The first step is to systematically assess yourself and your current holdings. I want you to take a day to focus on this. Send everyone away, even the cat. (Cats love to nest in piles of clothes.) Make sure you have adequate light and a full-length mirror. Check your issues at the door, and really look at yourself with new, kind eyes. Remember your younger self and all the styles and trials you’ve been through. Who are those women whose clothes are in you closet? Ask yourself, Who am I now, where am I going, how do I want to look?
Go through your wardrobe piece by piece, trying on most things. This may sound painstaking, but trust me, it will be worth the effort. I recommend approaching this by category: jackets, pants, skirts, blouses and shirts, shoes, bags, scarves, belts, and jewelry. Create areas for keepers, recycling, cleaning, and alterations.
Start with the things you like, and try to figure out what makes them a success. Is it the cut, the color, the fabric, the styling, the fit? Work your way through to those orphans in the back of the closet. In order to be a keeper, a piece must fit, look good and current, feel comfortable, and tell your story of today. It must also have friends (things that go with it).
It’s off to the giveaway pile for anything that doesn’t fit. (No, you’re not going to be a size 6 again, and if you were, you wouldn’t want to wear this.) Likewise if it is out of date. (No, shoulder pads of the ’80s are not coming back.) Sometimes exceptions can be made for real couture clothes or collector’s items like the dress you wore to your second wedding. These things go in "archives," housed separately from your current wardrobe. Get rid of anything worn or spotted. "I’m tired of it" and/or "I just don’t feel good in it," are perfectly legitimate grounds for dismissal.
And then there are the items with the price tags still attached. These are the heartbreakers. Be assured that everyone has some. They may have been bought on sale, but they did add up! And you feel bad every time to look at them. Assess how and why you bought each thing and why it was a mistake. Now let it go.
Recycle! Let’s give your rejects a chance to see the light of day in someone else’s life. Sometimes you can offer specific pieces to people you know; i.e., the sweater that is too small for you but would look perfect on your friend. Do this only in a very targeted way. Everything else, give to a local charity. The sooner the better.
Now that you’ve routed the underbrush, arrange your clothes by category and color. Separate out obvious fall/winter and spring/summer things. Now you can better see what you have and what you need. Relationships between pieces will become apparent, and you’ll be able to make outfits you never dreamed of just from what you have in your closet! You will feel like a new woman when everything in your closet is wearable and visible and you know how to work with it.
For help answering your toughest clothing-related questions, e-mail Annie at AskAB@MORE.com and your question might be featured in an upcoming column.
Read how Annie helped MORE senior editor Marcia Menter build a wardrobe that works and find Annie’s top 10 wardrobing tips in "Closet Case: A Personal Stylist and Me."
Visit Annie’s Web site, www.abwardrobeworks.com, for more information on her work.
Originally published on MORE.com, February 2007.