In my last monthly outfit recap, I alluded to being a bit bored with my closet (or perhaps just looking for distractions) and wanting to tackle a new wardrobe challenge. The usual suspects – like Project 333 and seasonal capsule wardrobe – hold little appeal for me at this point, and I still haven’t found an alternative that looks fun and interesting. What I have been doing in the meantime is think about ways to pare down my closet and become more intentional with new (thrifted) purchases. Even as I go through this process, I know that, at a certain level, it’s futile. What underlies my organizational urges is the desire to control my environment (hello, my name is Type A, nice to meet you!) – a desire that will never be fully satisfied because life doesn’t work that way. But, since this blog is a place where we can all analyze the minutiae of our sartorial lives in glorious detail, I thought I would share some of my process/thoughts on the off chance that some of you might also be interested in looking at your wardrobe situation from new perspectives.

First, let me say that my process is a bit of mish-mash of exercises gleaned from a variety of sources, including Into Mind and Colette HQ’s Wardrobe Architect Series (thanks *** for the recc!). I claim no credit, and zero originality. If this topic is of interest to you, I highly recommend checking out those wonderful resources – and if you have others, feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments. Onwards!

Developing A Vision

I’ve talked before about how much I have struggled in the past with the (self-imposed) task of defining my personal style. I don’t think I’m the only person who’s found it near-impossible to approach that question head on. There are so many plausible answers; it is especially difficult, I find, to distinguish between the person you would like to be and the person you actually are. Side-stepping a potential philosophical morass, I’ll simply say that approaching the issue indirectly has been infinitely easier.

I know the “mood board” is a popular concept, but I find it unhelpful, and here’s why: counter-intuitively, I am more inspired by photos of styles different than my own. When I look at those kinds of outfits, I find it easier to analyze them, piece by piece, and identify what I like, what I don’t like, what I could borrow, what I would tweak, etc. Faced with a photo of an outfit I want to emulate, I lose my critical facilities. For me, a mood board would quickly become a “make this outfit happen NOW!” exercise in frustration. And often, the outfits over which I drool are not even necessarily things that would work for/on me — the person wearing them simply exudes some quality which I long to embody.

So, rather than distract myself with pretty pictures, I chose to think about the following questions (from the Wardrobe Architect series) indirectly related to personal style:

When you are wearing your favourite clothing, how do you feel?

Confident, comfortable in my own skin, elegant, polished, comfortable. My clothes are a second skin, if that second skin was an invincible, aesthetically pleasing armour.

When you are wearing something that is not quite right, how do you feel?

Ill at ease, uncomfortable, over-dresses/under-dressed, shabby, fussy. I am everyone’s poor cousin from the country.

Who do you consider to be your style icons? What is it about them that appeals to you?

Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Audrey Hepburn, Michelle Obama. They are not so much style icons — they each have their own style, which is not necessarily mine — as women whose style I admire. Their style seems natural, instinctive … dare I say it, effortless. They exude confidence and a rich inner life, a mystery that arrests your attention.

What are some words that describe styles that you like in theory, but are not quite you?

Gamine, minimalist, WASP-y

The Anti-Style Persona

Using some of the answers to the questions above, I decided to create a list of things that are definitely NOT “me” — the outlines of an anti-style persona, if you will. This was a very easy exercise, and I’ve been using the list extensively when I go shopping these days. It has been tremendously helpful to focus on these “no go” criteria when assessing potential buys versus the more amorphous and ill-defined concept of my personal style. (I find it easier to justify buying something if the question is “where would I wear this?” because I am very good at coming up with creative answers. Blame my inner writer.) Here’s what I’ve got so far:

– ruffles
– bright green (OK in accessories)
– skater dresses
– peep toe shoes
– coral
– flared pants
– pussy bows (long-standing prejudice, fwiw)
– low necklines
– neon colours
– body-conscious silhouettes
– very full skirts
– bright orange
– animal prints (except leopard print shoes)
– pastel colours (except blush pink)
– round toe flats
– mini skirts
– round cowl neck tops
– fussy details
– low waisted pants

It’s a work in progress. I also have a list of “probable no’s” — things I’m currently considering adding to the above list.

