How to simplify your wardrobe

Studies show that in a world where we are required to make many decisions in a day, every decision made erodes our ability to make further decisions later. And that is why you should simplify your wardrobe, says Jackie O’Fee.

A few years ago I worked with a woman who owned seven business suits. When we were going through her wardrobe, I expressed surprise not at the number, but rather the ordered ‘all in a row’ way in which she had them hanging in her wardrobe. 

She explained that she would dress each day by taking a suit from the right, and at the end of the day hang it on the left. This meant that in a five-day work week she wouldn’t double up, nor over a period of weeks would she wear the same suit on the same day – avoiding the “She’s wearing the blue suit – it must be Tuesday” comments. 

While admittedly an anathema to a creative fashion type, I had to admire the simplicity of this approach. After all, much of the work I do in a clients’ wardrobe is to take the guesswork out what to wear each day, and in her own way this client had nailed it. 

Recently an American advertising executive made international headlines because she created her own uniform and wore the same cream shirt and black pant outfit every day for three years. Her reasoning was she wanted to ‘save time and energy’ each day, and instead focus on her work.

Interestingly, during his time as US President, Barack Obama was renowned for his sartorial preferences, and these too were based in simplicity. “You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits,” Obama said, “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Studies show that in a world where we are required to make many decisions in a day, every decision made erodes our ability to make further decisions later. Apparently, this is why judges often issue harsher sentences in the afternoon, and why that seemingly simple after work trip to the supermarket is so exhausting. Psychologists call this ‘decision fatigue’.

As a personal stylist, I build wardrobes that simplify the daily ‘What am I going to wear?’ dilemma. Many, many clients will share with me that they spend too much time trying to make what should be an easy decision, and for some, it causes them a great deal of stress. 

This is why many of us will resort to wearing the same outfits over and over. It also explains why we usually only wear around 20 percent of what is hanging in our wardrobes.  Buying more clothes doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, and can actually exacerbate it as all you are doing is adding more choices into the mix.

The perfect wardrobe is one where you can choose any top half and it will work with any bottom half in your wardrobe.  This is definitely made easier for those who wear suits – it’s a quick ‘Which shirt/top?’ rather than a raft of ‘if I wear these pants, can I wear that shirt and will they both work with this jacket?’ decisions. For the rest of us, it can be a little more complicated. 

To start creating a wardrobe devoid of stress, start with colour. Simple neutrals like Obama’s grey and navy make life easy, as will other neutrals such as camel, chocolate, plum, taupe and stone.  

Choose jackets, skirts or pants in these tones. These items don’t have to be block colour, a print that is ‘mainly’ one of these neutrals will work well here, too. Add to these some basic tops or shirts in either print that reference these colours, or are block colour but brighter hues and you’ll find the simplicity you crave. Add texture for personality and to avoid the ‘that’s a different shade of black so won’t go together’ issue.  

If you are not a suit wearer, I also suggest you hang all of your jackets together, all of your skirts together and all your trousers together. Then, it’s an easy top half + bottom half + jacket equation each day.  While this may not make for the world’s most exciting wardrobe, it will make life easier in the morning allowing you space to make more important decisions later in the day. 

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Jackie O’Fee is the owner of personal style consultancy Signature Style. She works with both individuals and organisations. Further detail can be found on her website signaturestyle.co.nz

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