Take Charge of Your Closet: Less Shopping, More Style

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Wardrobe Oxygen: Journaling your way to personal style

I bought these two skirts (link and link) from LOFT, and I love them, but I cannot figure out how to style them! Nothing I have seems to look right. (I could use a wardrobe overall to begin with. I feel like I have tons of stuff, and spend too much on clothes all the time, but most doesn't work unless I get something else to go with it, so I end up wearing the same things over and over anyway.) I think these skirts would look better with some kind of tucked-in shirt, but then it emphasizes the belly, which I don't want to do. And I'm not sure what shoes to wear with them either. I was attending my daughter's sports banquet last night, and I pulled out half my closet and ended up wearing something else I've worn a hundred times. I need an intervention.

Girl, I’m hosting a closet intervention for you. If you still have the tags on those skirts RETURN THEM. You had an opportunity to wear them and you didn’t. That is a BIG sign – you don’t NEED them. I get it, both of those skirts are super cute and I can see your thought process – they’re funky and cool yet have a classic fit, they’re not too boring but not too crazy, they’ll be so versatile!

When I saw your email I thought, sure, I can style these a ton of ways to de-emphasize the belly, to be appropriate for fall, for winter, for spring. But will that benefit you? I’ll likely style them with things you don’t already own, which will encourage you to purchase more items, which very well may not go with anything else but that skirt.

The most important part of the email I read was, “…wearing something else I’ve worn a hundred times.” There’s nothing wrong with wearing the same thing over and over. I wear this black dress all the TIME, at least twice a month for years and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there’s something quite chic about having pieces that are so great you keep reaching for them time and time again.

However, if you’re reaching for things that don’t fit, you don’t like, or don’t make you feel good you need to make a change. But skirts like this aren’t going to do it.

I mentioned in a recent post how I journaled about my wardrobe, and I found it extremely helpful in determining what I REALLY needed for the season. It could be a good exercise for you to know where to go with your current wardrobe.

Take Charge of your Closet: How to find personal style, buy less, and love what you wear by Wardrobe OxygenTake Charge of Your Closet: A Journaling Exercise

Take one page and write down everything in your wardrobe right now that you love. Things that work well for you and your life and make you feel good. This may be one or two items, or you may have to write sideways in the margins to fit it all. There’s no wrong way to have this page look so be honest.

Next page, list all the almost right items. The wrap dress that looks great but doesn’t have enough fabric in front. The jeans that fit awesome but have a weird color that goes with nothing. The suit that you need and wear all the time but you don’t love the cut of the jacket. The black sheath dress that is looking a little worn from the dozen wears each year for the past five years. The black pumps that are too high of a heel but otherwise awesome.

Don’t think about what you wish you could afford, wish you could fit, wish you had the lifestyle to wear. That has nothing to do with this exercise, nor achieving personal style. No dress, no skirt, no garment of any type will change your life or who you are on the inside. This goal is to get to the point of having a successful closet- items you wear, you like, and work for your lifestyle. Your closet needs and final product will look completely different from anyone else.

So you have these two pages with items written on them. Look at them, and see themes.

For me, on the first page I saw the theme of printed maxi dresses, straight cut jeans that worked with flatter shoes, and blazers. These items work for my lifestyle – a long printed dress is great for blogging events, nights out, concerts, and parties. I like that the focus is on the print, not my figure, and I can wear comfortable shoes underneath. Blazers work for the office, weekends, and nights out and dress up my beloved band tee shirts. I have boyfriend, girlfriend, bootcut, jegging but I always reach for the same Gap Real Straights and wear them rolled, unrolled, with pumps and with sneakers. These items work with my figure, my lifestyle, my personal style, and this list shows I already own enough of these items.

The second page is even more telling. This page may share items that need to be replaced because of wear or body changes, it will also show the disconnect between who you are and who you think you are. For me, it helped me admit I am not the same size I was a couple years ago, and I need to replace some items that if they fit, would fill holes in my wardrobe. But it also showed me that I am not being honest with myself. I keep buying leather jackets but I never wear them; they’re too stiff, too hot to replace a blazer, too fussy, and often make me look like a linebacker. I buy statement pumps – red leopard, peacock print, black and white dotted calfhair… and I never wear them. Outside of my silver pumps, I usually find black or nude works best. I had far too many work dresses – while I had many I loved and had on the first page, the second page was full of dresses that are too tight, too big, the neckline not flattering, the sleeves the wrong length, the color hard to carry off. And finally, there was a regular at Studio 54 living in the back of my closet. Or at least you would think so based on the amount of sequins, glitter, and faux fur I had in residence.

