How To Not Curate and Edit Your Wardrobe (and still be happy with it)

Out with the old, in with the new.

Wait.  That's not quite right.  Old does not have to go out if it's still useful and still looks good.  New doesn't have to take over the old.  Do I have too much old?  Did I buy too much new?

I am following several fashion bloggers who talk about creating a "capsule wardrobe".  This is a wardrobe of fairly timeless pieces that best capture your style. At first I thought these sites were going to help me dress perfectly with every piece mixable and into a signature style that screams "Rachel."  No item would be superfluous and everything would work together harmoniously.

I have learned in the past few weeks as I transition my wardrobe from the fall/winter closet to the spring/summer closet that trying to get yourself into this mindset can drive you crazy.

It is definitely helpful to evaluate your wardrobe periodically.  Sometimes there is a reason why something has been sitting in the back of the closet unworn.  Personally my sizes have changed wildly in the past three years.  Tastes can change.  Life situations can change.  On the other hand something might be sitting unworn for a long time in the back of your closet, but rediscovering can provide a pleasant wardrobe pick-me-up (I call this, "Shopping Your Closet").  Trying to decide what should or should not go into the donation pile can be a difficult task.

Once I decide what I want to get rid of, deciding what I need to add is just as difficult.  Whenever I buy a new piece of clothing I should consider how many ways I will use it, how often I can wear it, and how much it flatters me and makes me feel stylish.  If it's beautiful, flattering, and timeless, I can pay more for it.  If I'm unsure of its longevity in my wardrobe or that it's a flash in the pan fashion-wise, I need to find a cheaper version.  When I evaluate what I will keep or toss from my own closet, I also am told to consider how well it integrates with the rest of my wardrobe.

Obviously I'm not supposed to buy clothes just because I like them. At least that's not what the fashion curators tell me.

I stayed serious with the project at the beginning.  I asked myself two important questions:

1.  What is my style?  Is it the same as it was 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago?

2.  What situations do I need to dress for on a regular basis?

Recently I said the answer to #1 is 40% feminine and romantic, 40% classic and simple, and 40% "anything goes".  As I mature there is part of me that feels my affection for ruffles and florals looks a bit young on me.  I worry more "boho" looks will age me.  I also feel that some edgy pieces in interesting cuts might be a better direction for me than sticking with safe and conservative or sweet and feminine.  I should keep my look fresh and surprising, but still remember I'm not 20 anymore.  My tastes are also somewhat seasonal.  I tend to me more feminine - even slightly boho in casual settings - in the spring and summer, but and wear more structured and cleaner cuts and patterns in the fall and winter.

For question #2 I can put my wardrobe into 4 components:

1.  Active/casual - This includes the stuff I wear to the barn, to the gym, and around the house for cooking and cleaning.  These clothes consist of t-shirts, jeans, sweatpants, leggings, shorts, and riding clothes.  With the exception of workout sneakers and riding clothes, most of this stuff is cheap and disposable and only needs replacing when worn out.  This is not the stuff I consider when doing wardrobe edits.

2.  Work - This is the area of my wardrobe that gets the most attention.  I work in a professional office and wear this type of clothing 4 days a week for 8 hours a day.  I need to keep up somewhat with NY fashion and present a professional appearance.  This part of my wardrobe consists of tailored dresses and skirts, dress pants, cardigans, blazers, blouses, and conservative knit tops.  I like to keep a coordinating and interesting rotation of bags and shoes to accompany them.

3.  Business Casual/Weekend out - This is the stuff I wear on Casual Fridays as well as casual dinners and evenings out with my husband or with friends.  It is also the kind of stuff I wear out to dinner on vacation (or during the day when I'm traveling in Europe).  This consists of jeans, leggings, blouses and knit tops, casual light dresses and skirts, and capris accompanied by sandals, flats, or non-athletic sneakers. 

4.  Dressy - This is the least-necessary part of my wardrobe, but I do like to make sure I have a dressy dress or two along with a couple of snazzy pairs of heels in case I'm invited to a wedding or similar function.  As with Category #1, I only shop for this when it's needed.

I was determined to create a newly-coordinated wardrobe inspired by the fashion bloggers who inspired me.  I grew excited about every new look I saw.  When I saw a dress or jacket or blouse that didn't look like anything I already owned, I had to have it.  Soon I had a list of everything I knew I had to have this spring.

Before I started to shop, I had to decide what to get rid of.  I did this by laying out my wardrobe piece by piece to see what I owned, and trying on almost everything to see if it still fit.

I started with tops and blouses:

Some of this was new this spring. Most of it has been in my closet since last year or before.

I learned a few things when I went through the pile.  I discovered after buying a sleeveless white blouse this spring that I already owned a similar blouse (it was too small, so the new one was a wise purchase after all).  I never saw the stains on some of the older shirts.  I also still have issues with sizes.

I ended up ditching a blue tank that was becoming sprung out, a black cowl neck tee from Shabby Apple that I loved but is way too tight now, a pink floral tee that was looking ratty, and of course the too-tight superfluous white blouse.  I suppose I should mention there are two "dressy" tees that I kept that aren't in this photo.

Next up was skirts:

I love my skirts.  I had to keep most of these.  The red swing skirt, the raspberry pencil skirt, and the black-and-white polka dot skirts are nicely cross-seasonal too. Yes, I need both navy skirts.  The longer one is for business attire days and the short one is for casual days.  The only skirt I decided not to keep was a khaki one that had become too tight.  It also tends to wrinkle badly.

