Working within the sustainable fashion space and having studied fashion design, I’ve discovered a lot about the impact that clothes have on our planet. One of my biggest wake-up calls has been learning about the tonnes of new or barely used clothing that goes into landfills each year. What’s more, fast-fashion production — with its massive environmental impact — exacerbates the climate crisis and garment workers are, as I type, being exploited and underpaid by many major well-known brand names.
Naturally, given this knowledge I’ve attempted to overhaul my wardrobe and align it with my changing values. I no longer shop as a weekend activity or browse mindlessly on ASOS when I’m bored. In fact, I’m proud to say my last fast-fashion purchase was in August 2019 as I’ve figured out how to break up with fast fashion. I’ve given clothes swapping, upcycling and mending a go, and embrace buying less or choosing second hand when possible.
Despite all this, I (worryingly) still have a complicated relationship with my closet. There are clothes spilling out of every drawer or wardrobe in my bedroom — some, remnants of my former fast-fashion addiction — with their final resting place often becoming my work chair or bedroom floor. And recently, perhaps due to spending more time than ever at home during Covid-19, I’ve been asking myself one big question: why?
In need of a closet detox
There’s one statistic I read a few months back that really bothered me. It’s called the 20/80 rule; it states we apparently wear only 20% of our closet 80% of the time. Now, I’ve done multiple closet clear outs, donating or gifting what I no longer want. And at first, I’d thought by clearing out all the stuff that no longer “sparked joy”, I could enjoy looking at a wardrobe full of stuff I would wear regularly. However, the closer I kept an eye on what my hand would reach for, or which clothes were laundered the most, I realised I still fit into that statistic.
This realisation inspired me to — once and for all — try to get to the bottom of why I don’t wear so many of my clothes. Was it because something was too big or small? Not my style? Uncomfortable to wear? Because of minor issues that needed to be fixed or mended? Realising it wasn’t enough just to play dress-up in my room at 2 am to sort my closet, I figured I’d have to spend substantial time going through its contents to solve the mystery.
So I took it upon myself to pull out every t-shirt, belt, fedora, summer dress and harem pant from my wardrobe that I hadn’t worn pre-pandemic. After that, I did what all Gen-Z do best — took to Instagram to declare that I would be doing a 30-day outfit challenge and closet detox. Far from just being showy, I did it because it would help keep me motivated and accountable to really ‘shop my wardrobe’ and see the challenge through till the end. Before Day 1, I prepped by taking photos of each garment and accessory, creating a photo album of everything I was going to be wearing for the next month. I geared up for what seemed to be an easy enough challenge that turned out to be much more poignant than I could’ve imagined!
A decluttering challenge turned styling opportunity
The most important part about this challenge was not just to wear the remaining 80% of my closet, but to see what I could integrate into my widening 20%. If I couldn’t style them in a way I would wear for work, to run errands or to go for socially distanced dinner with friends, there was no point in keeping them. Our clothes don’t exist in a vacuum; being able to style them in a way that’s uniquely you will be the reason you wear them the most.
For looks, I took styling inspiration from people on the street and Pinterest. But some advice: I found Pinterest can sprinkle on more FOMO and cause you to go down a rabbit hole of all the things you could have. If that happens: pause, reflect and look at your closet, not as a limitation but a chance for experimentation. Another point to note is your closet should reflect your style, not your Instagram feed. I took this challenge as an opportunity to see if I actually enjoyed wearing those clothes because it makes me feel confident and comfortable, not because it’s what everyone else’s wearing.
The most important part about this challenge was not just to wear the remaining 80% of my closet, but to see what I could integrate into my widening 20%.
10 major lessons I learnt from detoxing my closet
1. I could save a lot of money. Having a closet I was satisfied with versus one I would look on with despair would save me thousands of dollars down the line.
