As you can see, a cluster is a bit more than the sum of its parts – adding the 4th piece tends to really expand the number of ensembles available to you. This idea becomes really powerful when you get a few clusters working together; in this example, eight pieces of clothing give you at least 16 different outfits:
So let’s see how this works out with a 50-piece wardrobe of mixed and various garments!(I’ve noticed that the nature of a “random” wardrobe that I select for use here on The Vivienne Files will clearly reflect the retailer from which I’ve chosen the pieces, as well as probably suggesting something about my own approach to clothing and wardrobes. In other words, there’s no such thing as a random wardrobe – at least in blogging terms!
But I choose all of the garments from 1 place so that I can easily give the appropriate credit for the images that I’m using; if I chose pieces from 3 or 4 different places, the subtitles would be bigger than the image of the wardrobe.)
Before we get to our clusters, we need to count the number of pieces that we have in each category, so that we know how many clusters we are going to build. I’m particularly interested to note that this wardrobe has FIVE dresses in it – all very pretty, either floral, or softly draped, with just the exception of the grey linen dress.I always keep ALL of the dresses in a wardrobe – at least in the short term – because a dress is a complete outfit. Unless the wardrobe heroine really doesn’t care for dresses, and was just buying them for special occasions or through some misguided effort to be something she isn’t, they will be an easy way to get dressed most days without struggling to mix and match separates.
Your mileage may vary…
Here’s where we figure out that we’re going to build and keep 7 Clusters, as well as the 5 dresses:
I decided to keep 33 pieces as a nod to Project 333, in which many of us have participated in the past, and will do again in the future. Obviously, to get from 50 pieces to 33, we’re going to need to pull out 17 garments!
Since the dresses are staying, I got them out of our way first. The we just try to get a feel for the wardrobe as a whole – and that’s not easy! Lots of floral printed tops, and THREE floral skirts – maybe that’s our theme?
The first thing that I did was scan through this wardrobe repeatedly, looking for groupings of 4 garments (1 bottom and 3 tops) that felt harmonious. So these five clusters came to light pretty quickly, after a bit of experimentation and trial and error. However, while the floral print tops are well-represented, NONE of the floral skirts are here!
So we’re going to have to do some trial and error on some specific pieces. I was drawn to the dark-background skirt because dark backgrounds are more flattering in prints than lighter backgrounds, and they can also be more seasonless…
But I just can’t put together 4 pieces of clothing that really work…
I noticed right away that there were four pieces of clothing in olive green – well, shades of olive green. You might be really comfortable wearing these outfits, but I felt in all cases that the colors were uncomfortably wrong together. This is a case where bringing a garment with you when you’re shopping, so as to make sure that the colors work together, could have made ALL the difference…
And this skirt – it’s SO pretty…. but this wardrobe doesn’t have a single pure-white blouse, tee shirt or sweater… and this skirt’s background is very pure white… When you mix off-white tops with a skirt like this, the tops always end up looking dingy.
After much dragging and dropping and playing around with all of the remaining garments, I was able to build these three clusters:
While I would have loved to have figured out how to keep those floral skirts, I still feel that this wardrobe has a lovely representation of the floral prints that the heroine seems to love. But I can’t imagine a wardrobe with only 1 cardigan; that would be something I’d be rushing out to buy…
After looking at these clothes at length, I thought that I had a pretty clear idea of how this woman should move forward in her clothes shopping. I chose one top from her wardrobe that I felt well-represented her fondness for flowers, as well as suggesting a good color scheme for her wardrobe. These were my thoughts:
Wouldn’t it be nice if we all were issued a wardrobe guideline document at birth?
PS – For more in the “Cleaning Out Your Closet” series, please check out:
Dear Janice, This is an excellent post. Give us the accessories for this choice. Also, it seems to me that you wanted to add something, but you left that idea. Am I right?
All the best, Maja
Taste of France says
This landed just in time for getting out the warm-weather clothes. Thank you! Will give it a try this week.
