How to Play “Closet”

How to Shop Your ClosetHow do you “shop your closet”?  It’s frequent advice from stylists and fashion magazines — but what does it really mean?  I’ve noted before that one of my favorite weekend activities has always been to play “Closet,” meaning much the same.  (Pictured: my closet!) Reader R wonders…

I know you have covered wardrobe basics before, but I have a slightly different question in that vein. I am always intrigued when you mention having spent time in the weekends in the past trying different pieces together. I would like to do that, but feel hopeless in that regard–most of which is probably my own lack of fashion sense, but I also suspect that a lot of my wardrobe pieces don’t actually go together. Outside of having lots of boring black pants and white shirts, how would you suggest building a wardrobe that is both interesting and has lots of different combinations? Are there certain fabrics or colors that are more mix-and-matchable across seasons? Or should one stick to say, subdued blazers and pants but interesting tops? Or is it just a matter of having fun and bold accessories? Thank you!

Playing Closet is, without a doubt, one of my favorite games. It’s a perfect activity for this time of year, when you’re bored of everything in your winter closet but not yet ready to shiver in your spring clothes yet (but, perhaps, are still gearing up for doing a seasonal closet shift). Just a warning: you make quite a mess. Clear a few hours here so you can start AND finish the game by putting stuff away.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What have you been trying to wear to work, but without success? (Usually this would manifest for me as a layering or a color problem — nothing looks quite right with the limited time/brain power I have in the mornings before running out the door, and I instead grab something safe and save it for “later.”)
    • Colors: If you’ve been stumped with colors, take a look at the color wheel — including the opposite side of the color wheel. Are there fun colors that might work well with Problem Piece but in small doses? Then, look at your scarves, blouses, camisoles with new eyes — might those two pieces work together? This can also work with colors from different seasons — light blue is normally sold in spring, while burgundy is sold in fall, but they look great together. Ditto for olive (fall) and pastels like pink and purple (spring) (olive green pants are one of my favorite surprise closet basics for just that reason!).
    • Layers: If it’s been a layering problem — I’ve been there so many times. The neckline is too low, or gapes, or whatever, and the “usual” things you wear beneath it just don’t work. It’s only after trying on half my closet do I find that V-necked silk sweater camisole with the thick lace edge (which I previously only thought of as a weekend layering piece) ends up looking GREAT beneath that deep-V’d cashmere sweater, or that the scoopneck tee that’s a bit too sheer to wear by itself looks amazing juuust sticking out of the top of a sweater that gapes open way too far.
  • Are you bored of your closet?  If it’s been a “bored out of my skull” problem, I’d suggest going to the advanced class and playing with prints, textures, and other layering pieces. This may result in more “fashiony” looks that can be great.
    • Prints and patterns: Try mixing two patterns (such as, say, houndstooth and floral) and see how you like it. Avoid wearing two big swaths of pattern if you’re still new to mixing prints — go for something like houndstooth pants, a simple black sweater, and a floral scarf.  (Another spot for beginners: polka dots and pinstripes — both very easy to mix.) Look for small patterns that have something in common at the beginning, such as a similar color or even a similar theme.
    • Textures and colors: Go to your closet and remove EVERYTHING in the red family.  Lay them all out on your bed, and look at them as possible candidates for ONE outfit. Try them on — how does that coral red sweater look with that burgundy blazer? Alternatively — if you have four gray pieces that you normally like but usually wear as neutral basics, how do THOSE all look together? With enough texture and contrast you may find that it’s a really sophisticated (and fun) look.
    • Layering pieces: For example, try wearing a peplum t-shirt over a silk button down — as long as you keep the colors subdued they’ll work. Try layering short-sleeved and sleeveless sweaters on top of button-front shirts. Try layering button-front shirts beneath sheath dresses. If you’re truly daring, try wearing a mini dress or tunic sweater with trouser pants.

Bonus round: I read this advice YEARS ago — possibly it was how the fashion stylist for Sex in the City recommended fashionistas get dressed: throw a ball at your closet until 3 pieces fall out. Put them all on. (I think her advice ended here — as in, voila!, you have an outfit! Leave the house and have a great day!) For our purposes, though, take a look at what you’re wearing. It may be totally wackadoodle, but there may be something good in there — two prints you never would have thought of, or perhaps even something like a dress over pants.  (Tip: if it’s a tutu and a baseball jersey, have a good laugh and put the clothes away.)

