Reader Request: Combating Wardrobe Boredom

bored with my clothes

Lady Harriet popped this one into the suggestion box:

I guess what I’m really looking for are no-cost ways to combat boredom and frustration with a very imperfect wardrobe, especially after major life changes (in my case it’s graduation, moving back home to a very different climate, and unemployment, but it could apply to a lot of different situations.)

Many of Lady Harriet’s questions may be answered by these posts:

But since wardrobe boredom is extremely common, and since it may happen to any number of women for any number of reasons, I promised her I’d cook up a few more ideas. So here we go.

Study color theory

This is rich, coming from me. I’ve never been interested in color theory, and find discussions of it to be simultaneously confusing and boring. So I guess what I’m REALLY saying is this: Find some way to consider colors differently. For many, a structured system like formal color theory is a fantastic place to start, and this post from Color Matters is very helpful. And if that set of rules chafes at you (as it does at me), find a different way. Study color combos in patterned garments, accessories, and textiles. Note color pairings in nature. Take whatever colorful inspiration you can find, and apply it to your own wardrobe and outfits.

Give yourself assignments

Remixing a capsule of 30 items or less is a pretty standard way to experiment with your own creativity, but you could even go further. Wear only black and white for a week. Style outfits around a single pair of shoes for a week. Add at least one romantic embellishment to every outfit for two weeks. Make a list of your favorite literary characters and create outfits inspired by each of them. Allow your roommate, significant other, or child to pick an item for you to wear each day, and craft your outfit around it. Challenge yourself, push your creativity, and do it without buying anything new.

Get help

The vast majority of clients I work with have loads of clothes, all of them easily remixable. But it can take an outside observer to see and suggest new combinations. If you bought that sweater to go with those pants, you may never be able to imagine them with any other pants, or skirts, or thrown over certain dresses. So grab a trusted friend or sister or mom or coworker, spring for pizza for your both, and host a little outfit planning session. Allow your helper to pick out outfits for you, and try them on no matter how wary you may feel. Without fail, your helper will suggest some combinations you’d NEVER have tried on your own.

Image courtesy katykash.

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  • I get this way sometimes, too. I think you can get in a rut and just wear the same things all the time because you know they work and that you like nice in them.

    To get out of the rut I spent some time in my closet pulling things out and seeing how they look when worn. Then I put the outfits together so they are easy to grab. This is also a good time to clean out my closet of things I don’t wear. If I try them on with a bunch of different things and they don’t work with anything…they get tossed.

    Oh, and getting a few new pieces of jewelry can spice things up, too. They can pull together outfits that might not have seemed workable before.

  • Anne

    Wow, you really hit me where I live here. I definitely fall victim to the “I need something new syndrome,” way too often. Last month I made an inventory of all my spring/ summer clothes to spot the holes in my wardrobe. After three pages, I realized there were none. I try to stop the boredom shopping on two fronts: I try to keep my mind and body occupied so that shopping doesn’t tempt me, and I try to play more with my clothes so they hold my interest for longer.

    I have done two 30×30 remixes and in both cases I still had a few items left unworn. That tells me that I can certainly live with fewer clothes. It also illustrates what works and doesn’t work for my lifestyle. As much as I love blazers, they are not conducive to cleaning, cooking, errand running, or cuddling on the sofa with my family. While I’m doing a remix, I keep a journal. I discuss what I wore that day, whether I liked it, and the why’s and why-not’s of it all. I write down trends I’d like to try, clothing insecurities, how I feel, what my day entails. I was amazed to find that I really missed keeping the journal when I was done. Another method that I employ, and I think Sally does something similar, is to create a list of outfits for the week. I don’t limit my clothing choices and if I don’t wear a given outfit, I don’t sweat it. What it does is relieve me of that feeling I get after a shower when I think, “Okay, what am I going to wear; there’s nothing here.” My last strategy is to create an inspiration file. I know some people make boards, but I find just keeping pictures in a file in my closet does the trick. I pull outfit ideas from magazines and catalogs and try to create my own version with my clothes.

