As much of the world moves into the frenetic shopping blitz of the holiday season, I’d like to talk about a different type of shopping, the “shopping” we can do in our own closets. I first heard the term “shop your closet” a few years ago on a fashion forum and I have to admit that it didn’t sound like much fun to me at the time. As a dyed-in-the-wool shopaholic, I believed the only shopping I could enjoy was the type that took place in malls or on e-commerce sites. I was always looking for what was new and better than what I already had.
Before this year, I regularly purchased at least 150-200 new clothing and accessory items per year. I bought so much – and so fast – that I generally had little idea of what I already owned. My closet was so jam-packed that even if I spent a large chunk of time looking around in there, I still wouldn’t have been able to remember most of what I possessed.
Enter 2013 – Stop the Insanity!
This year, I decided to stop the insanity, quit buying so much, and cultivate a wardrobe that worked better for me and my lifestyle. I learned the hard way that incessant shopping did not automatically make me a well-dressed woman. In fact, it mostly served to make me feel confused and overwhelmed whenever I opened my closet to put an outfit together. Paradoxically, however, the “I have nothing to wear!” feeling sent me rushing back out to the shops instead of taking the time to make what I had work for me. I told you there was some insanity going on!
While it may seem to some of you that I’ve still bought too much this year, my 2013 shopping has been significantly less than all of the previous years that I can remember. Yes, I still had my months during which I bought too much (hello, June and August…), but I’ve cut way back overall. Instead of constantly adding new pieces to my closet, I’ve shifted my focus more toward using and evaluating what I already own. In the process, I’ve learned a great deal about both myself and my wardrobe. I decided to share my insights with all of you and encourage you to spend some time “shopping your closet” instead of heading out to the shops (or clicking the “buy now” button online).
The “Wardrobe Benchwarmer Project”
My shopping my closet experience began with the “wardrobe benchwarmer project.” After learning that approximately half of my wardrobe had been worn only once or not at all during 2012, I opted to wear and evaluate all of these items during 2013. My original intent was to focus on one category of items per month, but I soon decided to take things up a notch in order to get through all of my “benchwarmers” sooner.
My benchwarmer project created a big shift in how I got dressed each day. Rather than reaching for my closet favorites or whatever was right in front of me, I pushed myself to wear those pieces which I had been neglecting for one reason or another. I challenged myself to incorporate at least one benchwarmer into each of my outfits. This led to mixed results. While I definitely discovered some “diamonds in the rough,” I also wore a lot of ho-hum outfits.
I would guess that at least two-thirds of my benchwarmers weren’t being worn for good reasons. In most cases, I’d bought these items on sale or via consignment and they were not “8”s or higher on a scale of 1-10. These pieces were generally lacking in terms of fit, color, fabric, pattern, or style. They were often “close but no cigar,” but I bought them because they were “such a good deal.” Much of the time, these items were not a good match for my casual, Southern California lifestyle. Even if some of the garments were quite lovely and fit me well, they were more geared toward a woman who either works in an office or spends a lot of evenings out on the town. That’s definitely not me, hence the benchwarmer status of such items.
Project 333 and Shopping My Closet
My second “trial by fire” of shopping my closet began when I opted to take on the Project 333 minimalist fashion challenge in April through June of this year. When selecting the 33 garments I would wear exclusively during those three months, I had to shop my closet for the pieces that would best fit my activities and the predominant weather of the season. It was a painstaking selection process and I second-guessed my decisions over and over again. Even after I had made my final selections, I ended up making numerous substitutions during the three months of the challenge.
One thing I learned during Project 333 was that I had far too many of the same types of garments in my closet. I often bought multiples of the same items in different colors because I mistakenly believed that if one such piece was good, three or more were better. The result was a rather homogenous closet, especially for someone with such a large wardrobe. What’s surprising is that I had no idea I was buying so many similar pieces until I stopped shopping all the time and buying so much!
33 Garments Aren’t Enough – Or Are They?
In addition to learning that I had too many dressy pieces and too many similar items in my closet, I also learned that I had far more outfit options than I previously imagined. While I ended up feeling like 33 garments weren’t enough for me to have the variety I craved, I definitely concluded that I needed far fewer items than were in my closet at large. That important realization has allowed me to pare my wardrobe down significantly since the conclusion of my Project 333 term.
