Building a Functional WardrobeOctober 13, 2020
It’s officially fall, and with cooler weather comes the temptation to buy new season-appropriate pieces. However, before you buy another plaid blazer that you’ll never wear again, I suggest you read this post (and check out my other post on the benefits of quitting fast fashion).
If you’ve ever stood in front of your closet and felt as though you have nothing to wear, then it’s a sign to start rebuilding your wardrobe. Having a functional and stylish wardrobe is not as complicated or expensive as one might think. However, keep in mind that this is not a quick, overnight fix and will require some determination and effort on your part.
The Perfect Wardrobe…
It fits your lifestyle and you can (and want to) wear the same items over and over again. If it’s full of tiny party dresses, but the last time you went out was for a birthday party 6 months ago, it’s no longer functional and time to reevaluate. Weather also plays a big part in the functionality of our wardrobes. Someone who lives in the Bahamas year-round may not have a need for winter clothing, where someone in Canada may need several reliable winter coats. And, unlike a capsule wardrobe, a functional one isn’t as limiting. You can still shop for clothes you love, but you won’t end up with a closet full of items you never wear again.
Mirrors Your Aesthetic
I prefer to stick to a neutral color palette (navy, black, white, grey, blush) with my wardrobe, but love to introduce random pops of color or patterns. But what works for me may not work for you: If patterns and bright colors is your thing, that’s ok! Your closet should be an extension of your personality – clothing is how we express ourselves after all. Having trouble figuring out your personal aesthetic? Click here and here.
Is High Quality
Remember that post I told you to read on the benefits of quitting fast fashion? The quality of your clothing matters for numerous reasons; this is not something to compromise on. This ensures that your wardrobe will last several years, and will grow with you. For more information on high-quality fabrics, click here.
Building the Perfect Wardrobe
Now that you know what a wardrobe needs to have in order to be considered functional, it’s time to discuss how to build it. In the digital age of social media, it’s easier than ever to find inspiration to help you build a great wardrobe, especially if you don’t know where to start. Begin by creating a general Pinterest inspiration board. Every outfit that you find that you can imagine yourself wearing, save it to the board. Do you see any patterns? The answer is most likely yes. This may revolve around color palettes, general patterns, or item type (for example, you’ve saved more dresses than pants). Once you’ve done this, create separate Pinterest boards and sort the inspiration outfits. Save photos that truly fit your lifestyle to one and evening dresses and special occasion wear to another. Be honest with yourself: if you spend a majority of your time chasing small children, your lifestyle board should contain more outfits that revolve around comfortable, practical pieces like sneakers and jeans, not flowing maxi dresses or short skirts.
Once you’ve finished with all of your boards, you can define your style. It’s useful to try to put this into words: write down your lifestyle characteristics, situations, events, colors, garment-type preference (for example, jeans over tailored pants), and the adjectives you would like to associate with your clothes (minimal, practical, feminine, neutral, colorful, etc). These key words and phrases will assist you with shopping for new pieces that fit your aesthetic.
A word on experimenting with different styles: Your personal taste and aesthetic becomes a lot more defined as you become older, and may change completely. While I’ve been drawn to the same color palette since I began shopping, that doesn’t mean I didn’t deviate from it. When I was sixteen, I had a closet chock full of feminine maxi dresses, crop tops, boyfriend jeans, mini skirts, patterned camis, and oversized cardigans: Fun to try, but not all at once. Experiment with new styles and try on clothing you might not have previously considered, and see what works for you.
Begin by Decluttering Your Wardrobe
I have the hardest time with this! To make it easier, lay out three pieces of paper labeled with Keep, Maybe, and Donate/Throw Away. Resist throwing all of your clothing into the Donate/Throw Away pile even if you plan on revamping your wardrobe: you want to start slowly. Work on decluttering items you haven’t worn, what doesn’t fit anymore or is in a state beyond repair, and go from there. Donate/Throw away all the items in that pile, and set the Maybe pile aside. We will work on your Keep pile next.
Organize Your Closet
Once you have your Keep pile finalized, organize it, Sort by category: pants, skirts, dressed, etc and by color as well. This simple step instantly transforms your closet into a tidy, clean place where you can actually find clothes.
Determine Your Signature Look
We all have that go-to outfit that we reach for when we don’t know what to wear, or need to get ready fast. This is lovingly referred to as our uniform or signature look, and is different for everyone. This will be subject to your personal taste and lifestyle, and can be determined by putting together a list of your most frequently worn items. My personal go-to look is jeans-tee-cardigan-flats.
Add Statement Pieces
This step comes last. Not everything you own should be basic or functional. Sometimes the functionality is adding a unique flair to an otherwise simple outfit, like accessorizing jeans and a white tee with a bold necklace or a trendy purse. Focus on building the base of your wardrobe and accentuate afterwards. Essentials first, seasonal items second, statement pieces third.
Find Your Go-To Shops
Oftentimes, I find that women struggle the most with knowing where to shop. While it’s good to be open and find small designers from time to time (or even shop from Amazon or Target) it’s useful to have a couple of go-to shopping sites that fit your style. Is your aesthetic athleisure? Check out Athleta or Beyond Yoga. Love preppy clothes? J.Crew or Banana Republic may be for you! Compile a list of those shops and narrow your searches by style and colors when shopping for new pieces, ensuring they fit into your wardrobe.
Shopping for Your Functional Wardrobe
Focus on Fit
This is a big one. I cannot tell you how many women are desperately holding on to pieces of clothing for “when” they lose weight. If an item does not fit you, do not – and I repeat – do not, purchase that item. If you already own it and its several sizes too small or large, get rid of it. Hanging onto pieces like this only takes up valuable space in your closet. Once again, consider your lifestyle when it comes to fit: do you sit all day at work? Do you have to chase after small children? How does this item fit when standing versus sitting? If you constantly find yourself readjusting your clothing throughout the day, chances are you need a better fit.
