My wardrobe is crammed but I have nothing to wear
December 27, 2010 12:09 AM   Subscribe

Help! I think I am slightly obsessed with clothing. I feel like I have nothing to wear. (But my closet is full of lovely things!). How can I have a more healthy, less anxious attitude to dressing, particularly for the workplace?

I have a mild obsession with accumulating new clothes. On average, it costs me a few hundred dollars each month, an expense which is almost completely unnecessary as I have an abundance of clothes already.

Definitely am not a stylish fashionista trading a month's rent for a luxury 'investment piece'. I am totally ignorant of designer goods, runway looks, don't read Vogue, rarely have the latest, seasonal / trendy item of clothing. I don't care about looking up to date and will often spend half the money on ebay or at thrift stores. It's more that... how can I put this... Even though I have a closet crammed with clothes that are perfectly acceptable (for example 14 nice blouses in various colours, at last count), I feel like I NEVER have anything to wear!! And that the only way to remedy this is to keep buying things! As many as half of them on impulse, and which I am later dissatisfied with.

I've had this preoccupation with new clothes ever since I could afford it, with my first paid job at the age of 15. But it gets more pronounced at certain times when I feel extra self-conscious, particularly with a change of job or relationship. My current workplace is creative and I have just started in a more 'visible' and more challenging role, so I feel this pressure to look more professional, creative and stylish than I actually feel inside.

The annoying thing is that despite all the new clothes, I still really struggle to put together an outfit in the morning that looks special. (Perhaps this is an unrealistic standard??) I often end up halfway through the working day feeling really boring or daggy. Previously I just used to dress in black all the time, which I have tried to change, but now my wardrobe is still pretty monochrome: solid beige, brown and olive green with the odd bit of grey or blue. I am weirdly scared of accessorizing, I feel gaudy and attention-seeking even wearing a necklace, like I'm decorating a Christmas tree. Plus I have this complex about wearing the same clothes over and over. I suspect people will notice that I'm always wearing the same thing. Not to mention the endless thought loop that my wardrobe is never complete: 'If only I had a cardigan in dark green as well as forest green... If I only had an A-line black skirt as well as the 3 other types of black skirts the same length...' And so it goes on, and I DO recognise the futility of this kind of consumerist thinking but I do it anyway. I also read a lot of blogs like Fashion for Nerds, What I Wore Today, Overcaffeinated etc which I love, but I suspect frequenting these makes me even more hung up on clothes.

I don't want to obsess about what I'm wearing all the time. I do overall have a healthy body image and sense of self, I'd like to think, apart from this particular insecurity. I wish I had a natural sense of style, or a joyful, playful interest in fashion like some of the bloggers I read. But for me it feels more like a burden or form of narcissistic perfectionism. I want to focus my thoughts and my spending on experiences (like travel) rather than more stuff. Yet I seem to keep on buying clothes!

Anyway sorry for waffling on. I have access to a therapist and could potentially discuss this with her. But in the meantime, my questions for the Hive Mind are:

- Have you overcome a similar obsession with buying clothing, and if so how did you do it?
- How do you know when you have enough clothes, as compared to genuinely needing more?
- How can I keep an appropriate, balanced sense of perspective about the relationship between my appearance at work and my career?
- And... what are your suggestions for developing one's own individual style without it mutating into narcissism or obsession?
posted by Weng to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Six Items Or Less
posted by angermanagement at 12:19 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I still really struggle to put together an outfit in the morning that looks special.

So, you've just woken up, still fuzzy, haven't had coffee (if you drink it), you've got a deadline of leaving the house to get the work, and you're wondering why you aren't doing well at this creative task you have assigned yourself?


It's ok. I used to do that too.

First things first.
If you want to look 'special', then choosing an outfit is not the same activity as 'getting dressed'. Think of them as two completely different activities, that do not need to be, and probably shouldn't, be done at the same time.

Pick some free time where you pull out items of clothing, try them on to make sure they look good *on you*, then figure out what you have that would go well and match with that to make a nice outfit. I've even seen fashion-y people suggest you take a picture of each complete outfit (to set it in your mind I guess?).

Go through and just keep matching as many items as you can into nice outfits. Mentally record each combo, and go through your variations. As you go, not only have you added to your mental collection of 'things to wear' on any given day, and if you've found something particularly cool you'll be looking for the next opportunity to wear it, but you are giving your brain practice at the pattern matching necessary to have something special or 'stylish' looking. And practice makes perfect.

As for colour, well, I cheat. It's too hard to go from basic black to too many colours. First I just went with one colour + monochromes. Then 2, now, up to 3. My style is very 'matched', but I get compliments.

Also, once you have a colour, repeat it. If you are wearing black with one red item, see if you can add red in at least one more place, preferably two.

