The most popular post on “Recovering Shopaholic” – by far – is one that I wrote way back in February 2013, just one month into the blog. Which post was it? The title is, “What is a Normal-Sized Wardrobe?” and you can access it HERE. In that essay, I wrote about a closet decluttering session my husband and I did and how it got me thinking about the concept of a “normal-sized” wardrobe. My pondering led to a basic formula that used frequency of wear as a guideline in figuring out how many clothes and shoes we need.
That single post has been viewed over 100,000 times! Clearly, a lot of people are interested in the concept of wardrobe size and whether or not the number of clothing pieces they have is “normal.” I furthered the discussion of what’s a normal or ideal wardrobe size a year later with “What is Your Ideal Wardrobe Size?” In that article, I delved a bit deeper and looked at how climate and lifestyle issues affect how many clothes a person might need or want to have.
While I like both of the above posts and feel that I offered helpful advice in them, I’ve learned some new things over the past few years. Thus, I thought it would be fun to revisit the wardrobe size topic today and offer some new perspectives. If you haven’t read the earlier articles, it’s really not necessary, as I will repeat the most salient points here and expand upon them as needed. As with many of my posts, I will use my own wardrobe as an example to discuss the concepts I introduce and calculate a number of statistics. But if you’re not a numbers geek, don’t worry! There will be lots of explanation herein, as well as some images for my more visually-oriented readers.
Start with Frequency of Wear
I maintain my original viewpoint that there really is no such thing as a “normal-sized” wardrobe. What we want to look at instead is what an optimal wardrobe size is for each of us individually. After all, we all live unique lives and have differing needs in terms of our lifestyles, climates, and desire for variety. In addition, these needs will shift over time and thus, our optimal wardrobe size will also evolve.
A useful concept to start with in figuring out your current optimal wardrobe size is frequency of wear:
How often do you want to wear the items in your closet?
In answering the above question, you can state your ultimate desired frequency of wear or you can select an intermediate number to begin with if the eventual goal feels too daunting. An intermediate goal can be a good idea for those who have very large wardrobes. Although you may want to pare down considerably over time, it may be too overwhelming – not to mention impractical – to even contemplate wearing everything you currently own ten or more times per year, for example. Starting off with a smaller number (i.e. 5 times or even 3) can be helpful and you can always move the target later as you let go of the closet pieces that aren’t serving you.
Even though I have downsized my closet significantly (I will share an updated inventory, but here’s the last one), I still have a relatively large wardrobe, so I have selected eight wears per year for most wardrobe categories. I would be quite happy if most of what I own gets worn at least that many times over the course of a twelve month period. There are a few categories for which I have chosen higher or lower wear frequencies, but I will delve into those discrepancies below.
Next, Look at Climate
After you’ve selected your desired frequency of wear (you can always change it later), the next thing to consider is the climate where you live:
Do you live in a four-season climate or a more temperate place?
This consideration helps you to see how much crossover there is with your wardrobe pieces. While some people can wear many of their wardrobe items year-round, others wear the bulk of their clothes for a few months at a time and then pack them away until the following year. If you live in a four-season climate, you’ll likely need more clothes and shoes, but you’ll also need to be careful not to have too much in any given category, as the window in which you’ll wear them may only be two or three months long.
As many of you know, I live in San Diego, California. Some of you may think it’s sunny and warm all year round here, but that’s definitely not the case, particularly in the coastal region where I reside. However, we do experience more warm weather here than in much of the rest of the United States and throughout the world. My optimistic estimate is that we have five months of warm weather here, which I will refer to as “summer.” The summer season duration varies year to year, but five months is a good guess. The rest of the year I have jokingly termed “not summer” because the temperature range is akin to what most people would consider spring or fall (autumn) weather. We don’t have winters here per se, although December through February tend to be somewhat cooler than the other “not summer” months.
Therefore, I feel that I can divide the year as follows:
- Summer: 5 months = 152 days
- “Not Summer” (Spring/Fall): 7 months = 213 days
These numbers are useful, but there are other factors which need to be discussed before more calculations are made.
On Lifestyle and Clothing Preferences
We also need to look at lifestyle considerations and clothing preferences, for which the following questions may come in handy:
- Do you work outside of the home? If so, what types of clothing do you wear for work?
- Do you go out much in the evenings or attend formal functions?
- Do you have hobbies and pursuits that require specific types of clothing and footwear?
- What do you like to wear on the weekends (or your days off) and/or at home?
- What types of clothes do you like to wear (e.g. dresses and skirts vs. pants, cardigans vs. jackets and coats)?
- How often do you get dressed in “regular clothes” vs. lounge wear?
Now this is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. When I did my “ideal wardrobe size” calculations back in 2014, I determined my wardrobe numbers based upon getting dressed in “out and about” clothes every day, but that’s simply not the case for my lifestyle. Sure, it could be, as many people wear “regular clothes” every single day even if they aren’t leaving the house. But that’s not what I personally do for a variety of reasons (comfort, health issues, personal preference) and that’s fine. There aren’t really any rights or wrongs here, but it’s important to know ourselves, our lives, and our clothing preferences so we can plan accordingly.
