This is Part 3 of my Wardrobe 101 series and details how to curate your wardrobe to better reflect your personal style. If you’re looking for the start, head over to Part 1: Detoxing here.
After you’ve sorted through your excess clothing and organizing the remaining pieces, it’s a lot easier to know what you like. What’s left hanging in your closet should be a distilled version of your style – if you really only keep what you love, you won’t even have to think about it. You’ll naturally be left with a better indicator of your preferences and you can easily apply this knowledge as you begin the curating process. While this process can be approached a myriad of ways, the following is my favorite way of going about it.
Shopping is actually one of my very favorite ways to curate a wardrobe. It’s counterintuitive at first, but going to a store is the easiest way to try out trends and silhouettes without committing to actually purchasing items. All it takes is some self-control not to buy anything you don’t love and a willingness to experiment even if outfits may not always work out the way you’d hope and you will have the ability to try almost anything. Shopping online doesn’t have the same effect: you need to be able to pick up and try on everything.
I recommend starting by going to your favorite source of fast fashion, preferably one with multiple departments. I like to work with H&M, Forever21, Zara, and the like at this stage to avoid anywhere that sells to a niche market which can limit your creative process. You need options across a variety of trends and styles to work with, otherwise this exercise will only explore items that are part of the particular aesthetic marketed by that brand. Some stores have a little more room to breathe than others (think Urban Outfitters vs Free People) but I’d personally still choose a large “neutral” chain.
Once you’ve decided on where to go, take a few hours to do the following:
- Take a thorough walk around and pull anything off the rack that catches your eye. Try to avoid spending too much time looking at any displays, mannequins, or visual merchandising and instead focus on the clothes themselves in all the sections of the store. Feel free to branch out to menswear and even kids, depending on your preferences. If you see a piece and it sparks a styling idea in your head – even if it’s something you wouldn’t consider putting on yourself – grab anything you can find to help realize that vision.This first step is most effective if you avoid thinking about what you already have in your closet. If you’re not planning on buying the pieces, it doesn’t matter if you own something similar or if something goes with the rest of what you have or not. Pulling something that’s a radical departure from what you do have could be a sign that something’s missing from your closet, or you might find out that you may like it aesthetically speaking, but that it’s not part of your own personal style story. Buying items that I love hanging in the store but not on myself is one of the main causes of noise in my style, not to mention I end up too many things I don’t wear that just take up space.Another reason I suggest to decide not buy anything before you start the try on process is that it eliminates price as a determining factor in what you pick up, try on, and wear. I find myself constantly checking price tags (like I’m sure everyone with a budget does) but I’ll often only pull things I deem “cheap enough” to actually take to the fitting room. As a result, I have loads of cheap, ill-fitting tees and paper-thin denim that I got for a good deal that I probably didn’t love in the first place. Depending on how much you bargain hunt, this may be a very difficult habit to unlearn, but just remember: you’re trying these clothes on for free! Price doesn’t matter. Ignore it.(The next step is making peace with buying things you love over buying things because you want a bargain, but that’s another post for another time.)
- Once you’ve got a decent pile of items, try everything on. If you’ve started this step just after detoxing and organizing your closet and you have handled the clothes you already have well enough, you’ll probably find that a lot of your choices play well together. Even if they don’t, try combinations that you wouldn’t have otherwise attempted – there’s a reason you’ve picked up these pieces even if you can’t see it. Trying on clothes in the safety of the dressing room is also a time to play with silhouettes that you may have thought would not be flattering or were too afraid to attempt because they were too trendy or too “difficult”. For me, this is loose pants in practically any form paired with tighter-fitting tops, but especially boyfriend jeans and anything else that doesn’t instantly flatter my apple-shaped body. If you don’t like the way something looks, it’s not as if you own it – it’s all commitment free. I find I’m more relaxed in the dressing room and it’s an opportunity to just have fun trying on different style influences and personas.Notice what you like about your choices and what didn’t work out, or if there are particular pieces that grabbed you when you wore them. Remember that you’re not committed to purchasing anything – if you picked up a few jumpsuits and discovered none of them fit properly, make a mental note you might want one and try on different cuts at other stores. A well-curated wardrobe means being critical about what makes it into your closet and this may mean having to branch out until you find a brand that has what you need.
- After you’re done trying on everything and have evaluated everything, take a moment to gather the pieces that you felt most connected to or that you most desired to add to your closet. Reflect on how these new pieces interact with what you may already have. Do they come from the same style family as your current wardrobe or are they radically different? Are they replacements for items you may have discarded? What ties them together? By examining choices that you made quickly from items you have no emotional connection to, it’s easier to trace the threads that make up your style choices, from material to color to fit to silhouette. Add this information to what you already know about your closet.
- Take your list of notes and begin to compose a list of items you’d like to have and where you’d like to purchase them. You can start exploring niche brands at this point – anything is game now. Reserving more specialized retailers for later the process allows you to shop them with a certain goal in mind and helps avoid the pitfall of dressing in that brand’s aesthetic only. As you refine your style, you’ll probably add to your list of favorite brands at first only to have it narrow down to only a few after you discover which ones suit your body type and style preferences the closest. This is natural, but remember that trying new stores is a great way to combat any style ruts, and that sometimes challenging yourself to walk into a store that’s not marketed to your style and find pieces you like is a great creative exercise. The more you know about your style, the more freedom you have to shop anywhere.
Based on my own personal experience, I’m limiting the amount of clothes I buy online and I am no longer going to buy clothes without trying them on. This is key to helping me stay in touch with my style and focus on buying items that I actually want to wear. These guidelines may or may not work for you and I recommend getting in touch with your own personal shopping habits and closet pitfalls to help determine the best strategy for you. If you have a lot of ill-fitting items, focus more on fit when you shop. This may mean having to shop around for something, but that’s okay! If you tend to buy a lot of different pieces with no cohesion, you may need to refine your shopping habits so that you are focused on finding certain items to avoid being distracted by displays and trends. There’s an element of trial and error to all this – which is what makes it enjoyable. There are no rules here.
Curating your closet is mostly just shopping consciously. The bones of your style are already in your closet and now it’s about finding things that fit your life and excite you to breathe new life into your wardrobe. As you pay closer attention to how and why you shop, overbuying will be kept to a minimum and you should end up with fewer unworn impulse buys crowding your shelves. It takes time and patience to make a 100% personal closet and the process is on-going, but the good news is that it’s a way to shop guilt-free. Enjoy the opportunities for self-reflection and exploration.