One day, as I was going through my usual getting-dressed routine—pulling everything out of my closet and then staring at the mess I’ve made until making myself 15 minutes late—I had the radical (ha) thought that maybe more clothing options aren’t better.
“How many clothes do I need?” I pondered as I lie on my bed covered with errant clothing, silk blouses and sequins strewn across my duvet. (Okay, that was melodramatic—I really had this epiphany when I was doing laundry and I realized that now that I have to use a coin-op machine, washing all my clothes just became incredibly expensive. But the other image appealed to my sense of drama.) Like, isn’t there a magical number of clothes to own? Which is exactly what I ask Lisey Barela, Chicago head of sales and styling for Trunk Club, a subscription box service that pairs you with a stylist to help you “build a better wardrobe” i.e. one you’ll actually wear and that fits your fashion needs.
“I don’t believe there is a magic number. Everybody is so unique in their preferences,” she tells me. (I take this as my cue to continue buying things—come here Dr. Martens currently in my cart.) “I think a specific number is very individual, but I do think having certain basics; however, will help ground your wardrobe.” She is also a proponent of investing in quality items over quantity. “I firmly believe in less is more when it comes to building a wardrobe. There are some pieces I’ve had for years and years that I still love.”
A more helpful (read: none magic) way to know how much clothing you need is by figuring out your closet’s LCD (or least common denominator). It’s the amount of clothing that’ll maximize your personal style while minimzing your environmental impact. This means having a foundation of—you guessed it—essentials. “Some of my favorite basics are a classic white tee, dark denim, cashmere sweater, navy blazer, and a short bootie,” Barela says. Really, this list could mean whatever is true to your personal style.
“I find the more my closet is edited, the easier it is to start my day,” Barela says. Essentially, if you’re asking yourself, “how many clothes do I need?” you may want to go through your wardrobe with the below questions from Barela in mind. And then donate—don’t throw away—those items that don’t make the cut. (According to the EPA, 10.5 million tons of textiles ended up in landfills in 2015.) If your clothing isn’t in good enough condition to donate, organizations like The American Textile Recycling Service will recycle them.
1. When was the last time I wore this?
I’m expanding here, but if you haven’t worn it in years it is highly unlikely you are going to wear it again. Until you donate it, and then a week later come up with the perfect outfit if only you had that top. Just kidding. Don’t think like that. You will survive without the going out top you haven’t worn since 2012.
2. Am I in need of an update or do I need to replace this?
Got a favorite item that’s getting hole-y and raggedy? It may be time for an upgrade. This is a question where if you answer in the affirmative you get to shop.
3. Is this a duplicate of something I already own?
I am very guilty of buying things that are very similar to items I already have. I know what I like. But really, no one needs four gray sweaters. If you answer in the affirmative you do not get to shop.
4. Does this fit properly?
If not, could it be altered? If an item doesn’t fit right, you’re probably just going to feel uncomfortable wearing it and it will sit in your closet, untouched, until the next time you decide to pare down your wardrobe. Just donate it now.
I’m going to add in one more question to ask because I’ve been watching a lot of Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. (I know, super late to the party.) Does it spark joy? For instance, I have this gorgeous velvet dress that I’ve worn exactly one time and don’t see myself wearing it again in the near future. But it makes me happy, so I’m going to keep it. The statement sweater I wore on the last trip my ex and I took together does not bring me joy. (One of these days I will write a story without mentioning my love life. Write what you know, as they say.) In fact, it brings me anger. I can’t burn it because that would be environmentally unfriendly, but I can donate it.
Do you know what else you should take a look at? Your underwear drawer. Two gynos weigh in on how often you need to toss your undies.
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