I’m currently going through a period of transition in my life. My wardrobe consulting business is winding down and I’m not sure what’s next in terms of my career. I’m also working to cultivate new hobbies and interests, which I hope will also lead to new connections and friendships. At present, I don’t go out much and when I do, my outings are mostly quite casual in nature. The majority of my time is spent at home with my husband and two cats, and I spend many of my days in workout clothes and lounge wear.
Transition and Our Wardrobes
While all of this transition has been going on, I’ve also been working on paring down my oversize wardrobe to a more manageable level. However, as I’m not sure what’s next for me in my life and what clothing I’ll need for my personal and professional activities, it’s been difficult to decide what to keep and what to purge from my closet. Since I know many of you have experienced or are currently going through similar challenges, I decided to address the issue of dressing and shopping for a life in flux.
Perhaps your transitions are different from mine. Maybe you recently retired or have re-entered the work force after years of raising a family. Or perhaps you’re moving from one career to another or are starting to date again after a recent divorce or break-up. All of these changes can leave one feeling perplexed about closet and shopping needs. I don’t have all of the answers, but hopefully I’ll be able to offer some helpful suggestions for you during your time of transition. As always, I welcome your feedback and suggestions. I’m sure many of you have “been there, done that” and can add a lot of value to the conversation!
When You Know What You’re Transitioning Into
When we’re in transition and know what we’re moving towards, it’s easier to know how to dress and shop. For example, if you are returning to a career in finance or law after a hiatus, you know you’ll likely be wearing suits and other formal business attire to work. Or if you’re going back into the dating world, you’ll need a few dresses or some polished pants outfits for nights out on the town.
Even if you’re reasonably sure of the types of clothing you need, I caution you not to buy too many new things before you actually start your new job or begin going on dates. Compile a few “go-to outfits” for interviews or dates and then see how things go. You may find, for example, that you’d rather not dress so fancy during first dates or that suits aren’t really required for your interviews. If so, you’ll be glad you didn’t spring for a whole new wardrobe that won’t end up meeting your needs.
Start in Your Closet
I recommend that you always start in your closet. Many times we think we need to go out and buy a lot of new clothes when in fact we have most of the necessary “building blocks” within our own closets. That’s what frustrates me so much about television shows like “What Not to Wear.” The show hosts always throw away everything in the makeover subject’s wardrobe, when the person likely had some good pieces that could have been retained and later mixed in with her new purchases.
Whenever I did a “closet audit” with a wardrobe styling client, she was often pleasantly surprised by how much was kept (the final decision was always hers) and how few items were placed on her shopping list. Many times, the client only needed a few new pieces (often accessories) to enhance her wardrobe to better meet her lifestyle needs.
During the closet audit, I’d also help the client to combine her current garments into new looks to either dress things up or down as needed. For example, if a woman left a corporate job where suits were required, those suits could be broken up. The suit jacket and skirt/pants could then be combined with more casual pieces to create business casual outfits to meet the client’s new needs as an entrepreneur or working in a more dressed down office setting.
When You Don’t Know What You’re Transitioning Into
The more difficult transition situation is when the person doesn’t know what he or she is moving towards. That is my situation at present. I am no longer meeting with clients or attending networking meetings and I’m not sure if I will be doing such activities again in the near future – or ever. I have no idea what types of professional (or for that matter, personal) activities I’ll be doing even a few months from now. That makes it much more difficult to manage my existing wardrobe or shop for any new pieces.
Transition or no transition, I’m committed to reaching my goal of having a smaller, more manageable wardrobe filled only with things I love and wear, so I continue to audit my closet on a regular basis. As I’ve been paring down my closet, here are the criteria I’ve been using to determine what should stay and what should go. It’s still a work in progress, of course, but it’s going well so far.
- The Love Factor – As I go through my clothes, I ask myself if I love each item in question. I rate each garment on a scale of 1-10 in terms of fit, style, color, and comfort. Ideally, anything that’s rated under an “8” is slated for donation or consignment. I may keep some wardrobe staples until replacements are found (pants come to mind here…), but ideally only “8”s or above get to stay in my closet.
- The Need Factor – Does the item in question meet a current lifestyle need? Do I see myself wearing it within the next few weeks to an actual activity in my life? While I’m maintaining a very small capsule for potential business needs (e.g. interviews, networking, speaking), the majority of my more formal pieces have been passed on. I don’t see a real prospective need for such garments, so I’ve let them go.
- Review the Current Season – Since it’s summer in my part of the world, my primary focus has been on garments I will wear for that season. While I regularly review my entire wardrobe for the “love factor” (my standards keep increasing, so I like to review my clothes fairly often), the “need factor” for fall/winter remains up in the air. I’m keeping everything I love for the time being and will re-evaluate what I need next season when that time approaches.
How to Shop When You Are in Transition
In regards to shopping, we should proceed very carefully when we aren’t sure what’s next for our lives. The way I’m approaching shopping now is to only buy items that I’ve determined will fill a current need or which will replace existing pieces that have worn out or need to be upgraded. If I don’t think I’ll wear a prospective new piece within the next week or two, I won’t buy it! That’s part of my reason for skipping the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. I have no idea what I will need or want to wear when fall weather arrives a few months from now.
I maintain a shopping list for items I need, and I edit this list frequently. Since I’m still focused on decreasing the size of my wardrobe, I aim to buy very few new pieces that are high quality and which I can’t wait to wear. For example, I bought a new Brighton handbag (one of my favorite brands) in June and have been carrying it daily since that time. I’ve also purchased some upgraded loungewear and a casual jacket for my regular evening walks. I know these new items will receive a lot of wear over the coming months, so they were good purchases. They meet my current lifestyle needs and will ultimately have a low cost-per-wear.
The Bottom Line
While this post has been about dressing and shopping during times of flux, the basic principles apply to everyone. We should only buy – and keep – what we love and what works for our current bodies and lifestyles. With very few exceptions, we should not buy or keep things for “just in case” scenarios. If we don’t have an actual event to which we will wear an item in question, it should remain in the store instead of coming home with us. We shouldn’t buy something just because it’s “in” or because a salesperson told us it looked great on us.
If we shop for defined lifestyle needs and stay true to our personal style aesthetic, we’re much less likely to end up with “wardrobe benchwarmers.” And if we only keep clothing and accessories we actually wear, instead of being afraid to purge things because we might need them someday, our closets will be smaller and we’ll be happier. This advice applies not only during times of transition, but all the time!