Poll: How Far in Advance Do You Plan Your Outfits?

Reader L wrote in to us with an interesting idea for a poll — how far in advance do you plan your outfits? This is particularly interesting given that we don’t think our personal system has been working. Long ago, in our early 20s, we decided to let the “mood” of the morning decide what to wear each day — it seemed true! and right! and a lot of other things that now sound somewhat naive and overemotional. Whatever the basis for the decision, though, the practical effect of each morning is that, oh drat, we’re-running-late-yet-AGAIN and quick-just-grab-the-suit-or-dress-and-jacket and run out the door. (This seems particularly sad given that, you know, we write a fashion blog.) So we’re rethinking. Photo credit: Closet, originally uploaded to Flickr by Becaberry.

Readers, how far in advance do you plan your wardrobe? We’ve tried to hit broad strokes in the poll, but please tell us in comments why you’ve taken that particular plan of attack. Obvious things factor into the decision — the weather, what’s clean, what fits — but what else?



  1. I plan ahead because of what might be going that week during work and after. Suits for specific meetings, dressing for after work meeting or fun, etc. It also is because I learned along time ago that I know that what I am putting on is not only clean but doesn’t need repairs; buttons, hems, zippers etc.

  2. Haha, I’m that lone vote who chooses a week or more in advance. I know I’m a neurotic nerd. But here’s what else I do (and feel free to shake your head at my obsessive ways) – I plan out my outfit combos seasonally. That way, I end up with about a month’s worth of outfits (that I adore) and then rotate them for 4 weeks. When I get sick of something I take it out of the rotation/replace it with something new or something I love better. At the beginning of the week I look to see what the weather is going to be like (FYI – I live in DC), and then I take that week’s outfits and arrange them based on my work day demands (lots of meetings, holed up in my office, after-work plans, etc). The results include: an even wear and tear on my clothes, I don’t end up wearing the same color shirt every day for a week, and since I’m doing it in advance, I already know they are my “feel good” outfits because I’ve tried them on and reviewed in the mirror for as long as I needed (instead of rushed in the morning).

    Wow…. putting down in writing certainly makes me feel crazy. But it works really well for me, and it gives me that time back in the morning to sleep in!

    • I just started a new job and refuse to be late or feel dull in my clothes. I am laying them out a week in advance and it really helps me to recognize how many options I truly have and it makes the clothing deficiencies much clearer. I know it does feel neurotic but it does make a lot of sense.

  3. I picked a few days in advance but that’s not entirely accurate. It’s more of a situation where I plan “groups” of clothes the weekend before when I’m doing laundry – ie I’ll wear three or four of these blouses with these three or four suits, but I don’t necessarily pair up the exact combo until the morning of.

  4. I picked the night before, but that isn’t entirely accurate. I live an area where we have torrential downpours in the afternoons during the rainy season, so I usually check the weather the night before and will pick a skirt if it seems like it’s more likely to rain. I may not pick out the exact outfit until the day of.

  5. I am in the habit of picking out my outfit for the next day the previous night because my significant other doesn’t get up until a couple hours later than I do and my closet is in our shared bedroom. I only started doing this to be considerate to him, but now I love not having to think about what to wear first thing in the morning when my mind is still rather fuzzy.

  6. Anonymous :

    I am basically comotose in the morning, so I usually pick out my clothes and lay them out with the necessary undergarmnets, accessories, hosery, and shoes the night before.

  7. I just own SO FEW CLOTHES that it’s easy. I have a few outfits for REALLY IMPORTANT CUSTOMERS. Everything else is very mix and match and classic colors and very high quality materials. So it’s always good enough. This is what happens with age.

  8. I plan somewhat in advance based on whether I have meetings with a client that may require a full suit, or have a fun after work activity that needs an outfit that goes from day to night. I also look at the weather forecast for the week because rain definitely affects outfit choices.

  9. Kay: I love your system! Go with it!

  10. Generally I just pick in the morning based on what is clean, whether I have time to iron, etc. However, sometimes I have to think ahead to what I’ve got going on in the week because I have such a limited wardrobe right now. (I’ve recently changed jobs to a more formal workplace and I haven’t been able to do much shopping – and I still haven’t gotten my pre-baby body back, so things that might otherwise be okay don’t fit yet!) I have to “save” some of my suits for days I’m in court. I also try to wear my more comfortable outfits on days when I will be running around with my kids before I can change.

