It takes a considerable amount of time and effort to keep a fantastic wardrobe. When I became a mom, I didn’t have that time anymore, but I still wanted a wardrobe that I loved. I have also found that when you try to improve your wardrobe without the right tools, you end up spending money on items you don’t love and won’t wear. Nothing is worse than spending money on items you don’t use. Here, I walk you through a 4-step closet inventory and how I created shopping guidelines that transformed my wardrobe to a top-notch wardrobe that was easy to maintain, easy to shop for and truly was built for me. I not only love my clothing but also like to shop again, even though I can only spend limited time on it.
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The difference between single items in my wardrobe and my full wardrobe
You are most likely buying items that you love, but a single item doesn’t make an outfit, much less a full wardrobe. I needed to address the disconnect between my ideal wardrobe and the items I was buying. Previously, I would just go out and try to buy more clothing that I thought was the “style” or “type” that would look good on me. Using this old technique, I usually ended up with pieces that I could maybe pair with a few other items in my closet. I would maybe wear each item a few times and never really love any of my outfits. On the rare occasion, I would find an item that became a staple.
Start by performing a 4-step inventory
This inventory isn’t just to see what items need to go and what items you need to purchase. It tells you more about your style than any fashion magazine or article because it inventories your style. From this, you will have created simple style guidelines individual to you.
Step 1: Remove any clothing that you have not worn in over a year
I know you are saving a few items of clothing for a rainy day or because you might eventually need that exact shirt. You are probably also keeping those items because you spent money on them and want to get your moneys worth. Keeping clothing because they were expensive is known as the sunken cost fallacy. The fallacy is that if you sink so much money into it, you are more likely to sink even more into it because you don’t want to just cut your losses and move on. In this case, you aren’t sinking more money into the clothing you hate, but by keeping them you are sinking your wardrobe and closet space.
The more items in your closet that you don’t wear, the less space for items that you love. Additionally, it is hard to find items in a cluttered closet, so you aren’t utilizing your wardrobe effectively. The rule of thumb here should be if you haven’t worn it in over a year, throw it out. If you have worn it in the past year but you hate it, throw it out.
If it no longer fits, donate it. You need to have a wardrobe that makes you feel good and look amazing on the body you have right now.
Step 2: Inventory your current wardrobe by color
This step is key. In order to improve, you need to understand your current wardrobe. To do this, you need to inventory your own wardrobe by color. Take everything out and put it all into piles based on color. You will notice, you have staple colors in your wardrobe. The solution is not to go out and get a variety of color choices, but to stay within your staple colors. You will probably also notice things such as do you like primary colors or do you like pastels?
You should pick three neutrals and three colors. These should be complementary and should be already what you wear the most (it will also probably be what you have the most of). This is your first new rule when you shop: you only buy colors in this color scheme. This will ensure you like the color on yourself and will ensure that every piece in your wardrobe will go with everything else. Staying within one color scheme dramatically increases the number of different outfits you can combine.
This is what’s known as a capsule wardrobe. The idea is that by having pieces that are all in the same color palette and that you know you love, you can make a variety of more outfits. Suddenly 6 shirts and 3 pairs of pants gives you 18 different outfits (or more!).
The key to a good capsule wardrobe is building it around basics, like white, black and nude tank tops for layering, neutral colored shoes, and (usually) at least one great pair of jeans you love.
Step 3: Inventory your current wardrobe by type
Now, inventory your wardrobe by type. Put all the tank tops in one pile, jeans in another, t-shirts in its own pile, etc.
What do you gain from this?
What types do you have most of? Do you have a mismatch between tops and bottoms? If you have 50 shirts and only two bottoms, you have limited your wardrobe immensely and will feel like you are wearing the same thing every day. From this inventory, you now know what items you should be looking for to add more variety to your wardrobe outfit choices. However, if you don’t like wearing dresses or skirts for example, don’t buy them just to add variety. Add variety by still buying what you like but finding more color and fabric options to diversify. Make sure that when you shop, you not only look for these items but also in the color scheme you identified from Step 2.
