Reader Request: How Much?

Nina sent along this request via e-mail:

Just how much clothing should someone own? All the style gurus say quality over quantity, and quote the 80/20 rule, but it seems like you and other well-dressed ladies have an infinite supply of clothes and accessories to put together fabulous outfits.

You’ll be unsurprised to hear that there is no simple answer to this question. Or if there is, I’m yet to hear it. It’s a little like asking, “How much food should I keep in the pantry?” or “How much furniture is necessary for a well-appointed home?” The answer will depend on several highly individual factors:


Clothing is steeped in social meaning, but it was originally invented to keep us warm, dry, and safe from the elements. We do, in fact, need clothing in order to function in most segments of human society. Which KINDS of clothing we need depend on our ages, jobs, hobbies, and climates. If you live in San Francisco, you may only need one heavy coat and a few jackets to get you through the year. Here in Minneapolis, you need lightweight, mid-weight, heavy-weight, and snot-freezingly-cold-weight coats to get through the year. If you are a television talk show host, you need a wide variety of clothing and accessories to keep up professional appearances. If you work on a loading dock, you may only need several incredibly well-made garments and pairs of shoes, but not much in the way of variety. You get the picture, I assume. We all have clothing-related needs, and quantity is partially contingent upon them.

Financial situation

Although clothing is a basic need, it can be procured for very, very cheap at charity shops, thrift stores, and even big box stores. Those whose financial situations force them to focus available resources on other needs – food, gas, rent, bills, etc. – may choose to spend any remaining income on items more vital than excess clothing. Those whose financial situations provide more disposable income may choose to accumulate larger wardrobes. And, obviously, people with scant money sometimes amass huge wardrobes and people with bales of money sometimes prefer minimalist closets. The point is that financial situation often impacts the amount of clothing a person may or may not own.

Available storage

If you’re lucky enough to have cash to spend on only-for-fun clothes, your wardrobe size will ultimately be limited by your available square footage. Although some people stack and stuff excess clothing into every nook and cranny, most stop spending once the closet is packed to the limit. The more storage you have available, the more likely you are to fill it.

Body and social fluctuations

Pregnant women need new clothes. Women who have gained or lost weight often need new clothes. Women who have been injured need new clothes. Any change in the physical self is likely to prompt new clothing and accessory purchases.

Graduating from college and entering the workforce often prompts the purchase of a new wardrobe. Moving climates will require new garments. Even internal and emotional changes that affect how you feel about personal style are likely to spur some clothing-related spending. And in all of these cases, new clothing is typically added to the existing wardrobe. Seldom do we donate every last sock and shirt to start from scratch.

Changes in body shape or health impact clothing quantity, as do social and personal changes.


Some women prefer a small, well-edited wardrobe of gorgeous, versatile items. Some women prefer a large variety of styles, fits, and forms. Some women have clearly-defined styles, and seldom venture from their meticulously-honed personal standards. Some women are constantly exploring new avenues of personal style, or still in the process of discovering and defining their own.

All of these factors play into the question of how much clothing a person may or may not own. But the question at hand is how much clothing “should” a person own. And “should” questions make me cringe because they imply judgment and superiority. I can no more tell you how much clothing you should own than you can tell me which toothpaste I should use. Each person is different – in taste and in situation – and each person gets to decide for herself how much is too little, enough, or too much.

As for the subjects of wastefulness and excess, here’s where I fall:

Any person who has more than a few of each basic item of clothing – shirts, pants, skirts, shoes – has excess. The “need” category of clothing is quickly, cheaply, and easily satisfied, but very, very few people fill that need and then cease to accumulate clothing. Because fashion is extremely, undeniably social. It is also artistic, expressive, and deeply personal.

One could say that accumulating 30+ cookbooks is wasteful, or that owning multiple televisions is excessive.  But people who collect cookbooks and own multiple TVs might argue that they regularly enjoy their possessions, that they use and learn from them. And that’s the key. In my opinion, if a person buys merely for the sake of buying, has a closet brimming with unworn, unacknowledged items, and still continues to buy new clothes, that is wasteful. Both of personal and natural resources. Clothing-related waste, to me, is contingent on accumulated but unused or underutilized stuff, not on sheer quantity or variety. One can have a large wardrobe that is worn and enjoyed from top to bottom and not be wasteful, and one can have a smaller wardrobe but only wear six items and be wasteful. Obviously, more items can lead to actual excess, but it doesn’t always.

So just how much clothing should someone own? I guess this extremely long post is my way of saying, “I really can’t say.” Or, more accurately, “We can each decide for ourselves.”

Image via weheartit.

Originally posted 2011-04-18 06:17:21.

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53 Responses to “Reader Request: How Much?”

