Curated Closet

I’ve written before about how I would follow whatever trends were popular at the time – whether for fashion in general, or what the rest of the campus was wearing. The idea of a capsule wardrobe wasn’t at all on my radar in the early 2010s, and shopping was as much a hobby as a bonding activity, so my frequent clothing shopping would not have been something I would have questioned at the time. A decade later, I was learning about capsule wardrobes – but those, too, felt more aspiration-oriented than instructional, especially with the flat-lays on Instagram showing clothing and accessories that were not already in my closet nor within my budget.

Last year – 2021 – was the first time I really paid attention to the idea of a curated closet, as opposed to buying a string of trendy statement pieces and hoping for the best. In particular, the closing sale of Le Château – and the fact that I tracked it from the announcement in October 2020 to the actual closing around April 2021 – made it so I was looking at everything that was listed on the website for weeks at a time before making any purchases. I had already been thinking about doing a No Buy (in the flimsiest of ways), but there were also items that I didn’t have in my closet – like pant suits and blouses – that were plentiful on the website. I held off on making any purchases for a few months, mostly because I wanted the deeper discounts, but in part to not deal with the headache of purchasing clothing that fit the wrong way and then not being able to return it (this would have been around the same time that non-essential shopping was not allowed and malls were closed as a result).

The benefit of waiting out the cycle of sales (some sales were buy X number of items, get an additional percentage off – others were these specific categories are a deeper discount) was doing the math to figure out just how much I would save and that I was building the habit of waiting it out rather than leaning into an impulse purchase. On top of that, with the additional time, I was thinking about what I already owned (and actually wore) and what I could reasonably add to the rotation. This was one of the first times that I thought about what I was adding to my wardrobe in context to the rest of what I wore (or at least that season), rather than just buying because I thought it was cute and the discount was an impressive percent. I still bought a larger quantity over that half-year period than I would in one sitting, but it was items that all went together or were for specific events – such as a pant suit set and 1-2 tops that matched the colours in the tartan pattern, or a clutch that matched both something I already owned and an evening gown I was buying.

In comparison, my long-term habit of shopping was “if it looks good on me, I’ll buy it.” While still living in Montreal, it was a lot easier to spend the afternoon shopping, in person, which meant that I was seeing what the store wanted me to see rather than being able to look through items online with filters. I’m fortunate that I lived in a city that had a wide variety of options for clothing and that 90% of what I tried on would fit me (the biggest issue being pants were too short), but in trying everything on, I would form attachments to whatever fit well enough – I start with feeling the fabric (usually some poly-blend), then imagining events and outings that I’ll wear the item while trying it on, then end with walking out with a massive bag of fast fashion for under $100. When I moved for work, much of my online shopping would be done while heading to bed, aiming to have a “quick look,” but sometimes spending up to three hours hours finding a way to meet a shipping minimum – or trying to find every variation of an item.

By shopping as a hobby or for the thrill of the deal, I ended up with a wardrobe of hardly any basics – whether they were statement pieces or short-lived trends – which made it harder for me to feel inspired to put something together when I was overwhelmed by everything looking back at me from my closet. That isn’t to say that I would wear a neon yellow sequin skirt with an ostrich feather halter top for my Monday morning meetings, but when you only have patterns to work with, it can still be headache-inducing. Now, however, I lean into the fact that I have a handful of colours that I like to wear (navy blue, burgundy, forest green), some patterns and prints (stripes, tartan, floral, houndstooth), and I generally stick to the three-colour rule when planning an outfit. I also don’t feel like I need to buy as much when I know that my combinations are basically endless, especially if I’m being more thoughtful about trying out different outfit ideas.

If I could impart any advice for someone who is in a similar situation, I’d say what worked best for me was assessing the following:
1) See what you like the most in what you already own – whether that’s colours, patterns, prints, cuts, or fabric. This is less to do with brands you like, and more what you like on your body.
2) When considering what you feel is missing, think about what’s influencing that: are you being swayed by what you’re seeing in advertisements or posts/videos online (more of an impulse, maybe), or is this a general item (a suit, a clutch, a pair of block heels) that you can use for something coming up (work on Monday, an experience/outing, a specific event) that can also be useful for future wears because it goes with other stuff in your closet?
3) Do I have something similar enough to it already? For example, I have three accordion midi skirts, in three different colours: one is green with white polka dots, one is black pleather, and the navy blue one from this month’s capsule is plain. While I love the way that midi accordion skirts look, I would need to find something completely different to warrant considering buying another one.
4) What else does the rest of this work with? While some items are event specific (like Halloween costumes), I try to think about what else this item will work with for what I already own. If the item already “passes” point 3, I want to consider why I might not have this item already (price, wasn’t in fashion, didn’t know it existed), and whether it will go well enough with the rest of what I wear. I struggle the most with this point for shoes/heels since you can argue that most shoes can fit with the rest of what you’re wearing if you just have confidence, which is how I’ve ended up with two pairs of heels that are the same colour but different shoe styles.
5) Lastly, I genuinely have to ask myself: do I like this as art or do I like this as clothing? I like to think that I appreciate fashion as an art form, but that doesn’t mean that I need to wear the art (at least, not all the time). I like to believe that clothing is about having your body covered enough for the temperature, art is to be observed, and fashion is the middle point between the two. Perhaps this is not as common an issue for others, I don’t know, but I definitely have bought items because they look nice but were virtually unwearable.

Hopefully this can be helpful to you, too, if you are looking for ways to slow down on your shopping, make the most of what you already have, or check in on yourself before buying something you might need 🙂