Several posts ago, I confessed to owning far too many cardigans and feeling overwhelmed by overduplication in that area of my wardrobe. In my last essay, I revealed that I opted to purge nine of my cardigans after doing try-ons and analysis. I showed photos of the purged cardigans and outlined my reasons for letting each of them go. In today’s post – part two, I highlight the lessons I learned from going through that difficult but rewarding wardrobe decluttering exercise.
Do a “Post-Mortem” After Letting Things Go
While it feels great to downsize a packed closet, I don’t think we should stop there. We have a better chance of learning from our mistakes if we do a “post-mortem” analysis following our decluttering efforts. When we don’t pause to consider our motivations for letting go of closet pieces, we may be prone to repeating our shopping missteps.
Of course, not all of the items we release from our wardrobes represent purchasing errors. Sometimes we pass things on because they’ve become worn out, or because they no longer fit our bodies, lifestyles, or personal style aesthetics. If a particular closet piece has served us well, we may be sad to see it go, but we won’t feel the guilt that’s often present with garments we shouldn’t have bought in the first place.
When poor fit – be it physically, practically, or stylistically – is a factor in why something gets purged, the guilt may or may not be there. It depends in large part on whether we believe the disconnect was our fault. Although it’s common to feel that we should have known better, in truth we can’t always predict changes that may transpire in our lives, bodies, or minds. After all, who could have predicted the events of 2020?!
I believe it’s helpful to keep a running list of our purged closet pieces during each given year. Maintaining this list doesn’t need to be a time-consuming endeavor. You can simply jot down each item’s description, along with a brief note as to why you’re letting it go (e.g., “It’s worn out, “It no longer fits me,” “I don’t like the style anymore,” etc.).
If a style issue is your reason for discarding a closet piece, it’s beneficial to be a bit more descriptive than the simple phrases mentioned above. Here are a couple of questions to help you formulate your thoughts:
- Why don’t I like this item any longer?
- Which specific aspects of the style are no longer a match for me?
My last post, which highlighted my reasons for letting go of nine cardigans, represents a good illustration of what a closet purge post-mortem might look like (although yours doesn’t need to be as lengthy and involved as mine!). Your reasons for passing things on may differ from mine, but hopefully my examples will spark your thought process regarding why you’re not wearing certain pieces – and why it might be time to let them go.
In part one of this series, I spelled out why I let go of each individual cardigan, but I also discovered some common threads woven throughout my narrative. I don’t believe most of these themes are specific to me and my situation, which is why I’m dedicating this post to sharing them with you. I suspect that you’ll resonate with one or more of my common threads, which may help you gain a better understanding for why some of your purchases aren’t working out. Alternatively, you might realize that you previously made some of these mistakes but don’t anymore. If the latter is true, you should give yourself credit for having learned from the error of your former ways.
Patterns may become evident even when we’re purging items from multiple wardrobe categories (as opposed to just one area, like my cardigans). The same issues with color, style, fit, or silhouette may show up among tops, bottoms, layering pieces, and even shoes and accessories. Keep your eyes – and your mind – open to see what patterns you notice as you’re letting things go. Clarifying common threads can help you carry lessons forward into future shopping experiences.
Below I recap the six common threads that I noticed while analyzing my cardigans and compiling my last post.
Lesson One – “A Lot Going On” Doesn’t Work for Me
I do best with minimalist styles with few “bells and whistles.” If there’s a lot going on with a garment in terms of features and embellishments, I tend not to be happy wearing it.
As one example, both the wide shawl collar and the deep side pockets on the Athleta Pranayama wraps were problematic for me. The collar was fussy and required repeated adjustment to stay in place, and the pockets poked out at the bottom. The latter is often an issue for me with my wider hips, especially with pants that have side pockets, but the wrap’s pockets behaved in a similar manner.
I’m often fine with collars and pockets, but it’s usually better if they’re smaller and/or stiffer in construction or are set in a more flattering way. I don’t dismiss collars or pockets outright, but I know that I need to be careful with these features and remember which specific details don’t work for me (i.e., slant-style pockets are most often a “miss”).
Lesson Two – Loving the Color of an Item Isn’t Enough.
Some of my favorite hues are represented among my castoff cardigans: berry, deep red, burgundy, cinnamon, and cool navy. However, if a garment has style or fit issues, it doesn’t matter how amazing and stunning its color is. I’m just not going to wear something that I don’t feel good in, regardless of how much the color makes my heart sing. There will be plenty of other items down the line in colors that I love, so I need to pass up problematic pieces in the store (or return them as soon as possible).
Lesson Three – Loving the Print of an Item Also Isn’t Enough.
The prints were my main reason for purchasing the black and silver striped cardigan and cream snake print cardigan. But even though I loved the metallic stripes on the black J. Jill cardigan, that wasn’t enough to counteract the fit issue of the deep side slits. And although snake print was both trendy and cool last year (and still is), the cream base of the White House Black Market cardigan washed me out.
