Do you dream of feeling great in your clothes every day and being well-dressed for any occasion? If so, this guide is for you. I wrote it for all of you who want to be more strategic about their choices and build a wardrobe that perfectly suits their life and style.
And as I know from experience that this can’t be instantly achieved, I broke down the way to a well-curated wardrobe into 4 phases and a range of attainable steps.
From my experience, the method works best if you put the same love and dedication equally into all four phases of your wardrobe curation project. But, of course, you can also fast forward and pick something you’d like to discover or improve first. Still, I recommend that you then return to the beginning and step-by-step go through the entire process. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.
Table of Contents
- 1. Discovery and Planning Phase
- 1.1. Consider Environmental and Cultural Influences
- 1.2. Analyze Your Lifestyle
- 1.3. Discover Your Style Preferences
- 1.4. Test and Refine Your Style
- 1.5. Become Clear of Your Personal Preferences
- 1.6. Create a Personal Style and Preferences Guide
- 1.7. Assess the Status Quo of Your Wardrobe
- 1.8. Compare Your Existing Wardrobe With Your Findings
- 1.9. Create the First Draft of a Wardrobe Wishlist (Shopping List)
- 2. The Creation and Curation Phase
- 2.1. Consider Your Closet’s Composition
- 2.2. The Components of a Core Wardrobe
- 2.3. Wardrobe Add-Ons and Small Capsule Wardrobes
- 2.4. Start Thinking in Outfits
- 2.6. Style vs. Trends
- 2.7. Refine Your Wardrobe Wishlist (Shopping List)
- 3. The Review Phase
- 4. The Optimization and Maintenance Phase
- Share Some Love and Inspiration
1. Discovery and Planning Phase
This first phase on your way to a well-curated wardrobe is all about discovering what influences you in your choices and analyzing the current state of your closet. And then, based on your findings, start planning your wardrobe more strategically.
1.1. Consider Environmental and Cultural Influences
Quite obviously, our wardrobe has to be suitable for the climate and typical weather conditions we’re exposed to. But other external factors like our local environment and infrastructure play a role too. Moreover, culture, traditions, and the common style in our community likely influence our choices. Hence, reflecting on these environmental and cultural sways is a good starting point for the discovery and planning phase.
1.2. Analyze Your Lifestyle
One of the foremost reasons we feel we’ve got nothing to wear – despite a jam-packed closet – is that our wardrobe simply doesn’t match our lifestyle.
Our lifestyle is shaped by what we do – regularly, frequently, and occasionally. But we often buy what we’re drawn to and not what we need to get us covered for all we’re up to. Just quickly check, which elements of your lifestyle are currently under, over, or well represented in your wardrobe.
Having a clear picture of your current lifestyle helps you evaluate what you need. You can then cross-check what you currently own and prioritize your shopping list.
1.3. Discover Your Style Preferences
Taking a close and honest look at our lifestyle provides a good framework for better, more strategic wardrobe choices. However, there’s another factor that gives us orientation and direction. And this is our personal style.
Your personal style is the guiding star that navigates you through short-lived fashion trends and other external influences. Hence, discovering and nurturing your style is vital in your journey to a well-curated wardrobe. The question is, though, how do we know what our personal style is?
During my research, I found various methods to discover, describe, and refine your style. Here are the ones I found the most helpful.
Pick Your Favorite Five
A simple way to discover your personal style and narrow down your preferences is to pick five favorite items from your existing wardrobe. The method works best if done spontaneously. Don’t overthink your choices. Let your subconscious lead you instead.
Then, stage the items you’ve picked. Place them on your bed, for example. Take a closer look at those five pieces. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:
- Why have I chosen these 5 pieces? What do they represent?
- On a scale of 1 – 5 stars, how happy am I wearing them?
- What do they have in common (style, color, fit, fabric …)?
- Can I describe these items with 3-5 adjectives?
Usually, the answers to these questions reveal the common thread – your preferences and personal style.
