Wardrobe Analysis

My style icon, Rachel Maddow

My style icon, Rachel Maddow

Why is it so hard to clothe myself in a way I like? And why do I even care about clothes?

I am not a flashy or sophisticated dresser. If you asked my family or coworkers how I dressed, they would probably have to think about it because it is not especially noteworthy. They might struggle to be kind and say things other than Functional or Neat. But I care how I look and what I wear. I’ve realized I do care how people “read” me, fashion-wise. In the past 10 years, my style has ranged from Middle Aged Rocker to  Lesbian Chic to Worker Bee to Tacky Vintage and who knows what. Even when I wear the plainest clothes, I am always making a statement about what I am NOT. There are so many styles I won’t wear and don’t relate to: for example, floral garden party, Coachella/Boho, nightclubber, beach bunny, and Ladies who Lunch!

OffWork1 OffWork4 OffWork3

I am slowly giving up some of my non-work clothing fetishes. I am down to 8 hoodies now (only 3 in heavy rotation) and 22 non-work T-Shirts: cartoon characters, rock bands, etc. That is a big change! You know what it is? I have been an empty nester for 4 years now and I no longer feel the desire to look like the Cool Parent; the one who keeps up with their kids. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve been “coupled” for 7 years and I’ve dropped the Youthful Dating look 🙂 But I still have a pop culture thing going on, so I will not be giving up my Keith Haring T-shirts.

Occasionally I see my wardrobe in a new way. Last year I realized that I don’t have a ton of work-appropriate clothes, just 59 items. That sounds like a lot, but it covers 4 very distinct seasons, and some of those things can only be worn 3 months a year. I also have an interesting range of things to do at work at the library, from interviewing job applicants to meeting with the city councillor to taking apart shelving units or taking my turn cleaning the staff room fridge! Maybe I need a lab coat…

At the start of 2012, I started to pare down my wardrobe with the goal of reducing it by half. I had a motley assortment! Skinny clothes I hadn’t worn for years. Stretched out big clothes I hoped never to wear again. Holiday outfits I’d only worn once. Sentimental stuff like concert T-shirts I couldn’t part with. Expensive items I wanted to get my money’s worth out of. Worn out things I couldn’t replace, but refused to quit wearing. Clothes for my fantasy life. I estimated I could get rid of half, so that only items I liked and would wear remained.

Over the past 3 years, both my size and my life have stabilized! I no longer feel I need a Clothing Contingency Plan for every possible size and circumstance. I know myself better. I can make do better. I would rather have 25 items that feel good, than 50 I can only wear occasionally when they fit (you know, those two weeks a year when the stars align).

Now that I think about it, maintaining the same weight has probably been the key factor. I have fluctuated by 10 pounds, but in the past, my weight had gone up or down by 30 pounds. So by acting quicker whenever there is a shift, I have been able to wear the same clothes longer. I no longer punish myself by saying “You don’t deserve any nice things until you lose some weight,” nor do I say “You’ve stayed the same size for a year so you deserve a whole new wardrobe!”

Revisiting my clothes inventory this week, I couldn’t bring the numbers down much. The era of impressive decluttering is behind me! It looked like this:

anexactinglife Clothes Inventory
 Year 2012 2013 2014 2015
Wardrobe Items 264 170 150 142
Other 216 183 201 198
TOTAL 480 353 351 340

Wardrobe items are: coats and jackets, shoes and boots, sweaters, shirts, T-shirts, pants and skirts.

Other is: workout wear, night wear, underwear, socks, belts, gloves and mitts, hats and scarves.

I’m within 10 pieces of halving my main wardrobe. Looking closely, there is nothing that desperately must go. So I have “earmarked” 10 items on my inventory list. If I don’t wear them this year (or even sooner, depending on the season), they can go. I am not concerned about the small stuff. I will just keep it all until it wears out, and try to avoid accumulating more – although I constantly get gifted with socks and scarves!