At least, that’s how I’ve always played the game — readers, how do you “shop your closet?” Have you found any good combinations that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise?


  1. What a meeting we had with the IRS! Benjamin said nothing, but the guy in charge said that he was goeing to recomend assesseing a diffeiciency for 6 consecutive year’s for a total of $64,330.18 of underpaid taxe’s. The manageing partner was very mad and said that we may have to fight this in court or we would NOT get bonuses. He is haveing Madeline, as our tax expert, get geared up, but she is NOT a litiegator. That is my job and the manageing partner’s job, but I have NOT yet litiegated a tax case, let alone one involveing MY firm. FOOEY! The manageing partner say’s I can do it, but I do NOT know who the judge’s are so I can NOT predict anything. DOUBEL FOOEY!

    As for this p’ost, Grandma Leyeh is the family fashion Czarina, and she has alot of style. So she taught me how to mix and match to EXTEND my wardroobe, b/c in that way, haveing 15 different outfit’s properly matched will turn into mabye 30 more with other non-clasheing item’s. Sam says that I am very styleish, and so doe’s Myrna. I will have to mix and match alot more if we wind up paying an extra $64K to the goverment. FOOEY!

  2. Great post Kat. I think the reader probably has a lot more items in her closet that “go together” than she thinks. I used to think that my closet was rather boring too, but then I realized that I had this subconscious view that colors always had to be paired with neutrals. I stepped outside of my box a little and started mixing colors I used to think of as being “mismatched” or “too loud,” and my wardrobe is so much more exciting now!

  3. + 1 to Kat’s colors point. I’ve noticed that I’ve been wearing a lot of dark colors (lots of black, navy blue, dark grey) recently. Time to fix that now that spring has finally arrived!

    • My wardrobe was made up of neutrals: black, grey, navy. Pops of color? Sure, I had a few! White, beige and a one cobalt tee. Everything matched incredibly well, I’ve had a lot of classic staples, and in the end the clothes weren’t that boring as it seems because of nice textures, some prints, etc. But I got fed up and bought a few key pieces outside of my comfort zone: navy trousers with floral print, yellow silk blouse, green jumper, burgundy red shawl and a yellow infinity scarf. And now I have an amazing wardrobe!
      I think that you need to have a solid base (see multiple “capsule wardrobe” articles for reference) and then add some sprinkle of colors that a) you like and b) match with your neutrals. And when in doubt about color combos, consult google/pinterest. It could be also useful to follow a few fashion blogs, such as the classy cubicle?

  4. Lady Mommy Lawyer :

    I play this ‘game’ where each day I pick an item from a different ‘category’ in my closet – i.e., pants, skirt, tank, cardigan, blouse – and then I have to build an outfit around it. Each day I do an item from a different category. If I’m stumped for how to style it, I google image search it: “green pencil skirt outfits” and use the images as inspiration. I have found SO many combinations of clothes I own that I would have never thought of on my own doing this.

    And yes, I realize it may sound a little OCD crazy, but I love it! :)

    • TO Lawyer :

      This is genius actually! I feel like I’ve been wearing the same clothes and outfits over and over again for the last 6 months and need to start building new combinations i.e. what happens when you’re STILL stuck in the middle of winter

  5. For OP, it might help to invite a friend over (whose fashion sense she trusts) to go through her closet with her to approve and veto items. I’ve looked through friends’ closets and been like “why do you never wear this!?” and if the answer is anything other than “it doesn’t fit,” I try to suggest something that would go with the item (FWIW, I’m not saying I’m a fashionable person — just someone who loves to vicariously shop in other people’s closets!).

    Also, I’m at the cusp of a closet clean out/switchover myself. I’ve been losing weight (yay!) so some stuff really doesn’t fit (yay!), but I fear that some of the clothes I’ve been saving for “one day, when I can wear this again” will be totally dated. So, donate? Trash?

