My last post on paring down a large wardrobe and the resulting comments got me thinking a lot about wardrobe size. Specifically, I’ve been pondering the topic of ideal wardrobe size. Now I don’t believe there is an absolute ideal wardrobe size that applies across the board, but I do think it’s possible to determine our own individual optimal wardrobe sizes.
In today’s post, I share my thoughts on the important topics of wardrobe size and frequency of wear. Using my own wardrobe as an example, I employ statistics (my favorite!) to estimate the number of items I need within various closet categories. A number of key factors are considered in making my determinations, and I hope my findings will be helpful to those of you who wish to pare down but aren’t sure of your ultimate end point.
Begin with the End in Mind
One of the seven habits of successful people proposed by the late great Stephen Covey is to “begin with the end in mind.” This sage advice suggests that before we embark upon any worthwhile endeavor, we should outline our desired destination. In terms of wardrobe size, the factor I like to consider is frequency of wear. We may not know how many items would be included in our optimal wardrobe, but we likely have some idea about how often we’d like to be wearing our clothes. Using this information to guide how large – or small – we want our wardrobes to be can be much more useful than just taking a stab in the dark.
I’ve written quite a bit about the concept of “wardrobe benchwarmers,” which I have defined as items that are worn only once or not at all within a given year. During the years of 2011 and 2012, at least half of the pieces in my closet fit into that category! I fared quite a bit better during 2013, but I fell short of my goal of ending the year with absolutely no “benchwarmers.” When all was said and done, I closed out last year with 28 items that fell into that undesirable category. This year, I’m more hopeful that I will realize the goal that eluded me during 2013, but that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
While wearing everything I own at least twice per year constitutes progress for me, it is by no means my ultimate end point. When I stop and consider my ideal frequency of wear, the number ten stands out in my mind. I’d like to wear everything I own, with the rare exception of a few specialty pieces and formal wear items, at least ten times per year.
What’s Next After Frequency of Wear?
Identifying my ideal frequency of wear is a step in the right direction, but now I need to take it to the next level. Assuming I want to wear all of my closet pieces at least ten times per year, how many items do I need within each wardrobe category? It’s not enough to just divide 365 by 10, as we all tend to wear some types of garments more than others and we also wear more than one garment each day. In addition, we have different seasonal needs, depending upon where we live and our individual tolerance to temperature variations.
It’s helpful to look at the climate where you live as well as your lifestyle. Some people live in four-season climates, while others (hello, friends in Hawaii…) experience pretty much the same weather all year round. In addition, some of us wear the same types of clothing most of the time while others have very different wardrobe needs for work, social engagements, and leisure time. Assuming similar ideal frequency of wear numbers, a person who lives in Hawaii, works from home, and rarely attends formal functions will likely need a much smaller wardrobe than someone who works in an office in New York City and attends dressy parties at least once per week. The first individual just doesn’t need as much variability in her wardrobe as her latter counterpart.
My Personal Example
At this juncture, it would be useful to provide an example to illustrate my points, so let’s look at my situation. I live in San Diego, California, work from home, and rarely attend formal functions. While my climate is not as static as that of the Hawaii native mentioned above, the temperatures where I live are far less variable than in most of the United States and much of the world. That said, I feel the cold a lot more than most people I know. When many people around me are wearing shorts and tank tops, I can usually be seen sporting long pants and a jacket.
When I think about it, I’d have to say that we have two main seasons where I live, summer and spring/fall (basically, “not summer”). We don’t really experience much of a winter to speak of, but I do feel the need to wear medium weight coats for at least a few months each year. If you’re reading this and also live in Southern California, you may not agree with my assessment, but this is where individuality comes into play. We all need to consider our personal sensibilities when calculating our wardrobe needs.
For the sake of ease, I would estimate that summer constitutes one-third of the year where I live and spring/fall makes up the remaining two-thirds. So for all intents and purposes, I basically have two wardrobes. There is some cross-over between my two wardrobes, as we do experience unseasonably warm or cold days from time to time, but I’m trying to keep things relatively simple for the sake of this example. I will also assume that I wear the same types of clothes for the majority of my activities, which isn’t too far from the truth.
Please note that I’m not including workout clothes or “gear” within these calculations, but I do have quite a few of these types of items within my closet as well. However, I know that those pieces are being worn on average far more than ten times per year, so I don’t really need to worry about that portion of my wardrobe.
My Summer Wardrobe
Let’s look at my summer wardrobe first… For most of the summer, I wear skirts and/or dresses with sandals. I likely wear skirts with tops 75% of the time and dresses for the remaining 25%. Assuming there are 120 days within the summer season, I would wear skirts on 90 days and dresses on 30 days. Sandals are worn every day, as are toppers of some sort (cardigans/jackets). Of course, this assumes that I get dressed in “regular” clothes every day and that’s not necessarily the case. However, as I’ve been pushing myself to get out of lounge wear more often and wear my nicer clothes, I feel comfortable making the above determination.
So how do my summer ideal wardrobe numbers work out? If I want to wear everything in my warm weather capsule at least ten times during the approximate four months of this season, here are the numbers I would need for each wardrobe category:
- 3 dresses (!)
- 9 skirts
- 9 tops
- 12 toppers
- 12 pairs of sandals
I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you that I have far more items within some of these categories than I would need in order to wear everything ten or more times per year. I’m not too far off in terms of skirts, sandals, and toppers with 11, 14, and 16 pieces, respectively. However, I have twice as many tops as I need and almost three times as many dresses! I definitely don’t need to add anything new to either of those categories if I want any hope of reaching my ideal wear frequency.
My Spring/Fall Wardrobe
Now let’s look at the remainder of my wardrobe, those items that I wear for roughly two-thirds of the year. During the cooler months, I usually wear pants with a top and some sort of topper (either a cardigan or a coat). We’re looking at approximately 245 days when I will be wearing this larger cross-section of my wardrobe. If I’m hoping to wear all of my spring/fall pieces a minimum of ten times each, here’s what I’d ultimately need within the various wardrobe categories:
- 24 pairs of pants
- 24 tops
- 24 toppers
- 24 pairs of shoes
These calculations were much easier for me to make, but they definitely make me think. At this point, my shoe and topper numbers are fairly optimal at 19 and 25, respectively. However, I have many, many more tops than I ultimately need (66 at present, although some are more in the “gear” category but do get worn regularly at home).
My Optimal Wardrobe Size
So, what’s my optimal wardrobe size? Well, if I add the numbers for my summer and spring/fall wardrobes together (assuming no crossover between the two wardrobes), here’s what I come up with:
- 3 dresses
- 9 skirts
- 24 pairs of pants
- 33 tops
- 36 toppers
- 36 pairs of shoes
- Grand Total: 141 items
Some of these numbers seem a bit on the high side. I probably don’t really need that many pants, toppers, or shoes, and I may want to add a few more dresses and tops to the mix. These are very rough calculations and may not be fully representative of my real closet needs. Just off the top of my head, I think I’d like to wear my pants more often than 10 times per year and I’d be okay with wearing my tops and dresses a bit less often (say 5-8 times per year). However, determining the above numbers offers me a lot more information than I had previously and for that I am grateful. Awareness is the first step toward change!
Reality vs. Statistics
Of course, our wardrobe realities don’t always match up with the statistics. In truth, we tend to wear some pieces far more often than others, as we all have our closet favorites as well as their less loved cousins. Even if our category item numbers are spot on, it’s likely that some pieces will meet our desired wear frequency while others will fall short.
These types of calculations aren’t perfect, but they are illuminating. Looking at how many tops I still own, it’s easy for me to see why those pieces are most likely to become wardrobe “benchwarmers.” Even if they all get worn two or more times per year, it’s unlikely that many of them will meet my desired wear frequency of ten times per year. Clearly, I need to stop buying so many tops and make an effort to pare things down to just my favorites moving forward.
Your Optimal Wardrobe Size
Your optimal wardrobe size will likely be vastly different from mine, but I hope you found my examples above helpful. If your desired wear frequency is either higher or lower than mine – or if your climate situation and lifestyle needs are quite different, the number of pieces you’ll need within each wardrobe category may vary widely from the numbers I reported.
