My Wardrobe Detox (And How To Do Yours)

Ok, grab a cuppa or a large glass of wine, it’s a long one…

If you follow me on Instagram, chances are you’ll already know that I had a HUGE (the Mother of all) wardrobe cull a few weeks ago. It had literally been on my ‘to do’ list for YEARS now – probably around five in fact. But it’s such a HUGE task, and definitely one you have to be in the mood for, which frankly, I never had been until very recently. The trigger in the end was the fact that I simply wasn’t wearing anything in my wardrobe/drawers. I had too much stuff, which meant I had got into a rut of wearing the same old things on rotation. And in fact, most of these things that I was wearing barely made it back into my wardrobe anyway – it was just a case of: wear, wash, repeat. If they were lucky they might make it to a chair in the corner of my bedroom for a night… So I actually found that the more clothes I had, the less I was wearing them. For me, ‘out of sight’ is most definitely ‘out of mind’. I barely even opened my wardrobe anymore. It was only after I started sorting through things, and making the piles, that I was fully aware of how severe my ‘repeat offending’ really was. Piles of black jeans, piles of navy cashmere crewnecks, piles of white/cream folk tops/blouses… But somehow I was always wearing the same ones (usually the newest ones). I even found myself on shoots sometimes, complimenting someone on something they were wearing, only to be reminded (usually by the wearer) that I had it too!!? We’d bought it at the same time! Oh. I had just forgotten, because it had been completely obscured by the other more recently purchased versions of the same thing. Aaaaaargh… I guess this is less of a problem if you have a walk-in wardrobe, where everything is easily visible. I don’t, and it isn’t. I have one small wardrobe, half of another (er, Tom’s) wardrobe for my coats); two large drawers in a chest of drawer (for my sweaters and jeans); plus three large storage baskets under the bed  (these ones) with all my clothes that I really only wear on my summer holiday, or on work trips to hot counties (I can’t do the whole seasonal ‘wardrobe changeover’, because I always need my summer clothes in the winter too. Yes, there are worse problems to have, I totally get that!

I think there may have been a little bit of denial in there somewhere too, as I left my full-time job as Senior Fashion Editor at Glamour in April 2011 (when Tabarlow were one), and it was after that that my wardrobe requirements shifted. I no longer needed ‘show clothes, aka outfits to wear to the bi-anaul fashion shows in New York, London, Milan and Paris. Ok, so not necessarily so ‘showy’ in three of the cities (in London you could pretty much wing it in a jumper and jeans (as long as your jumper was a decent cashmere one, your jeans were designer, and you styled them up with a cool ‘it’ bag and some game-changing shoes or boots). In fact, the coolest fashion editors (this was before bloggers were invited to the shows – when the people you wanted to look like were, and whose style you wanted to emulate were the likes of Emmanuelle Alt and Kate Phelan, who had their own ‘dressed down cool’ style). It was always the people with this, effortless style that I wanted to dress like, not the street style, lens-grabbing head-to-toe (borrowed) runways looks.  The landscape (and business) is a very different one these days. Anyway I digress. But it was Milan Fashion Week that required the most ‘showy’ of show outfits. In Milan, we were literally party-ready (well satorially anyway) from breakfast until bedtime. It was fun, but as well as your feet, your credit card took a severe pounding twice a year, even for the most creative of outfit builders…

So, as of April 2011 I decided to go freelance (that’s a whole other story, and indeed blog post if anyone is interested?), and that meant a subtle wardrobe shift. It wasn’t just the shows (plus I did still go to some for a while), I no longer had to go to all the endless dinners/events after work (I could pick and choose), so I just didn’t need as many dressy, ‘statement-y’ pieces in my wardrobe. What I now needed was an amalgamation of what I used to wear to the office at Glamour; on shoots; and at the weekends, and this was a whole new thing for me to get my head around. A whole new thing that required (not a whole new wardrobe!!) a different kind of wardrobe, with a different ratio of dressy to everyday pieces.

