Use What You’ve Got: The Psychology of Shopping Your Closet

“When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!’, what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today.”
― Caitlin Moran, How to Be a Woman

Based on an unscientific gathering of stories from my friends, coworkers, and pals, I’m convinced we all have great stuff in our closets that we don’t use. There can be a lot of good reasons not to wear what we’ve got, which is a topic for another day, but today I want to focus on the bad excuses for not using what we already own. Or at least one in particular: the “I bought it special” excuse.

I’m going to push the boat out and just say that if you’re saving unworn items in your closet for “special occasions” (with exceptions of somer event-wear) you’ve wasted your money or let your emotions do your shopping for you. I used to be a particularly bad offender of this and would buy clothing that I wanted to wear…but never got around to wearing because I didn’t think I had the right occasions to do so.

 photo liberty_zps2kzfaupw.jpg

In some cases, I had indeed purchased irrelevant items, which was due to me not really having a handle on what my actual clothing needs were for my then-lifestyle. But in other cases, I’d purchased clothing that could be considered aspirational. It was a bit nicer than my other items, more dressy, a different style, or just out of my current comfort zone. I loved them, but I bought them thinking that I needed to wait for the “right time” to wear some of them, that they were “too good” for my day-to-day casual life, or that wearing them would require some effort. Hilarious since, in retrospect, what I was purchasing five or even ten years ago was fairly cheap all things considered.

I no longer subscribe to this way of thinking at all. Not only is wasteful as a consumer (many of my purchases of yore ended up sold, donated, or given to friends unworn at some point), but I simply don’t see the point in owning something if you don’t wear or use it. You’re missing out on a good deal of easy pleasure and contentment with your wardrobe, and often adding a lurking sense of disappointment, guilt, or sheepishness about owning things you don’t touch.

For example, a couple of years ago I’d saved up to purchase a nice work handbag which I’d researched, considered for a long time, and found an amazing deal on.  I’d bought it specifically to upgrade my professional wardrobe and knew how I wanted to use it with my existing clothes, but for a long time was afraid to take it out of its dustbag. What if it got scratched or smudged? What if I dinged the hardware? What if I scuffed it? I was so nervous about putting any wear and tear on it, that I failed utterly to use it. It sat, reproachfully, in my closet for months before I confronted myself about it.

Of course I would need to care for it more carefully than I would a cheaper item, but eventually I had to acknowledge that any bag, no matter how coddled, was going to show signs of use. That’s what happens with any item, even a well tended one. In the end, I decided I either needed to resell the bag, or actually use it the way I had purchased it to be used. I chose the latter. And then I went through my closet and ruthlessly applied the same rationale to another of other items. That Liberty scarf in the image above was another similar victim of overcaution. Originally bought to celebrate a raise, I had almost never worn it out of worry that I’d damage it in some way. There were at least five other pieces of clothing or accessories that had similar excuses attached to their lack of use.

Far from having nothing to wear–a common complaint uttered when staring mournfully into a wardrobe–I just hadn’t been giving myself permission to wear what I wanted…and already had.

I own fewer items of clothing than I did while at university and my early 20s, but what I own now is of much better quality. More importantly, everything is worn regularly, including my more expensive pieces. I’m willing to occasionally fork out for beautiful vintage or consignment designer pieces, but only if I commit to myself to actually use them. I’m no longer worried about wearing them out–I’ve learned to take better care of my clothing over all, and I’ve come to the healthier mental place of acknowledging that ultimately, as beautiful as they are, they are just things. I get more satisfaction from my treasured pieces by letting them see the light of day than I do from looking at them on a hanger.

Don’t get me wrong, aspirational clothing still has its place (I’ve found the adage of “dressing for the job you want” to be a useful one), but I maintain it is no good to you hanging in a closet. Use it. Your wallet will be grateful and your mirror will be flattering, I promise.

Your turn. Have you every had items languish in your closet? What were your reasons for buying but not wearing? Are there any items which could do with a bit more love? 

6 thoughts on “Use What You’ve Got: The Psychology of Shopping Your Closet”

  1. A couple of years ago, I realized that I had a good many things in my closet that I Did Not Love. I wore them anyway, because they were what was expected in professional wear. When our company went to a more casual dress code, I still wore those things — probably out of fear. I had to make incremental steps, and the first one was a decision to add more color and phase out all of the black (which was aging and unflattering on me). Nowadays, I love everything in my closet and am constantly figuring out new combinations of things I already have to create great outfits. I’m getting more compliments than ever, and never feel like I have nothing to wear. Great article. Thank you!

    1. Great flip side of the coin! This was me a few years ago, I had a much larger wardrobe filled with things I did not use and definitely did not love. I like that you mentioned decision, as I think this is an element of style and evolving our style that isn’t really acknowledged. It’s often assumed that stylish people have an inherent eye (which of course many do), but there are a lot of deliberate choices that going into choosing a look to suit our tastes and needs. Love that you’ve got such a useful wardrobe now!

    1. Great to have a man’s perspective here, but I think lots of stylish men are just as good about shopping their closets as any woman’s magazine editor. Well done, you!

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