If you opt to take a stab at determining your optimal wardrobe size, remember to consider the following factors in your calculations:
- Desired frequency of wear (which may be different for various wardrobe categories)
- Climate needs (how many seasons you have, how long they last)
- Lifestyle needs (work wardrobe needs, social and leisure activities, formal events)
- What types of clothes you wear (how often you wear skirts/dresses vs. pants, topper needs, etc.)
- How often you “get dressed” (in “regular” clothes vs. lounge wear or “gear”)
- Any other considerations that are important to you (budget, closet size, desired wardrobe size, etc.)
You don’t have to come up with the absolute right or perfect category numbers, but taking the time to do the calculations I demonstrated can be a useful exercise. You’ll have a much better idea of what you ultimately need compared to what you have in your closet today. Knowledge is power and can help you to make the types of changes you’d like to enact in your life. If you’re looking to cultivate a workable wardrobe full of clothes you love and wear, determining your desired frequency of wear and optimal wardrobe size can be a powerful step to help you reach that goal.
If you take the time to calculate your optimal wardrobe size, I’d love for you to share what you learned. If you have other thoughts or questions about this topic, please chime in via the comments section of this post. If you’re reading this via email or through a feed reader, please click here to comment.
My ideal size is about 135-14o pieces including scarves, shoes, and handbags. I live in a 4-season climate but I try to buy clothes that can be worn 3 out of 4 of the seasons. I layer clothes for winter and remove layers as needed for spring and fall. I have a few pairs of sandals, a bathing suit, a pair of shorts and a pair of capris, and 3-4 causal tops that get play only from May to September. I don’t worry about frequency of wear because I wear most of my clothes all the time. I have 2 skirts, a few pairs of trousers, a lot more blouses and sweaters, and one pair of dark-wash jeans. I can only wear one skirt or pair of pants at a time, so I don’t need a lot of extra stuff for my current life style. I like to buy quality clothes so I will skimp on quantity to have the $$ available for quality garments. I spend about $25o annually on clothes. Just about everything in my closet can be worn with the bulk of the other clothes — the exception being matching some of the navy items with black but they work with gray, my other core color. I don’t own lounge wear (I don’t understand this category of clothing — If I want to “lounge” I’ll stay in my jammies). I get dresses in regular work-a-day clothes every day. I only wear work-out gear to hike or to go to the gym. If I am going to the theatre or out to dinner I’ll change my clothes but I generally wear to same clothes all day. No multiples except underwear. Oh — I wear a very old pair of pants and top for gardening, painting, spring cleaning, etc. 12 pairs of sandals — wow! I have a black pair, a red pair, and a leopard print pair of slides. Oh, and a pair of cheap-o flip flops for the pool, etc. I guess I am really frugal when it comes to clothes. I do a lot of laundry — one white wash and one dark wash a week.
Dottie, your wardrobe organization sounds a lot like mine, ecxept I have about 175 pieces (not including shoes or accessories.). I’m not quite as strategic as you are with the color palette, as I like to wear different colors in winter (deep rich tones) and summer (brighter and lighter tones). Like you, I don’t understand the concept of lounge wear. For me it’s either the clothes I wear all day to conduct my life, and or pajamas at night. Putting on pajamas signifies to me that its time to relax. I would feel very slothful and weird if I wore pajamas in the productive hours of the day! I’ve never understood the mindset of someone who works at home in sloppy attire. How could you feel professional talking to other business people during the course of a work day wearing clothing you would never wear to a face-to-face meeting? It’s psychological.
I never think about frequency of wear either. I tend to dress for whatever mood I’m in, the statistics are of little concern to me. Besides , often when I buy an item, I really don’t know how much I’ll plan to wear a garment until I “get to know it”. Case in point: last summer I bought a pair of grey suede ballet flats embellished with tiny peach-pink crystals. They looked funky and fun. I have a lot of grey and peach/pink nude tones which they would coordinate with. I found that I didn’t wear them in summer because I like sandals, so I put them in the winter wardrobe, thinking “we’ll see”. To my surprise, I have worn these shoes at least a dozen times in the past 3-4 months! And every time, people comment on how interesting they are! I would have never predicted this.
Dottie and Deby, You both seem to have wardrobe sizes and organizational systems that work well for you. That’s what is most important! Frequency of wear is a concept that can be helpful for some people, but not everyone cares about that and that’s fine. In terms of feeling professional, I don’t think everyone needs to be dressed as she would for an office to cultivate such a feeling. For me, what’s important is to take a shower and do my hair and make-up before I sit down at my computer to work. I’m also dressing in better clothes at home these days, but not necessarily in something I would wear for a business meeting. As with everything else, we all need to do what works best for us. Your grey suede ballet flats with the peach crystals sound really cute, Deby! Good for you for taking a a chance – sounds like it paid off!
So much to think about! I am going to have to “look at the numbers” and see what I come up with… I’ll check back!
Also, I noticed you have a Facebook group – I was wondering if you’ve ever considered making it a “private” group, that you need an invitation to join? I only ask because I am leary of joining FB under my name where my posts to the group would be public to all my friends and family. If it were a private group, posts could be just between the group. I might be overstepping in asking this – but I know for me, posting about this sensitive topic for all my friends and aquaintences to see is just too unnerving
I hope the numbers end up being helpful for you, Chelsea. Please keep me posted. As for the Facebook group, I can definitely understand and appreciate your concerns. I may create a private Facebook group for those who are interested in the future. I’m going to do a reader survey soon and will ask about that. If there’s enough interest, I will likely make a go of it.
I think this sounds like a great idea!
Yes to this! I thought of writing a post as I also saw you are on fb but didn’t really like the thought of those I know seeing that I “like” a recovering shopaholic group lol- though my close friends and family know I’ve been a shopper…as for my numbers – I’ve taken a break as it was quite intensive taking inventory, etc. but will get back to what I have – I currently have clost to $500 coming to me from the Boston consignment shop so I’m doing something right!
(though on that note I did crash a bit end up buying a new expensive bag – justified by my big 5-0 birthday!)
I’m so glad you guys like this idea too! I think it would be wonderful to talk and share our journey in a more instantaneous platform (as a shopaholic I’m not that great with patience…ha!) but still keep our journey “secret” from our entire online community of family, friends and co-workers 🙂
I didn’t think about the issue you mentioned when I started the blog, but I’ve thought about it since then. I don’t get too many shares on social media and I think it’s for the reason you mentioned. I’m going to give some serious thought to the private Facebook idea and will share about that soon.
Congrats on the consignment money! As for the expensive bag, my 50th is in a little over 2 years and I will likely get myself a gift like that, too. Those big birthdays don’t happen that often and I think turning 50 is a big deal for women! It sounds like you’re doing more right than wrong these days, so kudos to you!
You have an analytical mind. 🙂
I own about 120 pieces not counting shoes or accessories after purging my closet. Holding my breath all the while, I also decided to not shop this year. I dress every day and usually change into jeans after returning home from work. Any item worn only a few times a year would be considered a bench warmer. Like Dottie, most of my clothes span more than two seasons and they are worn more than ten times a year. The biggest surprise living with my streamlined wardrobe was how much variety I have and how easy it is to dress in the morning. Would I ever go back to a large wardrobe? Probably not, now that I have given myself permission to wear all of my clothes and not admire them from afar and saving them for whatever .
Yes, I am pretty analytical, Cornelia, but I also have a strong creative side. I’m actually a pretty even mix between right and left-brained… Your wardrobe sounds like it’s an ideal size for you and working well for your life. I am finding it easier to get dressed with a smaller wardrobe, too. I also find that the smaller it gets, the smaller I want it to be. But I trust that it will get to its ideal size before too long if I keep working at it. Continued best wishes on your non-shopping year!
I can see that I’m going to spend some time this weekend going through this exercise. My lifestyle is similar to yours but our climates differ greatly. Thanks Debbie for this very thought-provoking post!
Glad you found this post thought-provoking, Kim! I look forward to reading about what you learn. Please do share!
A topic near and dear to me! I hashed it out a bit over at YLF http://youlookfab.com/welookfab/topic/how-much-is-enough-playing-with-numbers. It wasn’t so much in the vein of denying myself more purchases, but more in line with the idea that the more I bought, the less I could wear it all. Which is the point to start with, right? Buy clothes you will wear, and then, wear them. LOL
I still buy too much, and have too much (around 115 or so clothing items including jackets and coats, and about 25 – 28 shoes). I do enjoy what I have, but I don’t wear it all frequently enough. Honestly, I could do with maybe 100 clothing items and 20 shoes. My latest struggle is how long to expect to keep new things before I replace or turn them over. I still crave a certain amount of new in each season. I think it’s just how I’m wired.