Don't buy any more single items of clothing. If you just keep making outfits, you'll start to notice where you're *missing* something. You'll also probably currently have many 'orphaned' items of clothing. You thought it looked ok by itself, but honestly, it either doesn't go with the rest of your things, or the result is just a bit... boring. Get the principle? A standout item of clothing has to have an entire family of clothes to go with it. Figure out what is stopping you from having a good outfit. Perhaps if you had tights/belt/pants in this colour, you could wear these clothes. Or you can't wear those big-tshirts because you don't have any pants that go with them.
Keep an eye out for those missing pieces, only of course, if you really, really want to wear that outfit.
For any other item of clothing, before you buy, ask yourself how you'll make it into an outfit, and don't buy 'orphans' unless you're willing to buy everything else.

Note, I'm not 'into' fashion... I find 'dress-ups' fun, but I wear no labels (that I've paid attention to), follow no designers or stores. Most of my things are from opshops, and I've got quite a haul of friends unwanted clothes etc from 'clothes swaps'. The local student paper randomly took my picture for their 'style' section a few months ago. My 'style' is eccentric, you have been warned, but it is mine, all mine! And it sounds like you could do with a dose of that.

And finally, check the weather report for the next day in the evening, and lay your clothes out before you go to bed. Somehow this makes it take half the time it would in the morning.

Bonus, this is where I ramble but I'm not sure if I make any sense...

Actually, the Non-designers Design Book by Robin Williams might help - it's for print design, but the concepts really help build a simple sense of style.
Contrast: If items are not quite the same, make the difference noticeable. If it's not the same colour, don't go for *nearly* the same colour, go for something different.
Repetition: Repeat certain style elements (eg accessories in the same colour).
Alignment: This makes more sense in print, but consider visually how an outfit is aligned.
Proximity - Ok, things should be grouped together, and non-similar things should be adequately spaced.
For my mental translation, accessories often provide a visual sense of 'alignment' and proximity in clothing, if the shape of the clothes themselves don't. Repeating elements should be spaced apart to provide sufficient contrast, which gives a visual sense of alignment, and things like belts, tights, shoes, necklaces/ties and earrings are the visual spacers. I never wore belts. Now I do. Mostly ornamentally - they provide a visual marker of the waist, which provides a more visually pleasing proportion and distinction between legs and torso, can be matched or contrasted with accessories and other clothing.

And, after you've figured out how to work with those rules, feel free to break them.
posted by Elysum at 1:07 AM on December 27, 2010 [30 favorites]

Elysum has it: stop buying clothes and start buying outfits. Find a look you like, like from a photo, and then seek out the pieces that would create it. Shopping with a purpose will hopefully prevent you from impulse buying.
posted by Foam Pants at 2:06 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm sorta of the opinion that 4-questions-in-one isn't really kosher for AskMetaFilter, but let it go, this time.

"Have you overcome a similar obsession with buying clothing, and if so how did you do it?"
Not exactly, but I was pretty interested in shoes for a while, so I worked for 15 years for various shoe manufacturers, and eventually bought a shoe machinery company. Then, through some business opportunities, with my partners, we turned that company into an apparel machinery company, and I learned a lot about making/merchandising cloth, clothing, and related soft goods. I even invented some stuff. But this isn't a path I'd recommend highly - it takes too long, and costs a lot.

"How do you know when you have enough clothes, as compared to genuinely needing more?"
When I come across an item of clothing in my wardrobe that no longer fits, or hasn't been worn in a year, or that looks bad to me on the hangar, I conclude, immediately, I have too many clothes, and give some to Goodwill. (Assuming I'm not keeping the particular item for grins!)

"How can I keep an appropriate, balanced sense of perspective about the relationship between my appearance at work and my career?"
Pay a lot more attention to your work.

"And... what are your suggestions for developing one's own individual style without it mutating into narcissism or obsession?"
Throw out anything you haven't worn in the last year. Read some fashion magazines; they're not all printed in hell by the spawn of the Devil, Herself. Watch What Not to Wear occasionally. Spend some time with a personal shopper, before you spend any more money.
posted by paulsc at 2:38 AM on December 27, 2010

Best answer: You could've been me a year ago - an in fact sometimes I wonder if I'm lapsing back into "need to buy more things I don't need" and yet "wears similar things every day" mode. Part of the problem was having too much to know what I logically could choose to put together with other items, and the other part was a lack of understanding of how to pair things.

Here are some things I did to help myself get on track.