Margie from Toronto says
WOW! That must have been a lot of work! You have given us a lot to think about. Thank you.
Janice, this is my all-time favourite post of yours, because it feels so real life, with you wrestling with not-quite-the-right colour to go with such-and-such item. And oh yes, how real life it is to find it difficult to include the patterned skirts one loves but somehow can't make work with the rest of one's wardrobe. It all rings so true. This idea of editing by clusters is brilliant too. LOVE THIS POST.
Wow, the level of analysis here is mind-boggling. I think, though, that if this were my closet such clustering thoughts would send me out shopping for missing essential items and do the opposite of uncluttering my closet!
I would have swapped the black floral skirt out with the black pants in the very first cluster and then used the black pants to make a cluster with your remaining outfits. I find it difficult to believe that a woman who owns so many florals would wear that completely neutral, unprinted first combination. I think that pulling all your solids into the two left hand clusters really limited your options. I know it supports your love for a neutral column, but it made mixing and matching your remainders much harder. Maybe a rule such as one print per cluster would have helped your distribution.
Loved the idea and the way of looking at the clothes.
Lara the Librarian says
I've been struggling with some items, trying to make them work. They kinda fitted in with the 4×4 closet idea, but the reality is that they aren't as versatile as I would like. This method is an excellent way to assess them critically and make a decision.
Oh-my-gosh ! Just last night I was reviewing your posts about closet editing by color and functionality , and here is today's post ! I always think of my wardrobe in clusters ! One bottom , two, sometimes three tops and always a topper ! When I say three tops, one of those is a tank top that matches and is only worn with a matching shirt in warm weather, so I think of that as one unit, not two separate pieces. My challenges have been the red color variations in cardigans that don't quite go with the reds in the tops. They do now, as eventually I found the right matching reds, but I have too many total tops and toppers in various reds, so some should go as I choose the favorites.
My next dilemma is that I have a very narrow range of neutral colors for cool months, basically brown, rust, olive, and tan for Winter with duplicates of the same color pant for laundry purposes, and tans and stone and olive for warm weather, so eight bottoms for a season, but four colors, so I have multiple accent tops and toppers for a variety of looks, hence multiple clusters, but using the same pant as the basis. This is where it gets confusing for me to do the math in the area of ratios, because I keep using the same pair of pants, so I guess my ratios of tops to bottoms is much higher than two or three to one.
I like color , so I have clusters of neutral tops and toppers to match each of the bottoms, and then three accent color clusters that are interchangeable between the neutral bottoms for each season, so how do I do the math and ratios for total pieces ?
I enjoyed this post! Thank you for saying she should keep the dresses! I like dresses for the very reason you stated: instant outfit. In the first clusters I kept wondering where the cardigans were. To me that seems like a hole in her wardrobe, but maybe her climate is different. It's too bad none of the floral skirts worked out but I do think this reflects "real life". It can be tricky to match colors and also have the appropriate textures to match as well. But she has florals in her dresses and her tops so her theme is represented. I love the final color scheme you developed. While it would be nice to start with the color scheme first and select garments, it is more practical to develop a color scheme from things you already have. Less waste and then funds can go to fill the "holes" in the wardrobe with quality pieces (and there may be more money for travel and adventure!)
Oh I just figured it out — my need for caffeine must have been showing ! So here goes — one pair of pants for me equates to a 4 or 5 piece cluster, depending upon the season. Sooo — four bottom colors times 5 piece matching neutral clusters equals 20 clothing items. Now add three or four accent colors in 3-4 item clusters of tops and toppers, that are interchangeable with the neutrals for an additional 12-14 pieces of tops and toppers. Add those to the 20 neutral items, and 32-34 pieces is the conclusion, not taking into account the duplication of neutral bottoms for the sake of laundry. My confusion was in the ratio of bottoms to tops and toppers, rather than in the total numbers of items in the wardrobe.
