Tuesday, July 14, 2015

How Many Pieces of Clothing do You Need?

The question I'm asked the most often: How many pieces of clothing do I need to have in my wardrobe?

Nothing like a simple question to keep me thinking!

How many pieces of clothing do I need in my Capsule Wardrobe?
available from Alhambra Antiques

But I've figured out, finally, that if you can answer four questions (two easy, two more difficult), I can tell you EXACTLY how many pieces should be hanging in your gorgeous vintage armoire.

1. What is the time period for which we are planning?

For planning out your completely wardrobe (not including gym clothes or leisure attire), you'd start with the number 365 - we're planning a wardrobe for a year. But the nice thing about the formula I figured out is that you could also answer 180, if you wanted to know how many pieces of cold-weather clothing you should have, or you could say 14, to determine how many garments you want for a 2-week vacation.

2. How many outfits do you wear, on average, in a day?

Most of us are going to come in just over the number 1. I'm drawn to the number 1.2, which suggests that every sixth day, you change after work to go out, or change after a religious service to go to a spectator sports event or other entertainment. If you only wear street clothes six days a week, you could seriously use the number .87!

3. How many garments are in your average outfit?

This number, for most of us, is around 2 - a top and a bottom. If you wear a LOT of dresses, the number can drop slightly below 2, and if you do a lot of layering, this number can approach 3. Realistically, this number's NOT going to be under 1, nor over 3.

4. How many times (within your time period) are you willing, or do you desire, to wear each garment?

Remember, many of us might have a goal of wearing things once a month, but that means that garments that are strictly cold weather, or strictly warm weather, will in fact be worn TWICE a month...

EXAMPLE 1 - A Complete Wardrobe

365 days

1.2 outfits per day

2 pieces per outfit

each piece worn 12 times

(here comes the math!!!!)

365 x 1.2 x 2 / 12 = 73 pieces of clothing

Example 2 - How many pieces for cold weather?

200 days (cold weather is more than half the year, at least in Chicago!)

1.2 outfits per day

2.5 pieces per outfit

each piece worn 12 times

200 x 1.2 x 2.5 / 12 = 50 pieces of cold-weather clothing

Example 3 - How many pieces for a two-week vacation?

14 days

1 outfit per day (no changing for dinner?)

2 pieces per outfit

each piece worn only once (are you serious???)

14 x 1 x 2 / 1 = 28 pieces of clothing for your vacation

You can quickly see that if you can change your assumptions about how often you change clothes, or what the composition of your outfits will be, or your tolerance for repeating clothes, you will radically shift the final number of items that are "perfect" for you.

The first example, with the 73-piece overall wardrobe, is mine, and it's pretty sobering. I've got more stuff than that, still, after all of my decluttering. This means that I need to think about my habits when I get dressed, and see where my "ideal" doesn't match up to my reality.

Does this make sense?

For the madly math-phobic, I've built a one-page Excel spreadsheet for you. All you have to do is open it, type in the first four numbers, and the 5th one appears by mathematical magic.

You can get it here - for 99 cents. I need your help to pay the company that hosts the file for me; I hope you understand.

Add to Cart

Let me know how this works. I find it fascinating to learn that my actual behavior doesn't match my self-stated goals. Style blogger, heal thyself!



PS - You can find the latest Pantone Color Planner and more in the Planning Documents section of the website.

How many pieces of clothing do I need in my Capsule Wardrobe?
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  1. (Sorry for long comment ;) )

    I did test drive this method a little and according to it, I would have 75% too many clothes. lol

    There was a method I played around a little by calcuated the minimal amount of pieces per category by looking at how often and when you do the laundry.
    I.e. If a person wear a bottom garment or a dress 2-3 times before washing them and do the laundry twice a week (14 outfits), she/he would need 4 to 7 items of that category.
    But this method doesnt take bottlenecks (what do you do if one of them get damaged?) and occasion into consideration. (I love pencil skirts on a daily basics, but they dont work for all occasions, ending up need more clothes).

    Another method I read about where when you were having the minimal amount of pieces for each time of occasions you would need. The author wore only her black cardigan to funerals because she didnt want to get it worn out too quickly if she were wearing it with jeans.
    I test drived that method as well, but it didnt work, because I wear most of my clothes for most occasions. Her method were too restrictive.

    According to your method and using the first example, you wouldnt even need to wash them every month, so the bottleneck dilemma wouldnt not an problem. About 30-35 Bottoms or so?
    But there are something I have thinking about with this wardrobe quanity questions. Do you need to have X amount of clothes or do you want to have that amount of clothes?

