My Wardrobe, Myself

The intersection of clothing, emotions, and life

I frequently reorganize my closet in an effort to better understand and utilize the pieces I own. For a long time, I just organized everything in a standard fashion: by garment type and then by color. However, I’ve found that making periodic “tweaks” to this arrangement can make it easier for me to get dressed for my various life occasions.

In today’s post, I share about my most recent closet reorganization, why I did it, what my new sections are, and how they’ll help me get dressed more easily in the coming months. I also outline a wardrobe goal that I’m working towards and how I plan to get there.

well organized closet

Reorganizing My Closet in a New Way

Last fall, I wrote a two-part series on “third piece” challenges (HERE and HERE), in which I explained the difficulties I experience when dressing for warmer weather. Part of my dilemma involves making sure my outfits look interesting and well put-together without using a traditional “third piece” (e.g., a cardigan, jacket, or coat), but an even bigger challenge relates to my emotional comfort when I’m unable to cover up as much when it’s hot outside.

Some unseasonably warm days in recent weeks reminded me that I need to start getting my summer wardrobe in order. As such, I decided to do some closet purging and reorganizing. I’ll address the decluttering part in a future post, as it’s still ongoing, but the main organizational shift this time around involved my summer tops. I went through all of my short-sleeved and sleeveless tops and separated out the ones that I’m comfortable wearing without a topper.

These “standalone tops” are those that I feel are flattering on their own. This is generally because they’re loose enough to breeze over the areas of my body that I feel self-conscious about. So, if it’s too warm for a topper or if I need to remove it at some point during the day, I feel confident just wearing the top on its own.

After I determined which tops fit the “standalone” description, I further divided them into solid and patterned pieces. Finally, I arranged each section by color, from the lightest to the darkest pieces. Following my closet reorganization, I now have the following distinct sections of summer tops:

Category One: Standalone tops that can be worn without a topper.

category one tops

Category ONE: My “standalone” tops that I wear without a topper. 

Category Two: Tops that I only feel comfortable wearing WITH a topper.

category two and three tops

Category TWO tops on the left. Category THREE hanging tops on the right. 

Category Three: Tops that I only wear at home or for exercise.

category three folded tops

More Category Three tops – these ones I only wear for working out and walks. 

About the Categories

Category One

Many of the tops in Category One are what I call “crossover” tops, in that they work well for both at-home and “out-and-about” use. They tend to be quite casual in nature, but their fit renders them more versatile for wearing on hot days when a topper isn’t practical. Because they’re looser-fitting and/or a bit longer, I feel comfortable (emotionally) wearing them on their own. These tops are “good to go” and ready to be worn in warmer weather, whether at home or when I’m out and about, so there’s not a lot more I need to say about them.

Category Two

The tops in Category Two are the main subject of this post. These are the tops that I don’t feel comfortable wearing without a topper. This has more to do with fit than style, and it’s all about my emotional comfort, not how I feel physically in the top. Most of the pieces in this category are shorter and/or snugger-fitting than my tops in Category One, so I only wear them on cooler days when I can pull a cardigan or jacket over them.

The reason I even have any Category Two tops is because I’m self-conscious about my “rear view.” I often feel like I look just fine from the front, but I have lots of lingering body dysmorphia from my lengthy battle with eating disorders and I’ve always carried any extra weight in my lower half. My self-consciousness has only intensified as a result of my higher post-menopausal weight and decreased level of muscle tone. I probably shouldn’t even look at the back view, but I can’t help myself from wanting to understand what others see when they look at me.

I know that I’d probably look more stylish if I dressed differently (e.g., shorter tops, tucking things in, belting, wearing lighter colors, etc.), but I just can’t bring myself to do so given the anxiety that I experience. So, I’m always trying to balance the way I look with the way I feel when I put my outfits together. This is especially true during the summer months because of the need to wear less clothing so I can stay cool and physically comfortable.

Some of my tops in Category Two have yet to be worn at allabout half of this section, as I haven’t been able to figure out what to pair them with. I like these tops in theory, which is why I bought them. However, when I’ve tried to incorporate them into outfits, it just didn’t feel right, so I switched them out for another top that I was more comfortable wearing. I haven’t gotten rid of these “outliers” just yet, as I’ve kept hoping that I could somehow make them work. Separating them out into their own section will hopefully help me to either add them to my regular wardrobe rotation or pass them on for donation.

Category Three

Category Three tops are the most casual of the bunch, and I usually wouldn’t consider wearing them for out-and-about occasions. They’re generally workout-specific garments or pieces that have seen better days but still have some life left in them. They’re good enough to wear around the house, but I don’t feel polished enough in them otherwise. Some of these tops are scoop-neck styles that are cut too low for me to wear in social settings, as I’m fairly modest and don’t want to risk revealing too much.

Category Three is relatively small and is shrinking as time goes on, as I now aim to have more “crossover” items in my closet as a way of minimizing wardrobe overwhelm. The more pieces that we have that do “double duty,” the fewer overall items we need to have in our closets, so crossover items are the way to go.

Being Less Rigid with My Tops

Before I created the above category distinctions for my tops, they were divided into just two sections: “at-home” and “out-and-about” items, and there was very little crossover between these two groupings. But after some introspection and exploration last year, I decided to stop being so rigid with the way I wore my tops. I discovered that many of the tops I’d placed in my at-home wardrobe could also work quite well for other occasions, especially when dressed up with accessories and more upscale pairing pieces.

After all, even the plainest of garments can usually be “upleveled” if we devote a bit of attention to it. Doing so requires more work than with pieces that have “special details” (i.e., pattern, texture, ruching, or embellishment), but the extra effort is well worth it for the sake of closet versatility. Currently, my plainer tops are often the ones that I feel more emotionally comfortable wearing (mostly because of fit), so it makes sense to do what I can to incorporate them into out-and-about ensembles. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’d like to have more “special detail” tops in my closet overall, so that’s something that I’m focusing on as I shop.

As a result of going through my tops and creating the new sections, I’m now aware of a lot more options for getting dressed on hot days. Whereas I either previously limited myself to a small number of out-and-about-designated tops that I knew worked well without a topper, I now have a wider array of tops to choose from, most of which used to be reserved only for wearing at home.

