How to Make the Most of Your Wardrobe

how to shop your closet

I offered closet consultations and personal shopping services for nearly eight years. Know how many clients hired me to do personal shopping only? Less than 20. Know why? Because I insisted on doing the closet consult first, and every single closet consult client I’ve worked with has finished up with more than a dozen complete outfits, many of which incorporate underutilized pieces, closet orphans, and long-forgotten items. I adore shopping, and my personal shopping excursions were a BLAST. But I believe quite firmly that before you buy anything new, you should be certain you’re making the most of your existing wardrobe.

Here are some tips that can help you keep your wardrobe working like a well-oiled fashion machine:

Keep stuff visible

I say this often. And whenever I do, I imagine that those of you with small wardrobes are giggling. But even women who own 20 pieces of clothing and nothing more can be in possession of cramped, dark closets with weird corners! Out of sight, out of mind. If you can’t see it, you’ll never even TRY to wear it. Do your best to keep your clothing, shoes, and accessories relatively visible. And if space constraints make this impossible, consider shifting your closet contents every few months: Move pants to the front and skirts to the back, bring those seldom-worn jeans to the top of the drawer, place a few lesser-used necklaces on a pretty platter and set it on your dresser. Find ways to see what you own so you can wear it.

Make an outfit list

Another from the “old chestnut” file, but the reason why I flog this one so frequently is because SO MANY of you have written in to tell me that this practice has totally changed your sartorial lives. Taking some time out every month or so to workshop potential outfits and jot them down can help alleviate early morning panic and force you to think critically about any languishing items. Outfit lists rule.

Mend, repair, and tailor

I am guilty of letting alterations and repairs slide. Ever so guilty. But when I finally do get around to tending my broken bits of wardrobery, I feel just as excited to wear the mended items as if I’d bought them new. Unwearable garments and accessories can become massive guilt-generators. They stare us down, sad and lonely, reminding us silently that we could wear them again if we’d just take the time to get them fixed. Keeping your belongings in wearable condition will help ensure that you are able to use everything that you own.

Tweak your formulas

Even those of us who keep outfit lists have go-to outfit formulas. I’m a big fan of the jacket, graphic tee, and jeans combo myself. Also the tunic, leggings, and boots formula. Hey, I’m human! And I like my routine! But making some simple tweaks to tried-and-true dressing formulas can help you get more items into rotation. Add a belt or long necklace. Try a shorter or longer blazer. Wear your slim-fitting black pants instead of the wide-legs. Some of these tweaks will flop, and you’ll revert to the old standby. Some of them will provide you with entirely new avenues for creative dressing.

Create personal challenges

If you’re feeling stuck in a dressing rut, cook up a parameter or two. Challenge yourself to wear one patterned garment every day for a week. Do the same pair of shoes for five days straight. Pick out 10 closet orphans and workshop outfits around them. (Best to do this a day ahead of time to avoid that early morning panic.) Mini challenges can help you venture outside your comfort zone and get those creative juices flowing.

Ask a friend for input/outfit ideas

A couple of months ago, I was at Christina’s house shooting a TV segment. I had to pull a few outfits for her to model. Christina’s company exists to make things look chic and stylish, but she was excited that I’d pulled out a couple of outfits that she’d never have picked herself. While you can certainly hire a pro to swing by your house and help out, just about anyone who isn’t … well, you, will likely cook up combos that feel fresh and new.

Image courtesy Ysolda.

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  • LP

    All excellent reminders. Maybe this will jump start my getting my dresser and closet weeded out so that I can find the good stuff! Since I have a hard time parting with things, I plan to box them up and then see if I’ve gone in search of them by mid-next-summer. If not, time to go!

    In the meantime, I second the challenges idea. Both enjoying summerofdresses.com and being in a cast this summer left me wearing a dress nearly every single day, and I didn’t get bored with the outfits. I’m sure any other version of “wear dress pants” or “wear my red heels” every day for a week would create some great combos I didn’t see lurking in my existing wardrobe.

  • Anna

    How timely for me! Just a few moments ago, making out today’s to-do list before checking in here, I wrote “edit closet.” My fantasy of having all my winter clothes fit into the closet and all my summer clothes fit into their designated storage spaces may actually come true! And I like the “tweak your formulas” and create personal challenges” suggestions.

  • Kelly

    I find it very important to actually pack away and store my clothes each season. It makes much more room in my closet for the current season’s clothes to have their moment to shine. It’s an opportunity to purge before storing summer clothes away, and it’s fun to see all my winter clothes again. Like getting a brand new wardrobe!

  • Anne

    Sally these are all really great ideas. I spent quite a bit of time last winter and spring analyzing what I buy and what I wear. To that end I did a few 30×30 remixes, I kept a journal and I put together a week’s worth of outfits at a time. I forced myself to wear items that had been hanging in my closet unworn for years. I even went so far as to make a pie chart to figure out how I spent most of my time (scrubbing bathrooms). Doing all this has forced my to change my spending habits. Now I find when I bring something new into my wardrobe, it gets plenty of wear.

