An anonymous commenter dropped this doozy into the suggestion box:
How do you know when it’s time to let an item of clothing go? Either something you’ve worn and loved, or something that you’ve held onto waiting for that magical right piece that will convert your closet orphan into a fabulous outfit?
I’ve mentioned quite a few times that I don’t personally subscribe to the “if you haven’t worn it for a year, get rid of it” rule. And there are several reasons for that.
Style is cyclical. Both personal style and general style. If you loved something once and wore it, you might love and wear it again in a couple of cycles. Why get rid of it and buy the same thing again when you can just hang onto what you’ve got?
Style evolves. If you liked something enough to procure it, there’s a reason. If you can’t figure out how to work it into easy outfits now, you might be able to later. And even if you can’t, you bought it because you loved it. Use it to challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone!
Style is complex. The more I explore my own style, the more I love feeling well-equipped. I have nothing but the deepest admiration for those who can pare down their closets to 15 gorgeous, classic items, but that’s just not how I roll. I like layered looks, accessories, neutral mixes. I prefer to have lots of tools on hand so that I can experiment to my heart’s content.
All that said, I don’t keep everything I buy. I give tons of stuff away to my friends and to charities, sell the occasional item on eBay, and recycle some bits and bobs into new garments or accessories. My seasonal purges are an important part of my style-honing process.
Now, the question was about two specific types of unworn items: Ones that were beloved once, and ones that have no playmates in your current wardrobe. So let’s dive into those, shall we?
WHEN TO DITCH A ONCE-LOVED ITEM
It scares you: There are plenty of items that stick around unworn season after season. They hold onto their spots in your closet because you look at them and think, “Hello there, gorgeous. Promise to trot you out next fall!” But stuff that makes you cringe because it is so far removed from your current style? Ditch it and screw the “cyclical trends” argument. Trust your gut.
It fights you: Weight fluctuates and shifts, but many of us are pretty much the same SHAPE regardless of how much we weigh. Clothing that doesn’t fit usually falls into two categories: Stuff that fit eons ago, and stuff that never fit in the first place. (I have a tougher time with the latter, as it tends to encompass gorgeous hand-me-downs from friends that I couldn’t bear to reject, or amazing vintage finds that ALMOST worked but not quite.) If something fit a former version of your body and you still just adore it, feel free to hold onto it forever … but get it the hell out of your everyday closet where it will just stare you down and make you feel stuck in the past. Put it in deep storage. Clothing that never fit? Try to be brutally honest with yourself, and find it a loving home.
It is unalterable: Many beloved items can be reworked by a tailor to fit our today-bodies, breathing new life into abandoned garments. But sweaters are tough. Leather goods are expensive. And anything asymmetrical or incredibly complex in construction probably isn’t worth the investment. Unalterables should probably find new homes, too.
WHEN TO DITCH A CLOSET ORPHAN
It’s a sore thumb: A closet orphan that suits your body and style can linger long and eventually find its place. A closet orphan that looks absolutely nothing like anything you have ever owned is unlikely to work its way into regular wear. Use closet orphans to challenge yourself, but be reasonable. If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Talbots gal wondering what to do with that bustled, corseted steampunk dress … consider getting rid of it.
It frustrates you: If you’ve tried 18 gazillion things to make a closet orphan work, none of them have, and you feel the urge to light it on fire, just donate the damned thing. Again, challenging yourself is a marvelous way to expand your style. But if a challenging item seems to be mocking you with its stylistic difficulty, just forget it. Life is too short and there are too many other marvelous things in your closet, just ripe for the wearing.
One final note about closet orphans: Often times, these are items that we’ve blocked mentally. A blazer that was once half of a suit and can’t seem to make its way solo, a skirt that was bought with a sweater and never moved on after the sweater got ruined. Set these items aside and make a project of mixing them into your daily wear. Once they’re no longer conceptualized as one-use items, they’ll merge into your closet much easier.
Image courtesy aldrin_muya.