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Recessionista in the Closet: How to Prune and Preserve a Wardrobe

Updated on May 8, 2013

Tiz the Season

As winter inevitably (we hope) gives way to spring, we humans join countless other species in the seasonal ritual of Spring Cleaning. Rather than teaching you how to reline your nest, however, I hope to encourage you to take this opportunity to do some serious wardrobe RX. This article will provide basic guidelines for culling the herd, teaching you to identify the sick or weakly items taking up precious closet space, and then for extending the life of those items deemed worthy of their hanger and/or drawer space.

By the time you've got your heavy sweaters and woolen socks tucked away under the eves, your remaining wardrobe will be a lean, mean, streamlined machine ready to outfit Specifically You for any occasion: your own personal sartorial fingerprint.

Sick of staring blankly at your closet with no idea what to wear?
Sick of staring blankly at your closet with no idea what to wear? | Source
Um. No. Sorry.
Um. No. Sorry. | Source

What do you Really Really need?

An over-full closet is no one's friend, and all the more so because it's probably over-full of stuff you don't really wear for one reason or another. These reasons run the gamut from "a little too short when you sit down" to "there just aren't that many balls anymore," and some of them should be weighed a bit more heavily than others.

I'd tell anyone with a more pared down closet to move on to the next section, but chances are everyone needs to be reminded of the following:

Get rid of it if:

  • It hasn't fit for over a year and you aren't pregnant. Seriously, guys. There are street urchins out there who need the jeans you wore in high school more than you need the "motivation."
  • You like it but feel uncomfortable going out in it (too short, too tight, too revealing). Nothing sucks like walking around overly self-conscious. Even if the item in question is perfectly lovely, if you're not comfortable, it shows.

Think about getting rid of it if:

  • The cut is unflattering or the color does nothing for you.
  • It's obviously of poor quality - although this is more or less the outcome of following the previous suggestions. This is the key to having a manageable wardrobe: quality over quantity. The cliché is true, friends.
  • It's more of a Halloween costume than anything else (Yes, I'm talking to you, fishnet shirt). If you have room for a dress-up closet, then maybe you can just sequester these outliers from your regular wardrobe but keep them handy for wee visitors or the odd masquerade ball.

What do we notice here? She feels comfortable and pretty, and carries herself accordingly. This makes all the difference.
What do we notice here? She feels comfortable and pretty, and carries herself accordingly. This makes all the difference. | Source

Dressing for the Ages: how to choose the Right Stuff

The first step to having a personalized and practical closet is to figure out what you actually need to dress for. Let's say this leaves us with work/school, casual evenings out, slightly less casual evenings out, gymming, and weekend lounging.

Quality is important here, as is whether items fit you properly. If you were not blessed with a seamstress Grandmother, you may need to find a tailor. Small alterations do make a huge difference, and will also extend the life of your clothes. Ill-fitting garments (especially those that are meant to cover major joints, like elbows, knees, and heels) wear out much more quickly, and will have to be consigned to the scrap basket or the curb that much sooner. We're hoping to forestall that tragedy by years, if not decades and generations.

Of all the practical chores, laundry expertise might possibly get you the farthest in the Big Bad World of Adults.
Of all the practical chores, laundry expertise might possibly get you the farthest in the Big Bad World of Adults. | Source

Caring for Your Wardrobe: the basics of laundry and mending

I may be dating myself here, but you guys, I laughed So Hard when Rachael confessed to Ross that she had not-a-clue as to how to do laundry. Hijinks aside, her little speech about how much self confidence she would derive from having navigated all the little pitfalls of laundry-doing is appropriate: turning a load pink is a right of passage, and being able to keep yourself presentable is an absolutely necessary skill for any adult. Unless you have a special arrangement with your mother and you can somehow stomach the humiliation.

The following are mostly tips I picked up from my mother. And seeing as about 1/3 of my wardrobe is comprised of second and third generation hand-me-downs, I think I can safely say they've been vouched for.

So here are the basic and not-so-basic tenets of laundry-doing:

  • Yes, get that red sock out of there. Sheesh. Separating colors and whites is pretty much a no-brainer, but here's the thing: bleeding is unlikely after the first wash, making it ultimately more important to separate by fabric type . This is because it's the fabric, not the color, that's really being washed, and different fabrics can and should be treated differently.
  • Turn anything with a printed design on it inside out. You can also do this with sweaters if you're worried about the stitching getting muddied.
  • Zip all zippers: this will prevent those mean little metal teeth from tearing any of their cellmates during the cycle.
  • Wash jeans and sweaters as infrequently as possible. Sweaters especially, unless you've spilled something or they smell, should remain external to the laundrarcy as much as possible.
  • Air dry whenever possible. This is both energy efficient (yay!) and will minimize the wear and tear your clothing faces.
  • UNTESTED TIP: I've heard that adding a teaspoon of pepper to the wash will help prevent colors from fading or running. If anyone knows the science behind this, please share!

Mending and Storing: the basics

As long as we're leaning on clichés: a stitch in time saves nine. Or, as often as not, a stitch in time saves you the unnecessary embarrassment of only remembering about the huge hole in the under-arm seam after you've arrived on campus.