  11. I am lucky if I can figure out what I’m going to wear while in the shower in the morning before work. I will be the first one to tell you that it’s not a great system (can I really call “throwing on something clean” a system?).

    As much as I love not being a “business attire” office for the abililty to be a little more casual and creative, I do wonder if I’d be happier just wearing a suit every day. Rough at first, but after you’ve collected enough suits, you essentially never have to think about your outfit. (For me, at least, the challenge is “putting together” an outfit: Does this blouse look okay with these pants? Should I tuck or untuck? Is this shirt too long to wear with this skirt? What necklace looks best with this neckline? Does this outfit need a belt? Etc, etc, etc. This is why I gravitate toward dresses, too.)

    Or maybe I should try Kay’s system? Kay, you’re my hero, and I bet you look a lot more put together than I do!

  12. I picked “that morning” and that is generally accurate. I do, however, plan ahead if I have trial or a really important meeting on a certain day. Those days require more thought than simply putting on whatever suit I can reach with the whatever neutral clean top is readily accessible!

  13. Kay – your idea is very smart. I use a similar process but on a weekly basis. I usually pick out 6 bottoms and 10 tops. If a particular top goes with a bottom, I go ahead and pair them up with the jewerly and shoes. For all others I hang together in couplings that I can grab and go on those morning where I don’t have time to think. I’ve found that by giving myself options, I can still keep the “dress how I feel” methods of my youth, while still ensuring that I’m professional and well put together. Plus, as Kay mentioned, it will helps to ensure you don’t end up in all one color for a week and reduces the wear and tear on your favorite items!

  14. Kay – what a fabulous system!!

    Every time I look into my closet with some thought, I sort of put outfits together in my head and keep them in mind for the next time. If I buy a new statement piece of jewelry, I hold it up against everything it might go with, along with everything it might complement (remember the color wheel?), so I have some idea. I’m a big fan of two neutrals and two complementary colors in most outfits, so I try to keep that in mind whenever I add a new piece. But honestly, I’m a morning person and the outfit is almost always decided the morning of.

  15. Oh! I forgot to add! I hang all my dresses and suits in one closet, I have all my tops at the top of my main closet and all my bottoms at the bottom. And I hang everything in color order. I used to rotate it so that the summer clothes were in the middle (easy access) during summer and vice versa for winter, but that became too time consuming. That does cut down on my thinking time a lot.

  16. I pick each day, but after I wear something I put it at the end of the closet in that section (my suits are together, skirts, etc) so I know that the stuff closer to me I haven’t worn in a while.

  17. I usually think about it the night before, a habit picked up from not-very-distant college nights when I would spend the night at the boyfriend’s apartment and pack my backpack with clothes to put on the next day. Now it’s more subject to change in the morning depending on weather, etc..

  18. Kay, I love your system. I would worry that someone might notice I’m wearing the same outfit, but that’s a silly worry. No one notices what you wear unless you look amazing or terrible. How about accessories? Do you know what you’re wearing with each outfit beforehand, or do you decide day of?

  19. I wear suits every day, so I pretty much have my suits on rotation. If it’s going to be a long day where I need to look my sharpest, I invariably pick a black pantsuit.

  20. I try to pay attention at the beginning of the week to make sure I don’t wear my favorite client/court suits if I’m going to need them later in the week but other than that I use my time in the shower to decide what to wear that morning. Admittedly, I sometimes happen to decide on a combo that isn’t clean and the resulting scramble usually results me leaving the house without jewelry (oops!) but it generally works out okay and allows for me to take weather, after work plans, etc. into account.

  21. Every Sunday night, I look at my schedule for the week and choose outfits accordingly. If I have a no meeting day, I generally wear something a bit more business casual, but for days like today where I have meets and then a cocktail party, I wear a black dress with a jacket and bring accessories to spice it up for evening. I hang all of my outfits together with accessories and it makes my morning routine much easier.

  22. I probably should have added that I do wear suits most days and it does make picking out an outfit a LOT easier. You basically just assess what clean suits you have vs. what clean shirts and the outfits pretty much pick themselves.

  23. I said that I choose in the morning, but truthfully I usually try to plan it out while I am hitting the snooze button in the morning. I figure that staying in bed and thinking about it is just as productive as staring at my closet and thinking about it. Most days I come up with something cute, but there are some days that it’s either too gross out to wear something cute or I’m having one of the those I-look-horrible-in-everything-I-wear-so-why-bother days… It’s a crap shoot!

