Wardrobe building for busy people: A quick-fix guide
“My wardrobe is driving me crazy. I’m serious. I know I could fix it if I followed your advice and created a style concept, built a wardrobe structure etc., but the problem is: I just don’t have the time right now. I’m super busy at work and school, but I still urgently need more to wear ASAP. Can you help?"
That is an excerpt from an email that Nina, a lovely reader from Germany, sent me last week. Her problem is a tricky one: Building a refined wardrobe is a long process and definitely not a weekend job. But what if you can’t wait that long or don’t have the time right now to initiate the process? You need a quick-fix solution.
In this post I'll show you a mini programme consisting of three practical steps that you can do to improve your wardrobe right now, on a small budget and a busy schedule. The programme is basically a super stripped-down version of a full wardrobe revamp and focuses only on the most essential actions that will make the biggest difference to your wardrobe. Use it to get a head start, while you work on defining your personal style from scratch, or to fix your wardrobe when you feel like you have nothing to wear, but no time to do much about it either. Bear in mind that this programme is only meant as a quick-fix: It won't help you create a masterpiece but it will improve the structure of your wardrobe and give you more to wear. You can complete the three steps in about an hour and one shopping trip or split it up over three days, however you like.
To illustrate the programme I will be taking Nina’s situation as an example and walk you through each step. Here we go...
step 1 | Identify what works
- Select one wardrobe section to work on
- Identify your favourite single items and whole outfits and analyze what you like about them
- Pick two proportions
First, decide which major section of your wardrobe you want to improve, whether it is your work wardrobe, everyday wear or something more specific like your evening wear. To improve your wardrobe you need to analyse its individual component in relation to how they all fit together so you if you have very distinct sections in your wardrobe that you hardly mix, pick one to work on throughout the next steps. If more than one section of your wardrobe needs a revamp, feel free to repeat the process, but for now just choose one.
Then: Identify what works. Quickly go through the wardrobe section you just chose and pick out any item that you like and regularly wear and also make a list of your favourite outfits. Analyse what it is about those pieces/outfits that you like and what makes you wear them more than the rest of your clothes. Is it their colour, their fit, a particular style? Jot down some notes and then separate your 'good clothes' from the rest of your wardrobe.
Now consider which two proportions (i.e. a specific combination of item categories like slim-fitting pants + t-shirt + ankle boots) you either like to wear the most or would ideally like to wear the most. Try not to pick proportions that you have never worn before, that are really different to what you usually wear or that consist of item categories that you don't have in your current wardrobe at all. And: Try to choose proportions that overlap slightly, i.e. share at least one or two item categories.
Nina is a PhD student and also works in a casual office setting, so her main issue is her everyday wear. Once I had emailed her she told me a little more about what she liked about her current wardrobe: bright, warm-toned colours with a Spring-y feel, slightly flared skirts and fitted tops. She also wears slim-fitting trousers from time to time, but does not have many in her current wardrobe. She picked two four-piece proportions that share one item category (longline coats). These are her complete answers to step 1:
step 2 | build a basic wardrobe structure
- Translate your chosen proportions into item categories
- Calculate how many items you need per category
- Fill in slots with items you already own
Once you have analyzed which aspects about your current wardrobe you like and have picked two proportions to focus on, you need to translate these proportions into a basic structure of item categories. To get started, make a list of every item category you need to create your two proportions.
Next, define your 'No-repeats' period, i.e. a certain time frame in which you do not want to repeat the same exact outfits e.g. 3 weeks, and calculate how many different outfits you need for that period. For example: if you picked three weeks as your no-repeats period and want to improve your work wear wardrobe you would need 15 different outfits (if you work full-time). Or, if you are working on your wardrobe's evening wear and go out on average twice a week, you would need six outfits, and so on.
All done? Ok, now comes the tricky part: working out how many items you need per item category to allow you to create enough outfits to last you one no-repeats period. Now, of course there are several different solutions, depending on how much overlap there is between your two proportions, different laundry requirements of items and just plain preference. Play around with a few different constellations until you find one that sounds right. Then, write a chart like the one below to illustrate your structure.
Now, see how much of your structure you can fill in with the 'good items' of your current wardrobe (the ones that you picked out in step one). Be prepared to switch up your structure a little during this step. For example, if you allocated 5 items to platform heels and 2 to sneakers, but already own 4 pairs of sneakers you like but no heels, consider tweaking your structure a bit and move one or two items over to the sneakers category.
Nina chose four weeks as her no-repeats period, which means she needs to be able to create 24 outfits with her two proportions (she estimated she spends at least one day a week lounging at home which does not require an everyday outfit ;). After a bit of shuffling we decided on a structure of 22 items: two versions of each group of footwear to alternate, slightly more tops than bottoms (always a good idea since tops generally need a wash sooner than bottoms) and four versions of the one item category that is a part of both proportions (coats).
If she sticks to her two proportions and does not mix item categories between them, this 22-piece wardrobe would give her (3x4x2=) 24 different outfits for each proportion (plenty of room to account for any combinations that don’t work as well). Next, I gave her a more detailed sheet of her structure to fill in with the good items of her current wardrobe:
step 3 | fill gaps
- Choose new elements to introduce into your wardrobe
- Create a shopping list for missing items
Now, I know I said this programme is not about creating a masterpiece and building a wardrobe that is perfectly aligned with your aesthetic ideals but in this last step, you do have the chance to up your wardrobe's style points and tailor it a little more to your personal style.
Which items could fill the missing slots in your structure? Which elements (i.e. colours, styles, details) that already exist in your wardrobe do you want to reinforce, and which new elements do you want to introduce? Do a quick brainstorm and then write a list of any specific elements and items you could consider adding to your wardrobe.
Next, distribute those elements or items across the empty slots in your structure. Do not stress about details: if you can't think of any other specifics, simply decide on a colour or a least a colour family (e.g. nudes) for each missing piece and move on, but aim for a good distribution of neutral and bolder colours. For smaller item categories (those that have only two slots for example) make sure that you reserve at least one slot for a neutral piece that goes with everything.
At the end, write a final shopping list and aim to implement your list as soon as possible. If you are missing a lot of items and do not have the budget to buy them all at once, prioritize your list and see if you can find any items in your current wardrobe that could fill some of the missing slots for now, even if they are not ideal.
Once you have completed all three steps and bought (or found replacements for) your missing items you should be left with a simple mix-and-match wardrobe that will give you something to wear until you have the time for a complete revamp. Or, perhaps a little bit of structure was all your wardrobe needed!
All in all Nina’s structure was missing 8 items: 1 flared skirt, 2 fitted tops, 1 pair of ankle boots, 1 pair of slim-fitting pants, 1 button-down shirt and 2 coats. She decided she could fill in 2 of those slots with items she already owned but wasn’t crazy about, until she had the money to buy more: a plain white shirt and a basic pair of black skinny jeans. Here is Nina's final wardrobe structure including her notes on what kind of items she will now be shopping for: