A Wardrobe Make-Under

Cat burglar

No, this isn’t a glimpse into some cat burglar’s secret lair. It’s the sweater section of my closet.

Building and maintaining a cohesive wardrobe is an ongoing process. Yet there are times that call for a revamp, and the past few months have been one of those times for me. I dropped a bit of weight over the winter and spring (thanks, Weight Watchers!) that resulted in going down a size (two, in some cases) which presented a great opportunity to really give my closet a good going-over. I’ve also become more confident in my style choices, and was ready to replace or even upgrade some of the clothes that are working best for me right now.

I’d love to say that I went about this in an organized, orderly fashion the way the style books prescribe–clearing out first, making a list of what’s needed and then shopping only for those items–but it’s been a bit more haphazard that that. Some things came in before others went out; there was no Reality-TV-style “reveal” of the new closet/wardrobe, and I’m still figuring out how to best organize my clothes. For years I’ve grouped similar items together (tops, pants, jackets, etc.) and then again by color, but have been tempted to try grouping together pieces that can be mixed and matched into outfits. I’d be curious to know how you organize your clothing, and what works or doesn’t for you.

Said “au revoir” to*:

  • Everything that was now too big and wasn’t worth altering
  • Anything too worn out to be worth altering
  • All of those items in colors that I “should” wear but never do
  • Orphans, and items that I have no place to wear, at least more than once every 5 years
  • Crew-neck cardigans. I’ve finally accepted that I don’t like how they look on me.
  • Cotton button front blouses. See above. (Softer, silky ones are a better option.)
  • Wide-legged trousers (the last two holdouts)
  • Crew neck tees

Kept:

  • Some knit jackets, tops and sweaters that were a bit snug before and now fit well, or still look OK though looser
  • Most of my shoes
  • Most of my scarves (gave away a few in colors that don’t work, or that were too bulky or scratchy)
  • Some of my Eileen Fisher silk jersey tanks and tees

Replaced/Added/Upgraded (since Spring):

  • Slim cut or skinny jeans or knit pants
  • Lightweight, longer cardigans (2)
  • 2 silk button front blouses (these also work as a lightweight jacket alternative during warm seasons)
  • Knit tunics/sweaters – 2 linen, 3 lightweight wool blends
  • Lightweight combo utility jacket/rain jacket (purchased in London)
  • Waxed twill moto jacket
  • Gap classic denim jacket (one of the few retailers who offers this style in Petites)
  • V-neck and scoop neck tees
  • Footwear (taking advantage of current ankle boot and pointed toe trends, both of which are my preferred shoe styles)

Almost everything I’ve added or replaced, except for a couple pairs of colored jeans, are black, grey, white/ivory or navy. And it’s a huge relief. Though I am trying to replace black with grey when feasible, I’m releasing myself from the pressure to wear more color other than scarves, and the occasional red shoe.

I think there’s still a bit of culling to do, and perhaps some re-arranging. Tell me, how do you organize your closet, and what are your strategies for keeping your wardrobe pared down to a manageable size?

*A note: Eileen Fisher now accepts their clothing back for resale or recycling, depending on condition. They give a $5 credit toward new purchases for each item donated.

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43 Comments

  1. susie
    September 23, 2013 / 4:25 am

    Yes!! I have recently cleaned out the closet and try to keep only 3 basic colors, or variations of them and I find it works much better. Also, as I age, I am no longer wearing black. It is too harsh. Going for gray, dark cool brown, etc…. I find people look better just in a uniform mode: for me, denim, dark med cool brown, charcoal, white or off white, pale pink Ta boom! DONE!

  2. Leigh
    September 23, 2013 / 5:02 am

    Loved hearing that you kept the neutrals going. I really do not enjoy wearing color very much. Maybe a deep peachy pink coral, or deep wine occasionally but that’s it. I love black, gray, and camel. That’s it. I am working towards what you are doing , but it’s not easy. An ongoing process, and still making mistakes but less of them. Thank you again for your very enjoyable writing.

  3. September 23, 2013 / 5:23 am

    A very timely post for me…I have been staring at my closet for weeks…I know it is time for a revamp…so I will use your guidelines and hit it soon! Thanks!! Good job on the WW downsizing as well…You do look great!

