Last month, I had an outfit craving. For the first time (in… I don’t know, a year and a half?), I decided to Dress Up. Maybe it was 2021 optimism or the change in seasons, but I was ready to start getting ready again. And a fully-served, piping-hot fashion moment is the only thing that would do.
But then I opened my closet. I didn’t recognize what I saw. Who is she? This woman who owned all these clothes? After countless months shuffling around my apartment in slippers and big tees, I didn’t know what I was looking at. Where on earth do you wear a cropped floral corset? Who purchased these highlighter yellow heels? How does one style white '60s go-go boots? I asked myself these and countless other fashion questions as I stared blankly at a rack of colorful fabrics I once loved with a fiery passion. These pieces had been my close friends, my wellspring of confidence, a source of joy, and now I didn’t even feel like they were mine.
My first instinct, of course, was "closet overhaul." Maybe I was a different person altogether than in March of 2020. Had I outgrown these styles? After all, I’m almost two years older than the girl who curated this wardrobe. I yearned for a neat and tidy capsule collection full of crisp basics in neutral colors. You know, the kind of tailored personal style we all envy (and scroll past constantly on Instagram).
And then I came to my senses. I’m not a white button-down and black boots type of dresser. Don’t get me wrong, I love minimalism when done well. Personally, I’ve always been a maximalist at heart and that didn't change overnight. And, "more clothes" is never the answer to a wardrobe crisis in an age where we're all aware of the environmental cost of overconsumption. So, I came up with a plan to get to know my fashion friends again.
For four weeks, I decided to Dress Up every day (plans or no plans), avoid any new purchases, and document it all. No piece would go unexamined. No dress unworn. Luckily, September in New York and its "I thought it was fall why does it still feel like summer" transitional weather offered me the perfect opportunity to rediscover myself (and my clothing).
After a month-long “closet epiphany,” here’s what I learned about personal style.
"Basics" Mean Different Things to Different People
Don't let anyone tell you there's a universal set of fashion staples. One person's classic trench is another person's "why don't I ever wear this coat?" (@OldLoserInBrooklyn has a great TikTok explainer on this phenomenon.)
I feel most comfortable in colorful separates, wide-leg pants, and cropped cardigans—and strongly believe in a strappy kitten heel for all seasons. But that's not a universal truth. Listen to your gut when it comes to style, and get off Instagram for a bit if you're having trouble tuning out the noise.
All Fast-Fashion Impulse Purchases Didn't Make the Cut
I'm not here to shame you for loving Zara. For many of us, fast fashion is a solid, affordable option. And believe me, plenty of inexpensive staples made the closet cut and have lasted me years. However, I did find many of the pieces I parted with were of the same ilk: fast-fashion impulse purchases.
This isn't a huge surprise, but staring down a bag of donated clothes—all of which were probably bought in a quest for serotonin rather than a genuine need—put things in sharp perspective. I plan to be more careful about my future impulse buys, giving myself at least a week to think it over. I've found a few days is plenty of time to sus out whether I need whatever shiny new top I have my eye on. Often, I'm just craving some novelty, self-expression, and creativity.
If It Doesn't Fit, Find a Tailor (or Gift a Friend)
We've all been there. Some clothes are great in theory and a whole mess in practice. Whether you're holding onto a dress that's loose in all the wrong places, slacks you've grown out of, or a top that doesn't sit quite right, sometimes it's time to let go—it's not worth the discomfort. Bodies vary in size and shape, and your trash might be a friend's wardrobe treasure. Host a giveaway party or drop off a few pieces for a family member to try out. You might become a fashion matchmaker.
And, if there's a piece you just can't part with, manifest a good tailor—you'd be surprised what magic they can work. Turn those old jeans into a skirt, cinch that dress, or let out a few seams (you can thank me later).
My Favorite Outfits Are Built Around a Piece I Couldn’t "Figure Out"
Creativity is the spice of life, and taking the time to really style bold pieces breathed new life into my closet. Case in point? A few current favorites were previously relegated to the vintage-that-borders-on-costume part of my closet. It can take an hour (or three) to figure out how to wear something challenging, but when I did, I got the same jolt as clicking "add to cart."
The Bold Styles Stood the Test of Time
Trends come and go, but statement pieces are forever. Bright colors and avant-guard silhouettes (whatever that means to you) transcend the fashion cycle because they're an unusual choice to begin with. That's what makes them special. Even the most well-made staple will show signs of wear eventually. But a special piece you really love (and only wear a few times a year) will remain in your closet for years if you treat it with care.
Photos Tell You When it's Time to Let Go
Taking a quick mirror selfie every morning became part of my process, and I'm glad I did it. It allowed me the space to reserve judgment until I could look at my wardrobe holistically. When I finally flipped through my outfit photo album, I felt immediate clarity. With a bit of distance, I could sense whether I was uncomfortable in each piece, remembering how I felt in every look. It was the final piece of the puzzle I needed: a little perspective. Plus, it helped me rediscover a few hidden gems.
Find Your Perfect Outfit Formula and Double Down
I didn't know I had an outfit formula until this month. But scrolling through my phone, it became apparent: big pants and a fitted top are my fashion pillar. Everyone needs a signature style, and I'm okay with repeating the same silhouette if that's what makes me feel the most like me. I had been wearing the same outfit in various forms for years without even knowing it.
Plus, now that I understand what I prefer, I can easily reject purchases that aren't worth my money. I used to buy styles everyone else swore by (I will never try to make skinny jeans happen again), but in the end, my instincts were right. I never ended up wearing them. Trends may come and go, but I'll be over here with my baggy jeans and wide-leg trousers.
Personal style is well… personal. While this process might not work for everyone, it helped me sort through closet clutter and end my emotional attachment to clothes I had no use for (and avoid spending money and time I didn't have to replace them). In the end, my wardrobe was perfectly fine to begin with. And, getting to know my clothes again gave me a newfound love for my pre-2020 self. I'm still the same girl who bought that floral corset top. I just had to find her again.