For many years, I engaged in the regular practice of spending several hours every month or two putting together outfits and photographing them. The objective was to come up with as many combinations as possible that I could wear, so I would try out lots of options. Some of my resulting ensembles looked great and others fell flat, but I typically photographed anything that I thought I might want to wear someday.
Taking the time to map out my outfits helped me to wear more of what I owned and get ready to go more quickly when I had plans, as I always had good ensembles close at hand. It also served to boost my sartorial creativity and improve my personal style.
I stopped doing these outfit creation sessions a few years ago, mostly because I’d become increasingly self-critical. I didn’t like looking at photos of myself wearing the various ensembles, as I always found multiple aspects of my appearance to pick apart. The combination of gaining weight after menopause and going through a long and difficult gray hair transition process put the kibosh on my photographing my outfits, both when I was creating them and when I actually wore them out of the house.
I miss having a ready-made directory of outfits to wear, and I feel that my style has suffered as a result of abandoning my styling sessions. Much of the time, I find myself wearing the same combinations, and I neglect to reach for those pieces that are harder to style. While some of my “go-to” outfits are ones that I love, others feel pretty uninspired. Additionally, I feel bad about not wearing some items that I love simply because I’m not sure what to pair with them. I considered going back to my previous practice, but I’ve decided to do something different instead, which I’ll share with you in today’s post.
Drowning in a Sea of Possibilities…
When I used to do my outfit creation sessions, I’d usually pull out a particular garment and attempt to find all of the possible combinations for it in my closet. If I was working with a pair of pants, for example, I’d try on each of my tops that might coordinate with them, taking photos as I went along. I’d also pair various toppers and shoes with each combination, and I sometimes also took the time to include accessories as well. As you might imagine, this method could be quite time-consuming, and it also led to an over-abundance of possibilities.
It was fun to play around and get my creative juices flowing, but in reality, only a small number of the resulting ensembles ever got worn. There were just too many options, many of which were either sub-standard in some way or outside of my comfort zone. Looking back, I don’t understand why I didn’t just capture the outfits that made my heart sing and abandon the rest as failed experiments. I think it’s because I was coming from a different place back then, a kind of “more is more” perspective. I thought it was important for me to mix things up a lot when getting dressed, to prevent boredom and also to appear more creative and stylish.
A New Approach
I now have a different outlook on my style and how I want things to work. I don’t feel the need to have hundreds of outfit combinations available for me to choose from, but I also don’t want to only wear the same few ensembles on perpetual repeat. Upon consideration, I decided that if I could come up with a list of about twenty-five outfits for each season, I’d probably have the right amount of variety to keep me satisfied while not becoming overwhelmed with too many options.
The key is that I want all of these outfits to be at least an eight on a scale of one to ten, and preferably a nine or ten if possible. My catalog of outfits should also meet the following criteria:
- Physically and emotionally comfortable
- In line with my style guideposts: Dramatic, Polished, and Elegant
- All garments should be well-fitting
- Appropriate for my lifestyle and activities
- There should be outfit options for all of the main occasions of my life
At-Home Outfits Matter, Too
I originally intended to just create a list of my twenty-five best “out-and-about” outfits. However, since I spend so much of my time at home, I believe it would also be helpful to come up with a “cheat sheet” of my best ensembles for that portion of my life. Not all of my lounge and exercise outfits meet each of my three style guideposts, but I try to have them be in line with at least two. I strive to have all of my outfits be polished, regardless of where I’m wearing them. This often has to do with the fit of my clothes and how I put things together. Dramatic can be achieved by the colors and prints that I wear, and elegant often comes about as a function of the fabrics and silhouettes that comprise my looks.
Most days, I end up leaving the house in the outfit I’m wearing at home, as I typically take short walks around my complex at least once a day. I like to get outside and I find that it helps my mood to take a break and enjoy some sunshine and fresh air. Since other people usually see me in my lounge wear, I want to make sure that I look presentable and reasonably well put-together.
If I have to take the time to change my clothes before venturing out, that can deter me from going on my walks, and I don’t want there to be any impediments there. Additionally, it makes me feel better when I’m happy in what I’m wearing around the house, and I also want my husband to think I look good when he’s at home with me (which has been more frequent over the past year and a half).
What I’ve Done So Far – and Next Steps
I haven’t completed my “outfit catalog” yet, but I’ve made a start on it. After I came up with the idea of putting together twenty-five (or so) great outfits, I took out a notebook and jotted down some recent combinations that I was happy wearing and that met the criteria mentioned above. I realize this is a very “old school” way of doing things, but the notebook method was just to get me started.