So fun to read a fellow number cruncher getting into their closets and working it!!
Thanks for sharing that link, Mo. I look forward to reading all of the responses. I love how you are as into numbers as I am! I also crave a certain amount of new each season and have trouble reconciling that desire with my desire to have a smaller wardrobe. I think your target of 100 clothing items and 20 pairs of shoes sounds spot on. I think I will be there in a year or so if I keep working on it and stop buying so much!
Personally I find I can get that sense of ‘newness’ by putting things away for a while and not seeing them. Even if they aren’t completely new, they feel fresh and different when I get them out again after a few months.
This might work especially well if you have a larger wardrobe, where it’s quite easy to rotate while still having enough to wear. And if you pull them out of storage and have no desire to wear them, it’s quite easy to let them go – can be a win-win strategy!
Good idea, Emma! When I put my clothes away for Project 333 last year (the first time I did it), I did feel a sense of “newness” when I took my clothes out again. I guess absence can make the heart grow fonder with clothes as well as relationships 🙂
At last count I had 159 items including coats, jackets, purses, shoes, and scarves. Allegedly it’s warmer/blazing hot about 8 months out of the year here. This winter I wanted clothing made out of electric blankets though! Six below zero in Tennessee? Ack. I’m sure I have too many things since I don’t work outside of my house. When I’m home I usually wear a t-shirt and yoga pants or shorts since I’m always painting, cooking, or doing something else that’s dirty. I don’t really have a set amount that I want to wear each item, as long as it does get worn. If I’m not wearing it I will pass it along to the next owner. I’m pretty content with what I have. I no longer find things I didn’t know I had or come home from shopping and find that I have “twins” so all is good. Although I have improved quite a bit, the one area that I still need to work on is how much new stuff comes in.
I love reading about how content you are feeling with what you have these days, Tonya! That’s really great progress. Like you, I also have to watch how much is coming in. Setting item targets should help both of us to keep things in check. I know the weather has been weird in your area this year. That can definitely make things challenging!
I love this quote from Mo’s comment: “…the more I bought, the less I could wear it all. Which is the point to start with, right?”
I agree! Mo is very insightful and put it both succinctly and accurately.
I agree with Dottie & Deb. I wear uniform of a sort. Retired, rarely dress up, and live in 4 season climate. Haven’t counted, but I have more clothes than I could wear.
If I purged my closet, my determining factor would be the frequency of laundry and the length of time to dry as I hang all my clothes to dry.
Purging in my future!
Laundry considerations are also important factors to add to the mix, Sandra. I also hang most of my clothes to dry, but since I still have so much, it’s rarely an issue for me. But yes, that’s something to keep in mind as we determine our ideal wardrobe size.
This is a useful exercise!
I tend to think in terms of weeks before I need to repeat wear an item. Limiting myself to one week’s worth of clothes is too hard, because that would require a rigid adherence to a laundry schedule. I think I could easily get by with two weeks’ worth of pants/jeans/skirts (14), especially as I’ve gotten in the habit of wearing some pants more than once before laundering them. In fact, I’d probably be fine with about 10. I like to vary tops more often. My first goal is 4 weeks of tops (28), but 3 weeks would be even better. Then toppers (cardigans/jackets) could be maybe 7-10, as I don’t wear them all the time. I tend to wear dresses more in summer than winter, and not every day, so just a handful of dresses would be fine. I’d also keep a handful of thick sweaters for winter. Oh, and a couple of coats, too. In addition to those items, I have yoga/workout pants, camisoles, tanks, t-shirts, and pj bottoms (although I admit, I wear yoga pants to bed too). I layer the camis/tanks with tops a lot, wear them to yoga, and also use them as pj tops. I’ve been reducing my shoes down a lot, and am living in 3-4 pairs of flats, 1 pair of sandals, 2 flip flops, 2 sneakers, and gardening shoes. I don’t actually need 2 pairs of flip flops, though, and I’d like one or two more pairs of flats in the mix and maybe 1 more pair of sandals. Anyway, I’ve hung on to some other shoes (mostly heels), so if I buy more flats, I’ll purge some that aren’t getting worn I think very soon I’ll be able to purge down to 14 at most.
So, my goal:
thick sweaters: 4
yoga/workout pants/capris/shorts: 7
pj bottoms: 4
That’s the goal. In reality, I am not there yet, but having the goal in mind helps me on my way.
Great work, Sarah! I’m so glad this exercise was helpful for you. It seems like you learned a lot about your needs through working through the numbers. Yes, laundry needs was something I left out, but I appreciate you and Sandra adding this consideration to the list. I wish you the best in paring your wardrobe down to 100 items. Sounds very reasonable and would be a pretty good target for me, too!
What happens to the math when you take into account proportion and shape? If you assume that most of the items in your wardrobe work with the other items, a lower total is understandable. However, just because one owns a pair of black pants, does not necessarily mean that they are wearable with the black and white checked shirt. Maybe that shirt is long and flow-y and it only looks good with a very narrow straight pant. One might need to have several silhouettes in pants or skirts or tops in each neutral color to up the wear-ability of one’s wardrobe. It’s not necessarily the numbers of items that is important, but the usability and whether or not one is able to pull together outfits that are stylish, comfortable and look great together.
Just wondering about this, because some of my clothes were purchased with the intention of wearing them together as outfits and the pieces do not often get used with other items, if ever. I can see that if you shop this way, it might increase the overall total number of items needed.
I agree with you re: proportion and shape. I think the way to account for that is instead of estimating how often you want to wear a particular category (dresses, pants, etc.) you estimate how often you want to wear a particular silhouette (narrow pants + floaty shirt, wider pants + fitted shirt, etc.) and go from there. You would essentially have more, but smaller, categories of items. I found that this complicated things a bit (for me, some categories of items are transferrable between silhouettes and some are not) but ultimately it was really illuminating.
All of my clothes are in the same silhouette by design — straight leg pants and pencil skirts. I avoid “flowing” tops because I need a defined waist. I don’t buy tops that don’t work with these pants because that means buying “add-ons” — other tops or pants or camisoles or whatever. I think very few people look really good in all silhouettes. I see a lot of people wearing too much fabric for their small frames and others too little for their larger bodies — or long torso or short torso, etc. I also avoid the “outfit” syndrome (been there, done that). Every purchase has to work with clothes and shoes, etc., I already have. I have dressy blouses (and sweaters) to wear with my “best” black pants or pencil skirt and so on. I own one dress because of the limitations of dresses.
Dottie, I have found my simple silk A-line tunic dresses to be among the most versatile pieces in my closet. They are high quality but simple shape and I can literally dress them up or down as required. Easy to get ready, throw them on and they always look stylish and I feel like I am well dressed.
I’m glad you brought this up, Happy Forgiver. Part of why my wardrobe is larger is because I’m so particular about proportions. I wear different tops and toppers with skirts than I do with pants and that has necessitated my having a larger wardrobe. I agree with Dottie that it’s simpler to have similar silhouettes and proportions and can make a smaller wardrobe more possible, but this is a very individual thing. Some people like to mix it up more often and that’s okay. We just need to know what we prefer and consider those things in line with the size of wardrobe that will work best for us. Sarah said it very well in her comment. I love all of the comments on this post and am learning a lot from what all of you are writing!
Cool! I already sort of did this exercise after your first post on numbers and wearing frequency. I cheated though, a lot :). Seriously, I found it hard to be very strict. First of all because we have very fickle weather where I live, although it is a moderate climate: some years we hardly have a summer and then I’m happy if I can wear my summer dresses twice (!), other years we have heat waves where I seem to be laundering the same pieces over and over again :). Then also because I’m still square in the middle of a style search / wardrobe adjustment process. So it’s hard to think of my favorite items and combinations as they are currently less stable. So I thought of how many times I would WANT to wear my cardigans, shoes, dresses etc. …, did the math, and then adjusted the numbers to what I thought sounded more realistic (e.g. I already think I have too many pairs of shoes, I’d rather have a couple of favorite & qualitative pairs, so I didn’t accept a high number for that category). Anyhow, that got me to a total MAXIMUM number of 150, including shoes and bags but excluding scarves and jewelry.
