The 10 steps to get your wardrobe to where you want it to be

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One of the most frequent questions I get are from women asking how they can pare down on their wardrobe and figure out what to keep and what to toss.

Without further ado, here is my comprehensive post on how to do this (and let’s hope WordPress doesn’t eat it ).

Guys, there’s probably some good stuff in here for you, but to be honest, I’m writing for the women today because it isn’t quite as tricky to dress as a guy. :)

If you want to read more about it, here are some guy-specific posts on wardrobe stuff:

STEP 1: THE QUICK PURGE

This one should be fast and easy. Give it one day, max.. unless you have a house full of clothes of course.

Get rid of anything that is:

  • Stained beyond repair
  • Torn beyond repair
  • Butt-ugly
  • Ill-fitting
  • Old and faded
  • Not your current style any more (think: bad fashion eras)

Do not keep anything that you think you MIGHT fit into again one day. Chances are, you won’t.

Anything that needs to be tailored that you’d really like to keep, toss it in another pile and GO GET THEM ALL TAILORED. Be sure that you want to keep the item before tailoring it, if not, you’re just throwing good money after bad.

However I would suggest keeping a pair of comfortable, loose, ugly clothes (pants, t-shirt and sweater should work) for those occasions where you might need to paint your house, move dirty boxes, clean out the basement and do things you don’t want to get your good clothes dirty.

If you really feel angst about getting rid of stuff, stick it all in a big garbage bag, tie it up, slap a date on it written on tape and get rid of it after 6 months, lock stock and barrel.

Under absolutely no circumstances are you (or any other family members.. *cough*MOM*cough* allowed to re-open the bag and dig through it again.

STEP 2: TRACK WHAT YOU WEAR

For the next 2 weeks, track what you wear. If you have a whole bunch of clothes, I suggest NOT doing laundry weekly and wearing new things (if you can) for two weeks.

Note: I don’t have enough pants to wear a new one daily for two weeks, so if you are anything like me, you could probably wear them 2-3 times before washing them, and/or wash them but make a note that they’re exceptions.

After two weeks, you should have a big pile of laundry to do, and a good idea of what you automatically reach for in your wardrobe on a regular basis.

STEP 3: REPEAT THE PURGE, BUT IN DETAIL

This is where you should start a pile of laundry, and then grab all the rest of your clothes that you haven’t touched in 2 weeks, and repeat Step #1 The Purge all over again.

As you touch each item of unworn clothing, ask yourself WHY you didn’t reach for it in the last two weeks.

Some of the reasons why I don’t touch certain clothes:

  • Looks great on me, but I can’t eat or breathe in it
  • Looks great on me, but it’s rubbing one side raw, or doesn’t QUITE fit in one spot
  • I already have a similar piece that I prefer to wear
  • I think I’m going to wear it some day but it hasn’t happened… yet
  • It’s a style I think I can pull off… but I really can’t bring myself to wear it

To the above I say — purge, purge purge!

Clothes that should be given a pass:
  • Not the season for it (winter coats can be given a pass on this purge)
  • Is meant for special occasions (weddings, interviews, scuba diving..)
  • Love it, but can’t find anything to wear with it (these are what I call “orphan pieces of clothing”)

Now the fun part begins:

  • survey your (new) existing wardrobe
  • finding the orphans and filling in the gaps
  • figuring out what works on your body
  • developing a style and colour palette

STEP 4: SURVEY YOUR (NEW) EXISTING WARDROBE

By now, you should have basically everything you want to keep and wear. It may not be a perfect wardrobe yet, but you don’t have anything that you don’t really want.

Make a map of what you have either on paper, electronically or just in your head.

There are a few ways to do this:

  1. Lay everything out all at once to give you a good visual overview
  2. Photograph everything and throw it on an iPod Touch (my approach)
  3. Make a short written list in 3 categories: casual, work and dressy, then list under each “3 tops, 4 pants, etc”.

The reason why I suggest making a list is so you can see where you have gaps in your wardrobe and when you go shopping, you will NOT buy another grey sweater you don’t need.

The three main things you are looking for:

  1. Gaps in your wardrobe
  2. Powerhouse items that can be dressed up, down and all around
  3. Orphan pieces of clothing that are dying for a partner

Wardrobe Gaps: These are areas where you have absolutely nothing to wear in.

Most people either have a wardrobe that is too dressy and not casual enough, or vice versa.

What you are looking for is what you are missing that you don’t have. If you work at home in your pajamas and don’t need a suit, then don’t bother putting it on your list to buy. It’s useless for your lifestyle.

However, if you need something that you can wear out on the town on occasion, because all you own are sweatpants and sweatshirts, then make a note that you need a slightly dressier outfit.

I am the type of person who leans towards a very dressy wardrobe.

Nothing makes my heart flutter more than a dress, so I have an overwhelming amount of dresses.

