Wardrobe Optimizing Exercise: Love and Wear, Don't Love and Don't Wear, and Everything In Between

My wife and I just did an interesting wardrobe exercise. Inspired by this post on Wardrobe Oxygen, we started "journalling" our wardrobes, listing things in two categories: "Love and Wear" and "Not Quite Right." Yet, I found that each time my wife found something that didn't quite unambiguously qualify as "Love and Wear," she'd hesitate, and spontaneously explain why she couldn't decide which list to put it on: "I love this, but I don't wear it." "I don't love this, but I wear it." Those seemed like distinct problems to me, so I suggested a new framework, and we began listing our wardrobe pieces in the following grid:


Love and Wear
Love but Don't Wear

Wear but Don't Love
Don't Love, Don't Wear


I've done hundreds of these exercises in the last year and really locked down my wardrobe, so I was happy to find that after a year of work and spending, most of my wardrobe is in the "Love and Wear" box. Yay! 

I had a few pieces in "Love but Don't Wear" but it turned out that most of these were not true problems, but items I had miscategorized as "all season" when perhaps they were actually functionally summer-specific. (Note: it's important to do this only with your current season wardrobe, or you'll categorize half the things as "don't wear due to wrong season"!) One sweater was new and  I hadn't figured out how to style it yet, but I wanted more time. I surprised myself by classifying my jeans, which I wear 2+ days a week, as "Wear but Don't Love," suggesting that while jeans are a wardrobe staple, I might want to be on the lookout for a more stellar pair. 

My wife's grid was weighted more toward "Love but Don't Wear." Many of these items were semi-dressy. We don't have a lot of semi-dressy occasions in our lives. 

Actually, for both of us, almost everything in "Love and Wear" fell into one of two categories:

  1. Work "uniform" pieces; slacks, work tops, blazers
  2. Super-casual: T-shirts, jeans, supercomfy sweaters

This is something I've noticed before about my own wardrobe, but I didn't realize it held true for her as well. I really only have two modes: work or casual. I love wearing supercasual clothes, and I take every opportunity to wear them. Even when going to friends' parties, family gatherings, and occasions when I could dress a little nicer, I wear jeans and a hoodie if I can possibly get away with it. For formal events such as funerals, I wear work clothes. 

Whenever I try to develop a sense of fashion and overhaul my wardrobe accordingly, I've generally fooled myself that I'm going to start wearing nicer clothes on weekends and downtime, and I never do. When I had a business casual job, I sometimes wore in-between items to work, but now I dress more formally at work, so the in-between items really have no place at all. If I can't wear it to work, I better be able to hike or lounge around the house comfortably in it. 

What to do about the items that didn't make it into "Love and Wear"? Most items in "Don't Love and Don't Wear" were easy candidates for the Goodwill box. Some needed to be kept for specific purposes. For example, I may not particularly love or often wear my job interview suit, but it's still worth keeping. The in-between categories were more tricky to deal with.

Love But Don't Wear

The way I figure, we have a few options for these items:

  1. Get rid of them. Let's consider this a last resort, since we love them.
  2. Change our activities. For example, to use party dresses more often, go to more parties. This is the least likely option.
  3. Change our dress code for existing activities. For example, dress up more around the house. Actually, this may be the least likely option.
  4. Move them to a more accessible location. My wife found that she had cardigans she didn't even remember owning when she went through the items hung up in the closet. When she's looking for a sweater, she doesn't look there. I have a feeling more of these sweaters will get used now that they're folded on the shelf with the rest.
  5. Get rid of so much other stuff that we have to use these more. This works well if there are items in "Wear But Don't Love" and "Love But Don't Wear" that make a natural pair, and would be used in the same situation, only the unloved one gets used more for some reason.
  6. Find an "off label" use for them. I have a messenger bag in "Love and Don't Wear" which I rarely use, except to prove that I use it. But I love it, so I refuse to give it up. (I think the problem is that it falls into that no-man's land between casual and formal; not professional enough for work wear, not practical enough for weekend activities such as hiking and grocery shopping, where a backpack is more comfortable.) If nothing else, I can use it around the house as a "bag of bags," or put it with the travel luggage. (It would make a good carry-on bag, maybe?)

Wear But Don't Love

I'd like to advance an argument that the items we should be most wary of, and most inclined to remove from our wardrobes (at least on a test basis), are those in "Wear But Don't Love." Like, today I wore a shirt in "Wear But Don't Love" simply because I'm used to it, but if I didn't have it in my drawer, I'd have reached for one of the shirts I do love, increasing the joy in my life!

Of course, some of the items in "Wear But Don't Love" are things we really do need, like my one pair of jeans. These may not need to be replaced right away, but it's good to be aware that you're on the lookout in case an opportunity arises--certainly, you want to focus any shopping on replacing these items, rather than superfluously replacing items you already love! Onto the Buy With Intention List they go.

If you're having trouble identifying your wardrobe issues, try this exercise. My wife and I found that the categories were intuitive enough that it was easy to categorize most things, oddly even easier than when we only had two categories. And once your clothes are categorized, it's pretty easy to see the problems at a glance.


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