1. Got a couple of friends over to go through my entire wardrobe and categorise everything. IF your wardrobe is like mine and spans a couple or more of bedrooms, this may take a weekend. Feed them well and ply them with alcohol and cupcakes. We took EVERYTHING out of my cupboards, my living room was like Nordstrom threw up in it. We classified things into categories & piles:

Folding (one pile each):
- tees/tank tops
- sweaters/knits
- tracksuit pants
- pyjamas
- jeans
- casual pants
- sweatshirts
- homewear

- tops (short sleeved to long sleeved)
- shirts
- jackets (sorted by length)
- cardigans (light to dark coloured)
- casual dresses
- sweater dresses
- formal dresses
- long dresses
- skirts (short to long, and by colour)
- good pants
- suits
- tunics

We purged all the things I didn't need/use/like anymore/had gone out of fashion. (Having friends who are happy with clothes donations means they are very enthusiastic about helping you sort your clothes!) Then we popped them back in their wardrobes, but now it was soooo delectably organised, like a department store. Getting everything out meant I knew exactly what I had, and sorting it so nicely meant I could see it all.


I made myself some simple rules. For example:

- I wasn't allowed to buy new clothes. At all. Uh uh.
- Everyday I had to wear something new, an item I hadn't worn before
- I had to make my daily outfits from inspiration from fashion photos I liked, out of what I have. This used to be my catalyst for buying more clothes ("if I just had that exact pair of shorts, I could make that look") but now it was my challenge, to do it just as well on what I had. This deluded me into feeling more "fashionista".
- I had to get into accessorising - no point owning trinkets I don't use!


I use Evernote to catalogue my snippets and photos I find online that I love. I started saving pictures of outfits i liked, tagged under "fashion" and "winter" or "summer" or "date" or "work".

Everytime I had an hour free, I'd go through the pictures, and then scour my wardrobe for outfits that could make that "look". Elysum's idea to take photos of yourself IN those outfits is a great one (must start doing that myself).

It was a struggle to get myself out of "need that exact balloon skirt" mode, but I managed to do this by looking at the silhouette of outfits I liked and trying to replicate that instead. So if there was a khaki high waisted pencil skirt with a victorian silk shirt tucked in, I'd replace with a navy high waisted pencil skirt and a silk camisole + cardigan.

When you find an outfit that works and you rock it, make the challenge to within a fortnight, finding another way to wear the feature item in it, like the top or the pants. My "feature" items hang on my bedroom door until I find its next pairing.

I've found that with this method above, my personal style and taste have been improved and honed dramatically. It's forced me to consider my own style rather than "wantpiecesofclothingmusthaveitrightnow" issues I had with acquiring clothing.

The photos I keep of fashion that I like often surprise me, and i'm loving that I can now sense a style emerging. When I shop, it's no longer 'oooh I could totally make that work" or "oh I need that variation of item" but "is that me?" and "silk blouses are my thing". Additionally and to my delight, now people are making comments like "i love your style" rather than "i love that dress".

It's put the focus on acquiring aside, and made the focus actually fashion and part of me growing my sense of self.

Accessorising has become second nature because I realised that even though I HAD a lot of trinkety, impulse-buy type jewellery, I didn't own anything I could wear daily and really love. My partner and mum bought me a couple of bracelets I love and are worth a bit (so wearing them makes sense), and investing in an everyday little necklace and some diamond stud earrings have done the trick.

Good luck - together we can all get better at this!!
posted by shazzam! at 2:41 AM on December 27, 2010 [21 favorites]

I'm one of those runway-watching, magazine-reading people of which you speak, heck I've even directed fashion photoshoots for fun, but I used to feel so overwhelmed and anxious about clothing also. Despite my descent into fashion industry fandom, I think along the way I managed to pick up some universally applicable tips on How to Dress Yourself Prudently and Also Feel Pretty Damn Good About How You Look.

- And... what are your suggestions for developing one's own individual style without it mutating into narcissism or obsession?

Anxiety about clothing comes a lot from the fact that what we wear is part of the identity we project (even people who couldn't care less about what they wear are in some way making this statement with their clothing). Therefore it's easy to think that if you look good, then you feel good. This isn't entirely, wrong as feeling that you look polished and put-together can really give you a boost of energy and confidence. In this respect, there's nothing wrong with a little narcissism - think of it as a personal pick me up, a little self expression, and stop beating yourself up for being focused on it! But make sure that focus isn't the result of negative feelings. Focus more on your own tastes than the perceptions of others. Most importantly, you have to feel comfortable and confident to truly look good. And just purchasing something new can't give you that.

To feel comfortable, stop making decisions under such pressure! Don't wait until the morning to put together something, lay it out the night before. If you have a lazy afternoon, put on some music and combine what you already have in new and unexpected ways. Take what you like and wear it and feel good.

You might wonder, "Can I actually pull this off?" or "Is this too different from what I usually wear?" but the secret is, with confidence you can pull pretty much anything off. Fake that confidence until you feel it if necessary. Accessories might be intimidating, but starting slowly can help. Maybe wear a bracelet that just peeks through your long sleeve shirt before you you try a chunky necklace.

