When you need an outfit fast

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Shrug: $24.80

Bag: $6.80

Total: $31.60 (Alex Garcia/Tribune photo / January 21, 2011)

So the hunt was on for a black skirt. Less than 15 minutes into my challenge, I found an outstanding candidate. To save time running back and forth from the dressing room, and because sizing is so inconsistent, it's always wise to take multiple sizes of the same thing to try on.

Time: 14:35

In case the skirt didn't work, I snagged a backup dress in a subtle black/gray herringbone for my pile of possibilities and started to think about top options to try with that skirt.

It took only a couple of minutes to locate a black cardigan (instead of a jacket). You can't go wrong with classics.


However, all that black was getting to be too much of a good thing, so now came the fun part: Pick a pop of color to perk it up.

I grabbed silky blouses in three styles and a trio of colors — magenta, emerald and coral — to try with the staples. I had as much as I could carry, so I headed for the dressing room.

Time: 23:47

I needed to make quick judgments. To check the back, find a three-way mirror. The herringbone dress looked terrible. Don't linger over the losers.

There was much mixing and matching of blouses and sweater, but the unadorned neckline of the green shirt was an easy choice — leaving me time and budget to buy jewelry to polish the outfit.

Time: 41:04

A black and "crystal" necklace added just a touch of sparkle but still kept with my keep-it-simple mantra.

Time: 43:25

I'd been keeping a rough total of my choices and realized I was well under my $100 limit.

So I went back for more. I picked a few splurges that could add to the look — a fabulous leopard coat and a pretty purse, both spotted early in my look around.

Time: 45:15

I couldn't stop there. For just a few more bucks (well, $31.60) I picked up some glittery pieces — a little purse and a sequined shrug (for over that green blouse) to transform from "I'm all business" into an evening that has nothing to do with work.

I walked out of the store with a giant bag filled to the top.

Time: 47:58

I beat the clock with more than 12 minutes to spare. Now it's your turn.

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