This is the first post in a series of posts called Wardrobe 101. It’s a collection of curating concepts with concrete tasks to help lead to a more developed awareness of your own style preferences and a more functional and harmonious closet. This approach is style-driven rather than lifestyle-specific.
Are you stuck in a style rut?
I often find myself dreaming of my ideal wardrobe or wishing for an entirely new closet based on my current aesthetic, never satisfied with the state of my own closet and my relationship with authentic style. As someone who is always searching for inspiration, absorbing images, and learning about and writing about style, I find myself falling in and out of love with looks on a daily basis. There’s nothing wrong with being inspired and finding new things you love, but there’s a difference between being trendy and being stylish and after seeing so many images it can be hard to tell the difference.
I have moments of clarity where I feel that this is it, I have found what feels like me and I snap up as many items that fit aesthetic as possible only to abandon that look for a new one altogether as soon as something else strikes my fancy. I have been doing this for a large portion of my purchasing life and can say with some shame that I have added 30 pieces to my wardrobe in a single season, and kept few to none of those pieces by the next. I am caught in a cycle of constant buying and purging while only while wearing approximately 20% of what I own on a regular basis. Not only is this an unsustainable way of shopping but it leads to a thoroughly unstable sense of my personal style.
Needless to say I have had a lot of false starts in my closet forays.
I’ve learned a lot about the way I approach dressing and wardrobe creation and at this point I’ve determined that I always begin with the best intentions, yet find myself abandoning my closet cleaning or wardrobe curating process midway through. I think this is because most approaches consider authentic personal style as a result of a refined wardrobe rather than the cause. Your style exists in your closet as-is. It might be almost entirely hidden, but I promise that there’s a hint of it in there somewhere. All it takes is some careful editing and responsible buying to show your aesthetic preferences more clearly.
While there’s a lot of blogs out there detailing similiar theories, most trade heavily in rhetoric about capsule wardrobes and mix-and-match minimalism. I love Into Mind‘s wonderful discussions of personal style and practical tips on buying quality and Unfancy’s perfectly executed lifestyle capsule (and highly recommend them as related reading), but I can never seem to apply the advice I’ve absorbed to my life. I get it, but I don’t do it. Whether that’s laziness or something else I have yet to determine, but either way, having alternate methods of explaining abstract concepts is never a bad thing!
I want to design a easy, intuitive curating process focused on your own sense of style and one that can incorporate more than one single aesthetic. I tend to like multiple different styles at once and as long as you put those styles through the same curation process as the rest of your wardrobe, there’s no reason they can’t be a part of your closet. I also wanted to focus on style as the primary motivation for doing this since developing my own personal style is so important to me and I don’t want it to be an afterthought in my closet.
I think that starting this process with a capsule or minimal wardrobe in mind creates unnecessary parameters. Though you may not be consciously thinking about it you may find yourself holding on to certain items because they “go” in your capsule. Capsules are often forced variety. They’re about having as many different types of pieces as possible in order to make your closet work – this is a great idea in theory, but it’s not one size fits all. If you have 100 different pairs of denim and no skirts, you don’t need to go out and buy a classic pencil skirt just because it “should” be in your closet. There are no shoulds in authentic style. There’s just what you like.
What I want to be different about this series is that each step will be posted in tandem with my experiences as apply the advice to my own closet and sense of style. Not a sugar-coated hypothetical wardrobe or a beautiful capsule, but my own mismatched and fast fashion-filled cluster of a closet. This blog exists as tool for everyone, myself included.
With that, let’s start with the first step – the detox.
Detoxing – the Quick and Dirty Method:
If you have no idea what you like, you might be suffering from inspiration overload. It’s one of the easiest mistakes to make, because though delving into magazine and blogs is a great way to start thinking about style, it’s also the quickest route to losing sense of what you love. I’ve been through it – I’m probably doing it right now. I can almost guarantee it. There’s ways to learn to use sources of inspiration to your advantage, but right now you want to get as far away from other peoples’ visions as possible. It’s not always pleasant to do but it’s worth it and is the crucial first step to refining your style.
- Disconnect. There is no way you can ever hope to curate your own style if you’re constantly being bombarded by images. Removing yourself from your favorite sources of inspiration is absolutely essential to discovering what you want and love. Yes, this includes magazines. And blogs. And tumblr. It includes the windows of stores and TV shows that feature characters with clothes you adore. It especially includes Instagram. Seeing images, especially other people’s aesthetic choices – like on Instagram where everyone chases their own perfectly curated theme – will quickly destroy your own sense of style. If you are committed to devoting space in your thoughts to your style and completely disconnect, approximately a week’s time is enough to give yourself a mental blank slate. If this seems too daunting, or if you work in a field where you are exposed to fashion and style images on a regular basis (or even just social media in general), removing the most prominent sources of inspiration for a longer period of time should be enough to keep you on track. Don’t worry, everything will come back later and play a vital role in this process.