    Angie from You Look Fab recently did a post on shopping your own closet and I found it to be really interesting. Later I chuckled to myself that we had just put a special name to something we all should be doing anyway. Buy just what you need, then wear the stuff!

  • Mary

    As someone who sews for a living, I have to suggest getting something altered.
    If you have a piece that you’d like to wear, but have never felt comfortable in it or always found something “off” about it, bring it to your tailor, try it on, and ask for suggestions. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve simply pinned up the hem on a skirt, raised the shoulders on a blouse, or shortened the sleeves on a jacket — and my client absolutely lights up and says, “Yes! It can be saved after all!”
    Of course, this is not free, and it can get expensive, depending on the garment and what needs to change, but it can never hurt to try. Want to try skinny jeans? Take a plain old pair that may not be in your regular rotation, and have them tapered along one seam. Even cropping a pair of khakis to a cute ankle-length summer style is just ten bucks, and thus quite a bit cheaper than buying anything new.

    • Natalie

      Thanks for this idea! Turning those wide-ankle black pants I never wear into capris for the summer will be cheaper and less wasteful than buying new capris.

  • meg

    This is a great topic Sal. I know you don’t love the idea of doing a 30 for 30 but it would be great to watch you take on a challenge like that again on the blog. I liked when you did that all black one a year or two back. Especially since you’re free to wear whatever you want now, it would be interesting to see your take on a restricted wardrobe (and maybe help relate to those of us still restricted trying to figure out how to make our personal style fit into a specific work environment box).

    • Sal

      I’ll give it some thought, Meg. I understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t feel that I have diverged completely from office-friendly attire in my outfits. I certainly have the occasional wild card, and since I stopped posting outfits on weekends I now mix casual looks into my regular outfit posts. But most of the outfits I assemble now are from the same clothes I wore as an office worker, styled in very similar ways.

      I know that restrictive dressing challenges are popular with style bloggers, but I must be in the minority of people who just doesn’t find them to be inspirational or entertaining. I admire the exercise, but don’t feel compelled to participate. Dressing is one of my great pleasures in life, and I’m not in a place where forcing myself to use only a few pieces for a long period would feel good.

      • Anne

        You know, that was my take away after my first one. I gained insight that I probably would have arrived at anyway. I never seemed to have the right clothing for the weather. It also didn’t give me the freedom to tweak an outfit by changing the top or accessories. I did a little better with the second one largely because I had learned from my mistakes and put more thought into the collection. I think challenges of shorter duration that are less restrictive are a better way to go such as how many ways can you wear skirt X. It did make me appreciate what I had in my closet though.

  • Lisa W.

    Really great suggestions! It’s easy to just keep weaing the same old, same old and feel bored to death. You don’t really need to know color theory if you don’t want to— check out this site: http://www.colourlovers.com/. You can see tons of combinations organized by fashion, home, etc. or create your own.
    Not confusing or boring, it’s picking and choosing and playing with colors.

    Another element I like to consider when I’m bored is texture— how about suede with linen? tweed with vinyl? cotton jersey with velvet? you get the picture….

  • I like the idea of rearranging your closet. If you had things sorted by type (skirts, pants, etc.), try sorting by color. Or just move things around; dresses up front, jackets in the back. You see things differently and in new combinations. When we move collections around at the library, everyone thinks we got all new stuff. It’s brilliant.

    Also – because I’m a librarian – I recommend visiting the nonfiction section 646.34, which is fashion and dress, and seeing what is new in print. We have lots of new books by bloggers and fashion writers and consultants and thrifters, and I find the photos very inspiring.

  • I have a closet overstuffed with clothes, but usually wear the same three pairs of pants with the same five tops and the same pair of sensible black shoes. So, this year, I made a goal to wear everything in my closet once before I turn 30. We’ll see how it goes – studying color will definitely help, I think!

  • Great column, Sally. I do like giving myself challenges, like: this is your only skirt for the week, make it interesting. Or, a scarf-a-day. I’ve never thought about having my DH pick an item to plan an outfit around, that could be lots of fun : >

  • Eleanorjane

    I *don’t* have heaps of clothes! I emigrated with 30 kilos (60ish pounds) for everything from work out clothes to formal dresses, shoes (far too many pairs of heels!), workwear, toiletries, accessories etc. And or course most of it wasn’t quite appropriate for my new country.