  24. @Claire:

    I think that’s what prompted my system- thinking that people would remember me wearing my outfit, I figured 4 weeks was a long enough time (and I had enough clothes to rotate) so nobody would notice.

    Accessories are usually done in my head when I put the outfits together at the beginning of the week, especially if the item is that bold standout part of my outfit (like a chunky necklace). As for shoes, they are all at the office so I just slip them on when I get to work.

    Thanks to all for the support on my “system” – glad to see my crazy side is appreciated :-)

  25. If I don’t plan at least the night before and lay out the clothes, I fail at getting dressed in my morning stupor. I always leave the house without accessories, without a pair of office-appropriate shoes to change into, with a skimpy top and no cardigan, or with my shirt on inside-out.

    If I have a special event, I plan days in advance. If I have a series of events or a trip, I plan out all of my outfits and write them down.

    Embarrassingly (sort of), I also have a file of photos I shoot of myself in every outfit I own so that I won’t have to try things on to see if they go together or remember if I like the look.

  26. I start figuring it out in my head the night before but sometimes I change my mind in the morning.

    I am moving and will actually have a dressing room in my new house which I think will lead to better outfit making b/c I will be able to plan stuff out and leave it laid out.

  27. I plan over the weekend for any interesting goings-on during the week (meeting, after-work event, boss is out). If it’s going to be just a boring, routine week, I contemplate my outfit while I shower each morning.

  28. Mine really depends. If I know something special is going on, I’ll usually make a note in the calendar and plan something for that day. Otherwise I’m usually figuring it out that morning (which is why I like things that work together/mix-and-match.)

  29. Im not even sure I own 10 tops.

    And its mostly about rotating my three black suits and one tan suit, with my business black and grey pants.

    so boring.

    but, I just havent had the time or money to rebuild my pre-baby wardrobe to fit this “new”body of mine.

  30. girltuesday :

    kay might be my hero.

    i experience the odd moment of sartorial genius, but too often i resort to black wool pants + _____. this post struck a chord with me, because i have some really very nice clothes that i seem to pass-over during the 100 meter-dash to get out the door. the exceptions for me are going to court or meetings with clients; either event gets a measured amount of forethought (meaning, as i’m falling asleep).

    i love kay’s system though i fear i am neither disciplined nor organized enough to carry it off. someone else mentioned having fewer clothes; that might be the key (for me). either that or cher horowitz’s closet/computer.

  31. People have mentioned having a rotation- what is the normal rotation? I typically try for 2 weeks, but I might wear black pants/skirt once a week paired with a different top.

  32. Wow, I suddenly feel so unorganized and impulsive!

    I plan my outfits in the morning and usually not until I’m actually getting dressed. My style can vary depending on my mood and what I have scheduled for that day, so I can’t imagine I would actually wear outfits I picked ahead.

    Also, I’m a big fan of mixing up my wardrobe so I rarely ever wear the exact same outfit twice. I’m far more likely to throw different pieces together or switch up the accessories. I generally enjoy the process of picking out my outfits in the morning and I almost always try on a few things before I am satisfied.

  33. Wow…I wish I had a bigger wardrobe that I could have a four week rotation! :) I also think that ‘business casual’ can be hard to manage. I plan to the extent I’m going to have to put on a suit to either go to court or attend a client meeting. Other than that, I generally think it through a day or so ahead of time….but now that I write that, I don’t know what I’m going to wear tomorrow!

    Does anyone have trouble balancing ‘I want to lose some weight’ vs. ‘dress the body you have right now?’ I struggle with that! Any suggestions?

  34. Kay, I have a really similar system. So don’t feel like a freak. It sounds like a ton of other people do it, too.

    My one amendment is to say that once I get dressed, I snap an picture of myself with my iPhone so that I remember what I wore on a particular day. That way, if I have an important client/partner meeting, I can go back and see what I wore last time I saw them so I don’t wear the same thing. Because even though I can’t remember and I’m sure they won’t either, it makes me feel better as a girl. Back in my law school days, I would pride myself on never wearing the same thing the same way twice. Well, those days are gone but at least I can still manage not to wear the same pant/sweater combo every time I see someone.