    Right now, I have about 80-100 pieces of only bottoms (skirts, jeans, pants, shorts, leggings etc) because I wanted them or love to bargain hunt for new ones once in a while, but do I NEED that many?
    If I was in a economy crisis, wasnt interesting in clothing or my home were burned down, I surely wouldnt need 100 skirts and trousers, I could easily live with 7, 15-20 if I dont want to be stressed with the laundry.

    Although I do find these methods facinating and test drived different methods and goals as well, I never find the amount number of clothes to be the answer.
    Like, I often get comments that I have too many shoes (51 pairs to be exact), Im well aware that I dont "need" that many, but my wallet and storage place has never sufffered from it so why not? ;)
    Economy, Lifestyle, View on how you see clothes (many seems to see them like food and shelter= you only need them so you are not naked or freezing lol) always conflict with each methods I been played around with for years.

    Perhaps Im overthinking?

    1. As long as you're learning something, and/or having fun, you're not overthinking! But I really like to have these kinds of numbers to compare to reality, in order to give myself a basis for thinking about why my reality diverges so much from what I think of as ideal. If I choose the numbers that go into the calculation, shouldn't my resulting number be pretty close to my reality? But this isn't the case for me, so I have to figure out where I've strayed from my own personal ideals.

      I think the idea of keeping a few garments for special occasions isn't a bad thought, so long as you make sure that they stay currently appropriate, in good repair, and that they fit!

      And needs vs wants.... the eternal question, eh?

      thanks for your comment - we're all smart enough to read for extended periods of time, and I welcome your thoughts!

      big hug,

    2. Btw, this were the method I was refering to regarding special occasions (scroll down to the breakdown)

      She would would wear *any* clothes restricted to a certain activity. Not just special occasions - work, vacation, home everything. Im not minimalistic so maybe thats why those methods doesnt work.

      Buying pieces after your needs is something I always think about first before the quanity. but its something I often struggling with,
      Like, Ive a dressy personal style but live in a suburban area and travel with bus and trampcars with 4 distinct seasons. (Ive 10 heels for nicer occasions, but who wear 3inch pumps on a bus? :/ ) Living in sweden, we don't really have any dresscodes, people sometimes might show up in jeans to weddings and sneakers to the offfice.
      My lifestyle change frequently due to medical reasons (having a diagnose and cant handle a regulare 5 week education or work) so during a half year, I might studying in an optiional school for adults (im 26) while another year, I have interships 2-3 days/week. The days between Im staying home. Each of them, I wear different clothes.
      Make the wardrobe building even more confusing. ;)

  2. I really love your scientific approach to building a wardrobe. Great post, thank you!


  3. The only 1-2 pieces at a time seems off: in cooler times, we may need jackets, blazers, cardigans, etc. I have a small wardrobe. I counted by Project 33 standards( includes access., shoes, bags, coats, hats, but not undies, p.j.'s, or exercise wear) and have 47 for the year, but I layer and wear short-sleeved things in winter as well as cardis in summer in air conditioned places. I live in a 4-season place but no extremes (SC). Your mathematical sartorial formulas are so fascinating as are your travel and outfit suggestions. Love From Scratch and Common and the art work inspired posts. Thanks.

  4. i love your little scenarios, thank you

  5. I work on a four season system (partly weather, and partly I like to swap around every three months as it stops me getting bored). I started with project 333 (i.e. 33 for three months) but found I needed more, maybe around 40 (about 35 or so worn a lot, and a handful more for specula occasions). So total should be about 4x40 which is 160. Looked at another way, the 40 would include about 10 'bottoms', and each should be used in 2-3 outfits, so thats about 20-30 outfits, worn about 4 or 5 times each per season.

    It all sounds very neat, but actually I have way more clothes, too many actually…… Love working out the numbers, though, and reading others take on this!


    1. …and I just re-calculated it using your equation, and got 33 garments for 3 months! So it works out the same, or near enough, the real different is my changeover every season. I'm very impressed that your wardrobe is so compact. Thanks for the post, really interesting! Alice

  6. My goal number that accounts for my needs plus the amount of variety I want seems to be around 86 pieces. (A little more than 73 because I really love colors!) This doesn't include workout clothes, pajamas, or field clothes (I'm an ecologist, so I wear field clothes a few times a week during warm weather. But I don't buy clothes specifically for the field. I wear old sturdy pants and old t shirts; it's basically where clothes go to die).