- Have you overcome a similar obsession with buying clothing, and if so how did you do it?

Before you buy something at the thrift store or on eBay think:

1. If this were full price, or close to it, would it still be worth it?
2. Think of how much the garment you want costs. Can you think of an experience that this money could go towards that would be more rewarding? Or even another piece of clothing that is more worth the money in craftsmanship, practicality, etc?
3. Can you think of at least two outfits you could make with this new garment from the clothing you already have?

Also, start being really picky about what you buy. Find reasons not to like things. Acrylic? It will probably pill after a few wears. The soles of the shoes are glued on? Wait till you find soles that are sewn on. Doesn't fit perfectly? Leave behind.

You can develop some brand consciousness without being obsessed with expensive French designers. If you see a coat from J.Crew, it will probably weather more winters than one from H&M.

- How do you know when you have enough clothes, as compared to genuinely needing more?

Do you already have something similar? Is it something you could envision becoming a staple in your wardrobe or just for novelty? If you have a couple of blouses that don't really go with anything, donate them and get something more easily incorporated into an outfit rather than going out and buying a bunch of bottoms to try to match them.

Make a list of workwear staples that you are missing: white button-up shirts, a blazer, black pumps, etc. Focus on finding well-made versions of these that fit you perfectly and automatically make you look good, even if you have to spend some more money than usual on them -- they are going to last you for years! When you are tempted to buy something you might regret later, refocus on this list and remind yourself that the money would be better directed to getting something great and durable rather than okay and flimsy.

Also, I find that having a organized clothing storage system cuts down on the urge to to get new things. When I can easily see everything at once, I know how much I have. It's harder to forget that you already have a pencil skirt and go out and buy a similar one.

- How can I keep an appropriate, balanced sense of perspective about the relationship between my appearance at work and my career?

You say "I feel this pressure to look more professional, creative and stylish than I actually feel inside."

Forcing yourself to conform to some fashionably dressed ideal in order to alleviate pressure, will make the pressure worse! Discovering what you actually like and wearing that should be natural, fun, and automatically make you look stylish. How you are dressed should be making you feel good, and therefore function as a tool to help you succeed, not a hindrance or a crutch. Thinking of dressing up as a genuine form of self expression and of the creativity and professional prowess I am sure you already have in leaps and bounds.

Good luck, and enjoy yourself!
posted by erstwhile ungulate at 2:47 AM on December 27, 2010 [8 favorites]

I'm seeing two different root causes of your problem here. The fact that you've noticed that you often get like this when you feel "self-conscious" makes me suspect that there may be some deeper psychological things going on here; unfortunately, only a therapist could help with that.

But, fortunately, I don't think you'd need to do that now, unless trying to tackle this another way DOESN'T work. Because the OTHER cause of the problem seems to be not really getting how fashion "works". And that's a problem I've had before, and that is VERY solveable.

There are a bunch of books on "personal style" and "how to dress" that you may want to browse through. The problem with fashion magazines is, they are all about "look at this blouse! Isn't it pretty? Buy it!" They're more focused on the clothes themselves and how awesome the CLOTHES are. But the books on personal style have a different focus -- "look at yourself, and how your body's shaped. Here's the different styles of clothing that looks good on that shape, and why."

I got a couple books like that a couple years ago, and they made a HUGE difference. It got me focused on ME and the image I wanted to project first, rather than "ooh, look at the pretty blouse!" Because if the blouse wasn't the right fit for me, then I'd end up thinking, "....Aw, the blouse is pretty, but why do I look weird in it? What's wrong with me?" Now, I look at the pretty blouse on me, but I see that it's cut in a way that doesn't suit my shape, and I just shrug and say, "well, it's not cut right for me, that's all." The style books also help you focus on how YOU look when you try on a piece of clothing, rather than how the ITEM looks. They taught me to walk away from lots of gorgeous things that previously I would have bought becuase they were pretty, but then never wore because I somehow looked funny in them. Now, I look at them in the dressing room, and see that they're gorgeous, but sadly the cut makes me look like a linebacker or an eggplant, and I just sigh wistfully and put them back.

The style books often also have good advice for "here's how to take one suit and make five different outfits out of it," by just switching up different accessories and pairing different things with it. Some of them also have different sort of style profiles, with suggestions about what kinds of clothing and accessories they tend to wear; I've recently noticed I've been trending more sort of a low-key bohemian look, and that's given me even more guideance and direction when I shop. (The style books also let you know things about how not to go TOO far with such an "identity" -- i.e., "If you like the boho style, don't forget that patchwork jeans and macrame vests are probably a LITTLE too much for an office. But you can get away with a vest over a blouse and black dress pants.")

