Organize Your Wardrobe, Hone Your Style

organize wardrobe

As you stare into the depths of your closet, frustrated and overwhelmed, seeing racks of clothing and NOTHING you want to wear, you may be thinking to yourself:

  • Dude. I need to go SHOPPING.
  • I must have crappy taste. How can I hate everything I own?
  • Naught but closet orphans in here. Sigh.

And yet, my guess would be that you’ve got loads of amazing duds, that your taste is spot-on, and that your items are just dying to be remixed. AND that all of these things would be crystal clear to you if you invested some time and energy in organizing your wardrobe.

What? NO! I’m not kidding! No wait, LISTEN.

If you can’t see it, you won’t wear it

In an ideal world, we’d all have Cher’s amazing closet organization system, complete with video touchscreen and electronic inventory. In the real world, we must find ways to keep our clothing relatively visible or risk erasing its very existence from memory. Obviously, you can’t keep every single piece in full view, but try to arrange your wardrobe so that you can see as much as possible. Or just a peek of each piece. Old standbys should be the ones tucked into the corners, while difficult and challenging pieces should stare you down daily until inspiration strikes.

If you don’t know your inventory, you’ll get stuck in a rut

It’s not enough to keep your belongings in plain view. Familiarizing yourself with the contents of your closet is a practice VITAL to keeping your looks fresh and interesting. How can you try new combinations, add new accessories to tried-and-true ensembles, or prevent yourself from purchasing duplicates if you don’t know what you own?

If you don’t display your accessories, your outfits may lack cohesion

Shoes, jewelry, and accessories are the glue that hold your outfits together. They can add marvelous polish to an already-great ensemble, but they also have the magical ability to bridge gaps between seemingly unrelated or clashing pieces. I cannot TELL you how many times my outfits have been sparked by a scarf, belt, or shoe. And when scarves, belts, and shoes are hidden from view, they can’t spark anything. Maybe you can’t do belt racks and scarf hangers all over your bedroom, but could you do an earring tree or necklace display? Find a way to keep those accessories in your line of sight. They will help you craft new and unexpected outfits.

But my favorite organizational practice for keeping organized and maximizing your wardrobe? Keep and maintain an outfit list. You’ll know what you’ve got on-hand, force yourself to wear underutilized garments, and constantly appreciate what you’ve got. This practice will revolutionize how you dress, I swear.

When I begin working with a new makeover client, she inevitably tells me that she has so few things she loves, only a few go-to outfits, needs to go shopping for more options STAT. And after a couple of hours of pulling hidden gems from the closet corners, inventorying the lot, and unearthing some neglected accessories, she realizes she’s got tons of great clothing and far more fab outfits than she realized. And I make sure she knows that keeping her belongings visible and organized will help her continue creating and wearing inspired new ensembles long after I’ve scampered off home.

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  • I’m an almost obsessive organizer when it comes to my closet (but nothing else). I love those sweater cubbies for keeping t-shirts and tanks. I do keep my staple PJ’s in the very bottom where I never look. So my regular stuff is always in view.
    Just above the PJs I keep my ‘specialty’ pieces. Things that I really like but aren’t appropriate for everyday wear. (Fishnet shirt, club wear, that one glittery shirt with the presidential family as the characters from Star Wars that is 9 times to big for me) Then when I am in a rut or have a MAJOR social event to go to, I know that I can go to that little cubby and ‘rediscover’ something I haven’t worn in a while.

  • I love this blog. These organization posts always present great ideas. Okay let me get to folding my sweaters Gap Style.

  • My closet wasn’t organized before I started outfit blogging, but it is now. Shirts together, skirts, pants, dresses, etc.

    There’s nothing like forcing yourself to wear every single one of something you have, in sequence, until you’re done with ’em to build wardrobe awareness. I’m still working through “Dress Month” but I must say I haven’t had the urge to buy any new dresses lately.

  • I completely agree with the need for an outfit list…look at it this way, once you take the time to make the initial list, then it is easy to just subtract or add to it…but it does help when assessing what you have and remembering what you have. I take out colder weather clothes and pack them away at the beginning of our warm seasons, and I sometimes forget what I have! If I made a list, it would help!