    I don't expect anyone to read this, but I feel like writing it anyway. The exact breakdown of my ideal wardrobe is:
    Pants: 2 jeans, 2 black pants, 1 khakis, 1 dark brown pants, 1 gray pants, 1 olive or gray-green pants
    Dresses: 1 each of black, brown, blue, green, and gray-based (i.e. it may or may not have other colors but when looking at it the first color that comes to mind is the base color. Ideally some of these will be solids and some will be patterns)
    Skirts: 1 blue jean, plus 1 each of black, brown, green, and gray-based
    Dresses/Skirts combined: 1 piece each of pink, purple, and red based, and 1 multicolor/rainbow piece
    Solid Color Short-Sleeve Tops: 4 black - sleeveless, t shirt, fancier shirt, and writing t shirt (my guilty pleasure - geeky t shirts!); 2 each in brown, blue, and green; 1 each in gray, pink, purple, red, and white. (Aiming for approximately equal numbers of sleeveless, t shirt, and fancier shirt, plus a couple beloved geeky t shirts)
    Patterned Short-Sleeve Tops: black with 1 each of brown, blue, and green; brown with 1 each of blue and green; 1 blue and green; 1 each of black, brown, blue, green, gray, pink, red, purple, and white based; 1 free space (again aiming for the range of styles above)
    Solid Color Long Sleeve Tops: 4 each in black and brown - layering piece, turtleneck, sweater, non-button down blouse or long-sleeve t shirt; 3 green, 3 blue, 2 pink, 1 each of gray, red, purple, and white - aiming for approximately equal ranges of the four styles in black/brown
    Patterned Long Sleeve Tops: 1 black/brown, 1 blue/green, 1 each based in black, brown, green, blue, gray, pink, purple, red, and white - aiming again for equalish proportions of the four style categories I like

    Right now I have too many short sleeve tops (about 55!) so I have a moratorium on short-sleeve buying and I'm donating/fielding a few each season until I get down to what I actually need. It's a bit hard to give up things I like, so I'm doing it slowly and focusing more on not shopping. My numbers are about right for long-sleeves so I'll just be rebalancing as I replace things. I have a few extra skirts/dresses/pants, so there will be a bit of donating/fielding as well as rebalancing in the future.

    1. Oh, I also get a free space for patterned long-sleeve tops :-)


    2. Another detail - all my dresses are sleeveless or short sleeved so I can wear them alone in summer or layer with a long-sleeve top in the winter.

      - Kaci

  7. Great timing - I was just asking myself how many clothes I need since I've returned from a long vacation where, naturally, I made do with way fewer choices than are in my closet at home. My only problem with a formula like this is that I have some special-occasion outfits that are worn very infrequently, but when I need them, I need them. My favorites are very flattering and classic, so they can earn their keep even if only worn once a year (or less for the fancier ones). Hmm - maybe I should just use the formula for my "normal" clothes...

  8. This is an intriguing exercise that also brings some guilt with it. We all seem to have way more clothes than we need. We visited Cambodia last year and spent time in the very small villages. The people had 2 outfits each. Now, the weather is either very hot or not quite so hot and very wet but that's it. Some only live on their very small boats and the entire closet for all family members hangs from a hook. They handwash their clothes in cold rain water or river water everyday-same water they bathe in. The children who go to school have one outfit for that. Their lifestyle is also very simple and everyone they see on the river and in the villages is dressed similarly. I wondered what they thought as we visited them........
    I know I have too many clothes and definitely have way more shoes than I need!!

    1. That's a good point, and my 86-piece ideal is definitely about meeting wants as well as needs. Even though our culture expects more variety from people's clothing, I could probably get by and not stand out with 3 pairs of pants, 2 skirts, 1 dress, 7 long-sleeve tops, and 7 short-sleeve tops. On the other hand, those clothes would wear out more quickly from the constant use, so I think it can be reasonable to have more clothes and keep each piece for a longer period of time and enjoy the variety in day-to-day wear rather than having the bare minimum and replacing only when something wears out. (Of course there's a happy medium somewhere - it would not be wise for me to store an entire lifetime's worth of clothing in my closet right now). I also imagine the cultural expectations of what's considered worn-out vary between most western countries and Cambodia.

      But it is definitely worth thinking about what we really need and how much of what we feel like we want will really make us happier. And how to make our choices to support a world in which everyone has access to all they need (that's physically possible - some things we can't fix even with all the resources) and a reasonable amount of what they want.