From these two pages, you can get a clearer and literally more black and white description of your closet. You can see trends, you have declared what you love and left off that which you don’t. You’ve admitted your shopping mistakes, and have an exact list of items that need to be repaired or replaced. And you also have a starting point for building a successful closet.

Step One:

Your first step? Get rid of the things that didn’t make the grade on either sheet of paper. If you didn’t think of it during this exercise, it’s because it’s not important. Remember, no one’s keeping track of how many pairs of jeans you own, no one cares if you wear the same black pants to work twice in one week, and even though those heels are utterly drool-worthy, they’re not benefitting anyone collecting dust on your closet shelf. The less in your closet, the more you can think and style outfits.

Step Two:

Next, look at that second page and see what can be repaired or modified. Instead of buying more, spend some time on Yelp or community Facebook groups and find a seamstress or tailor who can shorten those jeans a half inch, nip that blazer in a hair and shorten the sleeves, sew those hip pockets closed, and repair the zipper on that dress. Why replace when you have something almost perfect already in your closet? Along with this, it doesn’t take much skill to replace buttons. I do this quite often, switching out gold for the same color as the blazer, upgrading a cardigan with pave balls, or switching out basic horn for something that makes more of a statement.

Step Three:

Now that you have made the most of your current wardrobe and worn it, it’s time to be honest and recognize the holes in your closet. For me, I saw a clear need for a black crewneck sweater that worked tucked in or left out. I had a stretch merino one from Banana Republic I wore and loved for almost a decade, but it was looking worse for wear and was a bit too snug for my comfort. I also saw the need for a statement pencil skirt. While I had my Ankara midi and maxis and my yellow wool a-line, I wanted something that had texture, drew attention, and had a slim silhouette to work with jackets, sweaters, or tee shirts. I also saw that I had just too many striped shirts, but not enough non-striped casual items for weekends.

From all this, you have a proper shopping list. And you have a current wardrobe that works well enough for now that you can shop slowly and with care. Seriously, it’s okay to keep wearing the same thing over and over. I bet you’re already doing it now, but don’t realize it because you start each morning with a full closet you flip through. I say this as I am wearing the same exact boots and dress today, a Tuesday, that I wore just this past Thursday and will likely again wear next week. Style comes from quality, not quantity.

Step Four:

Before you throw everything into a bag and send it off for donation, see if there’s any way to benefit from these items. Do any still have tags still on them? If you purchased online and the store has a lenient return policy, you can score a mailing label (or pay for shipping) and print out your order confirmation and still return the piece. Some stores will take items past the return time for store credit. And I am having a ton of success selling on Poshmark (check me out, I’m wardrobeoxygen and you’ll find all the things that didn’t pass muster from this journaling project – use code PMZYS for $5 off your first order).

We live in a time of excess, where bloggers convert whole rooms of their homes into walk-in closets to accommodate their extensive collection of clothing and accessories. There’s no need for so many clothes. Style doesn’t come from what you have but how you wear it. It’s not wearing the same thing over and over, it’s creating signature style. It’s not having an empty closet, it’s a curated capsule wardrobe.

There’s a definite rush with the purchase of a new garment – the feeling of promise, a new start, a new style. But this rush is temporary, and often poses more problems and frustration along the way. Purchasing more than we need not only hits the pocketbook, but also the psyche. Closet orphans, the need to adopt new trends, keeping up with the Jennifers, having a collection of clothing for a life or body different from your own, and the guilt and depression of having to resort to something you’ve worn a hundred times… your life is too precious to waste time and heart over such things. Having a curated and successful wardrobe isn’t quick, but the process to get there is liberating. Now go find your receipt and return those skirts!

A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. I don’t remember this post from the first time around, but it’s a pinterest pin for me. I’m thinking about my classic black leather blazer I bought at a bargain price on overstocks.com. I think I tried it on when I got it several years ago but somehow I’ve never managed to remove the tags and wear it. It’s such a classic item and always on every blogger’s must have list, but I don’t wear it. I’m not sure if it even fits me now…. And this is after how many closet purges?
    I’ll try it on again today and if I don’t love it and can’t wait to wear it, it’s getting consigned this fall. And I’ll admit I’m just not the leather blazer kind of woman… even if it would make my band tees look awesome. If I had any.

