Monday, March 13, 2017

How to Apply the Color Decluttering Method to a "Magpie" Wardrobe

Oh my... I know this woman, metaphorically speaking. She shops on payday. She buys pretty things. She loves what she buys, but never knows quite what to wear.... And this is what she sees when she opens her closet door:

a 50-piece wardrobe including seven neutrals, lots of florals, and no system
all clothes - River Island

She has a favorite store, which is a great place to buy a pretty accent piece... but she's never found a real personal style, in all of the very nice clothes that she owns...

So let's start her off by pulling out all of her neutral garments. She's actually not particularly opposed to the idea of neutral colors; she has black, denim, olive, white, ivory, pearl grey AND taupe in her closet. But note that it would be difficult, if not impossible to build a simple Four by Four wardrobe here. She has enough black pieces, but the black jacket's not really neutral. Maybe the white pieces would work as one of the neutrals... But there's nothing here that really gives us insight into a wardrobe plan for her.

I have a hunch that she is more comfortable wearing prints and patterns below the waist - maybe someone who's short-waisted and slightly heavier on top?

Neutral clothes in seven colors, taken from a 50-piece "magpie" wardrobe

Accent colors might be where we can start to get a clue.... There seems to be a strong attraction to pieces that are truly pretty - floral, in soft blush and peach colors, and draping fabrics. Straying into the wrong shades, like mauve, is a problem. So is being tempted by bright prints that include her soft colors, but which give an overall impression too harsh for her.

The red blouse? Christmas, or St. Valentine's Day, I'd bet... The striped sweater? Was on sale, and has blush stripes in it, but doesn't actually GO with anything she already owns... The white floral pants might hang around for a while, in order to get some use out of the white shirts she already owns.

Analyzing the accent colors in a wardrobe

So let's make a first pass through here, and get rid of (1) mauve, (2) bright prints, (3) impulse or 1-occasion purchases, and (4) torn jeans. I just hate torn jeans; if you don't mind them, you can certainly keep them!

The first effort at decluttering a wardrobe

Just removing those few pieces gives this wardrobe a more coherent overall look, and pulls out some distractions...

a wardrobe after the first stage of decluttering

Maybe this is as far as she can push this project for now - where do we leave her? Can she pull together enough outfits to be able to function in the world?

Absolutely! You could easily make it through the warm weather with these ensembles at your disposal:

15 outfits taken from a recently decluttered wardrobe

There were 7 garments left over after I pulled together these outfits. THESE are items that really need to be considered at some length... At some time in her life, our heroine really liked these things enough to buy them, but now they're difficult to incorporate into her daily life.

My hunch is that black blouses are super-impulse purchases, for times when she has a date or event in her future. If she had greater attachment to/affection for the pieces already in her closet, she could save that money!

The blush? Her favorite color, it seems, but she doesn't shop with swatches or paint chips or whatever, so she buys pieces that don't "work."

The camel blazer is an oasis of sanity! And the blue jeans are something that we're all "supposed" to own, but which in her case should be a different color.

How to analyze wardrobe orphans

So let's hang onto that camel blazer, and the jeans (for now), but get rid of those extra black pieces, and that bright floral blazer... While the ruffly blouse isn't her "best" shade of peach, it will probably work fine as a second top with her floral skirts, and thus might be worth keeping for a while.

It's important that you don't leave yourself without ANYTHING to wear! And short-term compromises like keeping blue jeans (rather than tan), or working with a less than perfect shade of your accent color, aren't the end of your sartorial life...

The second stage of decluttering a wardrobe

This wardrobe's starting to look pretty good!

a wardrobe after the second wave of closet cleaning

Now, it's time to plan for the future. The WORST thing to do would be to do all of this work cleaning out an over-stuffed, unworkable closet, and then to repeat the errors that created the situation in the first place!

