Last week, I shared the good news portion of my 2016 wardrobe review, my closet “all-stars.” In compiling the information for that post, I was pleased to see that my frequency of wear numbers had significantly improved over my 2015 statistics. Now it’s time for the flip side of the equation, my wardrobe “benchwarmers.” As with my last post, I will share numbers and photos, as well as my thoughts about the lesser worn – or not worn at all – items in my closet.
What are “Benchwarmers” and is it Ever Okay to Have Them?
As a reminder, I have defined a wardrobe benchwarmer as something that is only worn once or isn’t worn at all over the course of an entire year (read more HERE). I realize this is a fairly lenient characterization and you may wish to classify your benchwarmers more stringently than I have. But for those of us who have histories of shopping too much and amassing overly large wardrobes, it’s a good place to start in terms of our commitment to do better. The whole point of designating all-stars and benchwarmers is to increase our awareness and make improvements, so there really is no right or wrong way to do it. Many of us want to get more wear out of the items in our closets and knowing our numbers can be an important piece of that puzzle.
No matter how we define a benchwarmer, it’s probably normal for most people to have at least a few, especially in the areas of formal wear and the clothing we keep on hand for things like job interviews and tropical vacations. Many of us have pieces that we like or even love but have very little occasion to wear. I think this is perfectly okay, as long as our benchwarmer count doesn’t comprise too large a proportion of our wardrobe (the absolute threshold numbers are of course individual).
Back when I started this blog, I thought I would be able to reach a point where I have zero benchwarmers, but I now realize that’s not a very realistic goal. Sure, there are people who do it and more power to them, but it’s probably not going to happen for most of us.
Reasons for Wardrobe Benchwarmers
Here are a few reasons why we may continue to have benchwarmers in our closets:
1. Weight Changes
Many of us experience weight fluctuations that get in the way of our wearing some of our clothes. This has been the case for me recently, as I will detail below. If it’s realistic that we’ll be able to wear an item again in the near future (like before it goes out of style), it makes sense to hold onto it. However, I recommend that you store these pieces somewhere other than your main closet. In addition, it’s a good idea to evaluate such items periodically, like once a year, to make sure you’d even want to wear them should they fit you well again.
2. Formal Wear
We may not wear our “little black dresses” and other such pieces very often, but they definitely come in handy when we need them. Although using a service such as Rent the Runway can eliminate the need to store rarely worn dressy items, if we already own formal wear that we like and that fits us well, it can make sense to hold onto them. Again, it can be a good idea to store such garments outside of your main closet, especially if you have space constraints.
3. Vacation Wear
Maintaining a small capsule of items for travel to locations with alternate climates can also be helpful. You may only travel to snow country every couple of years, for example, but you’ll need warm clothing and appropriate footwear when you do. It usually doesn’t make sense to purchase these items each time just because they aren’t worn every single year. It can be perfectly acceptable for your snow and tropical items to be benchwarmers some years. If you have the space, keeping a “snow wear” or “tropical wear” box can help you to easily find these items when you need them.
4. The “Hidden Holding Zone”
I have written previously about the “hidden holding zone,” a concept introduced by Angie of the “You Look Fab” blog. Sometimes we aren’t wearing certain items but aren’t quite sure we want to get rid of them. This is where the hidden holding zone can come in handy, as it’s a sort of “way station” between your day-to-day wardrobe and thrift or consignment. In most cases, I store my purged items for a month or more in an alternate closet in case I change my mind and to accumulate enough to take at least a full bag of castoffs to my local thrift or consignment store.
I don’t “rescue” things very often, but it does happen on occasion and I’m then glad that I didn’t act too hastily with my culling. This doesn’t mean that half of our wardrobes should be “on reserve,” but the holding zone can be a good place to store anything we’re not sure should stay or go. I generally review my holding zone every month or two so that it doesn’t become too large. I don’t want to be overly hasty in letting things go, but I also don’t want to hang on to too many “just in case” items, either.
As you can see, I have shifted my perspective on “benchwarmers” since the rigid take I had back in 2013. Time and experience has a way of adding nuance and shades of gray to concepts and that has been the case for me. I still want to keep my benchwarmer number reasonable (of course, that definition will also vary by person and situation), but I’m no longer striving to have that number be zero.