A useful exercise you can do to help you process the questions above is to create a pie chart of how you spend your time. You don’t need to be exact with the numbers; rough estimates will be good enough for this purpose. Look at how many days per week or month you’re engaged in certain activities, such as:
- Work (if you sometimes work in an office and sometimes at home, separate those out if you wear different clothes for each)
- Going out (especially if you wear different clothes than you wear to work; you may want to separate this into casual, semiformal, and formal subcategories if all such activities are included in your life)
- Home (if you wear different clothes at home vs. the above activities)
- Workouts (this can be broken down further for various types of workouts if you have varying clothing/shoe needs for each)
Your pie chart will give you a good idea of your clothing and footwear needs. You can then compare your wardrobe needs with what’s actually in your closet to see what is either over or under-represented there.
My Optimal Size Wardrobe
My lifestyle is fairly simple. Although this isn’t a hard and fast rule, I basically wear “out and about” clothes roughly half the time. The rest of my time is spent in lounge wear at home, but many of my tops are worn for both purposes, as well as for walks. As mentioned above, the summer season where I live lasts for about five months of the year and the rest of the time we have spring/fall weather (“not summer”).
My Summer Wardrobe
Since the summer is around 152 days long and I wear “out and about” clothes an estimated half of those days, that’s 76 days. During the summer, I dress exclusively in dresses and skirts and the proportion is about half and half, which amounts to 38 days each. On most days, I also wear a topper of some sort, either a cardigan or a jacket. Here’s what I would need in my summer wardrobe based upon eight wears per year:
- 5 Dresses
- 5 Skirts
- 5 Tops for Skirts (I wear different tops with my skirts and pants because I don’t tuck things in and am very particular with proportions)
- 10 Toppers (I generally wear different toppers with skirts and dresses as well, but I’m trying to become less rigid in this area)
- 10 Pairs of Shoes
However, since I prefer to have more variety in terms of tops, I’ve decided that I’m okay with wearing those pieces less often, so I selected five times per year for this exercise, which would give me eight summer tops. Additionally, I probably don’t need ten pairs of summer shoes, but I have included that number for now. Here’s what I would select for my summer wardrobe based upon what’s currently in my closet:
In total, there are 38 items in my summer out and about wardrobe. Here’s a closer look at the items in each category:
My Cool Weather (“Not Summer”) Wardrobe
The seven months of “not summer” weather in my area constitute approximately 213 days of the year. If I stick with my rough estimate of getting dressed in “out and about” clothes half of the time, I have 107 days to work with. I pretty much always wear pants and jeans when it’s colder out, although I would like to purchase some warmer dresses, skirts, and accompanying pieces so I can switch things up a bit. However, since I have yet to add such items to my wardrobe, we’ll stick with just pants for the sake of these calculations.
Assuming I wear a pair of pants, top, topper, and pair of shoes each of those 107 days, I would need 13 of each in order to wear everything 8 times. That number feels a bit high for shoes and pants given what I currently own and somewhat low for tops, so I have adjusted the targets for those categories according to what I feel will work best for my needs and preferences. As with my summer tops, I’m okay with wearing my cool weather tops just five times each per year. I also opted to include different sleeve lengths in the mix as well as varying types of toppers. Here’s what I came up with for my “not summer” wardrobe numbers:
- 11 pairs of pants (5 jeans, 6 non-jeans)
- 22 tops (13 long-sleeved, 6 short-sleeved, 3 sleeveless)
- 13 toppers (4 coats, 2 vests, 7 cardigans)
- 10 pairs of shoes
The total items in my ideal-sized cool weather wardrobe would be 56, and they are all shown below:
Here’s a look at the individual wardrobe categories:
My At-Home Wardrobe
Last but not least is my at-home wardrobe, which should probably be the largest capsule I own but isn’t. These are the items that I wear almost every single day when I’m at home. Even on the days when I go out and about and wear pieces from the capsules I covered above, I also typically spend some time at home in lounge-type wear. As I mentioned previously, there is some crossover among my capsules in that I often wear my “regular” tops at home, but I also have specific items that I only wear at home and for activities like going to the gym and on walks.
I don’t feel the need for as much variety with the clothes I wear at home, especially when it comes to my bottoms. A few pairs of yoga-style pants are really all I need. In addition, the only footwear I generally wear for lounging and exercise are slippers, flip-flops, and walking shoes. I’m comfortable with wearing my at-home items far more than eight times per year and many of them get worn 25 times or more, especially the pants. I could actually stand to have more at-home clothes than I currently own and I have been actively working to improve this wardrobe capsule for the past year-plus (but have been somewhat stymied by the poor quality of t-shirts out there, as I wrote about HERE and HERE).
For the sake of argument, let’s say that I wear my at-home items on 90% of the days, as there are some days when I only wear out and about pieces and pajamas (which are in another capsule that I’m not covering here). That works out to be 328 days when I make use of my at-home capsule. If my target number of wears for the pieces in this capsule is 15, I would ultimately need 22 tops, 22 bottoms, and 22 toppers. That number seems on target for tops but quite high for bottoms and toppers. For 25 wears, the number would go down to 13, which seems closer to the mark. However, I only have about half that number of toppers and about two-thirds that many pants at present. I’m okay with my current numbers, but am open to up-leveling some of the existing pieces, particularly the tees and pants. I will continue to focus on improving my at-home wardrobe in 2017.