Fast forward to 2018, and after seven years of the freelance life (style wise, a mix of mostly easy everyday pieces – not to be confused with dull and ‘mumsy’ though, thank you very much – I had gone freelance, not had a style bypass), and it become pretty clear what I did and didn’t need from my wardrobe. I needed (wanted) a wardrobe that was made up of great pieces that I could wear every day without too much thought or effort, but that I still felt good in, but that were also comfortable. This is why I gravitate towards the likes of Isabel Marant (in my latter days at Glamour, hers would always be one the shows I loved seeing the most, because it was one of the few that I wanted to shoot and wear),  particularly the more affordable Étoile collection. I just feel her pieces are so perfect for my life – they’re cool, but not trend led, so don’t look dated by the following season. I love (and have always loved) the whole pretty folky, hippie vibe, but always mixed/styled with cooler, more tomboyish pieces. I don’t feel silly wearing her clothes (I definitely have some pieces in my wardrobe that I love, but would feel ridiculous wearing on the school/running errands in Richmond etc. A few years ago I wouldn’t have cared, but I don’t want to stand out in that way now). I just love that whole sensibility. I love the ease of her clothes – I have never regretted (or indeed sold or given away) a single piece that I have bought, and when I do buy something, it just fits in with the rest of my wardrobe – nothing ever jars or feels too ‘shouty’. I don’t want clothes that shout, I want clothes that make me feel good. As you know, I buy everything  – from boots, shoes, coats, blouses, dresses, belts to jewellery from Isabel. Check The Outnet for bargains – they always have a good selection). And it’s  always so easy to then blend in your cheaper pieces – Gap, Zara, mango, M&S, & Other Stories, Topshop. I sometimes only buy one piece per season, but even that is enough to make your existing pieces look and feel more special.
When I am working at home (which is quite a lot of the time, probably around 50% of my work life), I generally work on my bed (I created a cosy little office, and I never worked in it. Not once), with my legs crossed, tapping away on laptop. Comfort is key. I tend to wear a combination of sweaters (cashmere usually); sweatshirts (almost always grey, my all-time favourite being an ancient Topshop one that once had a logo that has since entirely worn off!! It’s So soft, and the perfect fit. Interestingly the Alexander Wang one that I was so obsessed with a few years back, rarely sees the light of day. But it goes like that sometimes doesn’t it?); oversized shirts; jeans (girlfriend/ slim/straight/cropped); and hi-tops/Vans/ankle boots/ballet pumps. That’s my ‘at home’, school-run, working from home ‘uniform’. Oh, and I have a lot of coats, which I have accumulated over a number of years (some high street, some designer). So although my ‘base outfit’ is always pretty similar (and pretty much always grey, navy, black or khaki, or a combination), I will switch up my coats for a little ‘re-fresh’ – a leopard fur one day, a navy pea or an army jacket (most of the time!!) the next, a charcoal crombie. I really wear the same coat two days running.

If I have a meeting or an appointment in town, I will ramp things up a little – nothing too wild mind! Maybe a heel or a  statement flat (my favourites are usually something with a  pretty ankle strap, worn with cropped jeans, a smarter jacket/coat/leather biker, a slightly more unbuttoned shirt, with a bit more jewellery layered on (gold necklaces or my favourite ‘stack’ of mix and match bracelets, or a statement earring…). Something along those lines. It’s funny because I used to LIVE in dresses when I worked at Glamour, I was a total dress girl, and a great dress was definitely my ‘go to’. But really not so much now. Yes, on work trips, and in the summer, and for a party or something more formal, but for day-to-day, rarely. Which leads me onto…

I still have a little section in in my wardrobe for the ‘out out’ pieces (or weddings!). That’s where my real old favourites reside (see the Chloé brown and cream horse print dress hanging in Carrie’s closet above? I have that exact same dress (worn to my great friends’, Joe and Nessy’s wedding a hundred years ago). I think I also wore it to at least five other weddings that year. I have also lent it to various friends for special occasions. If I love a dress, it stays forever in my wardrobe! It earns it’s right to stay. If for no other reason, than just to hang there, looking gorgous, and reminding me of all the fun I had wearing it (dresses don’t take up much space in your wardrobe, so you can afford to to do this). That’s why I’m always banging on about a great dress being a great buy and investment. I tend to trot out the same dress time and time again to various ‘dos’. If the guests are different, wear that same dress! That Chloé dress was trotted (sorry) out for wedding after wedding, party after party. Oh, and for the record, I had already got mine before I saw SJP wearing it in Sex & The City!! I mean, can you imagine how excited I was?? I can remember the exact episode when she wore it. Even the exact scenes! I was totally OBSESSED with that show. Still am. Let’s not get into that now though, or I may never finish this post!!