Which was in itself rather illuminating. You see, I had been complaining about the size of my wardrobe (the closet I mean, which seemed too small lol), but when I did a rough count of my existing wardrobe it turned out I currently own more than my ideal wardrobe size. (Yes, to me this was a surprise.) So for me to get to that point where I have the ‘perfect’ wardrobe, would not require a bigger closet or a fortune, just some more culling and then carefully selecting and rebuilding (in the right item categories). That realization was a big motivator for wardrobe curating!
I also added another quick exercise. I pondered how much of my wardrobe I would want to replace yearly. I came to the conclusion that it would be more than enough to replace 10-15% of my wardrobe each year. After all, I would want to hold on to my ‘perfect’ wardrobe! But if I would own no more than 150 items, that would mean I can not buy more than 15-20 new pieces per year. That also seems like a good thing to keep in mind :).
My comment below cross-posed with yours, it is so funny to see how we have wound up with very similar thought processes and goals!
Wow, a little eery even 🙂 . I got curious and checked out your blog, funny that you wrote it around a Dutch word – my mother tongue.
This blog is definitely thought provoking and I too very much enjoy the comments section.
I can identify with a lot of what you wrote, Liesbeth. We have some shorter and some longer summers here, too. Last summer was one of the shorter ones, so those clothes didn’t get worn all that much. I’m also in the midst of re-evaluating and re-calibrating my style, so that’s shaking things up a bit. I love your point about what percentage of our wardrobes we want to replace each year. That’s a very important thing to factor in. I agree that 10-15% sounds like a reasonable figure. I think that means I will need to cut back on my buying even more, especially after this year.
Debbie, it’s really interesting to see how you work through this exercise. I’ve been doing something similar and like you I have had the experience that some of the resulting numbers (for tops, for example) seemed like a good benchmark to aim for, while others just didn’t “feel” quite right. For example, like you I thought: “I don’t need that many pants,” and also: “Three dresses?? that is no fun!” So the numbers have been a good starting place but I do fudge a little bit at the edges to yield something that feels like a good amount of variety in a particular category.
Similarly, I live in a place with brief, relatively temperate summers. My summer and winter wardrobes have little overlap and I would estimate that we only get about 10 weeks of real summer weather each year. Keeping with the goal of wearing each item 10 times a year, that would mean I would have one week’s worth of summer clothes. Boring! I decided to aim for two weeks’ worth of summer clothes, even though it means that I will likely only wear each item about 5 times per year.
Again thinking about the 10-wears-per-year goal, I realized that if I’m estimating we have about 10 months where I’m wearing my “winter” wardrobe (that sounds dire, but as I think I mentioned I run very cold), then I would have about one month’s worth of winter clothes that I could wear without repeating any given garment.
When I think about it that way, it seems like a lot of clothes! But, I really want to create a wardrobe that is much more stable from year to year. I would love to have items stay in my wardrobe for 10 years on average (again, arbitrary benchmark but it “feels” right). Even as I type that I don’t know if it’s a realistic goal — my taste may change, my body may change, and even though I don’t have a trendy style items may come to seem dated to me before then. (And of course some types of garments will wear out faster than others.) But when I stop to realize how quickly things have been cycling in and out of my wardrobe the past few years, I am surprised and honestly a little bit ashamed. Much of what I buy is secondhand, sure, and when I’m “done” with things they get donated right back where they came from. But still, that cycling through seems like a lot of time and mental energy that I’d rather spend elsewhere. I’d like to get to a point where it feels like I am mostly *enjoying* my wardrobe rather than *managing* it.
Also, my “ideal wardrobe size” calculations put me around 150 items total (not including shoes/coats/accessories). If items stay in my wardrobe for 10 years, then I’m replacing roughly 10% of my wardrobe each year, which means 15 new items each year. That’s a lot fewer new items than I’m bringing in now, but assuming that my wardrobe as a whole is a lot more functional 15 new items per year to refresh and jazz things up doesn’t sound like deprivation at all.
Phew! This is long! But obviously your posts are thought-provoking, I really appreciate them as well as your group of commenters who are equally thoughtful.
I really love what you wrote, Sarah! It was quite similar to what Liesbeth wrote, but you both added a lot of value to the discussion. I especially liked your point about enjoying your wardrobe rather than managing it. That’s what I want, too! Even though I love numbers and statistics, I’m sure I can apply that love to other areas of life… I think 15 new items per year sounds reasonable and definitely not a level of deprivation. I shudder to think that I often added 10 time that per year or more! Well, live and learn, and we move on. Thanks for the excellent points you made.
This inspired me to go do a count because I’m currently very happy with the size of my wardrobe. I have 74 clothing items, including shoes and coats but not including bags, scarves, or other accessories. This is for all seasons (Chicago) and I do have an office job, but I work from home several days a week. Most of what I own can cross seasons, such as lightweight wool trousers for the office, merino cardigans for anywhere with air-conditioning, tanks and tees that I can layer, etc. There are really only a few items in my wardrobe that are strictly summer-only (shorts, some dresses, linen blouses) or winter-only (pullover sweaters, coats, wool flannel trousers).
I probably had about double this number a few years ago. It was the classic “nothing to wear” situation where I bought without any kind of plan so I’d have, for example, 30 sweaters but none in a basic neutral. Since becoming more deliberate and selective, my wardrobe is so much more versatile with so much less.
Now I’m at the point that I want to keep the number constant, but upgrade some not-so-ideal items. I need to be really, really careful not to use this as justification to buy things I don’t really need.
Sounds ideal! I have some “base” layers that I add in the coldest months when even the warmest sweater doesn’t keep the cold out (think Polar Vortex). It’s funny how have a lot of clothes often means having nothing to wear!
I agree with Dottie that your wardrobe sounds ideal, Annie! I’m very impressed that you can make a wardrobe that small work in Chicago, but it sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought and effort into cultivating your workable wardrobe. I think it helps a lot that you have so many cross-seasonal items. Thanks for sharing your good example with all of us!
I will return to work this summer after 10 months on maternity leave. My body has changed due to pregnancy/ birth/ nursing, so I need to replace a few favourites and rebuild parts of my warderobe. I will definitely return to this post in the process!
I really enjoy your blog and read every post (and every single comment – your readers offer great advice!), and hope you will continue to share your journey with us. I learn so much from your blog, and not only about clothes – you offer great insight in other areas as well. Thank you!
(Sorry if some of this is unclear, English is not my native language)
Your English is just fine, Hilda, and I really appreciate your comment. I’m glad you’re finding my blog helpful – I definitely plan to continue sharing my journey. I agree that the comments made by my readers are especially insightful. Best of luck to you with your return to work after maternity leave and rebuilding your wardrobe!
I just counted clothing only (no coats, shoes, workout wear, etc.) and I have 68 items. I currently am looking for more summer tops, skirts & dresses as well as needing more shoes so that number will go up. I’m happy to have a small wardrobe as I am retired and tend to wear the same type of clothing every day (no work, church, galas, or other varied wardrobe requirements). That being said I also need to have the wedding/funeral/occasional dressier occasion items added to my wardrobe. I want them to be things I will wear on other occasions too though (theater, going out to dinner) so they don’t just hang there. I think that means I need to consign the lovely cocktail dress I bought for my son’s wedding and haven’t worn again. Hmm, I think you helped me make my (thrift) shopping list!
I’m happy to help you make your shopping list, Juhli! Sounds like you’ve gotten things pretty well figured out and have a wardrobe that works well for you. I probably don’t need much more than what you have. I’m not retired, but I do wear similar clothing most days. Like you, I want those few more formal pieces I own to be worn more than just once in a great while. It takes a bit of doing to find the right pieces, but it IS possible!
My ideal wardrobe would consist of 5 outfits per season. My ideal number would be 75, including shoes and bags. I own 6 scarves even though I never wear them. I’m not an accessories person and I always wear the same shoes and use the same 2 bags. I really want to have far less shoes and bags but I’m having a hard time getting rid of them since I spent so much money on them. My current wardrobe is 132 items including shoes and bags, which is far too many for my lifestyle. I have no problems wearing the same thing over and over again if they are items I really love. I’m already doing that so that leaves the rest collecting dust. My problem is getting rid of the items that I love but rarely wear since I have a closet that fits everything comfortably. I’ve already had 4 wardrobe makeovers and I still can’t get it right! I’m getting close though, just have to control my urges to buy more.