Check out a couple of the books, then try on everything you've got now, evaluating them according to the books' advice. Sometimes the mere act of trying some things on together will give you an idea for a new outfit that was hiding in your closet, that you didn't even know about. And then use the books' advice about dressing for your shape when you shop; it'll help you shop more critically and efficiently.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:56 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have two suggestions:

1. Plan your wardrobe for the week on Sunday. Pick what you are going to wear every day of the upcoming week, accessories and all. This will help eliminate wearing the same thing over and over again (I keep the previous week hanging in a different area of my closet, so as not to "double dip").
This really helped me figure out the pieces I like to wear all the time, and the things I just don't like at all, which then go to Good Will.

2. Figure out the colors, cuts and styles that work on you. I'm pretty fair, especially in the winter, and jewel colors (purple, black, dark green, etc.) look very good on me - pastels make me look like a corpse.
I have big hips and thighs, with a pear shaped body over all. Skinny pants and pencil skirts are banned from my closet, only boot cut and a-line skirts for me!
I look awful in gold jewelry, so when I accessorize it's only silver. And I don't wear a lot of chunky, heavy stuff. Small, thin pendants, earrings that don't overwhelm my round face, and thin rings that are stackable for my skinny fingers.

Once you put some thought into what your look best in, when you have time to really concentrate on it, the task becomes much easier.
posted by lootie777 at 6:02 AM on December 27, 2010

Some amazing advice there - I'm taking notes too. I was just going to add, could it be also that you don't like how you look in a lot of the clothes you have? Consider having some of them tailored. It makes all the difference.
posted by Dragonness at 6:45 AM on December 27, 2010

Best answer: I can relate to your situation. Before I moved to a new country with an entirely different climate and culture (and therefore had to rid myself of closets and closets of clothing and shoes and accessories and you get the idea), I spent a lot of time getting dressed, picking outfits, accessorizing. What I didn't realize then was that I was attempting to project the bulk of "who I am" by all the little details and nuances of my appearance. And if I didn't have the particular thing I needed (say, a fun colored beaded belt to dress up a long black sweater, or another black tank top but this one with a sexy ruffle along the collar, or a...), well, I would go buy it.

Not having my clothes to rely on took MONTHS to adjust to. Weeks of wearing the same things and learning not to care. And being very selective about what I bought once I landed.

It's likely not about the clothes or the money or the consumption. It very well could be an overdependence on fashion as a means to construct your identity – to show people who you are and how you feel that day. This is why planning outfits ahead of time or purging clothes or budgeting may not work. They don't get at the core motivation here.

This is also why the phrase "I have nothing to wear" seems true. When you put all your stock into finding something that perfectly expresses you in that moment, there will be times when you don't own the thing that does it. You are a dynamic and creative being, but that doesn't always need to be advertised to others through carefully selected clothing. Bring back the mystery...your identity lives in places that others may have to put some extra work into seeing...your words, the way your body moves through space, your thoughts put into ideas and actions. You have an endless supply.

Incidentally, one thing I've realized about post-clothes-horse-me is that my obsession with clothing was a badge and decoy for things I didn't like about myself. And also for the things I did, such as my words, they way I move through space and the ideas and actions. Toning down the wardrobe time and accepting my new, "more boring" (and repetitive) look really forced me to put stock in other things and let them shine. And to accept the parts I didn't like.

It's a lot of work and you may give up. The allure of fashion and all that may just be too fun compared to the process of really stripping down and taking a long, hard look.

One thing that's also helped me is learning to knit, sew and crochet. It's cheaper, creative, slower-going-consumption, and the result is the exact thing I want in the exact colors I want, made by me. It's amazingly rewarding in a way that buying a perfect-but-expensive nth variation on a black dress can never be.
posted by iamkimiam at 6:48 AM on December 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

I still really struggle to put together an outfit in the morning that looks special. (Perhaps this is an unrealistic standard??)
Yes, I think it is unrealistic. Special is something reserved for occasions that aren't everyday. Everyday is utility and comfort- getting the job done and getting out the door.
Plus I have this complex about wearing the same clothes over and over. I suspect people will notice that I'm always wearing the same thing.
I doubt it. In fact, the opposite might be true. If anyone is noticing what you wear at all, they will probably be noticing that you rarely wear the same thing. For example, I had a teacher in high school that must have owned 30 different pairs of Dockers. It mesmerized me. I started keeping a record- I was curious if there was a pattern. Almost got busted and gave up the project.

And they are probably paying less attention than you think they are. Especially considering your personal style is toward conservative colors (and designs, I'm guessing). If your clothes fit, they are clean and match each other even a little bit, nobody is paying attention.

