The Lyin’ Witch of a Wardrobe

  • Do you struggle with the concept of wardrobe “staples”—or, on a related note, find yourself falling into a rut of only wearing the basics day-in and day-out?
  • Would you rather run into a burning building or cross a rickety foot bridge than face the prospect of cleaning and organizing your closet? Does this mean that you occasionally buy the same thing over and over again, as you can’t always remember whether or not you already own a knee-length black skirt or a blue blouse with a Peter Pan collar?
  • Do you have trouble “letting go” of clothes you no longer wear, or find the idea of doing a wardrobe audit incredibly stressful?

How often does this happen to you?

Your closet (or dresser) is practically overflowing with individual garments—tops, bottoms, and all manner of accessories—but when you go to assemble your outfit, you feel like you have nothing to wear. None of the pieces go together, everything seems “wrong” for the occasion, and/or there isn’t a single item that makes you feel truly attractive or capable.

As a professional image consultant, this is one of the more common issues my clients tell me they struggle with. The good news, though, is that it’s one that can be resolved with a little organization and creativity. The next time you find yourself experiencing the clothing equivalent of “100 channels and nothing good on!”, here’s what to do:

Check for Essentials

In a previous email, I discussed the wardrobe “staples” that everyone should always have in their closet. In case you need a refresher, they are:

For Women:

  • “Nude” shoes that compliment your skin tone.
  • A navy skirt.
  • A neutral-colored, higher-end handbag.
  • At least one jewelry “ensemble” (that is, a necklace with a matching bracelet or pair of earrings) that you can wear with almost anything.

For Men:

  • Plenty of fresh white shirts (when they start to get yellow stains under the arms, GET RID OF THEM!).
  • A great blazer or sport coat.
  • A high-quality wallet.
  • Well-made and maintained belts in black AND brown.

For Everyone:

  • Well-fitting and supportive undergarments in neutral (as opposed to flashy) colors.
  • A shirt or blouse in a “signature” color that you know is perfect for you.

One of the reasons I recommend these items is because they’re typically neutral and versatile—for example, a navy skirt can be paired with many different kinds of tops to create looks that run the gamut from “professional” to “flirty.” They’re also great add-ons for elevating a casual (or “tired”) outfit into something new and fresh—regardless of your gender, a blazer or sport coat can really enhance a button-up shirt and jeans ensemble!

If you always find yourself scrambling to put something together, it could be that you lack some basic staple pieces. After all, if your closet is stuffed full of pieces that only work in specific situations (or individual items that only look good with one other item), then it just takes one small “hiccup” to create a huge mess!

Keep It CleanBe honest: how often do you actually organize (and, if necessary) reconfigure your closet? For most of us, the answer to that question is a resounding, “Not often enough,” especially since conventional wisdom dictates that the task should be undertaken at least twice a year! A clean closet is much easier to work with than a messy one; being able to see everything at a glance (as opposed to having to dig for things) makes it less challenging to put together outfits and figure out which key items you’re missing (see the previous section). It also helps prevent you from buying the same (or extremely similar) pieces multiple times.

Now, cleaning out your closet isn’t exactly the most fun chore in the world, and when you’re trying to pull it off, it’s easy to get distracted or discouraged. But it often helps to have a plan of attack before you go in. Some people like to take EVERYTHING out and tidy as they go; others prefer to work section-by-section. The “right” way is the one that works for you…or, at the very least, doesn’tleave you feeling like you’d rather just set the whole thing on fire and start from scratch.

And as you’re organizing the closet, you should also…

Do an Audit

Again, this is usually not a fun way to spend an afternoon—in fact, this particular aspect of cleaning out the closet is why most people dislike the chore as a whole! But while it can seem overwhelming at times, it’s usually not as painful as we think it’s going to be.

The key is to divide all of your clothes into four categories:

  • Clothes to keep. Exactly what it says on the tin; these are the clothes that are going back in the wardrobe. They’re your well-fitting, “I feel fabulous in this” items.
  • Clothes to Donate or Sell. These are the clothes that you don’t see yourself wearing in the future but think that other people might want. Maybe that blouse is out of style, maybe those pants no longer fit you, or maybe you wore that dress once to a company picnic and then never again. If the clothes in question are still in near-new condition and fairly trendy, you may have some luck selling them to a second-hand store. Otherwise, hand them off to friends, or research local charities in your area that accept donations. Online options, like thredUP and Poshmark, are worth exploring, as well.
  • Clothes to Recycle (or Toss). This is the category for stained, holey, or otherwise worn-out clothes that you don’t want and honestly don’t think that anyone else would want, either. While your first impulse may be to dump this stuff in the trash, there are actually organizations that will take old textiles off of your hands in order to recycle them. Always try that route first before sending a t-shirt to take up space in a landfill!
  • Clothes that You Want to Keep but Don’t Need in Your Wardrobe. This refers to things like hand-painted / souvenir shirts, Halloween costumes, the uniform polo from your first job, etc. There’s honestly nothing wrong with keeping an item that has sentimental value, even if you don’t see yourself wearing it in the future. But does your prom dress from 10 years ago REALLY need to be hung up next to the peplum frock you sometimes wear to work, or the casual sundresses you like to throw on with strappy sandals when a friend invites you to lunch? At the end of the day, these items take up valuable space that could be better utilized by things you wear frequently, so try to find a different place for ‘em!  

Now, while you’re sorting out your clothes, you need to be wary of the sunk cost fallacy. And by that, I mean that you shouldn’t hold onto an article of clothing that you don’t like (and/or don’t see yourself wearing) just because it was expensive or it’s still in like-new condition. In these situations, you may feel like getting rid of the item would be “wasting” the money you spent on it. But the truth is that the money’s already gone; you’re not actually saving or gaining anything by letting it gather dust in your closet. Let it go and keep moving forward!

Contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as having too many clothes. However, when folks run into the “I have nothing to wear” conundrum, it’s not always a matter of overwhelming numbers—it can also be an issue with variety, or even having an incorrect mindset.

Tara Hooper
Personal image and professional consultant. Effective communicator. Transformation queen. Confidence creator. 

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