2016 Benchwarmers at a Glance
Unfortunately, I’m unable to report a lower number of benchwarmers for 2016 than I had in 2015. I will get into the reasons for that below (hint – the factors above came into play), but first let’s look at the numbers. If I just look at items that were in my closet for the entirety of 2016, there were 27 total benchwarmers, 10 of which were not worn at all and 17 that were worn just once. There items can be broken down into the following categories:
- 4 sleeveless tops
- 4 cardigans
- 3 jackets
- 1 vest
- 2 pairs of pants
- 7 dresses
- 6 pairs of shoes
Here’s a snapshot of my 2016 wardrobe benchwarmers:
Benchwarmers Purchased in 2016
If I add in items that were purchased during 2016, my number of benchwarmers increases quite a bit – to 46 items – as I had 19 new acquisitions that I only wore once or didn’t wear at all. While some of these items were purchased toward the end of the year, I had ample opportunity to wear most of them two or more times by year-end. Here’s how these new 2016 items can be classified, as well as a photo of all of them:
- 3 sleeveless tops
- 4 short-sleeved tops
- 2 long-sleeved tops (well, more like ¾ sleeved)
- 1 jacket
- 2 cardigans
- 3 pairs of pants
- 1 skirt
- 3 pairs of shoes
The good news is that I have started to wear several of the above items this year after having some standard alterations made and losing a bit of weight, but others were clear mistakes that I never should have bought. I’ll highlight the reasons for my benchwarmers – and what I’ve learned – in the next section.
Reasons for – and Lessons from – Benchwarmers
By far, the greatest reason for my 2016 benchwarmers was weight gain. As a result of menopause and health issues, I gained approximately ten pounds (I don’t know the exact number since I don’t weigh myself very often) over the course of the year. I’ve also been experiencing a lot of problems with water retention for reasons that are still unclear to me (it could be menopause, inflammation, or any number of other things). Since I typically like to wear fitted clothes, this led to my not being able to wear many of the pieces in my closet, especially dresses and pants. Some of my more fitted tops also didn’t look right with the additional pounds.
The 17 items below were benchwarmers as a result of my weight gain:
Fortunately, I have started to drop the excess weight through dietary changes (I was already exercising regularly and continue to do so) and some of the clothes now fit me much better. I just can’t eat as much as I used to and I accept that (although I don’t like it!). Hopefully, I’ll be able to get back to my “happy weight” soon so I can wear most of the pieces in my closet again. Some of the items shown above probably won’t be sticking around, though, as I no longer love them for various reasons.
As a few examples, the black dress is old and not in line with my current style, the black jeans are too high-waisted, and the teal print dress is too girly and the waistline hits me too high. Even if I fit into these garments well again, I don’t think I’d want to wear them, so they will be going to donation or consignment. This is why I recommend that you review your “holding zone” items regularly even if they are in there due to weight changes. Our style preferences shift over time and there’s no use holding onto things that we don’t love and won’t wear regardless of our weight or size.
What Was I Thinking?
Some of my 2016 benchwarmers were things I probably shouldn’t have bought in the first place. Although I have made a lot of progress over the past four years (some of which I outlined HERE), I continue to make shopping mistakes, including the following:
- Buying things just because they are on sale or a low price at a resale store
- Having ill-advised alterations done (also see HERE)
- Purchasing too many similar items (such that I don’t have occasion enough to wear them all regularly)
- Buying too much overall
Fortunately, I don’t make any of the above faux pas as much as I used to, but I’m certainly not perfect by any means. Here are a few examples of items I never should have bought – or should have returned, as well as a brief explanation of each:
- Striped dress: It was way too big for me and too many alterations were needed. It has never quite hung right on me despite being altered multiple times.
- Draped vest: This piece was also too large and required tailoring, plus the length is “off” and doesn’t hit me at the right spot.
- Cream/red/black print dress: The waistline hits a bit too high on me. The dress worked reasonably well at a lower weight, but doesn’t look right now.
- Black jeans: Waistline was too high, but I “settled” because it was so hard for me to find black jeans that were long enough. I should have continued to look around.
- Blue sandals: I bought these on clearance last summer. They are comfortable, but the blue is too light and doesn’t coordinate well with my clothes.
- Grey linen capris: Another sale purchase… Waist is too big and I don’t love the wrinkled look.
- Denim jacket: I thought a denim jacket would be a highly versatile item, but I just don’t love the boxy look of this standard style. I this I would prefer more of a tailored blazer cut.
- Purple asymmetrical tee: This was a consignment buy from the summer. I love the shape and color, but the fabric is too thin and doesn’t quite hang right.
- Purple tie-dye print tunic: I know this is more of a “boho” look than I usually wear, but I would love it for summer if the sleeves were longer. They are more like half sleeves than ¾ on me.
- Red shrug: The red is more of a “tomato” hue than I usually like to wear.