I’ve actually come to believe that 33 garments can be enough for a person to wear over a three-month period. My problem wasn’t that I didn’t have enough clothes to wear, it was that I had too many of the same types of clothes. I found that I was dressing primarily in three types of “uniforms” rather than mixing up my sartorial repertoire.
There is nothing wrong with uniform dressing; however, I am someone who really loves to be creative with my wardrobe and outfits, and I’d inadvertently limited my options through the types of purchases I’d made. Being forced to “make it work” with what I had during Project 333 showed me that I really didn’t need any more open cardigans, knit blazers, or basic t-shirts. I learned that I don’t need more clothes, but I could benefit from different types of clothing options.
Identifying Actual Wardrobe Gaps vs. Imagined Ones
After my August shopping “binge,” I’ve dialed my purchasing frequency back quite a bit. Instead of shopping to try to fill my imagined wardrobe gaps, I’ve instead focused on wearing what I have in order to discover what is really lacking in my closet. I’ve also stopped wearing only lounge wear around the house and started wearing more of my “real clothes” in my home office. This has helped me to feel more attractive and put-together when working from home. It’s also allowed me to see that I still have too many dressy and business-style clothes for my current lifestyle.
My lifestyle has changed considerably this year and is still in flux, but I need to dress for the life I have rather than for a past, imagined, or wished for life. Should my life change in the future and necessitate a different wardrobe, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. In the meantime, however, I want to wear the types of clothes that are appropriate for who I am and what I’m doing today. That means I need casual, comfortable clothes that suit my evolving personal style aesthetic.
Buying Less and Personal Style
Slowing down my purchasing cycle and using what I have is also helping me to refine my personal style. For a long time, I dressed how I thought I should dress based upon my age, body type (more my body image issues than my actual figure), and profession, as well as the current styles and trends. While I’m not avoiding these issues altogether now, I’m listening more to my inner voice in terms of what I want to wear. I’m asking myself whether or not I really like the items in my closet. If the answer is “no” for a particular garment, I let it go and focus instead on the pieces I do love to wear.
Interestingly, my style is actually circling back to what it was before I became a wardrobe stylist and started believing I should dress dramatically different as a result. Many of the garments I’ve decided to keep are from a few years ago and are the types of styles I enjoyed wearing when I was just a “regular” person. Now that I’ve removed the pressure on myself to be something I’m not, I’m allowing myself to be who I am in all respects, including style.
The garments on my shopping list now are things I see myself wearing tomorrow or next week instead of for occasions that just don’t occur in my real life. Many of these items are either replacements for current pieces that have passed their prime or higher quality versions of existing garments. Gone are the uncomfortable shoes and fussy clothes of the past few years. I want to only buy things that I see myself wearing often and for at least several years to come.
I still feel like it may be a while before I’ll have a wardrobe that truly works for me. I made so many mistakes in the past that it will take me some time to fully turn things around. However, I feel like I’m well on my way to a smaller wardrobe and increased sartorial bliss. Stopping the crazy shopping cycle has made these changes possible. If I had continued to shop many times per month, I’m sure I’d still have numerous wardrobe benchwarmers, a stuffed closet, and be experiencing intense frustration when getting dressed.
Shopping My Closet Has Made All the Difference…
Shopping my closet has made it possible for me to make progress on my wardrobe goals. Using what I have and making decisions and determinations about what does and doesn’t work has played an invaluable role in my wardrobe evolution. I’m confident that continuing this process will help get me to the other side, away from my wardrobe woes and toward closet nirvana.
If you’re an overshopper like me (or even if you’re not!), I highly recommend that you take a step back and allow yourself some time to shop your closet instead of the stores. Take a short hiatus from shopping, or limit your number of purchases, and turn your attention toward your existing wardrobe. Challenge yourself to work with what you have, create new outfits, and evaluate your closet winners and losers.
Instead of rushing out to the Black Friday sales, you might want to spend a few hours shopping your closet and putting some new outfits together. Take some notes and snap some photos to capture what you learn during the process. I guarantee that you’ll gain new insights that will help you to dress better and shop smarter. My guess is that you’ll not only save money by doing this, you’ll also find you need far fewer new pieces than you thought. Any shopping you need to do can be done when the crowds dissipate – and you won’t risk being trampled in the holiday rush!