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.