  • Veronica

    There is only spotty organization in my closet. I like to sort by color and only my shirts and dresses are hung. My closet is small and oddly put together and I store other stuff in there too so it’s a little crowded. I have a 3 drawer thing in there with camis/tanks/t-shirts that aren’t worn often or are just for layering in the top drawer. The second one has pants/shorts and the third has jammies. I also just tend to pile stuff in a basket so not everything’s hung up. I have a good recollection of most of what I have but once in a while, after not doing laundry for a while, I re-discover something that I’d forgotten about. lol

  • Katharine

    Well, my wardrobe IS organised now, and I love it, but I have to admit, it cost me over two grand. I went to IKEA, and splashed out on a Pax system. Living in an apartment in the top of an old house, with an original closet the size of about two shoeboxes in a bedroom not quite ten feet square, there really wasn’t any other workable option — even getting second-hand dressers or something would not have been an effective use of the limited available space.

    The fun thing is that now that I can see everything, I am very ruthlessly getting rid of items, because the not-quite-rights no longer have anywhere to hide.

  • My closet is fairly organized, but I need to sit down and put things together. This past winter I spent a few hours trying on outfits and then put them together in the closet, and that saved me loads of time in the morning and also helped me wear some things that I hadn’t really worn before.

    I need to do that again for the spring/summer clothes. This morning I decided not to wear the clothes I had picked out (too cold for nekked legs), so I went with pants and then changed into different ones. Ugh. I need to do some stellar outfits so I don’t go through this just about EVERY morning.

  • Luna

    Tried it recently and it works beautifully (the outfit list, that is). In fact, quite amazingly, considering that I actually like everything in my closet, but was no where near utilizing it as I could. — Luna

  • Anna

    My wardrobe is rather small, and that gives me the illusion that I can keep it all in my head. Proof that that’s an illusion: occasionally I stumble on a piece I’d forgotten about. Space is limited, too. I hang things in the closet and fold other things away in various cupboards and drawers. Every few years I sort the closet by garment (pants here, skirts here, etc.) and then, in the rush of life, stuff things back wherever there is space. The one good organizational thing I do is to get out the following day’s outfit the night before, after checking the weather report. Saves a lot of stumbling around in a morning fog while the clock ticks away relentlessly.

  • Mel

    Sal – just saw the article about you in the StarTribune. Good for you! This is such a cool blog….it deserves to be shared!

  • I really like your suggestion to put the “oddball” seldom worn items at front and center.

    For organizing, I really need visuals. Being a painter, I treat myself as a blank canvas and need to see what “colors” I have to “paint” with. This is where Go Chic or Go Home has come in handy.
    http://gochicorgohome.com
    As close to Cher’s closet as I’ve gotten!

  • My closet has gotten out of control. I needed this post! Right now much of my winter stuff is still jumbled in amidst my lightweight tanks–no wonder I’m having a hard time getting dressed in the morning!

    And my accessories are a wreck, but they’ve always been. I love the ideas and can’t wait to read all your links!

  • Love the idea of keeping the old standbys on the fringes, with the lesser-worn items front and center. That just makes so much darn sense! And it never would have occurred to me.

  • These are such great suggestions, but I’m going to have to think about how to utilize them the next time I get a chance to mess around with my closet. The problem is, like many women, I share a closet with my partner. Sharing a closet in combination with living in a teeny, tiny apartment makes it a huge challenge to store my clothes in an appealing way.

    Since our bedroom closet is our only closet, it also holds linens, sewing supplies, our pet birds, coats, the ironing board + iron and the water heater. And it was a very small closet to begin with.

    So, for the past few years, my solution has been to put all items I can get away with not hanging up, including sweatpants, tshirts, socks, underwear, bathing suits, scarves, hats, etc. in two plastic bins, adjacent to my partner’s plastic bin, where he stores his clothes. As you can imagine, this is often an overflowing mess.

    As for hanging-worthy clothes, I don’t have an organization system beyond the rule that nothing I wear on a regular basis gets puts on the sides, since I can’t walk into the closet with the bins/birds in the way and have to reach several feet to grab my clothing in the morning.