If you've watched enough episodes of the US version of "The Office", you will probably remember one of the themes is that the Pam Beasley character is "plain". But who are the ones noticing that? The misfits- Michael Scott (navy suit, white shirt, conservative tie) and Dwight (olive suit, tan/mustard shirt, olive and tan tie), and sometimes Kelly, who just wants a doll to dress up. The rest of them don't notice, or think she looks nice.

Advice: separate your wardrobe into two or three categories, and even into different locations, if you have the space.

1- Lounging around the house, running errands, etc.

2- Work wear.

3- Special occasion wear.

This will at least give you things to ignore when you are trying to figure out what to wear every day. Use a process of exclusion. "OK, what's clean? Of that, which thing is jumping out at me for today? This shirt. Cool." Restrict yourself to one "piece" that is completely spur of the moment, chosen with today in mind. Then change gears and make the rest of the decisions based on what goes with that first decision. By doing this, you can get the satisfaction that you've chosen something special for today, but restricting it to one thing lets the rest of the process happen a little less stressfully. Because once you have made the first choice, the rest is just putting the pieces in place.

Then, start by not buying any more stuff. Start paring things out of your wardrobe that you don't like or never choose except because nothing else is clean. As it starts to thin out and you want to go shopping again, only buy things that fit in with the rest. Look at the thing, and literally picture yourself building an outfit with the stuff you actually own. If you can't do it, don't buy it.
Don't buy things, buy outfits
I would respectfully disagree, at least for work clothes. Makes sense for special occasion stuff. If you have 5 outfits, you have 5 combinations of things to wear. If you instead own 5 shirts and 5 pants that all mostly match each other, you have 25 different combinations for the same investment. For someone who is concerned that she will stand out, this allows her to blend in better. People will notice the same 5 outfits. The will not notice the same 5 shirts combined with different things.
posted by gjc at 7:04 AM on December 27, 2010

I've even seen fashion-y people suggest you take a picture of each complete outfit (to set it in your mind I guess?).

Do this. Seriously, it will change the way that you look at how you dress. Take a picture of yourself every morning. After a week or a few weeks, you will be able to look at them and see what works and what doesn't. Find some method of flagging outfits that you really like, and you will be able to see what elements you really like and have some reference for easy fall-back outfits.
posted by kro at 8:57 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I sometimes feel this way.

I try and take a deep breath a remember something I read here on Metafilter once upon a time that goes something like:

You can't buy your way to being the person you want to be.

Usually when I am especially bit with the buying-bug, be it clothes or housewares or whatever, it's because I am feeling insecure. And somehow it gets into my head that if I owned THAT sweater or THIS vase, then I will be a little more complete. A little more like the person I wish I was. I never think of it in those terms, but that's what it boils down to.

So there you go. That extra black skirt isn't going to make me cooler, or smarter, or more well-thought-of. The person I want to be can exist without another pair of bright tights. All I am doing is creating smokescreen to hide my perceived shortcomings behind.
posted by Windigo at 9:40 AM on December 27, 2010 [10 favorites]

There are experienced professional coaches for people in your situation; perhaps a session or two with one of them might be a good investment? Search terms like "wardrobe consultant" and "personal stylist."

One of the reasons celebrities look so well put together is that they have stylists and personal shoppers--they don't just wander into stores and buy whatever. You can get some coaching to become your own stylist and your own personal shopper and develop a plan to use the best stuff from your current collection and to acquire additional items that work as part of a whole and that fit your budget.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:15 AM on December 27, 2010

I can transfer a little anxiety to what I'm wearing. I basically just plan ahead to remove this issue.

I wear suits at least several days a week. Yeah, yeah, I thought they were stuffy at first too, but I'm a convert. They always look put-together, require nearly zero thought, cut down on laundry as they only need to be occasionally dry-cleaned (especially if you hang them up right away after changing), and wind up being cheaper than outfits (Ross/Burlington/Marshalls seem to have a steady supply of Jones/CK/Anne Klein/Tahari/etc. for $60-$90)

I stick to outfit combinations that I've vetted previously -- I try not to make last-minute morning substitutions, lest I discover that in natural light, the colors don't really work the way they did in my dim bedroom.

I stopped taking chitchat about clothes as peer pressure. I gave away everything that I don't want to wear. I don't buy things in colors or cuts that I don't favor, no matter how much my coworkers and friends goodnaturedly tease me to diversify or affirm that I look good in something that I nevertheless just don't love on me. This means a rather limited earthy color palette and no collared shirts. Why? I dunno, it's what I like.

I suspect people will notice that I'm always wearing the same thing.