The Goal I’m Working Towards

Now that I’ve shared the new categories that I’ve designated for my tops, you might be thinking that it sounds too complicated, and I wouldn’t argue with you there. Ideally, I’d want most of my tops to be part of Category One so that I could comfortably wear any of them without a topper.  I plan to work toward this goal in earnest, but in the meantime, it’s helpful to have things arranged to facilitate my getting dressed more easily on warmer days. What I want to avoid are those times when I either have to be physically uncomfortable wearing a topper on a hot day or emotionally uncomfortable from feeling too “exposed” after removing my top layer in order to avoid overheating.

My end goal is to completely eliminate Category Two, and I also want to keep Category Three relatively small. Most women own workout-specific clothing, as well as some loungewear, but I don’t think it’s all that common – and definitely not advisable – to own tops that one is only comfortable wearing with some sort of topper over them. I’m okay with continuing to own some tops that I wear only when working out or when I’m at home, but I ultimately want most of my tops to be those Category One “crossover” pieces. I would like to feel comfortable wearing virtually all of my tops on their own without a cardigan, jacket, or coat.

While I’m working toward that eventual goal, my revised closet organization will make getting dressed easier and reduce the number of times when I’m forced to choose between my physical and emotional comfort. When I get dressed on a warmer day, I’ll now only select tops from Category One (or Category Three if I’ll be at home all day or am about to exercise).

Eliminating Category Two

There are currently seventeen tops in Category Two, but I suspect there may be some movement between that section and Category One as I actually put summer outfits together and wear them. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time assigning all of my short-sleeved and sleeveless tops to the three categories. I tried most of them on in order to make my determinations, but I was wearing the same pair of pants the entire time, so I might possibly change my mind about some of the tops as I go along.

Since I want to eventually eliminate Category Two, I’m going to try to see if pairing those tops with different bottoms might result in my feeling more emotionally comfortable wearing them. If I just can’t make that work but still really like a particular top, I’ll hold on to it for now and accept its limited utility (needing to be worn with a topper). Those tops that I don’t like all that much will probably be purged from my closet at some point during the summer.

I definitely won’t purchase any new tops that I’m not comfortable wearing on their own. The combination of not adding to Category Two and actively trying to pare it down will result in this category gradually diminishing over time. It doesn’t have to happen overnight, but having the awareness of this particular closet issue will help me make the changes necessary to have a simpler and more workable wardrobe.


I’ll see how this new system works for me this summer. As I mentioned above, I may end up moving some of the tops around, as I might discover that some of what’s in Category One actually belongs in Category Two, or vice versa. This is a flexible system that I can use to my best advantage as needed. I’ll be sure to report back later this year to let you know my progress in eliminating Category Two and streamlining my summer tops.

Now it’s time for you to weigh in… I know that many of you probably don’t have the same issues I have with my summer tops, but you likely have your own challenges that I’d be interested in reading about, whether they’re about self-consciousness, dressing for hot weather, or whatever. I’d also love to learn how you arrange your closet and what changes you’ve made in that regard, especially if those shifts led to your better utilizing your clothing. Feel free to comment on any of those topics or about anything else related to this post.

In my next essay, I’m going to share something else I discovered about my wardrobe while I was reorganizing my tops. I had a bit of an “aha moment” that I wasn’t expecting that will hopefully result in more positive changes. Stay tuned… and have a wonderful remainder of your spring (or autumn for my friends down under).Buy Me a Coffee at

58 thoughts on “Closet Reorganization: Summer Tops

  1. Anonymous says:

    Re category 2: are those tops that you wore with skirts in the past or would feel better about them if paired with a skirt? I remember you saying you were wearing skirts less often now.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Good question… No, the tops I wear only with skirts are actually ANOTHER category, and one that I forgot to write about! That’s probably because there are very few of them remaining, and also because I don’t have any issues with them. When I do wear a skirt (which, you’re right, is not all that often), I have specific tops and toppers (also just a few) that I wear with them.

      The category 2 tops are ones that I wear with pants, which is usually what I wear these days. I don’t think any of them would work with skirts, but your question is prompting me to at least try to see if that might work for some of them. So thank you for making me consider another angle that I had forgotten about!

  2. NATALIE K says:

    I am very much like you in that I don’t wear certain blouses without a topper but mine is being self concious os my metapot pooch!! You say you don’t have to get rid od these tops right away but then you said you’d purge them by the end of the summer. That’s not time to work out your problem!!! You can still wear those tops this winter with toppers!!! I’ve seen this over and over with you and I’ve held my tough!! I don’t want to hurt you but you need to see your making excuses and getting rid of so much clothing and then rebuying!!! All those tops you can’t wear alone in the summer can be worn with toppers the rest of the year!!! Don’t make excuses for getting rid of clothing but find reasons to keep clothing!!! It’s the ONLY way you will eventually heal!!!!!! II’m in the same situation!! I don’t get rid of anything but I keep buying!!! Lord help us both!!!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I agree with you, Natalie, that we shouldn’t make excuses for getting rid of clothing and should try to find ways to make things work if at all possible. However, many of my tops in Category 2 have been in my closet for a while (even a few years in some cases) and I haven’t been wearing them. Sometimes I DO reach for them and TRY to wear them, but then I take them off because I don’t feel good in them. Some of them are tops that I did wear in the past, while others were probably just plain old BAD purchases. I don’t think we should force ourselves to keep things just because we bought them, but I do think it’s worth trying to see if we can find a way to make them work. I’ve been doing that, but now that I’ve put the tops into their own section, I will now be more deliberate about it.

      I turn the hangers around on all of my clothes at the beginning of the year. If I haven’t worn something by the end of the year and there’s not a good reason for it (i.e., it’s a formal item and I haven’t had a formal occasion to wear it to), it’s probably time to pass it on. I don’t make this a hard and fast rule, but it is something that I strongly consider. Sometimes we make bad purchases, or sometimes an item ends up being fussy or doesn’t wash or wear well. I agree that getting rid of things just to buy more is a problem to watch out for, but that doesn’t mean we should always keep things, either. It’s a delicate balance and one that I continue to work on…

      1. NATALIE K says:

        Debbie- Yes!! I agree!!

      2. If you don’t like some of those Category 2 tops, I hear you when you discuss removing them from your closet! If you don’t like it or don’t wear it, then yeah, free up that space (physical and mental).