It sounds like you have a really good awareness of what you want and need, Wendy. I know it’s frustrating to still not have things “right” after so many tries. I am in a similar boat, but we ARE making progress! I think it’s great that you are okay wearing the same things over and over again. I’m working on becoming more comfortable with that, as I would prefer to have fewer but higher quality pieces. Best of luck to you in reaching your ideal size wardrobe. Could you maybe sell some of those shoes and bags on Ebay or in a consignment store? Depending upon the brand, you can sometimes get a decent amount of money for things that way.
My ideal wardrobe would also consist of about 75 items, including shoes and bags. But I’m not there yet. Currently I have 6 pair of pants, 5 skirts, 3 dresses, 4 pair of shorts, 45 tops, including topers, 6 sweaters, 1 coat, 12 pair of shoes and although I wear all of them, in truth I don’t need that many shoes. I’m down to 5 handbags, which also seems like too many, but I use them all for different purposes and they are different sizes. Plus 3 are Longcham and they fold flat and take up very little space and travel well. I have no problems wearing the same thing over and over again because after getting rid of bags and bags of clothes I now have only items I love. But I still have way too much for my lifestyle needs. I’d also like to be able to have space between the hangers in my closet. But I’m getting closer to meeting my goal. As mentioned in a previous post, I have a few duplicates because nothing in the category is exactly right and I’m planning to wear each duplicate for a full day and see if perhaps I can toss out a few more items.
Your wardrobe size sounds pretty good, Terra, but it’s all relative. I can see how you might want to pare down further based upon what I know about you. I would also like some space between my hangers. I think your strategy of wearing the duplicate items each for a full day is a good one. I’ve been able to let go of quite a few “lesser than” pieces by doing that. Good luck!
Good suggestion Debbie, and it worked! Even without needing to wear all of the tops I was easily able to let go of a number of “lesser than” pieces which included tops I wear for exercise, yoga, and t-shirts I wear around the house, along with a few duplicates of dressier tops that was causing me to split my wears. Now I’m down to a smaller collection that meet all of my needs, and I was able to free up some closet space too.
Great news, Terra! I’m about to get rid of some of my “lesser than” tops, too, as I’ve definitely been “splitting my wears.” I can’t believe I once had more than twice as many tops as I have now, as I still have far too many. Time to practice what I preach and keep only the “8”s and higher pieces. Good for you that you now have a smaller collection with just the best – and some extra closet space, too!
Love this post, but I really struggle with wardrobe staleness and boredom. I have a VERY large wardrobe and as soon as I get rid of some things and wear what I have more often, I get bored and sick of mix and matching what I have, so then I add to it. Then purge again and the same cycle continues, I get bored and want new/novel/fresh feeling clothes. How do you deal with this when you are working towards a smaller more manageable wardrobe? I am very good at mixing and matching and don’t have “outfits” rather I wear everything with everything, certainly have some seasonal items, and am trying to change things up with accessories, but still the boredom happens. I want to be happier with less and content with what I have, but the boredom in the closet crops up again and again. I have a fantastic life in practically every other way, so not being happy with my clothes isn’t really a reflection of not being happy in my life. Thoughts?
I can identify with what you wrote, Kerstin. I also get bored with my wardrobe quite often and that fuels my overshopping. I don’t know your wardrobe situation, but for me the boredom has to do with my buying very similar items over and over again. Sure, the colors and patterns may be different, but the silhouettes are similar. I also “settle” for less that what I truly want, which adds to my dissatisfaction. If I hold out for something I truly love (an “8” or higher), I find I’m less likely to get bored with what I have. Do you love the things you buy when you buy them, or are you shopping “for sport”? I don’t know if any of this is helpful, but those are some places to look. Another suggestion is to just buy one item at a time and wear it until you’re bored with it. Then buy another item and do one-in, one-out with your closet. Slow down the bringing in and the letting go process and see if that helps.
I don’t get bored with my clothes — I really like everything I own — a lot!! However, I limit my clothes budget so I can use my hard-earned dollars for other things — like travel. It’s easier to find joy in what you have when you have a specific goal to work towards (a European trip is my current target). I also think a lot about people who are less fortunate than me and give a lot to charity (cash, donations, volunteer work, etc.). This also helps me see that my stuff is perfectly serviceable. It’s a matter of shifting the kaleidoscope a bit to help me sort my priorities.
My ideal wardrobe is one that fits neatly into my closets without being jammed in and no overspill into additional cupboards.
I’ve tried counting and limiting numbers but that hasn’t worked all that well for me. Limiting my color palette and being strict about that has been working out very well for me. My wardrobe was reduced to a fraction of its former size yet I have a lot of choice as everything works well together on the whole. My shopping habit is also curbed as I am only interested in adding to the color scheme to get more mileage from what is already in there.
One of the reasons it has been so successful for me is that I can clearly see what I own. It also meant I wore the “good” things more often .
I have a good set of basics – basic black pants and black jeans for example. I don’t think you need that many of these things though. In the past I had too many basics – too many jeans, black skirts, pants etc. A couple of good basic pants, skirt and jacket is enough. It’s the interesting tops and accessories that make the difference.
One of the things I reach for a lot more often these days is a dress. It is the easiest way to get ready – throw on a dress and basically you are done. I have had a lot of mileage from some simple but excellent quality silk tunic dresses – add tights & boots or heels, a denim jacket or a black coat. I have been able to create a lot of outfits with one dress .
It sounds like you’ve come up with a system that works well for you, Carolyn. Paying strict attention to numbers doesn’t work for everyone. I agree with you that we don’t need a whole lot of basic pieces. It’s better to focus on quality and aim for a smaller number of basics. I also agree with you about the ease and versatility of dresses. I will be pushing myself to wear the 8 dresses I have much more often this year!
Another great post with thoughtful comments. Perhaps what I like most about it is the tone: although we’re certainly interested in the numbers, this is not a competition about who has the least number of items. Rather, it’s about having what we need for what we do–plus a few extras (like dessert!) to make things particularly reflect individual style. I just love clothes!
At one time in my life, as a young professional in a very conservative, traditionally male environment (law), it seemed like I lived in skirted suits. Yep, with hose, heels, a black briefcase, and a gray cashmere coat. For fun–and as my little act of rebellion–I added a perfectly fitted bowler hat. It looked great with my blond hair and tweaked the whole idea of menswear. Does anyone else out there remember how we used to dress for work?
Most work clothes were very high quality and I wore all of them most of the time. On my off time, I wore variations on khakis and I-shirts. In contrast to my work clothes, these were not of high quality and not well thought out. I was finding my way on that score.
The work world changed, I changed, and so did my wardrobe. Now the bulk of my wardrobe could be classified as Casual but Good. I’ve identified my look as modern English Lady meets Rebel Tomboy. So there are the good sweaters,the dark wash jeans, the tweed blazer–and some funky two toned oxford brogues. With an antique lace hankie peeking out the breast pocket, just so.
The inky blue corduroys, plain black boots, small leather backpack–and an exuberant large-scale print silk shirt. The colors and print are traditional–soft yellow, warm red, inky blue–but the cut of the shirt and scale of the print are unexpected.
Just wanted to add a shot of joy!
Just because, here are my most recent numbers. All trousers, skirts, and dresses are lined. Most fabrics are 100% content: of linen,wool,etc. Most items layer or combine with other items in many ways. My favorite colorways are chocolate brown, black, and grey, with touches of ivory, burgundy, and peachy pink.
one pair black wool trousers
one medium gray wool blend trousers
one pair three-season black gabardine trousers
one pair dark blue corduroys
one pair dark brown corduroys
one pair dark brown brushed cotton pants
two pair blue jeans
three pair cotton walking shorts
one gored dark brown suede skirt
one black linen pencil skirt
one 4-season brushed cotton A-line skirt with print
one dark brown sleeveless linen dress
two piece cotton lawn dress
two piece cocktail dress
brown tweed blazer
brown “jean” jacket,unlined
all weather jacket with hood
trench coat with lining
two silk blouses
two cotton shirts
three cotton turtle necks
one silk linen blend boatneck sweater
one argyle sweater v-neck
one solid sweater scoop neck
shawl collared long cotton cardigan
crew collared traditional wool cardigan
A handful of Ts: tanks, long sleeved, short sleeved, v neck, scoop neck to wear singly during warm weather and to layer in cold weather. All pima cotton.