      - Kaci

    2. Having thought about this some more, I think I want to try the minimum clothing for a month or so. Even though I've read about the wardrobe slot machine a million times by now, I'm fascinated by all the combinations! I'll probably do it in August when I get furloughed. My goal is not to go for a certain amount of time but simply until I've done all the top/bottom combinations (except the head-to-toe black - looks great on some people but not my style)

      Pants: jeans, black, khakis
      Skirts: denim, brown
      Dress: black and white sleeveless
      Tops: black sleeveless, teal sleeveless, red v neck t shirt, pink v neck t shirt, olive short sleeve sweater, brown top with sequin trim, blue/purple flowery sequiny top
      Necklaces: gold cross, silvery/macrasite flower pendant, malachite pendant, blue beads and glass, "unicorn horn" shell
      Earrings: silvery/crystaly bead dangles, wood circle dangles, blue/purple glassy drops, wire and green bead dangles, painted pink glass drops
      Bracelets: moonstone, brown beaded flowers, silvery with pink beads, red beaded flowers
      And I still get to carry a sweater so I don't freeze on the bus!

      - Kaci

    3. I hope you will let us know how you do.
      Deb from Vancouver

  9. Very interesting! This make sense to me since my calcuated number 142/year is spot on to my current "core" wardrobe count of 140. I still have a lot to work on in terms of refining my style and color palette but it's nice to know all the pruning in terms of excess quantity has been worthwhile (at least by this metric.)

  10. You're coming in at 151 pieces, and that feels like about twice as much as I have or need, and I live in Michigan and work at a job that requires business clothing. I need three suits for spring/summer, three for fall/winter and about 10-12 tops. That's about 24 pieces. I need another two dozen weekend pieces (varying weather and there's a dress or two in there) and about two dozen workout/lounge pieces.

    The clients don't care what I wear as long as it's professional. And I tend to wear the same sweater or tee on the weekend.

  11. This is one of my favorite posts of all you've done! It made me get up and go to my closet to count. In retirement, I actually have more clothes than I did when I was working. But when we built our house, we deliberately made our walk-in closet smaller than many so that we would keep our wardrobes smaller.

    Not counting exercise wear, my totals are 21 pants (all kinds), 1 skirt, 0 dresses, 48 tops (all kinds), 7 completers (vests, cardigans) and 11 pairs of shoes (including the 2 pairs of hiking boots I have for European travel).

    The total not counting the shoes adds up to 77. I'm transitioning to colors that work better for me (grays, blues, purples, fuschias), so I still have some things that need to go because they no longer work. Fortunately, I have kids and grand kids who can use some of the garments I purge.

    We do laundry weekly, whether at home or on our trips, so I could certainly get by with fewer garments. Except for the boredom factor, I do wonder why I can't seem to get by with the 3 pairs of pants, 6 tops, 1-2 completers, and 2 pairs of shoes I use for our trips.

    My excuse is that, although we live in Tucson where compared to many other places, summer is about 10 or more months long, we travel to places where and at times when the weather is much cooler and wetter. So about 25% of the garments listed (including all the completers) are for cooler weather. I have no excuse for the rest!

    I would like to have one and only one dress, but have yet to find anything in my colors that isn't too short or too long or too dumpy for me. I have tried over and over to make skirt/top columns but they look even dumpier. You'd think I'd give up and stick with pants which are much more flattering for me, but nooooo.

    My husband doesn't own a suit and we never go to any kind or place or event where dressy clothes are recommended, much less required, so a dress is definitely a want, not a need. I have other things that will work if we were ever to be trapped in such a situation.

  12. Janice, this brings up my packing dilemma --I pack 3 bottoms each for day and night for a total of 6, as I repeat bottoms wearing 3-4 times in a 12 to 14 day trip. I take 7 short sleeve tops for daytime wear, with the idea of repeat wearings 2 times each. Sooooo, my problem becomes having to take extra tops for dinners, because the daytime tops are informal, and can get soiled from repeat wearings, plus, I prefer long or 3 /4 sleeves at night. I always wear toppers, as I'm always cold except in the hottest of temperatures, and so I do repeat wearing the same toppers for both day and night. Any ideas on how I can reduce the total number of tops to take ? Just wear the daytime tops varying the toppers ? Here's wear the choice of rotations comes in --the 3x3 formats work if I wear each of 3 tops at least 4 times with 3 different bottoms or 3 different toppers, but that's a lot of wearing of the same 3 tops, unless they are very plain and I take 2 scarves and 2 necklaces to vary the look for the 4 wearings of each top. Taking 3 toppers is non-negotiable for me, as well as 6 bottoms --3 capris for day, and 3 slacks for dinners on a warm climate trip with a group of the same people. Any suggestions from Janice or other bloggers on this issue ?