        1. Debbie Roes says:

          Thanks, Sally! I like all of them in theory, but if I don’t like them ON ME (or feel comfortable wearing them), then why keep them around? You’re right that the MENTAL space is just as important as the physical space. People often forget about that part of the equation (or just don’t factor it in at all).

  3. I don’t think your organization here sounds at all too complicated. It sounds right for where you are right now in figuring out your wardrobe. The stand-alone vs. layering only tops dilemma resonates with me too. I have a pretty good idea about which are which, so I don’t organize my closet that way, but if I were in doubt and lived in a hot summer climate, I’d be very interested in trying this myself.

    I’m glad to see that you’ve embraced a more integrated view vs. the previous stricter stay-at-home/out-and-about categories and that it appears to be serving you well. I think this will help you get more value from your purchases.

    I was pleasantly surprised to see that a high percentage of your tops made the Category 1/stand-alone cut! Your Category 3 looks reasonable for a person who exercises daily. Category 2 is an interesting one. It’s a relatively small percentage of the total, yet it is 17 items. I did have thoughts similar to Natalie K., though I would word things differently. It makes me wonder whether the summer vs. not-summer seasons fully covers your needs. Do you have spring and fall seasons where you would wear a “summer” top with a topper? If so, I’m not sure whether you really need to make them fit Category 1 or purge them; if you like them layered, you could just use them as your spring/fall season go-to items. Like Natalie, I do wonder whether purging these tops because they don’t meet your Category 1 criteria means that you’d just end up replacing them, continuing a purchase-purge cycle that you do seem to want to avoid.

    I have appreciated your discussion of a wardrobe “set point” and see that as quite relevant here. If you could get rid of these Category 2 items and feel good about where you are with your wardrobe, that’s one thing. But if that brings you below your “set point” and makes you want to buy more (which is how interpreted your plan to work in practice…that you will basically replace them with additional Category 1 items), that’s different. That does seem opening the door to potential over-purchasing.

    It makes me curious how you feel about your current Category 1 selection. I couldn’t quite count the hangers, but it looks like perhaps 50 tops in Category 1. That seems like a really solid number to me. Do you have any needs/holes in your Category 1? Or are you actually in a good place?

    My perspective is that the combination of wanting to hold every piece in your wardrobe to a possibly arbitrarily high standard combined with a higher “set point”/comfort level with wardrobe size is a recipe for the purchase-purge cycle. I get the sense that your comfort level with wardrobe size is higher than your ideal, and I wonder whether a preoccupation with the ideal has you chasing your tail wardrobe-wise…always trying to change its composition through an endless cycle of buying and discarding.

    As for myself, I know that my wardrobe is larger than it needs to be; I have a high wardrobe “set point” but it’s higher than that even. But everything is running very smoothly with my wardrobe, so it just doesn’t make sense to me to purge clothing that I enjoy wearing to reach an arbitrary item count or meet arbitrary criteria. I think the decision process with clothes we already own is vastly different from the decision process for new purchases.

    I know a LOT of people advocate ruthless purging because that’s what has worked for them. Well, that’s great for them, I guess. But I think there are a great many of us for whom that would be a disaster. And I think part of that problem is “set point” but another part is that it feeds this mentality that the way to reach a point where you are dressing comfortably, appropriately, and in line with your own style, wearing outfits that make you feel great, is a function of what you buy/own, so you need to be constantly tweaking your closet and boom, your closet churn issue never goes away. Because no wardrobe is ever going to get you there. You’ve gotta put the time and energy into working that wardrobe, even if the “perfect” wardrobe appeared in your house magically overnight, you’d still have to *work it* to achieve high daily outfit satisfaction.

    I don’t say this because OMG no one has ever thought of this before! Or because I’ve got it all figured out (news flash: I do not). I think it’s something we all have to remind ourselves of regularly. I’m trying to have a more sustainable wardrobe, and the #1 way to shop sustainably is to *not shop*. So this stuff has been on my mind lately more than ever. I relate to so much of what you write, Debbie, so I may over-estimate our similarities. But if I’m off base for you in some of this, maybe there are others who will relate to it.

    As always, I thank you for putting yourself out there as a way of helping others who struggle with their closets, body image, aging, etc.!

    1. NATALIE K says:

      You said it better than I did!!!

    2. Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful and detailed comment, Sally. To answer your question, there can be sort of “in-between” weather here when I wear “summer” tops with toppers. We’ve been having such weather on and off recently, which is part of what prompted me to start going through my short-sleeved and sleeveless tops (as I had previously only been wearing long-sleeved tops for months). I agree with you that it’s okay for me to have some tops that I only wear with toppers, but I don’t want to BUY any new tops like that because they are less versatile. I would ideally like to feel comfortable wearing ALL of my tops on their own, even if sometimes I will wear them with toppers. Even on the cooler days, I sometimes will get a hot flash and want to feel okay taking off my jacket or sweater.

      The set point issue is a very important one, so I’m glad you brought it up. I do seem to still have a pretty high set point, although it IS lower than when I first wrote about that concept. I probably do have about 50 tops in Category 1, although I didn’t count them, either (I may do it, though, because I’m now curious). You’re right that my “ideal” wardrobe size is lower than where my set point is, and I’ve struggled to reach the ideal. I think that if everything was running smoothly with my wardrobe like what’s happening for you (good for you, by the way!), I would be okay with owning more. That’s basically true for my long-sleeved tops and my at-home wardrobe, but I’m still struggling with my warm weather wardrobe.

      Another great point you made is that the decision process for NEW items is different than for what we already own. So, I probably don’t need to either find a way to make my Category 2 tops be Category 1 or get rid of them. I do, however, don’t want to purchase any more tops like that if I can avoid it. It’s so true that our wardrobes will never be “perfect.” So much of it has to do with how we put outfits together and being creative, which can be stifled when we focus mostly on what’s “out there” and acquiring the new. That’s something I need to work on because sometimes what happens is that I get good pieces, but they are either too similar to what I already have or become a “project,” in that I need to buy accompanying pieces to make them work.