So that’s eight (8) pair of pants/trousers, three (3) skirts, three (3)pair of shorts, three (3) blazer/jackets, three (3) dresses, three (3) coats/jackets, two (2) blouses, three (3) T-necks, two (2) shirts, three (3) pullover sweaters, two (2) cardigans, and a few layering Ts. I think that’s 35 items of clothing, plus or minus 5-8 Ts.
Ten pair of shoes.
This was a great exercise! But hey, who’s counting? 😉
Sorry to post something so long!
Thank you for sharing your wardrobe philosophy and numbers with us, Amy! I love how you described your style as “modern English Lady meets Rebel Tomboy.” Sounds like your wardrobe and style are working well for you. I also like that there is no emphasis on a “right” size of wardrobe among the comments here. I really do feel that it’s an individual thing and changes for each of us based upon where we are in our lives.
I don’t think I can put a number on it. And as I am still paring every day it will be some time before I can. BUT in my ideal closet world I would have about maybe one hundred items, including shoes and accessories, all would get a fairly regular outing and would be in black, with red, purple and hot blue as accented pieces. Oh and a bright jewel green, lol.
Yes, it is hard to put a number on it sometimes. My target number continues to evolve as I pare down, but doing the exercise I wrote about did help to shed some light on things. I like the color palette you mentioned. Those are some of my favorite colors, too!
Where to start, where to start…. I would say that I have been working on my ideal for a while now. I just turned 42 and I am still adjusting to a weight gain, and I don’t know who I am any more, except that I am a ‘uniform person’. I have been buying what seems like a lot, trying to find that 8 or above. For example, I have been wearing the same style of watch for about 20 years. I love it. Even if no one comments on it, even if I don’t ‘notice’ it for long periods of time, every time I do ‘notice’ it, I mentally list all of the reasons that I love it, and I smile. It is the perfect utilitarian piece for me, and pretty as well. Earrings- I have worn the same style for at least 10 years, and while they receive no outside praise, I smile every time I think of them. THAT is what I am looking for in my wardrobe. I would like to have about 12 total pieces, with about 3 outfits. I would like to find a basic top, pant, coat, and shoe that will work for me in nearly every situation, climate, location, etc, that make up my world. I also want to be able to find these items to purchase easily, as in, off the shelf. I favor a casual, ‘American’ look that isn’t too young or old, etc. I started thinking about that- what is the most basic thing that I can wear, the thing that is almost anti- fashion? I think with anti-fashion I can think of my uniform with that secret smile that I have for my watch and my earrings. So, what did I come up with? Dark, utilitarian Levi’s 501. White, slightly fitted men’s tee shirts. Found in every closet in most of the world, but both with histories of practicality and usefulness. Available everywhere I go. Dr. Marten’s 8 hole boots (I know, not ‘American’), which I wore 20 years ago, but the first people who bought and wore them were 40 year-old housewives. Old-school, but still bad-a#@, and they give me that secret smile. Right now, I have about 50 pieces in my wardrobe. This includes everything. Every pair of socks, jewellery, every scarf, everything. I need to go through a summer to see if the one pair of shorts, the dresses, and the sandals that I have held on to can go, so that I can go lower with my numbers. Because I am also a ‘numbers person’. I am desperately tired of the buy-purge cycle that I have been in my whole adult life. I am tired of trying on one identity after another.I am getting much better, but I believe just last year I thought I had found my uniform (white button-up oxford shirt and a different jean), only to look at pictures and see that I hadn’t taken the weight gain into account, and looked like a whale, in my opinion. Keeping a list, as you do, of what I bought/ what I purged every month/ why I got rid of it has helped so much. I also keep track of where each item came from and how much I spent, which has been a real eye-opener. I realize this comment is all over the place, and lengthy, but I appreciate you- how much you put of yourself into your posts, how much you let readers in to your life, and how positive you are. I appreciate readers comments. I really look forward to coming in and visiting with you all, in this safe place, a couple of times a week, for the last year (plus). It has taught me so much, and made me feel better with my struggles. PS, yes to the facebook page you guys suggested above, if it’s not too much trouble for Debbie!!!
Thanks so much for sharing your thought processes on this topic, Marcy. It seems like you’ve really given the matter a lot of consideration. It can take time to cultivate a workable wardrobe for ourselves, but knowing what we want is an important first step. I’m glad you’re finding my blog helpful. I love the comments, too! I’m glad I continue to be able to respond to all or most of them. I enjoy connecting with all of you and your insights add so much to the topics I bring up on my blog!
For a truly basic but functional wardrobe, I build around 2 main colours eg navy/grey or black/ brown. These go with anything; a cream or white top or blouse. Other colours look good too – yellow, green, red. I have basic colours of footwear – black & navy for Winter & bronze & mink for Summer; though I wear navy any time, depending upon my outfit. I try to keep to around 12 pairs in all; that gives me space to line the shoes & boots (1 long, 1 ankle) up neatly. I use scarves as accessories rather than too much jewellery (keeps my neck warm too). I don’t own many patterned tops; I find it’s easier to co-ordinate plain colours together. I wear jeans for gardening & hiking & a denim skirt which looks good with most colour tops. Also I find classic pieces never date & suit people of any age or shape. Hope this helps.
I appreciate your sharing your wardrobe insights with us, Rufonious. It sounds like you have really cultivated a nice and workable wardrobe. I agree that narrowing down the colors can really help, as well as selecting classic pieces.
Just heard part of an interesting Ted Talk by Barry Schwartz who wrote a book called “The Paradox of Choice” in which he explores the widely-held tenet that more choice is always a good thing. In fact, Schwartz points out that all too often having lots of choice can create a paralysis that prevents someone from taking action. I’m sure he was thinking of something other than a closet with 500-600 items in it, but the concept is similar. Having more choice is supposed to increase one’s freedom and paradoxically, too much choice can limit freedom (or words to that effect). Here’s the link to the Ted Talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_paradox_of_choice . Here’s another great Ted Talk on the same topic: http://www.ted.com/talks/sheena_iyengar_choosing_what_to_choose
That was very interesting Dottie. He made some great points. Oh and bleu cheese 🙂
Thanks for sharing these links, Dottie. I’ve seen the first one (and really enjoyed it) and am looking forward to watching the second one very soon. I would also like to read the book by Barry Schwartz. His concepts definitely apply to our closets! I know that it’s easier for me to get dressed now with fewer choices (although still too many).
Barry Schwartz talks about the problem of too much choice he encountered when buying jeans to replace his very old and comfy pair — slim fit, mid-rise, button-fly and all the rest. He also addresses the huge amount of choice in supermarkets — aisles dedicated to just condiments or just salad dressings. He points out that one consequence of having an increasing amount of choice is that our expectations also increase. This might correlate to shopping for hours for the perfect adorable pair of peep toe shoes — and then being disappointed (at home few days later) that they aren’t so “perfect” after all. (I guess this is why some on-line shoe retailers have free 2-way shipping. I thought it was just for people like me with funny-to-fit feet!) He says one way to deal with this is to reduce one’s expectations. Not the “perfect” pair of shoes, perhaps, but a pretty, serviceable pair that will last a season or two. Similar concepts are explored in the second Ted Talk. (I wish Barry Schwartz, who was filmed at Oxford, had dressed up for the occasion. YIKES!)
Great discussion! I am forever obsessed with wardrobe planning and collect style books dating back to the 50s. One of my favorites is Simple Isn’t Easy written by Olivia Goldsmith and Amy Fine Collins. For someone who struggles with overshopping and clothes obsession one of the best chapters was Strategies or Six Never Fail Fixes . Now not all these will appeal to everyone but the ideas were eye opening. They basically revolved around the principle of ONE.
