You Don’t Need a Large Wardrobe to be Stylish

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a large wardrobe.   I’ve always adhered to the “more is better” philosophy when it comes to my clothes.  Much of my over-shopping in my adult life can be attributed to my wanting to dress well, as I thought a full closet was part and parcel of being stylish.

Whenever I felt less than chic, I assumed a shopping trip was in order to add new fabulous and trendy pieces to my wardrobe.   This regular practice has led me to where I am today, with a packed closet of over 300 pieces, most of which have been purchased during the last three years.  While I have been diligent at doing regular closet audits, my continuous shopping has generally replaced all of my discarded items – and then some!

Full closet not always stylish

A large wardrobe does not automatically make you stylish!

I should feel incredibly stylish and impeccably dressed at this point, but I mostly just feel overwhelmed, ashamed, and frustrated.  I realize now how wrong I’ve been in my behavior.  And if I look back, I also see strong clues which I failed to heed along the way.

Remembering a Stylish Co-Worker…

In my mid-thirties, I worked as a program manager at a high-tech company in the Silicon Valley.  Most of my co-workers dressed in the ultra-casual clothing common to that industry and location, but there was one woman who strongly deviated from that norm.  She always looked chic, sophisticated, and stylish.  Her classic wardrobe included a lot of black and white and everything looked expensive, well-tailored, and fit and flattered her shape perfectly.

Over time, I developed a friendship with this woman and was eventually invited to her home.  My intense curiosity led to my request to see her closet, and I expected to see an immense walk-in filled to the brim with designer pieces.  I definitely believed my friend would have more clothes than I did, but I was wrong…  When she opened the door to her closet, I saw a wardrobe that was maybe a quarter the size of mine.  The hangers had space between them unlike in my jam-packed closet.

Two Closets:  Large and Haphazard vs. Small and Curated

My friend had fewer clothes than I did, yet she was much more well-dressed than I was.  At the time, I dressed in a haphazard and quirky manner without a defined point of view.  I wore whatever styles caught my eye, bought clothing piecemeal, and always shopped the sale racks for good deals.  In contrast, my friend had a carefully curated wardrobe filled with quality items.  While I don’t know for sure, I suspect that she shopped with a list and primarily purchased full-priced garments.  She made more money than I did, but my guess is that we spent roughly the same overall amount for our clothes and shoes.  The difference is that she shopped smarter, bought less, and used logic instead of emotions in making her purchasing decisions.

Over the years, I have met other such women.  I’ve always marveled at their style and have been surprised when I saw their smaller yet more stylish closets.  Yet I still didn’t apply what I saw to my own life. I persisted in buying too much, getting a bargain, and amassing a large wardrobe.  I continually let my emotions run the show while my brain didn’t apply the lessons I learned from my stylish cohorts.

“What Not to Wear” and the “Enough” Wardrobe

Shortly after my recent closet inventory and the surprisingly high overall number, I found myself watching an episode of “What Not to Wear.”  I decided to count the number of items purchased with the $5000 awarded to the makeover subject.  I paused the recording during the “What She Got” segment and counted 48 total pieces, including shoes and bags.  That’s only about one-seventh the size of my wardrobe, yet I was impressed by both the style and versatility of the woman’s resulting outfits.  What’s more, it seemed to be enough.

Massive Overhaul or “Shop My Closet”?

Sometimes I am tempted to do a massive overhaul of my closet and get rid of one-half to three-quarters of what I own.   While that would alleviate the sinking and overwhelmed feeling I get when I open my closet door each day, I don’t think it’s the best answer for me at this time.  After all, most of my clothes are close to new and in excellent condition.

I feel my best approach is to shop my closet instead of the mall for a while, use what I have, and learn more about myself and my ideal style.  Along the way, I will purge the pieces I don’t love and will eventually develop a more curated wardrobe.   The fact that I’m limiting what I buy to only one item of clothing and one accessory per month this year will definitely help, as I’ll be getting rid of more than I bring in.