Vacation outfit that will see more use

Vacation outfit that will see more use

Vacation outfit unlikely to see more use

Vacation outfit unlikely to see more use

I will sum up by telling you about my fashion purchase hits and misses this year. I make so many mistakes when clothes buying! My pitfall is buying new clothes to wear on vacation, knowing full well I will not wear them when I get back home. I guess I like being another person for a few days a year? Recognizing that, I should do it cheaper – such as thrifted-only.

I have spent $784 on clothes so far this year, of a supposed $900 annual budget. I expect I will overspend greatly and make it up elsewhere.

anexactinglife YTD 2015 Clothes Purchases
Item $ Well-Spent? Note
Shoes – black flats 103 ? Have troubles with shoes/sizes/quality…
Jeans 92 Yes “Statement Jeans” (see Ramones T-shirt photo)
Shoes – brown, for work 76 Yes See above under black flats
Dress for vacation 75 ? Probably only one wear. Gulp!
Brown sandals 48 ? Vacation purchase. Never wear sandals. This year?
Black crop pants 46 No Wrong length, need to alter, second thoughts
Blue boatneck sweater 43 Yes Like  it
3 bras 41 Yes Trying out a different style
Sheer layer shirt 40 Yes Vacation again – but will keep wearing
Navy linen pants 40 Yes Good find. But very seasonal.
Skidoo mitts 35 Yes A lifesaver this past brutal winter
Skort 34 ? Seem to buy one every summer…
Blue tunic sweater 30 Yes Allowed me to wear stretchy leggings more
3 tank tops 29 Yes For layering
Panties 22 Yes Basics
5 pairs of socks 21 Yes 50 pairs of whimsical socks; none OK for work!
Canada Day T-shirt 7 Yes Replaced last year’s ill-fitting one

So my quest to feel comfortable in my own skin – and my own clothes – continues.

Have you made peace with the way you dress?


  1. Jen

    Made peace? Not yet. Entering mid 40s.. Why does nothing fit in the waist anymore. I have compassion for my daughter entering pre teen years because both of our bodies are changing! I am very picky about how things fit, thus I tend to wear the same things over and over again.
    You look amazing in the navy dress BTW.

  2. I have hit my thirties and realised that crop tops are no longer good, nor are short shorts and that I have gained weight so nothing fits anyway! So I have been going through something similar. I would say, overall, you have made wise choices for clothes though, I also would like to pare down my wardrobe to just those essential items!

    • I am not too stuck on essentials-only. I would like to have a really good selection of essentials that truly work, and then the rest of my wardrobe can liven it up and be for play. At my age I think we are all considering whether to keep wearing sleeveless tops, because of our upper arms. Got to banish the bingo wings!

  3. I need to do a major ‘de-wardrobing’ soon, I have been hoarding a lot of old jeans and shorts in the hope of growing leaner and that seems to be taking longer than earlier hoped. The first 8 years of my career were spent in the Art/Advertising Industry where jeans, t-shirts and sketchers were accepted. Now after a major shift to a corporate role that forced me to buy all new clothes, I find myself stuck with a mountain of casual clothes that I can only wear once a week. -sigh-

    • I am really bad about buying weekend casual and vacation clothes, and skimping on work clothes. I would probably be happier if I could wear things I liked at work all week!

  4. cheryl

    Boy oh boy you hit a nerve here with me. Have I made peace with the way I dress? That would be an emphatic NO to that question. I own 4 pairs of jeans/casual pants, 20 plain t-shirts, mostly black or white and I recently purchased dress in case of a funeral. I do that “punishing” thing you spoke of and until I get a handle on my weight…..Grrrrrr…..never mind………I think I’ll go for a walk.

    • I usually only have 4 pairs of pants for work and 4 for home that I wear regularly. The rest are only occasional because of the fabric, fit, season, etc. I always go for neutral pants so all my shirts, sweaters and T-shirts are bright. I wish for you a well-fitting selection of clothes that help you feel good about yourself at any size! Even one nice “transitional” outfit can lift your spirits when you are between sizes.

  5. EcoCatLady

    Well… my wardrobe got a LOT simpler after I quit my job. These days I’m mostly a T-shirt/sweatshirt & jeans/shorts kind of a girl.