  2. I have such respect and awe of your blog and blogging style. Your detail and clarity and common sense approach (without forsaking fun) is just so impactful and engaging. I love fashion and closet organization, and while I’m pretty smart and in tune with my body and style, I need to desperately do this exercise with my shoes and underwear. So many gaps and compromises and items collecting dust.

  3. I love this. Missed seeing it when it posted and just saw it right now. Apparently I “NEEDED” to read it now, not three weeks ago! I just ordered the velvet blazer in Sugared Candy on Talbot’s website. They had 40% off and free shipping. I’ve never bought anything from Talbot’s before and guessed on the size. It arrived & was a bit big and the pink wasn’t quite the shade I wanted. However, the velvet fabric & style was awesome. I reasoned I could get it tailored and the color was “fine”. After reading this I am going to return it and wait for one in a more fuschia shade. Thank you, thank you!! Going to also do the complete exercise over break. One question – on page 2, do you also write down what makes the item not quite perfect?

  4. This is brilliant. I’ll bet it resonates with a lot of people. Just yesterday I was trying items that arrived from an online order and a top didn’t quite work for me. I thought hmm, what if I get it in a Medium instead of Large, and maybe the Tall version? I bet I could do something with it then. But should I really? And after reading this post it occurred to me that in a year or two that top will be sitting in the back of my closet because it wasn’t really me and I didn’t need it. It’s not the sizing that was off at all, and even if it fits I probably shouldn’t keep it in order to “make it work” if I don’t love it, right?

  5. I am pregnant with my second child (6 weeks to go!) and I did something I think is going to be really helpful after the baby is born. When it was time to switch over to maternity clothes, I purged my closet. I got rid of everything that didn’t fit or didn’t work or I didn’t like anymore. It wasn’t easy from a sentimental or “I might need that!” perspective. I’m not sure what my body size/shape will turn out to be after she’s born, but I’m hoping going through my closet to select the final “keepers” will less overwhelming with one big purge already completed.

    1. I also did that when I was pregnant with my daughter. I got rid of everything that was ratty, which turned out to be a big stack. You can be super objective about what is worn out and what you do and don’t like when you can’t wear any of it, anyway. The big purge led to a shopping binge in the last few weeks, though, when I pulled out the winter things that survived the cull and realized that all the layering and coordinating pieces were gone! Oh well, at least the sales were good and I stuck to a defined color palette (rust, burgundy, teal, navy, black).

  6. Great advice!!! I am currently going through a ‘mix it up’ mind set in which I am shopping in my closet to create different combos AND getting rid of the pieces that just don’t work for me. Though I have a 99% black wardrobe, I still want a coherent closet in which I can reach in and get the comfort, style and ease of day-to-day dressing. Life’s too short to wear clothing you hate!

  7. Great post! so thoughtful – this sounds like a great exercise and frankly I’m a little scared to do it. But I suspect I’m holding on to too many things in an effort to be “well-rounded”

    1. I can totally relate to that. Well what if my friends decide to go to Vegas for a weekend? What if I have to go camping for more than a week? What if I am invited to a black tie wedding? But the thing is often when those situations come up I still don’t turn to those random “well rounded” things in my wardrobe. Also I have caught myself keeping things because they’re pretty and look pretty in my closet. Such a bad habit!

  8. I recently started reading your blog Allie, and I just wanted to say that I am so impressed with the thought and effort you obviously put into your replies to your readers. It’s so nice to read such well spoken and thoughtful answers to what people are *really* asking and need to hear. Thank you for that 🙂

  9. I like that first raisin skirt. If you aren’t someone who feels confident putting things together go back and look at the catalog or website where you first saw the item. The short/boxy top looks good with that skirt and since it’s not tucked in it doesn’t highlight lumps and bumps. There is no shame in borrowing retailers stylings, even if you shop your closet for them instead of their store.

    I was at a social event recently and my good friend noted that her 20-something daughter had been digging around in her closet and was wearing an item that we all remembered from a special event — more than 20 years ago. Oh dear — none of us are anywhere near the size we were more than 20 years ago, so I knew that dress was not in her current rotation. At a minimum, move things you aren’t/can’t currently wear OUT of your current closet.

  10. This is excellent advice, and I highly recommend it. If I’m always reaching for the same things to wear, then those are the things that speak to me, ad buying more/different clothing (no matter how ‘essential’ for others) won’t suit. Where we differ: I have 2 leather jackets (a tailored brown and a biker-chic black) and they will be removed from my cold dead body. However, I will never purchase a denim jacket – it doesn’t speak to me, not one bit.