Thank you for explaining, I really like this idea, I'm going to try it
Dear Janice, you are brilliant! I cannot believe the time and effort you put into this for us. I do hope a publishing deal is in your future – I would definitely buy multiple copies of your book.
I am concerned about the lack of "toppers", as I always wear a third piece (or second, if I am wearing a dress). I love that you included all of her dresses – that is one of my stumbling blocks when I try to declutter my wardrobe. I second the thought that I wish you could have utilized the print skirts, but she does have print dresses. This is one of my problems as well. Back in the day, I wore only solid pieces. Once I adopted prints, though, I went crazy and they are all over the place – tops, bottoms, dresses – which makes mixing and matching dicey, at best.
But now I feel this has given me a great launching point for decluttering my wardrobe – Thank you!
Janice Riggs says
I think I'm going to do this again, with a shopping list at the end – then add the pieces from the shopping list and show the final wardrobe. What do you think? Useful?
Yes, definitely! Oh so wish you could come over to my place and declutter my wardrobe!
Nancy B. says
This is terrifically helpful. I've always felt there was a "missing piece" in my wardrobe clean-outs. This is it. Thanks.
What a fun post! I was so disappointed that the floral skirt got removed – so I had to go take a look. How about wearing it with either of the pink tops or the rose gold knit. From my computer screen, any of those would be lovely. Just a thought.
Thank you for all your hard work on this!
WOW! Awesome post today. Terrific "real life" example of how to approach a closet full of clothes. I love it when you do the math – it makes so much sense. Coupled with the step by step thought process, you've done a great job of showing how to get a handle on what to keep and what to consider as future purchases. Can't wait to try this!
This is a fabulous post! It puts into words a concern that I have had about my wardrobe. While I have elements that fill in the 4×4 or other templates, I seem to wear them in "clusters" and not wear a broader range of possibilities. I expect there is too much in my closet. This gives me a way to approach the problem.
Thank you for you hard work!
I spent most of Sunday with all my clothing (except summer dresses that I forgot were stored on the bed) spread out on the bed. I did manage to rid myself of shoes, tops, bottoms. AND, I was able to find space for the winter things, that I don't have to look at. I could probably still do more (oh for sure I could do more), BUT I'll try what I've got for a couple of weeks. Your advice is awesome!
I too loved this post, but I think the right answer might have been to skip the second to the last cluster and instead send her out to buy a white tee and cardigan to pair with the pretty white floral skirt. Sometimes decluttering makes the lack of a core item crystal clear!
Great post, I love the idea of clusters. I'm not very technical, so I'm going to write on bits of paper and shuffle them about until I'm happy with them, thanks!
Janice Riggs says
You could also just wait until you've worn things in a cluster, and then make sure to hang the things together; maybe tie ribbons on each side of the 4 hangers, or use shower curtain rings to separate them from the other things in the closet…
Oh! The stuff I think of….
Ohh, shower curtain rings, brilliant! Thanks :)
I like your cluster method. I have found that making a cluster of outfits around a floral bag has worked well for me. When I first gathered the outfits together on one page around the bag, I was amazed at how well everything went together. I felt proud of myself, though it's thanks to you, Janice, this blog is where I got the idea.
I had previously tried to build a 4X4 wardrobe (digitally) and it hadn't worked. Although I thought I had followed the principles, somehow I couldn't make outfits. Obviously I had picked the wrong items, as it seems to work when you do it!
Another light bulb moment was your recent use of blush as a neutral. Somehow I seem to shy away from neutrals as tops, I can't bring myself to wear grey or dark navy or camel or brown, anything like that sits unworn in my wardrobe, but blush is so useful. I have decided, after much thought, that I will first buy all the items (the ones that fit me, anyway!) that I've digitally selected in blush and coral shades. This will fit in with what I already have, and I can make new outfits over time. I will include accessories in those colours too. I have just realised, at the age of 66, that I have never had a wardrobe of accessories. Many thanks for this blog, I hope you understand how much you are appreciated. Linda M
Another post that could not be more timely. I just made the first pass through my closet to get rid of things that were worn out, don't fit, and don't "spark joy." My shopping habits have always been of the "magpie" variety shown in one of the earlier posts, so I have a rather mismatched wardrobe. Lots of t-shirts that go with jeans or shorts, but not enough good quality outfits for work. As I make my second pass through, I'll keep my eye out for clusters of clothing.