– turquoise (I love the colour, but not on me)
– shorts (I generally hate short hemlines, could live without shorts in the summer probably)
– wrap dresses (this one hurts, but there is literally one wrap dress I enjoy wearing — not a DVF)
– bootcut jeans (I’m a ride-or-die skinny pants lover, but may embrace these again?)
– deep V necks (they don’t do much for my very modest bust)
– platforms (not a huge fan of walking in these, and they seem to go in and out of trend every so often)
– jewel/bright purple (I love other shades better on me — see below)
– cardigans

Cardigans are my main experiment right now. I find them more comfortable to wear than blazers, but don’t love the look anymore. It reminds me of old Adina, who was hardcore librarian chic. I rarely wear them anymore, and probably would not buy new ones, but I’m trying to decide whether to exclude them from my outfit formulas (see below) for good or not.

Wardrobe Analysis

Also in conjunction with the above, I decided to update my wardrobe colour palette, and my core silhouettes (a concept explored by both Wardrobe Architect and Into Mind).

Wardobe Colour Palette

Got this narrowed down to 17,  including neutrals, core and accent colours I should probably split the “blue” category, but that would add at least 3-4 more colours to the mix so … maybe not.

Neutrals: black, grey, white, navy, camel
Core: blue, mustard yellow, dusty purple, burgundy, teal, orchid, forest green, olive, plum/eggplant
Accent: red, persimmon

Core Silhouettes

These are my core silhouettes, aka outfit formulas:

1) sheath dress + blazer
2) A-line dress + blazer
3) skinny pants/jeans + camisole/top + blazer
4) skinny pants/jeans + shirt + sweater
5) skinny pants/jeans + casual top + casual light coat
6) skinny pants/leggings + tunic top + coat/blazer
7) pencil skirt + camisole/top + blazer
8) pencil/A-line skirt + sweater

These can be adjusted for weather (more or fewer layers) and occasion (casual vs. dressy options), but basically describe 95%+ of my outfits. As much as I enjoy experimenting, I think I need to remember that there is a reason why I always end up gravitating to these silhouettes over others — they simply work best for my body and lifestyle. The results might not be Vogue material, but will hopefully make me feel, what else, but comfortable in my own skin.

Ok, your turn. Know a fun wardrobe challenge? I’m all ears. Alternately, have you done any closet exercises similar to the above? I would love to hear any success stories/style epiphanies.

22 Comments on State of the Wardrobe: Closet Exercises

  1. Do you ever do this sort of thing with jewelry/accessories? Have you noticed your bag or shoe taste shifting? Just curious! I recently realized that I’m just not a necklace person and would probably stop buying them.

    • You know, that’s a good question. I haven’t, but I don’t think my tastes have changed dramatically. There I certainly things I’ve stopped buying, like super blingy, short necklaces, but I still wear most of the pieces I’ve bought in the last 5 years.

      And I don’t really get rid of my bags, ever. Used to do so, but after a regret sale a couple of years ago, I stopped. I still wear bags I bought 5-6 years ago (when I got “into” bags) regularly. It’s why bags are the one category where I am willing to splurge; I know I will get a lot of use out of them over many years.

  2. Wow you are very disciplined to write this all down Adina! My outfit formulas are very similar to yours in the main and my no-gos would be things like dungarees, cullottes, boho… Basically anything trend led as I just don’t really follow the trends and prefer to stick with things that I know suit me / my lifestyle.

    • Isn’t it funny … our silhouettes are similar, but I think the end results are often different, albeit in perhaps subtle ways. Like, there are outfits I sometimes end up with that I think are very “Lou”, more so than “Adina”.

  3. What’s funny about this is that I really love your style, even though most of your “no-go” list is a “must-have” for me! I wonder if it’s that I really identified with your irreverent aristocrat style inspiration, but my coloring and body type lends to other shades and silhouettes. Although today I’m wearing my denim sheath dress, mustard cardigan, navy tights and tan desert wedge boots with a sparkly statement necklace.

    For me, I actually have a weekly plan where I wear certain types of outfits for every weekday – i.e. trousers and blouse Monday, dress Tuesday, skinny pants/heels/blazer Wednesday, etc. This gives me something to start with, and I have a general idea of how many of each piece I need a season.

    • There are many other styles I really love seeing on others, and I definitely feel tempted to try them for myself, and I think that’s natural — the hard part is staying true to your own style (whatever makes you feel like the best and most genuine “you”).