A New Wardrobe Goal for 2013

As I was writing this article, I created a new goal for myself for 2013.   When I did my closet inventory last month, I had a total of 384 items, including clothes, shoes, purses, and scarves.  My goal is to pare my wardrobe down to 250 items by the end of the year.   That would represent a 35% reduction in my wardrobe size and would definitely be a great start!    Whatever I don’t love will be passed on to a new home (after all, one person’s trash is another’s treasure!).

Over time, I hope to reduce my wardrobe to 200 pieces and possibly even fewer than 150, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.  I would be incredibly proud of myself if I meet “the 250 goal” this year, as that would mean less closet overwhelm, fewer mediocre items taking up space in my wardrobe, and increased wear for what I have.  Win, win, win, in my book!

12 thoughts on “You Don’t Need a Large Wardrobe to be Stylish

  1. I am impressed by what looks like a super-neat closet! But seeing your closet made me realize that MY closet contains things I do not wear! I have a craft cabinet, artwork, photos, books and travel memorabilia. Is that typical?

  2. Lil,

    Thanks for your compliment on my closet! I work hard to keep it neat, which is my only saving grace with such a full closet. Otherwise I could never find anything in there!

    I do think a lot of people have cabinets, drawers, or closets for various purposes, but others just pack everything in one place and don’t know what they have. At least you sound organized. I think it’s a good idea to go through everything on a yearly basis so you know what’s there and can weed out things you no longer want or need. Even 15 minutes each week can make a big difference.

    As for your clothes, using the “hanger trick” (turn hangers the “wrong” way and after you wear things, turn them back the “right” way) can be very helpful so you see what you are and aren’t wearing. I started that a few years ago even before tracking how often I wear things. It’s a good first step and isn’t that hard to do. I challenge myself to wear everything and make a decision about each piece as I wear it. If I don’t love something, I try to donate or consign it (or do an alteration if that will help) so it doesn’t take up valuable closet space.

    It’s a process, but blogging about my journey is helping. I’m glad that my posts are helpful to others, too. Thanks for reading and commenting! – Debbie

  3. Loved your blog. After years of accumulating clothes and consignment shopping my new hobby is pruning my wardrobe with the goal of having only items that I love to wear, that fit me well and that are comfortable. I am nearing retirement and don’t want to have to spend my time taking care of a large wardrobe. I have always loved clothes but now I am much more selective. I am doing the same with my jewelry. I always enjoy refreshing and upgrading but now I get as much pleasure out of getting rid of things. Thank goodness for consignment shops – for both discards and fun purchases.

    • Thanks so much for your comment! It sounds like we are very much on the same page in terms of our wardrobes. Although I am not yet nearing retirement, I share your desire to prune my wardrobe down to only those items I love to wear (and which fit well and are comfortable). Like you, I also enjoy getting rid of things, especially those items which were causing guilty feelings because I spent money on them and wasn’t wearing them. Far better to cut my losses and move on!

      Consignment shops can be both a blessing and a curse. I love the treasure hunt aspect of them, but a lot of my misguided purchases have come from consignment stores. I plan to write a blog post about that soon… I will continue to shop at such stores, but I will shop much smarter and armed with a list moving forward.

      I appreciate your reading my blog and taking the time to comment. I wish you the best with your wardrobe pruning project! Please write again and let me know how you’re doing. Take care, Debbie

  4. Hello Helpful Blogger,
    I don’t know where to begin. It’s like me trying to explain my three full closets, six drawers of varying sizes, and possibly a half dozen bins filled with Winter and Summer clothes that I save for different reasons. This does not count my athletic shoes, boots for various weather, sandals, regular street shoes and slippers. I also have comments to make such as I have nothing against second hand shops, garage sales or marked down items. I do not spend a lot of money on my clothes now. I go through my clothes regularly purging for donation to charities or to even my two daughters. I go between two sizes depending on ten pounds I lose or gain regularly. This in itself is probably one of my initial problems. Also, I am retired now and do not own “work” clothes per se. I am almost all casual except for a minimal amount of dressy things.

    One of my daughters had an ah ha moment the other day. I told her I had a teeny, tiny closet as a school age girl and that I only had a few things in it. She and I together think I hold on to things for too long because I remember when I had barely a wardrobe.

