Defining style: the transition period

posted on: August 22, 2012

Illustration by me – click to see a larger version

I’m so glad you all seem to like my Defining style series! A lot of you have already done the previous steps, and linked to your results in my comments. I must say you’re doing an excellent job. Hopefully you’re all beginning to get a better sense of who you are, style-wise. So far, though, things have been mostly theoretical. It’s time to get real.

What do you feel when you look into your wardrobe every morning? Are you mostly pleased with what you see? Do you look forwards to getting dressed? Do the items in it suit you well, in terms of shape, colour and style? Is it easy to put together a complete outfit? Is it tidy and inviting? Or perhaps even inspiring? And, if you’ve done the mood boards from my previous posts, does your wardrobe reflect them? For me, the answer was no.

It’s a bit shocking, I know; I’m a fashion consultant, after all, and I spend very much of my time thinking about clothes, style and fashion. And yet my wardrobe wasn’t really functional at all. There were several reasons for this, I think. During the last two years I’d moved to a different city, and gotten a new life and a new job. I’d been dumped. I lost weight, then gained a lot. I became depressed, for a whole number of reasons, and with that came a whole mountain of insecurities and anxieties. I didn’t really know who I wanted to be any more, which was almost a first for me. Clothes and style says a lot about a person, and as I was rather without direction, my wardrobe was the same.

A few weeks ago I looked in my closet, completely fed up with the state of things. I couldn’t “snap out of it” and stop being sick just because I wanted to, but I could do something about my wardrobe. So I took absolutely everything out of the closet and piled it on the couch and coffee table. You know, ever since I moved to Oslo, I’d thought of myself as a girl who didn’t really have a lot of clothes. That was true when I’d just moved, but now, two years later? Boy, was I delusional. Watching it all laid out like that, the amount of clothes I had accumulated was straight out shocking, like a bucket of freezing water over my head.

The other day one of my students described my manner of teaching as kind, but strict (thank you, darling!). I think those two personality traits were equally important in my closet revolution. I looked at everything, and before I was allowed to put anything back into the closet, it had to pass a series of tests. Do I love this? Does it fit me? Is it flattering? Does it make me feel good? Am I excited to put this on? Do I wear it reasonably often? Only if all the answers were yes, was the garment approved.

As you might expect, a lot of clothes didn’t pass the test. Things were too small, worn beyond repair, the wrong shape, the wrong style, or just… not right. Into a garbage bag they all went – not to be thrown away or donated, mind, but to be stored in our attic for an unknown period of time. It is very easy, isn’t it, to feel attached to clothing. You might know that a dress isn’t perfect for you, yet somehow it is almost impossible to let it go. Because I knew I wasn’t actually getting rid of anything, I felt a lot more free to pack things away; if I missed it terribly, I could just climb up and find it. In the end, I put away a full garbage bag of clothes, about two thirds of everything I had in my closet.

Since then, my wardrobe and I have a much better relationship. I know that everything in there fits me, is ready to be worn and makes me feel good. The emptiness feels like an improvement, not like something is missing. There are things I’m missing, of course, like a waist-length cardigan or two, and the perfect pair of black trousers. The important thing is that I can’t find these items in the attic, because I never owned them. Getting rid of all the extra, merely adequate items made me see oh-so-clearly what I actually want and need.

The things in the attic can stay there for a few months more, I think. The important thing was getting them out of my closet, out of circulation. Truly, I can’t think of anything there that I’ve missed. In fact, I can hardly remember most of the items. Any new purchase is now carefully considered. It has to fit perfectly, be the right size, colour and material, and it has to make me feel good. Not to mention: it has to work with my style mood boards.

This isn’t a fast process, of course. There are some items that aren’t the way I want them. I do, for instance, possess a couple of “lazy pants” (they aren’t straight-out sweatpants, but almost) that I wear pretty much all the time I’m at home. I’m on the lookout for pants that are just as comfortable, but also look great and can be worn in public as well. Finding such pants is no easy feat (I might just have to make them myself), but I’m in no rush. I didn’t pack away things that I truly depend on, even if they aren’t perfect style-wise. I’m just not the kind of person who will sacrifice a reasonable amount of comfort just for a principle, and I have no problem admitting that.