However, do not confuse this with items that can be tailored. Certain items, such as a fitted dress or blazer, are meant to be tailored to your body. There’s a reason tailors are on staff in men’s suiting departments: it’s virtually impossible to create a line of suits that fits every body type. So, how do you shop for an item that needs to be tailored? Start with shopping for the largest part of your body. Let’s use a blazer for an example: if you have broad shoulders or a large chest, shop with these areas in mind. Once you’ve found the piece that fits this particular area well, have a tailor work their magic. Tailored clothing not only looks beautiful and flattering on your figure, but will be incredible comfortable as well.
If you struggle with fit and need assistance dressing your body type, please read here.
The Desirability Factor
Everyone wants clothing that makes them feel amazing. Why settle for just one dress that makes you feel like a million bucks, and not your whole wardrobe? Look for pieces that enhance what you’ve already got, and highlight the parts you love about yourself. This goes back to the importance of a proper fit – if the item isn’t perfect right off the rack but makes you feel amazing, get it tailored!
Combing Masculine with Feminine Pieces
This isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve wanted to incorporate more menswear inspired pieces in your wardrobe, read on! From boyfriend jeans and blazers to men’s button-downs, menswear can offer tremendous versatility to your existing wardrobe. Pair a menswear blazer with a fitted tank, skinny jeans, and pumps for a classic, feminine silhouette, or pair an oversized button-down with delicate jewelry.
Build Up Your Basics
Your wardrobe basics may differ from mine, but should consist of your must-have items. This may be your favorite cut of jeans, your white tee shirts, button-downs, blazers, dress pants, or a little black dress. These items stand the test of time, and should allow you to mix-and-match for simple, elegant outfits. Replace these items as necessary or buy multiples. Every time I need a new white layering tank, I buy three more with it so that I always have one in rotation. For more on my personal wardrobe basics or inspiration, read here.
Determine Your Color Palette
A good, functional wardrobe starts with a strong backbone. Neutral staples are a great starting off point for any outfit. Jeans, t-shirts, and sweaters all in black, for example, will get you out the door quickly and easily. But you don’t have to fall into the trap of always shopping for neutrals; whatever you prefer (neutrals, colors, patterns or solids), this should be the majority of your wardrobe, or your color palette. There’s a whole world of color out there, and I highly recommend bringing some into your wardrobe. If you do have a closet full of neutrals, it’s easy to introduce items of color, because you’ll have your favorite basics in neutral shades to allow new and interesting combinations.
However, do not buy neutrals on a whim. If you’ve committed to black and brown in your wardrobe, don’t buy a pair of navy trousers. You may love them now, but chances are they won’t go with anything else in your closet. And do not buy something else to go with said unworn item. If you’re already not wearing it because you don’t own anything to go with it, get rid of it. Don’t compound the problem by buying additional pieces of clothing you may or may not wear and that won’t go with the majority of your closet.
Once you’ve determined your main color palette, choose your accent colors. Pick two or three colors that reflect your personality and that you’re drawn to again and again, like a bright pink bag or pair of leopard print pumps. By establishing and sticking to a palette you love, you’ll be less likely to end up with an item that ultimately becomes a donation.
Update Your Wardrobe with Accessories
A relatively inexpensive and easy way to update your look – without redoing your whole wardrobe – is to bring in new accessories, such as a new bag, shoes, or scarf. This way, you can easily experiment with trends without breaking the bank. Make sure to keep your main wardrobe color palette in mind: if you’re looking at a new pair of fall booties, and the majority of your pants are black, then do not buy the brown ones, no matter how cute they might be.
- Never buy something you cannot pair with at least five other items, otherwise you’ll be stuck with a closet full of clothes that, while amazing on their own, do not work together and you’ll be stuck in the dreaded “nothing to wear” loop. When contemplating adding a new piece to your wardrobe, come up with at least five or more outfit combinations to determine whether it’s a yes or a no.
- Do not settle. If you only buy ethically made pieces of clothing, then don’t buy that cute pair of sandals from Target because chances are, they’re not ethically made. Similarly, if you refuse to wear synthetic materials, then don’t buy them. Pay close attention to your clothing tags before you end up with an item that will sit unworn in your closet. If you find something you love but it doesn’t meet your standards, move on! Search for a similar item that does meet your standards or forget it altogether.
- Be patient. This will take time. Resist the urge to build your perfect wardrobe completely from scratch in a matter of a few weeks. This is extremely costly and can be very overwhelming, and when you rush the process, chances are you’ll overlook little things like basics you actually need and that is where you’ll make mistakes. Start with your signature look, and take it step by step. Make a seasonal shopping plan or a timetable on how you’ll expand your dream wardrobe and go from there.
- Enjoy what you have. As a lover of fashion, I struggle with this the most. We live in a consumer world, but don’t let it get you. Do not want more and more all the time, and do not give in to constant temptations. Find confidence in your unique style and enjoy what you already have.
How Have I Made My Own Wardrobe Functional?
I followed the same steps as I’ve detailed above! I started off by decluttering my entire closet and organizing it into sections. Then, I made a list of the items I noticed my closet was lacking (such as simple basics or items that needed replacing). Because I know my personal style and aesthetic already, I was able to curate a list of new items I wanted to introduce to my current closet that would only accentuate it. I use this same method to shop for new seasonal pieces every year without making impulse buys based on trends or popularity.
Remember, this is a journey, and will not occur overnight. Feeling overwhelmed by the process? Hire me to help do it all for you!
I can't wait to hear from you!