  4. Marilyn
    September 23, 2013 / 5:51 am

    I do it twice each time. Firstly getting rid of the obvious things eg those that have seen much better days, lost their colour etc. Secondly I try everything on, check the condition, decide when I wore it last and will I wear it again, then look at the gaps left by the jettisoning. I make a list of what is needed and then check the budget and put the list in order of importance! I’m a classic dresser with a few funky items so everything has to make more than one outfit especially as I am retired and have to keep to a strict budget. I’ve done the first autumn/winter cull and now have the second stage to do. Enjoy your revamped wardrobe.

  5. Duchesse
    September 23, 2013 / 6:04 am

    I’ve dropped three sizes in the last year. Yesterday yielded a huge bag of clothes for charity. Hung on to them b/c they were costly. My closet became a rebuke re how much I spent on (cue my mother’s voice) “perfectly good” clothing that now no longer fits.

  6. September 23, 2013 / 6:18 am

    My closet is crammed right now and I too hear my mother’s voice “too much money”. It really is unpleasant to have too much. I am hoping to lose some weight on my travels and will probably do a closet makeover in the winter. Right now, I have too much print and I am not wearing it.

    • September 23, 2013 / 6:27 am

      Duchesse and Madama La – bas – I am laughing at your ‘mothers voices’!

    • Kris
      September 24, 2013 / 7:25 pm

      I have also found that I am no longer wearing prints. They were the first to go from my closet this summer. I felt uncomfortable, large and conspicuous when wearing them. Further downsizing is not in my immediate future. I just don’t seem to have a handle on what works for me, only what doesn’t. So getting rid of a lot without a clear idea of what I need seems premature.

  7. September 23, 2013 / 6:25 am

    Hmm, I keep clothes in specific groups too but your new way might work better, I still stand in front of my small wardrobe and think ” Nop, nothing to wear.”

  8. September 23, 2013 / 6:28 am

    Oh I need to do this but I find it hard. My husband is so organized about his closet. Every time he brings something in, one item goes to Goodwill. All your strategies are good ideas for me. I bet it’s easier to dress in the mornings.

    blue hue wonderland

  9. September 23, 2013 / 6:45 am

    We had our wardrobe rebuilt while we were away in the spring, and we replaced our antique, mismatched dressers for lower-profile teak ones. While storage is still quite limited, the new sleekness has encouraged me to pare away more. And I’m paring away myself, a bit, and waiting to re-organize more when my size settles where I want it. Meanwhile, you’re always an inspiration.
    btw, did you show a pair of pointed black flats not too long ago? I’m looking for a pair to love, almost ready to order the J Crew version, but thought I’d see if you could recommend others. Since we’re already shoe twins anyway . . . .

  10. Marianne
    September 23, 2013 / 6:46 am

    Yes!! I buy gray whenever possible, and never buy crew-neck, going for scoop- or bateau-neck. No button blouses either!! I like what you are saying

  11. Lisa
    September 23, 2013 / 7:02 am

    It is time for a season change and that means hauling most Spring/Summer clothes to the storage closet and bringing up Fall/WInter. Some clothes work all year. Sweaters are in baggies and clear plastic tubs and are ready to be steamed when needed.

    Culling and organizing has always been a challenge. Several years back, I was told by doctors to lose weight. I lost 52 pounds off my 5’3″ petite frame. Thankfully, I had a couple of classic pieces from way-back-when. As my size dropped through ever decreasing numbers, finding clothing that fit became a challenge. I ended up revamping my entire wardrobe. Then, I retired and my lifestyle changed. I had my “opera” clothes tailored. I made some good choices and bad choices in the revamp process. After looking at some gorgeous, but unsuitable, clothes that I spent too much on, I gave them to nieces/cousins/family members. Other things, I took to the resale store. I still have a lot, but I tend to curate my wardrobe a bit ad hoc. If it looks worn or does not fit–goodbye. If I love it and it can be “rescued”–I keep it. Right now, I am on a bit of a color binge as I was always wearing black, grey, or beige tones. I have added some color in sweaters/jackets and have always used it in scarves. The neutral colors I do have serve as the column on which all the color stands against. I am still looking for that perfect system to organize clothes.

  12. Sandy@YouMayBeWandering
    September 23, 2013 / 7:03 am

    This is something I desperately NEED to do…I have lost 40 lbs and need to “shop” in my closet and get rid of everything I wouldn’t buy if I was actually shopping, while also shopping for my new smaller winter clothers. Thanks for your insight.

