Sharpen up

Sometimes you fancy tightening up your look – here are my tips on how to go about it as simply (and sensibly) as possible.


STEP 1… Look in your wardrobe

Aim: Identifying your own personal style


Photo: Esther Seijmonsbergen 

Casting a critical eye over your existing wardrobe might seem quite daunting (especially if you’re the sort of person that never throws anything out) and perhaps a touch counterintuitive if you’re trying to avoid splashing the cash – but you’d do well to kick this process off by getting rid of the undesirable elements currently lurking in your closet. Essentially, what you should be looking to do is:

  • Separate out and put to one side the clothes that you actually wear (go for ones that you have worn in the past 6 months – this should cover items that may not currently be in season)
  • Sort through the remaining ones to see if there are any hidden gems – we often buy clothes that don’t fit completely with our fashion thinking at the time and so tend to ignore them and then forget about them. Coming back to such clothes with a fresh pair of eyes may make you realise that they now slot perfectly into your current sense of style
  • Take the ones that didn’t make the cut immediately to your local textile recycling bank (look out for TRAID if they operate in your area) – waiting will only make you doubt your decision to ditch them, but you’ve already proved to yourself you’re never going to need them again (and there are plenty of people out there that do).

The result of this cull should be that you now have a manageable set of clothes that are representative of what you see your own personal style as being. Cast your eye over what you have kept hold of and try to work out what the unifying theme of the items are – is your style quite urban, does it have a formal edge to it, or are you playing the preppy game? Giving this some thought is really helpful, as you will be using the clothes you’ve kept and what they say about your style as the template for renewing/updating your look.


STEP 2… Spot the gaps

Aim: Collating your style into outfits and checking your stock


Photo: Alistair Williamson

You should now look to re-assemble your new wardrobe in a way that really allows you to see what you have and haven’t got.

I imagine most of you group your clothes by type – jumpers together, shirts together, trousers together etc., with work clothes in a separate cluster. I think a more useful approach is to order your new wardrobe by season. Don’t worry, this is easier than it probably sounds – you just have to take account of things like:

  • style: some clothes are more naturally suited to being worn at certain times of the year – like hoodies (often reserved for autumn/winter) or shorts (only likely to come out during the summer, if at all)
  • weight: whatever the style of the garment, its thickness will often determine when it can be worn – for example the different types of knitwear you can get (a lambswool jumper is perfect for chilly weather, whereas a lightweight cotton or merino wool one would be best kept for spring/summer evenings)
  • cut: how fitted the clothing is can have an impact on when it can be stylishly employed. A slimline T-shirt can be easily layered under a crew neck sweater if extra warmth is called for, but a more loosely fitting one should be used to round off a summer outfit (paired with either shorts or roomier jeans)
  • colour: this is probably less important, but if you have a great polo shirt in sunflower yellow, the likelihood is you’ll get more wear out of it in hot weather than if you are trying to match it with darker, winter colours

The ultimate point of this is to get you thinking about how clothes relate to each other, as opposed to operating as individual items. Just as you wouldn’t consider pairing, say, a thick wool sweater with shorts, if you think about it you probably wouldn’t consider putting a crisp white T-shirt with warm, heavy-duty trousers. Placing a particular item alongside the ones it is most likely to feature with actually on your body will allow you to picture not just clothes but also outfits – and it is only by visualising these potential combinations that you will be able to assess where reality does not match up to your ideals. If your style dictates an outfit that is on the basis of current stock incomplete, you know you have a gap that needs filling.


STEP 3: Shop for it

Aim: Getting the very best out of your spending


Photo: Benjamin Earwicker

The final stage of the process is obviously to go and stock up on what you’re missing. But before you go, quickly look through your revised wardrobe and write down where you bought the different clothes you have selected. Once you’ve compiled the list, have a think about how much you spend on the average item and try to rank the shops you come across according to where they sit in your price range. You should aim to put each store into one of the following categories

  • basics: the cheaper end of the spectrum – probably where items like plain T-shirts and underwear came from
  • mid-range: places you have gone to for more than just your average staples, perhaps a decent sweatshirt or going-out clothes
  • luxury: the expensive places you’ve been for one-off items like a your favourite pair of jeans or the jumper you practically live in

This exercise is useful in deciding which stores will provide the best hunting ground for each of the gaps that need filling. It may be that what is really missing from your collection are a few high-end pieces to give it a bit of class, in which case you may have to spend a bit of time building towards your goal. Alternatively, if it’s basic clothes which can be picked up at your basic shops that you need, you can have more confidence to pick up some new pieces straight away, safe in the knowledge that you are shopping sensibly for them.

I guess the real point of my approach is to stop you blowing a hole in your budget unnecessarily. We often end up buying clothes that don’t fit with our overall style, or spend more than we need to on quite basic items. My view is that this only serves to hold you back when it comes to investing in clothes with real quality – and it always makes financial sense in the long run to spend a touch more when that extra bit of style is needed.


One final thought… 

… to take with on your shopping trip – spare a thought for where the clothes you’re buying came from, and what they’re made of. There are loads of places out there now have made real effort to make their fashion more ethical and more sustainable – for instance, by using organic cotton or ensuring that the clothes are produced by workers receiving a living wage – so look out for them and take advantage where you can.

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