Success Leaves Clues – Lessons from Our Favorites

Last week, I explored the concept of shopping mistakes and what we can learn from them.  Today I’d like to look at another valuable way of learning about our wardrobes and ourselves.

We all have favorite clothes and shoes that we wear over and over again, but how many of us take the time to understand why these closet pieces receive so much play?  I believe that if we make the effort to determine common threads among our favorites, we’ll learn important lessons for how to shop smarter and create wardrobes that better meet our needs.

Lessons from wardrobe favorites

What can we learn from our wardrobe favorites?

A Simple but Powerful Exercise

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, summer has either just ended or is on its last legs, while our friends “down under” have just closed the door on winter.  The end of a season is the perfect time to evaluate our wardrobes.  Here’s a simple exercise that will take just a few moments to do but can provide a lot of value:

  • Go to your closet and look at all of your clothes and shoes from the past season.
  • Ask yourself which pieces you wore most often.
  • Look at each wardrobe category (tops, bottoms, shoes, jackets, etc.) and select your “most valuable players.”
  • Write down or take photos of the 10-20 items that you wore regularly and loved wearing.
  • Look for common themes among those pieces and jot those down as well.   Consider styles, colors, prints, fabrics, and other key features of your wardrobe favorites.

My Summer 2013 “Most Valuable Players” (MVPs)

Since examples are always helpful with exercises like this one, let’s take a look at my favorite pieces from summer 2013.  While we still have some warm weather ahead of us in Southern California, I’ll be gradually transitioning into fall clothing during October and November. Since I track everything I wear, I have a keen sense of what I wore most often these past few months.

I selected the 14 garments and 4 pairs of shoes I wore most often – and enjoyed wearing – during this past summer.  Here’s a photo of my “Summer MVP” items (click on the image for a larger view):

Summer 2013 wardrobe favorites

My favorite clothes and shoes from summer 2013.

Common Themes Among My Favorites

What are some common themes among these pieces?  Here are the top ten common threads that came to mind:

  1. Skirts and dresses – I definitely prefer wearing skirts and dresses over pants when it’s warm outside.  In fact, I prefer skirts and dresses over pants in general and will aim to incorporate them more in my cooler weather wardrobe this fall and winter.
  2. Black – Black is the key neutral in my wardrobe.  Although I also enjoy wearing grey and navy, black is the neutral color I wear most often.  I enjoy the versatility of black and feel it works well with my coloring and the style aesthetic I wish to convey.
  3. Cotton and Jersey – Comfort is key for me in terms of my clothing, and cotton and jersey are both very comfortable fabrics that work well for my casual lifestyle.   I enjoy wearing natural fibers and am focusing future buying away from synthetics as much as possible.
  4. Jewel Tones – I’m a big fan of saturated colors like the burgundy, red, green, and orange tones you see in my summer “MVP” items. I also enjoy wearing cobalt blue, turquoise, teal, purple, and fuchsia tones.
  5. Leopard Print – Leopard print is a “pseudo-neutral” that is pretty much always in style and works well with most colors.  I enjoy wearing the traditional leopard print that is comprised of black, brown, and tan, as well as the more grayscale leopard print that is evident in my cardigan.  I find that my leopard print items get worn often and look especially nice with my red, orange, and burgundy pieces.
  6. Dot Prints – Two of my “MVP” skirts include dot-style prints; one has a polka dot print and the other has more of an abstract circular pattern.  Both are neutral tones and work well with other neutrals as well as the jewel-toned solid tops I love to wear.
  7. Knit Blazers – I like the polished look of a blazer but dislike the stiff feel inherent in many such pieces. That’s why knit blazers work so well for me!  They look structured but are very comfortable to wear.  Even my denim jacket is more of a blazer style rather than the traditional boxier cut of most such pieces.  I’ve long tried to find a traditional denim jacket that would work for me, but I find that fitted and structured cuts are more flattering on my figure.
  8. Fitted Tops, Looser Bottoms – I have a slim torso and enjoy showing it off, so I prefer more fitted tops, jackets, and cardigans.  In contrast, my lower half is not as slim and is where I tend to store any excess pounds I carry.  Thus, I prefer to wear looser silhouettes on the bottom.  The current styles in the stores are much the opposite, so I’ve had trouble finding new pants and skirts that work for me.  Fortunately, I have a number of slightly flared skirts and dresses in my wardrobe, so that’s what I’ve been wearing all summer long.
  9. Metallic Sandals – I love wearing metallic shoes, as they coordinate well with basically everything I wear.  My favorite metallic tones are silver and pewter and I own several pairs of shoes in each shade.  I love and wear all of my metallic shoes year-round, but my sandals are what I reach for over and over during the summer months.
  10. Wedge Heels – I have “fussy feet” and need a stable heel that I can easily walk in.  Wedge heels in a moderate height of 2-3 inches work best for me and are what get the most wear with my skirts and dresses. All four of my “MVP” shoes have wedge heels in the mid-height range and all were worn frequently this past summer.

