Shopping Your Closet: Rediscovering Old Favorites

What to throw out, keep, and buy new in a closet makeover.

By Kim Johnson Gross

Cleaning Out My Wardrobe

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose. And my purpose this time of year is to get ready for spring — to spend a weekend packing away cold-weather clothes, unpacking warm-weather ones, and shopping my closet. Operating on the principle that we reach for 20 percent of our clothes 80 percent of the time, I look for great pieces I’ve forgotten I own — pieces that will enable me to freshen my wardrobe before I go near a store.

My seasonal closet ritual has three steps: assess, dejunk, renew. In the first, I think about what I need to wear. Are there any special events on my calendar? Since I’ve started working from home, my daily uniform has shifted from suits to sport clothes. When I dress up, I usually wear something that’s more fun and individual than I did when I was younger. The dejunking phase requires the time to try on all my spring clothes and the courage to discard those that are from a life and body I don’t have anymore. I’m happy I no longer need a suit for every workday, but annoyed I need to keep a few sizes of pants in my closet for my good weight weeks and my not-so-good ones. Inevitably there are things I hang on to, knowing I’ll never wear them again. I have a suede micro-mini that’s hung in a corner of my closet for decades. I keep hoping one of my daughters might want it. Maybe this season I’ll get real and convert it into a pillow.

Dejunking is also when I shop my closet — think about wearing old pieces in a new way. This spring, black and white has become stylish again, as have ruffled shirts and chunky ethnic jewelry. That’s great news for me; my spring requisites have long been white jeans and black pantsuits. They’ll look new again if I mix them with my other black and white clothes, and so will anything I wear with my favorite white ruffled shirt. I already wear substantial artisan necklaces but will dig deep into my accessory drawer for the bold bangles I favored decades ago.

Next, it’s time to get rid of the stuff I don’t want. Recently I decided to try selling a few things online. As I wrote up their descriptions, I realized I was chronicling why and how each piece entered my life: the coral chiffon gown from my mom’s Grace Kelly look-alike days, the pinch-too-small Manolo Blahnik pumps I bought when I was experimenting with big-price-tag designers, the Ralph Lauren shearling jacket I bought when I was dreaming of living in Sun Valley. I never wore these clothes, because I believed they represented fantasies that didn’t work with the life I was actually living.

The last part of my ritual-renewing is about picking up a few trendy items to refresh my spring basics. Because I now know exactly what’s in my closet, I shop with a keener eye and make fewer mistakes. Blue is the fashion accent I like most this spring, and I’m getting excited about finding something in white eyelet — a feminine fabric that will give new life to everything I wear it with. I still find myself eyeing cowboy boots and leather vests. Trying them on is like trying on my dreams. Who knows? When I repeat this process next fall, maybe I’ll have moved on to live the next stage of my life somewhere else.

What to Wear… to Perk Up Last Season’s Pencil Skirt

Pairing a slim skirt with a twinset, hobo bag, and bangles is a style formula that always works. For a new twist, just add texture. Here, Theory’s stretch-cotton skirt, $160 — a perfect long-term keeper — gets fresh updates: Nine West embellished cotton cardigan, $49, and tank, $39. Michael by Michael Kors gold leather hobo bag, $248. Stuart Weitzman metallic wedges, $245. Kenneth Jay Lane bold malachite beads, $163. Coach bangles in zebra, $128, and leather, $68.

What to Wear… to Liven Up a Pantsuit

We still love the committee-to-cocktails confidence of a well-cut pantsuit—but accessories can add an urban edge. We took the starch out of Cinzia Rocca’s stretch-cotton blazer, $498, and trousers, $242, with unexpected add-ons: Lafayette 148 embellished shell, $328. Aerosole faux-gator wedges, $79. Forth & Towne woven leather tote, $168.

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