  13. September 23, 2013 / 7:25 am

    I keep my closet sorted by type of clothes – jackets, skirts, pants, shirts, etc. And it’s a real mish mosh of styles and colors. I have a couple of ideas about my ideal silhouette and typical colors, but since I’m shopping second-hand first I don’t always have a lot of choices. I really should buy one classic, comfortable outfit and then see what works best for mixing in what I already have. You’re an inspiration on the classic and comfortable front, and I’ll keep Eileen Fisher in mind.

  14. Monique
    September 23, 2013 / 8:08 am

    I am another who just cleaned out her closet. I don’t wear pants, only skirts. The only print one I have is a grey with white. Everything else is solid in black, dark red, and brown. The exceptions are one dark teal skirt, one white top, and one purple top (which I wear when I go see my grand-daughter, Violet). These are my work/going to town clothes. I am a librarian at a university. My shoes and purse are classic and black.

    I threw away many worn out clothes and bought quite a bit of new clothes as I lost 45 pounds over the summer. I have several scarves I love and want to get more.

    My staying at home clothes are solid colored skirts (khaki, stonewash, black, and bleached denim) and solid T’s in various colors including black, white, red, and purple.

    • Just-Retired-Academic-Librarian
      October 2, 2013 / 6:30 am

      Love that you wear skirts! Want to do that too.

  15. Vero Iconica
    September 23, 2013 / 8:10 am

    I love this! I’ve taken up the 333 project this weekend, after you mentioned it. It’s allowing me to be more ruthless in wardrobe paring. I’m with you on the button front shirts. I must absolutely be comfortable with what I wear. A couple of dresses/skirts that are too fitted through the hips (and butt) will be donated as a result. Likewise ill-fitting pants that wrinkle too easily.

    The 333 project has also made me notice where I have a lot of clothes, but not very *good* clothes.

  16. Louise
    September 23, 2013 / 8:13 am

    Interesting post. I feel hanging onto too-big clothes (once you’ve passed the point, when losing weight, that they start to get too baggy) is “giving permission” to regain the weight. However, I have also shopped the back of my closet when losing weight for those few items I hung onto when I gained weight. It was such fun to be able to wear favorites I didn’t get rid of when I gained weight (just a few items, mind….). I concur with the crew neck tees and sweaters. I discovered years ago that v-neck or even scooped neck look better on me — and no raglan sleeves or boat necks, either. Turtlenecks can be problematic too.

  17. MJ
    September 23, 2013 / 8:16 am

    Thank you for reminding me of cardigan fit. As much as I don’t love some V-neck cardis on me, I think that the crew neck and I must also part. What looked preppy/office worthy once now looks dowdy or droopy. Good thing mine are only Lands End cashmere and not $300 Scottish stuff – half are now pilled and thinning and I won’t feel bad about giving them to charity rummage or wearing them for very casual wear until the die (or I felt them in the washer/dryer and make crafts out of them).

  18. Tricia
    September 23, 2013 / 8:20 am

    Just asking, but what is it about Eileen Fisher?
    I like your ideas, but I still can’t resist some ethnic items and a splash of colour

  19. September 23, 2013 / 8:28 am

    I organise like you in categories. Might try the outfit thing when I have time. I am actually trying to add more colour to my wardrobe after many years of black, navy and grey. I have a much smaller wardrobe now which I find makes life much easier. Sometimes I pack items away in the garage for a while if I get bored of them.

  20. Bev
    September 23, 2013 / 8:54 am

    I applaud your courage to release yourself from the pressure to wear more color. I am working towards that myself. Since I’m in that transition phase from light brown to gray hair, and my skin tone is changing too, I find wearing color (even a white top) very difficult & just not flattering anymore. I wear scarves very rarely, but do enjoy colored jewelry.

  21. September 23, 2013 / 8:57 am

    I made an eerily similar wardrobe cull earlier this spring! Love it :)! Great choices!

  22. Paula B
    September 23, 2013 / 9:05 am

    your post has scored big points with me as well. It has taken me 1 1/2 years to lose 112 pounds so of course NOTHING could be kept in my old closet other than a few scarves. I’ve been ‘thrifting’ and found lovely things. My closet is now organized by color, the sections are black, blue jean, white/off white, beige/browns, teals/greens, yellow/orange and red sections. (Obviously I’m an autumn.) I find it easy to mix and match in a multitude of combinations. Today for instance I’m wearing dark wash blue jeans, a red and beige striped t-shirt, camel v neck cardigan all tied together with a gold signature necklace

  23. Jill Ann
    September 23, 2013 / 10:30 am

    Reading through the comments, it seems like everybody’s lost quite a bit of weight this year! (Me too, 50+ lb over the past 2 yrs). So congratulations, everyone! It does require some warbrobe rethinking, of course, but in a pleasant way. I got rid of all my “fat” clothes, which felt liberating. Still working through the reorganization process.

