How to Build a Wardrobe That Works and Always Have Something to Wear
For most of my life, I’ve had absolutely nothing to wear.
Not literally, obviously. Quite the opposite, in fact: I have so much to wear than that when we bought our current house, we converted a box room into a dressing-room. So I’m definitely not short on clothes, let’s put it that way. For a long time, though, I WAS short of clothes that suited my lifestyle. I had tons of 50s-inspired dresses and stilettos, but time and time again I’d find myself invited to something really casual, and would stand there in front of the clothes rail, saying, “OMG, I have NOTHING to wear! NOTHING!”
These days, things are looking much better in the ol’ closet. I wouldn’t say I’ve got it totally figured out, because I still have the odd, “What the hell am I supposed to wear to THAT?” moment, but they’ve become far less frequent, and I’m feeling a whole lot happier with my closet, and my style, overall. Here are some of the techniques I used to get to that stage…
Clear out your closet
Pretty much ALL of my fashion/lifestyle advice starts with the words ” clear out your closet ” or “clean your house”. Not only is it really therapeutic (or, at least, it is for me: I can’t think straight if my house is dirty or the laundry is piling up…), a cluttered closet crammed full of clothing you don’t need and don’t wear will really hamper your ability to get dressed in the morning, forcing you to sift through tons of crap to get to the useful stuff that’s buried in there somewhere.
You’d think the more choice you have, the easier it would be to find something to wear, but I actually find the reverse can be true, and a crammed closet will only add to that “OMG, I have nothing to wear!” feeling – especially if it’s full of items that don’t really work for you, but which you’re clinging onto anyway.
You’d think the more choice you have, the easier it would be to find something to wear, but I actually find the reverse can be true
I’m not saying here that you need to stop shopping, or have a strict limit on the number of items you own (I mean, do I LOOK like I don’t ever shop?), but I DO really recommend having a good clear out every so often, getting rid of all of the things you know you won’t wear, and then organising what’s left, so you can actually see what you have, without having to rummage for half an hour every morning.
Define your style
Having a very defined “signature” style isn’t for everyone, and it’s something that can take a long time, and a lot of trial and error to develop. If you find that you never seem to have anything to wear, though, or you always end up feeling uncomfortable in your chosen outfit, it can really help to work out:
a) What you like
b) What suits you
Unfortunately, these two questions might not have the same answers: I’m forever trying to make 60s-style shift dresses work, for instance, but they never fail to look like third-trimester maternity wear on me, so filling my closet with them would be a really easy way to make sure I always feel uncomfortable in my clothes (and get to answer a lot of awkward questions about my due date, into the bargain…).
If you’re not really sure what “your” style is, a good place to start is on somewhere like Pinterest , where you can browse lots of different looks, and maybe put together a Pinboard of the ones you like. After a while certain trends should start to become apparent, which you can use as a starting-point to developing your own look.
Create a capsule wardrobe: or a capsule-within-your-wardrobe
As is probably really apparent to anyone who knows me, I’m probably never going to have a true capsule wardrobe : as much as I like the idea of having a small amount of well-chosen basics, which will work for every single situation I can think of, I love clothes far too much to ever want to limit myself to just those pieces, and I’m constantly having my head turned by the kind of “statement” dresses and shoes that don’t really fit within the confines of a capsule.
Collecting clothes (or shoes, or accessories, or whatever…), however, doesn’t mean you can’t still have a small amount of well-chosen basics that will work for any situation, though. Over the last few years, I’ve been working on building what I think of as a capsule within my wardrobe, as opposed to an ACTUAL capsule wardrobe. In my case, I’m lucky to have a lot of storage space, so I have a designated rail which I use to hold all of the items which would make up my “capsule” wardrobe if I had one: so, a selection of classic, mix-and-match pieces, which I can throw on in the morning without giving it much thought.