Collect, Select, and Curate Inspiration
Today’s world is full of inspiration. Just think of style and fashion magazines, shops, blogs, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube. However, all that input can also be overwhelming, more confusing than helpful. That’s why I always recommend a 3-step approach to get the most out of what inspires you:
- Collect everything that somehow appeals to you.
- Go through your collection and select your absolute favorites.
- Arrange (curate) the selection so it can serve you as a future reference, e.g., as a style mood board.
Have a Style Icon
A style icon can also be a great source of inspiration. Typical style icons are current celebrities or ones from past decades. For instance, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, or Jane Birkin. But of course, you can also choose a person you know in real life. If you admire someone for their amazing style, draw your inspiration from the way they dress. But don’t forget you are unique. Copying 1:1 hardly ever works.
Research Style Categories (and Think Beyond Them)
Researching style categories can be helpful when you don’t know where to start. If you only have a rough idea of what you like, this can be a way to narrow it down. Typical fashion styles are bohemian, casual, classic, feminine, glam, grunge, minimalist, preppy, romantic, sophisticated, sporty, and vintage. But I’m sure there are more. Consider them as a list of keywords and starting point for your research.
Once you’ve found one or more relevant fashion styles, pick and choose what you like. For instance, the overall vibe from one category, specific details from another. Don’t feel obliged to stay within one type. See them more like an open, non-restrictive framework – and not as a set of rules or pre-decided choices.
Choose a Relevant Set of Brands
Another way to discover your style is to take a closer look at clothing brands you love. Check what they have in common or what details appeal to you. It can also help reading what the brands say about themselves. Compare these statements and check what resonates with you. Look if there’s a pattern, anything repeating that gives you a hint on how to continue your search.
Finally, look at everything from a bird’s perspective. See what all your findings have in common. What are the style aspects, silhouettes, colors, fabrics, and details you’re drawn to over and over again?
1.4. Test and Refine Your Style
Have you applied one or more of the methods mentioned above to discover your style? If so, you probably have by now a pretty good understanding of what you’re drawn to.
The next challenge is to check if all this works for YOU.
And the only way to know is to give it a try. But don’t worry. Putting your new style to the test doesn’t have to be a costly adventure. Ways to experiment are, for instance, trying on a variety of clothes in one or more shops and stores. Or borrowing a few items from a friend or family member. Another option is to focus first on less expensive items like a top, a pair of shoes, or accessories.
Check-in with yourself and ask if what you wear makes you feel comfortable, confident, and inspired. Make notes, take photos, see what works and what doesn’t.
1.5. Become Clear of Your Personal Preferences
‘Reverse Engineer’ Stylists’ Advice
Most stylists would look at you, analyze your hair color, skin tone, body shape, proportions, etc., and then tell you what you should wear. Taking it for granted that if what you wear suits you, you’ll ultimately (learn to) love it.
But I genuinely believe it works much better the other way around.
What I mean is, choose what you love first. Find out what colors you’re naturally drawn to, which silhouettes you like. And then adjust your preferences, so they perfectly suit YOU.
Let me give you a simple example. Say you love red. I’m sure you’ll find a version of red that works for you – for your hair and skin color, even your undertone. The only thing you need is a bit of patience to find the right match.
But don’t get me wrong. It’s good to know all the rules, tips, and tricks. But don’t start with them. Don’t restrict yourself right at the beginning of your journey.
Choose Your Set of Colors
Style and color are often seen as closely related, but essentially you get to decide. As I said above, choose what you’re naturally drawn to.
Still, if you’re aiming for a well-curated wardrobe, it’s good advice to limit your color palette. Your clothes will more effortlessly mix and match.
A color palette usually consists of base, complementary, and accent colors. Basically, ask yourself how big the role is you want a color to play in your closet. Think of wearing an all-black outfit (base color), with a camel coat (complementary color), and a red scarf (accent color).
It also makes sense to take prints and patterns into consideration and see how your favorites fit in with your overall color scheme. Plus, you should also decide on leather (shoes, belts, bags) and metal (jewelry, hardware, accessories).
And lastly, it’s a perfect time now to think about what your color choices mean for your makeup.