Step 4: Inventory your current wardrobe by level/type of patterns
This inventory is mainly for tops. You want to put your clothing in piles by the type and/or level of pattern. Examples include: solid, stripes and prints. If you have a lot of patterns, you might also want to further break up your prints by the level of “busyness” in the pattern. This step will allow you to see what you like. If you have only a few patterned shirts, but most are solids, then you want to shop for very simple patterns (such as stripes) or solids. Don’t buy patterns if you don’t like them, instead find other ways to dress up your wardrobe by adding accessories.
4-step Inventory Summary to Improve your Wardrobe
- Remove clothing you don’t wear or hate
- Inventory by color to see what you like
- Sort by type to see what items you need
- Inventory by level of pattern to see what you like
The last step before shopping for new clothing
Consider doing a closet organization overhaul. The typical design of closets is so horrible for using the space properly. To maximize your closet space and be able to organize your clothing better, I highly recommend outfitting your closet with a built-in. Wayfair has so many great options to match many different closet types, sizes, and prices. We did this not only for the closets in our bedroom but also to our kids’ bedrooms. This allowed us to reduce the number of dressers we needed, freeing up more space in each of the bedrooms.
How you shop after the 4 step inventory
Now that you have completed the inventory, you now are ready to shop. When you shop, follow these guidelines to save time and make smart choices on purchases
1. Buy based on your shopping guidelines from the inventory
From the inventory, you now know what colors work with your wardrobe. Only look at items in that color scheme. Remember try to stick with 3 neutrals and 3 colors that all go well with each other to maximize interchangeability giving you thousands of outfits. Until you level out your wardrobe, you should have an idea of what type of items you need (shirts, sweaters or pants).
Once you have a good balance in your wardrobe, you don’t need to be as strict on the type when shopping. Lastly, to ensure you will wear it more than once, go with the level/type of pattern you already tend to wear. If an item follows under all three of these guidelines, then try it on. If it fits well and comfortably, go for it. If not, keep looking.
2. Think about price differently
The goal of buying clothing is to build an awesome wardrobe that you will love and will wear time and time again. If you are always choosing items based on price, you might be killing your wardrobe and not even saving money. For example, you buy a shirt because it’s $10 instead of buying the shirt you really like for $30. In this case, you might only wear the $10 shirt a few times and go buy one or two more shirts around $10 because you don’t actually like any of them and want to buy new ones to wear. If you bought the $30 shirt, you would probably wear it a lot more. You also won’t feel the need to buy more to compensate for your dislike of your current wardrobe.
Remember also, quality is important. If a shirt falls apart after two or three wears, you are doing yourself and your wardrobe a disservice. It takes time to shop and find items for your wardrobe. You want them to last and be able to wear them again and again. Just another reason that $30 shirt might be the better bargain.
3. Shop clearance and seasonal sales
This is a fantastic way to find great deals. With the shopping guidelines you created from your inventory, you will end up with items you love. The catch here though is that you must also remember to look for timeless pieces or staples. If you pick trendy items, chances are it will be out of style next year.
What if you hate to shop?
Not a problem. Thankfully today, everything can be done for you and shipped to you. If you find picking out pieces still challenging or just truly hate the experience. I would try out Stitch Fix. Stitch Fix also allows you to link to your Pinterest. Literally making shopping as easy as pinning outfits and styles you love. The stylist can then look through your board and build your fix from there.
For those of you who might be pregnant, nursing or postpartum, Stitch Fix is a fantastic solution to find specialized items. Shopping in those categories is so difficult and truly I got so frustrated at finding nothing in the limited sections. I also find maternity items at stores to be very overpriced. These are busy times in your life and more often than not, because it is so specific and specialized, I didn’t find anything that worked. Here is a great maternity shirt that I got in one of my recent fixes:
Why should you put some time and effort into quality accessories?