  35. Laura, if you can, I’d consider altering a few suits you already have instead of buying new ones. If that’s not a possibility, make sure to look for suits that are tailored for easy alterations. I know Antonio Melani suits are wonderful. Otherwise, I just try to upgrade my staples by getting items on sale and making sure the fit won’t look too bad if I go up or down a little bit. You may want to try Spanx or something similar as well, since for many pieces just a little bit of squeezing in will make a world of difference.

  36. @ Mel – I think 2 weeks is a good time frame for not double dipping on shirts. Pants are not as important if they are basic styles in dark colors. If you don’t want to spend a lot on clothes try to buy solid colors basics – jackets, pants, cardigans, button downs then look for colorful scarves, pins, necklaces to spice up the outfit. They are a cheap way to make a basic white sweater and black pants look completely different.

    @ Laura – I struggled with this same problem for several years. What I have done to combat my issue, is I dress the body I have in clothes that I love. Buy pieces that flatter your figure and make you feel confident and beautiful. As you begin the process of working towards the body you want, buy the basics (there is no point in buy a closet full of clothes for every size along the way). As women we deserve to feel great about ourselves no matter what size we are. And maybe you may find that once you have clothes that make you feel great, size isn’t as important as you though – I did!

  37. Kay-Wow. I think it is a great system but I can’t imagine having enough clothes to go an entire month without duplicating my outfit. I’m lucky if I can go two weeks.

    My basic approach seems to be more or less the norm; on Sunday I look at my calendar to see what days I have activities that require certain types of outfits (suits, day to night dresses) and select outfits for those (doing my best to make sure that I am not planning on wearing the same thing I wore to the last client meeting, cocktail hour, or whatever). For days that I don’t have anything specific going on, I usually come up with an outfit in my head the night before but often change it in the morning depending on the weather.

  38. I try and plan the night before but like many of you have said with the weather or mood that can change.
    One thing that easily can dictate what I wear is – what shoes do I want to wear or don’t want to wear. If there is a day I know I am going to be doing a lot of walking or standing I don’t want my stillitos. I have some pants for flats, others for heels, etc. Certain skirts look better with a certain shoe too.
    Today is a great example, my body is tired from softball and aerobics so I planned my outfit around my comfy shoes. I got lucky and don’t have any meetings today so it could be done.

  39. I have similar system to Kay, since I’m still able to do laundry once a month, and dry cleaning weekly, I usually have enough clothing to go a whole month without truly wearing an outfit twice. I picked the more than a week option too!!

    For bottom, my real decision maker is did I shave my legs or can I wear hosiery today? Pretty much seals the deal on skirt or pants or dress.

    For jackets, since I go to court every morning and have to wear a jacket, once the type of bottom is picked, I just go to the next jacket in the rotation and pick out a matching bottom.

    For tops, my other decision maker is my bra color rotation, yes I still wear matching sets, which makes the decision on the color top that can be worn. So then I keep all tops in color spectrum order, then monthly I pull out about 20 long sleeved and 20 short sleeved tops for the “work section” and just rotate based on current staples, new purchases, and old finds.

    For accessories, again I have a “work section” of my jewelery box that I have matched up with jackets generally, and again rotate in new pieces or items that match a particular blouse or pair of shoes.

    For shoes, I walk about 2 miles a day between my home, office, and courthouse, so I have 2 pairs of pumps that I regularly repair and replace and don’t really think twice about them. Tall boots in the winter.

    I have a few fave outfits that I will gravitate towards when I have some important, and I have few casual outfits for days I know I have nothing important.

  40. I have a system rather like Kay’s. I plan my outfits as much as two months in advance (entered into either my planner or an Excel spreadsheet), and then shuffled a particular week’s outfits around within their week to account for meetings, weather, etc. Yes, it is a little silly but it truly pays off in time saved each morning. I spend very little time getting dressed these days…a true feat considering how long it took me to dress back in high school!

  41. @Laura, I struggle with this as well, particularly because my weight fluctuates up to 10 pounds with that “time of the month,” and as I normally wear a size 2, adding 10 pounds can mean I literally have nothing to wear. I recommend owning at least 1, but no more than 3, nice suits that make you feel fabulous in the size you are when you’re struggling most, and the size you are when you’re struggling least.
    Weight fluctuation is an almost inescapable part of dieting, getting/staying on track, baby-having, and just plain being female. You can head to the tailor if you lose a significant amount of weight for good, but for those of us who have a slight yo-yo effect every now and then, there’s nothing that can beat having a suit in your closet that fits you perfectly — today — whatever today looks like.