Some Other Interesting Facts about My MVP Items

As I looked at my summer wardrobe workhorses, I noticed a few other interesting facts about them:

  • Of the 14 garments shown, 11 were included in my April through June Project 333 wardrobe capsule (that’s 79%!). While I may have gotten tired of wearing some of my Project 333 pieces, I continued to love and wear 11 of them during this past summer.
  • Only one of my summer MVP items (the metallic Raffini sandals) was purchased within the past year.  The other 17 items are at least a year old and more than half have been in my closet for three or more years!   That’s saying a lot for someone who shops as much as I do!

I believe some of the new pieces I purchased during August will end up becoming wardrobe workhorses as well.  However, they just haven’t been around long enough for me to make a definitive conclusion.  I feel I finally understand what types of clothing and shoes work best for my lifestyle and I’m getting better at buying pieces I will actually love and wear.  Doing Project 333 and tracking what I’ve worn in the following months has definitely helped to increase my awareness, and my greater awareness has led to better decisions.

Some Conclusions

Even though I do more wardrobe tracking than most people, it was still helpful for me to identify and analyze my summer wardrobe favorites.   Seeing these pieces all together and highlighting the common themes among them really helped me understand what I actually enjoy wearing.  I highly recommend you take the time to do this short but powerful exercise and make some notes about what you learn.

I plan to revisit the exercise for my other seasonal wardrobes.  We really only get three seasons at most where I live:  summer, fall/spring (similar temperatures), and “sort-of winter.”   Since we’ll be moving into fall/spring weather within the next month or so, I’ll likely identify favorites for that season toward the end of the year.  I expect to learn even more useful information and will be sure to share my findings with you!

For those who opt to do the exercise, I hope you find it helpful.  I’d love to read about what you learn through identifying your seasonal wardrobe favorites.  Please feel free to share your findings in the comments section to help us all learn more, too.

22 thoughts on “Success Leaves Clues – Lessons from Our Favorites

  1. I have been taking a quick picture of my outfits to both see what kinds of items I’m wearing and to get a better idea of how it looks on me- helpful when closet editing. Out of all of my spring and summer outfits I came up with 19 favorite outfits. Two were dresses, one black and one red and white. The rest I wore denim, black, or white bottoms-mostly capri pants, some skinny jeans or shorts. All of my tops were either a peasant shirt or a tunic. The interesting thing is almost all of them were prints. I think I only had two solid color shirts included. I had five different navy print tops out of the 17 outfits, as well as several black and white. I have been buying more neutral colors, so I think I’m buying what I’m wearing and liking best. I carry my extra weight in my stomach so I wear loose tops and tighter pants. I used to think it was bad that I bought so many of one style of shirt, but it’s what I feel most comfortable in and I rarely wear a different style. It is good information to have moving forward.

    • I agree that taking photos can be very helpful! I have been doing that on and off for years and like the old saying goes, “A picture speaks a thousand words.” Having 19 favorite spring/summer outfits is pretty good, Tonya. It sounds like you’re learning a lot about what you do and don’t like. There’s nothing wrong with buying the same type of top over and over again if that’s what you love to wear and feel good in. I do the same thing. It’s when I deviate from what I love that I run into trouble!