Now that you have guidelines to shop for clothing, the foundation of your wardrobe. Next up is accessories. Accessories are really where you take the clothing you are wearing that day and transform it into an outfit. I don’t recommend just buying a lot of jewelry, scarves, belts and shoes. Instead, really spend some time and money on quality timeless accessories.
My favorite accessories are my blanket scarf for winter, my pearl earrings, and my simple metal heart necklace. Just remember your color scheme while looking for accessories to ensure they will complement your outfits well.
Which accessories should you buy?
A rule of thumb here is it must be something you will wear. If you hate scarves, don’t buy them. If you like the idea of bracelets but can’t stand them for more than an hour, not a good idea. If you like simple, look for simple and elegant pieces. When it comes to shoes, try to ensure the type of shoe you are buying goes well with the type of bottoms you usually wear. For example: if you get a shoe that only goes with tights or leggings and you rarely wear either, you are wasting your time and money.
Hate shopping for accessories because you don’t find what you love at prices you want. I recommend Stitch Fix for this as well. You can ask to include accessories in your delivery. I have received some awesome unique pieces that I absolutely love.
The Husband’s Wardrobe
There is no reason you can’t apply the same inventory to your husband’s wardrobe. In fact, the 4 step inventory will really help you out if you do most of your husband’s clothing shopping. I have found that whenever I try to buy something out of my husband’s color scheme, he will never wear it. He doesn’t even know he has a color scheme and says the item of clothing looks great, but it stays unworn until I finally donate it to Goodwill. If you can’t drag him to the store and are sick of bringing home and then returning items, Stitch Fix is an option here as well.
The Kids’ Wardrobes
I can never get over how small kid clothing is and how much we seem to always have. It might just be that my toddler likes to track her folded clothing all over the house. On that note, the best way I have found to keeping kid’s clothing organized is closet built-ins. I love not having to rely on a lot of dressers in their rooms.
To shop for kids, I recommend getting clothing as cheap as possible because they grow so fast. A clothing item might (if you are lucky) last you one year. I always hit my favorite kids stores during seasonal sales and buy one size bigger. Because kids only wear them for a year or two, getting used is almost new. We utilize Craigslist to find garage sales in the area and target ones that have kids items. Getting clothing and shoes for cents on the dollar is a huge money saver. Other ideas include Facebook groups and consignment stores.
More Wardrobe Hacks:
- Do this inventory at the switch of every season. It’s a great time to get rid of anything you didn’t wear, and make space for seasonal items like heavy sweaters, or light sun dresses that don’t require closet space all year round. Store off-season items in a another space if possible.
- If you have clothes you are on the fence about tossing, put them in a box at the top of your closet. Anything you never missed or thought about wearing over the course of the next month can go.
- Key accessories can change the look of an outfit, so remember to invest in these too. A statement necklace, beautiful infinity scarf, or fun shoes can take a black shirt and jeans to the next level.
- Have a pair of shoes that can be your go-to in each season. Neutral colors, comfort, and style should all play a role in you decision. Shoes really tie together a look and will help you feel more put together.
- Invest in stylish and quality outerwear. Just like the shoes, throwing a beautiful, structured wool coat and pretty scarf on before you walk out the door in the winter will make you feel like a million bucks.
Loving your wardrobe
I hope that by providing you with a 4 step system to better understand your wardrobe, you will be able to find fabulous pieces of clothing that you love.
Remember to document the process so your style guidelines are always handy.
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While clothing isn’t everything, it certainly can make a difference in self-esteem and confidence. It is also quite a necessity, so purchase only what you love and save money as a bonus.
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Dr. Trina Fitzpatrick is a wife, mom, blogger, and a breastfeeding advocate. She is the co-author of the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook. She attributes her success at breastfeeding her own children into toddlerhood with working with lactation consultants in the hospital in the early stages and on a weekly basis afterwards. By writing at MomSmartNotHard, she educates mamas-to-be on all things pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Read more about Trina.