Decide on a Set of Preferred Materials and Fabrics
Naturally, your preferences can change throughout the seasons. Some fabrics work better for hot weather (e.g., cotton or linen), and others keep you warm (e.g., wool or cashmere). Moreover, they usually come in different weights, from very light-weight to heavier. So, there’s a lot to choose from.
Pre-Deciding on a set of favorite materials and fabrics can definitely help reduce shopping mistakes. Hence, whenever you feel comfortable in a piece of clothing – or the opposite – check the label. I’m sure after a while, you become quite clear about what you love to wear.
Narrow Down Your Best Silhouettes, Cuts, and Fits
Of course, we have to check the cut and fit of every new piece of clothing individually. Still, it can be extremely helpful to narrow down your preferences beforehand – especially when shopping online.
So collect a bit of data. Take a closer look at outfits you love and at the ones you dislike. What do they have in common in terms of silhouette, cut, and fit? Here are some tips on how to do it:
- Evaluate your look in a mirror. Don’t forget to check the back of the clothes!
- Record a video to assess your outfit from all different angles.
- Take photos of specific details for future reference.
1.6. Create a Personal Style and Preferences Guide
Taking a lot of notes on your way to a well-curated wardrobe is certainly a good idea. Especially when it comes to your style and personal preferences. There are so many details to consider. It makes sense to capture them all so you can refer to them later. Of course, you can use a piece of paper or a journal for this purpose. Or just download my workbook. It also includes specific pages to document your findings in a personal style and preferences guide.
The Well-Curated Wardrobe Workbook
Enjoy a well-curated wardrobe that perfectly fits your life and style.
1.7. Assess the Status Quo of Your Wardrobe
Our discovery and planning phase wouldn’t be complete without taking a close look at what we already have. A wardrobe inventory is a great way to identify the gaps (missing pieces) in your wardrobe. But also to become aware of excess. We all repetitively make specific choices without even realizing it. For instance, we buy more clothes for our favorite season, e.g., summer, than for the others. Or we gravitate towards one particular type of clothing, resulting in big piles of unused items, e.g., Ts, jeans, or shoes. If any of this sounds familiar to you, make an inventory to give your existing wardrobe some extra thoughts.
A Word on Wardrobe Decluttering
Taking the time to assess every piece of clothing we own is definitely worth the effort – just like Marie Kondo told us. But to really profit from the exercise, we should ask ourselves some questions that go beyond “does it spark joy”. Not only to create a realistic and helpful wardrobe inventory. But also to prevent us from going overboard with decluttering.
I’d always recommend not discard seemingly unwanted clothes right away. From my experience, it’s hard to decide what you really need and want while you’re in the middle of your wardrobe curation project. A perfect solution could be storing the items in question temporarily in a suitable container.
And if you wonder what to do with clothes that indeed don’t fit in with your upgraded wardrobe, there’s always a way to give them a second life.
1.8. Compare Your Existing Wardrobe With Your Findings
Ok, let’s pause for a moment. You’ve already come very far on your way to a well-curated wardrobe. Take some time to check in with all your findings. Reflect on environmental influences, your lifestyle and resulting needs, your style, and preferences.
And then cross-check everything with your wardrobe inventory. Ask yourself …
- What do I like about my existing wardrobe?
- To what extent does it already match my needs, style, and preferences?
- What’s currently missing? Where do I see significant gaps?
1.9. Create the First Draft of a Wardrobe Wishlist (Shopping List)
A considered wishlist makes it a lot easier to focus on the must-haves and fill the gaps in your wardrobe. Moreover, it helps you choose clothes, shoes, and accessories more strategically. As a result, what you buy perfectly fits your life and style – and your budget.
Preparing such a shopping list sounds like an easy task. We write down what we need and then get it. But if you want your wardrobe wishlist to reflect the results from the discovery and planning phase, you need to give it a few extra thoughts. Because the more specific you are about the items on your list, the better choices you’re going to make.
Plan a Realistic Clothing Budget
Naturally, you’ll need a budget for the items on your shopping list. There are many different ways to plan a clothing budget. Here’s what I do:
- Usually in December, I decide on a clothing budget for the entire upcoming year.
