Tuesday, June 06, 2017

How to Shop Your Wardrobe, or Why I Own Wooden Hangers

We've all read this advice - when you see an outfit in a catalog or magazine that you really like, you should (rather than purchase said outfit) "shop your closet."

I suppose we all know, in some way, what that means - don't buy something, but find something in your current clothes that will do the trick. Sounds logical, doesn't it?

But I suspect that a lot of people don't manage to make this work very well. There's something fundamentally backwards about this advice. I'm not lusting for something that I already own - I'm filled with desire for something NEW. Something FRESH. Something... different.

Eileen Fisher store interior from New York magazine
Eileen Fisher store interior, from New York magazine

Frankly, there's no way to get around that desire for novelty; it's hard-wired into our psyche, and no little tip or trick will change that!

BUT... I think that there are a few things you can consider that might make your closet easier to "shop."

First, think about your favorite store, and what you like most about it? What pleasure would you get from going there that you do NOT get when you open your closet door?

For me, I like spaciousness. I like being able to see the clothes and other items available for sale. I like stores that smell good! (that might be a little bit weird, but I'm putting it out there anyway!) I like light, and a sense of airiness. I like music in the background. I like clothes that are neat, tidy, carefully arranged...

So can ANY of this help my closet? Heck yes - virtually all of these qualities can be brought home and put to good effect...

Does you closet need a light in it? Get one! There are lots of small lights that can literally be stuck onto a wall or the ceiling, that are battery powered. Rummaging in the dark is no fun!

Would a good "airing out" benefit your storage area? Do it! Find a pleasant, not overpowering sachet or fragrance thing of some sort and make use of it. I use scented soaps, wrapped in tissue so that they don't rub off on something accidentally.

But the biggest thing? Don't crowd your clothes; if they don't fit in the closet you have, put some pieces into a good, solid, secure storage container, and let the items that remain have a bit of space. (I almost said let them breathe, but they're inanimate - let's not get carried away!)

A tidy closet with wooden hangers and a monochromatic palette
My closet. The colors that you see are the foam gizmos that I get from dry cleaner hangers,
and move onto my wooden hangers!

Almost 20 years ago, I decided that I was going to have a beautiful closet. Every few days, as I was walking home from the El, I would stop into a store on my way, and buy a box (or 2) of wooden hangers. At that time I would get six hangers, or twelve, if I was feeling extravagant.

I'd go home and migrate a few pieces onto the new hangers. After about six weeks or so, I had ALL wooden hangers. I probably, 20 years ago, spent about what one would spend for a really nice sweater, or a medium-range winter jacket. 20 YEARS AGO. These babies will never wear out...

When I got tired of tripping over all of my shoes, I bought a hanging sorter thingy to hold the extras. Now that I can actually SEE them, I regularly wear them!

a canvas shoe holder with black and white shoes

This next upgrade requires no shopping, just a few minutes of time. All of my long-sleeved (theoretically not in season) tops are folded to the same width, and parked on a shelf just above my hangers. Now that I can see THEM, I wear them...

a neatly folded stock of long-sleeved shirts

A few people have asked me now I store my scarves - here's where you can sort of see them! This is ELFA shelving, and it's pretty brilliant. Ages ago, when Belovedest and I moved to Ireland, we had an apartment that had ONE closet, with literally 1 meter of hanging space. So we bought an ELFA closet, put it together (along with some drawer units) and created our own closets! The Container Stores sells ELFA - you don't have to go full-bore insane installation, just get what you need! We are STILL using the same pieces, with occasional additions from time to time as our needs change. Most of the pieces here are from the original purchase, 13 years ago...

My top drawer here, with the small mesh, is where my jewelry lives. (when I get that tidy, I will share!) The 2nd drawer, with the green thingy on the right, in where all of my scarves live.

I've got a drawer for lingerie, TWO drawers for gym clothes, and a bottom drawer with sleepwear.

And yes, that's our printer, setting on top!

ELFA drawer unit

My closet is sort of a dream, even before I add anything to it or do anything nifty to make it better. It's "walk-in" with hanging on both sides AND A WINDOW at the end. The window remains closed, and the blind is ALWAYS shut. There's a big trend now toward having a rack of clothing hanging, out in the open, in a room. It looks pretty cool, but clothes fade in constant light. (ask someone who does window displays...) So we keep it dark unless we're in there. It has an overhead light too... It's pretty excellent!

