What to Wear When You’ve Got Nothing to Wear

Most people spend 10 minutes per day thinking about style, clothing, and outfit assembly. Those 10 minutes are typically spent staring, panic-stricken, at the contents of a messy closet, wondering what the hell to wear.

Sadly, there’s no universal solution to morning wardrobe panic because each person will need to deal with the “I’ve got nothing to wear” crisis differently, depending on how she’s wired. But here are some possible starting points to consider next time sartorial stress begins to set in:

Pick a piece

Often, the quickest way to build an outfit is to pick an anchor piece and select other items to accompany it. So start with your favorite pants or sweater or shoes, and reach for items that you know will work well with that fave.

Pick a color scheme

A “scheme” doesn’t need to be any more complex than two colors. Mustard and navy, red and black, green and teal. Or go for all neutrals: Gray, black, and brown. Use your color scheme to pick the necessary pieces for a complete outfit. This one may prove a bit more challenging, but when you’re absolutely sapped of inspiration, just having a starting point can help.

Pick a print

Printed pieces can seem daunting, but they actually make for marvelous outfit glue. Prints generally contain multiple colors or shades, which means that they can tie together seemingly disparate garments. Grab a printed piece and then track down the remaining garments needed.

Pick a recent winner

The likelihood of anyone remembering that you wore that same outfit a week and a half ago is extremely slim. Don’t worry about repeats. Reach for an outfit that has worked in the past. And, if the very idea makes you cringe, consider swapping in a different but similar item for one of the pieces.

Of course, none of these can truly replace preparation. The absolute best way to avoid Morning Closet Panic Syndrome is to make an outfit list, keep track of combinations of garments that work for you, and/or be well aware of your closet inventory. Dressing is like any other task: It requires practice, patience, and the ability to utilize the tools at hand. I’m not saying you should spend hours each week studying the contents of your wardrobe, but allotting a couple of hours every few months to assess and evaluate will help TONS.

For more help with closet organization and outfit planning, check out these posts:

Image via weheartit.

  • http://notdeadyetstyle.blogspot.com/ Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    Good one, Sally! I often start with a piece from the left side of my closet (tops) and say “you’re the one I want to wear”, then move right and try to make it happen. I am *not* a great plan-ahead-er, like you, so this is pretty much a routine for me : > Oh, dresses are also great for this.

  • Olivia

    I rarely have this problem because I have pared down the amount of clothes I have a lot in the last few years. I also have a weird habit since high school that I don’t wear browns or blacks two days in a row. So, if I wore black (or gray) pants yesterday, I will choose brown today (or khaki) and go from there. Most of my tops are interchangeable with my pants so they are quick to grab and go. The only big choice I make on a daily basis is jewelry, but again, I don’t have a lot so it’s usually doesn’t take long.

    I wear repeats a LOT, especially pants, even in the same week. I don’t think most people notice or care that I wore the same black pants on Monday and again on Friday. And since I work at an office job they really don’t get dirty.

    • Michelle

      This. All of it. Since working with an image consultant last year (I had a closet evaluation), I got rid of nearly as much clothing as I kept. I’ve had a gig since January that I have *never* had trouble dressing for (business casual, emphasis on “business”), because I know what’s in my closet now. I can even wait till morning to decide what I’m going to wear, which used to be unheard of in my world. Of course, making sure you’ve washed your staple business clothing over the weekend helps a lot with that.

      I know that 3 months doesn’t sound like a long time, but I had a similar gig last year, and it was so much work for me to figure out what to wear every day, and the few times I did procrastinate figuring out what I was going to wear until morning almost always resulted in costume changes before work. :-P

  • Miss T

    I keep my newer purchases (including shoes) “out”, or at least highly visible in the closet, for a few weeks. These are things I bought to ostensibly add some spice to my existing standbys, and I’ve found that if I can SEE the new goodies, it takes only a second or two to remember why I bought them, how I planned on wearing them. It’s a way of letting the original excitement of their purchase linger on for a while!

  • http://www.befabulousdaily.us Cynthia

    You know, it’s weird — when I really have to JUST GO, that’s not when I have closet panic. This morning I had to pick a seminar speaker up at the airport at 6:44 a.m., which meant up at 5:30 and no time to really think hard about clothes — just shower, throw something on, blowdry, get in the car. I am wearing a tan striped dress and a long cardigan, my go to gold sandals, and a small necklace. I last wore this dress a couple of weeks ago, with a different cardigan, when I packed it for a conference in Florida. Now, if I didn’t have to be anywhere at a particular time, that’s when I’d be standing there, screwing around, having trouble picking.

    • Miss T

      I’m laughing; this is so true!

      • Sonja

        Same here!

  • Sue

    Think about and lay out your clothes the night before: it helps the mornings go much smoother.

  • http://stylinstacy.com Stacy

    I think it also helps if everything in your closet actually fits. I had the hardest time picking outfits when I was growing out of my wardrobe. When I got back down to my fighting weight it got much easier to get dressed in the morning. When everything mostly fits, it is much easier to pick out clothes! Now I have some outfits that are grouped together if I just have to grab something and am uninspired to form an outfit. Of course it helps to have a big walk in closet (hubby gets 1/4 of the hanging room…I get the rest!).

  • Dee

    Since I have to be out the door before 7 AM I always pick out my outfit the night before, sometimes complete with socks/ tights, jewelry and a belt. However, I live where the weather can be fickle, so if the morning forecast is way different than what they said the night before, I might feel like I have to change my outfit at the last minute. That is not fun. (I have a long commute, with a fair amount of walking, so I need to be comfortable, not too hot or too cold!). Otherwise, my biggest hurdle is pants, making sure I have a clean pair that work with the heels I want to wear, etc. I have lots of basic work pants but I really can only wear them once between washings, again, long commute, long day, sitting on the train, city walking, they get wrinkled, and I feel they get a lot of street grime, mud…you get the picture.