- Then, I allocate about 70 percent of it to the items on my wishlist – leaving the other 30 percent as a buffer.
- I keep track of all my purchases to ensure I don’t overspend.
Most likely, there will be items on your shopping list you can’t afford right away. If you have to save up for a piece of clothing, be honest. Ask yourself how long you’re willing to wait or if you instead settle for a less expensive version. But no matter how you decide, I’d always recommend opting for the best quality you can afford.
2. The Creation and Curation Phase
A well-curated wardrobe consists of selected clothes, shoes, and accessories that work for your life and style.
Ideally, the core pieces of your wardrobe can be mixed and matched. Allowing you to create a variety of different outfits and express your personal style in your everyday life. Moreover, carefully chosen add-ons complement your core wardrobe to ensure you are well-dressed for any occasion.
Yes, these are high expectations. And there’s quite a bit of work to be done to reach this goal. So, let’s dive in …
2.1. Consider Your Closet’s Composition
Let’s take a closer look at the composition of a well-curated wardrobe.
70 – 80 % = Core Wardrobe
- Core pieces are the workhorses of your wardrobe. They are what you need for your day-to-day life. Hence, they should make up the majority of your closet. Approx. 70 – 80 percent of your wardrobe to be worn 70 – 80 percent of your time.
- A core wardrobe ideally consists of versatile basics (aka essentials) PLUS statement (signature) pieces that specifically support your style.
20 – 30 % = Wardrobe Add-Ons
- Add-ons are specific items or small capsules for specific needs. Occasionwear is a good example. Depending on your lifestyle, these extras can make up 20 – 30 percent of your wardrobe.
- Adding these items to your wardrobe helps to be always well-dressed. But without having to tweak your core wardrobe to cover it all – what, in many cases, doesn’t work.
2.2. The Components of a Core Wardrobe
Now, let’s take a closer look at the components of a core wardrobe:
- Basics (aka essentials)
- Statement or signature pieces
What are Basics (Essentials)?
Basics are often associated with plain, no-frill items in muted colors. And my basics look that way indeed. But this is because of my personal (mainly minimalist soft classic) style. It’s not that we all depend on these typical neutral basics to build a versatile wardrobe.
Your basics can be completely different. Have them, for instance, in vibrant colors and with a lot of details. The only limitation I see is that your basics have to work nicely together, so it’s easy to build different outfits.
What Are Statement Pieces?
Basically, anything in your wardrobe – clothes, shoes, and accessories – can be a statement piece. They are the items that best represent your personal style.
Let’s take a leather jacket as an example. It can be a perfect piece to support an edgy style statement. In someone else’s wardrobe, it may only be a simple basic. And some of you may not even consider buying one.
You simply decide what is or isn’t a statement piece in YOUR wardrobe.
For a most versatile wardrobe, statement pieces should tie in nicely with your basics, allowing you to create a variety of looks. But, of course, feel free to create complete outfits with statement pieces only.
What are Signature Pieces?
I’m sure there are other definitions. But for me, a signature piece is a specifically unique version of a statement piece.
Just like statement pieces, they are key to describe and express your personal style. But in addition, signature pieces are extraordinary for two reasons. Either they are special because someone else couldn’t easily purchase them too (e.g., a necklace you bought on your last trip to Paris). Or because of the unique way the item is styled (think of an unconventional way to tie a beautiful scarf).
To summarize, statement pieces express your style. Signature pieces, do this too – but in a way that’s very unique to you.
2.3. Wardrobe Add-Ons and Small Capsule Wardrobes
As I mentioned above, your core wardrobe should work for the main part of your life. But of course, there will always be activities and occasions for which your core wardrobe isn’t quite suitable. So ask yourself if there are parts of your lifestyle that aren’t yet covered.
There are two ways to close this gap. You can either buy a few wardrobe add-ons or create a small capsule wardrobe dedicated specifically to an activity or occasion. Here are some examples:
- Cocktail dress, matching shoes and clutch
- Yoga pants
- A beach and resort travel capsule
Add-ons or capsules serve their purpose. But usually, they don’t tie in well with your core wardrobe.