In a nutshell, she needs a color scheme - especially to choose a neutral color or two. I think olive might be worth considering as a secondary neutral, or prominent accent color, if only so that she can have some darker-colored clothes occasionally!

Analyzing a wardrobe to find a long-term plan for building a personal style

This is my advice for her:

a color palette and style guidelines for a camel-based, floral and feminine wardrobe

THIS is the hardest part! She really NEEDS some plain, simple, classic, neutral garments in order to be able to wear her pretty floral pieces as much as she wants. This is always the difficult part of building a wardrobe, but it's also the most essential:

a camel or beige Core of Four

After the addition of these four pieces, you can see that the overall wardrobe takes on a more neutral, less "blush-y" look.

A wardrobe after the addition of a Core of Four in beige or camel

This wardrobe is definitely a work in progress - I would suggest that the next step, when cooler weather clothes appear in stores, might be the addition of a Core of Four in olive. (while those olive pants she currently owns might be cute as heck, having flowers embroidered on the ankle can really limit the versatility of them...) Or maybe another 4 pieces in a darker, truer camel...

But for the warm weather months, she's in a good place, and will have time to think, to save money, and to grow accustomed to living with a smaller wardrobe. If she wants to pack, she's well-situated to assemble a four by four capsule wardrobe pretty quickly:

Discipline around impulse shopping might be her biggest problem! Maybe focusing on accessories? Or setting a very firm money limit on what she can spend? Or not buying anything that she can't wear at least 3 different ways? There are a lot of ways to structure a disciplined approach to shopping, but if she isn't committed to it, it won't work....


PS - Further reading suggestions:

How to declutter your wardrobe using the color method to build a capsule wardrobe.
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  1. This made me smile - the main thing I thought I had learned from you is that I buy too many accents, not enough neutrals. I just looked through my Pinterest board and what do I see? Loads of accents, hardly any neutrals! Thank you for reminding me. Linda M

  2. I love your term, "magpie wardrobe." Pretty things that grab the eye at the moment.
    I was surprised by the color wheel, with the olive, but you always make a strong case for your choices.

  3. I love the realism in this exercise. I think most women's wardrobes have at one time or another resembled this one- a collection of clothes that is way less serviceable than what the size of this wardrobe and appeal of individual pieces would suggest. It's hard to start figuring out what is wrong in a wardrobe where, at first glance, there are not many "sore thumbs" sticking out, but that still doesn't feel right.

    I know I've been there. But I'm glad to say that after years of careful curating and a heavy dose of The Vivienne Files, I'm doing much better now.

    -Sara K-

  4. This is going to help me tremendously! So many clothes - trying to weed them out - and this will help me so much! Love it!!

  5. As you say, choosing the appropriate neutrals is fundamental, but difficult. I pulled all my neutrals from the closet yesterday. I have an appalling amount of black (a de facto choice when I need something and the other colors are worse) and a few navy, teal, olive, cream and gray. However, my biggest insight is that I need to photograph all the pieces so that I can lay them out the way you do to get the big picture. LOL

    1. Oh yes, yes YES! to photographing the wardrobe. I have downloaded photos of mine, where possible - and I live with strange heads or hands attached in the pictures. For those I couldn't download, I took photos with my phone on a white tabletop. I've found that the mobile app StyleBook (see has helped me.

  6. Oh did it again - great post with lots of real life impulses and solutions. Olive green world be a great addition. I'd love to see this with navy, purple, and burgundy. Thanks!!

  7. I am not sure about this. I think the way you have pared down this wardrobe and removed what doesn't belong is solid, but that final 4x4 wardrobe makes me kind of sad. Even looking at the starting point, it seems clear to me that this is a woman who is drawn to ethereal floral prints, and isn't afraid of wearing pattern on her bottom half. But that 4x4 wardrobe gives her very few opportunities to create outfits that express that signature style. You suggest that she focus her shopping on accessories, but the truth is she already owns pieces that bring color and pattern into her wardrobe -- it's just that they are pants rather than scarves. I would swap out some of the solid color pants in the 4x4 for patterned ones that she already owns. Moving forward, her strategy could be to realize that she goes against the grain by preferring pattern in the bottom half of her outfits rather than the top, and focus on finding solid-color tops that pull her best (as in best for wearing next to her face) colors from those beloved floral prints. My 2 cents as a lover of color and pattern!