    I am not enjoying having such a restricted wardrobe but I still can’t afford to buy much and am being paid much less here so I can’t afford things I would have bought in my old country. I’m having to reasses my style in this new context.

  • I find that after a change of hair and makeup, even old outfits feel fresh.
    To fight frustration I keep a spreadsheet where every single item in my wardrobe is logged. When I feel dissatsfied it helps to open it up and just marvel and the sheer amount of things. I re-organise categories and re-file the items. It’s my way of having fun and being creative without being exposed to shopping triggers.

    • Sal

      What a great idea! A super-organized twist on the outfit list …

  • Kenzie

    When I came to college, I brought a lot of clothing. I also discovered that portland hipsters have far more interesting style than my suburban hometown. Thus, both to justify my overpacking and compete with my peers I made the decision about halfway through my first semester of college to go through and wear every single item in my wardrobe before the end of the semester. And not just wear everything, but wear it in an outfit I had never before worn.

    I finished the challenge just as I was finishing finals first semester, so yes I was successful! It was a lot of fun and gave me a ton more outfit ideas to play with.

    The biggest challenge of it was working in all of the clothing items that I’d brought in anticipation of the hot northwest Septembers – forcing myself to find a way to wear my summer clothes in October through December opened up a whole section of my wardrobe that would have gone ignored for that period.

  • Snap on the color theory theory :)…actually it was your blog and an Aussie one: FoxinFlats that helped me with my wardrobe unenthusiasm. You inspire me constantly and challenge 42 years of indoctrination (Bless you!) and FoxinFlats throws in weekly Dares that push me to really wring the most out of what I’ve got. Kudos!

  • sigourney

    Argh. This response is going to show my age and how deliberate and staid I’ve become … Here goes:

    1. Create one job interview outfit from what you have that you feel great in. Good luck – keeping my fingers crossed!
    2. Stay in shape. Clothes never look boring on a fit body.
    3. Keep your hair in good shape, buy a good lipstick – or go for eye shadow or mascara, if that is your thing. Costs little – if you find inexpensive purveyors – and shows you care. I think the biggest difference to be perceived is between “well-groomed” and “don’t care that much”.
    4. You’re going through a transition. Be curious, not afraid. Mix and match the hell out of what you have and find out what you still like.
    4. Put together – from what you have – the outfits you feel good in – even if it’s not many. Wear them. WEAR THEM. All the time. Really. Then, if a little cash flows, amp those up with an inexpensive street vendor scarf, some fleamarket jewellery, a straw basket etc.
    5. You may be bored – but people aren’t if you follow that formula. I used to work in a shop and saw all kinds of customers all day long. The ones with great style did not change their tack every day, instead they followed a steady line of what suited them. Others opted for a lot of change every day, basically recreating their look with different elements every time. I still remember thinking back then: “Why didn’t you put on that coat that is so great on you? That thing you’re wearing today sure is nice but can’t hold a candle to your coat!! Where is that coat????” Consistency counts (=now that’s my age showing, probably).

    Good luck – can’t be that easy now, can it.

  • Sophia

    I had the same issue this winter…. I bought 1 new cardigan in a colour I didn’t realise would go with lots of things (yay!), 3 pairs of coloured tights and 5 new thrifted ‘inside’ scarves. Suddenly I have combinations of clothes that are far more stylish and ‘together’, and colourful without having to buy whole new outfits. Doing it this was was like chipping the edges off the things that I didn’t like, it gave me the feeling that I had fixed ‘problems’ and that I’m making use of all my clothes (minus the stuff that is just too cold at the moment). Doing this made me feel much happier with my appearance.