So what does this mean for shopping your closet? Maybe just a little, maybe a lot. If you can make some modest changes to the way you store clothes, and those modest changes will make it easier for you to wear (and eventually wear OUT) the clothes that you wear, it's worth doing. If better visibility in your closet helps you remember what you already own, it could at least keep you from feeling like you're in need of new clothes.

Still, in the best of all possible worlds, my closet would look like this:

JJill interior from WWD
JJill interior from WWD

But we're only mortal, and the temptation of novelty isn't going to go away! Do you have any good ideas or suggestions for handling the lure of the new?

love,
Janice

p.s. Fear not - navy and beige with accent colors will be back tomorrow! I think this heroine will be going to the beach....

How to Shop Your Wardrobe, or Why I Own Wooden Hangers
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36 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading this - I think your ideas are very achievable. I don't like those wardrobe posts where you have to buy ridiculous amounts of expensive stuff to make it work! I live in the UK and my wardrobe is TINY! Later today, I'm going to do the hanger trick and turn them all,the wrong way to see what I can weed out. I guess that's my biggest tip - don't keep what you never wear! If something gets abit bobbly or stained beyond rescue, out it goes, it's nice to see just what you will wear in your wardrobe.

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  2. I've been hoping you'd write about closets. Do you store your clothes by type/color/ season or what? I'd love to hear more about how you organize things.

    I have a gorgeous closet, also with Elfa fittings. A few years ago, we had hardwood floors installed in our master bedroom and closet. That meant completely emptying the large, over filled closet as well as the bedroom. I pulled out just the clothes I wore all the time and put the others in a stack in a back bedroom. While the closet was empty, we thought we'd paint it before the floors went in. That looked so nice we decided to put in the Elfa system. When I just hung up the clothes I'd pulled out to actually wear, it looked so nice that I started getting rid of other clothes. And I started Kondo-ing all the clothes in my Elfa drawers.

    And that's where my interest in Capsule Wardrobes was born! Closets and Capsule Wardrobes are inseparable in my mind.

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  3. I've been hoping you'd write about closets. Do you store your clothes by type/color/ season or what? I'd love to hear more about how you organize things.

    I have a gorgeous closet, also with Elfa fittings. A few years ago, we had hardwood floors installed in our master bedroom and closet. That meant completely emptying the large, over filled closet as well as the bedroom. I pulled out just the clothes I wore all the time and put the others in a stack in a back bedroom. While the closet was empty, we thought we'd paint it before the floors went in. That looked so nice we decided to put in the Elfa system. When I just hung up the clothes I'd pulled out to actually wear, it looked so nice that I started getting rid of other clothes. And I started Kondo-ing all the clothes in my Elfa drawers.

    And that's where my interest in Capsule Wardrobes was born! Closets and Capsule Wardrobes are inseparable in my mind.

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    1. I really don't hang them in any particular order; I've found that this fertilizes my imagination! I see things hanging together that I haven't worn together, and I give it a try. It's pretty easy in my wardrobe, with only has (right now) 3 pieces that aren't black and/or white...
      hugs,
      Janice

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  4. I desperately need to clean my closet. It is organized and I have access but it needs work. Shoes and handbags/totes are a problem for me. On the floor, I can't see them easily. I have been wearing small assortment of clothing since February so cleaning should be easy. I have yet to WEAR OUT but I really hope that, come September, some of my summer clothes will need culling.
    I hang my clothes by colour which seems quite useful as I often get up and dressed while Monsieur is still sleeping.

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  5. We recently moved into a smaller space, so I have half a (non-walk-in) closet and a small dresser. My winter clothes are in a bin on the closet floor, and I have just enough hanging room for my spring/summer things. I have a belt hanger (maybe it's a tie hanger?) to hold belts, a couple of purses and a necklace. I have a small hanging shelf thing (like the one you have your shoes in), for scarves. I have one multi-skirt hanger and one multi-pant hanger. I also layer things on hangers: a jean jacket on top of a t-shirt, things like that. Somehow, so far, it's all fitting in.