For my casual wardrobe however, I only own one pair of perfect mid-rise dark rinse jeans and one pair of sweatpants.

I am also someone who hates to wear shorts so I have 0 in that department, and I have no more than 5 skirts in my wardrobe (I find dresses easier to wear — it’s like a full outfit in one fell swoop).

I don’t really need anything in my wardrobe, as my job requires me to be business casual which to me, means a pair of dark trouser jeans and a top without a slogan on it. ;)

Powerhouse Items: You can pretty much wear anything you want with these kinds of items.

I’d also call these “Connector Items”, because they connect your wardrobe together by being a good base item to build upon.

An example would be a pair of mid-rise pair of dark rinse jeans that you can wear with a really fancy sequin top to go out in, or dress it down with a simple white t-shirt.

You want to make a note of these pieces so that you don’t buy duplicates (my former wardrobe contained no less than 15 grey sweaters and now I’m finally down to one grey sweater), and you want to keep in mind how you can work your favourite powerhouse items into your future outfits.

Orphan Pieces: These are the pieces you love but haven’t worn because you’re missing something.

An example would be a really brightly coloured or patterned skirt that looks incredible, but you don’t have the right top to go with it the colour palette or style of the skirt.

My current ‘orphan’ piece is this amazing Fantastic Fields Skirt I bought from Anthropologie a while ago (I LOVE IT) but I don’t have a clear idea of what to wear on the top.

Yet.

I have some ideas and all of them involve keeping it simple so that the skirt shines on its own.

You want to make a note of these pieces so you can either shop your closet to find the pieces that will work with them by experimentation, or put it on your To Shop For list when you go out next time.

STEP 5: FIGURE OUT YOUR STYLE AND LIFESTYLE

Now that you have your wardrobe, you have an idea of what you’re missing and what you want, you should really try and nail down what your style is and how it works for your lifestyle.

Either you know it or you don’t.

If you know your style, skip this part.

Make a mental note of what you need to wear on a regular basis. For me, it’s business casual (not formal), running errands and lounging around the house.

For what I don’t need — I don’t go to fancy cocktail parties, I haven’t hit the bar scene since college and special events are covered by the plethora of dresses in my wardrobe.

If you don’t know your style, go through a whole bunch of fashion blogs, read through magazines in the library and make a collage of what you gravitate towards to.

I suggest starting here:

A pattern will eventually emerge and you will happen to just love a certain kind of look.

I know I’m classic with a twist, and I am not really one to jump on any kind of trendy bandwagon, which is why I am STILL not wearing harem pants, crop tops, 70s inspired clothing, tights as pants or neon-anything.

An example of a look I seemed to gravitate towards to can be seen below:

(Minus the wearing of shorts and heels over 2″. I hate wearing shorts. I’d wear a skirt instead.)

STEP 6: FIGURE OUT YOUR BODY TYPE

Now while I might feel like it looks so wonderfully effortless to be in shapeless, baggy items, or very wispy, thin-strapped tops…. it just doesn’t fly with my body type.

I’m someone with a big ribcage, wide, WIDE shoulders, no defined waist and very stick thin hips and legs.

I am an inverted triangle with apple tendencies.

These celebrities apparently share my same body type, except they are way more muscly, fitter and don’t have an apple belly like I do:

As an inverted triangle with an apple belly, I have rules I should follow and they are:

  • No skinny strapped items (tank tops with skinny straps, cute sundresses.. gone!)
  • No strapless anything (not a big enough chest to hold it up)
  • Nothing too tight or skinny for the bottoms (then my shoulders look enormous!)
  • No halter tops (*sigh*)
  • Nothing too tight in the waist (A girl has to eat after all..)
  • Nothing shapeless and baggy around the waist without being belted (I need waist definition)
  • No baggy tops that stop short before the tops of my pants (makes me look like a square with legs)
  • Put as much volume as I can into my bottom with puffy skirts, A-line skirts, etc.. etc…

You can find all the different body types and their rules here on these great sites:

I don’t follow the rules for the inverted triangle totally (I avoid strapless tops), but they’re good base rules.

Knowing what your main body type is, is very important because you should shop to flatter your best assets.

Once you know your rules, you will be able to shop a lot faster and pass over the items that absolutely look horrendous on you.

Becoming picky about what you buy will not only save you money, but save your wardrobe from bursting at the seams.

So what if you love a certain style but can’t wear it? Skinny jeans are it for me — I like the idea of skinny jeans and pants, but I can’t wear them without being super conscious of how large my shoulders are in comparison to my body.

Therefore, I wear straight-legged pants, which give me the feeling of skinny jeans without the toothpick legs, and it balances out my body frame better.

If it’s a wispy floral sundress that you love but you feel uncomfortable pulling off the look, then re-interpret it into a floral bag, or in a simple floral top instead of a full ensemble in floral.

