Multiple-personality wardrobe disorder afflicts millions of Americans each year. Symptoms include blurred vision, habitual tardiness and loss of interest in normally pleasurable primping. Common side effects are closet overcrowding, spiraling credit card debt and reliance on yoga clothes for all but nonwaking hours.
Help is available. It starts with stopping.
“I think people shop too much. It’s a problem. I tell some of my clients, ‘Stop shopping,'” said fashion stylist Jill Swid, who has worked with Angelina Jolie, Anderson Cooper and Kate Winslet and is a contributing editor for the members-only shopping site RueLaLa.com. “You don’t want a lot of stuff in the closet. It’s the worst thing. You end up wearing the same thing every day. You can’t see your clothes. You’ve got to purge.”
You may smugly think you’ve done that already. The closet clean-out occurs as surely as the New Year’s Day hangover each January. Despite serial trips to Salvation Army, many declutterers fail to hit rock bottom. Instead, they immediately begin amassing the same shaky assortment of duds that seemed like a solid investment at the time.
“A lot of times people focus on everything else but forget about the basics like a black or white T-shirt,” said Lindsay Weiner, who offers online styling services via stylemeasap.com. “You can go to Gap or American Apparel — it doesn’t need to be fancy, just functional. People have all these interesting pieces but they lack that basic that goes with everything.”
That’s just one of many steps people often skip on the road to effortless dressing, says wardrobe consultant and personal shopper Julie Watson (juliewatsonstyle.com). Here’s how Watson stages an intervention.
PHASE 1: DEVELOP A POINT OF VIEW
1. Define. Before you step in your closet, define your style, in a word, phrase or a muse you admire. Maybe it’s “classic.” (Take your current lifestyle into consideration. If you’re returning to work after a stint at home with young children, a “gypsy mama” style may clash with client meetings.)
2. Filter. Create “style filters” — words that describe that style in greater detail. They become the bouncer at your closet’s door. For classic, your filters may be “tailored,” “crisp” and “polished.” Which may explain why that ruffled peasant top got past the velvet rope three years ago but has hung out as a wallflower since. “It doesn’t fit through your style filter,” Watson said.
3. Create a color palette. Choose a neutral base for your bottoms (blacks, grays). Then choose four to six colors you like to wear in tops, not necessarily high contrast. You can choose a range of tones from one or two color families.
PHASE 2: CUT THE CHAOS
1. Examine. Pull out your clothes, piece by piece. Put pants in a pile, sweaters in another, etc.
2. Your Style Filters. Put each piece through your style filters. Try them on. Don’t feel guilty about giving up “perfectly good clothes,” Watson said. Donate, sell on consignment or give them a good home with a friend.
3. Be ruthless. If it (a) hasn’t been worn in over a year, (b) doesn’t fit and can’t be easily tweaked by a tailor, or (C) is a bridesmaid dress you think you’ll wear to a black tie one day, then, (d) get rid of it. If you love it for sentimental reasons, take a picture of it and then (d). Or put it in storage if it’s too dear to ditch.
PHASE 3: ORGANIZE THE CLOSET
1. Organize. Rehang what remains, separated by category and color. This reveals duplication and ruts. “How many black pants do you really need?” Watson said. This also helps you spot gaps and identify ways to fill them before you wind up in a store buying something on impulse.
2. Lovin’ it? Hang it! If you love it, hang it — even T-shirts if you have the space. “Folded items get forgotten,” Watson said.
3. Separate. Separate clothes by season, either in separate closets or separate sides of the same closet. (Fall/winter in one; spring/summer in the other.)
PHASE 4: BUILD A WARDROBE PYRAMID
Tier 1: Essentials. These should make up half of your wardrobe and typically consist of black pants, a cardigan, a white shirt, a black skirt, great jeans and a little black dress. Spend more for quality because these should last for several seasons.
Tier 2: Novelty style essentials. These typically consist of tops and dresses that provide punctuation to your essentials. They should represent 35 percent of your wardrobe. “This is where you should begin to layer on more color, print, pattern and silhouette detail,” Watson said. “Make sure they can be incorporated with the grounding elements of your essentials.
Tier 3: Trend. These are the tip of the pyramid and should represent no more than 15 percent of your wardrobe. (Otherwise you will waste money reinventing your wardrobe each season.) Note that what’s trendy to one person may be mere novelty to another, and that’s OK. Just stay true to your style personality, and the pieces will work together.
CLEAR YOUR CLOSET, CLEAR YOUR MIND
In the season of closet decluttering, the personal stylists offer tips to make dressing each day effortless.
— Alterations: “A half-inch in the length of pants can be the difference between clutter and a new pair of pants,” Weiner said. But, Watson cautions, “If it costs more than $50 to alter one garment, your money will be better invested in buying a piece that actually fits.”
— Tops vs. bottoms: Watson advises having three times as many tops as bottoms (pants plus skirts). “This works because you can wear bottoms in more frequent rotation,” she said. “Tops are the more memorable pieces of your collection.”
— Accessories: “You can wear the same black pant every day if you have a few pieces that are more your personality,” Swid said. “It’s better to have a uniform. Accessories make everything. You always need something metallic, something sequined.”
— Size: It’s obvious if you can’t snap your pants that they’re too small. But there’s an opposite epidemic too, Swid said. “I’m in the airport right now,” she said, “and everyone is wearing clothes that are too big for them.
— Spring/summer clothes: Swid prefers resort collections over spring collections. “It’s cute stuff, more fun than the spring shift dress.” But she doesn’t invest as much in spring/summer clothing because “you need it for 2 minutes.” Those white jeans, however, should not be banished in fall/winter. “You should always wear white. Wear it post-Labor Day. I wear mine with a high boot, brown and black.”