      So much food for thought in what you wrote! I do think we have a lot of similarities in our wardrobe issues. Yes, the best way to have a more sustainable wardrobe is to shop less! Sometimes I feel guilty because I’m hard to fit and have chemical sensitivities, so shopping secondhand and from many sustainable brands (who tend to have narrow size ranges and rarely carry tall sizes) is pretty much out of the question. But if I bought less, that would help a lot. Easier said than done sometimes, though!

      1. NATALIE K says:

        Debbie, I’m so happy to see you realize that getting rid of these tops isn’t the answer just not buying more that you don’t feel comfortable wearing without a topper is the answer!!! I understand how truly hard this is for women like us. I’m unable to buy secondhand but I do buy some accessories secondhand for example necklaces and bracelets!! We just have to stop buying so much which is harder said than done!!! When you find the answer to that share!!!!!!

        1. Debbie Roes says:

          Yes, not buying more is a much better answer to my dilemma, Natalie. Now that I understand the problem with Category Two tops, if I don’t buy more, that category will gradually fade away as things wear out (or if I decide I just don’t like something). I don’t know if there is ONE answer to not buying so much, but being MINDFUL of our purchases definitely helps. I also think it’s helps to take note of why we get rid of things, as that can clue us in to not buying those types of pieces in the future. Also, if we buy SLOWER, that can also help, as we can better understand what we do and don’t wear. If we’re constantly focused on the NEW (which I can be guilty of), then we’re not learning much about what we own and how to better use it.

        2. NATALIE K says:

          Debbie, I so agree!!!

      2. I definitely appreciate the difficulties you have with being tall and having chemical sensitivities making shopping secondhand/sustainable brands difficult! I don’t think there’s any One Way to having a more sustainable closet, and being picky about what you buy and keep is a good way to do it.

        1. Debbie Roes says:

          Agreed, Sally! I can see that I’ve definitely gotten more picky over the years. I’m often horrified when I see some of what I bought in the past. Of course, styles do change (both what’s in fashion and what we personally like), but I also think I was too dazzled by price and a “good deal” in the past. That can still be a problem for me, but not as much as before, and I’m also a lot more willing to do returns now. I made a lot of bad secondhand purchases in the past, so maybe it’s good that I can’t really shop that way anymore.

        2. NATALIE K says:

          Debbie, I really messed up my wardrobe when I was younger by buying sale items. They were all excellent quality, classic items but it was a hodge podge of items. I decided they were too dressy for my everyday stay at home mom lifestyle so I knew I could wear them for church. I gathered slowly the items I needed to build solid outfits and wore them to church. Then I was careful to wear my style for my lifestyle at the time which was casual but going to many functions so nicer then casual for a great deal. Now my husband is retired early and I wear my sttyle which is Elegant casual and I’m very happy shopping for what is me!!!

        3. Debbie Roes says:

          It’s great that you’re wearing your dressier items to church, Natalie. There seem to be far fewer places where we dress up these days, but church is still a good one (although a lot of people now dress casually there, too). “Elegant casual” sounds like a great way of dressing. As you know, elegant is one of my style words, so I always like to find a way to incorporate a bit of elegance into all of my looks. It can be more challenging in the most casual circumstances, but I’m gradually finding a way to make it work.

  4. Jenn says:

    As always, thanks for sharing, Debbie. I admire your courage in making yourself vulnerable in this way, and I always find your posts helpful and inspiring.
    I call the tops that I can only wear under a topper “under-layers” and keep them separate from my other tops. This collection was amassed for reasons that include:
    • Unconscious buying with the thought, “if nothing else, I can wear it under something.”
    • Changes in my body. The softening of flesh. Bulges that weren’t there before.
    • Floral tops I used to like to wear alone and now find them “too much” without a jean jacket or other topper to lighten the femininity factor.
    • Perhaps other causes which I’ve failed to identify.

    The good news is that I’m no longer adding to these items by shopping unconsciously.

    I also store tops separately that I wear to exercise, around the house, or on walks in our neighborhood. And when an item no longer works for out-and-about but isn’t something I want to downgrade, I know it’s time for me to part with it.

    I hang my out-and-about tops and toppers separate from each other, sorted by color.

    Lately, I’ve been studying and, with a critical eye, “grading” my out-and-about outfits based on my Conditions of Satisfaction and Style Recipe phrases which I came up with (and have since tweaked a bit) from the class I took with Brenda Kinsel, shortly before she passed. My goal is to eliminate (and not buy) items that are not versatile or loved and eventually narrow my focus to the pieces that perform well and bring me joy.

    I’ve also figured out the number of items I need to take part in the activities of my ordinary days during a season. Those numbers help me see the areas where I may lack and where I have enough. (In some cases, more than enough.) That reassurance is also helping me to shop and not shop more consciously.

    I look forward to your next post.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I like the term “under-layers,” Jenn. Changes in my body is a big reason what that area of my wardrobe has grown, but also failing to create outfits within an item’s return window is another contributor. Sometimes we like an item by itself, but we don’t have good pairing pieces for it, or we don’t like the way it looks in the “big picture.” That’s something I need to be mindful of. Good for you for no longer shopping unconsciously and keeping the size of your under-layers collection at bay!

      I really wish I could have taken that Brenda Kinsel class, as it sounds like it was very helpful for you. I’m still sad when I think about her untimely passing. I think I can infer what “conditions of satisfaction” and “style recipes” are, though, and I can see how both would be extremely beneficial. I think I’ve come up with the former in my head, but it would probably do me well to actually write it down. As for the style recipes, is it kind of like a “uniform”? I’ve been pondering coming up with a few new ones, as I get bored wearing the same few over and over again.

      I love the idea of coming up with the number of items we need for our activities. I did something like that in earlier posts (about “normal-sized” or “ideal-sized” wardrobe), but it would be useful to revisit this concept. I know that I have more than I need for sure. One issue I have will be the topic of my next post, and I’m sure I’ll get some good comments on that one, too!

      1. Jenn says:

        I still have room for improvement in my conscious shopping, but I’m making progress.

        I wish you could have taken Brenda’s class also. Images of her show up on my Pinterest feed from time to time, which make me feel bittersweet. In class, she seemed so full of life and still had so much to live for.

        “Conditions of satisfaction” are pretty much deal breakers. My clothing and outfits must offer physical and emotional comfort, relatively easy care, must appear ageless—neither “youthful” nor “old” in style—and flattering in fit and complementary in color.