  • Sophia

    typo in original comment….. should read like this

    I had the same issue this winter…. I bought 1 new cardigan in a colour I didn’t realise would go with lots of things (yay!), 3 pairs of coloured tights and 5 new thrifted ‘inside’ scarves. Suddenly I have combinations of clothes that are far more stylish and ‘together’, and colourful without having to buy whole new outfits. Doing it this way was like chipping the edges off the things that I didn’t like, and when finished it gave me the feeling that I had fixed ‘problems’, and that I’m making use of all my clothes (minus the stuff that is just too cold at the moment). Doing this made me feel much happier with my appearance and satisfied with my wardrobe.

  • Jackie

    Sal, your outfit journal post changed how I think about my wardrobe! I’m a teacher, and so the end of my school year is right around the corner, and I’m planning to go through my outfit journal and use it to trim my closet and make a list of things to buy before the next school year begins. I bought fewer pieces this year but felt much better and aware about my outfits–thanks for the inspiration!

  • Jen

    As I find myself with a very limited budget (read: Goodwill and thrift shopping for me), I’m growing more adept at altering and adorning my garments. This month, I’ve shortened three dresses that hit me mid-calf to knee length, making two pairs of slacks or capris into shorts, working on adding ribbon or beads to some of my plain tees, and might work on making another skirt from an old pair of jeans. I also bought some RIT dye and will be dying some faded items soon. So maybe DIYing isn’t for everyone, but it’s how I’m getting through my wardrobe boredom.

  • Anne

    I have been combating boredom by wearing one color every day for a week! For example, this is purple week so every outfit I wear has to have purple in it. I have already had red week, orange week, turquoise week, lime green week and blue week. And guess what? No one at work has noticed (or else said nothing even though many of my co-workers actively check out what I wear everyday). It has been so much fun! And the color can be in something small, like a scarf or a pin. So join the fun! It is cheap and easy.

  • Lydia

    I love the ideas here — I purged my wardrobe in March, and have not replaced many things due to lack of shopping time. My advice is to introduce another element as another commenter mentioned — different lipstick with same shirt, scarf with different top — essentially to mix it up a bit.

    If it is a teeny tiny bit possible in your budget to purchase a new item — a sale top in a new colour or pattern (tops always seem to go on HUGE sales, or anything new/ borrowed, thrifted etc…, I would go for it. I sometimes buy someting for under 10 dollars that gives me joy, and best of all, it stops me from thinking and stressing about what to wear for a long time after. I realize this is not always possible though. What I have done in the past (when it is not feasable to purchase something new) is to wash and launder all my clothes, iron them (if needed), and make them ‘look nice’ by fixing any flaws (needle and thread while watching tv). Just like cleaning my place makes it look better (to me), clean and freshly washed clothes calms my wardrobe fatigue.

  • Barb Ballenger

    I’ve found that lately I really like playing with the clothes and accessories in my wardrobe, trying them on in unique combinations — many inspired by suggestions on this blog and others.

    I had been writing down my favorite combinations in the notes function of my ipod touch, but really wanted some way to search through my list. Recently I bought a 99-cent app called Pocket Closet, which allows me to catalog my wardrobe pieces and then combine them into outfits. If I could take decent fashion pictures, I could upload those. Instead I use the text function, and write down my clothing items and make up fun titles for my outfits. It’s a very basic app — the categories for outfits are a bit limited, and I wish I could add personal notes. But I can use a calendar function to note what days I wore what outfit. And best of all, with a shake of the ipod, I can randomly select one of my predetermined outfits to wear. Sort of a wardrobe roulette.

    • Susan

      I just started using Pocket Closet and can confirm its usefulness.

  • sigourney makes some good points! as does Osprey, Hair, makeup, posture, wearing accessories you don’t usually wear or in new ways – all these will impact your style immensely and help you feel fresh. And don’t forget the power of a good bra.

    not to nitpick, but color theory isn’t a bunch of rules. It’s a system that allows you to understand and describe individual colors’ particular characteristics, and to understand and describe the relationships between various colors. You can do whatever you want with colors, whether you know color theory or not. Triads, complementary colors, etc. are solely descriptive terms (even if some people present them as rules).

