Lessons From a Closet Audit
My client “Sue” was frustrated with her over-stuffed closets, so we set an appointment to get the situation under control. And she agreed to let me document the process to share with you.
I brought along a collapsible garment rack to we could pull out entire sections of her closet contents and approach those items as if we were shopping — deciding what items we liked well enough for her to “buy” again (replace in her closet).
That approach creates less stress than deciding what to discard – even though the result is the same. We eliminated a good percentage of those clothes – so now she knows exactly she has and can get dressed each day with confidence and ease.
As a warm-up, we tackled her scarf collection, using her Color Fan to guide quick decisions about which ones to “buy” back into her wardrobe. The pile on the chair (left) will go to friends, resale and charity. The right photo shows one of two specialty hangers where she can now easily find a perfect accessory for nearly any outfit – sorted with neutrals on one hanger (shown) and colors – in rainbow order – on the other.
LESSON: Use small successes to build energy for bigger changes.
One challenge was adapting the black garments in her current closet to be more flattering to her warm coloring. For a short-term fix we worked in some print items that include her hair color plus black. She had two blouses that seem at first to meet that criteria. But when we held them up to her, the print on the right was still overwhelming her — too bright and too busy. The one on the left – while not optimal – is the more effective option. I’m trusting you can see the difference too, though we obscured her face for privacy.
Can you spot a few scarves in the top photo that work in the same way to connect her personal characteristics with her remaining black clothing?
LESSON: Check in the mirror to be sure every item looks good ON YOU!
This pale camel open-knit cardigan had great potential, if only the pockets hadn’t drooped out of shape, pulling down the garment front and distorting the whole look. But it’s an easy to fix: just steam the pocket back into shape and add lightweight buttons (related, not necessarily matched) to hold the upper edge in position. The buttons will keep the pocket permanently closed, but what could you ever put in those pockets anyway ?
LESSON: Find creative ways to upgrade good pieces that could be great ones.
What easy fix could update a questionable garment in YOUR closet?
Sue’s professional life demands suits on most days. Typically I suggest hanging jackets and bottoms separately so you don’t overlook the mix/match options of the individual pieces. But she had plenty of other pants and skirts to coordinate, so keeping her suit jackets and bottoms together will simplify getting dressed in the morning as well as packing for her frequent business trips.
She keeps her jackets on nice plastic swivel-head hangers, but never realized that the little plastic slot below the hook is designed to connect a second hanger holding the skirt or pants – how handy!
LESSON: Adapt typical closet organization guidelines to your specific needs.
BTW – purging non-optimal pieces left her with plenty of quality hangers to trade out all the wire ones from the dry cleaners – which don’t support clothes nearly as well.
LESSON: Better hangers support garments and keep them looking fresh and new.
Sorting through garments, I discovered two shells in pale sage green – one of her best colors and often very difficult to find. She had never known what to wear that color with, but agreed it was lovely under her navy suit (not shown) and the soft brown one below. This unexpected color scheme looks much more cohesive when we add a patterned scarf that includes both colors.
LESSON: Link new color combinations with multi-colored accessories.
The scarf also includes tan, we tried the shell under her tan suit too. But the combination lacked the visual weight or contrast level to balance her own stronger coloring. No matter how lovely a combination is on the hanger (mannequin, your best friend, whatever) it has to look good on YOU to be a winner.
LESSON: Check every combination in the mirror to be sure it flatters YOU.
The scarf colors also inspired pairing the brown jacket with a blush shell, and the beautiful results are shown below.
LESSON: Use your multi-color accessories to suggest new combinations of your garment colors.
We’re planning a comprehensive mix/match/accessorize session later and I’ll share the results in another post. Meanwhile, what great new combinations can you find in your own closet? I’d love to hear about them…
Thanks for sharing these great ideas. Doing these tryouts of outfits ahead sure would make getting dressed for the job or travel easier. I like to keep a list of the combos I make so I can assemble them quickly.
Closet consult clients are always amazed at how many ways we find to mix/match their clothes into great outfits … and with all that variety we find photos are the most effective way to keep all the options in their mind. Some put the pix on their computer, others make standard prints to keep in an album or to shuffle like a deck of cards to pick outfits for the coming week.
LOVE this very practical approach to illustrating great principles. So helpful to see real-life examples!
Thanks Pat. I worry that my informal cell-phone photos won’t be as professional looking – but great to hear that you value the info above overly slick presentation!