        My “Style Recipe” contains phrases which basically describe my personal style:
        • Soft, yet resilient
        • Refined simplicity
        • Streamlined (for me, this means not tight or oversized—body-skimming)
        • Whisper of whimsy

        Not all of these need to be represented in every outfit I wear, but at least three of them should be.

        Your post on calculating how many items we need is what got me started. I’ve experimented with my computations and am currently using three categories of outfits that I wear during an ordinary four weeks of my life. I’m always open to new ideas, though!

        1. Debbie Roes says:

          Thanks for coming back to share your “conditions of satisfaction” and “style recipe,” Jenn. Maybe I will write posts about these topics, as I think they’re both really important.

          I guess the style recipe is similar to the “style guideposts” concept, but it seems like it can be deeper and more detailed. I love the “whisper of whimsy” piece. “Streamlined” was a finalist for my style guideposts, but “polished” won out over it. It was very hard to choose just three words! I can see how having your conditions of satisfaction and style recipe would help to target your shopping and reduce mistakes.

          I’m glad my post on calculating how many items we need was helpful to you. I think I should revisit that issue, too! I know I keep asking you questions, but if you see this reply and want to comment on your three categories of outfits, I’m sure people would find it interesting and helpful. That’s another potential blog topic! See, I always get so many ideas from the wonderful readers who comment 🙂 I don’t get around to writing ALL of them, as I always have more ideas than I seem to have time and energy for, but there is so much great food for thought!

        2. Jenn says:

          I don’t mind answering questions, Debbie. My categories are: Athleisure wear–which I wear around the house, working out, and on walks. Then what I would call “grocery store” casual for the very casual out-and-about occasions and then Smart Casual, for when I want to take things up a notch.

        3. Debbie Roes says:

          These are good categories, Jenn. I think my categories are pretty much the same. Very rarely do I ever need anything more dressed up than smart casual. I think the category that’s the most challenging for me is the middle one. Sometimes I feel too dressed up for some of the occasions in my life. I would rather feel overdressed than underdressed, but I still think the “grocery store casual” category needs a little work.

  5. Jo says:

    Hi Debbie,
    Thank you for another thought-provoking post.
    I only have a few tops that REQUIRE a topper. For instance, I have some tweed Chanel-type jackets from Ann Taylor that require a sleeveless top as a first layer. The ones I reach for regularly are also from Ann Taylor and are called mixed media tops. These are tanks that have a woven fabric on the front and a knit fabric (like a T-shirt) on the back. From the front they look like silk tanks, but with much less maintenance! I would NEVER wear these tops on their own. Like you, I would feel too exposed. For the last few years I haven’t been happy with the way my upper arms look, so I avoid going sleeveless. I used to love cap sleeves, but now feel like they hit at the wrong part of my upper arms.

    Even though I live in Texas (where we typically have a streak of 100-degree days in the summer), I will generally wear short sleeves or 3/4-length sleeves. I have a collection of lightweight cotton voile shirts in various prints from Talbots. I button the front, roll up the sleeves and wear a lightweight cotton tank underneath. I feel like I look put-together without overheating!

    I generally find most of my stand-alone summer tops at Talbots, Ann Taylor and Anthropologie.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I know about those mixed-media tops, Jo, and I have a few, too. I’m okay with exposing my upper arms, but I also don’t like cap sleeves anymore. For some reason, I feel that fully sleeveless tops look better with my no longer so firm upper arms than those cap sleeves which seem to be so popular at the moment. Flutter sleeves are bad, too. Thanks for sharing your summer outfit formula! I think that’s something I will try because if it works in Texas, it will surely work where I am. I don’t have any of those types of tops. I have mostly knits in my wardrobe, as wovens are such a difficult fit for me (if I’m trying to have them be fitted), but I will check out the Talbots tops you mentioned. I will try to just buy ONE until I know the formula works for me. I will also check out the stores you mentioned for standalone tops. There is no longer a Talbots in the two malls I go to, but the other two stores are easily accessible.

  6. Maggie says:

    Hi Debbie, As always, I learn so much from your posts. Have you ever hung your tops that you only wear with toppers together with appropriate toppers? The only reason I ask is that I have a tank from Loft (bought at a thrift store) handing with a yellow dolman cardigan from Loft (also bought at thrift store at a different time) hanging together in my closet just to save a hanger. I haven ‘t worn them together yet but plan to do so in the near future to see how they work out when I am “out and about.” I find it hard to coordinate tops that need toppers separately so I either start with the topper and work backwards to the outfit or have a few toppers in different shapes and fabrics so I can adjust to the weather.

    1. NATALIE K says:

      Debbie,… I must say your closet organization doesn’t seem odd at all!!! To put a certain category of tops aside for a certain type of wear makes since especially if your trying to wear them more!! I will do this at times if I find I don’t wear something very much and make several outfits with it to wear the items more often. This really helps me wear my clothing more. I also organize my closet by item type and then by colors of items within the type and then I place prints(which are few) in the color section they belong to or all prints place together behind item types. For example, I put skirts together then light to dark by rainbow colors the printed skirts behind all skirts or color prints behind each color based on background of the print. This has made my life so much easier!!! But sometimes I’ll realize I’m not wearing some items and I’ll pull them out then make several outfit options with each garment then hang them all together to wear over a week or two!! This really helps me use what I have!! I hope this helps someone!!!

      1. Debbie Roes says:

        Thanks for sharing how you organize your closet, Natalie. I’ve tried a lot of different ways over the years. More recently, I’ve had SEPARATE sections for prints and solids, but I’ve been wondering if I should mix them in again like what you do. I will say, though, that putting the solids and prints separately alerted me to the fact that I have TOO MANY pieces in certain colors. I will be writing about that soon…

        I like your outfit creation idea and hanging the outfits together to wear soon. I haven’t don’t that before, but I did used to take pictures of outfits to wear. Maybe since I’ve been off of the pictures (due to being too self-critical), your idea might work better for me. I’m sure your suggestions will help other people, too.