  1. Cynthia

    I think you nailed it — I never feel bad or guilty about the many pieces of clothing I have that I love and wear. I live in the South and have ten pairs of boots (I know, right?) The only pair I feel is wasteful is a grey suede pair that somehow didn’t mesh well with my wardrobe and couldn’t be sent back. I only feel bad about the things I bought and have never figured out how to use, that languish after one or two wearings. Fortunately, a brand new Buffalo Exchange just opened (on Saturday!) down the street from my house, and it is so convenient that I have no excuse not to try to sell off the stuff that I’m not really using.

    Stopping when your closets are full also certainly seems like a sensible standard.

  2. Lizzie

    How much clothing should a person own? Well my answer is slightly more than I already own – but I imagine that will always be the case for me

  3. Pam @over50feeling40

    If my closet begins to bulge too much, then I begin to thin it out. It means there are probably things that I do not need or wear. Right now with weight loss going on…I need to take out things that are just too big. This is a tough question and a very personal one. It is up to the individual’s budget and conscience just how much one can handle owning. Also, remember that many bloggers thrift and are able to show more on their site, because they purchased things really, really cheap!!

  4. Nicole

    Thanks for highlighting the difference in wardrobe size by location. I used to watch a lot of Gok Wan, and he’d go on and on about “capsule wardrobes,” which didn’t seem to leave anyone prepared for cold or hot weather. (Let alone the extremes you get in a place like Minneapolis.) Now, I’m imagining all the closet space I’d have if I lived in San Francisco!

  5. Relatable Style

    Sal, I don’t know how you find topics that hit home with me in that amazing frequency! I was literally thinking about this just the other day! You rock, haha.
    Thing is, I don’t think I have such a huge, covetable wardrobe full of miracles and star dust, and I don’t think I’m quite there yet. But I’ve recently been participating in a few little challenges with my blog, where one would wear a certain color or a certain order of colors, get inspired by a given celebrity outfit or wear a certain piece. And I’ve just started my own challenge where I recreate outfits Kate Middleton wore (yes, I’m normally sane, but I just can’t help but get a little excited about that wedding, and I love her style). And I hands down had items for each and every thing and challenge that presented itself to me. Sometimes I had to get a little creative, but very little. So I got to thinking if maybe I do have a lot more than I thought I did. Potential-wise, as I do know exactly what I have in numbers and items.
    Apart from this little clothed-related epiphany, I sadly have no advice to offer. I love my closet and it’s seemingly endless possibilities, and I tend to hang on to things that are out of fashion (but I toss the ones that don’t fit or just look plain washed-out with excitement – room for new stuff!!). Plus, I recently lost weight (intentionally) and changed the colors I wear completely, so I bought a lot over the last year. But I’ve noticed myself that I tend to go into shops these days thinking “No more basics. You will not buy basics, you have enough. If you buy something, it’s got to be something special” or keeping a little list of things would complete my closet. I’m a very picky shopper, so that will take a while πŸ˜‰ But I don’t think I will ever be “done” with my closet, and I would hate it if I ever were (no more shopping? WAAH!!). I have to admit though, there are days I dream of a perfectly working capsule wardrobe of very few high-quality pieces that all go together perfectly and carry me through every situation πŸ™‚

  6. Elizabeth

    I limit myself to what will fit in my closet. My husband took the smaller closet so it only seems fair to prevent my stuff from expanding past my larger alotment. There are other closets in the house, but I won’t use those.
    And then – I need enough of the basics that I can wear a week’s worth before doing laundry (bras, t-shirts, non-iron button downs from brooks brothers, washable dresses, etc.) Or go a week waiting to pick it up at the dry-cleaners (pants, skirts, sweaters.)

    Sweaters and jackets get worn repeatedly.

    Scarves – I have too many and can’t seem to manage what I do have, though I’m always getting more.

    If the closet gets too packed I can’t see items and probably won’t wear them so I regularly edit the closet so that it only holds what I’ll really wear.

    The closet’s fairly big so this seems a fair parameter. Unfortunately I keep changing sizes so it gets difficult to maintain. Because of the size thing I have a lot more clothes than I’d like.

    For shoes I own less than many women because I have VERY painful feet that are VERY picky about what they’ll stand. I think I have the beginnings of bunions. In a given season I probably have four pairs I’ll wear regularly. There are some heels nestled in the back corner that only get taken out on rare formal occasions, but in the winter it’s knee-high boots in black and brown and comfy mary janes in black and bronze. Boring, I know, but, again, if I can’t see it I won’t wear it and my feet are VERY picky. Oh – and then sneakers.

  7. Wendy McLaren

    One thing I didn’t see mentioned was the overwhelming nature of choice. Some choice is a good thing. Humans get bored with the same thing over and over. But too many choices affect many people adversely. It can lead to stress and an inability to choose at all. The picture of the shoes is a good example (in my case). At first, I thought, What fun! Different shoes every day! But in the next moment, I was already stressing over which ones might get worn more, and what to do if two pairs worked equally well with an outfit.