  2. You do seem to have a basic capsule wardrobe with your favourite items. When I did this as I put my summer things away I noticed that I had plenty of tops but only one pair of pants. I did actually buy a skirt this year which I wore a few times when the weather was warmer but basically I lived in the same pair of linen wide-legs. The weather here in the UK is rarely warm enough for me to abandon my socks. Unfortunately as you say the shops are full of skinnies at the moment – not a good look if you have heavy thighs. You would think this would make it easier not to shop but actually I think it makes it harder because you need to look at so many more things to find anything remotely suitable. This is when you go out to buy pants, can’t find any you like and so come back with a jacket or a couple of tops which you didn’t really need. I do think we are drawn to those things which are easy to buy because we know they will fit.
    At least the tops get worn. Now if only fashion would give us a few wide-legged pants I would be happy. Like you I think I need to focus on skirts and dresses more. Actually, with tights and boots a skirt can actually be warmer than pants in cold weather.

    • I do the same thing as you when I shop, Marion. I often go out looking for bottoms and come home with a few tops instead. I now realize I need to stop that because I have too many tops. I vow to be patient when shopping for pants (and to a lesser degree, skirts) and be willing to leave the mall empty-handed. In the long run, I’ll be better off. Hopefully, we’ll see some variety in pants offerings this fall. Fingers crossed…

  3. This post comes at just the right moment. This weekend I will remove those items from my closet that were on hold from my major closet revamp last year. Therefore, I have been mentally going through an edit. I don’t think I wore any of those items once. (I tried your hanger trick, but didn’t follow through.) My MVPs are easily identified. Simple lines, classic tailoring, very few prints (I have three (!!!) prints in my closet), and items that can be worn most of the year. I could not do without my cardigans, be they linen or wool or my scarves. And I wish I liked leopard print on me.

    • Good to see you here again, Cornelia! I’m glad this post was timely for you and I wish you the best of luck with your closet edit over the weekend. It sounds like you’re getting a good handle on what you like and don’t like. Some people love prints and others don’t. I think it’s great that you can wear most of your clothes year-round. Sounds like a very versatile wardrobe!

  4. I have just started to switch out my clothes as the weather cools. My summer wardrobe consists of things that fit me now, as I have inexplicably gained 9 lbs this year, which means at least one size bigger. (I continue to exercise and use portion control, the dr is stymied and so am I. I am accepting my new slightly larger self and concentrating on continuing healthy habits despite the lack of good result).
    The summer clothes that no longer fit have been consigned. I am in the process of trying on each item of winter clothes to weed out what no longer fits. I have a big pile on the guest bed of too small garments to consign. I have about 2 dozen knit tops left to try on. My closet, as a result of this unavoidable purging, is roomy! All my clothes fit easily into one closet, and I don’t feel as if I don’t have enough to wear.
    I have learned that :
    1. I have more dress clothes than I need, as I rarely go anywhere that warrants the clothes I have collected. This includes too many dress shoes. That reflects a change in living style (divorce) so I just need to avoid buying any more dressy clothes.
    2.I am trying to wear safer shoes to avoid accidents–I hear about terrible falls friends have taken this summer and their lives have been turned upside down. No more backless shoes (slides) and even very covered sandals are iffy. All shoes with heels are going out the door, Since I slip my shoes off while I work at the computer, tie shoes don’t work. I have rediscovered “deck” shoes this summer and have worn them sockless instead of sandals.
    3. Since I wash my clothes as needed, I don’t need many duplicates once I figure out my current size.
    4. I hate the white wire closet organizers and I will pay someone to replace them with a wooden pole so I can slide clothes around. I am partially disabled and trying to hook or unhook hangers from the compartments is very difficult on the bottom of the double rod side.
    5. My neutral is black and my other colors are white, reds and pinks, blues and purples, gray. My wardrobe isn’t exciting or fashionable, all I ask of it is that it fit and be comfortable.

    • Sounds like you’re doing very well with editing your wardrobe and cultivating a wardrobe that works for you, Sandra. I commend you for accepting your weight gain and focusing on healthy habits and dressing for the body you have now. It seems like you’re learning a lot about what works best for you and managing your wardrobe accordingly. I wish you continued learning and progress!