My Thoughts on Work Capsules
What to do if you have to wear a uniform or follow a specific dress code at work? If the items you have to wear don’t fit in with your core wardrobe, create a separate capsule as described above. Sneak in a few accessories that reflect your personal style if possible.
You can always try to match your work capsule with a couple of items from your core wardrobe, especially when you’re on a tight budget. For instance, choose seasonal outerwear (warm coat, winter boots …) that works for both worlds.
2.4. Start Thinking in Outfits
Earlier, I wrote that we often feel we’ve got nothing to wear because our wardrobe doesn’t match our lifestyle. Another reason is we don’t think in complete outfits when buying clothes. Often, we buy a piece of clothing or a pair of shoes just because we’re drawn to it, without checking if it works with the rest of our wardrobe.
What Is a Complete Outfit?
The minimum outfit consists of a bottom and a top (or a dress/jumpsuit instead) and a pair of shoes. Depending on weather and occasion, different layers can then be added.
- Layer: bottom and top or one-piece (dress, jumpsuit, or similar) + shoes
- Layer: overtop (e.g., blazer, cardigan)
- Layer: outerwear (e.g., coat, jacket)
To complete an outfit, we can add accessories. There are functional accessories (umbrella, warm scarf, etc.) and others mainly decorative (e.g., jewelry). However, most accessories fall in both categories (belt, handbag, etc.).
How Many Outfits Do We Need?
I think there’s no rule, no arbitrary number of items one should or shouldn’t own. How many outfits or pieces of clothing you need largely depends on your lifestyle. Moreover, it depends on how much variety you prefer. Someone who enjoys wearing a style uniform (think jeans and T) needs probably less to be happy than someone who loves playing with various outfit combinations.
How to Dress Outfits Up or Down
This is where the true beauty of a well-curated wardrobe unfolds. A carefully chosen mixture of basics and statement pieces allows us to compose and style outfits in many different ways – for various activities and occasions. Sometimes, we want to dress up. On other days we aim for a more casual look. The ideas to dress an outfit up or down are endless. Here are a few:
Let’s say you’re wearing a pair of jeans and a plain T, what could you do?
- Different shoes – different vibe: wear pumps or sneakers.
- Different handbag – different vibe: wear a tote bag or a fancy clutch.
- Add another layer: wear a blazer or a cozy cardigan for a completely different look.
- Add different pieces of jewelry – or none at all.
- Switch up items, e.g., wear a dressy top instead of the T.
These are just examples. Moreover, all of these measures can be combined for endless flexibility.
2.6. Style vs. Trends
In the highly dynamic world of fashion, staying true to our style can be challenging. When aiming for a well-curated wardrobe, we should base our purchasing decisions on our preferences – what we love, what suits us, and what works for our lifestyle.
But what about following trends?
I certainly think adding a few fresh pieces to our wardrobe and updating the way we style our clothes keeps us inspired. There are smart ways to incorporate trends and keep our wardrobe current. No need to replace half of your closet with every new season. And no need to compromise on our style and preferences.
2.7. Refine Your Wardrobe Wishlist (Shopping List)
Ok. Let’s take another break. You’ve already worked hard to set yourself up for better, more strategic decisions when it comes to your wardrobe.
It’s a perfect time now to take another look at your wardrobe wishlist, the one you’ve drafted at the end of the discovery and planning phase. Take everything you’ve learned into account, and, if necessary, do a bit more research. I’m sure you’ll come up with a nicely refined, helpful list. It should now include information about your style, favorite silhouettes and cuts, materials and fabrics, colors, preferred brands, a priority, and a budget.
What to Buy First?
Most likely, you won’t be able to buy everything on your list right away. Unless you have an unlimited budget and plenty of time. Thus, you’ll have to prioritize your shopping list. Here are some questions that can help:
- Are important parts of my lifestyle not yet reflected in my wardrobe?