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  6. I have a closet that runs the width of my bedroom but it only has a small door at one end so access is very awkward. I ended up using this as more of a storage cupboard and for my coats. I bought 2 IKEA wardrobes for the rest of my clothes and I have two dressers (one is used mostly for out of season clothes). I use mostly wooden and padded clothes hangers and love to keep everything organized and neat. I organize by "type" of item and then colour.
    Over the summer I intend to move around some furniture and this all give me the opportunity to make a few changes to how things are stored. I do need to find something better for my shoes - most are in their boxes so difficult to know what is there - that is something that I definitely want to change.
    My friends often ask me to come over and help them re-do their closets (something this little Virgo loves to do) and the first thing I do is look at their clothes hangers (NO WIRE HANGERS) and advise some purchases as needed. They are always astounded at how much space they actually have once we're finished! Loved this post!

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  7. Ha, in NYC, where walk-in closets routinely get turned into bedrooms, one with a real window would definitely get transformed.
    I have wood hangers for all pants, jackets and dresses, but shirts are on wire hangers because they take less space. (What I'd like is to Marie Kondo my husband's clothes--he's the packrat!) I have been on a buying sabbatical for a couple of years now, as my budget has been directed elsewhere, and I admit I don't lack for clothes, despite several items getting turned into rags every season. I just dyed some faded things back to deep black to give them a new lease on life.

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    1. A LOT of these closets are used for bedrooms for children, in this building! Our unit had a front hall closet removed (to improve views), but in a unit that still has that closet, there's a ton of storage room here. We have an entry closet that has no window, but is literally almost 8' by 8'. Amazing...
      hugs,
      Janice

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  8. I agree with everything you've said here. One major thing I found that took my closet closer to looking like a boutique: a unified color scheme! I think this is the end-game of everything you do on this site. To give you an example, my closet looked like a sort of a hodge-podge until I removed all the green and brown. That edit significantly upped my "boutique factor."

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  9. I recently moved to a small city apartment from a big house with the walk-in closet of my dreams. Even after radical downsizing and almost a year of clothes culling before the move, I am confronted by too many clothes in two very crammed, dark closets and virtually no storage space. What has worked best for me is to put together every month or so six or eight color-coordinating and appealing outfits--casual to dressy--appropriate for the season and my calendar of events (a kind of mini capsule wardrobe)and hang them on slim velvet hangers, complete with scarves and accessories, from the top of the open closet doors. I can see what to wear instantly and the clothes don't get crushed. And then, the next time I dive into the depths to choose outfits, I continue to try to find more clothes to discard--especially clothes that don't seem especially versatile or flattering.

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    1. Gail, you've inspired me to run upstairs this very minute and do this! :) Thanks

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    2. Lizette, hope this strategy helps your closet doldrums as much as it has helped mine!

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  10. Have you been tempted to use the velvet hangers? I've seen posts that love them as they are thin, but others say that it is hard to hang clothes properly. We have some wood hangers, but still use the wire hangers. Thinking about upgrading our hangers for a bit, so any comments would be appreciated.

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    1. I am a huge fan of the velvet hangers. They look beautiful and uniform, and they really keep even silky clothes from slipping off. The slimness is an advantage, but with they can snap. There are versions made for coats which are sturdier, but not thin. - nancyo

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  11. Since you asked...my tips for wanting less new things

    1. Shop only perfect, excellent items that are great quality and make you feel fabulous. Cultivate a picky attitude.
    The less you love what you already own, the easier it is to want more and the lower standards you have for new purchases. Yet, it's so easy to make little compromises while shopping...
    2. Take good care of your clothes. Make repairs as needed, have them tailored if needed etc. It's easier to love clothes that are in good condition. Having closet in good order helps as well.
    3.have great accessories and use them- often it's also wiser to invest in a new scarf or piece of jewelry instead of a clothing item
    4.create a waiting list. I shop almost exclusively online. When I see something really nice I don't buy it immediately but enter the item to my want-list. It's amazing how many things lose their allure in just a few weeks.
    5.have a clothing budget and stick to it. I buy almost always things from my waiting list, when budget allows. Typically, new wants have to wait 2 months-1 year (sometimes even longer!) on my waiting list.
    6. remember that chances are that great deals and amazing pieces are not going to end from this world (even if you are special size, have rare color scheme etc.) If you miss a great item, another will probably come to your attention sooner rather than later
    7. have a defined style, color scheme etc. and consider if the new want is a good fit with what you already own. I've seen many, many lovely things that really wouldn't get much wear from me.
    8. never buy something just because you want "something" and not a specific thing for a good reason. If you are bored with your life, there are better ways than shopping to add interest and change.