My wardrobe isn’t perfect. Yet. I honestly don’t know it will ever feel completely perfect. That’s alright, though. The important thing is that it now functions properly, and I’m constantly improving it. When working on defining your style, a transition period is pretty much unavoidable. Hardly anyone has enough money to get rid of everything they own and just buy new stuff. Really, I don’t think this is a good solution even if you can afford it. Time, and the understanding it gives, is vital when it comes to building a great wardrobe. Which is precisely why I’m so pleased with my method: it allows for time, it doesn’t involve the kind of purging where you get rid of things permanently, and it can hopefully provide some insight to how your style works in practical terms.

Want to give it a go? No permanent harm will be done, you know! It will be wise to set aside some hours for this, though, so you don’t get stressed halfway through and panic. Here are the rules:

1. Take everything out of your closet. Look at it en mass, as a whole. What does it say about you, about your style? The point isn’t to be judgemental or think badly about yourself, but simply to realize some facts you might not have seen before.

2. Scrutinize every single item individually. Do you love it? Do you wear it often (“often” being relative, as a pair of pants will usually be worn more frequently than an evening gown)? Does it fit? Does it make you look good? Does it make you feel good? Does it fit in with your personal style, and your lifestyle? If no, put it in a box or bag. There should be no in-betweens, each item is either a yes or a no.

3. Gather all the nos, and put them somewhere out of sight. If you need to store it in your closet due to space issues, make sure to tie some string or tape around it so you can’t just reach in every time you’re tempted.

4. All the yeses go back in your wardrobe. Preferably clean and nicely folded/hung.

5. Over the next couple of weeks, pay attention. Is it easier to get dressed? Do you lack any specific item(s)? Did you pack away anything and later realize you truly needed it (and if so, for what reasons did you pack it away)?. During this time, you’re allowed to purchase new items only if they have been carefully considered, fill a gap in your wardrobe and help express your tastes and style. If you’re a compulsive shopper, a couple of weeks with a total shopping ban might be a good idea, but it’s not a must.

6. After a not-so-short amount of time (I’d say at least a month), you’re allowed to look at your nos again. Try to remember why you packed them away, and if you truly need them any more. If not, the time has come to get rid of the things for real.

We all know the saying “kill your darlings”. This process isn’t quite as brutal, but the result should be just as good – it just takes a bit more time. As Cindy so brilliantly put it when I told her about this post:

You don’t have to kill your darlings. Just let them sleep for a while.

Chances are, by the time they wake up, you’re ready to wave them goodbye with a smile.

  • Ingvild

    This was a very helpful post! I have a wardrobe packed with clothes and (I guess) almost half of them is just things I’ve had since…a long time ago, and I can’t think of throwing them away, BUT I NEVER USE IT!!! :O Maybe one or two days each year, though never in public. Isn’t that crazy?! I do this clothes-cleaning-up every once in a while, nevertheless, it seems like my closet doesn’t really change … Weird.

    But this was awesome, I’ll give it a try! You have a very nice and inspiring blog, I get sooo many ideas to makeup and clothes when I’m in here :) xoxo

    • Maria

      Hi Ingvild! Sounds like you and I used to have the same problem. For me, the solution seems to be to pay more attention. Figuring out what kind of clothes I constantly come back to, and which cuts/colours/patterns/items I really _want_ to wear, but just never do… that helped a lot. After that, the only thing I found worked, was to do a rather brutal round of cleaning out my closet. So far, it’s been solely positive :D

      I’d love to hear how things worked out for you! And thank you for your sweet words, they mean a lot.

  • Maja H

    I love how honest you are, really, I do. I know for a pact that this post will be reassuring for a lot of readers! I have done the wardrobe quarantine myself a few times over the years, and it is always a success. The very few times I have gone into the basement to get something back out of storage I have actually ended up putting it away again shortly after, because honestly, I only missed it because of the feelings that were attached to the garment – not because it was actually a very good garment.

    I can’t wait to see what your wardrobe looks like once you’re satisfied with it. And hey, if it’s not too much trouble, I would love to see a snapshot of what your closet looks like right now in it’s freshly weeded state :)

    • Maria

      Well, you know, after writing the post about the Diva Cup, honesty and awkward details aren’t a problem anymore :p

      Pictures of my wardrobe are in the next post!