- Are items needed to complete specific outfits?
- Is there anything essential missing to express my (new) style?
- Is there anything essential missing to make my color palette work?
3. The Review Phase
The review phase helps you to fine-tune your style, preferences, and your wardrobe’s composition. Of course, you could collect the necessary data just by observing your habits and choices. But there are a few other things you can do to give your efforts a bit more structure.
3.1. Pre-Plan Your Outfits
There can be two reasons why we reach for specific items in our closets more than for others. One is, we indeed prefer them. The other reason is we just always grab what’s on top of the pile when getting dressed. But if we want to know what we gravitate to, we have to get this clear. Pre-planning our outfits for the next day or a week in advance means taking some time to think about our choices. As a result, we know a lot better what we love to wear.
3.2. Schedule Seasonal Reviews
Another way to assess and improve your wardrobe is to schedule seasonal reviews. Ask yourself a few questions to find out if your clothes worked for you over the last 3-4 months or if there’s anything essential missing:
- Have I worn all of the items I have (for the season in question)? If not, why?
- Are there items or complete outfits I gravitate to most? What do they have in common?
- Did I feel well-dressed for the activities and on all occasions during this past season?
- Is there anything essential missing in my wardrobe?
- What else have I learned?
Look at Your Wardrobe Stats
If you want to take this even a step further, invest some time in figuring out your wardrobe statistics. You can track the details in a journal, spreadsheet, or wardrobe organizing app. Here are some interesting stats to look at:
- Total number of items in your wardrobe
- Number of items per season
- Number of items per type (e.g., bottom, top, dress …)
- Total wardrobe value (costs of all clothes, shoes, accessories)
- Most recent purchases
- Average purchase price
- Most expensive and least expensive items
- How many days worn
- Cost per wear
4. The Optimization and Maintenance Phase
The fourth phase focuses on improving your wardrobe further and keeping your closet functional and organized.
4.1. Keep an Eye on Your Wishlist and Priorities
Over time, we can easily get carried away by shiny new things that appear in the shops almost daily. So, whenever you feel tempted, take a quick look at your wishlist and check on your priorities. This little habit will not only prevent you from impulse purchases that you may regret later on. It also ensures your wardrobe improves and grows exactly in the direction you want to take it.
But if you really fall in love with a beautiful piece of clothing, by no means buy it! Even if your goal is a well-planned, well-curated wardrobe, allow yourself some flexibility. By the way, this is why I always keep about 30 percent of my clothing budget as a buffer.
4.2. Replace Essential Items in Good Time
In a well-curated wardrobe, there will always be items that are more worn than others. Be it because you love them or they work so well in many outfits and for many occasions. Replace those essential items in good time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about keeping clothes and shoes in good shape and wearing them as long as possible. But what we should avoid is – at least from my experience – trying to replace such an essential in a rush. This is why I look for replacements before they are entirely worn down, giving me enough time to find the perfect piece.
4.3. Keep Your Closet Organized
I believe a well-curated wardrobe should also be well-organized. If your clothes, shoes, and accessories are nicely presented, it can ignite your creativity. Just imagine you open a drawer, and everything is elegantly arranged and sorted by function, texture, or color. A beautified closet makes getting dressed so much more fun. And also more efficient.
4.4. Become a Clothing and Shoe Care Pro
Once we’ve invested so much love and effort to find the perfect pieces for our well-curated wardrobe, we probably want them to last as long as possible. Quality items typically have a longer lifespan. And we can extend the life of our clothes and shoes even more if we take proper care of them.
4.5. Enjoy the Journey
The intention of this ultimate guide is to lead you through the entire wardrobe curation process. All four phases require time and effort. And I know how it is to be impatient and wanting everything perfectly in place right away. But a well-curated wardrobe isn’t a destination. It’s an enjoyable, ongoing project!
Share Some Love and Inspiration
I very much hope my ultimate guide to a well-curated wardrobe is helpful and inspiring for you. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. And if you think someone else could profit from this information too, spread some love. Recommend this article to a friend or share it on your social media channels. Thank you 🙂
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