As I mentioned in my last post, it would have been beneficial to determine my ideal wardrobe size before taking on the “half project,” even though that challenge is geared toward increasing awareness and paring things down. Deciding to work with just half of my wardrobe was somewhat of an arbitrary decision, as I may find that I need more – or fewer – than that number of items. My sense when starting the half project was that cutting my wardrobe in half would work well for my lifestyle needs while still offering me ample variety, but let’s put that theory to the test by doing some deeper analysis.
In today’s post, I’m going to revisit the wardrobe size question. I explored this issue multiple times on my Recovering Shopaholic blog, including in a December 2016 post titled “Normal-Sized Wardrobe Revisited.” At that time, I presented an exercise that calculates optimal wardrobe size based upon frequency of wear, climate, lifestyle, and clothing preferences. I consider those factors again today, but I also add some new thoughts and perspectives on the topic.
I intended to publish this post last month, but life got in the way. Sadly, my mother-in-law passed away recently following a brief illness. Although she was well into her eighties, it was still unexpected, and the truth is that we’re never truly ready to lose the ones we love. I will likely share my feelings and insights about this difficult loss in a future post, but I’m not ready to do so just yet. I have struggled to get back into the groove of daily life, including writing, so I’m going to ease back in by doing a couple of wardrobe-focused posts. These posts can often be time-consuming, but they’re emotionally easier for me to produce, and I didn’t want to go too much longer without publishing something new on the blog.
It’s Not About What’s “Normal”…
As I’ve written numerous times, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “normal” or “ideal” sized wardrobe. How many clothes we need and desire is a highly individualized situation that can evolve and shift over time as our lifestyles, living and working situations, climate needs, and personal sensibilities change. Additionally, some people like a lot of variety in what they wear, while others prefer to dress using a smaller capsule of “tried and true” items. Likewise, some of us enjoy incorporating new trends on a regular basis while others stick to the same classic styles for years on end. There is no definitive right answer; it’s about what works best for each of us.
For most of my life, I have had a larger-sized wardrobe, but that has been based mostly upon personal preference and shopping habits rather than on actual lifestyle and climate needs. I have mostly lived in a temperate climate and even when I have worked outside of the home, I was usually able to dress casually. My wardrobe has remained oversized primarily because I have difficulty in limiting my purchases, and sometimes the sheer number of items in my closet has become quite unwieldy (especially back when I started my previous blog).
Since I have embarked upon a year-long challenge to pare down what’s in my closet, I wanted a more defined target than just “half,” although half can be a great place to start! Since it’s been a long time since I’ve written about – and done – the ideal wardrobe size exercise, I’m going to do so now – with a little bit of a different spin on things. The basic components to the process are the same, but I hope that the way I explain it will feel more straightforward and doable for you. I will use my own wardrobe as an example as I go through the process.
How Often Do You Want to Wear Your Clothes?
The exercise starts with deciding how often you’d like to wear the items in your closet. This number may vary for different wardrobe categories, but to get started just pick one uniform number. Don’t worry; you won’t necessarily need to track wears, but of course you can if you want to. This question will just help you to eyeball your wardrobe size needs.
I tracked how often I wore my clothes for eight years, but I stopped at the end of last year, as I mentioned in a February post. This change is part of my freedom theme for 2019 and my desire to cut down on the number of “shoulds” in my life. I’m still using “the hanger trick” (turning hangers around after I wear things – I explain this process more in this post) as a visual representation of what is and isn’t getting worn, and this is good enough for me for now.
Your mileage may vary when looking at frequency of wear. You may love having lots of variety in pants and shoes and be okay with wearing the same few jackets over and over again. Or you may want a lot of choices in your work wear and be completely fine with re-wearing your casual pieces and ensembles many times each season. This is all highly individual and there is no right or wrong. It’s all about personal awareness and making the choices that best fit your preferences. Of course, the amount of space you have and the size of your budget will factor into the equation as well.
