Maybe it’s the upcoming school year. Maybe it’s the change of season. Maybe it’s confirmation bias. Of late, my Feedly has been filled with more articles than usual about wardrobe clearing, often illustrated with photos of Carrie Bradshaw pondering the content of her walk-in closet.
With my impending move to a new flat the floor below mine, last weekend I set to rationalise my closet, which comprises of: two chests of drawers (one for underwear, one for trousers and capes), four under-the-bed drawers (for jumpers, sportswear, pyjamas and handbags), one wardrobe (for dresses, skirts, hanging tops, folded shirts, t-shirts, scarves and stripes), an in-wall closet (for coats, jackets, hats and two boxes of out-of-season clothes) and a set of apparent shelves (for shoe boxes). I don’t have a walk-in closet; I have a walk-in bedroom filled with clothes.
I wasn’t just motivated by the prospect of moving. After five years working in the fashion industry, and 18 months writing about foreign policy on the side, I am going through a phase of fashion ambivalence. Maybe Leo should have said: ”There are three things in the world you never want to let people see how you make ‘em: fashion, laws and sausages.” (The West Wing 1x04 “Five votes down”). Last month, slightly sickened by the contrast between tweets on Gaza and tweets on seasonal trends, I purged my Twitter feed of most fashion-focused accounts.
My ultimate aim, by clearing my closet, was to make space. Not space I can fill with new items, as is often the drive behind a closet clear out in fashion magazines. Not even space so that I can spend less time in the morning deciding what to wear. I plan my outfits for the week ahead every Sunday, a routine that takes no more than 15 minutes and means I always know what to wear. I want to create space because creating space to think, creating space to act has of late been a mantra of mine. I wanted my wardrobe clearing to be the equivalent of my 30-minute lunchtime meditation session in Saint Faith’s chapel at Westminster Abbey: something that would help me stand still.
That’s for the intention. The reality has been somewhat different, as I have only managed to fill two large black The Kooples canvas bags with unwanted clothes and shoes, and flogged a few items on eBay.
Considering all the writing available on the topic, clearly I’m not the only one struggling. Wardrobe clearing (or detoxing, or rehab, depending how hip and conceptual you want to make it) is a burgeoning business with companies like Wardrobe Mistress (UK, starts at £595), The Organized Move (Southern California) and Clos-ette (USA) offering it as part of their services. It’s not just for busy-ness, practical or can’t-be-bothered reasons. Strangers have no emotional attachment to your clothes, nor are they under any misconception that you might just wear it, one day.
My dresses are particular culprits when it comes to the “I might wear it one day” illusion. Yes, I own a few that still have their labels on. Back in November 2012, I wrote about these dresses as “concept clothes”, items “generally bought in the sales, because I either think I look hot in them, have been lusting after them all season long or think they would be perfect for a cocktail party or a date, never mind I never go to either.”
Had I stuck with the intention for my wardrobe clearing, I should have gotten rid of these. Piled them high on my bed, folded them and filled another (couple of) those large black The Kooples canvas bags with them. But I couldn’t. They’re just too pretty, too exciting, too promising (although of what?). More importantly, looking at them makes me happy. As a middle ground, I swore I would wear them in the next few weeks. But then August decided to pretend it was October, and since the concept dress is never warm, that didn’t happen either. I could probably wear them under my latest concept coat: an oversized, laser-cut olive leather lace number I promised myself I would buy when I first saw it on the runway. I eventually purchased it last month for a fraction of its original price. Because I am so worried about damaging it, it remains in my credenza at work - as I don’t want to carry it home when there’s even the slightest chance it might get rained on. When it eventually gets home, I am thinking of hanging it in my bedroom so it can be admired every day. It’s not a coat, it’s art.
The “if you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it” rule features in pretty much every single wardrobe clearing article. Other recurrent themes include sorting your clothes by type, then by colour and making sure that you can see everything. Inspecting my wardrobe recently, a friend was surprised by how organised it is. I have my mother to thank for that, as she always classified our clothes by type and taught us to iron. Well-ironed clothes fold better and are easier to sort than not ironed ones, fact. Ironing is a great time investment when it comes to your wardrobe. It’s also a great thing to do while binge-watching Netflix or box sets and, if you’re anything like me, takes out some of the guilt of spending time Just Watching TV.
Another favourite wardrobe cleaning advice is to only keep clothes that fit you, not just body-wise but also lifestyle-wise. As my body hasn’t changed in 10 years, this isn’t one that helps me chuck out clothes. In fact, when I go back home, I still wear some of the t-shirts I bought age 15. I have been working in the same place for over four years now and I think my colleagues might get worried if they saw me going a full month without stripes. And yes, since this is fashion, I have even worn some of the concept dresses to the office, when I needed to self-justify not giving them away.
Most of my concept dresses come from MAJE, which brings me to the last recurrent advice I have noticed about clearing your wardrobe: only keep items of clothing you can match with others you own. No point owning a great silk shirt if you have no bottoms with to wear with it. I solved that problem a while back by only shopping at a few brands, which is why my wardrobe is exclusively made up of Burberry, Kookai, The Kooples, MAJE, Petit Bateau, Des Petits Hauts, Sandro and Zadig et Voltaire. I know they’ll always fit together, likely because the same team always designs them. Even though inspiration and fabrics change season to season, they stick to the spirit of what made their brand popular and as such, it makes their clothes easy to mix and match.
This isn’t an article however about how I couldn’t clear my wardrobe because it’s already perfect as it is. I am proud of my wardrobe. In fact, when I think about whether or not me, aged 10 to 15, would have been happy of what it is like, my measure of success in all domains, I am sure I would be blown away by the wardrobe I have put together, in absolute modesty of course.
Going through my wardrobe, trying to apply the clearing out advice found online, made me realise how much I love the clothes I have. It also made me realise I take issue with these type of articles because of the consumerism they exemplify.
If you believe The Devil Wears Prada, Anna Wintour archives and reorders the content of her closet every season. But Anna Wintour has a duty to the business model she represents to show that clothes should be renewed everything six months (or less, if you count pre-collections). That goes through the editorials and articles in Vogue as well as her own public appearances. You and I? Not so much. Buying trends, datable, obvious trends is what creates the clear out need as their shelf life is short and they will have to go to make space for the next ones.
My other issue with the concept of a wardrobe clear out is that it presupposes discontent with its content. But if you know who you are and what your style is, if you have decided on what image you want your clothes to project, and if you’re not buying compulsively, is there any need to clear, beyond the ill-fitting, the stained and the broken? Hand on my heart, I can say I know every single item in my wardrobe right now, and love every single one of them. So they all stay.