How to wear the other 80% of your clothes

Picture the scene. You're parading around in your pants trying to get dressed for an event. Maybe it's a date, a meeting or a christening. The contents of your closet have been vigorously emptied, with some garments tossed to far-flung corners of your room. Surrounded by an endless sea of clothes, you're drowning in a self-made floordrobe. With a scanning eye, you sigh in defeat and echo what almost every girl has exclaimed before you: "Ugh I have nothing to wear!"

Epic wardrobe meltdowns might be a first world problem, but they’re a pretty common one. I've certainly had my fair share, as has Cher from Clueless. Maybe it’s the issue of too much choice, or maybe certain outfit combos are just beyond our imagination or comfort zone. Research carried out by Jennifer Baumgartner found that most women only rotate 20% of the contents of their wardrobe. So, how do we turn that ‘nothing to wear’ into ‘something to wear?'

Mindful decluttering

If we’re forgetting about the other 80% of our clothes, the chances are that we’re unnecessarily hoarding things we don’t need. A good place to start is by picturing the contents of your wardrobe (sounds a bit hippy-ish but stay with me here!) What items can you list by memory? These are probably the clothes you love and wear the most. Gather all of the other long-forgotten garments, shoes and accessories and try them on one by one. Have a mental checklist at hand: how does it fit, how often do you wear it, what does it pair nicely with, what sort of fabric is it, does it need repairing?

Judging your clothes by a set criterion helps you realise what you need from your outfits. You'll probably rediscover forgotten faves, you know the ones that look so uninspiring on the hanger but are transformed when worn. Anything that doesn’t fit just right or doesn’t make you feel sexy and confident can probably go. By go, I mean given to a friend, swapped for something new, donated to a recycling clothes bank or sold on Depop.

It’s good to be ruthless but not too ruthless. There’s nothing worse than trying on a new skirt, thinking ‘it would look so good with those boots’, only to remember you gave them to charity after a routine cleanse (speaking from experience here.) Remember trends are cyclical. If you’re undecided on a piece, keep it and reconsider after a few months. This whole process will help you to identify any gaps in your wardrobe but, if your closet is still bursting at the seams, maybe it’s time to adopt a strict one-in-one-out policy. Think of yourself as a bouncer, carefully examining who enters and who leaves.

Organising your clothes

Now imagine your wardrobe is a boutique. Organise your clothes first by garment type – tees, dresses etc. – and then sort by colour. If you have a lot of pieces in a particular style or shade, further sort them by material. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but it makes it easier to design outfits based on a colour palette, texture or pattern.

Let me indulge my inner Marie Kundo for a second. Visibility is key here. Being able to see exactly what you own makes getting dressed an effortless experience. If your wardrobe is a big jumbled mess (or is slowly making its way to the floor), selecting and pairing clothes feels like a real chore – it doesn’t spark joy. The KonMari method is all about storing clothes to stand up so you remember to reach for them.

Rotating what you own

If, like me, your rails only hold space for half of your clothes, you tend to forget about the folded t-shirts or leggings stuffed into drawers. We're also prone to be creatures of habits, relying on the same tried-and-tested outfits. There’s a number of methods out there which really challenge you to shop your closet.

Start by dividing your winter and summer wardrobes. Some clothes are multi-seasonal (I love a good pair of tights as much as the next girl), but you probably won’t be needing your lined trench coat in 30-degree heat. Storing away those clothes for half a year focuses your attention on your weather-appropriate attire. Plus, that trench coat will almost feel brand new when you’re reunited with it in the colder months.

Another useful method is storing clothes away once they have been worn. We tend to treat our fresh laundry basket as our wardrobe, always reaching for the same (clean) things. Once you have worn an item, fold it away in a drawer. Your wardrobe then becomes a confronting visual guide to see what is left to be worn. Only replenish your wardrobe once you have worn everything at least once. If you don’t have a secondary space, introduce a divider into your wardrobe which separates what has and hasn’t been worn.

Some other fun hacks include following the rainbow. Just as you can wear coloured socks for every day of the week, assign each day a colour to wear. When it’s Monday, wear blue, when it’s Wednesday, wear pink, you get the idea. Travelling is another great way to see what clothes you reach for the most. Challenge yourself to pack a few things you don’t often wear. It’s like a mobile capsule closet which encourages you to try out new outfits and styling combinations.

Finding your style

I think part of the issue lies in our (in)ability to style clothes. If we buy a dress with one event in mind, or a pair of shoes to match a particular outfit, they will hardly ever be worn. It’s time to dig out all of your clothes again (yay), throw them on your bed and commence a one-man fashion show. Delight in every outfit combination known to man, being as silly and experimental as you like. Here, a slip dress is no longer just a party dress – it’s a skirt when worn under a cropped jumper, a top when tucked into jeans, and extra cute when layered under a mesh longsleeve. Ask your friend to be your stylist, advising on what shapes, colours and textures work for you. The goal here is to discover what clothes make you feel amazing – they’re the real keepers.

When you’ve got a grip on your style, it’s time to define your uniform: the staple pieces that form the basis of any outfit and can be later accessorised. Or you could style a whole outfit around a bold print, material or cut. Or you could literally make a date for that formal dress which is only appropriate for fancy dinners. I recently came across the Stylebook Closet app which curates your own closet inventory. It allows you to virtually mix and match pieces before trying an outfit on.

It’s also important to show your clothes some love: wash them at the right temperature, remember to hang them up, mend them, upcycle them, restyle them. After all, loved clothes last.

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