    1. Sarah,
      Hmmmmm, you have a good point with the florals being a strong personal signature for this woman !
      Janice, perhaps a second 4x4, returning some of the black pieces, and introducing new floral garments that have black in the pattern ? Possibly adding back in some white items, and both existing and new pieces for her accent colors that include florals for a total of a combined 32 piece wardrobe ? Not all of the pieces will work together between the two 4x4's, but there are so many outfit options, that I don't think that really matters in a complete wardrobe, as opposed to a travel wardrobe.
      I agree with you on the olive green as a softer neutral with all of the soft blush. Black seems too harsh with all of the feminine softness, but perhaps she also has a stronger quirky side to express ? I feel like a Monday morning quarterback critiquing all of your hard work, but I think Sarah does have a good point.

    2. I agree that this isn't really optimal for her - I struggled a lot because she has three pair of floral pants that weren't at all versatile for her - I kept wanting to put either the white-background pair, or the mint green ones, into her Four by Four wardrobe, but then she wasn't going to have a white cardigan, or else the mint green wasn't present anywhere... It was a conundrum... What if the four pieces I suggested that she buy included a pair of peach flowered pants? Like these:
      The other thing that I kept thinking was that I liked the floral skirts SO much better than floral pants, because the pants felt like pajamas to me...
      Thanks for your thoughts - hugs,

    3. Janice,
      I agree that a bunch of her pieces just didn't work together to make complete outfits, and yes, the pants did feel like PJ's to me too. Perhaps expanding beyond a 4x4 to a 5x4, including more floral options, something that I do if I want to include more accent options within a wardrobe. I'm in 1000 % agreement with you on distressed jeans ! I do wish this fad would pass on ! Guess my age is showing ! At the ripe old age of 72, distressed jeans would look absurd on me , but again, to each his own !

    4. Janice, I think your peach pants addition is nice and is a great visual into your thinking through this. But, what I really love is that you took the time to think about Sarah's and Shrebee's questions, considered them and answered lovingly, with a solution, no less. You're the best!!!

    5. Oh Judith, I'm NOT the Oracle of wardrobes - I'm just a woman who has had a lot of time to think about these things and who has some ideas that I want to share. I'd be a hideous creature if I couldn't listen to the ideas and opinions of other people and learn from them. I'm just grateful that such thoughtful and intelligent women come here and read what I write, and then take the time to think and to respond to what I've done. I'm very fortunate to have you all here!
      hugs all around,

    6. Yes, I felt a bit bad about Monday-morning quarterbacking too, especially since I know these posts are so much work! But I figured Janice could handle a different perspective...and, of course, I was right. :-) Looking at the thumbnails of the garments it's easy for me to fool myself that some of the existing pants would work(-ish, at least) with the other garments in the 4x4 but that probably isn't true when you (Janice) are looking at them up close. I think that blush floral pair of pants that you linked to works great with her existing wardrobe and yes, I think she might be happier with those than one of the solid bottoms. (Isn't it funny, this made up woman is a very real character to me!)

      Maybe then part of her task going forward is to develop a sense of the core colors in her palette, and make sure that any floral print she buys contains a couple of those colors (I don't even think they always have to be the dominant colors in the print) -- because that will ensure that her floral pieces blend well with her solid and neutral items to create lots of outfits.

      In fact, now that we are talking about this, I can see that this is exactly the problem with a skirt that is part of my spring wardrobe but that I always struggle to integrate into outfits -- the overall gestalt is right (it is a floral print, even!), but the colors in the print are just enough "off" to make it hard to pull any of the colors out and match/blend with my other items of clothing. So, thank you for this discussion and the insight it has sparked into my own wardrobe!