  5. I haven’t finished this exercise because I got a bit side-tracked with one of my discoveries. Like you mention in #8, I would have told you I preferred closer fitting tops and looser bottoms for the same reason as you. However, I’d apparently be wrong. Since I haven’t tracked how many times I’ve worn each item, I just pulled the clothing items I consider my go-to items for work because I always feel great and put-together in them. There wasn’t a wide-leg trouser (or any trouser-style pant for that matter) or skirt/dress in the batch. Nor was there a figure-hugging top in the mix. What was there…slim side zip ankle pants from JJill and Ann Taylor, slim cropped pants from JJill and Banana Republic, slim bootcut jeans from Garnet Hill and Boston Proper. All the bottoms were figure-skimming, not tight. My tops, on the other hand were looser but shaped, either through darts/seaming or worn only with a slim cami underneath so I can “shape” them by only buttoning the middle two buttons. I’ve basically created a uniform without really thinking about it. Hmm. I tried on a couple wider leg trousers I always thought were my favorites and some figure hugging tops. I felt and looked way out of proportion…hips/legs looked way too wide compared to my top half. Then I put on my “uniform”. Top and bottom were suddenly well proportioned and I looked slimmer all over. My thighs and hips didn’t bother me a bit. Go figure. Might be worth a try for you to see if reversing your fit preferences makes you look and feel more proportionate and slimmer overall. Just snap a couple pictures in the dressing room and compare to pictures of you in your regular clothes. I’m so excited to have finally figured this out for my own wardrobe. Back to see what else I can learn from my favorites!

    • Thanks for sharing your insights, Carter. It seems as if your style preferences are evolving and that’s a great thing. I’ve noticed the same with me in that I now prefer slimmer pants silhouettes, too. Not necessarily “skinny” but slimmer. I’m going to shop for pants again soon (deep breath…) and will aim to keep an open mind and try lots of styles on, even those I think will look hideous on me. You never know what might work best, as you’ve learned. If you learn more valuable insights, please share them with us!

  6. It’s neat that your MVPs could actually be a capsule wardrobe all by themselves! It’s hard for me to remember but I don’t think mine were that well distributed across categories, probably because I wear the same 2 pairs of jeans most of the time. Aside from that, you and I have a lot in common wardrobe-wise. Love the leopard, burgundy is totally my color, I have multiple pairs of metallic shoes (pewter and silver, of course) and I, too, have made numerous attempts at incorporating denim jackets into my wardrobe and finally found a more fitted, somewhat blazery one that I really like.

    • I agree that it’s pretty cool that my MVPs resemble a workable capsule wardrobe, Renee. Funny how it works out sometimes, but that shows me I’m learning and doing better with my wardrobe. Even though I’ve continued to shop, I’ve been shopping less and thinking and reflecting more. That’s all helped my wardrobe overall. From what I’ve heard, there is lots of burgundy in the stores now, so you and I will luck out if we shop. Sounds like you have some excellent taste in clothes 🙂

  7. MVP notes:

    1. Color is key.
    2. Fabric matters.
    3. It’s all about quality.
    4. Black is still my favorite neutral.
    5. Navy is second.
    6. Scarves, cardigans, and sterling jewelry add interest.
    7. Anything yellow is gone!

    • Excellent points, Elizabeth! Your first three notes apply to everyone. Color, fabric, and quality are very important to all of us. I’m in full agreement with your other notes, too (but I may put grey above navy as my second favorite neutral – it’s a close call…). Yellow looks great on lots of people, but not so much on me!

  8. I’ve decided to begin another cycle of Project 333 in October and I’m having a tough time selecting my pieces and transitioning into my fall/winter wardrobe because we’re still having very hot weather where I live. And I can’t remember what my favorite MVP pieces were last fall, and I love your suggestion we do this simple but powerful exercise. I’m planning to do this prior to each season because even though I have finally cultivated a small wardrobe it still needs editing and updating each season. Good idea you have. Thank you.

    • I’m glad this post came at a good time for you, Terra. I hope the exercise will be helpful for you as you choose your Project 333 items. I think all wardrobes can benefit from regular editing, large or small. The lack of editing is what gets many people into trouble. In my wardrobe styling days, I saw many a closet so jam-packed that the woman didn’t even know what she owned and was regularly buying duplicates. After an edit, there is less there but it’s so much easier to work with overall. Good luck with putting together your October through December capsule!