STEP 7: FIGURE OUT YOUR COLOUR PALETTE

What’s nice about knowing your colour palette is not only do you look better in them, you can also have a wardrobe that always goes together. If you gravitate towards greys, whites, ivories and blacks, then almost everything you own will match.

Colours that work for me are gemstones such as amber, canary, emerald, sapphire, ruby.. anything saturated, deep and delicious are what I go for.

Example?

But I wouldn’t wear all these colours together, all at once.

My favourite colours are:

  • whites
  • grey
  • magenta
  • crimson red
  • teal
  • dark purple
  • emerald green

They ALL go together without looking too dull or monochrome or Rainbow Brite.

As a general rule, I (try to) avoid the following colours:

  • Anything in pastels
  • Anything neon
  • Anything with more than 3-5 colours mixed in (rainbows make me look childish)
  • Anything brown (I simply loathe the colour on me)
  • Black (I only have a 5 black pieces — a wrap dress, a pair of pants, t-shirt, tank top and a suit), because it’s a necessary staple colour for formal settings and interviews
  • Any colour I simply don’t like the look of, because I damn well won’t reach for it in my wardrobe

So that pale, slightly ruffled, romantic shirt I might have purchased just because the cut was nice?

No. Not any more.

I know the colour doesn’t work on me no matter how much I want it to, and I just leave it on the rack.

If I really love a colour but it makes me look icky, then I wear it in my accessories (shoes, handbags, jewellery).

STEP 8: START SHOPPING

Either your closet or in the stores, set a budget for the pieces you need to connect your wardrobe together and to make it make sense.

You do NOT have to rush out and buy everything you need immediately. Take your time.

Sometimes it’s taken me a year or more to find what I’ve been looking for on my list. Like with relationships, don’t settle for less than the best.

Don’t spend too much on one item, but don’t cheap out on it either, or you’ll end up buying it AGAIN and AGAIN.

If you are buying basic pieces like tank tops, you can buy them from H&M, Forever 21 and so on without spending more than $10 a piece. However, you should keep in mind that they may not be excellent in terms of quality.

I prefer to buy my tank tops from American Apparel for about $15-$20 each, only because I buy ONE tank top in the colours I actually wear. The colours last, the quality is quite nice and I haven’t had one pill, fade in colour or stretch out yet.

STEP 9: STAYING CURRENT

Now you have a great basic wardrobe with a few nice pieces. What about being on trend?

Frankly, I hate trends. I think magazine editors recycle fashion fads every 10-20 years and if you keep stuff long enough, it comes back in style (hello 1970s!).

So really, it’s all a wash if you keep trying to stay on trend. You’ll just end up wasting money each year they change their minds on a whim just to keep selling stuff.

Don’t buy whatever is in season with evaluating how it works for you in the long-term and for your lifestyle.

It’s nice to look current and fresh, but it’s even better if you can save a little cash along the way and avoid the headache of trying to always look cool.

My first instinct is to buy the items in accessories. If neon colours are coming back in a big way, avoid buying a neon dress and buy a neon ring instead.

If you want actual pieces of clothing, then I suggest avoiding buying whole outfits that are trendy from head to toe, and spending the money on buying ONE trendy piece that could stand the test of time.

It’s funny really, that very trendy outfits are what the magazine editors recommend.. but they could just as easily turn around and call you a fashion victim for wearing the entire look right off the runway.

Ask yourself if you’d wear it again in 20 years. If you wouldn’t wear that crop top or those harem pants again when you’re 20 years older, then don’t buy it.. or if you absolutely must have it, then buy a cheap version of it.

Save your money for the trends that you could see yourself wearing over and over again, rather than being flash-in-the-pan fads.

Lastly, if you see a trend that doesn’t work for your body type whatsoever, either re-interpret it for your body type (e.g. wearing straight-legged pants instead of skinny jeans), or close both eyes and avoid buying it altogether.

You will eventually get rid of it if it doesn’t look good on you, so just save your money.

STEP 10: MAINTENANCE

Once a year, evaluate your wardrobe

For me, it’s multiple times a year because every time I move, I purge more and more.

Keep track of what you own

This is so you can stop buying duplicates and have an idea of your entire wardrobe (I love my iPod Touch Wadrobe solution).

Stick to category limits

If you are nearing the 30-item mark in t-shirts, perhaps it’s time to stop and purge.

You could also try the one-in-one-out rule for purchases.

And that’s basically it in a nutshell. Good luck!

About everydayminimalist

I'm a 20-something year old girl who lived out of a single suitcase in 2007, and now I'm living with less, but only with the best. You don't have to get rid of everything to become a minimalist! Minimalism can help simplify and organize your life, career, & physical surroundings. You can read more about me as a minimalist. Or come and visit my other blog Fabulously Broke in the City where I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months, earning $65,000 gross/year.