    Color theory is just a tool – like learning to identify birds. How you choose to use the knowledge is up to you. I’ve found it does help me to look at color much more precisely, which informs my use of color in my outfits and clothing. I find color theory is easier and more fun to learn in some type of art class. There’s also great info on this in The Triumph of Individual Style, for interested parties. steph

  • Martina

    I have a slightly different version of the problem.
    I am the kind of person who actually enjoys living on a small, well-edited wardrobe (it makes getting ready in the morning so easy!), as long as I can afford a couple of purchases per season.
    However, moving to a new country (twice!) in the last years and financial downturns forced me to invest less and less in clothing…to the point that I feel I’ve been living in the same combos for the last six months. Which might not be far from the truth.
    I have been thrifting the occasional little things, but it’s more of a way to cheer me up than a reliable way to fix wardrobe holes. I hate the idea that I just can’t buy the clothes that I want and I have to settle for second best, or third or fourth, or nothing at all. While I’m ok with having a few things, I would rather them to be nice enough. Any thoughts?

  • Quin

    I’m actually doing ok with my wardrobe right now – lately I’ve been really good about only settling for things that are perfect and not, you know, “making it work” and stuff – but that low-key-pizza-outfit-planning-party idea is a good one!

    I’m a lucky girl in that my boyfriend is as into clothes and dressing well as much as I am, and our tastes are similar ,so we’ll often go to each other for fashion advice…maybe this could be some sort of a cheap date night? Haha, well, I’m working on a college budget so cheap is my fave. 😉

    Anyway, really good post, great stuff to keep in mind at all stages of a wardrobe.

  • Broderie

    That one about giving yourself assignments is so true – after years of being bored with my wardrobe and a few months of looking at style blogs and thinking “I couldn’t put together a good outfit like that”, I finally started a challenge… and everything changed! It’s the 10-day winter challenge at Freckles in April (http://www.frecklesinapril.com/2012/01/winter-edition-day-1-layer-it.html). (I’m doing it out of sync because I’m in the southern hemisphere.) Having been challenged to do pattern-mixing or whatever on a particular day, suddenly I was putting items I already owned together in entirely new combinations! It’s made me feel fantastic, and like I’m finally learning something. ^_^

  • Natalie

    Thanks so much for this, Sal! I’m in a similar situation – as a student, I cannot afford to buy any new clothes, but I’ve been getting pretty bored with my current wardrobe. I really like your suggestion of giving yourself assignments, and can’t wait to spend a week dressing in outfits inspired by my favorite literary characters! I’ve also found that playing up accessories is a fun way to inspire creative dressing. I enjoy crafting outfits around an old belt of my mother’s, my grandmother’s pearls, a new scarf a friend bought me from Africa, etc.

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  • There’s something about this post that is helping to shake some sense into me. Something about the “imperfect wardrobe” part. Amongst my many health issues, I have been struggling and struggling with my angry inflamed feet/ankles/knees. I’ve had some acute flare-ups in the past several years, severely restricting my shoe options. I’m on a never-ending obsessive quest for shoes because I have this fear that I will wear out my shoes before I can find suitable replacements (plus I just like options when dressing). That leads me to wear my not-as-comfy shoes in order to spare my most-reliable shoes for emergency foot issues, which can further exacerbate the problem. How crazy is that? I guess it’s a panic reaction to feeling like I won’t be able to walk and function in all the ways I would like to (I haven’t worked a corporate job in years, yet I am eaten away by the need to have a pair of shoes I could wear to an office job), and mixed with the frustration that fashion is an important creative outlet that makes me happy but I don’t have cute shoes to wear with outfits.

    What I’m coming around to is that I need to try a new approach – I need to attempt to make a clothing capsule around the very few pairs I can wear right now, and stop grieving for the past or fretting about my future shoe-wearing needs. I have had to come to terms with so many things in my life, but this one has been deftly eluding me. As I write this, I realize I did the same thing years ago with clothes and had to make myself stop buying clothes that were more appropriate for an office job than my actual life. I think it’s been harder this time around because finding shoes has been so incredibly difficult with so many fails, with my options seeming ever more restricted as the years have passed.