Mostly, thread and needles are only needed to reattach buttons or sew up small tears. These processes are pretty self-explanatory, but I'll give you a hint anyway: look at the way the other buttons have been sewn before you start gallivanting off into the Wild West of Willy-Nilly Button Sewing. For small tears, turn the garment inside out and pull the lips of the tear together. If the fabric is very fine, give yourself a little more leeway but pin it first and turn the garment right side out again to make sure there isn't more puckering than you're comfortable with. If you can't sew the tear without compromising the fit, consider iron-on patches, which, if the fabric is not too fine, can be invisible.

Always deal with a tear or snag as soon as you notice it. It is an excellent idea to keep a bottle of clear nail polish in your desk or bag for emergencies: the nail polish can be used to fix snags in sweaters, runs in tights, or any other unfortunate fraying.

As for storage, it's a good idea to keep shirts and certainly sweaters folded (rather than on a hanger) to prevent stretching. And whenever you switch out a seasonal wardrobe, store your off-duty soldiers in the dark, with lavender or cedar to discourage bugs and moths.

Spring Cleaning: The Spirit of Keeping Home
Spring Cleaning: The Spirit of Keeping Home

To get you in the mood to declutter and streamline.


Caring for Your 'Delicates'

Yes, bras need special attention. And if you have been shelling out for the kind that do their job well, you probably understand this. These things are not called 'foundation garments' for nothing: a properly fitted bra is the difference between having to deal with ill-fitting and unflattering clothing, back pain, and poor posture - or, you know, not.

So first things first: if possible, wash by hand. The frequency of washing will depend on how sweaty a person you are; I hear genetics plays a huge role in this, so don't be shy. Sports bras, no matter what, should be at least rinsed in cold water after every use. Cold water is key here: washing bras (of any sort) in cold water will help them maintain their elasticity. Feel free to apply this to tights, leggings, socks, ballerina gear. Under-wire bras reeeeeally need to be hand washed.

Soap-wise, you want something mild. And don't go overboard with the suds, or you'll be rinsing for hours. And hours. And if you don't rinse fully, you'll likely wind up with a rash or some itching. As with so many things, less is more. Do NOT use bleach or anything that contains it, like woolite. Baby shampoo, however, can be a great option.

If you must use a machine, make sure it's on the gentlest of gentle cycles, and again: cold water. Be sure to hook your bra before putting it in the machine, to make sure the straps don't get tangled and to prevent the hooks from ripping and holes in delicate fabric.

And just in case you didn't think you'd already wasted enough time, always always always air dry. The dryer heat will basically cook your bra, and it's just not worth being cupped by cozy just-out-of-the-dryer warmth. Save that pleasure for your jeans - they're much more likely to survive the process intact. If you're hanging them, do so by the strap, and if you have the soft cuppy sort, be sure to smooth out any laundry-inflicted dents before laying them out to dry.

There's always someone happy to take your (clean) well-worn clothing off your hands
There's always someone happy to take your (clean) well-worn clothing off your hands | Source

What to do with the Prunings

So you've whittled your wardrobe: nicely done! Now what to do with the bags full of rejects?

Well, you can have a swap party with your friends - as long as you promise not to just fill your closet with your friends' old crap in place of your own. These can be a lot of fun, as long as everyone helps with the clean-up.

And that clean-up will go where? Salvation Army, local church basements, soup kitchens, consignment shops - there are a lot of choices. Donations to most charitable organizations, like the Salvation Army and Dress for Success, are tax deductible, which may influence your decision.

This article has all the information you need to make a tax-deductible donation.

If anything is in such bad shape that it's unfit for donation, you can make rags (old socks are great for dusting) and maybe you'll even manage to collect enough to make your very own braided rag rug!

Hand-me-downs are also a nice gesture, but make sure that the goods in question are actually suitable for the recipient. You know, just make sure it's a nice gift, not a convenient dump.

What's the go-to item in your closet? Leave a comment below!


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    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 3 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thanks for sharing this useful information on closet organization. Some great reminders that if heeded, can make a closet a much better place to house the clothing we need in life.

    • buckleupdorothy profile image

      buckleupdorothy 5 years ago from Istanbul, Turkey

      Thank you Dee! You're quite right - knowing how to care for your clothing makes such a huge difference, and I felt it appropriate for the Recessionista series because that difference is ultimately between needing (ish) to replace your wardrobe often or never. There are of course other considerations, like gaining or losing weight, but I think scientists have determined that most adults remain within 5lbs or so of their "normal" weight. It's pretty remarkable, all told. I've been blessed with a body almost identical to my mother's and my maternal grandmother's, so I've seen first-hand the reasonableness of paying for high-quality clothing and then taking the time to care for it properly.

    • Dee aka Nonna profile image

      Dee aka Nonna 5 years ago

      This is a very good hub with very practical advice. I am a stickler for the proper care of cloth when doing the laundry. One can make clothes last a long time by not abusing them in the washer and dryer.

      Many years ago I worked with a young woman who had a natural ability with needle, thread, and sewing machine. She didn't have much money so did her shopping at the second-hand stores. She could take anything and turn it into a designer looking outfit. That is a talent that I would love to have.

      Voted up, useful and very interesting.