The 10 essential questions to ask before clearing out your wardrobe
Nothing is more frustrating than looking at your bulging drawers and wardrobes, yet still having nothing to wear.
The fact we’re in lockdown again, coupled with January’s general ‘new year, new me’ vibes, means you might be feeling a strong urge to clear out your closets, and totally invigorate your wardrobe.
Great! As a wardrobe consultant I’m all about that. But believe me when I say, a bad wardrobe clearout is worse than not doing one at all. How many times have you donated something to charity, only to wish you still had it six months later? Or culled your collection of clothes, only to find your drawers and wardrobe bulging again with new purchases in no time?
Of course, working with a personal stylist is the best way to ensure you’re making the best choices about what clothes to keep and which have served their time. But if you’re looking to give the process a go yourself, or even have a head start before hiring a professional, this guide will help you.
These are the 10 questions I pose to my clients about any clothes they are considering clearing out.
When did I last wear this?
Have you worn the garment in the past 12-24 months? Normally a personal stylist will ask if you’ve worn something in the last year to account for seasonal items (you don’t want to be chucking all your summer dresses just because it’s winter, for example!). But I think the anomaly that was 2020 means we should give ourselves a little extra leighweigh right now when deciding if we’re likely to wear an item again.
However, the 12 month window can be useful. For example, if you have a jumper you didn’t wear last winter at all, then it might be because you’ve since bought other jumpers you like much more, or there’s something about this piece not quite right about it for you, and you won’t wear it this winter either.
Does this suit my style?
There might be things in your wardrobe that despite the fact you really like them never get worn. Chances are that item doesn’t suit your style. I find this scenario is especially prevalent with my clients who love fashion: the trends cycle is constantly pushing us to buy ‘must have’ pieces, whether we actually like them on ourselves or not. The best way to conquer this is to really hone in on what your personal style actually looks like. Working with a personal stylist like me will help you do exactly this, but alternatively you could create a style moodboard to figure out what pieces fit with your look, and which are best left to someone else.
The ‘love them but they’re not me’ pieces can be the hardest to say goodbye to. But a good quality garment that just isn’t your style is much better passed onto someone else or sold, rather than taking up precious space in your wardrobe. That way it won’t pull your focus from the clothes you own that you could and would wear.
What does this go with in my wardrobe?
I love the ‘rule of three’, which is that your clothes should go with three other items in your wardrobe, or work styled three different ways. This really helps make the most out of your wardrobe, and combats the ‘I have nothing to wear’ cycle so many of us feel stuck in. Besides, if you love something, you should be able to wear it often!
Asking, ‘what does this item go with?’ is also really helpful when it comes to shopping. This laser focus will prevent you buying more clothes that don’t really go with anything, and instead create a cohesive wardrobe that serves you well.
If you do come across pieces during your clearout that don’t go with anything else, then you have two options. Either that garment isn’t quite right for you, and it’s time to say goodbye, or you now have a piece to focus your shopping intentions on.
Does this fit me?
A simple but essential question: does this fit me? Society has conditioned us so much to see ‘thin = good’ that often we hold onto clothes that don’t fit us anymore, in the hopes that one day soon we’ll be the size we once were, and be so much happier because of it too. You know what will make you happy? Wearing clothes that are comfortable, that suit you, and make you feel confident in who you are.
My only caveat to the ‘does this fit me?’ question is that many of us find our weight does fluctuate to a greater or lesser extent. If that’s you then absolutely hold on to some bigger/ smaller clothes, but I recommend storing these outwith your wardrobe so they don’t conceal the clothes that do fit you right now.
How does this make me feel?
This is linked to the previous question of ‘does this fit?’. We’ve all owned clothes over the years that may technically fit, but just aren’t comfortable. It could be a pair of trousers that digs in at the waist when you sit down, or a dress with a zip that’s too short and you need to nearly dislocate your shoulder to get it off or on. If your clothes aren’t comfortable then you’re not going to enjoy wearing them, and it’s time to say goodbye.
Something not fitting quite right doesn’t always mean it’s too small, but can also be to do with your body shape. For example, as someone with a small waist and full hips, low-rise trousers dig in on me and are just horrible. But when they sit at the waist (and the material has adequate stretch through the thighs) then I feel so much more comfortable and confident! Once you learn more about the styles that suit your body, these not-quite-right purchases become a rarity. A good personal stylist can help you determine what your go-to styles should be, and there’s plenty of useful videos on body shape on YouTube too.
What condition is this in?
If you have clothes in your wardrobe that you love but that’s needing a little TLC, like a button replaced or a hem fixed, then it’s time to round up all those items and either get mending or make friends with your local tailor!
Equally, if something has had a good life and served you well, but is now in bad condition, then it should be recycled instead of languishing in a drawer. Holey, bobbly t-shirts are not the one! You might be able to repurpose that item as pyjamas or cleaning/ painting/ gardening gear etc, and old t-shirts make great cleaning cloths when cut up. Alternatively, bag up damaged items and take them to a textile recycling bin, often found in supermarket car parks.