They won't. They really, really don't. Prove it to yourself. Wear the same skirt or pants to work two days in a row, or wear the same outfit on a Friday and then on Monday. I swear to the gods, no one will notice. Don't take my word for it, try it just once.
posted by desuetude at 10:35 AM on December 27, 2010

Best answer: The feeling self-conscious, I can't help you with. Choosing a smashing outfit can be a visible assertion of your right to take up space, and if you don't feel like you have that right in a given situation, you feel weird, but you would feel just as weird if you put on a sack and tried to merge with the wallpaper. Solving one of these problems may not solve the other, because once you feel more comfortable taking up space, you may still clothes-seek purely out of habit.

The picking outfits, I can help you with. Take out EVERY garment you own. Look everywhere, leave no stone unturned. Then list every item. You can do this in text or in photos, whichever suits you better.

List them in the following categories:

Tops (subcategories: t-shirts, shirts, sweaters, other tops)
Lowers (subcategories: skirts, trousers, jeans)
Cover-ups (subcategories: jackets, cardigans, shawls, other)
Jewelry (subcategories: hair ornaments, earrings, necklaces, brooches, bracelets, rings)

As you list each item, put them all in piles by category. This will be a big job, expect it to take a few days.

Now go through each pile and take a look at the fabric. You can use the fabric composition to sort things by season. If something contains linen, it's for the summer only. Velvet is for late fall and winter only; corduroy is for fall and winter. Very heavy wools are, obviously, for the colder months. Anything that is 100% synthetic is not for the summer, or for hot weather (depends how hot it gets most of the time where you live, of course). Check linings, too: often something that's silk on the outside has a 100% synthetic lining, which drives me crazy. Hint: don't wear denim with denim, velvet with velvet, or otherwise pair two very taut or textured fabrics together. Hint: open-toed shoes are for summer only, boots are for fall and winter only.

Now look at, and list, the background colors of each item. If you want a good source for naming and listing colours, check out Trinny and Susannah's "What You Wear Can Change Your Life". Now list each item's secondary colours. Go through the book and write down the matching rules, shade by shade. You now have some guidelines for what colour or shade goes with what. Hint: You can match patterns too if the patterns have at least two shades in common. Hint: if you have a skirt and a top in the same pattern, it might be too much of a good thing to put them both together. Hint: I like to save flower patterns for spring and summer only, but YMMV.

Now, list the occasions that each item would be appropriate for. Look here for a useful set of guidelines. Remember, also, that at work you should keep the zone from above-cleavage to knee covered, and you should also keep covered from shoulder to elbow. If a top has a plunging neckline you can layer a higher-necked top under it. Leather shoes are better for daytime; evening shoes should really be fabric; fancy earrings are best saved for evening, as are rhinestones. .

Shovel away everything that doesn't belong to this season. Put it all in the attic or something. You won't lose it, because you've got it written down. No longer will things conceptually disappear because you can't see them.

Now you have big horrid piles of this season's clothes on the floor. How awful. Time to start hanging them up - you're not using wire hangers are you? Yes you are. Go out and buy loads of plastic hangers, as well as wooden hangers for coats and jackets, clip hangers for skirts, and open-ended hangers for trousers. You can also use clip hangers for trousers if you hang them from the hem. T-shirts and sweaters can get folded up in drawers. Speaking of which, why not get some wrapping paper and spritz it with rosewater and line the drawers with it? Also, this season's shoes hang in a wardrobe-hangy folding set of shoe pigeonholes, so get one of those too.

Okay, get putting that stuff away. Get hanging and folding. I hang by colour, in the following order: tops, skirts, pants, jackets. Patterned stuff which is mostly of a particular colour gets filed last in that colour, with the solid stuff in front of it.

Wouldn't it be a shame to do all this and not sort out your underwear drawer? I use empty cat-food boxes to make little compartments for mine. You can figure out the inventory later, but right now, happiness is a sorted underwear drawer.

Great. Now we've done all that, it's time to pick out your outfit for tomorrow. Notice how I didn't tell you to get rid of any clothes? That's because you're going to find new ways of wearing stuff. You don't know if something suits you, or not, until you've given it a fair go, and that is what we're doing now.

First of all, figure out what you'll be doing most of the time tomorrow. Let's say you're going to work, but going out in the evening.

Let's also check the temperature in the city where you'll be spending the most time. I'll use London as an example. My weather forecast says a maximum temperature of 4 celsius (so normal winter weather) but it also says it's going to snow. This means ice underfoot and hazardous walking, so you obviously will have to wear my snow boots and carry your work shoes with you. Therefore, you're not going to pick boots as part of your indoor outfit tomorrow, because they're too bulky to carry. We will keep this in mind as we plan. Also, snow often means slush and dark mud, so apart from boots (which can be wiped clean) we won't pick anything light-coloured to wear below knee level, because they'll get splashed (and often, city mud contains oil so the stains can't be washed out).