    7. Judith,
      You are spot on about Janice -- I couldn't agree more !

    8. The point is to come up with a core wardrobe, right? Once you had that you could buy as many extra pieces as your heart desires and your budget and space permits. Having a core of workable pieces means that "extras" will always go with the other things and give you many ways to wear them, instead of being "one-offs" you can only wear with one other garment. If you are a person who doesn't like a lot of clothes or has only a little but of room, the core wardrobe gives you the best combination of garments in your style that can be worn many ways. And if you want more, you can get more!

  8. I think Sarah makes a good point.

  9. Love this post. I don't think I was ever as scattered as this but I was certainly on my way. It does apply to two friends I can think of off the top of my head - and Magpie is exactly how one describes herself when it comes to accessories (I don't think she quite realizes that she takes the same approach to clothes shopping). This one friend is happy with her purchases, can afford them, and will never be "an all neutral - totally curated wardrobe" person so that is fine. The other friend, spends too much on cheaply made bits and pieces and then laments the fact that she has a closet stuffed with things but feels she has nothing to wear. I've tried steering her your way and I will send her this post - but I'm not sure she's really ready as yet. The charity shops certainly do well by her though.

  10. Meant to send this link - the Apartment Therapy website did a bit on using artwork to decorate your home and it reminded me of your use of a piece of art to plan a wardrobe - thought you would find it interesting.

  11. I *know* this woman and she is a dear friend of mine, lots of fun but her outfits often leave me speechless. She converted a bedroom into an extra closet that holds the overflow of prints, florals and otherwise embellished tops to wear. All this is paired with great flourish using dangling earrings, statement necklaces, and of course long fingernails. Next to her I am sure that I look like Ma Frump in my Eileen Fisher, or else very stylish. :)) I am sure my firend would feel like she was in a sartorial straighjacket if she were to pair down to a more managable and cohesive wardrobe. And yes, she constantly complains about having nothing to wear...

  12. I'm in New England and the final wardrobe reads as very "Florida" to me. Around here this would read like a summer weekend wardrobe and not much else. Typically if women wear khakis to work it's with sporty tops, if they work in an active occupation like physical therapy. Alternatively, they might wear khakis to dress down a structured blazer for summer. I would like to see the starting point wardrobe taken in a different direction. Thanks. I do very much enjoy reading these posts.

  13. "Miss Havisham territory," HA HA HA! This is a great post. It reminds me of when I began to redo my wardrobe, in large part with the help of this blog. It doesn't seem so overwhelming on screen but in real life it was daunting. Taking out all those clothes, piling them up, sorting through them... This is a nice way to see how to do it in stages.

  14. Amazing curating here, Janice. I'm realizing that every closet and cupboard in my house stashes, yes, both Miss Haversham and magpie enthusiasms; I never met a chintz pitcher or a gorgeous botanical print blouse that I didn't love. My stark Eileen Fisher trousers frown accusingly.

  15. I was fascinated by this post, Janice. What I saw in the original wardrobe was a woman who likes floral patterned and dark bottoms that taper in as they go down, and flowy, feminine tops that bunch or ruffle or trapeze. Free spirit on top meets tight active on the she feels ready to dance all of the time.

    I really like the first edit because so many of the outfits have the shape that I think this imaginary woman apparently likes...after that, you went a different route than I predicted, choosing for the softness of the colours both top AND bottom, and changing shapes completely from what I thought would work. Hmm. So interesting. There are many ways to pare down a wardrobe, and figuring out what one likes and wants in their clothes is part of the process! Your insights are so instructive helping us see what effect we are looking for overall, and to visualize what we are missing to make our pieces come together to make that happen. Thanks for a new view!