    I admit I tend to overbuy, but am trying to practice the fewer-but-better plan. I’m also reminding myself to buy for the life I actually have, not my fantasy life; challenging, because I’m retired and don’t have a huge social life. Yet I am drawn to work clothes and dressy outfits…and sweaters, which we seldom wear here in TX.

    I organize by item type, and then by color. I understand the all-neutral concept, but it’s just not for me. I have basics in navy, charcoal, & black (avoiding beige which looks bad on me), but I love color & wear a lot of it. Just wore my red skinny jeans with a navy top & thought I looked great! No idea what other people thought, but who cares, right? I rely on my teenage daughters to tell me if I’ve gone the wrong direction.

    —Jill Ann

  24. September 23, 2013 / 1:26 pm

    It was such fun reading all these comments. Congrats to everyone who’s lost weight. I’ve lost inches from exercising. It’s encouraging to see us thinking of our health in such a positive way. I’ve been going through my closet keeping only what I think has become my style: simpler, neutrals, scarves, stripes, use the jewelry instead of just staring at it. Can’t wear buttoned shirts or wide necked tees. ‘V’ necks look best. I’m beginning to understand how having less but liking all of it makes dressing easier. Anything I add in will be better quality and only want I truly like and not just something I picked up in a moment of retail therapy.

  25. Lisa
    September 23, 2013 / 2:11 pm

    I too am editing my closet – too many things were “settled” on & then worn only once or twice because I never felt good in them (after the “rush” of the newly purchased). I’ve been afraid to get rid of too much for fear of not finding suitable replacements, but am determined to maintain the discipline of buying only what I love & feel great in. I’m not sure where I’ll end up but I expect it will be with fewer, higher quality pieces. FYI – I have had some of my favorite Eileen Fisher sweaters start to wear through at the elbow – any suggestions for how/where they might be salvaged?

  26. Jill
    September 23, 2013 / 3:09 pm

    I have things organized by type too, and then organized from light to dark. I do like to pull out stuff that I bought because I loved but don’t seem to wear and just put it out where I can see it and style it–add pants, scarf/jewelry, belt, bag, shoes, nail polish, etc. And then I let the ensemble stay there for a day or two so I can see what I think. If I still like it I try it on and see if I like it on me! If I do, I try to wear it out of the house sometime that week. I really buy so little, anything I purchase must pass a quite rigorous test to make it into my closet!

    Great post, and interesting answers here in the comment section! XO, Jill

  27. pink azalea
    September 23, 2013 / 3:14 pm

    I have a document on my computer listing all my clothes: dresses, evening clothes (not many), suits (only 1), slacks/jeans, skirts, white/light tops, dark tops, wool tops (not many), other tops, sweaters/jackets/vests, and outerwear, a possible donation list, and a donated list. Living in a warm climate, I wear many of my clothes year-round. Like most women, I stick to a neutral palette of black, gray, navy/denim, and oyster/tan. I have a few wild card items I like: pink jeans, JCrew silk “fancy pants”, animal print pencil skirt, etc. I keep a paper sack in the closet and discard as needed. Twice a year, I go through and really get things in order. I have found that by analyzing the discards, I am making better choices. When I don’t think I have anything to wear, I get out my clothes list and lay out some outfits like I have seen you do packing for trips. I think having everything listed makes me realize how much I do have. Also nice to take along when shopping. Generally, a new item has to go with two other items I already have and accessories to complete the look. A lot of work initially to type up the lists, but not too hard to keep current. I really enjoy maintaining my closet.

  28. September 23, 2013 / 3:16 pm

    Wonderful, Une Femme, to feel more at home in your closet! I am on a similar journey. While always neat and organized, I suffer from many closet orphans, and “good enough” pieces. I struggle with parting with my $$$ for high-quality items, even though I know they are well made. I think I fear I will get bored before getting my money’s worth? As I said, it’s a journey : >

  29. Tiffany
    September 23, 2013 / 6:06 pm

    My problem is still that I wish I could buy clothes for a different life, instead of the rather pedestrian uniform I need. So now I have almost stopped buying clothes – I am down to 5 pairs of pants (including jeans) and about half a dozen t-shirts. I have some lovely silk blouses that I love wearing, but I can’t wear them to teach (and definitely not to teach art classes!) and I feel silly wearing them when I’m working from home … I don’t wear dresses because I think they look horrible with flats, and I can’t wear heels for a whole day at work … Anyway, my wardrobe doesn’t so much need editing as entirely rewriting.

