Hell hath no fury like a woman who can’t find anything to wear. A specific rage I’ve felt most mornings for years. More maddeningly, I have nobody to blame but myself. A hoarder since my early teens, combined with a lax approach to organising and an impressive amount of separation anxiety, has led me here. Pandemonium.
More specifically, in the shape of a sad rail which contains maybe two to three outfits I end up wearing on rotation, come work or play. It stands over heaps of discarded clothes decorating my floor. Some loved, but ultimately lost to the chaos. Others I can’t even remember liking in the first place. Meanwhile, there’s uncategorised ‘storage’ in my closet (think car boot sale carnage), under the bed (scared to look) and in bags (unopened since moving in 2021).
To borrow a line from the cue card guy in Love Actually who finally realises something’s got to give: enough now. Spring has officially, if not wholly sprung, at the very least it’s started its hopeful ascent. And with it, the equivalent of a gentle follow-up email encouraging you to cleanse, or minimally reflect upon, crevices in your life, including your wardrobe. Shed dead skin and reignite the flame with looks of yesteryear.
Like Carrie in Sex and the City sifting through the ghosts of fashion’s past. Or freakishly energetic TikTok-ers today (#ClosetOrganisation alone has more than 643 million views on the video streaming platform). Which is how I find myself one Friday afternoon having a sartorial therapy session with super stylist, ‘Queen of Thrift’ and Oxfam’s senior fashion adviser, Bay Garnett. “Getting rid of clothes is an emotional thing,” she explains, reassuringly, on the art of letting go. “For me, it’s about coming to terms with the fact my style has evolved. I used to wear bold Saint Laurent prints from the Seventies and, you know, crazy cool shit and I don’t anymore. That’s not how I dress every day — and I think sometimes when you cull it’s a recognition of the fact that perhaps life is more sober or pared down. There’s something about the connection to oneself when someone is editing. You have to dig into yourself a bit.” And so, it begins…
Haven’t worn it in years? You probably never will
Holiday mode is one helluva drug. Against all realistic judgment, inciting one with the belief that now is when you’ll finally read A Little Life or, like, make your goal of the year to ‘become a digital nomad’. The same mindset can be applicable to habitual spending which has little to do with who you are, or the lifestyle you actually lead. Thus holding clothes hostage in the hope it will be worn in some vague future when you’re two sizes smaller or have a personality transplant. Sometimes ignorance is the opposite of bliss. It’s just depressing.
“I don’t hold on to things on the whole that I don’t wear,” Garnett explains. “I want a functional wardrobe.” Stowing away special, sentimental, pieces and highlighting the rest is the key, she says. “I have the things I wear in front of me and another wardrobe upstairs; it’s just brilliant pieces that I can’t get rid of, more of an archive. I did a banana print top with Kate Moss and it got copied. Things like that I can’t let go of, but there’s very few of those.”
Break up with the (traditional) capsule wardrobe
Breton tees, a trench coat, 50 shades of griege, perfectly cut black trousers, white shirts sans coffee stains. Dream-scenario curated capsule wardrobe? Perhaps. Still, this is not actually a hard and fast rule, no matter how many fashion edits try to convince you otherwise. In fact, there are no rules.
“I don’t believe in the concept of a ‘capsule wardrobe’. It’s an ever elusive and changing concept,” Prue White tells me, fashion editor and personal stylist who offers a bespoke wardrobe edit service. “A wardrobe must be completely individual in order to be functional. Really look at what you wear regularly, consider why it is that you gravitate towards these items, and, conversely, why some pieces are left unworn. Sometimes, it’s as simple as an item needing mending or altering to bring it to life.”
Prue recommends The Seam, “a fantastic app for hooking users up with local tailors and seamstresses to leather restoration specialists and cobblers. After listing the alteration required, The Seam will assign jobs based on their specialist skills and customer locations.”
No, you don’t have to get rid of your occasion wear
“Studying your wardrobe from a seasonal standpoint can be a great place to start,” Prue adds. “You’ll immediately cull 30 per cent or so from your wardrobe (I recommend using vacuum pack bags to store stuff in the loft or under the bed), which means you can actually see what you own. Consider packing the clothes you wear less — partywear, for example…”
My eyes dart to a metallic pink 80’s cocktail dress, bought in a birthday party dressing frenzy, that makes me look like a walking Quality Street foil wrapper. Fun? Yes. Practical? Purposely not. There are other ways I discover to hack the system with pieces procured for specific events. A friend of mine, for instance, has earned the price of a Parisian holiday from lending her silk Seren London jumpsuit just three times.
Eshita Kabra-Davies, founder of peer-to-peer fashion rental platform By Rotation, says some women are making “more than £3,000 a month from the app”. On the flip side, there’s something to be said for borrowing to scratch the itch of want. “This year I’ve been cutting down on the number of stuff I’ve been accumulating,” Eshita admits. “Using the app has really allowed me to experiment with my style and feel like I’m out of a rut, without the guilt of buying something new, or even second-hand.” She adds: “I’ve found that to be very useful to figure out what are the silhouettes that really work for me and what I should avoid. You’ve got pieces from vintage Jean Paul Gaultier to current season Zimmerman, Reformation and Rixo all the way to Prada, Hermes, and Dior.”
Spend a night in, with just your clothes for company
“Sell it [on] Vestiare or Ebay!” Garnett enthuses, while playing a game of ‘keep, rehome, mend’ with various items swiped off my rail (and floor), here showcasing a black oversized blazer bought online that should have worked but feels, crucially, a bit off. Like I’ve accidentally picked up the wrong coat in a drunken haze at a house party (the fact it cost £300 and has been worn the grand total of once is, arguably, painful). Though, there are lovelier discoveries along the way — a 70’s vintage velvet suit that needs a trip to my local dry cleaners and taken up by a few inches (at 5ft 2in, it comes with the territory).
Bay is an advocate of this concentrated practice: spending a couple of hours to play dress up, to really see what sticks or, rather, gives you the ick. “You can even create the idea of your own fashion story,” she says. “Like, this is what I’m in the mood for at the moment? “I think that’s a nice way of doing it. It will feel like you’ve got new clothes. Organise your rail for now, what you love, what you want to wear next week. There is also something about creating space, editing something; a sense of empowerment in that.”