Dresses were the hardest:

My blue floral dress is my designated summer occasion dress.  Almost everything else was a Category 2 dress.  I love a simple dress on a hot summer day.  It's easy to pull on a dress when I'm going out to dinner with the husband, want to take a lunchtime walk on Casual Friday at work, or stroll the streets of some European city without looking like an Ugly American.  I had to ask myself if I needed this many and which ones I should keep.  Did I want any dresses for work, and if so, what kind of dresses? The red sheath still looked okay, but I have owned it three years and rarely wear it.   The black lace sheath is almost too dressy for work and since I gained the weight, it technically still fits me, but looks sort of trashy.  I decided to get rid of the white linen dress that is too hard to maintain and not all that flattering and the black and white dress casual that makes me look like a cow. Eventually I made the painful decision to get rid of the black lace.

I decided to put the red sheath and the tropical blue print (which is quite old) in a "maybe" pile.  I'll keep them for the summer, but if I don't wear them more than twice by the end of summer, they go into the donation pile.

Sweaters and Jackets came next:

I love the colors of my hot pink and turquoise cardigans, but they are way too tight now.  The seams on the sleeves don't sit correctly on my larger arms.  The white blazer is a must-have, so it stays even if I currently can't button it. I bought the light pink one last year and it fits well, so I'm keeping it. The gray jacket was hardly worn last summer.  Not shown here is a reversible open cardigan that is white and gray and I'm keeping it.  This is one area of my wardrobe that really did need an infusion of new stuff.

Finally I had to work on the pants.

These were easily.  The pinstripe pair was way too small.  The white and the khaki are necessities in the summer and had to stay.  The cobalt were also from last summer and need to stay, but they are starting to fray a bit in the crotch, so this may be my last summer with them.  I tossed a pair of white capris that were too tight, but kept a pair of blue floral capris (not shown) that I bought last summer and still fit.  I also bought the pale blue pants at the top left this year.

This is everything I bought new this year:

Black blouse with dotted front and solid back - Loft
Black and white sleeveless dress - Loft
Black and white sleeveless blouse with blue dots - Loft

Sleeveless white blouse - Ann Taylor
Blush tie-neck blouse - Ann Taylor
Pale blue skirt - Ann Taylor
Pale blue shell (not shown) Ann Taylor

Blue floral cowl neck blouse
Abstract blue sleeveless shirt
Pale blue slim ankle pants. 
All purchased at Boltons for $20 or less

Peacock Blue Open Cardigan - J Jill
Seersucker Blazer - Lord & Taylor

White Chino Dress - Boden
Hot pink open cardigan - Kohl's
Gray marled t-shirt - Kohl's 

I also bought a lot of shoes this year.  I had to.  I had a wardrobe of shoes that were worn out or uncomfortable or were just not working with my wardrobe anymore (I need to stop impulse buying shoes from Mod Cloth - their shoes are rarely comfortable and just too impractical style wise).  There wasn't too much money spent here.  Three pairs came from DSW and I spent under $200 for all of them.

Pink lace-up flats - Nordstrom
Beige peep-toe pumps - Aerosoles
Blue high heeled sandals - DSW
Striped flats - DSW
Red flats - Boden
Beige high heeled sandals - DSW
Black & White cap toe pumps - Zappos

In the end my summer business/business casual/smart casual closet consists of:

19 shirts, shells, and blouses (some are casual by themselves, but can be layered under business clothes) (Yes, I said 19)
11 skirts
8 blazers/cardigans
9 dresses
7 pairs of pants (including jeans)
10 pairs of shoes (not including gym sneakers or walking sandals)

This list doesn't include shorts, riding pants, sweatpants, or the t-shirts I wear to the gym or the barn.

This is far from minimalist.  Can you call this "curated"?  Is this all remixable?  Can every piece be worn with every other piece?  Can I create 10 outfits off the top of my head?  Can I create 10 outfits with every piece? No.  I can't.  Am I still happy with my closet?  Yes, I am.

After all this work, what did I learn?

Your average fashion blogger, particularly those who have a minimalist, core approach, has a minimalist life.  I don't mean that to be insulting.  I just mean that often the most fashionable women tend to wear the same clothes in all aspects of their lives because their lives aren't all as multifaceted as mine.  I do follow bloggers with day jobs and have a business wardrobe, but many fashionistas seem to live their lives in my Category 2.  They also are more likely to dress up casual events.  

Fashion bloggers tend to put together cute outfits just for a trip to the store or a walk in the park.  The lives they present online (which may or may not be their real lives) seem to consist of meeting friends in cafes, taking walks in the country, strolling through outdoor markets, and going to local events, and occasionally going to a job.  They wear the same types of clothes for all of the above.  What do they when they're cleaning the house or cooking dinner?  What do they sweat and get dirty in?  Once in a while a blogger will show off the athletic wear she wears to Soul Cycle class, but that's about it.

My life has multiple facets as I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  I'm not fashionable at the gym or the barn or while housecleaning or when cooking dinner, or at dance class.  There are plenty of situations in my life where looking cute or looking put together are not a priority for me.  I have clothes for those situations.  I prefer to keep some areas of my wardrobe separate, which goes against the principles of minimalism.

I guess if your wardrobe is truly minimal, you have to dress up more for casual situations though. Looking junky for an emergency trip to the supermarket isn't an option if you have no junky clothes.

I also know that I can fall in love with an article of clothing that may have no potential to integrate well with the rest of my wardrobe.  I may only be able to wear it by itself in certain situations.  If I love it, what does it matter?

Just to prove I can remix my wardrobe, I came up with a system of planning my work outfits a week in advance and then hanging them together in my closet where I can easily reach them.   No issues making outfits so far.

If you hate everything you own, feel like you have no real sense of style, and have a closet full of nothing to wear, then by all means start editing your wardrobe and prioritizing.  But remember you're human and fashion isn't your full time job.  Don't fret if you have a full closet.


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