So, the pendulum had swung way back to the direction of more casual outfits, so hence the much overdue wardrobe cull. I guess I was a little in denial – subconsiusly clinging onto my ‘old life’ in some small way? Do I miss dressing up to go to Gucci shoes in Milan? Sure, sometimes. Would I want to be doing it now, as part of a full-time job at a magazine? Not so much. This is not to say that I no longer enjoy ‘dressing up’, far from it, it’s simply that I no longer do it that often. And certainly not often enough to warrant half my wardrobe being dedicated to it. So, onto the actual detox process itself…

I would love to tell you I had a ‘method’ or a ‘system’ for my detox, but this would be a lie. As with every other visual decision I make in my life, I just went with my instinct/intuition/gut. I was brutal though. In hindsight, possibly a little too brutal. Over these last few weeks, I have found myself scratching my head in the morning (I am not a planner of outfits the night before), wondering what the hell I’m going to wear? I seem to have gone from six navy men’s cashmere crewneck to one (not sure quite sure what happened there??), and from dozens of grey sweatshirt to just the three (I know…), but I think I’ll survive. And honestly, I think it’s better to be brutal (it’s not called a ‘cull’ for nothing!). The one area I would say to be a bit more lenient with yourself is with your ‘special’ pieces. People might argue that I should have waved goodbye to that Chloé dress, but to them I would say this: it’s an iconic dress that immediately transports me back to a great time in my twenties; not just to when I wore it, but also to the fact that it was in Stella McCartney’s last collection for Chloé (a collection heavy influenced by her and her mother, Linda’s love or horses); the Sex & The City references (one of my favourite shows ever, which also has so many references points to various events during my twenties). I guess it’s a little pieces of my history, in the form of a whisp of silk chiffon on a (non-slip) hanger. This is also definitely a piece I will keep for Tabitha (should she want it when the time comes), so even if it moves from pride of place in my (tiny – more of that in a minute…) wardrobe, to a box in the attic, that’s fine. A few other dresses in this category include a beautiful floor length black Temperley dress with lace sleeves and a cut-out back that I wore to my sister’s wedding; a long, bias-cut floral print Stella Mccartney dress that I wore to a ton of weddings, then more recently with a grey sweatshirt over, and hi-tops. This dress is probably one of the most worn pieces in my wardrobe. And it’s going nowhere. My (more recent) Preen dresses (not only is Preen one of my favourite labels (I still remember their very first show at London Fashion Week and thinking: WOW!); but I also know the designers, Justin and Thea, personally, and honestly they are two of the loveliest, most talented, and most humble people you could ever meet, which just makes me love their dresses even more. I could go on…
I apply this same rule to ‘special’ bags and shoes too. I was up in the attic just last week in fact, and found a box of my old shoes that had been up there since we moved (er, almost six years ago…), and I found an old pair of YSL (back when you were still allowed to mention the ‘Yves’ pre-fix) lip print sandals. Sound a bit dodgy and gimicky? Nope, still utterly divine. And they’re going nowhere! So, if you LOVE it, and something hold memories, or feels iconic in some way (if like me, you work/worked in or loved fashion), or you simply still LOVE it (for whatever reason), keep it!! Or regret it.
Now you need to get EVERYTHING out of your wardrobe. This is crucial. Everything. Put all your clothes on your bed, put all the shoes and shoe boxes carefully on the floor. If nothing else, it’s a great opportunity to give that wardrobe a good old clean. Out came my beloved Dyson ‘Animal’. That little clean alone made me feel alive!! Nothing like hoovering up those big balls of dust… Everything needs to come out. Then it’s just a case of yes and no piles. I don’t do a ‘maybe’ – I just go for it! You can alway whip something back from the ‘no’ pile before it goes. Good things to bear in mind (but not to be confused with ‘rules’ – I’m not ‘a Rules girl’ – in fact I hate any so-called rules when it comes to fashion or style, so old-fashioned), are: when did you last year it? Do you still love it? Do you (honestly) think you’re likely to ever wear it/wear it again? Does it have a place in your current life? You just need to be honest with yourself. This is key. I got rid of quite a few things that I still loved (A Vanessa Bruno white Victoriana blouse that I nabbed in a sample sale in Paris a couple of years ago) still slightly haunts me, BUT I NEVER wore it. It was always too big (and not in that cool, oversized way that I usually love), and I just didn’t feel good in it. It just wasn’t quite right. So ultimately I made the right decision.

Detox Time!