  6. ex enviro :

    I got a lot more adventurous with layering when I decided to play a variation on Kat’s color game. Instead of picking out an outfit from all my pieces of one color, I’d put on as many pieces of one color as possible and play around with the arrangement. I limited myself to 5 pieces at once. Of course it looked ridiculous at times – at one point in the “purple” round I was wearing a wide-legged strapless silk jumpsuit under a taffeta wrap dress with a track jacket over the top. The odd combos helped me figure out new ways to layer in less ridiculous ways, though. Plus it was pretty fun. I tend to go for the crazy combinations and private and then figure out ways to tone them down to make them work appropriate. This method helped me discover a new color combo this weekend – matching pastels with their darker, richer colors on the opposite end of the spectrum. Burgundy/brick red and blush/peach, or hunter green and mint. Works pretty well actually.

  7. My advice: (practical) fashion blogs, fashion magazines, and magazines in general. Following those three has helped me come up with so many combinations of my own clothes. A warning though..these things also give me the urge to shop.

    I really love J’s Everyday Fashion because she does several posts where she recreates an image from a catalog from the stuff in her closet. A lot of it isn’t work appropriate but some of it is and you will maybe be inspired to use your imagination.

    • Lady Mommy Lawyer :

      Yes, THIS. I’m fashion blog obsessed. I recently have discovered two really good (simple/no frills) work-wear ones that I’ve been using a lot for inspiration: (two female lawyers just post their outfits almost every day) (software engineer posts daily outfits AND does great features on packing/capsule wardrobes.

      I also like J’s Everyday Fashion.

      SO many fashion blogs are not directed at working women so I love when I find ones that are!

      • Oh and Classy Cubicle. Hers is newer and she generally dresses very professionally on the business casual side of the spectrum.

    • Lady Mommy Lawyer :

      (my other comment got caught in moderation so decided to repost w/o links) –
      I also LOVE fashion blogs for inspiration! But I often find they are not really geared toward working women; fortunately I have found some over the years that feature work wear and use them frequently.

      J’s Everyday Fashion is a great one, particularly lately since I think she has started to dress more professional, less casual.
      Also recently discovered “Outfit Posts” and “Nine Thirty to Five” a lot too – they both are simple and straightforward, no frills, but great outfit inspiration for working women.

      • I follow a lot of instagram fashion blogs/inspiration boards…

        Check out @extrapetite (LOOOOOVE her! her website is like my starting page!), @theclassycubicle, @helloframboise (she’s a lawyer!), @stylishpetite, @classicorporate, @dress4work (although she just reposts) – there’s tons and they are reallly great and classic and workfriendly.

        I also recentry started my own feed @stylishlawyer :)

  8. Law Librarian :

    I decided that for the month of March, I will wear a different outfit each day to work. I can rewear pieces but no outfit will be the same. I send pics to my young-adult daughters for feedback. They are nothing if not honest! This is helping me toss items which don’t work or which I am not comfortable in. It is also helping me be creative and think of ways to mix it up.

  9. Suggestion :

    There is a blog called You Look Fab that might help this reader. The blogger (I think Kat has linked to her stuff before) doesn’t focus on work wardrobes, but she has great tips on putting together wardrobe “capsules” of coordinating pieces as well as identifying “orphans”, pieces in your closet that really don’t go with anything else you own. I like her approach to putting together groups of clothing that are easy to mix-and-match. This is her site:

  10. An excuse to get together with friends :

    Along the lines of having a friend go through your closet and ask why you don’t wear things, you can also get together with girlfriends for wine and snacks and a clothes-swap party. Everything you and your friends have grown out of, lost weight enough not to be able to wear again or are just tired of gets sorted in someone’s living room and everyone has fun, cleans out the closet, gets new clothes and the clothes that nobody takes home go to a charity pick-up the following weekend.

  11. 1. Dump everything onto your bed. 2. Sort it into as many outfits as possible. 3. Make a list of what you need to fill in any gaps. 4. Shop just to fill the gaps. 5. Keep the clothes together in your closet by outfits, refiling them together when they come back from the laundry. 6. All you have to do in the morning is grab a pre-assembled outfit and go.

  12. I’ve found more A-HA! outfits out of sheer desperation (post-baby weight loss and having next to nothing in transitioning sizes) than shopping my closet.

    Some of those outfits I came up with have made me branch out in color combinations that I never would have before. I used to have this weird mental hangup that no shades of black or brown could ever mix… and it was almost arbitrary what colors I considered on which side. Purple & red = black, blue & green = brown, etc. Silly.

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