My Target Wear Number
Since I tracked wears for so many years, I learned that I didn’t wear many of my pieces nearly as often as I suspected. I also discovered that I wore certain types of garments a lot more than others. Back when I started tracking, I set eight wears per year as my benchmark for how often I’d like to wear most items. Of course, I wore some things – such as jeans, jackets, and shoes – much more frequently than that, but I would have been delighted to have reached eight wears for everything in my closet. What I found, however, is that many garments didn’t even come close to that target, especially when it came to tops (because I had so many) and dressier items (because I just didn’t have the occasion to wear them very often).
Even though I’m no longer tracking, I’ve done it enough to have a good sense of how often I wear things. I still like the eight wears per year benchmark for most wardrobe categories, so I’m going to stick with it for the purpose of this exercise. However, I’m also going to do calculations for alternate benchmarks (five, ten, and twelve yearly wears) so I have more comprehensive information to go on when determining how many pieces I’d ideally like to own. My reason for this is that I like more variety in some areas (i.e. tops, toppers, and dresses) and less variety in others (jeans, pants, and shoes). More on that below…
Looking at 365 days per year and a target wear rate of eight times per year, that works out to 46 items in each wardrobe category (i.e. tops, bottoms, toppers, and shoes), assuming one wears the same types of clothes each day. For five, ten, or twelve wears per year, that works out to 73, 36, and 30 items per category, respectively. These very basic calculations would really only apply to those who live in a climate with uniform weather and do the same type of activities daily. Since that’s not the case for most of us, let’s move on to the next question.
How Variable is the Climate Where You Live?
Do you live in a four-season climate or is the weather pretty much the same year round? Unless you live somewhere like Hawaii (lucky you…), there’s bound to be some variation in temperature and weather where you are. Suffice it to say that those who live in a four-season climate will usually need larger wardrobes than those who enjoy a very narrow range in temperature throughout the year.
If you live in a four-season climate, we’re looking at roughly 91 days each season. If your region of the world experiences three seasons, that would be about 121 days each, and two seasons would be 182 days each. Now I know that the way seasons unfold in some places is not uniform, so if you want to divvy things up a bit differently (i.e for long winters), go right ahead and move things around accordingly. However, unless the seasons are vastly different in terms of how long they last, you may want to keep things simple when you do the math. After all, this doesn’t need to be a super scientific or exacting process. It’s just to give you a ballpark estimate of what you need, as many of us believe that we need far more clothes than are really necessary for our actual lifestyle requirements.
My Climate Calculations
As most of you know, I live in the coastal region of San Diego, California. The climate here is what could be termed “temperate,” so I don’t need to include things like heavy coats, wool sweaters, and snow boots in my wardrobe. There are really only two seasons where I live, which I like to call summer and “not summer,” so my wardrobe calculations will be a lot simpler than for those who experience more variable climates.
My “not summer” season is usually a bit longer (perhaps seven months per year instead of six), but for the sake of this exercise, let’s call it even. There isn’t much overlap in what I wear for each of my two seasons, although I do wear some of my tops and toppers in the “shoulder seasons.” But since I don’t want to complicate things too much, I’ll just keep things separate for my calculations here.
When you break things out by season and have little overlap in what you wear, the amount of items you need to meet your desired frequency of wear obviously decreases. In my situation, assuming I wear completely different items each season, here’s how many items I would need within the high-level wardrobe categories (tops, bottoms, toppers, and shoes) for the various yearly wear benchmarks each season (again, assuming just two seasons):
- 5 wears = 36 items
- 8 wears = 23 items
- 10 wears = 18 items
- 12 wears = 15 items
As you can see, I don’t really need that many items within each given wardrobe category, especially if I want to wear things more often each year. It’s pretty eye-opening to do this math, isn’t it?
How Do You Spend Your Time?
