My personal style has shifted a lot over the past 4 years. I use that time frame specifically, because it’s when I stopped working as a teacher. By extension, my closet of clothes has also gradually changed, and I thought it would be fun to take a look back and compare my closet then and now.
My Closet, Four Years Ago
Being in a professional environment every day with a dress code, meant a couple of things for my closet. First, more was more. I saw 150 kids every day, and the more outfit combinations the better. They (those sweet high school girls) would comment on what I wore, and it was this fun, creative aspect of working. Second, I couldn’t just make up my own rules. Jeans were only allowed on occasional “spirit days,” and modesty was a huge issue at my school (skirts below the knee, no sleeveless tops, etc…), so my closet had this big split between Monday-Friday clothes and weekend wear. I had to cover a lot of bases.
Spring 2013. Style Notes: Full of loud color + grey t-shirts. Definite keepers? The chambray shirt, navy sweater, + cream sweater….probably the things you don’t even notice in this jumble. Also those cute polka dot pajamas.
Every piece had been bought with hard-earned money. In college, I would save up any extra cash from waitressing to buy something (anything!) from the J.Crew sale section. Once I started teaching on a small salary, I would rifle through the Anthro sale section and use gift money to buy as many pieces as I could. Getting rid of anything was hard, because I could quickly recall the price and more importantly, how hard I had worked for that money.
Winter 2014. Notes: A quieter palette, as I started donating some outliers. The red really sticks out. Several pieces are loungewear from Anthro and Madewell, because they were cheaper than the actual clothes.
Here’s the thing about sale sections. While there are certainly gems to be had, many sale pieces are basically the reject pile of the store. I didn’t know how to have a critical eye, because I wanted the quick gratification of something new to wear and the bottom line price mattered a lot. I needed the $19.99 tag. (Maybe instead of sale section, for you it’s the Target clothing section?) I hadn’t learned to value quality over quantity. So, if you look at my closet above, you’ll see there’s no color off limit – purple, green, orange, red, and plaid! If something didn’t fit well, I still wore it. There were a lot of competing trends from different seasons that couldn’t mix + match easily. I was the girl who could stand in front of a full closet and feel like she has nothing to wear.
My Closet, Today
So… How did my closet gradually morph into a collection that I love to wear, with simple outfit formulas for everyday life?
To start, I had a mindset shift to prioritizing a closet that represented my style, rather than a shopping bag in my hand. I repeatedly downsized my closet to get rid of the experimental + super professional clothes that were just taking up space. I donated or sold them using ThredUP. Even though it was hard to do at first, this created a positive feedback loop. As my closet shrank, it began to have a majority of clothes I loved to wear and use often. It became more obvious with each donation which clothes had to go. They just didn’t fit in.
The clothes I felt most “me” in also became obvious, and I began to learn my favorite colors and the styles that felt and looked right on my body. I also noticed the stores whose items I cherished versus the brands that never lasted more than one season before going in the donate pile. I was home during the day, so I could take time to study my wardrobe and analyze what worked, what didn’t, and why. I switched from spending my time shopping in stores to spending energy looking at the clothes I already owned and making them fit together like a puzzle.
I also went through two more pregnancies during these 4 years. Being forced to constantly outgrow, stretch out, reassess, and shrink back into clothes will give you some motivation to make your closet functional again.
Spring 2016. Notes: A pretty range of colors for spring. I donated the Tucker silk top + plaid tank once I lost the baby weight. On my shopping list? New jeans and a few tank tops.
I started collecting some pictures of styles I gravitated towards on a style Pinterest board that I still use today. (As you keep scrolling down, you can see my style changing over the years.) It helped to see a visual of outfits put together AND to recognize if there were gaps in my closet I wanted to fill over time. If I had to name my style, I’d say I’m shooting for French girl style with a sporty American spin.
Notes: Black, cream, denim, navy; Mostly jeans + tops or dresses; Mostly solids; Air dried hair + simple makeup.
Now when I’m shopping, I have three reference points (a.) the photos on my Pinterest board, (b.) my closet full of favorites, and (c.) a short list of 3-4 things I’d like to add to my closet to be able to make some of my favorite outfits. If a new piece doesn’t gel with those three things, it’s not going to be used. I’ve zeroed in on 2-3 favorite brands, and probably 99% of my closet is from these stores. Ideally, I don’t want any pieces lurking in the back of my closet unused.
Finally, here’s my closet today…
Fall 2016. Notes: The color range is really in line with my Pinterest board now. It’s quiet, with minimal pattern. I moved the darker colors toward the front, since I tend to grab them more in the fall and winter (whites are in the front for summer). I no longer have a bunch of clothes that I store away, but I will move some summer clothes, like shorts, into a bin under our bed.
What I’ve Learned
If your entire wardrobe is cohesive, it makes dressing and shopping much, much simpler. Before I had “costumes” that changed from day to day, and I bought mainly random sale pieces. If you had looked in my closet it was a mishmash of styles, trends, and colors. Now I know my style, and my wardrobe is like a collection that fits together. The muted colors can easily layer and mix together. It’s not about trends, it is just what I prefer to wear.
Think about your favorite store. They design a seasonal collection to coordinate for lookbooks based on some underlying inspiration the designers focus on. When you walk into the store, everything sort of flows together, and the colors make it easy to pull outfits together, like on the mannequins. If you want to build your personal style, think of your closet like a mini-store and go from there.
Simple Action Steps:
- What is your inspiration? (For me, I love French girl style with a sporty twist. Maybe you like artsy, boho style or clean, preppy or retro feminine, etc…)
- What colors do you love to wear? (Pick 3-5)
- What do you hate to wear? (For me, I never feel comfortable in skirts. I rarely buy dry-clean only.)
- Start a Pinterest board for outfit ideas. (Focus on outfits you would actually wear on a Tuesday or Saturday vs. your someday trip to Italy.)