10 Principles for Creating a Working Wardrobe

Posted by Jill Chivers in Shop Your Wardrobe Strategies, Shopping Strategies

This question was put to me recently:  If your wardrobe disappeared overnight — if you lost it all in some freak accident, or you took all your clothing to the laundry and the laundry subsequently burned down, or aliens abducted the contents or your closet, or you had the choice to get rid of it all (every single piece) and start again from scratch — what would you put in a newly created right from scratch wardrobe?

I found this an intriguing question.  Although I consider the likelihood of a clothing alien abduction remote to non-existent, I am someone who ponders the place of clothing in my life.

Would I want to burn my wardrobe to the ground and start again? 

I don’t think I would – despite many years of unconscious shopping, the wardrobe I have now is one I feel is carefully created and curated, and one that works for me, and I enjoy using.

But let’s say I did have to start again.  What would I absolutely positively want to be in my new wardrobe?

Before I could start listing individual items I would obtain to start a brand new from scratch wardrobe, I started thinking about the overarching principles I would adhere to.

Because without these principles to guide the creation of a new wardrobe, I’d just be buying blind, buying randomly, and possibly buying unconsciously.  And that’s a mistake I never want to make again!

Before I get into the 10 principles for creating a wonderful working wardrobe, there are two presuppositions (something we assume to be true) that are at play here:


  • You care about this stuff.  You are interested and invested in the idea and reality of clothes, of style, in looking good, and in feeling good.  Some people aren’t — it’s a minor practical necessity to get dressed but takes up no more time, energy and attention than does brushing their teeth.  But you do – this stuff is really interesting and important to you.
  • You’re prepared to put the effort in to create and then curate a wonderful working wardrobe.  This is key as effort comes one way or the other, either in the beginning when you are creating your wardrobe including the physical space and the items in it, and how they are arranged and accessed; or every day when you get dressed and have to sort through a dysfunctional (and possibly disorganised) wardrobe.  You get to choose where you put the effort.

So we’ve covered off the presuppositions and are now ready for the 10 principles for building a working and wonderful wardrobe!


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10 Principles for Building a Workable Wonderful Wardrobe

1. Lifestyle

This is about having a closet full of items that support you living the life you are currently living.  Not a life you lived in the past, or a life you may live in the future.  This life.  The one you are having right now, as you read this.  Don’t create or curate a wardrobe for any other kind of life than the one you have now.  More on dressing for your lifestyle.

2. Events and stuff you do

What do you spend your time doing?  What activities make up your days, your afternoons, your evenings?

Your closet should be chock full of clothes that support you in doing those things — make it easy to dress for them, make you feel appropriate when doing those things, make you feel fabulous while doing them dressed the way you are, and make it easy to care for those items.

No point creating and curating a wardrobe full of items that can be worn doing any other activities than the ones you do now.

3. Personality and emotion

This is about having a wardrobe full of items that feel like “you”, and that you simply adore.  Without this, your wardrobe is practical and functional, but not inspirational.  You want a wardrobe you create and curate to be one that is full of items you love to wear, not simply that you can wear.

So you need to tune into what suits you, which brings up questions of who are you? , and once you have some sense of that moving target, then to include pieces in your wardrobe that suit who you are.

And one criteria that every item in your closet should have, whether it’s a new item just brought in or an old one being reviewed for its ongoing place in your closet is: do I love this?  More on personality and emotion here and here.

4. Physicality and body factors

This is about knowing what suits the body you have now.   Our bodies change over time, not news to any woman over 40, but sometimes we forget that our clothing choices have to adjust for those body changes.

So having some knowledge of your body’s shape and proportion, and of your colouring is key here.  Once you know these things, you can create and curate a working wardrobe that includes only those items that flatter your body’s individuality.

Acknowledging and honouring of your body’s individuality is incredibly important.  Why?  Because there are so many messages out there on what our bodies should be like in some insane idealised airbrushed world, we can often forget to acknowledge our own body if it’s different to that ideal, or we feel bad if our body doesn’t live up to that ideal.

Forget all that – learn to know and love the body you’re in, and to dress it so it looks and feels fabulous!  More on colour hereMore on shape here.

5. Practicality and logic

This is about creating and curating a wardrobe that works within the practical realities of your life including the weather and climate where you live, and other practical issues such as laundry.

You want to make sure you have the right kinds of clothes for the place you live, and the places you visit (which is why I’ll never need snow boots, and you may never need a sarong).  And you want to be sure that the items in your closet are easy to care for given your proclivities toward laundry (frequency and effort).

In addition to the practicalities, you want to think about what makes rational sense.  What is logical to include in this wonderful working wardrobe you are creating and then curating?  Consult the brain and your rational mind and include its suggestions.

6. Quantity and enoughness

This is about how much you really need – what quantity of clothing is right for you in this wonderful working wardrobe?  I don’t believe that working wonderful wardrobes have a set number of clothing in them — yours may have 77 items, mine may have 177 items in it, and some else may have 477 items in their wonderful working wardrobe.  You have to find your own level.

Which is why you also need to consider what is enough and your own personal point of enoughness – what feels like just the right amount of items for you to own? More on enoughness here.

7. Storage and organisation

This wonderful working wardrobe you are creating and curating needs to factor in the issue of real estate.  Where is each item going to live? Do you have room for it?  Will you be able to easily see and access it?

These are important factors as items without a home don’t get seen and don’t get worn.  If you don’t have a place for it, or your closet space cannot be easily reorganised to make space for it, then there is literally no place for this item in your closet and it should not be included.     More on organising here.

8. Money and affordability

To create and curate a wonderful working wardrobe, you need to have the funds to do it.  And I’m not talking about the magic plastic here – you don’t want to use credit (debt) to fund the creation of a wonderful working wardrobe – it simply won’t be wonderful if you don’t actually own it (which is what the reality of the situation when you purchase on credit).

For every new item in your closet you need to consider: Do I have the funds in cash or savings to pay for this?  Does this feel like a comfortable financial purchase, or am I stretching too much for this?  What is this item worth to me in life energy (which is what you’re really exchanging for items you purchase)?  More on money here and here.

9. Versatility and coordination

What else does this item go with?  Where else can I wear this?  These are key questions of versatility and coordination that every item in your created and curated wonderful working wardrobe need to answer.

Every item should be versatile: should be able to worn in any number of situations, doing any number of activities, that your life has you doing.  There should be very few, if any, single occasion items in your closet.   And every item should coordinate with a bare minimum of 3 other existing pieces, if not almost every other item, in your closet.

Actually I believe 3 is far too small a number — I require that all my items coordinate with at least 10 other items that already exist and are housed in my closet (ie: not new items I can purchase).  Fewer than that and they just don’t make the grade.  More on versatility here.

10. Signature Style

Is this an item that is part of my chosen signature style?  For a wonderful working wardrobe that you are creating and curating, you need to consider your signature style and your signature style items.  These are items that make your style unique and are instantly recognisable as being yours, or its a way of wearing your clothing and accessories that is distinctive and personal to you.

Like #3, without this your wardrobe is functional and practical but dull and uninspiring.  You need signature style items for your wardrobe to qualify as not just working but wonderful.

Signature style is something you develop over time, it needs to be discovered and refined. You can’t just pick something at random as your signature style, it’s much more sophisticated and multi-faceted than that.  It is an uncovering, an exploration, an excavation, a journey.

Your signature style is revealed as much as it is chosen, and your experience of it evolves over time, as you learn more and more about it and how you feel when you wear it.   More on finding your style hereMore on signature style here.

Summing up

So there you have it, my friends in style.  My comprehensive list of the 10 principles on which a wonderful working wardrobe is created and curated.

I certainly hope that aliens don’t abduct the contents of your closet or the laundry to which you have sent every stitch you own is not the subject of a robbery or raid.

But if you do find yourself in the position of creating and curating a wardrobe you want to not only be working but wonderful, these principles will help guide you in making that a reality.

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