Drawing Conclusions from the Numbers
I hope you found my personal wardrobe examples helpful, but of course your calculations will be quite different based upon your lifestyle and needs. If you opt to go through the exercise above and come up with your “ideal size” wardrobe, there’s a next step that’s important to take. You then need to compare the target numbers with your existing numbers. Only then will you be able to determine your over and under-represented categories. Once you learn that you have too many items in certain wardrobe categories and too few in others, you’ll be better able to plan your future shopping priorities. Since we’re nearing the end of the year, this is a good time to make such determinations and create a list of the purchases that will best serve you (but you can do this anytime!).
Below is what I came up with in terms of the categories in which I need to curtail my buying, those that should be focus areas, and those that are at a good level currently and will only need to be replaced as necessary.
- Sleeveless tops for pants – I prefer to wear short-sleeved or long-sleeved tops with pants, so I will be phasing out this wardrobe area. I may opt to shorten one or two of my existing tops to wear with skirts.
- Dresses – I have too many summer dresses for how often I wear them. If I buy any new dresses, they should be sleeved and/or heavier weight so that I can wear them during the cool weather season.
- Skirts – The same thing is true for my summer skirts as for the dresses. They are mostly lightweight, so their wearing season is relatively short.
- Summer shoes – I have plenty of sandals and should focus my shoe purchases on the “not summer” season.
- Long-sleeved “out and about” tops – Although I would like to add a few tunics to my wardrobe, I don’t need any additional long-sleeved tops that are similar to what I already have, especially if they’re not appropriate for wearing at home.
- Long cardigans – I have more than enough open cardigans, particularly those in solid colors.
- Black shoes – I have too many pairs of black shoes and don’t need any more!
- Shorter toppers for pants – I mostly wear long cardigans and coats with pants, but it would be nice to have a few hip-length jackets to give me some style variation.
- Workout/lounge pants – Most of the ones I have are pretty worn out, so it would be nice to get a few more.
- At-home short-sleeved tops – Many of the ones I have are not standing the test of time after only 15 or fewer wears. They need to be replaced with more durable styles like those mentioned in this post.
- Cool weather shoes – I could use a few more options here and to replace some of my “tired” pairs of boots and pumps.
- Non-black / non-denim bottoms – A few more colored pants or skirts would be a nice addition to my wardrobe and give me added versatility.
- Workout/lounge jackets – I definitely need a warmer jacket for my evening walks and I may want to replace one or two of my existing jackets as well. These pieces receive the most wear out of my entire wardrobe and are always “all-stars.”
- Pajama tops – I didn’t write about my sleepwear capsule, but I do need a few more tops. If I can find a set or two in a tall option, that would be wonderful, too!
On-target wardrobe categories:
- Tops for skirts – If I stick to my 5 wears per year number
- Toppers for skirts – Specifically cropped and tie cardigans
- Coats – Although two of my existing coats will need to be replaced relatively soon
- Jeans – However, I may want to buy one pair in a larger size to have on hand for water retention and weight fluctuations, as jeans are the wardrobe category impacted the most by those changes.
- Purses – I have enough variety here, as I like to switch out my bags every month or so.
- Jewelry – I didn’t cover accessories in this post, but I’m pretty satisfied with my current numbers there. I didn’t buy many new pieces this year and I plan to stick to that plan for 2017.
It was extremely helpful for me to do this exercise and I highly recommend that you give it a go as well, particularly if you’re curious about how many wardrobe pieces – and what types – you really need. We often tend to buy the types of items that are easiest for us to find, which is why I have so many tops. Many of us also have a tendency to purchase more pieces for our favorite season, hence my overabundance of summer dresses and skirts. Such practices can lead to a lopsided wardrobe and quite a few “benchwarmers.”
I now have my “marching orders” for 2017 and beyond. As I wrote about in my October wardrobe and shopping goals update, my plan for the New Year is to buy only one “out and about” item every other week, for a total of 27 pieces for the entire year. I’ve been gradually putting together a revised shopping list to aid in that effort. The “under-represented” areas above will be my top priority, but I’ll get more specific about the pieces I want to acquire so that my shopping is more targeted. I will refer to my shopping priorities list often and update it regularly, likely after each purchase.
I believe that as a result of my more targeted and less frequent shopping – and the exercise I did for this post, I will make better choices and continue to hone a workable wardrobe that I will love and wear. I hope that you will do the same! I wish you all the best in curating whatever a “normal-sized” wardrobe is for you and I hope that the thoughts I shared today will aid you in that effort. Feel free to share any questions, feedback, and insights you have with me and your fellow readers.
Thank you for reading! If you liked this post, please share it with your friends and subscribe for free updates by email.
I also invite you to join the End Closet Chaos private Facebook group, where you can interact with others about the topics discussed here.