Simplify and Save
Choice can be debilitating. Whether it’s food or dates or shoes, we like the idea of choice, but often suffer a paralyzing sense of information overload as a result. So, it’s no wonder that one of the most frequent requests I receive from both my image and life coaching clients is efficiency. Decluttering our minds and lives creates clarity and breeds precision — and sometimes that starts with the simple act of rethinking how we get dressed.
Yes, looking current builds confidence, but minimizing fuss frees time and mental space — so you can focus on other less material concerns. Here are five tactics to help you streamline your wardrobe and cut down how much time (and money) you spend on getting dressed.
Clean Up Your Closet
Entering your closet may feel like entering the abyss. Before you can even begin to think about how to dress strategically for that client presentation or meeting with your boss, you’re going to need some visual clarity. The best place to start is with categorization. Place all professional pieces together, separate from more casual items and special occasion pieces. Then within each of those categories, organize by type of item — blouses, skirts, pants, etc. And finally, within each categorical type, organize by color. (And don’t be afraid to discard a few items as you work through it — anything you haven’t worn in months, or that doesn’t make you feel great when you do wear it, should be eliminated. Immediately.)
Think of it as a puzzle of individual pieces you’ve acquired over the years. Now your task is to make sense of these pieces and optimize their physical placement so they can create an image that best serves you. Suddenly your closet will start to make sense and the act of getting dressed becomes a less daunting daily exercise.
Get App Happy
Thanks to technology, your sub-par folding skills need not hinder your ability to navigate your closet with laser-sharp focus. Billing itself as “the Swiss Army Knife of style assistants,” the free Closet app allows you to upload your closet into your smartphone, then create outfits on the go (using its trademarked “Item Grid”) and schedule them on your calendar. It’s also a huge packing time-saver, as you can piece together what you’ll throw in your suitcase on your lunch hour or during your commute.
Where the Closet app really earns its place in your daily life is with the additional analytics it produces: it tracks when you wore what, and after you input the initial cost of the item, it uses that frequency of wear to calculate and adjust its on-going cost per wear, as a reminder of how much value you are or aren’t getting out of any given item. Or try Stylitics (also free), which offers many of the same features of Closet, but adds a social component that allows you to see your friends’ closets and what they’re wearing as added inspiration. It also helps you hyper-organize by grouping by color, brand and pattern.
Streamline Your Routine
Wouldn’t it be great to make the daily “what to wear?” question less daunting? Even if you’re one of those fortunate morning people, chances are it’s still one of the most stressful times of the day — coordinating with other members in the household, preparing for the day ahead, and, of course, getting dressed.
The biggest mistake most people make when it comes to getting dressed is thinking they need to start from scratch everyday. This does a disservice to your personal aesthetic, not to mention the precious time it wastes. Instead, getting dressed should be a replicable formula for you.
Give yourself as few variations as possible for the work day. Perhaps you start with a base of either a dress or pants plus blouse. Then use other data (weather, meetings, after-work events) to refine that choice and plug in shoes and additional layers that make sense given the day’s circumstances. (This works best after you’ve decluttered your closet, so you can actually see the items you’re working with and move swiftly between categories.) This can also help you cut down your clothing budget, as you can invest in a few flattering basics that will last a long time, then pick up less pricey plug-in choices to add variety.
Finish off the look with equally formulaic accessorizing: a selection of high-quality neutral jewelry that you wear nearly every day or a statement piece (necklace, cuff bracelet, drop earrings) that can be added for special occasions. Remember: Looking consistently pulled together is more important than looking “different” everyday! (Added bonus: Less time spent worrying about your wardrobe choices in the morning means more time spent sleeping.)
Haphazard shopping will drain your bank account and leave you looking and feeling frazzled. A closet full of individual pieces is never as robust as a smaller collection of methodically chosen complementary items. Turn a critical eye toward your current closet. What’s missing? Where are the gaps? Which key pieces can serve as the missing links that connect everything else?
When you see a piece you like at a story, or online, stop and consider how it fits into your wardrobe. Is it a connector that allows you to create several outfits from existing items in your closet? Or an outlier that will only require you to buy more pieces for coordination? If it’s the latter, skip it and stick to the core items that will make your life easier, not harder. Perhaps the biggest mistake most people make is to settle for “almost right” pieces — this refers to style, as well as fit and quality. Hold out for the right pieces and, ultimately, you’ll save both time and money.
Once you’ve identified the target items, streamline the actual shopping process. Apps like Wanelo, a free “personalized mall on your phone,” allows you to shop across multiple stores in one site to find pieces that suit your needs and tastes. While an average mall has 150 stores, Wanelo brings you 350,000 stores — boutiques and big names alike — which eliminate the need to physically zip from place to place while you shop. You simply “claim a store,” then start a collection by saving items you like from that store. Strategic shopping determines what you buy, but also how you make purchases, so don’t be afraid to lean heavily on technology to assist.
Make Your Clothes Multi-task
You’re able to do half a dozen things at any given time, so why not demand the same from your wardrobe? If an item only coordinates with one set outfit, it’s far less valuable to you than if it mixes and matches effortlessly within your closet. Certain categories can anchor your outfits and take the guesswork out of your routine, so focus on acquiring versatile pieces and your morning dressing formula becomes that much more efficient.
A few no-brainers: Pieces that can be layered or worn on their own. For example, a sleeveless or short-sleeved silk top can be worn under a blazer or a sweater, can be tucked into a skirt or over pants, and it goes just as well with dress pants as it does with jeans and flats. A light brown belt that adjusts to fit both your waist and your hips can be worn with skirts and dresses to define your waist or with pants to keep them in place, and pairs with everything from cream to navy to prints — and even black. A basic sweater can accompany just about everything, and a lightweight cashmere in a neutral color will ensure you can toss it over most ensembles anytime of year when the temperature changes. These multi-tasking items allow you to grab and go, and the more you wear them, the lower the cost-per-wear — saving you both time and money.
Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and the "thinking person's stylist." She is the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image and culture-related issues and offers holistic image consulting and life coaching services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.