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Wardrobe Chic: The Art of Shopping In My Closet

Updated on August 23, 2015

Doing It Right!

Chartreuse Prabal Garung for Target dress
Chartreuse Prabal Garung for Target dress | Source
Hounds tooth cardigan sweater accessorized with a beige, black and white striped scarf
Hounds tooth cardigan sweater accessorized with a beige, black and white striped scarf | Source
Beige cardigan over black Calvin Klein dress
Beige cardigan over black Calvin Klein dress | Source
Denim jacket over white pullover and long leopard print and floral skirt
Denim jacket over white pullover and long leopard print and floral skirt | Source

Too Much Stuff. Too Little Space.

I love clothes and I have a lot of clothes. The problem is that I moved from a house, with lots of closet space, to an apartment with considerably less about a year ago, and I had to adjust accordingly. When I first moved to the apartment I left a large portion of my clothes in storage, but after missing my old things, I paid to have them delivered so I could wear them again. Despite consistently adding to my wardrobe with things to keep it updated there are days when I have enough to select from my without having to buy anything new. Over the past five years my relationship with my wardrobe has changed and it's become more important to me as a form of self-expression, source of strength, and a reflection of who I am.

The Wardrobe Inventory: Making a Plan

In 2010 I was diagnosed with Stage II A Breast Cancer and I had to have a left breast mastectomy along with chemotherapy treatments. Literally overnight I was faced with an altered physique and the inability to shop and go out in public as easily as I used to. Whenever I saw a T.V. movie, in the past, where someone had cancer they looked so sick and worn out I prayed that wouldn't happen to me. It wasn't just their physical appearance that alarmed me it was their struggle with the disease that seemed so vicious and cruel.

I wish I could tell you that my cancer experience was easier, but it wasn't, because on top of the disease I also have lupus and I had an ulcer surgery during my chemo treatments. My appearance took a hit, and I had to find ways to dress and look presentable while still battling cancer. That's when my attitude towards dressing, style and my wardrobe changed significantly and I vowed to always make an effort to wear things that make me look stylish, strong and resilient.

After going through the first side effects of my treatment, and when I was strong enough, I took all of my clothes and accessories out of my closets, drawers and other storage spaces and started listing everything I could wear while undergoing chemo (i.e., button-down shirts, cardigan sweaters, skirts, pants, hats, etc.,) on my first Wardrobe Inventory List, then I coordinated everything with an eclectic flair by combining my vintage pieces with the contemporary ones I'd bought before I was sick. This process helped me in more ways than one because not only was I able to focus on something besides cancer I was able to create a persona that allowed me to once again look in the mirror and see an attractive, well put together person, who was tough enough to get through this experience.

By the time I'd completed the current and most extensive version of my Wardrobe Inventory List I'd moved twice, survived chemo, and embarked on a job search that challenged me with massive rejection stemming from ageism, racism and a weak economy. At this point my wardrobe took on a new role as an autobiographical testament to who I was now and where I'd been. Sadly, those who think African-Americans, the disabled and financially challenged should "dress down" and badly gave me a hard time.They consistently insulted me, and tried to force me to adhere to an inferior stereotype until I stood up to them and told them "This is the way I dress, and how I feel comfortable. You just have to get used to it."

For my current Wardrobe Inventory I separated the lists by category, according to the location of their storage, and I included accessories too. On the same line, with the item described, I also wrote whether it was a coat, jacket, blazer, etc., then wrote where I'd purchased it or who'd given it to me. Upon completing the first draft of the inventory, by hand, I then input it into the computer for future reference and updated revisions.

The True Value of My Wardrobe:

While going through this process I had a traumatic experience that brought home to me how much my wardrobe means to me and my continued physical, emotional, and psychological healing. I was still living in the apartment, where I did my first Wardrobe Inventory List, and I was feeling energetic enough to walk to my favorite off-price store and shop. I'd been in the store about 20 minutes when I noticed how much the merchandise had changed and the quality and selection had gone down. I asked the Dressing Room clerk, "What's going on? Why are you carrying clothes like this now?" She told me, "A group of Hispanic customers told the store manager they were the store's main customers, and they had the numbers, so they wanted the store to carry the type of merchandise they liked to wear and buy."

Shocked, angry and frustrated because I am a long-standing regular at this store, and I depend on them for further additions to my wardrobe, I complained, and the old policy was reinstated immediately. Recently I read Betty Halbreich's 1997 book Secrets of a Fashion Therapist What You Can Learn Behind the Dressing Room Door and her quote, "Your wardrobe should keep evolving over the years," reminded me of this incident and how it could've been an obstacle to my own style evolution. I wouldn't call myself a pack rat or hoarder but I definitely don't subscribe to the philosophy espoused in so many makeover books, "to get rid of anything you haven't worn in a year." I prefer to create my own look, within the style era of the moment, with a combination of things I already own and new finds. Whether I bought them at Clothestime or Contempo Casuals in the 1980's or at Ross or Goodwill Industries Thrift Store last year their timelessness holds up.