Okay. Now. We're going to choose the central item in your outfit, around which everything else is organized. We're going to cycle through each list, and the first list is Tops.

I'm going to go back to the Dress Code Guide, referenced above, and follow the guidelines for "Business Casual - Relaxed" for your creative job. Of course, you know best which category your job actually fits. You have a choice of a blouse/shirt, a sweater, a cardigan sweater (remember these can also be worn as tops), or a fashionable top. No denim, no slogans/logos, etc.

Pick the first top on your list that fits these guidelines. Let's say you find a white shirt with a pattern of beige, turquoise, and black circles on it. Well, the guide says "white is the universally preferred colour", but as this isn't a really conservative workplace we can use our discretion and go ahead with the shirt. Go and find the shirt. If you can't find it, pick another top.

Now we need to pick a skirt or pants to go with the shirt. We'll look for something white to go with the white shirt. But, because of the weather, it can't be pants, so it has to be a knee-length skirt. You don't have one, so let's look for something beige. Again, because of the weather, it needs to be a knee-length skirt. You have a beige knee-length skirt, but that's going to look pretty stuffy when you go out in the evening. But you do have a turquoise silk skirt, so let's pick that. If you couldn't find anything to match, you would need to go back to the drawing board and pick another top.

Next, shoes. Does this outfit look better with heels or flats? Does it look bad with either one of them? As it turns out, it's fine with both. You're carrying your shoes, so your beige leather office Mary Janes will do just fine. But when you go out in the evening, you can switch them with a pair of white ballet flats with gold trim. These don't take up much space in your bag.

Tights? You can wear beige patterned opaque tights during the day but these will be too heavy for evening, so take a pair of fine-gauge, flesh-colored fishnets to change into.

Now we have top, skirt, shoes, and tights. What about a sweater? Your shirt has full-length sleeves, so you don't need to add anything to cover up with for work, but you might need to keep warm. Your office is well heated, so you'll only need that in the evening, but just in case, pick something that can go from day to evening. Look through your list of cover-ups. Keep going until you find something that is the right colour andcan go from day to evening. Let's say you find a beige wrap cardigan with a sprinkling of gold sequins.

You can take your usual light-brown leather day bag to work, but you won't want to carry it in the evening. If you can, lock it away in your locker and transfer your stuff into a smaller evening bag which you can also carry with you. A goldtone evening bag would probably go well, especially considering the gold trim on your shoes and wrap cardigan.

Okay, now, jewelry. I usually wear two items of jewelry, YMMV. Make sure they don't distract from each other - a necklace with non-matching earrings, for example. As you're wearing beige today I think jewelry should be goldtone rather than silvertone. You could pick a necklace that fits the neckline of the shirt, and maybe a ring. When you go out in the evening, you could take the necklace off, and put on some really sparkly rhinestone earrings.

Now the coat. Consider whether you have a coat that is warm enough that will look good both in the daytime and in the evening, will cover the length of your outfit, and will go well with your snow boots. If you don't have one coat that can do all these things, warmth obviously has to come first in this situation. But ideally a knee length coat would be nice.

As it's so cold you will need to add a knitted hat. Ideally your shoes, bag, and hat should have something in common to unify the outfit. You have (let's say) white snow boots and a brown bag. A white or brown hat would be best, or at least a neutral hat with some white and/or some brown in it.

You also need sunglasses. If you have a white hat, and sunglasses with brown frames, this will be excellent with your brown bag and white boots.

Find some gloves that are either the same colour as your coat, or tone with the rest of your accessories.

...and you're finally done!

Tomorrow you'll pick out the next top on your list that is suitable for work (or wherever you're going), and you'll keep doing that until you've run out of tops, whereupon you will start picking from the next list.
posted by tel3path at 1:23 PM on December 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

If you can't afford a personal shopper/stylist, try reading, which is written by one. She answers readers' questions in the forums and has really smart, practical advice about developing your own style. I know it's helped me a lot, especially with feeling like I know anything at all about fashion.
posted by synchronia at 3:01 PM on December 27, 2010

Response by poster: Wow! Thanks so much, everyone! I am overwhelmed by the variety and awesomeness of your answers thus far... will continue to read and learn :-)
posted by Weng at 8:37 PM on December 27, 2010

I would also recommend (as Elysium says) to take a morning/afternoon to go through your clothes and put together a bunch of outfits. Each time you have an outfit you like, take a picture of it and save the pictures so that next time you get dressed, you know exactly how the outfit looks, how the colors work together, and how casual/dressy/office-y it is.

This is best for me when I'm crunched for time, having a fat day, whatever. Just pull out the picture, grab the pieces, and I'm good.
posted by lockstitch at 8:34 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

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