    1. Just continuing to think, I could take just 5 tops for days, and 5 for nights with the idea of wearing each 2 -3 times, depending if it's 12 or 14 day trip. I could take fewer if laundry was available, but typically, we take bus trips, moving every 2 days to a different location. That would bring the total number of articles down to 19 ---6 bottoms, 10 tops, and 3 toppers. Of course 3 of those items I would be wearing for travel, so that takes it down to 16 in the bag. Forgive the ruminating, but I've been trying to solve this issue with each 2 week trip we take, and I obviously haven't yet
      found my answer.

  13. Very interesting to think about this historically. How many clothes did your mother have? Before malls existed, before cheap manufacture of clothes,how many clothes did we get by on?

    And people changed clothes several times daily: mornings, afternoons, dinner plus cocktail dresses, formal dinner dresses etc.

    So, are we better dressed with tons of clothes than our mothers were with fewer clothes?

    I'm generalizing of courses as everybody's mother did not lead the same life but for my generation generally our mothers were well dressed with fewer clothes than we have. (My mother sewed, had a dressmaker for more elaborate clothes and a tailor for very "best" clothes.) But if you look at photos of say Jackie Kennedy in the White House years, you see clothes repeated quite often. (Expensive and beautifuly made clothes.)


  14. I have dealt with this issue with clients frequently over the years. The walk-in closet that every American woman loves can actually make it more complicated to put together a truly versatile wardrobe of great basics. Too much space; too many choices. "I've got room, so I'll just throw it in there."

    Great post, Janice.

  15. Why was maths at school never this useful or interesting? A month or so ago I got into permutations and combinations. I remembered we did it at school but theory was well forgotten. I have a 3 month spread sheet where I am doing a Wardrobe Slot Machine. I do require different weight of clothes i.e. Winter vs. Summer over a year. I know I have more clothes than I need and am trying to wear (and wear out) what I have. Maths is good. I went on a 5 week trip to Britain 7 years ago and still didn't wear everything in my suitcase, Very interesting as I thought I didn't pack enough clothes. Thanks for the post and for the maths. Carol S

    1. I got an e minus, I feel like a goldfish that just got tipped out of its bowl.

  16. I am currently enjoying the challenge of making a detailed packing list for an upcoming two-week trip to the U.K. that is primarily a vacation, but with a couple of business meetings thrown in during which I will be meeting prospective clients. (I'm a lawyer so "business meeting" means a suit or perhaps a conservative skirt and blazer, with appropriate shoes/accessories.) I will be spending time in both London and in the country, so factor in a need for both sophisticated "city" clothing and more casual things to wear on country walks, etc. When in London I will be going out in the evening, and one such evening event is black tie. On top of all of these considerations, it has been brutally hot there over the past couple of weeks (temps in the 90s! in England!), and their air conditioning is, shall we say, not particularly effective and not as universal as it is here in the U.S. And even assuming I miss the worst of the heat wave, it is still the middle of summer. In other words, I expect to be perspiring enough to make it impossible to get more than one wear out of tops and shirts. Even assuming I get laundry done at a hotel once during the trip (and I mean paying to have the hotel do my laundry for REAL, and not me spending the evenings swishing stuff around with some Woolite in a sink basin and drip drying it over the tub), I am still going to have to bring a LOT of clothing. And don't get me started on the shoes. LOL! I travel there frequently, and know what is appropriate (basically the same things I wear here in NYC for London/business/evening) so that's not an issue. At least I will have little or no room in my suitcases to bring things back, so that should curb my purchases while there! Anyway, thank God for the packing cubes from the Container Store. They help me to break things down by destination (town/country) and event (business or evening or day at a museum or country walk). I am also considering FedExing one suitcase back mid-trip, at the point when I leave London for the country. I will report back…. : )

  17. I travelled from Tasmania to NY in May for two weeks with a 7kg carry-on case and tote. Wore all the heaviest clothes to travel in. Altogether, had:
    1 x pj's
    4x undies
    2 x tights
    3 x shoes (fussy feet)
    2 x pants
    1 x skirt
    1 x dress
    6 x shirts/tops
    2 x cardigans
    1 x jacket
    4 x scarves
    Minimal jewellery and toiletries
    It took huuuuge discipline in packing. But I didn't actually need that many tops as the weather was consistent throughout and with hand-washing every second day, plus wearing tops twice before washing, I was fine. And getting dressed each day was so easy!
    It has inspired me to go back to the Project 333 idea for each three-month season, although it's tricky in a temperate climate when sometimes we lurch from winter to summer and everything in between. But it's fun planning and using ingenuity. And even more fun getting on with life instead of fretting over what to wear.
    I should add that it's easy for me as a retired person compared with people needing a work wardrobe as well, or people needing plenty of dress-up clothes. Thank you Janice for the formula, it will be great for reviews and planning. Robyn xxx