Does this fit my lifestyle?
This is another question that needs to be taken with a pinch of salt due to the past year where none of us could go anywhere, but it is still a useful thing to ask yourself. It’s often when our lifestyles change that we find ourselves really struggling with what to wear.
It could be that you used to work in an office so you have lots of workwear and are struggling to dress things down, or you have a wardrobe full of party dresses yet live out of one pair of jeans 90% of the time. Maybe you’re a new parent and find yourself struggling with practical clothes that still convey your personality, or you’ve taken up more outdoor activities and your previous wardrobe designed for coffee dates and meals out isn’t cutting it.
Again, don’t be too brutal here for now! With the ongoing lockdown situation, it might feel like you’ll be wearing sweatpants for the rest of your life, but there will come a time to wear something more glamorous again. However, right now is a really good time to hone in on what you want your wardrobe to deliver, and where it falls short. Use this as the framework for clearing our your clothes, and for determining what to buy to fill the gaps. If you’re struggling with this, then my online personal shopping service is for you!
Is this the same as other items in my wardrobe?
This might seem an odd question, so let me explain. Often we are drawn to clothes we already know we like and feel comfortable in. A classic example: the Breton stripe top. Its status as a ‘wardrobe staple’ means many women often end up owning several of what is essentially the same thing, and are still drawn to picking up more whenever one pops up in the sales!
This question requires some nuance. Crafting a day-to-day uniform for yourself is incredibly useful for knowing what to wear in a hurry. But finding the confidence to deviate, at least a little, from your go-to pieces is how your sense of style is born.
I recommend shopping for shapes and colours you know suit you, but avoiding pieces that are nearly identical. I made the example in my ‘how to shop the sales well’ article about being drawn to a red party dress that’s on sale, even although you already own one. Realistically, you only need one of the specific type of garment. But it could be that the cut is really flattering on you, so you could look for a similar shaped dress in a different colour. Or if it’s the colour that really works on you, use this as inspiration to shop for red smart tops instead. Make sense?
And if you find your wardrobe does contain duplicates, especially if this doesn’t compliment your lifestyle (four pairs of black smart trousers when you mostly wear jeans, for example), then ask yourself the other ten questions about each item until you weed out which should stay, and which should go.
Would I buy this again?
I find this question especially useful when it comes to clothes that still have the tags on, or particularly expensive garments. We are humans are sooooo averse to ‘wasting money’ that often we’ll hold onto clothes we don’t wear for years, purely because we’ve already bought them so to clear them out would be a waste.
I hate to break it to you: that money has already been spent. And those clothes that are lingering in your wardrobe unloved are taking up precious space, without providing you with something to wear.
Clothes with the tags still on are worth selling if you don’t wear them. It’s unlikely you’ll recoup what you paid (unless it’s a particularly covetable item) but anything you do make can go towards clothes that will be more useful to you. And if you have luxury/ designer/ cult pieces that you don’t wear but can’t bear to part with? Try renting them! Sites like By Rotation and Nuw offer peer-to-peer rental, so you could make some money by loaning out your clothes. This isn’t such a viable option for an old Missguided dress, but that luxury handbag you never use or the cult favourite dress you rarely wear definitely has money-making potential.
Do I love it?
Last up is arguably the most important question of all: ‘do I love this item?’. We’re so used to the fast fashion model where we can go into a shop and pick up cheap clothes without really thinking about how we feel about them, that often we are left with a collection of clothes that we at best like, rather than are head-over-heels in love with. We buy these garments, wear them once, and then we’re back to square one, chasing the next wardrobe high. That isn’t going to cut it for your new, streamlined wardrobe!
Being in love with an item of clothing doesn’t mean it has to be glamorous/ fancy/ a statement piece. In fact, it’s those well-fitting, comfy, high-quality basics that wash well and go with everything that we should be most infatuated with.
I can honestly say I love my clothes. It’s taken me a while to get here (and a lot of un-learning thanks to fast fashion’s dastardly marketing techniques!), but I genuinely get that warm, fuzzy feeling when I look at my clothes. I’m so passionate about spreading that wardrobe love that it’s why I become a personal stylist in the first place.
There you have it: the ten questions to ask yourself before clearing out your closet. Now you’ve figured out the hero pieces you’re holding onto, read my guide on how to store your clothes properly to help increase the life of your garments, as well as my article on how to care for them correctly.
If you’re ready to fully get to grips with your wardrobe so you always have something to wear, then my wardrobe consultation service is for you. As my most in-depth package, it includes a full wardrobe clearout day, as well as a follow-up document with a summary of our time working together, shopping suggestions to fill the gaps in your wardrobe, and styling tips tailored just for you. If you think you have your own wardrobe audit on point but you’d like some final pointers and outfit suggestions, then my mini wardrobe refresh could be the missing link in creating outfits that make you feel confident every day.
As always, I love chatting with you on Instagram – feel free to DM me @styledbyalicex