  30. Ann
    September 24, 2013 / 6:07 am

    I’ve read many places that you shouldn’t hang knits, as it causes them to lose their shape. I’d much rather hang my EF sweaters, but they’re investment pieces for me and I don’t want to ruin them. Have you found this isn’t a problem?

    • une femme
      September 24, 2013 / 7:10 am

      Ann, I’ve read that too but have no drawer space and very little shelf space. My solution is to use padded hangers whenever I can, and I try to fold up and store flat (usually in a box in another closet) during the warmer months.

      • Ann
        September 24, 2013 / 10:13 am

        Thanks. BTW, love your blog. You do such a great job of mixing the practical with the creative and thought-provoking. Whimsical, intelligent, and stimulating. It’s a terrific resource for me and I’m sure many other women.

  31. bettina
    September 24, 2013 / 8:08 am

    No more crew necks or collared shirts for me either. One of my new “rules” is that all tops must show collarbone. 🙂 I’ve decided that I’m going with what looks best, all the time, rather than just some of the time.

    I tend to organize my wardrobe by function: On my hanging rack I have a section for “weekend” tops and another for “work” tops. Sleepwear is all in one drawer, as is activewear.

    This year I’m trying a new approach to wardrobe updating: I’m not focusing on basic pieces so much. I’ve found, over the last few years, that I wear what I love, whether it’s basic or not. A beautiful printed dress is just as useful to me as a pair of black pants. And since I’m drawn to simple designs anyway, I feel like I need to allow myself a little more freedom to go with those “coup de foudre” sightings.

  32. Mette
    September 24, 2013 / 10:12 am

    Well.. Actually I own so few clothes, that I can´t call them ” my wardrobe “.
    The few I have are enough.
    However, as you work in an office, I understand your need to have more clothes than me.

    • S.gibbs
      September 28, 2013 / 3:27 am

      Are you kidding? Every time I visit your blog you are buying another expensive designer brand clothing item.

      • une femme
        September 28, 2013 / 6:51 am

        Did you read the post or are you just responding to the title? 🙂

  33. September 24, 2013 / 3:59 pm

    Yay for closet purges! Congratulations on the weight loss. As of today I’m down 12 lbs but my weight hasn’t budged further down in over a week. I’m fiddling with the diet to get back on track. The struggle feels epic, but worth it.

  34. September 24, 2013 / 5:12 pm

    Well done, I’d say! I’m very selective these days so my wardrobe hasn’t needed a purge in quite some time. As a result, everything remains organized.

  35. Heidi
    September 27, 2013 / 4:01 am

    So glad I finally found your blog! This is such a timely post: I just decluttered three quarters of my closet based on size, fit, color and use. I have found that I wear a “uniform” of sorts: black or India-ink blue tunic tees (Inc.) with high quality leggings (also black, white or brown) and equestrian boots (brown or black). I tend to be more adventurous with the leggings since my legs (and arms) are my best and thinnest features: I have black and grey houndstooth, black on black polka dot, and skinny white twill jeans, along with black and blue jeggings.

    When the weather gets cooler, I wear a sweater (long with ruffled edging, either blue or black) or three quarter coat over that.

    I love my closet now, as I just walk in and anything I choose goes with anything else. So easy. I am a very fair, strawberry blonde redhead and I add drama and pops of color with scarves, large handbags, large jewelry and personality(lol).

  36. Lori
    October 1, 2013 / 12:15 pm

    Just came across your blog and love this post. I rearranged my closet mid-summer “according to outfit”. It scared me because I’ve always organized by item and color. It did work for me and made those rushed mornings when I hadn’t chosen an outfit the night before less hectic. Now some recent purchases for fall/winter have snuck in the mix and it’s a bit chaotic because I haven’t taken the time to create the outfits.

    Interesting your comment that you like the softer blouses rather than the stiff shirts. I’ve come to the same conclusion and going to save the shirts to wear under a v- sweater or a vest.

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