1. Use a single color
2. Stick with Perennial Fashion Colors
3. Select a single silhouette and stick with it
4. Stick a single designer ( I like this one..I only buy from three brands pretty much, that way everything goes together)
5. Stick with a single outfit in every color available
6. Dark bottom, colored top
The explanations for the above are very interesting! I particularly how they closed out the chapter:
“You may feel these suggestions threaten you. Examine your resistance. Where’s the variety? Where’s the excitement? If you do feel threatened ask yourself: Is this what I want from my clothes-excitement, variety and thrills? Sadly we’ve observed that for many women, what they really want in their lives appears only in their closet.” OMG, when I read that I realised that I needed to pare down and get a grip but I still haven’t gotten to the goal!! Now using numbers and whichever strategy from the book AND working at changing my mind about how I view my wardrobe I may stand a chance:)
I really appreciate you opening this discussion Debbie and Mo’s post on YLF was really enlightening too. Awesome stuff!
This is a great book! I go back to it often to remind myself that I don’t need more stuff.
I agree I love this book too.
Thanks for sharing the insights from “Simple Isn’t Easy,” Karen. I just ordered that book and look forward to reading it (I’m trying to buy fewer books overall, but was very intrigued by this one). The paragraph you included at the end pushed some buttons with me. I know that I try to find excitement in my wardrobe that is missing from other areas of my life. I’ve written about that topic before: https://recoveringshopaholic.com/boring-wardrobe-or-boring-life/ I’m working on shifting the focus from clothes to other areas of my life.
As always, I have enjoyed reading both the post and the comments. I wonder: what is the average size wardrobe of European women? How many items do they buy per year? Does anyone know?
I live in the UK . My wardrobe is about 50-60 items normally. It’s less at the moment because I’m still rebuilding following weight gain. I normally buy no more than 5-6 items annually. I don’t know how typical I am – I think younger women buy more (I’m 58).
I wouldn’t have room for much more than this and even with this number I have to store seasonal items. We have much less closet space than American homes so this plays a part. I couldn’t actually imagine owning in excess of 100 items of clothing. I think we repeat outfits more frequently – if I didn’t wear something at least twice a week I’d be wondering whether I really need it. Also I wouldn’t necessarily wash items every time I wear them unless it was a white shirt or something.
I live in Latvia. I am 43, live in the city, work in the office.
My everyday wardrobe is about 45 items (25 for autumn, winter, spring, 20 for summer).
+5 items are in a coat/outerwear category,
+2 dresses and 1 cardigan are for special occasions,
footwear – 20 (includes everything: shoes, boots, running shoes, skiing boots and so on).
I also have many accessories.
How much I shop? Every year I buy 2 pairs of footwear. I think once in 2-3 years I renovate part of my wardrobe (spring 2013 – 5 new items for spring wardrobe, 2011 – 2 wool dresses and wool jacket for winter wardrobe…) Between „ renovations ” I buy accessories, replace some old pair of jeans, T-shirt (in last 12 months I bought 1 scarf, 2 shoes and 1 T-shirt}.
I think, that my colleagues have less clothes, probably 2/3 from my wardrobe size.
I have a feeling that my wardrobe is big, I can’t imagine situation that I should take care about 100 or more items in my wardrobe. If wardrobe is small it’s easier to keep it modern.
I’m glad you brought this up, Frugalscholar, and I’m happy that both Marion and Baiba gave their input. I hope others decide to chime in, too… I think that in general, Europeans DO have smaller wardrobes than Americans. I like what Marion wrote: “if I didn’t wear something at least twice a week I’d be wondering whether I really need it.” It’s really a different mindset… I have far too many things that I only wear a few times per YEAR! I hope to continue shifting my thinking and behavior more toward the European philosophy, though.
I feel prompted to add to this conversation, because I’m European (Belgian) and judging from my own wardrobe and those of my friends and family I don’t know if you could state that Europeans have smaller wardrobes. I don’t know anybody personally (I think) who owns hundreds of items. But the numbers Marion and Baiba cite, on the other hand, seem very low. I did a very rough count and came up with close to two hundred items in my wardrobe (but I’m in the middle of an editing process). I think most of my friends and family would probably own between one and two hundred items. We all regularly buy cheap to middle-end (?) stuff and none of us are the prototypical example of the heavily curating ‘French wardrobe’ shopper. So please, dear Americans, do not assume that we’re all so very wise and disciplined over here :).
On the other hand, there is one clear difference to me with regard to clothes shopping. In American sitcoms, movies and on this blog as well, I often hear references to credit card debt. In my experience, this is something rather exceptional in Europe (or at least in Belgium). We just don’t have the habit of buying clothes on credit (even though the credit card companies are trying to stimulate this of course, with all kinds of offers). Of that I am very happy!
I’m also from Europe (born in Germany, married to an Irish man and lived in Ireland for years, now living in Spain…) and I don’t think that huge wardrobes are a typical American problem. Sadly, my wardrobe outnumbers most of what has been mentioned above, and I know plenty of girls who are the same as me. I think I would agree that it’s more a problem of younger women in general, especially when it comes to excessive buying and tossing of cheaper clothing. In relation to credit cards and credit card debt, there is definitely a different culture in UK/Ireland than there is in continental Europe and spending on credit seems more common there. This is only my experience though from when I lived there in my twenties.
Liesbeth and K, Thanks so much for adding your input on European wardrobe sizes. It’s interesting that while many Europeans don’t buy on credit that credit is more common in the UK and Ireland. I know a lot of us in the U.S. get into big trouble with credit card debt. I’m happy to say that I no longer carry a bunch of debt, but of course I have other problems…
Thanks to Marion and Baiba for responding to my question. I find the answers helpful. Debbie–hope it’s ok that I posed the question here.
It’s totally okay! I’m glad you posed the question and I’m happy that some responses have come in. If other Europeans are reading this and wish to chime in, the more the merrier!
Most ladies seriously need to cut back on the bulk of clothes in their closet … great post!
Very true words, Stacey… Glad you liked this post!
I remember the first time I calculated how many items I would need, if I only wore each one twice a month, and I realized for the first time, that I had many more than that. I was shocked! It also helped me understand why my hanger flipping experiment at the time, was moving so slow. It was taking a long time to get through all my clothes during the entire season because of the excess. Even now, I am still amazed at the low number of clothes I need for a given season. I finished our winter season with only 6 sweaters/jumpers, even though we had an extremely cold winter this year. And I currently own at least a dozen sweaters/jumpers if I add in the one’s in the boutique. AND, none of my sweaters/jumpers from this past season, are in need of replacement. I have enough extra to overhaul my sweater/jumper wardrobe, and I don’t even NEED to.
Yes, doing the math can be quite enlightening, Lisa. It really IS amazing how little we truly need, especially if we want to get a lot of wear out of our clothes. I’m impressed that you got through the whole winter with only 6 sweaters. Sounds like you won’t need to buy any new ones for a while, either. You’re doing great!
I traveled to Sweden a few years ago to visit friends. I think they were amazed at my stuffed suitcase I packed for a 2 week trip. One of them said her entire wardrobe would fit in my suitcase. She was right, her wardrobe was very small of exceptional quality and neutral colors. She owned 3 pairs of shoes. ( At the time I owned about 75 pairs.)
Also the clothes washing machines at the homes I visited were about the size of a microwave oven. The maximum load size was one outfit. Perhaps for water conservation not sure.
This trip was a real eye opener for me and the beginning of my downsizing.
Thanks for sharing the story of your trip to Sweden, Jan. I had a close friend from Denmark and her wardrobe was always FAR smaller than mine. She had plenty of clothes, too. I wish I would have learned better from her example, but at least I’m learning now.
A few surprises, here. First, I have way too many casual pants. Second, my career wardrobe isn’t too far off the mark. Third, I’m surprised how many articles of clothing my realistic career wardrobe entails: 110 items for Spring/Summer, 44 for those couple of Fall months, and 75 for the long, long winter which really isn’t as long as the Spring/Summer season. Thanks for your post. This was a good exercise to go through.
Glad you found the exercise helpful, Sheryl. Sounds like you’re pretty clear on what you have versus what you need. Congrats on the fact that your career wardrobe is in good shape!
I did a post about this a few weeks ago. Linked to my name for those interested in how I got my numbers. An optimal wardrobe (maximum numbers) for me looks like this not including formal wear:
21 dressy tops and sweaters
5 casual tops or sweaters
I’m not too far off from these numbers. I have only 5 jackets, less than 10 jeans, 4 work-appropriate dresses (though I want to add 1 or two more), so I’m under most of those numbers.