  16. Interesting post and something that I can relate to, albeit with different colourways and style of clothing. However, I don't understand the final 4x4 wardrobe and its placements. The first neutral core of four in camel/beige is okay, but the second could have been all ivory/white with two tops and two bottoms - but it included blush and taupe?? The mileage four could have shown two blush tops and two peach tops as these are her favourite colours followed by some of the patterned items in the expansion four. She could also aim to build another four by four capsule wardrobe expanding on the pearl grey and taupe items. I don't feel that the black and olive items belong in this ladies wardrobe as they seem harsh amongst all those lovely feminine soft pieces. Sharon U.K.

    1. Ohhh, your system would have worked well! But I really am going to stick to my idea of adding olive to her wardrobe; I can't imagine what life would be like with NO dark-colored clothes. I think living downtown the way I do alters my point of view about having clothes that won't show dirt...
      What a great range of opinions today - I might be able to resign and let you all write this yourself!

    2. Never, dear Janice! It is much easier for us to edit than to create, after all. I love the work you do for us, and would really like to see this same concept applied to my closet, lol. Navy and white neutrals, BRIGHTS - and tons of them - accent colors, prints all over the place (toppers, tops, and bottoms, oh my). Trying to wrangle a cohesive capsule or two is wearing me out.

  17. Oh how I have enjoyed this post, Janice! You build up a profile then lay into it down with forensic precision and imagination. Just where do you find your inspiration?!
    I thought your intro was describing me, which probably explains why I have such a huge wardrobe of disparate items and colours. I would really like now to find the time (and the decisiveness and ruthlessness!) to take this approach to the whole of my wardrobe. Maybe when I retire :-)
    Love the RI selection too, must check out the website ...

  18. Magpie! That's it...while the details differ for me, with plenty of neutrals and 4 x 4s possible, I am strongly attracted to "unusual have given me so much to consider! This is such a great way to evaluate my gigantic wardrobe! Merci beaucoup!

  19. I think there are two basic problems when you end up creating a wardrobe like this. One is, you're not aware that part of you is very adventurous in some particular way. Big or strong colored florals = romantic adventurer. Big or strong colored pattern (not floral, a large colorful plaid, let's say) = exploring adventurer, wants to travel or break out of a rut of some kind. Bright solids indicate you're not afraid of being seen, or taking action (I'm making this up as I go along, feel free to disagree). I always remember the times I bought bright, dominant colors as times I was either in the process of making big, bold life decisions, or wishing that I could break out of a rut. Times when I buy softer, quieter colors, I'm probably not doing much with my life and I might be exploring my options. I can truly say that color and pattern most definitely tell a story, but I'd also add that for those who are attracted to bright or deep colors, consider that you're possibly crying out for more adventure in your life, or perhaps more meaning. Romantic colors tell me this woman is a romantic at heart, and balancing with more practical colors might actually be a hard sell. And of course, where you live has a lot to do with the colors you will be drawn to. I could never in a million years wear the colors above, because I live in the grey zone of the Seattle metropolitan area, where I exist in various shades taken on by rocks. I'm eliminating black from my wardrobe but letting myself keep it in polka dots and patterned blouses and pants. I don't know how to eliminate it entirely, because it sends its own statement. But I have definitely accrued the magpie's closet, and I have to winnow through it as I get closer and closer to realizing that not every color of the rainbow belongs to me.

  20. I think I'm a cousin to this woman - I'm terrific at keeping to a color scheme, but my design lines are sometimes all over the place. I'm a soft touch for interesting cutting, construction and fabric details, so I end up with some really wacky things - all in my chosen colors though! I really enjoyed seeing the process here. I also appreciated some of the comments about how this woman's unedited wardrobe probably reveals things about her style she was unaware of. Making those style choices consciously can become a large part of the character of her wardrobe without having the "huh, was that a mistake?" vibe. (I'm getting better at this!) I had been working through my own version of this edit process (currently on hiatus for pregnancy), but it's been helpful to my visual mind seeing it methodically parsed.

