The woman who screamed “I have nothing to wear” to her overstuffed closet is one of the eye roll-iest cliches of modern society. Of course she has something to wear. She has dozens of somethings to wear. It’s likely she has, at least, a month’s worth of somethings to wear. How is it possible that, when faced with a literal wall of clothing, there is not one measly outfit that works for the occasion at hand?
That’s a not a rhetorical question—I’ve been searching for the answer most of my life. You see, every few years or so, I fully become that same silly lady confounded by the contents of her closet, completely embarrassed by how hyperbolic my troubles sound. It’s not like I want to wake up in the morning and feel like the garments I’ve carefully amassed over the last few years belong to a different person, or that I’m making up an excuse to go out and buy something new. Really, truly, my personal style is like skin of a snake: to move forward in life, I must occasionally shed it.
In the process, I’ve learned a lot about navigating the mind games that come with a wardrobe that suddenly feels all wrong—and, more practically speaking, ways to make change without going completely broke. Below, 5 things that have seen me through many an existential fashion crisis.
1. Psychoanalyze the situation.
While, in 99 percent of cases, it’s probably not a great idea to self diagnose one’s own neuroses (although, yeah, I still do it, too), this is one case where a few self-administered questions can productively unearth the problem. Did I just go through a bad break-up? Am I going to an intimidatingly cool party? Am I feeling crappy about myself in general today? Anytime you are dealing with a situation in which emotional needs are pinned to attire usually means any lack of sartorial inspiration has more to do with passing insecurities than personal style. Hold off on taking drastic measures, and look to your favorite Instagram accounts and blogs for fresh ideas instead—an updated way to put your old pieces together often proves a quick fix to the problem.
THE EXCEPTION: Some major life changes—like, for example, landing your first real job out of college, or moving across the country—are monumental enough to ignite a fashion overhaul for the right reasons. Just don’t whip out your credit card until you have a clear picture of what clothes best represent this stage in your story.
2. Get real about good fit.
Basically, if you have stuff that doesn’t fit right laying around, you won’t want to wear it—so it feels like you’ve got less options to choose from. Oversized cuts and extra long hemlines, of course, can be amended by skillful tailor, but anything too small (YES, even that beautiful Marc Jacobs skirt you dropped half a paycheck on) needs to donated or sold. Admit the mistake, and let go! And, going forward, be extraordinarily judicious about only putting money toward things that feel good in the fitting room, or are a few low maintenance tweaks from perfection.
THE EXCEPTION: Amazing vintage finds that you’ll need recut to your size professionally. So long as you are actually going to have the alteration done, a totally justifiable buy.
3. Clear away the clutter.
Whether you want to follow Marie Kondo’s wildly popular method (to those unfamiliar, she suggests only keeping items that “spark joy”), or create your own, the end game is to eliminate apparel you don’t use. Donate, sell, or simply throw it away, and (perhaps most importantly) refuse to stress over the sheer volume of cast-offs that pile up. Hey, I get it: Earlier this year, in the midst of my latest closet overhaul, I purged roughly 2/3 of my closet’s contents, and I was terrified it would make it even tougher to get dressed in the morning. The next day, however, I found it much easier to pinpoint the few pieces I still enjoyed wearing—plus, the sudden luxury of extra space made me wary of filling it up too fast. Although there’s no way real way of predicting which purchases will serve you the longest (trust me, I’ve tried!), ones bought without much research or thought usually don’t.
THE EXCEPTION: Extreme—like wedding dress-level extreme—sentimental value. Remember: Anything you’ve worn on your body carries at least one special memory, so you really can’t (read: shouldn’t) hold on to everything. Limit the nostalgia to one box, take a picture of everything else, and move on.
4. Repeat yourself proudly.
Often the issue is less about hating your entire wardrobe than feeling lame about re-purposing the few pieces you love to death—especially when professional bloggers and celebrities on Instagram are coming up with a totally different #OOTD every 24 hours (if not more). But honestly the chicest women I know IRL (several InStyle editors included), build their wardrobes around three or four stand out items each season, and wear each one into the ground. How to look like you aren’t pulling yesterday’s dirty laundry off the floor by on consecutive wear number three? By switching things up with different basics—like, say, doing a skirt with a ribbed turtleneck one day and a silky blouse the next—and a few well-placed accessories. Counterintuitive as it may sound, whittling down your options will help you think more creatively, as you’ll have to keep refreshing same few styles.
THE EXCEPTION: If you completely and totally fall in love with an over-the-top design that really flatters your figure—perhaps a gold lame jumpsuit or slinky silk maxi in hothouse florals—and if you have an event to which you can wear it (NO HYPOTHETICALS), I’m all for buying it. Consider this one an outlier, though: you can’t factor it into your weekly wardrobe plan.
5. Resist the call of fast fashion.
I know how tempting it is to fill that big something-sized void (no, really, can anyone tell me what should go there?) in your closet by binge-ordering a bunch of trendy silhouettes for cheap prices. Once the novelty of having new things around wears off, however, all those disjointed impulse buys make it even harder to cobble together a compelling ensemble. Think of it this way: Would you rather save up for a select few special pieces you are incredibly excited to put on your body, or have a big mountain of random stuff you only wear because it’s around? Quality over quantity, my friends—the saying exists for a reason.
THE EXCEPTION: Finding a silhouette you already wanted at a lower priced chain. It’s not the Zaras, Topshops, and H&Ms of the world I take umbrage with—just careless spending.