  • Annette

    Phew, I need to do this! I do something similar every time I take winter and summer clothes out from storage or put them there – ‘should this still be saved?’ – but I often hang on to clothes because they are pretty or used to be pretty, hah. Especially the items that stay out all year! Better get cracking, I guess!

    • Maria

      I do have some items that are very pretty/kinda rare, making it harder to part with them. My new way of thinking is that these gorgeous clothes ought to be worn, and if I just keep them tucked in my closet for days and days, it’s really a waste of beautiful things. And we wouldn’t want that, right? So I give things away, to Cookie or friends if possible, or to Fretex/charity shops. Hopefully somebody else will cherish them as much as me – but also wear them!

  • Ida

    I love this post! I know I need to throw out at least a few items from my wardrobe, but I keep postponing it so I can wear them once or twice more to make me feel less guilty about it all… (They were paid for by my mum when I still didn’t have to pay for things myself).

    PS Found these trousers at Weekday, and while they look…. awful in the picture, they actually look quite classy on paired with a nice blouse, a skinny waist belt and some bling. The most comfortable thing ever!

    • Maria

      Thank you! Clothing-guilt is SO common (I have it, too), and SO not useful, really. This especially applies to clothes given to us or passed on somehow. Still, I don’t think anyone wants us to hang on to things just because of guilt. I know I wouldn’t want that for the people I care about :)

      And those trousers look fantastically comfortable, but also stylish. A rare combination, congratulations!

  • Siv

    Wonderful post! Having a closet that contains only clothes you love really has a lot to do with how you feel on a daily basis! I need to sort out my own closet very soon!

    • Maria

      I agree, a lovely, functional closet is very underrated nowadays. Hopefully this post can inspire you to start working on yours :)

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  • Clara

    Dear Maria,

    thank you for this post. Wardrobe-updating really help you feel more at the right place, and I have been successfully doing it for about a year now. I am very satisfied with the clothes I have and I haven’t had a day without anything to wear for ages.

    The problem I have is about clothes/jewellery that have been given as presents by my mum, my friends, my boyfriend and that i really don’t like, although obviously I love them to bits (sorry guys ! :S). The drawbacks of having well defined your taste…. It bothers me to still see these objects around when I KNOW they should go, but I can’t bring myself to hurt their feelings or seem ungrateful if I toss them.

    The best solution I found so far was to tackle the problem at the source by clearing expressing my wishes for Christmas or birthdays, but do you readers have thoughts or tips to share on the subject ?

    • Maria

      Hello Clara, darling!

      I completely understand your dilemma, presents can be very tricky indeed. In a way, I’m a bit lucky, since because of my blogging, most of my friends and family know that I think a lot about my style, and how I define it. I’ve made sure to tell them that if they’re in doubt, I will absolutely appreciate a gift card (many people say it’s too impersonal, but I disagree). If asked if there’s anything particular I wish for, I’ll let them know, or say that one can never go wrong with nail polish or sparkly things when it comes to me.

      As for gifts already received, I try to figure out ways they can work for me. Dyeing a garment, shortening it, taking it in at the waist, adding a belt… most of these can work wonders and make most things more “me”. If there’s no hope, I’ll explain to the giver that although I love that they took the time and effort to find me something, I just don’t think it’ll get the wear it deserves, and that I’ll try to find a new home for it where it’ll get the wear it deserves. That’s probably my basic thought: that nice things deserve to be worn and showed off, and if I can’t do it, then I’ll definitely be able to find someone who will.

      I hope that was at least a little bit helpful :)

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  • Sophie-Lee

    This is something I’ve done about once a year, ever since I was 17 or 18 and saw a cute guy in town, and realised I was wearing the most horrible outfit. And again a few years ago when I realised just how much my clothes affected the way I feel during the day. Now I aim to only wear clothes than make me feel good (which usually means look good, too).

    Your post does remind me, though, that there are several garments in my wardrobe that I’m NOT excited to put on, and I would be better off getting rid of them (even if others compliment me when I’m wearing it, if I don’t feel good it should go). And a great idea about just putting them away, rather than giving them away, initially.

    • Maria

      Putting things in our storage space in the basement almost replaced shopping for me for a while xD The closet was more spacious, and I could “shop” my basement stash when I wanted a change. It doesn’t work with garments you aren’t excited to see again, though, but I find that an excellent test, really; if it’s been in the basement for a few months and I still don’t want to wear it, I can let it go for real.