  • Anne

    I have started a new habit on Sunday afternoons. I pull five outfits together and hang them in a separate space in my closet. I don’t always wear the outfits exactly as I planned. Sometimes I don’t wear a particular outfit at all, but it seems to alleviate that panic that I feel when I have to assemble an out fit “Right Now!” I check Accuweather so a have a rough idea as to what kind of weather to prepare for. I don’t force myself into wearing the outfits in a particular order and if I don’t like the way it looks, I don’t make myself wear it. I do notice that since I started this I have fewer days where I look at myself later and say, “Yikes, that’s what we’re wearing?”

    • http://whatamandawore.tumblr.com/ amanda

      THIS. I need to start doing it :)

  • Aziraphale

    This is maybe weird, but you know what helped me lots in terms of wardrobe organization? Getting matching hangers! The nice matching wooden hangers inspired me to hang my clothing in a more organized way (mostly according to garment type and colour) and get rid of a lot of stuff I never wore. I guess all I’m saying is that the hangers make everything look nicer, which in turn made me want to have a pretty-looking closet, which led to closet editing….which is exactly what you’re suggesting we do. hehe

    As for getting dressed in the morning, I mostly employ starting point #1: pick a piece. I look in my closet and decide what item I really feel like wearing, then I work around that. My biggest challenge when deciding what to wear actually has nothing to do with having nothing to wear — it’s that I never know how to dress for the weather. I often end up wearing something that’s totally inappropriate, and I’m either freezing or sweating! First thing in the morning, when it’s still pretty dark out, it’s hard to judge. The weather forecast is no help. They’re wrong about half the time these days (granted, we’ve been having weird, unsettled weather all winter). If you could give me some tips on how to deal with THAT problem, I’d be very impressed and grateful!

  • http://corpgoth.blogspot.com/ Trystan (the CorpGoth)

    Dresses are my saviors on “don’t know what to wear” mornings or days when I’m running late. They’re one piece outfits, practically no thinking required! This is why I snap up any dress I love in a store/online & have bought multiples of simple, solid-color knit dresses that I can layer for different seasons & styles.

    With a dress, you only have to think about what shoes go with & a couple other accessories (a belt? a scarf? some jewelry?) & you’re out the door! Plus, there are so many dress shapes & styles, it’s possible to find something for most any body & lifestyle & mood.

    • http://www.alreadypretty.com Sal

      Yes! Good point – dresses can provide a great shortcut to polished when you’re feeling rushed.

    • http://rubybows.blogspot.com Leiah

      Yes, dresses! When I don’t know what to wear, I think “What’s the LEAST amount of clothes I can wear? What takes minimal effort?” Throw on one dress and you’re done!

      • http://notemily.tumblr.com/ notemily

        Mostly I like layering and being covered up, but there inevitably ends up being at least one day every summer when it’s so hot I want to wear as few clothes as possible. That’s when I reach for my trusty sundress.

    • Michelle

      I love the way a dress *sounds*–very simple, not much thought, and you’ll look great–but it actually takes me more time to get ready if I’m wearing a dress or a skirt because then I have to take the time to shave my legs.

      Pants are always the fastest way for me to go.

  • Heather

    What takes me the longest is finding the right black cami in a drawer full of black camis, the right pair of black tights in a bin full of tights, that sort of thing. I have a half dozen black cardigans, but they all work differently (bolero, regular, long) and all look the same in a drawer…

    Laying out clothes can help if you’re sure of the weather. (and aren’t fickle and change your mind in the morning!) Dresses are also genius, since you already have a top and a bottom- done!

  • http://monkeyobsessions.blogspot.com alice

    I’ve been slowly adding my clothes to http://www.stylitics.com and I’m kind of loving it! You can log your outfit for the day and then you have a nice visible record of previous outfits assembled by day and it keeps track of how many times you’ve worn certain items (useful if you are interested in cost/wear). Adding items is time-consuming, but since I have a fairly small closet it hasn’t been too bad. I just do a few per day.

  • http://clownfishgirl.deviantart.com Stephanie

    Nice post! I tend to start with pants, as those tend to be my limiting factor, laundry-wise. (Buying tops is way more fun for some reason.) I also like laying out a couple of options the night before since I am the most non-morning person ever!

  • http://stacyverb.typepad.com Stacy @ Stacyverb

    I’m not generally one to plan my outfits ahead of time, unless I’m excited about debuting something new. This is where my love of wacky prints comes in–I always try to pick prints that contain black and/or brown in them somewhere. That way, in a pinch, I can just throw on some brown pants with my colorful print top, or a plain black tee with a wild print skirt, and ta-da: instant outfit. :)

  • Susan

    Work days aren’t so much a problem for me although Olivia I have the same color in a row rule as you do. It’s when I have a special occassion that I get all anxious and can’t find anything to wear. I obsess about it, alternating between shopping and stressing out, but then I usually shop my closet and find something to wear. I have 2 such occassions coming up (very unusual!) within a few days of each other and you should see the disaster in my closet!

  • sigourney

    I usually recycle winners in a pinch and just accessorize differently with one visible piece, a scarf or bigger chain and pendant. Nobody notices. I think people just see that it looks good.

  • Maggie May

    About once a month, I create entire outfits on hangers, the kind with clips for skirts or pants. top, bottom, layer (cardigan or jacket) all on one hanger. If I am really on top of it, I pop the jewelry or scarf on there too, and the cami, if needed. Absolute life-saver when there isn’t enough time for improv! I usually make a lot of outfits and when I take them off, I rejigger the combinations.