I have two closets worth of clothes, grouped by season, and I don’t even know how to start weeding things out or how much clothing a person actually needs. I’m a clothing hoarder, finding it difficult to get rid of things that could potentially be useful, although I’ve done a couple purges lately. Still, my main closet is overflowing and I’m feeling completely overwhelmed.
In a perfect world, I’d like to buy fewer, better clothes and have them be from more sustainable sources (so less mega cheap stuff made in less than great conditions). If you have any advice on how best to purge, how many clothes a person actually needs to have a functional wardrobe, and how to build a professional business wardrobe from scratch (I own one suit) on a student budget, I’d be most grateful.
Let’s start with the First Truth of Closet Editing: More is not better. Options are great, but when your closet is bursting at the seams with pieces you’re not wearing, that’s a bad thing.
Tough love, you all. That’s why I’m here.
I understand the urge to hang on to things just in case; I also understand the reluctance to part with something that you’ve worn and loved. But no one in the history of the world has ever said, “Hey I’ve been invited to dinner at the White House/to appear on CNN/to have a drink with that cute guy from accounting — I think I’ll wear that dress from five years ago, the one that’s too tight and has the big stain on the hem!”
You know I’m right.
Editing your closet lets you see what your options are — the real options, not the it-was-cute-in-my-head or the it-fit-three-years-ago options. And once you know what you really have, you can start to build a look that is uniquely you. In other words, fewer clothes equals more style.
In order to get to a clearly defined personal style, all the extra stuff has to go. A closet edit can be stressful, so let’s take some baby steps here and start with Sian’s overflowing main closet.
Assess what you have. Sian needs to start by emptying the whole closet, every single shirt and shoe and dress and pair of pants, and trying everything on. Yes, I said everything! And I mean it. The first step in getting your wardrobe under control is figuring out what is truly wearable. Anything that’s too small goes; anything that’s too big and can’t be tailored goes. If you know you won’t bother taking things to the tailor, the too-big things go, too. Anything that is worn out — stained, pilled, just plain ratty looking — goes. Pieces that are in good condition but don’t fit can be donated or passed on to friends; pieces that are beyond the pale of what’s ok to wear in public should be tossed. It can help to have a friend along for this part of the clean out, to keep you on track; it’s easy to get sentimental about things, like concert tees and that dress you wore on the first day of your first job, but unless these pieces have an actual function in your current closet, they need to go. Buh bye.
Identify what you love. As she’s sorting through her closet, Sian should keep an eye open for pieces she really adores. Tim Gunn talks about these as pieces that stir the soul; these are the core elements of your personal style. Even if you’re not sure how to wear these things, keep them for now. But be conservative: If you find yourself declaring your love for every single tee and pair of jeans in the closet, then you’re not being honest with yourself. Make an effort, too, to distinguish between pieces you are keeping for sentimental reasons (the dress you wore on your first date with your husband) and pieces you are keeping for their potential style value (the perfectly tailored black trousers that make your legs look like Heidi Klum’s). Keep the sentimental pieces, but not hanging in your closet; think of them as keepsakes not clothes. Hang on to the other pieces, though — we’ll make those pants work for you, I promise.
Put everything that’s left back in the closet. Here’s where we get to Sian’s specific question: How much clothing does a person actually need? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. If you only do laundry every two weeks, you may really need 10 pairs of jeans. If you work in a corporate office during the week and hang out with little kids on the weekend, you will need a wider range of casual and dressy options. For most of us, though, space is the real issue. If you have a gigantic room-sized walk-in closet, then you can obviously own a lot of clothes without feeling overwhelmed. If, however, you’re dealing with a standard size apartment closet, you’ll need to pare down. In either case, your clothes should hang neatly in the available space, without being wedged together or smashed into a corner. You should have enough space between garments to easily take a hangar off the bar without jarring anything else loose or causing an avalanche. If your clothes are packed like sardines into your closet, you have too many clothes, no matter what size space you’re dealing with. Everything you have needs to be neatly stored and easily accessible — otherwise you’re still just bombing around in the dark without any sense of what you’ve got.
Coming tomorrow: How to make what’s left in the closet work for your life and your budget.
Photos via Banana Republic