How I've Avoided Contemporary Style Pitfalls:

By continuing to wear my wardrobe effectively I've never fallen into the trap so commonly seen today of either wearing a trend to death, slavishly looking like everyone else, or wearing a non-descript uniform of all-black. Another advantage to owning a wardrobe, accumulated over time, is that I'm not constantly throwing away inexpensive clothes that fall apart after a few washings. To do this I've bought the best I could afford from reliable stores with excellent stock.

Shopping In My Closet:

A few months ago I was invited by the Department of Rehabilitation to a Job Fair at my local Work Source Center. The instructions were to "bring a current resume" and "to dress professionally." Last year they'd given me a check to buy clothes for job interviews and work, and while at the Goodwill Industries Thrift Store on Crenshaw Blvd.,I saw a light beige Talbot's pantsuit from the 1980's that I looked very versatile and professional. To shop in my closet for this occasion I began by researching the current trends in my fashion magazines, then I chose a color scheme. Wide-legged pants are in for Spring 2015, so I knew the suit's silhouette was perfect, and beige and white are excellent career colors when you want to avoid black, leading me in that direction. To complete the outfit, and soften the suit, I then added a white sleeveless bow-front blouse, and pearl jewelry.

Initially, when I bought this suit, I thought it would look dated since it's recent vintage, but it's proved to be one of my favorite go-to pieces, and I've even successfully worn the pants alone with a light pink Ann Taylor sweater set, accessorized with fuchsia loafers, a pearl necklace and an off-white vintage purse to a more informal job interview for a retail chain store in my neighborhood.

Despite my satisfaction over my current wardrobe, I still feel the need to keep adding things that will allow it to change and develop over the years as I do. That's when I have the most fun shopping in my closet and can be whomever I want to be.

How To Shop In Your Closet:

  1. Take everything out of your closets and other storage spaces, lay them on the bed or other large surface, and list them in a "Wardrobe Inventory List".
  2. Look for patterns (i., Do you have a lot of black? Do you have too many leggings and not enough pants that are traditionally constructed?) and make a note on your list,
  3. Do your research by studying current fashion magazines, the internet, store windows and displays, costume exhibits, T.V. shows, movies, fashion and style books and people you know and on the street then make notes about what you see and what you like and don't like. It's also a good idea to clip photos of clothes you like out of magazines or xerox the picture for your coordination ideas.
  4. Experiment with different combinations in your wardrobe. If you have a green army jacket and have never worn it with a floral dress, try it, for a sweet street look. Once you start experimenting you'll enjoy it as much as buying something new.
  5. Make a shopping wish list of items you'd like to buy and add to your wardrobe the next time you go shopping.

To keep my wardrobe fresh I continuously add new things. Over the past two years I've bought:

  1. Three Prabal Gurung dresses from Target.
  2. A white eyelet sleeveless J.Crew dress from Goodwill Industries Thrift Store..
  3. A pink ruffled skirt and a white tote bag with a cat on the front of it from Forever 21.
  4. I've found that just by including something different it gives me a whole new set of clothing choices. Since I often mix old with new and dress eclectically I'm able to do this easily when I need to. The day I had to give a testimonial at a city council meeting I wanted to look feminine but business-like so I paired my chartreuse Prabal Gurung dress with my vintage beige cashmere cardigan, 1970s suede boots and brown Nordstrom leather purse. This was the first time I'd ever worn that dress and also the first time I'd ever worn the cardigan that way, so both pieces inspired me in a new way.
  5. A beige Le Sac purse from Council Thrift Store

In the evolving story of my life my wardrobe helps me communicate exactly what I want. Through all of my trials and tribulations it's been an ally I can always depend on. I look forward to many more happy years together.

Shopping and Fashion Coordination List:

  1. Silver pants by Bisou Bisou worn with short-sleeved white satin blouse by Adolfo and denim Michael Kors jacket.
  2. Black and white oversized men's blazer belted over a light blue and black Ann Taylor cardigan sweater and grey pinstriped cropped pants.
  3. Green men's pants worn with long-sleeved t-shirt under a peach/white polka-dotted short-sleeved blouse and white vintage cardigan sweater.
  4. White ruffled front Ann Taylor blouse over beige men's khaki's.
  5. Black and gray striped long-sleeved shirt over black linen wide-legged Ann Taylor pants, accessorized with a red bead necklace, red rhinestone cocktail ring, and black Born shoes.

Does Shopping In Your Closet Make You Happy?

Do you ever shop in your closet when you don't have the money to go to the store and buy something new?

See results

Always Classy and Elegant at Council Thrift Shops

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    • i scribble profile image

      i scribble 3 years ago

      I keep most of my old stuff and enjoy rediscovering treasures in my closet as well. Favorite clothes are like old friends. My closet is stuffed, but now my son has moved out and I can expand into his closet!

      I can't imagine following all the fashion expert advice saying you should get rid of anything you haven't worn in a year. Can you?

    • Victoria Moore profile image

      Victoria Jean Moore 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA.

      Dear i scribble:

      I know what you mean by "favorite clothes are like old friends" because I just unearthed some of my old clothes I wore before I had breast cancer, that I never thought I'd wear again, and when I tried them on and they fit I felt like I'd struck gold!

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