    I like to think that someday, when we are a little more comfortable, I will have a giant closet in which to store all of my not-crap-from-WalMart future clothing. And when that day somes, I will go back through and read all of your posts about closet organization! πŸ™‚

  • I have trouble with closet organization because I yo-yo. I mean weight-wise, badly, as in several sizes up and down from day to day. I exercise and eat the same things all the time so it’s not related to that. So, I have to set aside part of my closet for my too big/too small pieces, as well as all the usual categories. Moving things into and out of these categories is a huge pain because my weight can mean the pants that fit two days ago are impossible today. So the things in the too big/too small area are things that are REALLY wrong-sized but I can’t get rid of them because I know they’ll fit again (eventually). A lot of times, this equals 2/3 to 3/4 of my closet not fitting me at any given moment.

    Basically, I should give up and live in stretch fabric, but I don’t like jersey on my bottom half because it feels like I forgot to get dressed. Organization, schmorganization.

  • I’m still waiting for the day reality catches up with Cher’s closet! Amy Heckerling was a genius to have come up with that.

  • I love this blog! What a great, practical post. I wish I could keep more of my accessories visible (tiny house) but I display my jewelry as if it were art. And I’ve never kept an outfit list, (even though I am a compulsive list-maker) — it’s a cool idea.

  • Yes! Keeping things visible is so important for me. I recently just moved my books into the closet, removed the book case and put up a hanging roller rack so that I can keep my clothes in a much more organized and visible way. For the things stored away – I try to go through them on a bi-weekly basis to keep in touch with what I own/what fits etc. Sometimes it also helps to just remind myself how something fits, so trying it on helps a lot.

  • Vildy

    I’m sure I do need an outfit list. I put things together constantly and am certain I’ll remember but do I? Only sometimes.

    I mix prints a lot, particularly florals with geometrics or animal. So I hang clothes that way, separating out solids, florals, geometrics.

    I acquire a lot and also keep up purging, as my wardrobe takes new directions.
    I generally know almost everything I have but can find it useful to keep latest acquisitions front and center on a lone clothing rack out in the room. I find a need a sense memory of my clothing so until I’ve worn something several times, I won’t remember what it feels like on. If I don’t remember I tend to assume I’m not wearing it because it’s too tight, pulls… I’m almost never right about this, either! πŸ™‚

    I also do all my own alterations – I’m 5 feet tall – and some refashioning but even all that trying on isn’t enough to get a sense of the garment until it undergoes the rigors of daily life.

  • I really struggle with organization in general, but more so in my closet. I hate doing laundry, so that’s part of the problem. Getting stuck in a wardrobe rut is definitely a danger of the disorganized wardrobe. I can certainly attest to that!

  • I know my closet organization is not great, but part of the problem is just not enough space, not enough drawers, not enough racks. I think an outfit list would help a lot, but I can’t figure out how to organize it – I think what I really need is a database. I want to be able to look up all the outfits involving my gray skirt, for example, or all outfits that include pants, not skirts. This is why I’m a librarian…

  • Closet organizing is the easy part — bec. stuff is on hangers, its fairly easy to see most items. Esp. if you edit enough so clothes aren’t super-crammed together.

    What’s really tough IMO is organizing drawers. I have (only) two dressers to contain all my sweaters, knit tops, knit dresses, leggings, jeans, tees, plus lingerie, & misc. stuff like sleepwear/activewear. I don’t hang knits out of fear that they’ll stretch & get loose/baggy/saggy, so while I have dozens of sweaters, I feel like I’m always forgetting about half of them & wearing the same cardigan bec. it’s on the top of the drawer! Do I really have to rotate & reorganize the drawers all the time? I’ve tried, but it I can’t come up w/a system or a sequence or s’thing so I can find things frequently enough.

  • Love love love it!

  • Jen

    I’m a perfectionist living in a 600 sq. ft. condo so organization is essential to my happiness. I have a method so hard-dialed that no one else can put my clothes away…to me, it makes total sense!