    I just want to tell you that I am getting inspiration from your blog. This is the first time I found you and I’ve been reading as much as I can for today. Please keep up the good work. Sincerely, Sheryl from Northern CA

    • Sheryl, Thanks so much for commenting. I’m so glad that my posts have been inspiring for you! It definitely sounds as if we have had similar experiences. Like you, I think that a lot of my over-shopping is related to not being able to buy much when I was growing up. I felt as if couldn’t measure up to my classmates in terms of being fashionable and stylish. Of course, there are other reasons for my over-shopping as well (I will be posting on that very shortly). Weight changes (and body image issues) also contributed to my shopping too much, so I can relate to you there. I’m glad to have you as a reader. Please comment again and let me know how you’re doing.

  5. I’m fascinated by your blog! Thank you for sharing inside your closet. I agree with so much you say; you feel like a friend! I’m the opposite: sort of a clothesorexic, and I am mending my ways by mindfully adding pieces here & there. It strikes me that too many pieces and too few leave one in almost the same place — unable to effortlessly and unselfconsciously dress & go participate in a variety of life’s activities. I track my wardrobe with an app called Style Book.

    Looking forward to reading more here. Thanks again! lcs

    • LCS, Welcome and thanks for your comment! I’m glad that I feel like a friend through my posts. I do my best to be open and honest and write in a conversational manner. I’m glad you can relate to me even though you are on the other end of the spectrum (I like the term “clothesorexic” – quite descriptive). I agree that too many clothes and too few clothes can lead to similar problems. There is a “happy medium” and it’s’ not the same for everyone. Project 333 is teaching me a lot, but ideally I’d like to have more than 33 items in my wardrobe rotation. But perhaps 33 is better than 300!

      I would love to use Style Book, as I’ve heard great things, but I am on Android. Perhaps they will release an Android version sometime soon…

  6. I strive to be that stylish co-worker of yours! Unfortunately, I have done the wardrobe overhaul twice over to achieve that small, well curated wardrobe and I’m still not 100% happy with what I have. The idealism is my problem so the perfect wardrobe is simply unattainable. Perhaps that’s just an excuse to continue my shopping addiction. I took a photo of my wardrobe last year and realized there was less than 10 items that I’ve kept. The amount I have is the same as the photo, which means I have sold and given away 90% of my wardrobe and everything that is now in there is less than a year old. This is coming from someone who’s long admitted to having a shopping problem, tried the various ways of combating it and always ends up back to square one. Thanks for letting me use your comment section as a platform for confession!

    • Wendy, I welcome all of your comments and identify with much of what you wrote here. I think perfectionism is a big part of why I continue to shop, but my compulsive shopping has many layers (as I’m sure yours does, too). I lamented my lack of “10”s in a recent post and many readers commented that I’m setting my standards too high. I agree, and my new goal is “8”s and above.

      There are no easy answers. Having a wardrobe like my previous co-worker still feels a long way off for me, but I have to believe it’s possible. Being able to open up about the issues and struggles helps. I encourage you to comment as often as you want! I’m happy you feel safe to use my comments section as a confessional. Use away!

  7. I am fascinated with the ‘parisian wardrobe.’ I always read how these women have a very small closet, and a wardrobe filled with high quality items. Unfortunately, I’ve jumped the shark with that, and started purchasing higher quality items, but never working on reducing the size of my wardrobe. It is difficult to get rid of expensive clothes, consignment or otherwise, because when one opens the cupboards you see a lot of money hanging in front of you, going unused.

    • I feel much the same way as you, Lisa. For those of us with large wardrobes, it may take a while to cultivate a smaller, Parisian style wardrobe. Perhaps you could consign (or re-consign) some of those expensive clothes or push yourself to wear them. I always try to challenge myself to wear these types of things to see if I still like them. I know it’s hard when we’ve spent a lot of money on things that we don’t wear, but keeping them in the closet won’t bring our money back. It just reminds us of our mistakes! Far better to pass them on to someone else who can use them, whether it’s someone we know, a needy person, or someone who can purchase these items via consignment, Ebay, or the like.

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