    Last week someone had mentioned a jewelry version of this edit, which I'm really hoping you'll tackle as well. I've inherited a lot costume and nicer (but not "fine") jewelry & I'm at a loss when I take a peek at it.

    Thanks so much for all your work!

  21. This is so great, to have this level of discussion with other women trying to figure things out together. This is a very interesting series. Now I am really wishing that I lived in Chicago and could hire you to come to my place and help me!!!

    Deb from Vancouver

  22. Thanks Janice!

    I love this new series. I am a total magpie wardrobe collector, made worse by shoulder and chest dimensions that do not match my petite frame. I love buying skirts, dread shopping for structured shirts and dresses (which look I love)- I basically have to stick to Jersey knit on top for things to fit right. I love the look of a classic button down, but they don't fit me right. I don't wear sleeveless anything.

    I finally realized that I didn't have any basic pieces for my wardrobe and went about getting things straight. I liked the idea of a minimalist wardrobe and even curated things down by season to about 4 tops and 3-4 bottoms, but that was way too much laundry, and I'd often go raid DH's closet for an oversized t-shirt when I ran out of tops after 4 days.

    Finally, I made a list. I included all the "extra" pieces that people just leave out like underwear, socks, sports specific wear, etc. And came up with a 100 piece basic wardrobe that is functional for me. Now when I shop, it's to fill in a missing piece of my basic 100. I can still own more, but I know if I don't have these pieces, I won't feel completely put together and will want to shop and feel like I don't have what I need. And I still don't own all 100.

    I have found that I like 10 summer tops and 10 winter tops. This allows for weekly laundry with some breathing room. I only own 3 pairs of pants and 3 pairs of shorts. This works for me because I can usually wear bottoms twice in a week before washing. I have 2 basic skirts on my list (but own a ton more beautiful silk skirts), and 3 cardigans. The pants are black, denim, and khaki. The cardigans are black, white, and khaki. The shorts are white, khaki, and denim/blue. I have black, white, gray, and heathered khaki shirts. I also have 4 dresses, plus 3 specialty dresses- LBD also appropriate for funerals, a light semi formal appropriate for weddings, and a long formal. Because everything is so basic and inspired after your old basic wardrobe posts, I do go crazy with color for the tops. I don't have rhyme or reason to them, but they are grounded by the neutral bottoms, shoes, and basic accessory pieces.

    I think I like the functional approach first- how many of each type do you really need? And then the color coordination to come in afterward to make sure there is enough versatility in the wardrobe.

    Thanks for your blog! You have made wardrobe planning fun for me! I hope to someday add some fun pants to my life, and with your help I have more confidence in doing so, but for now, I am still shopping my basics.

    1. Lara the LibrarianMarch 14, 2017 at 1:43 PM

      Renee, thanks for the insight into your laundry process. I've been wondering for ages how laundry works in a capsule closet and even mailed Janice about it last week. Glad I'm not the only one who struggles with this question. And your solution is great - tailored to you.

    2. Thanks. Some people might only wear bottoms once a week. I used to do that, so then you would need at least 7 bottoms you liked to wear, and I would do 10 because I don't always do laundry on the same day. If everything mixed and matched, a 10x10 wardrobe is 100 outfits right there. I think seeing how many clothes you wear during your regular laundry cycle is a great start for what you "need." If they are fabulous pieces that coordinate and that you love, then it makes for a happy wardrobe. I also wear out my clothes about every 2 years with this method, so my wardrobe stays pretty current, though I am sometimes really sad to see a piece go.

  23. What an interesting post! So many great comments too! Keep up the good work Janice!

  24. Wow, I just stumbled upon your website as I am in search of how to develop my own wardrobe capsule. Your blog is by far one of the most useful/insightful ones out there. I really like your approach of starting out with a color scheme and this Magpie article really helps me better understand what pieces don't work and why. I look forward to reading all your other articles on your blog. Keep up the good work!