Beautiful reader Elisabeth wrote in with this fabulous request:
I’d love to see your interpretation of this kind of exercise for women (like me!) who keep buying the same black cardigan and long sleeve T over and over again. If I (or anyone) were to make an inventory of the clothes that we own, what kinds of questions should we be asking ourselves after the list has been made?
My personal issue is that I love clothes and get inspired by what I see on on other women and on fashion blogs, but I always end up buying things that do not make me feel stylish. My desired image does not match what is in my closet. And it’s not a matter of finance – I don’t have expensive taste in clothes or shop too little or too much. I just don’t know how to assess what I really want to add to or discard from my wardrobe. So, I was thinking, as a style-savante, you might have some tricks up your sleeve for training your readers to know their own personal style-sense a bit better, and suggesting how to decide how to buy new clothes or use the items we already have to create the look we want.
There are a few questions floating around in there, so I’ll tackle them one at a time!
For the record, I have at least four black cardigans myself. Sure, they’re a staple, and all of mine are made from slightly different materials and cut to slightly different proportions, but still! That’s a LOT of black cardigans. I think most women are inclined to purchase similar or same items, over and over again. Trends may come and go, but the foundations of personal taste seldom shift … so when you know what you love, and what works for you, you gravitate toward it.
But that can get costly, redundant, frustrating. You don’t want a bunch of sameness, you want options! And taking inventory of your current wardrobe can help you avoid unintended multiples. But how do you effectively inventory your goodies? What are some good questions to ask yourself as you pore over your belongings?
- How often do I wear this? Frequency of use is, obviously, the first sign of a favorite. If it gets worn twice a week, you might consider doubling up so you’ll have a backup when the first wears out. Twice per month is still a great record, and means it’s a keeper. Twice per year and you need to figure out if it just has limited application, or if it doesn’t suit you.
- How does this make me feel about myself? If you pick up a skirt and it makes you feel ugly just looking at it, or if it reminds you of a difficult time, or if it no longer fits with your style or lifestyle, that’s very important information. If you pick up a skirt and it lifts your spirits, or if it makes you excited at the prospect of getting dressed, or if it boosts your confidence in your gorgeous figure just hanging there, also important. Clothing that makes you feel badly in ANY way is not worth keeping around.
- Is this comfortable? Everyone has a threshold for discomfort, and everyone hangs onto clothing that crosses that threshold. Some are worth the sacrifice, but most aren’t. Everyday togs should fit to your body without squeezing, and cause you minimal discomfort. Period.
- Is this current? Now we’re getting onto shakier ground, I realize. But I’m not saying that you should ditch anything that’s six years old, or abandon anything that doesn’t conform to current trends. I AM saying that there’s classic and there’s outdated, and you probably have a better sense of the difference than you realize. Evaluate and decide.
- Is this how I want to look? Again, a tall order. Especially if you’re not entirely sure how you want to look. But start by taking each piece and asking yourself, “Does this suit the current me, or the ideal me?” If it suits the ideal you, can it be merged into the current you? Can you build three to five outfits around it using your personal wardrobe staples? Look for items that have a little bit of aspiration in them, but can still play nicely with the look you’re sporting this very moment.
Before you make a wish list …
Anyone in transition is going to have a hard time discerning between object lust and pragmatism. And I’m loathe to give general advice about creating a targeted, effective wish list since every woman’s needs will be different. But here are a few exercises that might help someone who is dying to make a transformative wardrobe wish list, but has no idea where to start.
- Define your ideal style. Somehow: Make a collage of images, write a paragraph or two, create a Pinterest board, pick a celeb icon or a person from your life whose style you admire. You may not be able to articulate your aspirational style exactly, but take a stab at it and don’t worry about being precise. You’ve gotta start somewhere. (For more on this see Style for the Lost, and the other recommended posts listed below.)
- Define your current style : Make a list of adjectives that describe your wardrobe and style, jot down phrases that others have used to describe your appearance, stand in your closet and write whatever comes to you. Trust me, you have a better idea of what you dress like than you realize. You just need to focus on it to wring out that description.
- Make outfits from what you own: Focus on creating looks that combine elements of your ideal and current styles. Pull out your favorite pieces and challenge yourself to build five outfits around each. Pull out items you love but seldom wear, and do the same. Grab your closet orphans and think creatively: How can these difficult pieces be styled with your other garments? Now think about how you’ve defined your style from the previous steps. Do the outfits fit with your newly-created parameters? If not, how can you make them conform?
- Fill in the blanks: After you’ve cooked up some outfits with your current clothes, you’ll have a better idea of what you want to purchase to complete your desired look. Focus on versatile pieces and basics. Even if an 8-inch floral brooch would look amazing with that one dress-blazer combo, think about how ELSE it would get worn. Anything on this list will have been thoroughly vetted, if you’ve done all of the other steps above, so you’re unlikely to end up with a group of brand new items that twin what you already own!
Honing your personal style
Well, that’s a whole other ball of fish. I mean kettle of wax. Whatever, it deserves to be more than just a footnote, and I’ve actually cooked up a few posts on this topic in the past.
Image courtesy BrittneyBush.