But we’re not finished yet… We also need to consider the activities that make up our lives. Whether you work in an office or work from home (or don’t work at all) can affect the size of your wardrobe, in addition to whether or not you wear a uniform for work or dress differently in that environment than you do otherwise. Also, if you attend a lot of formal functions or frequently go out in the evenings, you’ll need wardrobe capsules to cover those occasions.
The above are all things to take into consideration when planning your wardrobe size. You may want to make a pie chart and map out the types of things you do and the proportion of time each activity occupies. Such an exercise can be beneficial in helping you to determine how often you wear particular types of garments so you can decide how many such pieces you ideally need to own.
My Time/Activity Calculations
My life is simpler than most in that I don’t work outside the home or attend virtually any formal events. Most of what I do is extremely casual, so I don’t need business or formal clothing. This part of the exercise is where my oft-quoted term “out and about” clothes comes into play. I continue to struggle with purchasing more out and about items than I truly need, so if I want to meet my frequency of wear targets (even though I’m not currently tracking wears), I need to concentrate on keeping that portion of my wardrobe smaller and more manageable.
All of my calculations in the previous section on climate needs are based upon my donning my seasonal out and about items (also called “regular clothes”) each and every day, but that’s not what actually happens in my life. There are many days on which I only wear lounge wear and/or workout clothes. In fact, I would guess that I only wear out and about clothes on four days most weeks rather than seven.
Thus, if I’m trying to determine the ideal number of items for my out and about wardrobe each season (which is what this is about for me, as I don’t overbuy lounge or workout wear), I would need to recalculate all of the numbers above to represent my reality. Consequently, my seasonal wardrobe numbers will now be based upon 104 “wearing days” per season rather than the roughly 182 actual days per season (four days per week instead of seven).
This works out to the following for the various yearly benchmarks each season, again looking at little to no overlap between the two season’s garments (all fractions are rounded up or down to the next nearest number):
- 5 times = 21 items
- 8 times = 13 items
- 10 times = 10 items
- 12 times = 9 items
Now the picture is becoming much clearer in terms of what I actually need, and I can see that my frequent anxiety around not having enough is usually unfounded. Even if I want the type of variety that five wears per year affords me in particular wardrobe categories (i.e. tops), I still only need 21 such items. That’s not a small number, but I often own more than 21 tops per season and I see now that it’s really unnecessary.
What Do You Like to Wear?
Lastly, I feel that it’s important to look at what you most like to wear. This is something that can change over time, so it’s helpful to check in with yourself regularly. If you’re someone who likes to wear a type of “uniform,” you may not need as many pieces as those who enjoy varying their colors, styles, and silhouettes more regularly, regardless of climate considerations. As one example, some women exclusively wear dresses and skirts in the summer (that used to be me), others only wear cropped pants and/or shorts, and a third group likes to alternate among all of these types of garments. Still other women just wear long pants all year round but vary the types of tops that they pair with them.
If you mix things up more often in terms of styles and silhouettes, you will typically need more clothes than someone who sticks to one or two basic “uniforms” all the time. This is especially true if you live in a more variable climate and engage in many types of activities that necessitate different types of clothing. Again, there’s no right or wrong, but having an awareness of your preferences can help you to plan for your wardrobe needs.
My Preferred Garment Calculations
During the cooler months, I only wear pants and jeans and I wear some sort of topper every day (cardigan, jacket, or coat). When it comes to the warmer weather, I used to only wear dresses and skirts all summer long, so my seasonal wardrobe included a lot of variety in these categories, as well as multiple shorter tops and toppers to pair with them. However, I started to mix it up more with cropped pants last year and I now alternate between cropped pants and dresses/skirts during the summer months. Since I also tend to run cold, I at least carry a topper with me most days. With these changes, my summer wardrobe now needs to be larger than it did before, as I typically wear different tops and toppers with skirts and pants due to proportion issues.