Looking at these clusters that are posted, it appears 2-3 clusters makes for a great travel wardrobe. Especially the ones where all or most of the tops go with all the bottoms.
Fantastic post and just what I needed. I'm about to leave for a 2 1/2 month trip to England and France with a season change about to happen. I think this idea of clusters will help me pack – I'll make one of the tops in each cluster slightly more summery and one of them a little warmer and one a piece that can work as a third layer with both. I'm aiming to take everything in one carry on and one under seat bag, and I think now I can do it. Although….. shoes.
Thanks for your hard work.
This is very helpful indeed – I've understood the process better this time, and will use it at the next 'two-month review'. (I work on six seasons a year – it suits our cool,mtemperate climate and helps with my low boredom threshold.) I really liked the wardrobes too, both the starting one and the edited one, especially the way you've incorporated dark basics with light, pastels. I'd like to see your shoe choices for this one too. The final top to look out for is dreamy!
Robyn in Tasmania
I would love to see you do more with clusters that involve more than one neutral base.
I really like this idea of clusters! I think for me it might be most useful in managing the rarer "use cases" of my wardrobe — I don't need a whole capsule of going out/date night clothes for example, but I do want to get gussied up now and then and I don't want to wear the exact same outfit every time. So this could help me make sure my clothes for those rarer occasions in my life work together and can be mixed and matched — and maybe help me see a couple of key pieces to buy in order to pull together what I already have.
I don't love black but do have several other neutrals (navy, brown etc). I also always wear a jacket or cardigan. I recently did something a little like this where I made little clusters of each colour and wrote them down trying to make outfits for work. I bought some extra plain trousers!
Love It! I think the black tulip shaped floral skirt could have worked with the orange t, the pink sweater and one of the black tees, but really I would have just jettisoned all the black. The black pieces just seem worry dark amidst all the florals and pastels.
Oh, those pesky greys and white-to-creams that can be "wrong" so easily. No wonder why I rely on black! Inès de la Fressange, who usually irritates me with her buy-your-blazer-two-sizes-too-mall advice, says that we ought to make room in our closets for a piece or two that is sentimental, even if it goes with nothing else. I like that little touch of wildness. My best method has been the "wear it and then reverse the hanger direction" method. Then I can see at the end of a season what was worn and what was not, because my analyses are not always consistent with what really happens.
Stephanie Quick says
Great idea for organizing! I know lots of ladies who buy by outfit, this would be an easy way to increase their versatility.
re: "While I would have loved to have figured out how to keep those floral skirts…." This is where a bit of an overdye job can work wonders. Personally i use RIT dyes in pearl grey and tan (cool grey and warm) to tone down pure whites which don't look that great on me. If our heroine loves those skirts and wants to keep them in her wardrobe, this would be worth trying out.
As always, very thought provoking and useful ideas! Thank you!!
What a great method!! From the amount of replies many think alike! I hope you follow up with that shopping list and final wardrobe idea!!
Dear Janice, LOVE IT! I will try this when I get back from the easter holidays. So far my wardrobe consists of passed-down clothes from my mother (who runs a clothes shop). They are nice clothes, and for sure I can refuse them or pass them on further, it just feels like a bit of a waste. But it also feels a bit strange to be 30 years old and not have any items in my wardrobe that have not specifically been chosen by myself as a good use of money (without being approved by either my mother or my boyfriend). This post will be a good challenge, also because I have around 8 pairs of blue jeans, one grey and two white, and no other pants that are not pajama-y or yoga-y, and also not one cardigan that is to my liking. This will be very interesting.