    1. I just traveled 2 weeks in Europe using the same formula you have above. I had 4 pairs of pants instead of a skirt or dress and only had 2 pairs of shoes. It all fit in a travel backpack. I went from cold & rain in Berlin to hot & sunny in Vienna. I used Janice's formula for everything matching & was able to make several outfits by switching cardigans, scarves, etc. With such a small bag I was able to maneuver in the U-Bahn and through the cobblestone streets with ease with only a 14lb backpack. I stayed in 5 different small hotels and many of them did not have lifts. Like you said, it was fun using planning & ingenuity - I took it as a challenge. I used just black, beige & white - with some stripes, I researched fabrics that would line dry well. I always felt well dressed & pulled together, I actually got compliments on my outfits from some of my group. I have learned a lot about outfitting building and using this minimal concept, it is so easy to pull together an outfit every morning without much thought or effort.

  18. Another great post that gives us visual people another glimpse into your analytical mind. Amazing! Math, colours and logic in the fashion world of blogging. I so appreciate you! My favorite post that I return to every 6 months of so, when the Nordstrom sale starts is "I am not a movie character; hard, but necessary, wardrobe decisions", this one may be just as useful. Thanks Theresa

  19. This post is so helpful. I feel like I've veered back and forth a bit over the last 18 months of The Great Mid-Life Wardrobe Remodel about the best size for my wardrobe. The idea of a 20 item pricey-per-item wardrobe appealed to me for a few weeks, but then I swung to liking your 48-item (?) building from scratch idea for a good while. I've done my own version of Project 333 for six seasons now, and the final number I allow myself has varied each time. I have about 40 garments hanging in my closet right now for late spring/summer/early fall, and that feels appropriate.

  20. This is such a great post! It strikes me that the title could just as easily be "how many pieces of clothing do you want?" (since many of the numbers in your formula are determined by individual preference). And then the question winds up being: Why do so many of us have more clothing than we want? Pretty uncomfortably thought-provoking.

    I have been thinking about my wardrobe in these mathematical terms for a while (I think in terms of 4-piece outfits; my calculations include shoes and I wear some kind of top layer almost every day even in the summer). In addition to asking "how many times (per season/trip/etc.) do I want to wear each item?" I think it can be useful to ask "how often do I want to wear each item?" The two questions are related but depending on the specifics of your situation can yield much different answers. For example, I live in a place with short, mild summers, so the proportion of the year that I wear summer clothes is pretty small. I calculated that if I wanted to wear each item of clothing that I own 10 times per year, I should have 7 summer bottoms, 7 summer tops, etc. Of course, I truly *need* even less clothing, but I confess that to me an "if it's Monday, it must be my striped tank" approach to getting dressed sounds rather dreary. A travel capsule is one thing, but thinking in longer, seasonal terms, I like to have more than a week's worth of choices in rotation for each category of garment (maybe except for shoes). So I've accepted that many of my summer items will likely get fewer wears than that 10-per-year benchmark, and have also been thinking about ways to wear some of my items from other seasons during the summer (e.g., a striped popover shirt that I wear under sweaters in winter, and on its own with sleeves rolled in summer -- gives a totally different feel).

    1. Great comment, Sarah! I can really relate to what you wrote - I know I don't "need" more than a week's worth of summer clothes, but it is dreary to wear exactly the same thing every week, especially since I so look forward to our short summers and love to celebrate with summery clothes. Also, on those precious hot days, I sometimes change tops more than once a day.
      Why is is so hard to find a happy medium wardrobe number?

  21. I switch out every 6 months - fall/winter and spring/summer. I layer with at least 3 pieces a day and change outfits 1.2 times a week on a repeat two times a month. 6*3*1.2/12= 54. Does this mean I need 18 tops, 18 bottoms and 18 completer pieces? love the math!

  22. This post really got me thinking. I was appalled to find over 300 items in my closet -- and this is just my summer wardrobe!. I am an accumulator -- if I find something I like, I get it in multiple colors.
    First to go should be the clothes that make me feel guilty. They looked like a bargain at the time, but for one reason or another, they just didn't work out. They hang there unworn, blaming me for my poor choice.