The past two years, I’ve been wearing summer pants more often than dresses and skirts, and I now vastly prefer dresses over skirts for their simplicity. But since I like to have more choices among the dresses I wear than my pants (and since pants are so difficult for me to find due to my height and my shape), I’m going to aim for fewer yearly wears in the former category than the latter.
Because my cool weather (“not summer”) outfits tend to fit into more of a standard “uniform,” the numbers in the previous section are really all that I need. Depending upon how often I’d like to wear each given category, I will need somewhere between 9 and 21 items in that section of my cool weather wardrobe. For pants and shoes, I’m fine with sticking to the lower numbers (9 or 10), but for tops and toppers, I’d like to have the larger numbers (13-21) in order to experience the greater variety that I desire.
Things get a bit more complicated for my summer wardrobe, as I like to mix up my “uniforms” more there. For the purpose of this exercise, I’m going to estimate that I wear pants two-thirds of the time in the warmer season and that I only wear dresses and skirts a third of the time. Therefore, if I’m looking at 104 “wearing days,” I would be putting on pant outfits on 69 days and dress/skirt outfits on 35 days. Because of this variability, my calculations are a little trickier, so I will split them out here:
Pant Outfit Items (based on 69 “wearing days”):
- 5 times = 14 items
- 8 times = 9 items
- 10 times = 7 items
- 12 times = 6 items
Dress / Skirt Outfit Items (based on 35 “wearing days”):
- 5 times = 7 items
- 8 times = 4 items
- 10 times = 3-4 items (it came out to 3.5)
- 12 times = 3 items
Wow, that’s not all that many items, is it, especially for the dress and skirt outfits?! Because I have so few “wearing days” for my dresses and skirts, I’m okay with sticking to the lower wear benchmark and only wearing most of the pieces in those ensembles 5-8 times per year. Since I’m now more partial to dresses over skirts, though, I’m likely going to phase out the skirts and that tops that pair with them to focus primarily on dresses moving forward. However, as long as I still like and wear those skirts and tops, I will keep them around. I probably won’t buy more, though, unless my preferences shift again. It’s just a lot easier to focus on dresses, as I need fewer of them and don’t need to worry about coordinating top and bottom pieces. I like the “one and done” option that dresses afford me, so it would also be nice to find more ways to wear dresses in the cooler months, too (but one step at a time here).
The Final Numbers
So if I add all of the numbers up, here’s what I’m looking at in terms of an “ideal wardrobe size” based upon how many times per year I’d like to wear each item (in parentheses):
- 7 pairs of pants (based upon 10 wears per year)
- 14 tops to pair with pants (based upon 5 wears per year)
- 9 toppers to pair with pants (based upon 8 wears per year)
- 7 dresses/skirts (based upon 5 wears per year)
- 4 tops to wear with skirts (based upon 5 wears per year, based upon splitting dress & skirt wears)
- 7 toppers to wear with dresses/skirts (based upon 5 wears per year)
- 9 pairs of summer shoes (based upon 12 wears per year)
- TOTAL = 57 items
“Not Summer” Wardrobe:
- 10 pairs of pants/jeans (based upon 10 wears per year)
- 21 tops (based upon 5 wears per year)
- 21 toppers (based upon 5 wears per year)
- 9 pairs of cool weather shoes (based upon 12 wears per year)
- TOTAL = 61 items
If I assume no overlap between my two seasons’ wardrobes, then the total number of items in my ideal-sized wardrobe would be… 118 ITEMS! You may be wondering how this calculation lines up with the “half” benchmark that I decided to work toward with my “half project…” That’s the $64,000 question, but since my next post will be an update on how I’m doing with that challenge, I’ve decided to hold off until that update, which I plan to publish sometime next week.
This has been a very enlightening exercise for me and I hope you have found value in reading about my experience in doing it. If you opt to take on the exercise for yourself, I hope you will comment on how it went for you, and if you’re open to sharing your numbers, that would be great.
For those of you in the United States, I wish you a wonderful Labor Day holiday, and I send all of you warm weekend wishes!