What I hope to do is find a wardrobe smartphone app to use for storing visual representations of my favorite outfits. I remember looking into this a few years ago, but all of the best apps seemed to only be available for iPhones, and I have an Android phone. If you have recommendations for apps that might serve my needs, I’m open to them.
It would be a bonus if I could also keep track of what I wear – and how often – via the app, which I know is possible with at least some of them. Although I stopped tracking wears at the end of 2018, I’d be interested in resuming this practice now if it were simple to manage. I continue to use “the hanger trick” as a simple means of tracking, but I can see the value of having additional data both for myself and for use on this blog.
App considerations aside, in order to come up with my favorite outfits list, I need to spend some experimentation time in my closet. But when I do so, I’m only going to capture the best combinations. No more saving the “this might work…” looks, as I shouldn’t have to convince myself to wear something. I don’t need to have twenty-five possibilities for each pair of pants! That many total options should be plenty for me, especially since I don’t have a very active social life at present, and I don’t even run a lot of errands or go to many appointments these days.
Having a Lot of Clothes Complicates Things
What I do have, however, is a lot of clothes, which makes it harder for me to get dressed. Many women think that having more clothes will help them dress better, but I don’t believe that’s generally the case. Having a jam-packed closet makes it more difficult to see and remember what one owns, and it also can be extremely overwhelming. Although I don’t have nearly as many clothes as I did back when I started Recovering Shopaholic close to nine years ago (seriously, where does the time go?!), I have experienced some recent “wardrobe creep” and my hangers are closer together these days.
It’s been said that most women wear 20% of their clothes 80% of the time (the famous Pareto Principle – the 80/20 rule – applies to our closets, as well as other aspects of our lives). My percentages are much less grim, but that’s only because I’ve made a concerted effort to avoid accumulating wardrobe “benchwarmers.” Most of us have at least a few “benchwarmers,” and they’ve usually earned that status for a good reason. In some cases, we may be stumped as to how to wear a particular item, but more often than not, our unworn or rarely worn pieces don’t suit us in some important way (e.g., body, lifestyle, personality, or style aesthetic).
I plan to examine my potential benchwarmers more in the coming months (perhaps in the same way as I originally outlined way back in 2013), but for now, I just want to make the process of getting dressed easier while also expanding my outfit repertoire. I believe that my twenty-five (or so) good outfits will do just that!
Creating an “Outfit Catalog”
If you like the idea of having an “outfit catalog,” here are some tips to get started:
- First, make a pie chart of how you typically spend your time. Look at the activities you do, how often you do them, and what types of clothes you wear in each instance.
- Then consider how many outfits you’d ideally like to have for each type of activity. For example, if you work in an office five days a week, how long do you want to go before repeating an ensemble? If you want to go three weeks without re-wearing an outfit, you’ll need fifteen outfits.
- Next, either jot down or photograph some of your favorite outfits to get started. You can also do this as you go… Whenever you wear an outfit that you really like, include it in your outfit catalog.
- Consider how you’d like to capture your favorite outfits. I’m starting with a simple notebook, but since I’m a very visual person, I’d like to move on to using an app that allows me to save pictures of my ensembles.
If you live in a four-season climate or have varied activities that require highly different outfits, you may need more ensembles than my initial goal of twenty-five. This is a very individual type of thing, and your numbers and preferences may be much higher or lower than mine. What’s great is that we can all make adjustments over time as desired.
I’m going to start with twenty-five outfits each for my out-and-about activities and my at-home life. Since there’s not a lot of variation in what I do and the types of ensembles I need for the events in my life, I’m going to keep it simple and just create two basic “look books.” I’ll include a couple of dressier outfits for the rare instances when I need them, but the bulk of my ensembles will be casual in nature (although my version of casual tends to be dressier than what most women where I live tend to wear).
Even after my outfit catalog is complete, I’ll probably still wear other combinations from time to time. I’m not creating my list of outfits in order to limit myself. I’m doing it to simplify my life and streamline the process of getting dressed. If I have more time one day and want to play around with new looks, then of course I’ll do that. But what’s great is that I won’t have to do that when I’m short on time. I can simply consult my catalog of favorite outfits and know that I’ll feel comfortable, happy, and stylish in what I’m wearing.
Now I’d like to hear from you… Below are a few questions to help you gather your thoughts, but feel free to share whatever you’d like related to the contents of this post.
- Have you ever created a master list of outfits? If so, what method (e.g., notebook, app, etc.) did you use for doing so?
- What other suggestions do you have for making the process of getting dressed easier?
- What do you do when you find yourself in a bit of style rut?