I got a few comments and questions recently from people at work. Everyone thought I had more clothing than I do (almost all of the stuff I let go of hasn’t seen the light of day since before I got pregnant, so a little more than 2 years ago). I take a lot of pride and satisfaction in what I’ve done and the progress I’ve made. From hundreds of unworn items to a fairly small, functional wardrobe. I’ve added things (9 so far this year) but have let go of far more than I have added. I feel like I know where to add, what to get, and where I want to go now. Every purchase has so many qualifications it has to fit now that shopping is a lot harder- but making good choices is much more rewarding.
From what I’ve seen of your wardrobe, Meli, it is really nice and you always look well put together. Your numbers look really good and reasonable. You have made amazing progress in a short time and should be very proud of yourself! I “get” what you’re saying about shopping being harder, but it’s also more rewarding when we find things that meet our needs.
I used to be a maximalist but I am starting to think that about 30 items per season (and two seasons per year, AW and SS) is the right wardrobe for me. In addition, perhaps a dozen formal outfits. The difficult part is identifying the right pieces and avoiding mistake purchases.
I’ve also analyzed my mistake purchases and the following tend to be mistakes: anything really bright, patterned, overly formal, poor quality, synthetic, fussy to wear or difficult to clean/maintain. I’m trying to buy more items that I really like and that really fit my lifestyle.
You have really grown in leaps and bounds since you first started commenting here, FrugalFashionista! You seem to have a very firm grasp on what you need and what works best for you. Many of my mistakes fit the same criteria that you mentioned. Knowing why things don’t work goes a long way in helping not to make the same errors moving forward.
Thank’s so much for sharing. I never thought in that academic way of my wardrobe size and always felt like having no idea what I need or do not need. Therefore it was always hard for me to letting go of my clothes. (Maybe I need this green-never-worn Shirt in the future, who knows…) Now I made the calculation…
Good news: I may buy some dresses and pants.
Very good news: I can sort out a lot of tops without being afraid that I will ever miss them.
Thanks for your comment, Leona. I’m glad you found my post useful and did your own ideal wardrobe size calculations. I read your post and enjoyed it. I especially love your plan “3 things plan” for the basement. As for your wardrobe, it’s wonderful that you found some good news and some very good news. I have too many tops, too, and I think I’ll follow your lead and see my need to pare down more there as “very good news.” 🙂
Dear Debbie, Thank you for this article, it was very inspiring! It even made me do laundry so I could calculate the size of my wardrobe. I have about 120 pieces of clothing. I also calculated how many of these items were gifts/inherited from friends (50%) and about 15% of the total number was bought at second hand/consignment stores. Overall, this is a good wardrobe size for me, but I am lacking in some categories. I need more light-fabric trousers, or a light blue pair of jeans, as well as more cardigans, and I need less dresses. Particulary the coctail dresses and ball gowns from the fantastic university parties wont be needed anymore, unfortunately, maybe I could even try to sell them to make some extra spending for wardrobe essentials.
I’m so glad you found this article helpful, Sara. Looks like you did some good work as a result! You seem to now have a firm grasp on what you have and what you need, which is a very important step toward shopping smarter and cultivating a workable wardrobe for yourself. Great job and best of luck moving forward!
Just what I was looking for! I’ve been trying to get my head around the numbers (I’ve got the analytical kind of brain) and just couldn’t make sense of an absolute number of pieces. Doing it this way I was able to back into something to start with.
I live in a four season climate where it gets cold in the winter. Very cold. I decided to think of my wardrobe as three seasons:
Fall & Spring (170 days)
Dead of Winter (100 days)
Summer (95 days)
I dress for a full-time job but don’t do so every day or all day every day as my time is split right now between work and leave time to care for my sick husband and take him to appointments, etc. So I need two wardrobes, one for work and one more casual but still put together, for pushing a wheelchair around a hospital, etc.
After all this math, and splitting between work and polished casual, I have come up with 105 pieces as optimal and that does not include shoes, accessories, tank tops/camis or white and black tees. Now I need to figure out how many pieces I actually have. I’ve been winnowing for awhile but couldn’t figure out my end point. Thanks!
I’m glad you found this post helpful, Holly! Thanks for sharing your calculations. I think it’s a great idea to separate seasons out by the approximate number of days. I may integrate that into my calculations… It sounds like you now have a clear idea of how many clothes you need for your climate and lifestyle. Best of luck with your continued wardrobe pare-down process!
I liked the idea of “end in mind” when it comes to quantifying a wardrobe. I live on Oahu and have had a corporate job for years. Although working at home outside of the office is the norm in order to afford to live here, many people attend benefits and formals. We have a close knit culture of fancy and casual intermixed as it is an international melting pot of people.
I’ve come up with a formula to declutter and compress wardrobe; 10 dresses for work, 10 skirts, 10 blouses/dress shirts/stand out tops, and 5 jackets, and 3 suits, plus at least 5 killer dresses for all the luaus!
Thanks for your comment, Lisa. How lucky you are to live in Hawaii (although San Diego, where I live, isn’t bad, either). Your wardrobe formula sounds great! I can see that number of clothes working well for most people who work in a corporate environment. Those of us who work from home or in more casual offices could still do something similar, substituting pants and cardigans (or casual jackets) for the suits. I can imagine the “killer dresses” you wear to the luaus. Sounds like fun!
Althought I still really have too much clothing, it is encouraging for me to read the numbers people have posted. I made an accurate calculation (a whole excel file with every piece of clothing) of the contents of my closet the other day and ended up with about 120 items (I don’t have the exact number now), with a little over 20 dresses and t-shirts/blouses and a little less than 20 pants/shorts, cardigans/sweaters, coats and shoes – plus about 15 bags. So a grand total of about 135. These include all my clothes (besides underwear and hats/scarves) – workout clothes, travel bags, formal wear, pajamas – everything. I live in a truly four season climate with temperatures between -25 and + 30 degrees celcius so I will need variation. I won’t be able to reduce too much anymore, but there is definitely still some hardly used items (especially dresses! plus some tops and bottoms) and some items that need replacing (hopefully with a better suited version) within the next year.
I guess a wardrobe of about 100 items including shoes and bags (but excluding underwear and winter accessories) would be perfect for me in terms of closet space and ease of picking outfits. I think I will get there one day, but now realizing I’m not too far off I think I need to be more careful in my donation pile. It is not one or two times when I have gotten rid of something only to realize I need a similar item again a short while later (and usually in a rush). This always puts me at a risk for buying something without thinking about it enough.
Now I hope to use the ones I have until they are really worn out (with less-than-perfect items this will be very difficult for me, but at least I will try) and only then replace them with a better one – that will hopefully also take care of a task formally assigned to two separate pieces of clothing. Also I should more carefully consider all the activities of my daily life and keep in mind they differ in different times of the year. Clothes that can be worn in more than one type of occasion or activity are my thing, but I still don’t often succeeding in finding good examples that actually work in practice.
I must thank both you and all the commenters, I find this post extremely helpful. It is very good to look at my wardrobe honestly and see, which items get their share of wear and which don’t. Also shopping with “the end in mind” already has helped me a lot. I ran across a sale of my favorite kind of things (sport/outdoor clothes) the other day, lots of amazing deals, but only walked out with one item, which was a much needed replacement for a worn-out piece of clothing. This was for me a big step in the right direction already! (Especially since I had walked in the dressing room with about 10 awesome items.) I saw other amazing things but also realized, that amazing things are not going to run out from the world. They will still be available in 6 months or a year, or two, when I need to replace those items.
Thank you for your blog!
It sounds like you’re doing well with the size of your wardrobe, Rellies, especially since you live in a four-season climate! I don’t know if there really IS an overall ideal-sized wardrobe for all people or even for one person for their entire lifetime. But I believe it’s helpful to ponder the question and determine what works best for us for our current lifestyle, climate, and other factors. I used to think that 150 items would be “ideal” for me, but now I’m leaning more toward 100-120 items. However, I won’t know until I get there and even then, I may end up changing my mind down the line. I’m glad you found this post helpful. I learned a lot from the many insightful comments, too, including yours!