The prints on both of these garments couldn’t “rescue” them and make them work for me. Lesson learned: don’t overlook clear fit and flattery issues with a garment just because it has a trendy, fun, or unusual print.
Lesson Four – Too Many Similar Pieces Leads to “Splitting Wears.”
When we buy too many pieces that occupy the exact same wardrobe category, it creates several problems. We often go shopping because we want to add variety and excitement to our closets, but we won’t accomplish that if we keep reaching for the same types of items over and over again in the stores (or online).
Additionally, when a person owns too many similar garments (or accessories), they end up doing what stylist Bridgette Raes calls “splitting wears.” Bridgette has written about this phenomenon many times on her blog, including in this excellent post. In brief, if you’re splitting wears, it means that you have multiple items in your closet that basically serve the same purpose. If you own too many similar pieces and don’t have enough occasions to wear them all, you end up diluting the value of each item. You also end up having fewer style options and less wardrobe variety.
If I would have kept the black J. Jill cardigan/jacket pictured below (on the far left), it would have “split wears” with several other black toppers already in my closet (on the right). The J. Jill piece was just too similar to multiple other garments that I already owned. Had the J. Jill cardigan/jacket been in another one of my favorite colors instead of black, it would likely still be in my closet, as the fit and silhouette were flattering and in line with my style aesthetic.
We have to learn to realize when we have enough of a particular type of item so we’ll then stop shopping for such pieces. This isn’t always easy to discern because we all have distinct needs, and it can prudent to own several similar pieces if one wears them all regularly. But with how infrequently I even put on out-and-about outfits these days, I’m glad I realized that I have little justification for yet another long black topper in my wardrobe.
Lesson Five – Be Aware of Details that Throw Off the Fit of a Garment.
Such problem details will vary from person to person, as we’re all shaped differently and have our own unique proportions. For me, garment features that can be problematic include deep side slits, flaring out in the hip area, and narrowing below the hips.
When it comes to toppers, I do best with a straight fit that’s roughly the same basic width from top to bottom. I like my toppers to have some shaping in the torso area, but not so much down in the hip region (if a garment extends that far down). Smaller side slits in some toppers can work for me, but the long (10 inches!) slits in the J. Jill cardigans were a deal-breaker.
I need to evaluate potentially problematic features like side slits on a case-by-case basis, but I mostly try to stay away from them. When side slits might work for me is when there’s more “substance” overall to a garment (i.e., a thicker fabric or more tailoring).
Lesson Six – Don’t Buy Multiples of a Wardrobe Category Within a Short Timeframe.
I purchased too many cardigans late last year and early this year. I didn’t intend to keep all of them, but it was still overkill and led to my feeling overwhelmed and confused about which pieces to keep and which to return. I tend to get “tunnel vision” with my shopping, such that I key in on a particular type of item to buy. This behavior can lead to my buying too much within a short timeframe.
I’d be better off purchasing just one or two pieces within a given category (e.g., cardigans, tops, pants, or whatever) and integrating them fully into my wardrobe before shopping for other such items. In doing so, I might learn that the new additions are enough so that I can stop buying within that category. Alternatively, I might discover a specific wardrobe gap that I want to fill, which would lead to more targeted and appropriate purchasing.
Since my theme for 2021 is “less,” buying fewer pieces overall is my goal. Most of the cardigans featured in this two-part series were purchased last year, but I did make the mistake of buying the black J. Jill cardi/jacket relatively recently. I didn’t actually need it – and it wouldn’t have added true variety or versatility to my wardrobe, so I’m glad I didn’t remove the tags and wear it. I need to do better with maintaining and adhering to a focused shopping priorities list. When I’ve done so in the past, my purchasing was more targeted and I made fewer mistakes overall.
I’m glad I took the time to evaluate all of my cardigans, as it allowed me to determine which ones were never going to serve a valuable place in my wardrobe. I’m also happy that I reflected on why I decided to let those castoffs go, so I could discern patterns and learn from my mistakes. Yes, this process was time-consuming, but I feel that it was well worth doing.
Of course, it would have been better not to have bought so many cardigans in the first place! Old habits die hard and, for me, shopping is often a means of dealing with stress (and we all know how stressful the past year has been!). I’m working on practicing better coping mechanisms, improved impulse control, and more directed purchasing.
Sometimes my shopping behavior feels like three steps forward and two steps back, which can be quite frustrating. However, I’m pleased to report that I’m course-correcting more often, making better overall choices for myself, and not holding on to mistake purchases as much as I used to. Yes, it can be annoying and time-consuming to manage returns, but I’d rather return something for a refund than have to either donate or sell it because it didn’t work out for me.
I hope you found this two-part analysis of my cardigan downsizing process both interesting and informative. The types of items that you remove from your closet, as well as your reasons for doing so, will of course be different from mine. The lessons you learn from the process may diverge from my lessons as well. But sometimes reading through another person’s evaluation will spark “aha moments” that can benefit the reader. Hopefully that was the case for you with this series!
I wish you the best with your own wardrobe management process, and I welcome any thoughts or insights you’d like to share related to today’s post.