    1. Dear Mamie,

      Get rid of them - don't feel guilty, but definitely try to learn what your weakness was at the time of purchase, so you can avoid making the same mistake in the future! None of us are perfect, but we all owe it to ourselves to strive to improve. That's really all we can ask of ourselves, and all that anyone can ask of us.

      big encouraging hug,

    2. I used to be like you... Then I discovered Ms Riggs! Haha...
      I have less clothes now, but a whole lot of compliments.

  23. I have way more than that. However, I am paring down. I can't wear the same pieces all year long -- the weather here varies so much. Also, I have two jobs -- one that requires more formal clothes than the other. So I have a small wardrobe for that one (modeled on your French 12 piece plus 5. but with two more), and another wardrobe about the same size as that for my casual job/everyday. And more for weekends, evenings kicking around, etc. And out of season stuff is all stored. Because I just started this, I have alternates (in case I picked wrong). So far I have only replaced one piece since I started two months ago because I didn't like it, and I got one new piece that I swapped out for an old one that worked well but was getting worn. So I guess I have about.... 17 work, 17 casual, 10 or so "maybes" and a dozen or so t-shirts and yoga pants.

    But I also have more --I am excited about this. Because of the weather I have alternates in the same colors! I have light blue capri jeans, but also light blue shorts; a short-sleeved eyelet shirt and a long-sleeved eyelet shirt. Etc. So I have outfits that go together whether it's heat wave or a cool snap. And STILL I have more room in my closet and drawers than ever before! Gail Finke

    1. Sorry but Google now will not let me use my name! Anyway I meant to say that is for 3 months -- maybe longer in winter and fewer in spring/fall. We'll see as I've only been doign this for 6 months. I forgot that I also have a few dresses for church or going out. It's been interesting to find what I really like wearing and what I don't out of these limited combination, and with these small (for me) numbers there will still be things I purge at the end of summer because I didnt' wear them. I have always disliked my summer clothes and thought I had nothing and looked good in nothing. This year I have been LOVING summer! I have a small wardrobe but like everything in it and feel good in it. What a change.

    2. Sorry but Google now will not let me use my name! Anyway I meant to say that is for 3 months -- maybe longer in winter and fewer in spring/fall. We'll see as I've only been doign this for 6 months. I forgot that I also have a few dresses for church or going out. It's been interesting to find what I really like wearing and what I don't out of these limited combination, and with these small (for me) numbers there will still be things I purge at the end of summer because I didnt' wear them. I have always disliked my summer clothes and thought I had nothing and looked good in nothing. This year I have been LOVING summer! I have a small wardrobe but like everything in it and feel good in it. What a change. But I think that while 73 might work for some, it doesn't for me. And if you do Project 333, you will have more than your ideal unless some are the same pieces for each season. I think that number is more doable for someone with varied weather and varied activities.

  24. *Calculating aloud*
    I wear The Uniform on Monday and Friday. That leaves me only 3 workdays to play around... I'd like to wear dress on Tuesday and rotate it once every 4 weeks. That means I'll need... 4 dresses.
    On Wednesday, it'll be the skirt and blouse, Thursday, pants and blouse. The tops and bottoms can be alternated of course.
    How often would I want to wear the same top or bottom? Once every 2 weeks?
    So I'll need a minimum of... 4 tops and 4 bottoms? Am I failing my Maths? LOL

    *Thinking aloud*
    I have many pairs of shoes though... Nude court, Black court, nude ballet flats, black ballet flats, grey pointed-toe court, black strappy heels. I want another pair... white strappy heels!!! *love*
    I have 2 dresses I really love. I need to find two more.
    I have pink shirt, white shirt, grey shirt, purple shirt
    I have blue cropped pants, grey cropped pants, white straight cut, black flare (coming soon)

    So I guess. My wardrobe is almost complete! I just need to find 2 more dresses.

    But, alas, I'm greedy. I'm on the hunt for fitted shirt (short sleeve) and a box pleated midi skirt (cotton sheen navy)

  25. This is brilliant but I'm going to need a tutor to help me work it out, I'm not the sharpest tool in the box!

  26. I love this. I am trying to reduce my wardrobe. I will wear things much more than 1x/mo though, so I'm going to end up with a small number. I live in an old house with small closets and things need to be kept in them other than clothes! On the other hand we go from hot summers to extremely cold winters here in NH... Thank you for a new way to think about it all!