    2. Debbie Roes says:

      I don’t usually hang my tops with toppers to wear with them, Maggie. I don’t tend to struggle so much with those combinations. My issue is more about when I CAN’T wear a topper. But one thing I used to do but don’t do much anymore was have outfit creation sessions in which I took pictures of new combinations. That always helped with creativity and eliminating boredom, but I stopped because I was too critical of pictures of myself. I could still do the same thing with either “flat photos” or an outfit app, though. I could definitely benefit form having toppers in different shapes and fabrics. I have SOME of that, but a bit more variety would be good. I have a tendency to find styles that I like and buy FAR too many of them, which can lead to boredom. Old habits can die hard, but the comments here are always good reminders for me.

      1. Maggie says:

        Hi Debbie, Thank you for sharing your thought process. (I don’t usually do outfit creation – I just get too OCD about it.)
        I guess that when I go out and am wearing short sleeves or a tank, I always plan on having a topper with me – even if it is a thin one.
        As always, I learn so much on your blog.



        1. Debbie Roes says:

          I get it about being OCD about outfit creation, Maggie! I would always come up with TOO MANY possibilities, which could get overwhelming. I almost always have a topper on hand when I’m wearing a short-sleeved top or tank, too, except on the hottest of days when I’m only out during the daytime hours. I won’t always wear that topper, but it’s good to have it with me. I just want to make sure that I don’t feel like I NEED to wear it for my emotional comfort and then end up sweltering in the heat!

        2. I am so so curious about the idea of outfit creation being overwhelming! (I love outfit creation and I guess I have a capacity for it where I don’t get overwhelmed.) Is it that you come up with so many different options but don’t know which ones will work? Or just too many good options? (If it’s too many good options, congratulations! You probably don’t need to buy anything for a while!) Outfit creation is how I figure out if something I’ve bought is actually going to work in my wardrobe, so I’m interested in how other people approach outfit creation (or don’t).

        3. Debbie Roes says:

          Maybe Maggie will answer this, too, but I’ll give my two cents on the overwhelming issue. For me, it’s a case of too many options. Instead of just creating maybe three outfits for each given piece, I would often come up with 10, 15, or more. Then I would never end up wearing most of the outfits I created. Of course, I don’t HAVE to do that, and I think I will stop at 5 outfits max for future outfit creation sessions. That would give me plenty of options with less overwhelm. I agree that outfit creation is a good way to find out if a new piece will work well with everything else. I try to do at least that level of outfit creation each time I buy something new, so I can return anything that won’t earn its keep. I already have a lot of clothes, so I don’t want to buy MORE pieces in order to make something new work for me.

  7. Murphy says:

    Thanks for this topic, Debbie. I have recently been experimenting with how to organize my tops. Tops are the heart of my wardrobe sine I wear pants almost all the time. A few years ago I decided that I wanted all my tops to be standalone ones, but I had kind of forgotten about it. After I read your post I went into my closet and looked: it turns out that I mostly accomplished this, which was good to see! As far as organizing, on one side of the top section I have the things I could wear for work or someplace dressier (like a nice restaurant). On the other end, I have things that I would not wear to work (so mostly things for home, errands, or walks).

    I’m still trying to figure out the right amount for each category. Now that we are hopefully getting to the end of this year’s cold weather, I am so sick of my non work tops! I think it’s because I don’t have enough of them and the ones I have are too similar to each other. So it’s a work in progress!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      That’s so great that you have almost all standalone tops now, Murphy! And I think it’s a great idea to have separate sections of your closet for work/dressy and casual (home, errands, walks), especially since you work full-time and need to dress up more for your job. Getting the right amount of each type of item right can be challenging! For so many years, I had far too many “out-and-about” items, but that is less so now since the pandemic. Of course, I probably still do have too many such pieces, but my closet proportions are much better now, fortunately. I can see how you would become bored of your non-work tops, but at least you’re tuned in to the issue now. I also have a tendency to purchase too many similar items, so I totally get it!

  8. GingerR says:

    It’s interesting to see how you’ve organized these things.

    All of my ‘always wear under something’ tops are knit tank tops. I had breast cancer and have issues with my chest, which is uneven from surgery, and emotionally I feel more confident when I have a tank plus another top on. It keeps necklines from revealing my reconstruction, and gives me a little more ‘protection’ from prying eyes — not that anyone has ever seemed to be prying.
    So I can relate to wearing a layer as an emotional covering. Since my focus is on my chest I’m less concerned with covering up other areas, and often wear short boxy tops with V-necklines over my can’t leave the house without it tank.
    If wearing a layer helps you get up and out of the house with confidence then I say go for it! Maybe you can work towards a lighter topper and be more comfortable physically while also being comfortable emotionally.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing your personal emotional comfort issues, Ginger. I’m glad you survived breast cancer, but I can imagine that there would be emotional issues around reconstruction. It’s good that you found a way to feel more emotionally comfortable in your tops, and it also sounds like you have your summer style formula pretty well figured out. I agree that we all need to do what helps us to feel more comfortable, both emotionally and physically.

      Good suggestion to have lighter toppers for the warmer days. I was thinking of maybe wearing a lightweight button-up top as a sort of “jacket.” I’ve never been one to wear linen much, but I’d be willing to give it a try (and cotton is also a good option).

      1. I love a lightweight button up top (cotton in my case but linen would also be fab) as a jacket over a sleeveless tank or short-sleeved T in summer. I agree that it works quite well in warm weather. I wear a short-sleeved or 3/4 length sleeve shirt…or a long-sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled up (that way I can use the LS shirts I use to layer under sweaters in cold seasons in warm seasons as well). Both my mom and I have had good luck with Lands End for this type of shirt and I do know they carry them in Tall (though I am an average height plus myself so haven’t tried them). If you decide to test drive this outfit formula, I’ll be curious how it works for you in terms of your style adjectives. For example, does it look polished enough? You may have to play with the styling a bit. My own style is more relaxed and color-driven so an open colorful print shirt over a tank top works very well for me. I will say that there can be a lot of difference in the fit and fabric stiffness of this type of shirt, and I don’t know what would work best for you. My mom likes the crisper no-iron type and I like the softer type.