- Stop shopping. While I firmly believe that shopping is inherent to refining your tastes and will be discussed at length in a later post, at the beginning of the process it can be a major hinderance. Even if you think you aren’t, you’re being influenced by the clothes you see in stores and how their styled, both on the floor and in advertisements. That’s what visual merchandising does. You don’t want someone else’s choices, especially not choices designed to market products in a specific way, to dictate how you wear clothing. I am constantly falling under this trap myself and have bought so many pieces because I liked the way they were draped on the mannequin or the way they were presented and organized into sections and capsules. It’s not always a bad thing to get inspiration this way, but you don’t want to be caught up in micro trends and micro seasons right now. Suspend shopping for clothing for the duration of your initial disconnect period.
- Edit your closet. I’m including this portion in the detox step rather than in the organization process as this should be done as soon as possible after your disconnect period for maximum effectiveness.Full disclosure: I am very, very bad this step in the process. I dread closet cleanouts, almost never do them, when I do I can stretch out one session for months at a time. But after you complete steps one and two, it’s time to put your new blank slate into action with no procrastination. For this portion, you’ll need two consecutive days with a few free hours each.
- Day One: Go through your closet and pull out everything you don’t like. This should be based on gut feelings only. Don’t take longer than a few seconds to decide if you want to keep a piece, and as soon as you decide it’s a no, box it up to donate. This is not the time to try items on, it’s slash-and-burn for your closet. You want to find everything that instinctively doesn’t feel like you or that you never, ever wear and get it out without overthinking. If there’s anything that makes refining your personal style more difficult, it’s overthinking it.
- Day Two: Repeat this process again, this time pulling out items you’re unsure about. This is the time to break out the full length mirror and try items on and to judge fit and fabric. While style is first and foremost in this exercise, fit is almost equally as important and if an item doesn’t suit you as you are now, it’s time to let it go to make room for clothes that do. Holding onto someday clothes keeps you from fulling exploring your style in the now.This is also the time to pull out pieces that are worn out and need to be replaced. If the item is something you love or wear very frequently, make a note to yourself on a post it note and stick in on the wall next to your closet for later. Hopefully after taking a week off of being influenced, your decisions will be made based on what actually applies to your sense of style and daily life. You know intuitively whether or not something fits your concept of you. If you don’t like it or if it doesn’t fit you, donate. If you love it, back on the hanger.Do NOT open your previous day’s no-go box.
Note: It is often suggested to create a “maybe” pile and box it up to for a few months to revisit later. While this is a great suggestion in theory, I find that creating a box of maybes only adds to the clutter in my wardrobe. At least 70% of those items will migrate back into my closet only to inevitably be purged again in the next round. This is my own personal experience however, so if you feel that you need a maybe box I won’t stop you.
The most difficult portion of this initial process is during the second day. When faced with the reality of getting rid of articles of clothing that are okay but not great, it’s easy to start to justify why it needs to remain in your closet and this goes double for anything that was a splurge. At this point, I like to take a step back and think about where the article came from, why I still have it, and attempt to determine exactly it is that’s making me hold onto it. Most often than not, even if I like an item but never wear it, it’s because it doesn’t fit in with the rest of what I own or within the parameters of my life. If I’m feeling particularly ruthless or am in desperate need of a closet cleanout, I’ll make myself toss an item if I have even a shadow of a doubt of whether or not it fits my life. This is why the initial closet detox should be conducted as soon as possible after completion of your disconnect session as it allows you to look at what you own with a fresh perspective.
The detox process is also when the very first elements of your style will begin to surface. Make note of what you have remaining in your closet after the end of the editing period. Notice what items you wear on a regular basis and what characteristics they may have. Are they cut a certain way? Are they a certain color? Do you own a lot of the same times of items? These are all indicators of what best fits you. You don’t need to write this down at this point in the process (I know everyone says to, but I promise you don’t need to), just make a mental note of the most obvious patterns in your closet.
If you’ve made it this far – congratulations! You’ve completed the first step. The next part of the series is the organization process which will help you make further sense of what you have and what you need to do with it.
If you have any questions on detox methodology or would like to share your experiences with Part 1, let me know in the comments.