- Striped cardigan: I love the stripes, but the quality isn’t great and the sleeves aren’t quite long enough.
- Teal print dress: I have written about this one before, but I haven’t yet passed it on. My husband bought this dress for me and it was pricey, but it’s not my style and I should have returned it. I only wore it once before I gained weight and it no longer fits me.
My continually evolving style is also responsible for some of my 2016 wardrobe benchwarmers. A lot of the items I didn’t wear last year are no longer in line with my aesthetic preferences. I mentioned most of these style issues above and many of the pieces in question will be heading out the door soon. Interestingly, a lot of shoes fell into this category, which is why I plan to add three to five pairs of shoes to my closet this year (and get rid of at least that many current pairs). Here are three pairs of benchwarmer shoes that don’t currently strike my fancy:
The shoes on the left used to be a favorite of mine, but I no longer like wearing flats in most instances. I like the look of even a small heel, so that’s usually what I choose to wear. However, I can see myself liking the black ballet flats again and they were expensive, so I’m going to hang onto them. The black sneakers, however, are going to go because they feel snug and are thus uncomfortable. I do see the need for casual sneakers that aren’t overly athletic in style, so I’ll be on the lookout for a pair this year. As for the sandals on the right, I’m not sure if I’ll ever come back around to wanting to wear them. I chose other sandals in favor of those last year and the same thing may be true for this coming summer. They look a bit “heavy” to me and I often prefer black or metallic shoes over the gray. I will keep them for now and we’ll see what happens this year.
Avoiding the Mistakes
I believe that my new shopping approach for 2017 will help me to avoid most of my typical mistakes, as I’ll only be buying one item every other week and will have to be much more thoughtful and deliberate about what I buy. Also, if a new item doesn’t quickly get integrated into my wardrobe, I’ll be more motivated to return it since I’ll be buying far less and each purchase will really have to count. While I may still buy things on sale, I will do so only if the item in question is something I would also buy at regular price and is on my shopping priorities list.
I don’t see myself shopping resale much this year, if at all, as it’s such an unpredictable shopping experience. It’s easy to buy things we don’t really need because the prices are so low and it’s tough to leave a resale shop empty-handed. I do think that thrift and consignment stores have value, as I wrote about here, but with my item limit for this year and the inability to make returns, I feel it’s just too risky. Plus, I already have a large wardrobe and a generous clothing budget, so it makes more sense for me to focus on shopping retail this year while buying less and aiming for quality. If you like to shop resale, my tips for successful resale shopping (which I haven’t always followed!) may help to increase your success rate.
I wasn’t pleased to learn that I had so many benchwarmers last year and I actually dreaded writing this post as a result. I felt that my higher 2016 benchwarmer number was a negative reflection on me and my progress. But I had good reasons for some of those benchwarmers and I learned a lot from doing this analysis. I also have plans in place to reduce my number of benchwarmers for 2017 through doing less but more deliberate shopping. I also plan to pass on the 2016 benchwarmers that I don’t see myself wearing again regardless of what I weigh or the occasions in my life.
I’ve long said that I’m aiming for progress, not perfection. Aiming for perfection just sets us up for disappointment, as it’s not possible for us to be perfect. But progress doesn’t always look how we think it will. Sometimes our progress comes from making mistakes and deriving powerful lessons from them, which I feel I have done. Over the past four years, I have had a lot of ups and downs. Many times, I’ve been ashamed to share my numbers here on the blog, but I have continued to do so in the hope that it would help others to feel less shame and learn from my mistakes and the lessons I’ve learned. I hope this post has served those purposes. I know that I have I definitely learned a great deal through taking the time to look at my lesser worn and unworn items from 2016.
Now it’s time for you to chime in, and here are some questions to help spark your thoughts:
- What did you learn about your wardrobe – and yourself – last year?
- How many wardrobe benchwarmers do you feels it’s okay to have?
- In what instances is it acceptable to hold on to items you haven’t worn for an entire year?
- What criteria do you use to determine if something should stay or go?
I invite you to share your thoughts on the above questions or anything else you’d like to say about this post. I wish you all a wonderful weekend! I’ll be back soon with an inspiring installment in my “stories of recovery” series as well as more 2016 wrap-up posts. In the meantime, here are a few articles from the blogosphere that you might enjoy reading:
- Tips for Updating Your Wardrobe (Putting Me Together)
- 25 Fashion Mistakes That Might Be Ruining Your Style (Bridgette Raes)
- Is Your Garment Really Sustainable? It’s Time to Find Out! (Eco Warrior Princess)
- Money Talk (Elizabeth Suzann)