  1. Take everything out of your wardrobe. This may sound a little daunting, but trust me, it feels great! If you don’t, you’ll be too tempted to ignore/skip past pieces that you’re not sure about getting rid of, or have a sentimental attachment to. These will probably the items that have been lurking in your wardrobe the longest – simply because you can’t face making the decision (no one likes makes tricky decisions, but we always feel better after we’ve made them right?). Also, it’s a great opportunity to have a little dust and a wipe (I literally found giant balls of dust at the bottom of my wardrobe!!). Just ensure you set aside plenty of (uninterrupted) time to complete the task. Keep everything on hangers initially, to avoid everything getting too muddled. It’s up to you whether you try things on or not. I didn’t, but I would recommend it you can find the time.

2. Make three piles: ‘YES’, ‘NO’ and ‘MAYBE’ piles. As I think I mentioned, I just did the two pile (yes and no), but I was BRUTAL, time-poor, and space-poor (a great combination for the ‘undecided’). You need to be honest though!
The only caveat is the ‘you just love it’ one. That’s it.

It’s ONLY allowed in this pile if:

it fits
is not damaged
it still looks/feels good on
fits your life (not the one you dream of/hope to have one day -sorry!)
you just love it and/or it has sentimental value

It SHOULD be in this pile if:

it doesn’t fit
it’s damaged
it just doesn’t look that great on/make you feel great when you’re wearing it
you haven’t worn it in over a year
it just doesn’t fit in your life anymore

IT NEEDS to be in this pile if:
you’re not sure whether it still fits (you or your life!)
it’s damaged, but could be repaired
you have a newer version of it/versions of it

3. Ok, so that’s that bit done. Now for the toughest bit (I think): addressing those ‘maybes’. I would definitely suggest trying all your maybes on, as I’m guessing there will be some no-brainers in that pile once you’re actually wearing them. So start there. Be totally honest. Read through the criteria for the YES and NO piles again. I think you know which piles things should be going in. And remember, be honest!! If (for example) you have a pair of Black Acne jeans that are three sizes smaller than the jeans you’re currently living in, but you just can’t bear to part with them (most because they remind you of when you could fit into them and how you looked in them), they need to head straight to the NO pile, pronto! However, if (for example), you have a pair of & Other Stories raw hem cropped jeans that you love, but that are just feeling a little ‘snug’ these past few weeks (you know why), these can head to the YES pile. You know what I’m getting at right? Be realistic ladies. If, like me, space is limited in your home, you really have to be. And trust me, once that NO pile has gone, you’ll feel so great – I was literally buzzing for days!

4. Now this is the best bit, as you get to put all your newly edited wardrobe back (in your actual wardrobe), and feel so smug about it.  This is also a great time to make sure you’ve got everything on suitable hangers (no wire please ladies!). I like mine to all be the same, and (for obvious reasons) I like the velvet touch thin ones, which are pretty cheap and cheerful. They’re also great for chiffon tops and dresses, as things don’t slip off them. I use the same hangers for trousers (I literally have about five pairs at the last count – well ones that are in my wardrobe anyway). You can use them to hang jeans too, but as I only have the one wardrobe I don’t have the space for them in there, so my denim is all folded and in a large drawer in a chest of drawers on our landing.
Organise your clothes by items, so all the dresses together, tops together, jumpsuits together and so on. You get the picture. And also arrange by colour, from darkest to lightest within each category. Now this is not some crazy (‘While You Were Sleeping’ reference, merely for speed and ease when deciding what to wear. It was also help you to clearly see how many of the same things you have, which in turn might make you think twice about buying another one!
I also have most of my shoes in this same wardrobe (don’t tell Laura Fantacci!), so I have to organsie my longer things around the piles of (neatly stacked) boxes. Not ideal, but it’s fine.

Now you can stand back and admire your handy work. Doesn’t it feel GOOD?

Sarah xx

ps: many people adopt the ‘one in, one out’ wardrobe policy. I think this is a great idea if you can be that strict with yourself. Worth a try anyway!

pps: let me know if you’d like me to do a part II (the sequel), where I group together some of my wardrobe staples/go-tos. Not necessarily my exact things, but similar versions of the pieces I repeat buy, and wear on rotation. I also wondered whether you see enough of that in the blog anyway? Let me know anyway, I’d love to hear your feedback.

ppps: coming next: trainers!

My Wardrobe Essentials