        1. Debbie Roes says:

          Thanks so much for these tips, Sally. I have tried some of the clothes at Lands End, but I seem to be between sizes there, so fit can be tricky. Athleta carries a button-up top called the “Urbanite,” which could work for me. I bought one of those tanks (in black, of course), but they also have a long-sleeved version (and also a dress, which is interesting – haven’t seen it in person yet). They had a light purple version which would have worked great for me, but it’s sold out in most sizes. If you click on this link and then on the purple color, you’ll see an outfit that I would happily wear – the purple button-up top worn as a jacket over a black tank or tee and black pants: (that outfit would fit my style guideposts well, I think)

          I like that Athleta’s clothes usually have some stretch in them, as that makes a difference in terms of my comfort. I hope they come out with more colors in the long-sleeved Urbanite top, but I will also look at other stores, including Lands End. Your outfit formula sounds very nice.

  9. Katrina B says:

    Wow, this is me right now. Most of my tops are in category 2. After curating a collection of nice knit tops that were comfortable, fit well, and crossed over between work and not-work, I gained back the 20 pounds I lost a couple years ago. Now those tops are like sausage casings. I can wear them with a jacket or cardigan, but we’re hitting 100 next week and I won’t be wearing layers for several months. However I will not even consider purging the tops right now. Like the jeans I’m always going on about, it took me years to find the tops and it would be reckless to get rid of them knowing my weight fluctuates so much and so often.

    Currently I’m thinking hard about what I do want to wear this summer. It’s probably going to be dresses, because if I go for my usual skirts and cropped pants, I’ll be right back to the too-tight tops. But I haven’t quite gotten around to actually trying on the dresses, kind of procrastinating since I might have fit problems with some of them too.

    My closet is organized sort of like Murphy’s: out-and-about on one side, and house/errands on the other. Still grouped by garment type and then color – love to see those rainbows.

    Can’t wait to hear about your “aha moment”!

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I can definitely relate to what you shared here, Katrina. I had a hell of a time dealing with menopausal weight gain in terms of my wardrobe. I didn’t purge the things that didn’t fit me, at least not right away. I just put them somewhere else outside of my closet so that my closet only contained pieces that I could comfortably wear. I did end up purging a lot of things gradually over the next few years, but many of them eventually made their way back into my closet, which will hopefully happen for you, too.

      Since you still wear your Category 2 tops on cooler days, maybe the best approach is to put them in their own section during the hotter months. If you don’t have any “standalone tops,” maybe you could buy a few to wear while you’re working to drop the weight. That’s what I did back in 2017/2018, and I’m glad I did. I still wear some of those tops, even though I later lost some of the weight (I’m wearing one of those tops right now, as today was one of those unseasonably hot days I wrote about).

      I can see having a summer wardrobe that’s mostly comprised of dresses, so maybe that will work out for you. Maybe you don’t even need THAT many of them, either. Jenn wrote above about figuring out the occasions in her life and deciding how many outfits she needed for each. Perhaps you could decide how many dress outfits you’ll need and how many pants or skirts outfits you’ll need. If your pants/skirts still fit relatively well (I know everyone gains weight differently – for me, it’s the bottoms that usually present the biggest problem), buying a few looser-fitting could really help you to have some good outfits for the summer. Good luck to you! Dealing with 100 degree days is challenging for anyone and I don’t envy you for that.

  10. Maggie says:

    Hi Everyone,

    I really enjoyed reading the comments. We tend to be so hard on ourselves. I know I have “jiggly bits” that I have never had before and I am learning to accept that my body shape has changed somewhat. So, to fit the body that I have now, I have to decide what – if anything – that I have now will work for the summer. I am currently focusing on maybe 5 bottoms, 5-7 tops, and 3-5 toppers. Kind of a capsule just to make getting
    dressed easier and making those pieces easily accessible in my closet. I was always hard to fit off the rack before and I don’t expect that to change. If I am looking for certain styles or colors, the options get small and smaller.

    I am at the point in my life where I want some things to be as easy as possible to save time, effort, etc. I remember reading about an interior designer who told her clients that the tradeoff between time and money is exponential. You want to save time? Prepare to spend way more money and vice versa. I may decide just to call “Uncle” an just go into Target or Loft and buy 3 complete outfits for the summer which might include a dress or jumpsuit since they are in now.

    Sometimes, the best way to save time is just to spend 1 hour in a fitting room trying on a bunch of stuff, getting lunch and making a list on a napkin and going back to buy.

    As always, looking to learn more….

    1. Murphy says:

      I love your comment, Maggie! It’s a great idea to put what works front and center and then branch out from there.

    2. NATALIE K says:

      I find it so very interesting that your basically looking to dress from a Capsule Wardrobe!! You’ve come such a long way. Even buying tow or three outfits such as dresses and jumpsuits keeps you in a small Capsule Wardrobe!! You’ll have to let us know how this goes for you!!! Love to hear!!! I’m just not there yet!!!

    3. Debbie Roes says:

      I’ve enjoyed reading the comments, too, including yours, Maggie. I agree that we tend to be very hard on ourselves. I was just thinking that the other day when I went to the mall to return some online orders. I was thinking about how much I stress about the less-than-perfect fit of my pants, but I realized that I don’t intensely scrutinize the fit of other people’s clothing even one iota as much. If that’s true for me, I’m sure it’s true for others, and other people are not shaking their heads about the fact that I always seem to have a little bit of bagginess because my rear end is not as high and firm as it once was. If I’m not hiding that area, I think others are judging me for it, but I doubt that’s the case if I really think about it!

      I love your summer wardrobe capsule wardrobe concept! I can see how the numbers you mentioned would be enough. If you coordinate the colors well (which I’m sure you will), you could make quite a few outfits from those pieces. I may try to pull together such a capsule from my closet and dress with it for a while. It’s like when we pack to go on a trip and do just fine (usually) with only a fraction of our wardrobe. Part of that is that we choose only our favorites.

      I remember hearing on a podcast (Everyday Style) that we need to choose from among the characteristic of easy, cheap, and good. The idea was that we can only have TWO of the three. It’s similar to what you wrote about the tradeoff between time and money, but “good” is thrown into the mix, too. Yes, spending a relatively short time in a fitting room trying on a bunch of stuff can be extremely helpful, especially if we go into the experience with a clear concept of what we need. Please report back on how it all goes for you if you do decide to call “Uncle.” Best wishes!

  11. Maggie says:

    Hi Debbie, I reread your post and wanted to ask a question which you are free to disregard. It seems to me that you have enough tops in category one to suit your needs and wear alone or with a topper. Is there a reason you keep so many tops from category two hanging in your closet? I can see keeping several favorites to see if you want to work them into your outfits but I just wondered why you keep all of them so visible. I tend to take things that are too “snug” and move them into a “holding area” in my main closet. If they are still too snug after a month, I move them into another close. After a year, I reassess.