  27. Id like to know how many times on average most people can wear an article of clothing before it becomes too worn looking to keep? For myself I find that shirts wear out much more quickly than pants. I don't understand the people who call clothes an investment since you pay money for them and then wear them ideally until they are worn out. I like to get one wear per dollar spent or better. my best guess is that my shirts last 30 wears, therefore I will not spend more than $30 on a shirt and to get better quality I will buy on sale. Any input?

  28. i have been reading 'the vivienne files' off and on over a period of about a week. it is both a 'guilty pleasure' and a great reference tool!

    i think your site is appealing because it combines practical life skills: using math for example to figure out how to organize and budget time, money, and space; using psychology for self reflection and discovery, as well as appreciation for the world around us and how we interact with it; and lastly your site is very much about art- not only how colors work together, but about the basic elements of line, design, and style which is intrinsically a part of everything in life. all of the information is very helpful because of the way you explain things and the way you have put it together visually. it is definitely going to be a bookmark in my favorites!

    i do have a question for you. what do you think would be a good number range for me? or a general philosophy for me to live by when it comes to purging, building, and/or maintaining my wardrobe? i live in south florida (which in and of itself makes for a unique dilemma when it comes to putting together a wardrobe!). when you add in that my life does not follow any specific routine, i have a conundrum! i work in a small law office sometimes once or twice a week, and then it may be once a month. the rest of the time i am home or running around town doing errands, seeing friends here and there for lunch, and going to the gym twice a week. in addition, my husband and i travel here and there all different times of the year to all different climates, generally for a week at a time (usually to see our children who live in the northeast and in southern california). we go out to dinner once a week and may go to a formal event once or twice a year. i am in my 50's and like dressing up as much as being casual and comfortable. either way, i am into putting together outfits, paying attention to color combining as well as accessories - i see it as an art form and it is a practical way to express my creative energy! ....any thoughts?

    1. Given the range of activities that you have in your life, I think you're going to come out on the high end of the range; even though you live in a pretty stable climate, if you travel, you're still going to (maybe?) want some clothes for cooler weather - that's going to depend on your destinations of choice. (if you go to Michigan for Christmas, you DESERVE woolies....)

      Probably 120 to 140... Off the top of my fluffy head!

      thanks for your kind words about The Vivienne Files - I work like a maniac on it...


    2. hi janice- i tried several times to respond but for some reason, my reply never publishes! i am not sure what i might be doing wrong (or should i am blame it on 'the system"?!) anyway, i am trying again...first of all i want to thank you for responding so quickly! i am not used to getting a reply from a blogger! i will try working with your numbers! with fall around the corner, it will be an easy place for me to start, as it is the only season where i wear brown and tan for my neutrals and muted reds, oranges, and some muted greens. since i only wear these colors for about 3 months, i guess the total amount of garments should come in around 35?

    3. ALWAYS blame the system! I'm having fits with getting emails sent when I post, and there's apparently no solution in the world...

      Start around 35, and see if you feel comfortable with that number. There's no point in going through this exercise if you're uncomfortable with the final result - the whole reason we try to come up with a number is to give ourselves a limit within which we can work that requires discipline, but that allows pleasure!

      big hug,

  29. Hi Janice--I've been following for a long time and have so appreciated your posts. I'm paring down too--realizing that I may very well have all the clothes I need FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE! Yes, I've been happy with the choices I've made in my wardrobe (what I've kept, what I've gotten rid of) and now I realize that I can really, truly stop shopping. What a thought!

    I'm 50 and have been a clothes horse since I was sixteen. I have made plenty of dumb moves, yes, but I also have shirts from JCrew that are 25 years old and still in my rotation (and a few which my kids wear for sleep shirts!). I think we all know that less is more and quality will always outlast cheap and any in-and-out-fad. Thanks for putting together a FORMULA for making some judgement calls on how much is enough. We will always need to customize of course, but guidelines help so much.

    And to all fellow travellers--isn't it heaven to travel light!? My family of four travel exclusively with carry-ons only. There is almost always laundry available somewhere on this planet and at any price beats carrying a 4x2 suitcase (even if it has wheels). Layering is key and always have flip flops for those hotel rooms!

    Thanks for your great advice Janice!

  30. Love all of these comments. I, however am very much of a minimalist. I have owned a 500 piece wardrobe in the past and found it completely overwhelming.....
    Very simple way I reduced to 50-80 pieces:
    Empty your amoir or closet completely and store everything in a separate closet...,
    Then every time you wear something, if you love it, move it to the new space.
    In 30 days..... You are done. Get rid of the excess, save any special occasion stuff you know you will wear and that FITS!
    You can do this each season if necessary.
    Easy and simple and I'm left with what I love!