  4. Found this post to be (surprisingly?) interesting! Gonna give it some thought as it applies to my own wardrobe. I think it’s interesting that so many of your outfits involve a blazer, where to me, a blazer is the equivalent of a straight jacket!

    • I used to feel the same about blazers, and was a die-hard cardigan fan, but I have come to prefer them in the last 2 years. I work in a relatively conservative office/field, so I need to wear blazers most days, even if I’m not wearing full suits.

  5. I think about style a lot, but have not done much reading on it, so I hadn’t encountered any of these exercises (or sites to which you linked). Thanks for the introduction!
    I spent a bit of time on them and some of the activities. It was fun! Some days I still long for a magazine and a cork board, but this is a bit more grown-up, I suppose.

  6. Except for turquoise and bright purple, my NO list is the same as yours but my style is very different – solid colors versus prints, monotone etc. Isn’t that funny? And those two colors are my personal favorites but I look fantastic in them, if I do say so myself 🙂

    • That’s so interesting! It just goes to show how individual style is. And I love both those colours, but I don’t enjoy wearing them for some reason.

  7. I love that you have so many colours in your core colours list! So many things I’ve read about wardrobe planning seem to imply that you can only have a few accent colours to enhance a palette of neutrals. I know I will never be a neutrals person, but I get frustrated when trying to limit my colours. Sometimes I want red. Sometimes I like softer pastel shades of blue and pink. Sometimes I like more tonal shades of burgundy, mustard, and navy.

    One place I have been thinking about limiting colours lately is in my casual wardrobe. (Weekend casual, not Friday-work-casual) I wear these pieces so much less than my work pieces so I really need to limit what I buy. I’ve been thinking that setting a colour palette where all the pieces could easily mix and match (almost like a capsule wardrobe for casual pieces) would be a good way to limit my casual clothing purchases and allow me to have a cohesive casual wardrobe instead of a bunch of bits and bobs that don’t seem to go.

    • I think that’s a great idea. I have definitely pared down my casual/off-work wardrobe quite a bit. And I have a much more limited colour palette and silhouette range, which makes sense since I have so much less time to wear them.

  8. This is a really interesting exercise. I tend to avoid buying any new clothes at all, because I am always worried that I won’t like them, or I won’t ultimately end up wearing them. I would like to have a bit more variety in my wardrobe, and I think that the exercise you outlined could help me to better understand what I am looking for in clothes, rather than just being constantly worried they won’t work out. I have never, for instance, thought about a shape of shoe that I like or dislike. But when I do consider it (no pointy shoes for me!), it helps to narrow down the choices. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    • Happy to help! I have the opposite problem (as this blog can attest) but I do understand where you are coming from. I found the “no go” list has been helping me a lot in my purchasing decisions, and I feel hopeful that in time it will help reduce closet turnover that’s due solely to purchase “mistakes” (as opposed to intentional experimentation on my end).

  9. Love this thorough, thought-provoking post! The approach that has most helped me has been… Konmari (hate to be so trendy ;)). But it was surprisingly quick and effective to handle a piece and ask myself if it sparks joy, and then letting go of the ones that don’t was easy and freeing. It’s been more than a year since I edited my closet with that approach and what I’ve discovered is that sparks can change. I’m inspired to make a “no list” which will include cowls (eh hem ;)) and more, though I often find pieces that don’t fit a rule set yet spark enough joy for me to take them home! I have something in mind for November – a little closet edit game of sorts – so stay tuned and play along!

  10. Thanks for this post – inspired by it, I took a look through my wardrobe and realized that I can make quite a list for the Anti-Style part. It took until reading this to see that purple, polka-dots, and animal prints simply don’t exist in my wardrobe. I’ll think about what else is on my “no-list.” This will help my shopping immensely!

    • Happy to hear it! It’s a much less stressful exercise than deciding “must haves” for some reason — and super helpful when shopping.

  11. love this post…I find your style effortless and inspiring. I really enjoyed more tailored looks but still love my cardigans. I am going back to work this week so my current wardrobe is a little more stay at home mom…hello sweats. I love the look at blazersome and thanks to thrifting I am getting to try them without breaking the bank.

    • I LOVE thrifting blazers because they are so inexpensive compared to retail. Just make sure to check the armpits, elbows, and cuffs — it’s where the signs of wear show up. Most of the time, though, they’re in great condition. Good luck — hope the return to work goes smoothly!