  9. I have kind of an unusual way of figuring out what I’m going to wear each day. I am a “mood dresser”.

    The first question I ask myself is “do I need pockets for the activities of the day?” and “what do I feel about how I want to dress today?”. If the day’s activities require pockets, then its usually a pants day. If I am feeling like dressing plainly, I will usually choose black and white separates–and not give my outfit another thought. Today was both a black and white day AND a pocket day, because I had to go to the doctor which was a long drive. I was going to be spending a lot of time in the car and had a lot of tasks to perform. I didn’t want to take the time to ponder my outfit.

    I don’t rate my clothing in terms of MVP’s, or value them as to how often I wear them. In fact, I have deliberately kept my summer wardrobe at about 85 pieces to give me variety. If I wear a garment too often, I feel bored. I would never wear the same garment two days in a row, it would feel too repetitious. Some of my favorite garments are ones that I may only wear once or twice a season. I also am not likely to wear the same garment more than once a week for the same reason, unless its my handbag or shoes.

    Also if I wear a garment too often, I think it will wear out too fast and I will have to replace it sooner. A good example is a plain ivory tunic I bought at Loft in April. I have worn and washed it all season, so now it looks like it needs to be replaced or turned into loungewear. Luckily I had the opportunity to buy a duplicate on sale, since it coordinates with a specific skirt from Loft as well as many other things!

    • I love reading about your process and experiences, Deby! You have a very creative and right-brained approach and those of us who are more analytical can definitely benefit from your perspective, if only to perhaps mix things up a bit from time to time. Like you, I also have favorite garments that I only wear once or twice a season, but I keep them because I still love them. Sometimes the occasion just isn’t there to wear them, and that’s okay. I can be a “mood dresser,” too, and often ask myself what I feel like wearing. Surprisingly, I felt like wearing jeans yesterday after having worn skirts and dresses exclusively for months. I put together an outfit and ended up loving it, as it included my favorite colors of cobalt blue, black and white. I think your approach of considering your day’s activities would be useful for all of us, like whether you’ll need pockets or not. Thanks for sharing your insights with all of us!

  10. I recently had the experience of looking at my clothes in the same way. I bought a beautiful top that I loved in the store but hesitated initially on buying as it was very expensive. I ended up buying it as it fulfilled a personal criteria that I must feel like I want to wear it immediately (I have bought many things that I actually did not really want to wear deep down !!!)

    I am so glad I did as I have worn it so many times and I feel great in it and it has been a great purchase. It got me thinking about what it was EXACTLY that I loved and realised that it was – the neckline shape and depth, the length, the fabric, the weight of the fabric, the sleeve shape, the color. It has all the elements that I feel good wearing, is versatile and it has been worth every penny .

    This made me look at all the unloved tops in my closet that were just not working for me and I did not feel great in. I was able to see that there a lot of clothes I have bought which I don’t like on me and never feel myself in. Of course there is a whole psychology there. Why HAVE I bought clothes that aren’t me, why have I persisted in trying to contort myself through clothes and looking like someone other than my real self ????

    I read a tip to give your clothes a grade and to put put all your A+ garments on the left side of the wardrobe, grading the rest from B-D. I did this exercise instinctively, without analysing and came up with a group of garments I loved and of course, wore all the time. This exercise revealed straight away the elements I loved and loved wearing. It also sadly revealed the amount of garments I own that do not fit into this criteria.

    I have not been true to myself all the time in the past and parts of my wardrobe are literally a visual reminder of that. I am working on it. Babysteps. Thanks for your blog.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Carolyn! I can definitely relate to everything you shared. I think that the criteria of wanting to wear a new item immediately is a good one! I recently bought a dress that I wore the very next day and I thought all purchases should be like that. As you’ve read in my posts, I frequently bought clothes that weren’t really me, and most of those purchases have ended up becoming “wardrobe benchwarmers.” I like your exercise of putting the A+ garments on the left side of your wardrobe. I may have to try that one! Try to be gentle with yourself, as you ARE making progress (and some very good progress,it sounds like!).

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