How to avoid a closet filled with nothing to wear: Your personal stylist

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Is your closet filled with clothes that fit, flatter and play nice with each other? (iStock)

Recently I took a trip to southern Oregon to work with two very different women on closet consultations. Both women were left with more functional wardrobes and action plans for what to buy to fill the holes and connect the dots.

On my long journey home I had time to think about the differences between these women, their styles and shopping habits.

The first was a 30-something new mother who once felt she had style, but was missing her mojo after her baby was born. The other was a 50-something mother to two grown girls who felt she’d never found her personal style. Both had shopping habits that sabotaged their wardrobes.

They got me thinking about different kinds of shoppers and what they can do to avoid having a closet filled with clothes, but nothing to wear.

Find one, buy three

This shopper finds one thing that works, then buys one of each color available. She ends up with a wardrobe that is more functional than fashionable.

Sure it’s great to have a wardrobe that fits, but if the color doesn’t flatter or it doesn’t feel interesting or stylish then you’re missing something important.

I suggest that when these shoppers find something that does everything they require a garment to do, they consider what makes it work. Is it the contoured shape at the waist, or how a pair of pants drape at the hips? Then try to find pieces that have the same characteristics but are not exactly the same except for the color. Pieces that fit and flatter are key. But if you aren’t excited about putting them on, you’re essentially wearing a uniform.

Haven’t shopped since 2002

I get people who hate to shop. I hate grocery shopping. But like the fridge, if you don’t clean out your closet once in awhile and shop for new things, your wardrobe is going to start to stink.

Figure out why you hate to shop. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of choices in department stores? Or is it your complete lack of trust in your own judgment of what looks good?

If department stores scare you, try smaller store and local boutiques that offer less inventory, reducing the amount of choices to be made. Often in these smaller stores, if you ask, you can find a knowledgeable sales associate who’s more than willing to assist you. You just have to speak up and let them know what you like and what your style needs are.

There are also professional personal stylists who do all the hard work for you. You just show up, try on, fall in love and buy.

But it was on sale

Oh, the convincing I have to do with bargain shoppers. I’ve worked every side of retail in my career from sales associate to development and production to stylist and I understand the concept of ‘the markup’ all too well. It’s difficult to pay full retail sometimes, however only buying something because you got it on sale does not give it magical powers that make it fit and flatter.

So often I find that bargain piece still in the closet with the price tag still on it, making those dollars wasted.


Sometimes the sale piece is worn all the time, but it doesn’t really fit, the color doesn’t flatter and it rolls up at the seam all the time so it needs to be fussed with. This is also a waste of money because it’s doing you no favors.

For a little more money this shopper could have found something that she really loved and loved you back. Pieces like this will be worn at least once a week for years. That’s getting your money’s worth.

The love affair

You spot a certain piece and you LOVE it and have to have it. You wear it once, twice, maybe 20 times in a row. Then just as quickly as you fell, the love affair is over and you’re onto the next new and exciting thing.

This kind of shopper faces several predicaments.

First, is closets and drawers filled to overflowing with clothes collecting dust. All because you are unable to let go. This hording can overwhelm the amazing wardrobe you probably have hiding among all the pieces you don’t wear anymore. The lesson here: purge. Get rid of what you’re not in love with anymore. Take it all to a consignment store and make money from it.

Other love affair shoppers have only pieces in their wardrobe and not outfits. It’s good to buy what you’re excited about. But if it’s not friendly with other pieces in your wardrobe, you’re going to have nothing to wear.

Make sure that for every one piece you buy, you can coordinate it with at least three other pieces in your wardrobe.

What kind of shopper are you? No matter what your shopping style, if you stick to purchasing silhouettes that fit, flatter you, function for your lifestyle, make you feel great and are friendly with each other, then you’ll be getting your money’s worth while looking great.

Sara Dahlquist is a personal stylist in Portland. Learn more style tips on her website

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