    -Sara K-

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    1. Sara, these are excellent. Would you mind if I distilled these into an Instagram post some day? With appropriate credit, of course!
      What smart women hang out here...
      hugs,
      Janice

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    2. I'd be honored! In any case, most of these ideas have been inspired by this blog. What goes around comes around...

      -Sara K-

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  12. The JJill display hit the mark with me, Janice. If I can create a display of my current capsule, ONLY, in my closet, I might just get that shopping thrill. I'm going to give it a try. Thanks. Great article.

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  13. i've used wooden hangers for years, and i agree, it does make the closet so much better. i bought inexpensive ones from ikea, and also the matching skirt/pant hangers, and they've lasted for 12 years with no sign of wear. i also bought non-slip foam hanger strips from the container store to keep slippery tops from falling off - they don't show when the top is on the hanger, so it doesn't disrupt the view "visually" when i'm looking at the whole rack of clothes... i can be very particular. :) what helps is i decide for every closet, "this is the number of hangers that can fit comfortably, and no extras." when i go shopping, it forces me to eliminate something from the closet if i want to hang the new item up. the old one-in one-out rule... it does work! it also reminds me in the store (or online, more often than not nowadays), do i love this enough to give something up from my closet to make room? if not, i don't buy it. several times i year, i clear out about 10 - 20 items anyway (dated, worn out, or not in love), just to give me breathing room and permission to fall in love with something for the new season or replace a basic white tee when i need it.

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  14. For me, the first step was culling the dead wood. Somehow my eye sees the old-don't-know-why-I-still-have-this item instead of the items that could be "shopped" into new life. Once I weeded out those old things, it's easier to see the items I can wear again.

    I agree with the Sara K who has a waiting list. I too have a waiting/wish list of items. When I see a great deal on one of those items, or when a hard to find item becomes available, I get the thrill of spontaneous shopping, without the irresponsibility. Is planned spontaneity a thing?

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  15. Great comments and posts! I have to ask one off topic question though. Janice, does the ribbon on the first photo of hangers have any significance?

    Many thanks,
    Roberta

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    1. Dear Roberta,

      Once upon a time, I used those ribbons to mark things that were slated for the next business trip, so that I kept my hands off of them when I was getting dressed! For some reason, hanging things together never seemed to keep me away from those pieces the way the ribbon did... But now, they're just still on my hangers, and I leave them there because them remind me of back in the day, when I traveled for business like a crazy woman!
      You are REALLY observant, by the way - good catch!
      hugs,
      Janice

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    2. Thanks! I thought it might not be a random thing. I keep many little reminders around me too, for my personal enjoyment.
      Roberta

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  16. Yes, great post and great comments too!! I don't know how many of your readers are sewists but our challenges ( generally speaking) are twofold. One, large fabric stashes waiting to become and many items in the closet waiting to be worn!! I use the slim velvet hangers and like them. I have quite a few wood hangers accumulated over the years ( some from my father who died 45 years ago!!
    Sara is brilliant and her "rules" are great, look forward to a post. I think her last rule is the most important, add spice to our lives in many ways.