Thanks to both of you for letting us in to see real people make changes for the better. Extreme examples are usually obvious, but its harder to evaluate what’s wrong w/ something that’s almost but not quite right. “This is okay, but that is better and here’s why” really helps. “Strength and contrast of coloring” explains so many times why colors that are supposed to look good are disappointing when together. You’ve taught me so much about why things don’t work–now I need a whole new wardrobe. 🙂
Question, please, as an example. “Her hair color”–in lesson two, it seems you’re calling it the lightest brown shade that matches the browns in the two fabrics, but in lesson seven w/ the tan jacket, you’re saying the outfit doesn’t match the contrast between her face and the lowlights, or darkest part of her hair? Is that what you mean?
Thanks for the effort to share this. Very useful.
You are right that not every client is willing to let me take readers “inside her closet”. TT was so gracious to do that. To answer your question – both of the examples in Lesson 2 actually contain a color that matches to the overall value of her blended hair color. But – because we see color in relation to the other colors surrounding it – mixing it with either black or white makes the color appear lighter, especially in photographs.
In lesson 7, both the jacket color and the shell color are about the same value as her skin, but nothing in the mix is a value as strong as her blended hair color, hence not enough contrast to balance the look.
I thought the best and most unique tip was to decide which items you would “buy back”. Also, starting with the scarves gives one the basis for selecting the pieces to buy back: use the color combinations in the scarves to help select your own “rainbow”.
Wow Lois – I never identified the way that starting with scarves helps set a palette for the clothes “shopping”. Fashion jewelry items would do the same thing if the client isn’t a scarf person. Funny how I can do something intuitively for years without articulating – even to myself – exactly WHY it works. Thanks for the insight.
In the 2nd row of photos with the 2 prints held under TT’s face- did you mix up right and left? Which one do you say works for her- the dark background or the light? One looks like a black print with blush triangles (left) and the other is a white with black and tan flowers (right). I am confused.
I can understand why you’re confused. The left-hand print isn’t mountain-top for her, but it is the better of the two. Notice how much more easily you can get your eyes to move from that print up toward her face compared to the white-background print. The darker print is actually black and a camel/caramel color. If it is looking blush to you, that’s a monitor issue and I don’t know how to control for that variance.
Nancy, I really like this approach to illustrate your color principles, please write more like this if you can. Btw, your phone camera works great for these shots.
Thanks Denise. I liked how this turned out too, so will probably ask more clients for permission to feature them in the future
I really enjoyed this posting – interesting and helpful – thank you. I didn’t know about scarf hangers, so will search out a couple for myself pronto. I will also try auditing my wardrobe using the ‘buy back’ technique. Regards TT’s tips: I especially liked the brown jacket combo. Thanks again Nancy.
Glad you found it helpful. I got so much reaction to this post that I’ll do another article on closet organization next week. You might wait until them to shop for scarf hangers…
Hummm…didn’t start with the scarves in August and did my first culling! I will start with the scarves for this second run for “buy backs” from my temporary rack. I use this rack for packing for travel on ships and planes…helps me to “see” my color combinations and how I can reset the clothing for another match and limit the number of garments I have to pack.
Congrats on your August efforts! Wardrobe updating is a process – not a single event. Often when I work in a client’s closet we’ll keep things I know aren’t optimal just because it feels scary to have so much less volume in her closet. Then after we find some really mountain-top new pieces, she invariably finds it much easier to let go of the so-so items.
Love your use of the rack for travel planning too!
Love the idea of sorting through my scarves. Great way to get started on the change of season clothing swap out
The easiest way to evaluate a scarf – or any other print item – is to drape it across your chest under your chin – covering whatever top you are wearing – look in the mirror and ask yourself if you see the scarf first or your face first.
Nancy, you are awesome! I tripped on your Craftsy class and watched it (taking lots of notes).That class led me to your book, which I’ve have read through (parts of it several times). Now I found your wonderful website and blog. WOW! You rock! You are changing my life. For the first time ever, complete strangers stop me in the store to say they love my fabric selection, would not have given it a second look, but love it when they see it in my cart. Thank you!!!
Please share all ‘real woman’ examples you possibly can because it is helping us so much. It takes hard work and bravery to make these changes. Thank you for treating people with respect and kindness and for your gentle encouragement and detailed teaching to help us move forward!!
It makes me so, so, so happy to hear that the information is helping you build a wardrobe and a look that you love. No surprise that you are getting such positive reactions — this stuff works when you put in the effort to do it. Enjoy!