    I’ve actually found this process easier since I started learning to sew. For anyone interested: I used some basic patterns from Collette and Seamware (highly recommended as a learning tool: they do ‘sew-alongs’, so you get illustrated blog posts to refer to for any steps you’re not comfortable with) and I modified patterns for two tank tops, a blouse, and tailored pants so that the pattern fits me to a T. So, now, if I find I need a black silk camisole, it’s 2 hours of effort and 15$ of fabric to have the exact thing I need that fits perfectly. My mother used the same tactic except she worked with a seamstress: we have different approaches that suit our budget. 🙂 Also, frankly, it’s easy to click ‘buy’ on a pair of black pants you don’t really need… but spending a few hours sewing it up encourages you to consider whether you really actually do need it enough to sacrifice the time.

    1. I love everything about this, Roselyne! I keep saying I need to sew, I have the machine but I hardly use it. You give such a good example why it’s worth it. New Year’s resolution?

      I want to be the person who has her leather jacket removed from her cold dead body, but I have yet to find one that does the trick so now I am going to sell or return (because some have tags on them) all the ones until/if I find The One. Though I am keeping my biker jacket from high school though it’s sooo dated (I got it at Express, it’s cropped with dolman sleeves and padded shoulders, need I say more?). Rock those jackets for those of us who have admitted they cannot! 🙂

      1. New year’s resolution at least for the simple-to-make, hard-to-find things! (Silk camisoles, shell tops for under blazers, that sort of thing). Honestly, they’re not difficult, and the material isn’t that expensive, but finding them ready-made and having them fit well is a nightmare, never mind the price.

        My issue with the leather jackets is finding a pair of boots that doesn’t clash with the brown ones and that doesn’t have a heel. I’m side-eyeing the mom-fashin-bloggers who insist that heels are appropriate to bring your toddler to the playground – honestly, I’m pretty sure I’d tip right over and fall on my tush the second I tried to pick her up on wet grass. Flat shoes with traction that look cute: this is my challenge.

  11. This, Is. Scary. And, as I can’t fit a single thing more into my side of the (large) closet, necessary. Did I say scary

    Also, “there was a regular at Studio 54 living in the back of my closet. Or at least you would think so based on the amount of sequins, glitter, and faux fur I had in residence.” Best. Line. Ever (her cousin lives in mine, btw)

    1. You’re right, it IS scary. But I’ve been doing it all fall and into winter and gosh is it LIBERATING! I have fewer decisions, and less guilt over things I spent a lot on but don’t wear, can’t fit into, don’t have the life for. I’ve seriously created events or accepted invitations just so I can wear things in my closet, even though I don’t really want to go. THAT is scary! And I can’t recommend Poshmark enough, I’m listing things every so often when I have time, it’s so easy to mail them out (I have shipping supplies at work and do them on my lunch hour and drop them off in the USPS dropbox in the basement) and it feels so FREEING to not just have these things leave, but know they are going to be worn, AND get paid.

      But there’s still some sequins I haven’t yet had the guts to get rid of… I’m still human! 🙂

      1. How do you deal with – at least mentally – the idea that you might wear something again? I had clothes I never got to Goodwill (because I was going to consign them, and never did), but surprise! I went back up in size and am wearing some of them again. Or a blouse that I didn’t wear for ages, but rediscover? Or things I plain old forget about because my brain doesn’t work? See? FEAR.

        1. Are you wearing them because they fit or because you love them? And there’s nothing wrong with storing away things that aren’t right for you right now, but they should not be in your closet muddling your thoughts on a daily basis. All that should be in your closet is things you can wear right now (or if you have little storage like me, hide the out of season stuff in the very far back and monkey-hang them to take up less space and have them even more in the shadows). And your brain shouldn’t forget if you have a manageable size of wardrobe OR if it’s an item that truly sings to you <3

          1. This is why I love you. The former, in some cases. In others, I loved, and was sad when I had to let them go because I’d been successful in my weight loss. I will 100% take your cue and pack some things away I’m not ready to give up totally. The rest of the journaling might be too much for me emotionally right now 😉

    2. I’m starting to wonder if my imaginary alter-ego was born in 1925 (I’m 31), given the number of fit and flare, ’50s style midi cocktail dresses I’m hoarding. My work hasn’t had a holiday party in four years due to budget cuts and the one this year is casual (to entice our particular crop of software developers into attending? They seem unusually averse to clothing with buttons). I’m SO sad about it!

        1. I was all set to wear my cropped, vintage rabbit fur cape, too! Who plans these things? And why didn’t they ask me?

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