    But I recently had an interesting revelation regarding clothing sizes & styles that you might find interesting. I finally gave up on repairing my shorts (all of which had developed holes in the butt) and decided I needed new ones. So I went over to the thrift store and discovered to my horror that I had to go 2-3 sizes bigger to find anything that fit. At first I thought I’d gained weight, but I took my measurements and they were exactly the same as usual. Then it hit me – the fashion has changed and now instead of low-rise hip hugger pants (which I totally loved) everything is high-rise stuff, which NEVER fits me right.

    So I did some research and discovered that different people have their “natural waist” in different places. Mine is right under my rib cage, which makes me “short-waisted”. To make matters worse, I actually have a longer than average torso – all of which means that there’s a looooong distance between my natural waist & my crotch. So when the fashion shifts to high-rise pants, the waist on the pants never gets anywhere near my real waist, meaning that I have to size WAY up to find things that will fit in the waist (making them huge in the butt and not very flattering).

    I really wish I’d known this at a younger age, because when I was in jr. high and the fashion was for high-waisted pants, all of my similar-sized friends wore clothes several sizes smaller than me and it all gave me a terrible fat complex.

    Anyhow, armed with this new piece of data, I am now on a mission to find low & mid rise pants & shorts that will actually fit and be comfortable – and I am going to purge all high-rise pants/shorts from my life. I refuse to suffer anymore! 🙂 Perhaps that will bring me to a state of total wardrobe peace? Not holding my breath, but it’s a start!

    • Ack, high-rise, what a curse! I have a small waist and large hips so I always have to buy “curvy” style pants. If I try to buy straight or boyfriend styles, I have to buy a gigantic gapping waist size to fit my hips. So I always buy low-rise or trendy-fit, but then I have to buy extra-long tops to make sure I am covered up; no one needs to see me in a crop top!

  6. Fiona

    I think weight consistency is definitely the key (along with being at a weight you prefer to begin with.) Your wardrobe sounds very organised and functional.

    I haven’t made peace with how I dress yet. I am happier with the types of fabric and styles but still on a quest to lose more weight before I fill out the wardrobe.

    • Thinking about it, I do keep an ongoing list of basics I need to buy or replace, and I do look for them periodically, even on vacation. But then I spend most of my clothes budget on casual or vacation clothes. I’ve decided I just can’t find appropriate work wear. It is too under-represented in stores. I think I may gather my courage and try online shopping for some better brands that are more work-oriented.

      I do think it’s important to have even a small selection of clothes you feel good in, while waiting for that ideal size to kick in. No one wants to spend money on new clothes they’ll soon leave behind, but thrifting would be perfect, or bargain lines.

  7. I definitely wish you would find times to wear the dress aside from holidays, but I totally have no idea how that might roll in Canada!! I didn’t used to have any dresses, as an engineering student, but as I started to go to church more, and knew when/where I’d wear dresses, I bought more. But not in winter (Australian winter) too cold!!

    I’m certainly noticing in the past year, without a day to day work uniform (only a ‘one day a week’ wearing the uniform) I have a ‘uniform’ with my wardrobe. It’s work trousers with button up shirt with a cardigan or jumper in winter (and a singlet underneath). It’s boring, but it works. And it means when I op shop, I know what to seek out (the button down shirts – pants are hard, and cardigans of the fabric I want are scant). Summer is more challenging, but evolved to cropped pants + shorter sleeve tops, but even long sleeved ‘winter’ shirts with rolled up sleeves work well. But, similar to you, I have a collection of ‘other’ stuff – for holidays really. Those times I spend a week or two in casual clothing, in winter or in summer. But otherwise, just get worn on weekends… But I don’t want to thin the numbers and then have to wash more on holidays?!!? I’m happy with numbers whilst they fit well in the storage I have.

    • Yeah, that day I wore the dress in Paris was 25-30 C from morning to night. The chances of me getting a day like that here ON A WEEKEND WHEN I HAVE AN EVENT TO GO TO, are practically non-existent. But I will keep it in mind. I definitely have a “work uniform” too! For summer, a one-colour T-shirt with dark pants, and a lightweight cardigan. For spring and fall, a button-up shirt or long-sleeve one-colour T-shirt, and for winter, a pullover sweater. I keep trying to find work jackets (blazers) I like. It’s nice that you have room for a varied weekend and holiday wardrobe!