    Top shelf of the closet: jeans, pajamas, cardigans/sweaters, and a box with accessories (belts, winter hats, gloves, umbrella). Things that fold easily and won’t slip through the wire rack.

    Hanging on the bar (in order of length, left to right): dresses, jackets, long sleeve blouses, short sleeve blouses, dressy tanktops, scarf hanger, re-purposed shoe hanger I use for workout clothes. Anything that needs to be ironed goes to the RIGHT of the bar.

    Shoe rack is on the floor. It holds maybe 15 pairs, including hiking boots, snow boots, flip flops, etc. My purses are sadly in a duffel bag under the bed…I can’t figure out how to store them given the entire closet is taken.

    My guy and I share a tiny four-drawer dresser, all that holds is undergarmets, swimwear, and t-shirts.

    I HAVE to sort through my clothes frequently because of the minimal space. I’ll go through the closet and take inventory of anything I haven’t worn recently based upon the weather. Anything unworn goes into a plastic bag and if I don’t consciously seek out that item within a month, it goes to Goodwill. I’ve only gone back to the bag for ONE item, ever.

  • Michelle

    Right. Imma print this all out and it will be my project for this weekend. Hmmm….

    Oh Sal….will you come to Christchurch (well, maybe once the ground has stopped shaking!) and sort me out! πŸ˜€

    • Sal

      I would LOVE to, Michelle! Someday …

  • Aris Merquoni

    Heh, I feel like the first thing I need to do in organizing my closet is to give away or secondhand out half my clothes! Like others I have a tiny closet which is dominated by a bureau that won’t fit anywhere else in the room. Once I have some room to breathe, going through and figuring out what I already don’t or can’t wear will be a good excuse to reorganize everything that’s left!

  • Vildy

    Trystan – If you roll your sweaters up and then place them next to each other in the drawer, like a tidy array of giant rolled up socks, you can see a whole lot more of what’s in that drawer.

    I also store knit items thematically. Example: one drawer of solid color first layers and one drawer of print first layers. Easy peasy to find what I want.

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  • I sometimes pull my uber stylish MIL into my room and just ask her, “what would you put with this?” and she suggests something I hadn’t thought of. I would guess that friends could easily do this for one another. Picking a most stylish friend and suggesting that you each go through one another’s closets could probably really inspire some ideas and remixing that hadn’t been thought of before. I think I’m going to try this.

    Also, I love your outfit list idea. I used it for a bit and then fell off the wagon. I need to get back into it. It really helped on those mornings (every) when I only have 3 min to pick and outfit and get out the door.

  • basement cat

    When Academichic did their color wheel posts, it gave the the inspiration to reorganize my closet and start putting things away in color wheel order. So all of the clothes on hangers are organized according to long sleeve, short sleeve, pants, skirts, etc. but within those groups they’re organized by color starting with white, then ROYGBIV, then gray and black at the end, with the browns and tans stuck in with the yellows. It’s not really any more effort to hang something up with the other reds than it is to just hang it up to begin with and it has really helped me think about pairing colors in new ways. Also, it was free πŸ™‚

  • Marie

    My closet is super-organized and I know exactly where everything is, so my problem isn’t that I don’t know what I have, it’s that I don’t take the time to figure out new combinations. I would probably benefit from the opposite – temporarily mixing it all up so I get some fresh ideas!

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  • tanya

    @ Andi & all you yo-yo weight girls out there: Unfortunately, my weight can range from a 6 to a 10, making it difficult to manage me closet. I love my clothes–Im a picky buyer, and getting rid of them doesn’t make sense, when I know I will not stay the same weight for long (I have PCOS).

    My solution is to keep the clothes that don’t fit in two different bins, a “too big” and a “too small” one that I fill after sorting my closet. That way when I gain or lose, I know I have a stash of clothes. Each time I gain or lose I purge what I don’t care for anymore and save what I like.

    Also,this way I know that I can reach for anything in my closet and it fits–avoiding the sad & depressing ritual of “agh! It doesn’t fit” & internal or external cry! πŸ™‚

  • Kate

    I just came across your site and find it very inspiring…really need this kind of help! I ended up making a list called “Accessories I Always Forget To Wear”, and that’s been useful.