    Here are a few things I do to streamline the dressing process. I clean through my closet after every season. In California that means 3 times a year. I get rid of clothes with pit stains, tiny holes, or “Closet shrink.” I keep a notebook with outfit ideas and use that to put together some go-to outfits. I also schedule a few wardrobe maintenance days to polish shoes, sew on buttons, press clothes. This assures me that everything in my closet is in a wearable state.

  • Catherine

    I’m a knitter, and I recognized the photo of Ysolda Teague right away.

    It was a nice surprise to see here here!

  • This is very timely, given that the theory is I am massively overhauling my closet since Scott has moved his stuff into the newly renoed room closet.

    I suspect, though I love clothing as much as you!, that I don’t have half the wardrobe you have and I still can’t see everything. After a while, when you reach a critical mass, you don’t even see the things that are straight in front of you. Never mind the things that lurk in a closed drawer.

    It’s eyeopening to see the volume of really nice and wearable clothing I own that I never wear because it’s just not in rotation. I think I need to be more creative.

  • Anamarie

    I use an app called Wardrobe Journal to keep track of my outfits. I take a photo of myself in the outfit in the morning, and then take a couple of minutes to enter the specifics of the outfit and add the photo to the entry on my ipad. The app lets you title outfits, indicate when you wore them and who saw you in it. It might sound silly to some people (to each their own) but I am finding it makes selecting outfits and trying new combos so much easier. You can search for a certain item and see exactly when you last wore it. I am also learning from the photos what clothing styles most flatter my body and what doesn’t work as well. I believe the app cost about $2.99 and is also available for iphone.

    • That’s awesome! I’m going to check that out!

  • “And if space constraints make this impossible, consider shifting your closet contents every few months: Move pants to the front and skirts to the back, bring those seldom-worn jeans to the top of the drawer, place a few lesser-used necklaces on a pretty platter and set it on your dresser.”

    Mind. Blown.

    Because I know what pants I have. I wear them to work every day. Rarely do I incorporate my skirts into my wardrobe, so why are my pants the first thing visible when I open my closet doors and my skirts are tucked away behind my shirts?

    This whole article is golden. I’m totally pinning it. 😉

  • bubu

    Great ideas, Sal! I just polished up a bunch of leather shoes and was amazed the difference it made to make me want to wear them all. I also found having things where I can see them critical: hooks on the wall for jewelry and scarves, shoes in a shoe bag over the door, closet not too cramped – so my whole bedroom serves as my closet, not just my closet. Also when I put my “drawer” shirts in the drawer this fall I rolled them all up and laid them next to each other instead of folding and stacking, so when I open the drawer I see them all at once and don’t forget what’s in there.

    I also have found that if I have an outfit idea for the next day, or even just before I hop in the shower, I pull out the pieces and hang them up or lay them out on the bed. Somehow seeing i tall together gets other ideas going, and I get inspired with shoes or accessories that hadn’t occurred to me before. It’s why I ended up with my cool but sometimes tricky blue oxfords on today instead of basic black loafers.

  • Lydia

    Excellent ideas here– always a good reminder to organize, mend, polish etc.. (I just mended today — took me literally five minutes (and four months of avoidance…!).

    Another tip that may be helpful — wash unworn clothes that you have not worn for ages. It may seem strange, but as I have sensitive skin, even a cardi, or top that sits in my closet for a while often gathers dust (and my closet has glass doors, then a sliding door — so that is how sensitive my skin is to dust!).

    This summer — I pulled out clothing that I had not worn for several seasons, or that maybe even that deodorant /perfume scent that still ‘clung’ after one wash — I had one full load of laundry, and hung them up in the sun / bathroom to dry. It felt like I had a whole fresh, wearable wardrobe.

  • Great article, Sal!

    One thing I do is take part of the closet space and put outfits together. I have little jewelry bags that i can hang on the hanger with some of them, too. This helps me when I just want to grab something quick and go.

  • Great tips Sally! I needed this reminder. I’m in the process of paring down my closet right now, and trying to figure out what to keep and what to get rid of. This month, I’m wearing only ten items of clothing to change the way I shop and to raise awareness for human trafficking, and it’s drastically altered my mindset. When this month is over, I want to make the most of the clothes I keep, and this post has given me some great ideas!

  • Great advice, perfect for where I am in my style life now, which is editing down my clothes to the point they all work for me and together. My small closet is too dark, and you’re right, I can’t see things well enough to consider them, especially when I’m in a rush. Lately, I’ve been picking one item that hasn’t seen the light of day in ages, and getting that new clothes rush. Awesome.

  • Really great ideas. I started my blog just recently to challenge my creativity and see how much variety I can get out of my wardrobe and the new purchases i make as I lose weight and the things I am putting aside to alter after I reach my goal. Looking at Pinterest and other bloggers is a great way to get inspired, as well. Love the idea of taking time to create on outfit list, as a visual person taking photos of outfit ideas would be best… Great post!

  • Rachel

    I create personal challenges for myself all the time. Usually something like “wear through all my dresses” or “wear all my summer skirts one last time before the end of summer”. I’ll break if I really want to wear something else, but it helps me get dressed in the morning if I have a starting point! Also I’m continually weeding things out, and sometimes I have to get creative (like figuring out now to wear some of my dresses in the winter).