2. As long as I wore my clothes for longer, I could reduce my overall environmental impact. Keeping clothes in rotation for longer means fewer pieces end up in landfills. So even if there were some pieces I was bored of wearing or didn’t fit right, I decided to do something about them. Through swapping and upcycling, I’ve given my clothes a new life when I no longer needed them. From visible mending and bleach-dyeing to total silhouette transformation, I put my technical fashion designing skills to use as often as I could. For example, I converted an old white strappy top into a halter crop top, and used the remaining fabric as sleeves (zero waste, woo hoo!). Upcycling was not just a great lockdown hobby, but it helped me make my old clothes into something totally unique.
3. Keep what serves me in the present than hang onto things for a different lifestyle. Whether it’s hanging on to clothes that don’t fit or stocking up on garments that better suited a past lifestyle. If you don’t get any wear out of it now, maybe it’s best it’s not in your closet. If you have a summer and winter wardrobe, you can store whatever you’re not using until a better time. In my case, since there were lots of clothes I didn’t see myself wearing under any circumstance within the next few months, I decided to say farewell.
4. I really explored my personal style. This was my biggest revelation, considering I didn’t know how to define my aesthetic per se. I realised I didn’t need to colour-coordinate or cull my closet of anything that wasn’t black, white or beige. I embraced my style for what it was, an eclectic mix of everything and more. As cliché as it might sound, I made peace with being a different person every day if that suited me.
5. Discovering consumption patterns and shopping habits for the long run. Of course, you can have two or three black tees if that’s what you wear a lot. But we don’t need multiples of everything. This month didn’t just open my eyes to what I used to buy on repeat, but why. If it made me feel good, I would buy similar shades or silhouettes. However, I could still like the style and not need five versions of it. In fact, getting clothes tailor-made to your liking is a great reason to wear it out more. More so, it instils more value into the garment-making process.
6. Keeping things for sentimental reasons is fine, but even better if they’re things I would also wear. Keeping clothes filled with memories but nowhere to wear them makes me feel even more guilty. So if you’ve outgrown anything you used to love dearly once before, physically or emotionally, think of other options. Keep them in storage if you have space, pass them onto a family member or friend. Maybe, you’ll realise a stranger might make new memories from your old ones. You can still hold onto memories without keeping the physical object.
7. Trend fatigue is real. This goes hand-in-hand with learning about what my style is because seeing new trends every week can be distracting when you’re figuring out your personal style language. Even when I know I have an overflowing closet, I do get tempted to try out something I don’t own. However, building your closet with timelessness in mind stops you from impulse shopping. All in all, it’s about choosing pieces that work well with the rest of your clothes. When in doubt, imagine wearing it at least 30 times.
8. Sometimes, we make illogical choices when it comes to looking good. It would be great if all my clothes were comfy enough to sleep in. However, the reality of women’s clothing seems to have prohibited that. We all own some clothes or shoes that require some extra confidence and/or bandaids to wear. Whether to keep or give away was a tough decision, but I realised it was just like a balancing act. More so, it all depends on your priorities of comfort and style, even if it’s just for one day or event (stilettos, I’m looking at you).
9. There’s more than one way to wear something. If you’re having a hard time wearing something the conventional way, try the unconventional. Wear your scarf as a belt or headband, make your maxi skirt into a strapless midi dress. Wear something backwards, inside out, cut it short, dye it or bleach it. It’s up to you and how you want to wear it. I upcycled many pieces that were collecting dust in my closet, into fresh and fun clothes I now wear constantly. And the excitement of (re)making something adds to how you will feel in your ‘new’ garment!
10. Put on a hat (or any accessory!) Essentially, don’t underestimate how finishing touches like a belt, necklace, or a hat can make something feel brand new.
Statistics don’t lie, but they can change
Many of us feel exhausted looking at a closet that doesn’t work for us. But that doesn’t mean things can’t change for the better. With just some effort and time (and maybe wine), you won’t just come out of this experience with a more cohesive wardrobe, but you’ll feel less stressed when dressing up, too. Your only limit is your own imagination. And when you’re too fatigued to come up with experimental looks every day, just go with what you gravitate towards. While it’s unlikely we’ll wear 100% of our closets 100% of the time, we can definitely widen our 20% to include some previously forgotten pieces.
|If you want to try out a closet detox and wear-your-closet challenge yourself, here’s some pointers: