Quelling the Closet

By Revekah Echols

Do what works for you

Have you heard the adage that people only wear 20 percent of what is in their closets? Do you think that is true? I have no idea. I guess I don’t wear my sweaters and leather in the summer or my cotton poplin shirting in the dead of even this weird El Niño winter. But 20 percent does seem gravely low. And who exactly was the sampled demographic? Does the 20 percent cover sporting goods? Which closet? What about the clothing in a dresser? Was the study commissioned by a lobby group of closet-cleaning professionals?

Welcome to the new year. It is filled with well-meaning but suspicious statements.

The moral I extract from this vague, indiscriminate poll is that there is a general belief that people have a lot of clothes they don’t wear. That is certainly a negative if you think of clothing as solely a practical utility and if you think of a closet as a pragmatic means to serve your current needs. On the other hand, if you think of a closet or clothing as a way to archive your life, as almost a glorified scrapbook of sorts, then you probably like a well-stocked closet, whether you are wearing everything in it or not.

The prevailing idea is that holding onto clothes you don’t wear is bad, that it creates clutter and is somehow a reflection of your soul. But let’s not be dramatic.

Keeping clothing that reminds you of some happy event or time period is OK. I also think that letting go of an item of clothing will not erase the happy memory that you made while wearing it. So without trying to sound esoteric, there is no right and wrong here — you ought to do what works for you.
As your humble agent of form and fashion, I do not feel the need to side with either position, but would like to offer some perspective as we all get fitter, smarter and more organized in the new year. First, if you do not have much space and your closet is filled with clothing from wall-to-wall and from floor-to-ceiling, it will impede your ability to decide on what to wear each day as well as inhibit a certain level of clarity when shopping. Paring down might be worth considering. Also, if you have undergone a dramatic change, such as weight loss or gain, surgery or if you experienced a motivational feng shui reading, it may be apropos to take on the mentality of “out with the old, in with the new.” Commit to your new body or lifestyle by getting rid of the things that don’t fit this new picture.

On the other hand, if you have ample space and a method of organization that works for you, do not be lured by the phrase “capsule wardrobe” and rumors of French women owning only five different outfits but looking better than all American women combined. The downside to a pared-down closet is that it can become so basic that it is remiss in the quirky, random item that adds an imaginative slant to an otherwise bland look. In addition, when the perfect occasion finally arrives for the red crinoline “Bride of Frankenstein”-cum-“Blade Runner” number you bought but never wore, that moment under the sun will be epic.

Maybe your closet is a personified Excel spreadsheet, or maybe it is a bloodied battlefield of the last three decades of fashion. Our closets often convey a candor that we can’t articulate about ourselves — our sense of nostalgia, our secret hopes and hang-ups. That said, our closets should reflect our true and honest selves. Especially in the momentum of change that surrounds the new year, honesty is still the best policy.