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  17. Since I did the "KonMari" method on my drawers, I can see everything and enjoy them SO MUCH. I open a drawer and there are all my t-shirts -- the colored ones (for "outfits") in the front and the sports and other message shirts (for games, natch, and house/yardwork) in the back. I am, literally, charmed every time I look. All my drawers are like that now, and I also have bins (and even shoeboxes) for what doesn't fit.
    Here's what I did for my work clothes. When our son moved out I took his tiny closet for the whole year's worth of clothes. Then I bought the very cheapest little clothes wrack possible and put all my current clothes on that. Sometimes I have them ordered by type and sometimes by color. The cardigans are folded and put in two short stacks on the shelf at the top and everything else hangs. The shoes go on the shelf at the bottom. And it's not in a closet - it's in my son's room! It's always visible and I like the way it looks. I just switch out clothes from the closet every month or so. It's very easy to tell what rarely gets worn and should go. I have plastic hangers, not wooden ones, but I like the idea of wooden ones. My everyday clothes are still in MY tiny closet, which I share with my husband. It's hard to get in there and see, but there's so little in there that it works (I just have dresses, pants, skirts, and hanging shirts - only 3-4 of each per season, because I mostly wear knit shirts and sweaters that are in my drawers). I am so happy with my little cheapo hanging wrack. I sound more organized than I really am, because I also have clothes in my basement and in storage chests (the closets are just SO small). But being able to see and enjoy them has made a huge difference in how I feel about them. Because I use buying strategies from this site, I really like almost all of them and how they work together. Seeing them makes me think of all the great choices I have, instead of having to remember what is in a drawer somewhere or stuffed at the back of the closet.

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  18. I need a closet make over...ours is old and inefficient. It is on the list and will be done at some point when we renovate the bedroom....I do envy your space and the neat and tidy aspects of your closet!

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  19. Chicos hangers, the curved plastic ones in their stores, are the best hangers I've ever used. Unfortunately, they don't give them out when one buys clothing there anymore. (I stopped shopping there for anything more than tanks/basics.) If someone would market those bad boys, they would make a fortune! I do have several and no one better mess with them! :) Unfortunately, I live in a mid-century home with long sliding door closets, not walk ins. I have spent 23 years figuring out just the right way to organize them and am very thankful my husband doesn't care a thing for fancy duds, allowing me to have virtually all the closet to myself.

    Love this post - After all, aren't we ladies in our closets constantly!? Do you have a favorite wooden variety; durable, not rough, notched? I've looked on Amazon and there are so many to choose from. Am currently reading reviews, but would love your thoughts.

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  20. I'm so impressed, Janice! I could never do a post on my wardrobe storage, too shameful. I could blame it on not having a walk-in, but it's really about me hoarding 20 years of clothes in a tiny cottage. Oh the shame.
    Anyway, it was so nice to shift from virtual wardrobes to your real wardrobe. I hope you take us out into your real world again soon!

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  21. The Goodwills near me seem to have a fresh stack of IKEA-style wooden hangers every other week or so, I guess from folks who are cleaning out their closets! That's where I got all mine; I find that using wooden hangers and not crowding the space I have makes me feel closet-happy. I'm pretty lucky that the people who owned our condo before us made open closets in the master bathroom with high and low racks and shelves so I can comfortably fit and see all my hanging pieces and shoes. It makes for very pleasant dressing in the morning. And I agree with the comment that having things in a cohesive color palette really makes it visually pleasing!

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  22. I bought an Elfa unit like yours for my daughter when we moved out of the house after a divorce. Several moves (including one across the country) and twenty-six years later, it's still going strong. Worth its weight in gold.

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  23. Great advice here. And I am with you, a pretty closet makes it easier to want to work with what you have. That's why mine has a small pink chandelier in it. Extravagant, yes. Necessary, absolutely not. But does it make me like my closet more, yes. And that makes me want to work with what I have more too.

    I can't figure out why my name isn't coming up when I'm logged in with wordpress so I'm putting it here.

    https://shoppingbrake.com/

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  24. I too am a wooden hanger freak. You can sometimes find them at Goodwill type stores. I covet those men's suit-size ones for my jackets, no more deformed shoulders. (They are hard to find.) As craving something new, a scarf often changes something enough rather than buying a whole new outfit. And do I need more black pants even if really cool? Not in this lifetime.

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  25. Beautiful storage and presentation of clothes does make choosing what to wear a more relaxed experience, but isn't always possible. I created a photo catalogue of everything which I can use to plan potential outfits, colour groups, and options. My everyday clothes for the season hang in view and when I need something new or different I can 'shop' my catalogue and find the stored item.

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  26. I desperately need to clean my closet. It is organized and I have access but it needs work. Shoes and handbags/totes are a problem for me. On the floor, I can't see them easily. I have been wearing small assortment of clothing since February so cleaning should be easy. I have yet to WEAR OUT but I really hope that, come September, some of my summer clothes will need culling. super mario world

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