Over the weekend, I read Anuschka Rees’s new book The Curated Closet: A Simple System for Discovering Your Personal Style and Building Your Dream Wardrobe. I love a good how-to wardrobe book—especially one with lots of pretty pictures.
The timing on this couldn’t have been better for me. I requested it from the library months ago, and just picked it up last week. We had just moved, and I was facing the prospect of literally putting my wardrobe in place in my closet, piece by piece, as I unpacked.
I’m not super fashionable. My style is pretty basic; I recycle the same outfits a lot, on purpose. And so I was a bit surprised to find myself thoroughly at ease with—and even inspired by—the main tenets of this book: your style is personal; it doesn’t have to conform to an industry label (think: classic, bohemian, preppy). If you know what you’re looking for, you can find it anywhere. Don’t waste your time and money on the clothes that aren’t right for you—and only you can decide what that is.
I didn’t read this as a how-to book, although Rees does provide a few exercises for the reader, like creating a mood board, and constructing sample outfits. I read it more as inspiration, and it filled that role wonderfully (even though I didn’t resonate with the style examples in the book). Rees really got me thinking about what I want from my wardrobe. (Hot tip: if you need motivation to finally get rid of the clothes in your closet you know it’s time to part with, grab this book. Rees doesn’t chide you for hanging on to the old, but she does inspire you to expect more from your clothes.
My favorite part of the book was Rees’s list of questions to consider before adding to your wardrobe, which I’m sharing below, with my commentary.
13 questions to ask yourself before buying anything for your wardrobe:
1. Does this piece reflect my personal style?
Does the item fit your current wardrobe, personality, and overall aesthetic?
2. Do I like how it looks on my body?
As in, not on the rack, or on the model, or on my friend, but on you.
3. Can I think of a clear role for this item within my wardrobe?
Do you already have 14 of whatever it is you’re considering buying? Do you have the right accessories/staple pieces to pair it with? Would it play well with pieces in your current wardrobe, or would you have to buy additional pieces to make it work?
4. Does it work with my lifestyle?
Do you have anywhere to wear the item—whether it’s a floor-length gown or a snarky graphic tee?
Years ago, I remember lingering over adorable smart business casual pieces at Ann Taylor, the kind other people wore to work. They looked cute on me (because hey, I was 24!) and I loved the way I felt in them. But I worked in a business suit office, and didn’t have anywhere, and I mean anywhere, to wear them.
When assessing the item, imagining possible scenes from your actual life—dinner dates, picnic in the park, important coffee shop meeting—can help you decide if you would put the item to good use.
5. Is it mixable?
Rees says, “If you want a versatile wardrobe that will give you a ton of different options, each piece should be as mixable as possible.”
For many women, this is the goal. However, I’d like to add that—especially for those who are extra-prone to decision fatigue—it is completely fine to choose pieces that only work with one or two outfits, and to then wear those outfits all the time. A uniform can save you, and while a uniform can be mixable, it certainly doesn’t have to be.
6. Does it fit well and is it comfortable?
If the answers aren’t yes and yes, keep moving.
Of the 13 questions here, this is the one I’m most likely to fudge—and then regret it later. (Can I confess I’m the very most likely to do this with StitchFix? It took me many fixes to learn to hold out for what’s perfect, not what’s mostly great.) If the sleeves are too short, or the waist is too high, or the color is just a shade off, or the seams look pretty good but not great … don’t. It’s not for you. At least not if you’re curating your long-term wardrobe.
It’s possible a tailor can turn a piece that’s mostly great into perfect, but decide in advance that you’re truly committed to making the appointment and paying for the alteration. Otherwise, that piece doesn’t belong in your wardrobe.
7. Is the garment well-constructed and made from a high-quality material?
Examine your garment from the inside—evaluating the seams, the cut, the fabric—to assess craftsmanship and durability. If you love the piece, you want it to last.
Note: this applies to jewelry, too. I have several pieces I love that are impossible (and I mean that literally) to clean, so they could only be worn a few times before the finish was shot. So sad.
8. Am I prepared to properly take care of this item?
Check the care label: are you willing to dry clean, hand wash, iron, or fold the piece neatly the second it’s done in the dryer? Make your decisions about garment care while you’re still in the store, lest you end up months down the line with a hamper full of beautiful, dirty clothes you can’t summon the energy to get clean.
9. Will this piece fill a gap in my wardrobe or only add to an already overrepresented area?
A budget question, for both finances and energy. Are you considering buying yet another great white tshirt when what you really need is some jeans to wear it with? Or vice versa? Should your limited funds be spent on work clothes, or another pair of yoga pants? Resources are limited; choose accordingly.
10. Is buying this piece the best use of my budget, or would a different item make a bigger impact on my wardrobe right now?
This makes sense, yes? Prioritize before you buy.
11. Do I want to buy this because it’s on sale or I need a pick-me-up, want to celebrate, or am just plain bored?
Buy it because you need it and it works with your wardrobe. Not because it’s on sale. Not for retail therapy.
12. Can I think of at least three concrete outfits I could create with this piece that I would be excited to wear?
See #5. If you’re a mixer, this is important. If not, that might be okay, too.
13. Can I see myself wearing this for many seasons?
If you don’t see yourself loving it past the current season, keep moving.
Have you read The Curated Closet? I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments. What factors do YOU consider before adding anything to your wardrobe? We’d love to hear; please share below.