The Wardrobe “Benchwarmer” Project

We all have favorite items in our wardrobes, things that we regularly reach for when getting dressed each day.  In contrast, there are other pieces that languish in our closets and rarely see the light of day.  Most people only wear 20% of their clothing on a regular basis, while the rest of what they own is merely taking up valuable closet space and leading to a false sense of having a large wardrobe.

It is one thing to think we aren’t wearing most of what we have, but it’s quite another situation to know this empirically.  The wardrobe tracking that I’ve done over the past two years has shown me the cold, hard truth of what I do and don’t wear.

Wardrobe “All-Stars” and “Benchwarmers”

I’d like to introduce two terms which I will use regularly in future posts:  “wardrobe all-stars” and “wardrobe benchwarmers.”   For my purposes (and you can, of course, create your own parameters), I have defined a “wardrobe all-star” as an item that gets worn eight or more times per year.  I know this is a fairly conservative distinction, and I would eventually like to be wearing my closet favorites far more often than that.  But for someone with a wardrobe of over 300 pieces, I think it’s a good place to start.

On the flip side, I have defined a “wardrobe benchwarmer” as something that was worn only once or not at all during a given year. Sadly, I had 146 “wardrobe benchwarmers” (125 garments and 21 pairs of shoes) in 2012, in contrast to only 39 “wardrobe all-stars” (26 garments and 13 pairs of shoes).  When I did the math (using my total of 325 garments and shoes), I came up with 12% all-stars and 45% benchwarmers!  The remaining 43% of my wardrobe items were worn 2-7 times during 2012.

The Benchwarmer Project

I don’t like those numbers at all (not to mention my financial numbers), so I’ve decided to do something about it!  Not only have I implemented purchase limits and spending rules to “stop the bleeding,” I am also starting what I’ve termed “The Benchwarmer Project.”  Over the course of 2013, I will wear and evaluate all 146 of my “wardrobe benchwarmers” to either turn them into “all-stars” or release them to a better home.

Now you may think that if I haven’t worn something in over a year (or only wore it once), it should definitely be discarded, and that is true for many people.  However, for those of us who shop all the time and have overstuffed closets, great pieces can sometimes get lost in the shuffle.  I have often found that if I push myself to wear something, I discover that I really do love it after all; I had just been focusing on buying what’s “new and better” instead of appreciating what I have.

Identifying and Evaluating the “Benchwarmers”

Enter “the Benchwarmer Project.”  Each month, I will focus on one area of my wardrobe and I will wear and evaluate each of the benchwarmers in that category.  I have identified the benchwarmers by clipping a small binder clip to the top of their hanger (see photo below… for shoes, I‘ll have to come up with an alternate identification process).

Wardrobe Tracking - Benchwarmers

Small binder clips mark my wardrobe “benchwarmers”

As I wear each piece, I will make a determination about its future in my closet.  With some items, I will happily discover that I actually love wearing them.  Those garments will remain in my wardrobe rotation and will hopefully start to receive more wear.  Other pieces can be upgraded through alterations or downgraded for at-home or workout wear.

If I wear something and find it uncomfortable, fussy, or just not “me,” I will add that item to my ongoing consign/donate bag.  Over time, in combination with my buying less and focusing more on “shopping my closet,” I will have a smaller and more functional wardrobe and a larger percentage of “wardrobe all-stars.”

The Benchwarmer Project by the Months

Here is how I have divided up my wardrobe so that I tackle at least one category each month.  If you choose to join me in this project, you can either follow a similar path or create categories that work better for you.  For example, if you have a lot of pants and jeans to evaluate, you can separate them into two categories instead of grouping them together in one month like I have done.

  • January:  Long-Sleeved Tops and Casual Jackets
  • February:  Pants, Jeans, and Coats
  • March:  Long Cardigans and Short-Sleeved Tops Part 1 (longer ones I wear with pants)
  • April:  Closed-Toe Shoes and Sleeveless Tops Part 1 (longer ones I wear with pants)
  • May:  Dresses and Purses
  • June:   Short-Sleeved Tops Part 2 (shorter ones I wear with skirts)
    – Also includes the 3 long-sleeved tops I wear with skirts
  • July:  Skirts
  • August:  Sleeveless Tops Part 2 (shorter ones I wear with skirts)
  • September:  Jackets and Blazers
  • October:  Open-Toe Shoes
  • November:  Scarves
  • December:  Whatever is Left Over (if anything)

At the end of each month, I will do an “accountability post,” in which I will discuss adherence to my 2013 rules (purchases, budget, etc.), as well as my benchwarmer project results.  I will outline the items I have chosen to release that month from both the monthly category and my wardrobe at large.  Stay tuned for the January accountability post next week.

Recovery Tip

Go into your closet and find all of the garments which have received little or no wear over the past year.  Either keep these pieces in a designated area of your closet or use binder clips, hang tags, or some other method to identify them.  Then push yourself to wear and evaluate each item!   If you have a lot of “benchwarmers,” you may find it helpful to divide them into categories as I have done.

If you have fluctuated in size recently, it may be helpful to try all of your “benchwarmers” on to make sure they still fit you.  That way, you can potentially cull some of your wardrobe right away.  If you still love certain pieces but they don’t fit you at your current size, either box them up to re-evaluate later or relocate them to another area of your house.

If you are especially ambitious or have a relatively small number of “benchwarmers,” you may decide to address them right away. Ideally, you should try each “benchwarmer” on and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I love it?  (Rate each item on scale of 1-10; if less than 8, alter or donate! I will provide tips on alterations in future posts…)
  • Does it fit?  (If it’s too tight, either donate or store elsewhere if you think it might fit again soon.  If too loose, consider alterations if you still love the item)
  • Is it flattering?  (Does it highlight the parts of your body you love and downplay any areas you might not love as much?)
  • Is the color good for my skin tone?
  • Is it age-appropriate?
  • Is it my style?  (If you’re not sure of your style, tear photos out of catalogs and magazines of things you love.  Compare to what is in your closet.)
  • Does it fit my lifestyle?  (We often buy things for “someone else’s life.” Your wardrobe should be appropriate for who you are and what you do.)
  • Have I worn it in the past year?  (In most cases, barring formal wear and a few sentimental pieces, items not worn in over a year should go!)
  • Do I feel good when I wear it?  (You want to feel attractive and confident in your clothes and ready to take on life’s important events and challenges!)
  • Do I receive compliments when I wear it?
  • Would I buy this item today?  (Ideally, your answer should be yes!  Wardrobe mistakes and outdated pieces should be passed on.)

2 thoughts on “The Wardrobe “Benchwarmer” Project

  1. Wow, Debbie! This is an amazing process! You are very organized and have great tips. I like that and can identify with it. I have had to “cull” my wardrobe in the past 8 months as I have been losing weight (60 pounds!) But I know I still have many items I don’t wear. I like the way you named them benchwarmers! Keep the good info coming!

    • Paula, I’m so happy that my tips are helpful to you! HUGE congrats on your amazing weight loss! How very exciting for you and a tremendous accomplishment. I will continue to write tips on managing your wardrobe on this blog. I need to follow my own advice better, but that’s what “Recovering Shopaholic” is all about… Thanks for reading!

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