my wardrobe, photograph the individual outfits and post them to Instagram. I called it #weekonawall and to my amazement it’s built a cult following. To everyone else’s amazement, I really do stick to the week’s outfit plan.

No one’s judging what I wear in quite the same way any more now I have a packed, multi-faceted ‘portfolio career’ where every day is varied. I am the CEO of the charity Children With Cancer UK, a three-day role which I manage alongside some other broadcasting and writing work. It’s a juggle, but it can be done. If you’re organised. Weekdays particularly need meticulous planning. The last thing anyone wants in the mornings is being slowed down with the faff over what to wear.

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Of course there are people who like the Mark Zuckerburg route. The Facebook mogul famously has a wardrobe filled with nothing but jeans and grey hoodies, his belief being that spending time deciding on what to wear each day is a triviality, a waste of brain power. Steve Jobs and Barack Obama also believed that wearing, in essence, a uniform frees your mind to focus on bigger concerns.

That’s great if that works for you. But what if you’re a busy woman who also happens to need the joy of outfit variety?

Even though my wardrobe isn’t lacking in choices, over the years I’ve learned what works for my style – and crucially, what doesn’t. I’d advise everyone to find your own rules (if you can call them that) of dressing based on what you know makes you feel good but some of these can apply to us all.

My own ‘rules’ include:

1. Nothing skin-tight, like most people I prefer a relaxed fit in most things

2. Statement pieces in quirky prints that you can’t really tie to a season, and that can be dressed up or down. A bold print on a trouser, for instance, can be dressed up with satin tops and jewellery for evening or dressed down with knits and trainers for work.

3. We all have our little hang-ups too. I’m self-conscious about my legs and knees so even if I’m in a dress, you’ll rarely see anything above my calf. Spend a bit of time working out your own ‘rules’ and you’ll create a versatile wardrobe of things you’re happy to wear on repeat, often for years.

Since I left magazines for the charity sector there’s never going to be any pressure to wear head to toe designer, but that was never really me in my old life either. ‘Charity CEO me’ looks pretty much the same as ‘magazine editor me’.

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I figure they hired me precisely because I’m something a bit different, so it wouldn’t make sense to be anything other than myself. And this extends to my wardrobe. When I joined a national newspaper in 2018, I spent a few weeks trying to dress how I thought would be expected of me as a woman on a newspaper – pencil skirts and heels, mainly. I didn’t have enough of that stuff to keep up the pretence, and it was surprisingly miserable to feel like I was dressing to play a part that wasn’t me.

For me, what I wear, and what it does for my identity, still matters. In fact, just the other day, one of the six-year-old patients we work with broke into the biggest smile when she spied my ‘sparkly shoes’.

This means you won’t see a lot of standard issue ‘officey’ dresses in my #weekonawall, particularly during winter; I can’t stand the look or feel of tights. My go-to looks involve a lot of colourful trousers. I’ve embraced trainers as a way of life and I think they can look professional if you pair them with polished pieces like a good blazer. I marvel at the 30-something me who’d run about all day in YSL platforms. Who was that girl? I’m generally drawn to timeless pieces with a twist: these JW Anderson navy trousers with the drawstring ankles are a good example.

Timeless pieces with a twist are always a good bet - Andrew Crowley
Timeless pieces with a twist are always a good bet - Andrew Crowley

The benefit of being this organised has saved me time but definitely money, too, because I find it’s had the effect of curbing my shopping habits. Decades of working on fashion magazines means I have a lot of clothes. Spending a bit of time on a weekend really looking through my wardrobe often unearths a forgotten gem, which feels like getting something new to wear. Rediscovering and reinventing what I already have feels better than buying even more.

Frequently asked questions

Q: ‘But what if you wake up and change your mind?’
A: That would defeat the object. I liked the outfit when I put it together the other day and now I’m looking forward to wearing it.

Q: ‘What if the weather makes the outfit inappropriate?’
A: When that happens, it’s annoying, yes, but it’s surprisingly rare.

Q: ‘Who has the time to bother being that organised?’
A: Who has the time to not be. It saves me an incredible amount of time in the mornings. A process that would often involve searching high and low for the only top I can wear with those trousers etc could take more than half an hour. Now I get dressed within 60 seconds.

Q:‘How long does it take you to do this?’
A: From having a little mental checklist of things I might like to wear, to pulling it out and ironing anything I might need for the week, no more than an hour.

My week in outfits

Scroll down to see my go-to favourites, but first it might be worth knowing my thinking behind them...

Monday

It is pretty standard me. A tailored suit jazzed up with a sparkly knit. I love wearing trainers for work so where possible I make sure they have an interesting detail so that they feel considered, rather than just the lazy thrown on option.

Tuesday

The bane of my husband’s life is my love of a quirky co-ord. This one is from one of my favourite designers for technicolour madness, Mira Mikati.

Wednesday

Simple, comfortable black trousers from Cos with a twist that they have slits at the front. The shirt is full of colourful, weird embroidery. I really do like happy clothes.

Thursday

On Thursdays I film the royal show, Palace Confidential. The viewers like to comment on my outfits so I thought these diamante-encrusted jeans would get them talking.

Friday

A blend of writing and meetings, I wanted to be comfortable but still smart enough. The Paul Smith bag adds something different to an otherwise quiet outfit.

Here's the line-up:

Do you plan your week of outfits in advance? What tips do you have for other readers? Tell us in the comments section below