I don’t wear items from my capsule every day (in fact, some weeks I don’t wear them at all), and I obviously still have full access to everything else I own, but I find that separating out the “basics” makes it much easier to decide what to wear on those days when I’m not getting “dressed up”, and just want something quick and easy, that will still look reasonably pulled-together.
separating out the “basics” makes it much easier to decide what to wear
The items in your capsule are basically the building blocks of your wardrobe – the foundations from which you can start to add in other items, which can be in whatever kind of style you like, because they’re the “bonus extras” rather than the wardrobe essentials. I also find separating my “capsule” from everything else has helped me focus on what I NEED to buy, rather than what I just WANT to buy. Once you have everything you NEED to get dressed every day, you can move onto buying the “fun” stuff as and when you find it!
Only buy items you truly love
A couple of years ago, I made it a rule to only buy items I really LOVE – so, when I’m trying something on, I have to get that, “OMG, I can’t possibly live without this!” feeling, or I don’t buy it. You can’t apply this to absolutely everything, obviously – sometimes you need to buy something like a white t-shirt, for instance, and you’re probably not going to look at it and think, “WOW! OBSESSED!” – but if you apply the rule to the more expensive items in your closet, it’ll help stop you ending up with a ton of clothes that are just OK, and the constant feeling that you never have anything to wear.
(I’ll put my hands up here and admit that I sometimes fail to stick to this rule 100% – sometimes I’ll find something that I really WANT to work, or that I manage to convince myself I WILL love if I just have it altered/find the right shoes to wear with it/completely change my style and personality, or whatever, so it’s not a fail-safe. I do try to stick to it MOST of the time, though, so at least that’s something!)
Shop for your real life, not your fantasy life
For me, one of my biggest style-related problems is my habit of buying things I absolutely LOVE (so they totally comply with point 4 above: score!), but which I have no hope of actually ever wearing. I mean, I live in a small village in Scotland, and work from home, as a full-time blogger: I rarely have an opportunity to wear evening dresses, or anything even REMOTELY “fancy”, and yet I have a closet full of the things, having seen them, fallen madly in love with them, and convinced myself that I’ll regret it if I don’t buy them.
So, if I’m invited to tea with the queen, or a cocktail party in 1952, say, I’m totally sorted. If a friend invites me to have coffee at a local cafe, though, I’ll have to turn up looking like either a) Betty Draper (I mean, I WISH I looked like Betty Draper: you know what I mean, though…) or b) Someone who just finished an exercise class and didn’t have time to change. Because I shop for my fantasy life, not my ACTUAL life . Or, at least, I DID.
I’ve touched on this a few times here, but over the past year or so, I’ve been making a big effort to stop buying fancy dresses (or to stop buying SO MANY fancy dresses, I should say…), and buy the things I ACTUALLY need and will wear instead. The whole “capsule-within-my-wardrobe” thing has been a huge part of that: my capsule is mostly made up of smart/casual clothes, which were the items I was most lacking. Now that I’ve started to stock up on those, and make sure I have the basics covered, it’s easier for me to justify that amazing dress that I really can’t live without, because I know I’m not buying it at the expense of something that’s actually going to be useful. So, as with the first point on this list, I’m not saying you have to stop shopping altogether, I’m just saying you should make sure you have the foundations down first, before you start to build on them.
When I was putting together my capsule, I found a useful way to approach it was to think about the things I do most often, and then to ask myself what I’d wear for each of those scenarios. In my case, those questions were things like:
What would I wear to work from home?
What would I wear to a casual lunch with friends?
What would I wear to a (casual) house party?
My list of questions unfortunately did NOT include “What would I wear to a ‘Mad Men’ themed cocktail party?”, but that was how I’d been approaching shopping, so I was left with rails of dresses that are too “fancy” (By the standards of my current lifestyle) to wear very often, and a huge “nothing to wear” dilemma to solve every time I hung out with friends, or whatever.
Your list of questions will obviously be different from mine, but the important thing to work out what kind of clothes you actually need for the kind of things you do in your life: your real one, that is. If don’t already own them, you then make it a priority to buy them (Buy which I mean, “You prioritise them over other clothing purchases,” obviously, not that you prioritise then over food, bills, etc. Let’s not get carried away, here…)… and once you can answer all of the questions on your list, you’ll be well on the way to having an amazing wardrobe, and to never having to say the words, “But I have nothing to wear!” ever again.*