  8. I don’t have the style I want as the body doesn’t fit the image in my head, that’s a shrinking work in progress, in the interim I am practicing making my own clothes till I can fit into what I want to wear, getting rid of dull and bringing in colourful fun!

    • I joke that I have reverse body dysmorphic disorder – no matter how I might objectively look, I always think I look fine, and I have to be more critical sometimes, especially of the way my clothes fit or how others see me.

      I have been following your sewing adventures and you are doing great. I hate sewing 🙂

  9. Cut that blue dress at thigh length and re-hem it. It would make a lovely top to posh up skinny jeans!

  10. I can relate to a lot of the things you mention 🙂 People also love to give me socks for Christmas, and I do enjoy the unique pairs they find for me. But I have asked that they only give me 1 pair, which worked out pretty well last year. My wardrobe numbers have definitely increased in 2015 since I’m buying/receiving maternity clothes but it’s all good. It’s nice to take a break from all the stuff I normally wear and I’m sure I’ll be happy to get back into it sometime this winter!

    Good luck with the black flats – I hope you give us more info if they end up working out. I always struggle finding pairs that I like that are comfy and somewhat durable (and cute too, if possible!).

  11. tess

    hope springs eternal, I keep saving clothes in smaller sizes in the hopes that my weight will adjust itself downward, currently I’m maintaining, so at least not gaining, hope in the form of linens and woolens that I could ill afford to replace if and when I lose weight, is contained in big plastic tubs behind the head of my bed,
    once I read that Cher has 5 sizes of clothes in her closet(s) just in case

    • Hi Tess, I used to do that too, with clothes in North American sizes 8 to 14. After I had maintained my weight for over a year I decided to be braver and not save the larger sizes any more. It gives me added incentive to stay the same and avoid buying new larger items.

  12. Love your Paris dress. With leggings and a cardi, you will look Parisian all year.

  13. HollyH

    I haven’t commented forever, but still read every post! I think the Paris dress would work well with a different colored shrug sweater, or waterfall cardigan. Either of these items could stand in for the blazer you haven’t yet found, and depending on structure (or not) could be versatile enough to wear with a work duo to add some panache to certain big meeting days at work, or with jeans and a tee for a gallery night or something like that.
    Go for a contrasting color.

    For me, my style recipe has really jelled this year after doing (still in progress) Imogen Lamppost’s 7 Steps to Style online program. What a mind-bender that’s been, and worth every penny. Someday when I have a blog I will post all about it. 😉

    • HollyH

      Correction, it is Imogen Lampport not Lamppost. Still getting used to my new laptop/tablet and need to fix the autocorrect. It’s autowrong at this juncture. 🙂

    • Hi Holly! I will have to try out the Paris dress with a few things and see what I can do with it. 7 Steps to Style? Sounds intriguing. Hope you will write someday!

  14. Yeah, I agree with Sarah and Fiona. That dress needs more outings. It suits your shape more than the pants you wear. I know you say it’s too cold or formal but you can dress it down. A thick pair of stockings/tights (whatever you want to call them). Flats. A cardie. And then a long coat. Voilà. Fit for library service and swap the shoes and fit for meeting councillors or for more formal events.

    I’ve definitely made peace with the way I dress. Actually I’ve never not been at peace. Except I did wish, when younger, that I had smaller breasts so I could wear little tops. They look liked I was trying to be sexy. Now I just don’t wear them.

    • I am not sure what kind of mindshift I would need to wear dresses more often. They make me feel like a different person, or that I’m trying to be someone else. Part of it is that no one at work wears dresses or skirts, so it’s always remarkable when someone does, and I don’t like the attention. I may have said before that library work involves a lot of physical work. When someone wears a dress (or delicate fabrics), it seems to send a signal to the rest of the staff: “I’m not going to pitch in and do anything strenuous today.” Or maybe by wearing items that a man would never wear, I feel that I am calling attention to feminine qualities – which is not part of my world view. Perhaps the answer is kilts, LOL!

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