    I just wonder if other readers use a “holding area”.

    Best Regards,.

    1. Maggie says:

      FYI to all. I did go through all of my jeans and other woven pants a month or two ago and replaced them with a new pair of jeans that fit in 3 washes – light, medium, and dark. I do have a stretchy pair of jeans in olive denim that still fit but the day is coming very soon when they won’t!.

      1. Debbie Roes says:

        Great idea, Maggie! That very likely may be all of the jeans you need. It’s so hard for me to get rid of jeans and pants since good-fitting ones are so hard to find. But I think I need to face the fact that some of them will never fit me well and/or be comfortable. Your olive jeans sound like a part of dark wash jeans that I finally decided to pass on (for a different reason). They were always a bit too short and it always bothered me, so bye bye!

    2. Debbie Roes says:

      Good question, Maggie. I don’t want to keep so many Category 2 tops in my closet, but I do want to keep the ones that will work for me moving forward. Separating them out alerts me to try to create workable outfits with them. I should know relatively soon which ones will work and which ones won’t. I usually don’t get rid of things right away unless I’m completely sure. My process is similar to yours… I typically put things in my holding zone box and revisit that box a couple of times per year, at which point some pieces come back into rotation and some get passed on. I just did that process recently, in fact. I plan to write another “what I got rid of and why” post soon.

      The category 2 tops are mostly not too snug, but some of them are too short. I may try to see if I can wear those with skirts instead of pants, or maybe with different pants than I’ve tried to wear with them. But the proportions may just be off for me. I mostly haven’t tried too hard to make these tops work because if I tried one on with an outfit and didn’t like the end result, I wore something else instead. Then I forgot about the top for sometimes a long while. Now that they’re separated out, I’m forcing myself to address them, which I feel will lead to the number going down (and I hopefully will be pleasantly surprised to create some good outfits with them). As I mentioned to Natalie above, if I still really like a top but only with a topper, I will keep it, but I know that won’t be all 17, not by a longshot.

      1. Maggie says:

        Hi Debbie, Thank you for sharing! It gave me a lot of food for thought. You could consider posting one picture of a category 2 top with a bottom and let your readers take a look and make suggestions which you are free to ignore. If you don’t feel comfortable being in the picture, you could always make a “scarecrow” and just lay the outfit on a sheet or floor. ( It just occurred to me that you could always get a mannequin for pictures but that is my tendency toward perfectionism talking.)

        Again, thank you so much for your blog. I love reading about fashion/clothing/styling issues and it seems like there are fewer fashion magazines than ever for me to use as a visual guide.


        1. Maggie says:

          Hi Debbie, I have been reevaluating my workout tops/hiking/walking tops. I too would like to have more “crossover tops.” I have a tank and a muscle tee which are both from Athleta. (They are both a little snug but they are from at least 7 years ago so that is not unrealistic I suppose.) They don’t really look worn so I may go into Athleta and just get one top to substitute for the other two and see how it goes. I will keep you posted…

        2. NATALIE K says:

          Debbie, I’m in a group where you post pictures and people can tell you if your outfit looks good on you and give you suggestions!! Do you think I post…NEVER!! and I never will!! Too upsetting and nerve racking !! Plus the truth be known I can evaluate my clothing very well myself!! It just happens to be a “benefit ” of a peogram!!

        3. Debbie Roes says:

          I wouldn’t want to post my outfits in such a group, either, Maggie. I find it easier to just ask one or two people, as the feedback from a group can be so variable and overwhelming. Ultimately, we need to wear what WE like, regardless of what anyone else says about it. I can usually figure out what changes to make to be happier with my outfits, but occasionally I like to get feedback from someone else.

        4. Debbie Roes says:

          Good for you for evaluating your athletic tops, Maggie. I love Athleta clothing, and they have a lot of great top styles. Their sizing can be quite variable, so it’s a good idea to go into a store and try things on. When I order online, I tend to return a lot (there and everywhere). Best of luck to you with your search for more crossover tops! Yes, let us know what you find and where.

        5. Maggie says:

          Hi Debbie, I have been thinking…There are ways to visually extend too short tops through layering but tees are usually the base layer. If the tops hit at an undesirable length, you could always shorten or crop them, add a ruffle or trim, add an elastic band or drawstring at the bottom to turn them into a blouson and adjust it to the desired length. Also, there is the option of layering them over a dress…

          It might just be easier to actually switch out the bottoms or get new ones which work with the shorter tops. Maybe hang those bottoms with those tops in your closet?

          I suppose I might just go with how I feel when I look at the tops to decide how much time and emotional energy I want to spend making them work.

          Looking forward to you sharing your aha moment.


        6. NATALIE K says:

          IDebbie, Those are some great ideas to extend the tops but I would only to that to the tops I really love!! Otherwise your better off just getting new ones!! But if you have one you love add the ruffle and extend their life!!! Such great ideas here!!! If we put our heads together I bet we could solve all our wardrobe problems!!! Seriously!!!!

        7. Debbie Roes says:

          You have a lot of great ideas, Maggie. I have definitely used some of them over the years, especially shortening tops. Extending length can be trickier to do, so I appreciate your insights there. I’m gradually trying the category 2 tops with various bottoms to see if I can make them work in a way that makes me happy, but I’ve already decided to pass a few of them on. I agree with Natalie that it’s really only worth it to try to “rescue” tops (or any garments) that we really like. Otherwise, it can be throwing good money (or time) after bad. I’ve done that far too often, so I’m trying to get better about alterations, especially since I don’t do them myself and have to pay for them.

        8. Debbie Roes says:

          A mannequin would be great, Maggie! Maybe I will get one at some point. I’ve done the “flat lay” outfit creation a few times, but I usually just try things on now without taking photos. I usually remember what will work, but it was better when I did the outfit photos. I think that using some sort of outfit app would serve me well, but I haven’t gotten around to doing it yet. I’m so glad you like my blog! I miss the magazines, too. Yes, there are lots of online fashion and style resources, but I used to always love curling up with a good fashion magazine and losing myself in it for an hour of so.

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