    So, for people who can get overwhelmed with too many choices, having a large wardrobe would add stress into an already stressful life. The cereal aisle alone in the grocery store has more cereal than any one person or family could need. It’s a world full of decisions. Many choices isn’t always a good thing.

  8. Katharine

    I feel as though I have too many clothes right now, but that’s because I’ve been style-tweaking over the last couple of years, and have a few mis-steps. I do think most North Americans own too many clothes. (I have a co-worker who has an entire spare bedroom which she’s turned into a massive closet, with all of her clothing items coded into a spreadsheet, and then coded in the storage.) On the other hand, while I’m very intrigued by ideas like Six Items or Less, or the artist woman who created single dresses each of which she would wear for six months, I don’t think I could do the same.

    My mother, when she was working (in the early-mid sixties) had a work wardrobe of two skirts, three sweaters, two cardigans, several blouses, and two pairs of shoes, with two dresses for special occasions. (She would tell me about this regularly, every time I whined as a teen that I had nothing to wear. I would add that each of those items was of stellar quality, although she wasn’t making very much at the time — I was STILL wearing one of the sweaters, which I nicked, up to a couple of years ago when the elbows finally blew out.) I did find that when I was in my twenties and pruned my ‘drobe down to a carefully chosen set based on Chic Simple, it was VERY easy to get dressed; I just got bored of the conservative styling.

    I think it takes more work and thought to have a small wardrobe than a large one, at least if one also wants to use clothing for self-expression. Lots of clothes are easier.

    • Elizabeth

      I believe that clothes were not only better-made back then, but also comparatively more expensive as a part of one’s budget. People didn’t buy so many back then because it was too expensive to do so. International trade has made the $5 t-shirt possible.

  9. joann, sidewalk chic

    I was just thinking about this earlier this week as I was organizing my wardrobe. I try to keep everything within the confines of my closet, which is pretty small. I probably have an excess of purses and dresses than the average woman, because those are things that I actually collect, and everything else — pants, blouses, jackets — are in minimal supply to satisfy the “need” for them. I’ve done a decent job of weeding out some of the unnecessary, cheapie items I bought in college — the paper-thin blouses from Target, the halter dresses from forever21 — so that I’ll have items made of better quality and will last longer.

    Another factor I might include in this list is sentiment. I seem to keep things way longer than necessary, only to reevaluate them after a couple years and realize that I love them again. I definitely do not follow the “if you don’t wear it for a full year, toss it” rule, and it’s helped me appreciate what I already have.

  10. Dee

    Wow, great topic Sal, and timely. I have been spending a good deal of time lately purging and thinning out my closet. We hope to move soon and not only must my closet look orderly and nice for selling our house I am pretty sure when we do find a new home it won’t have the huge closet I have now. I can relate to just about everything you and others have said. I love clothes, its how I am creative and express myself. I realized recently that I just love having the choice of so much to wear! (I didnt have all that much choice growing up, probably why I buy so much now!) Howver, I defintely have too many clothes, in my opinion, but would not be happy with a really small but workable wardrobe. I think I would be bored wearing the same outfits over and over. I am not a shoe or purse “person” particularly, (however my hubby might disagree), but love lots of clothes and accessories like belts and jewelry. I am coming around to the realization that I really dont need 10 pair of jeans, since I really only wear them on weekends. I bring all the clothes I am getting rid of to either the resale shop and/or Goodwill so its not as hard to part with them when I know someone will get some more use out of them. It does feel good to have the closet in order and not feel guilty looking at items I dont wear (closet orphans – the term I just learned from this blog recently.)

  11. FutureLint

    Fortunately or unfortunately, I live in a one bedroom condo that has five closets. Five. So, yeah, I own a lot of clothes and shoes. But I tend to thrift most of them except for some basics from Target and a few special designer pieces thrown in. I think I do own too much, but it all fits me and I wear it all, it just takes a while to cycle through everything!

  12. Diana

    I recently inventoried my wardrobe and got rid of 50% of it. I’ve decided that 100 items (not including underwear or shoes but including coats and swimsuits) is the “right” number for me. I picked 100 because I like round numbers and if I haven’t worn something in ~3 months that isn’t event specific, then it gets sold or donated. It means I don’t love it enough to wear it regularly and I want to love everything in my closet.

    I’m currently at 73 items so I’ve got some wiggle room. I’ve also ruled that I can’t have more than three of any particular item. For example: black pencil skirt, black A-line linen skirt, black chino skirt. Okay, all set on black skirts.

    • Eleanorjane

      Good point on the black skirts! I think I have about 6 and also about 6 black or dark grey jackets of various sorts. Boring!

  13. Trystan (the CorpGoth)

    I study fashion history, & it’s amazing to consider that before about the 1940s in the U.S. & Britain, an average middle-class person (male or female) would own just a couple complete outfits of clothing. Two or three everyday outfits & one “Sunday best” outfit, plus changes of undergarments & maybe 2 pairs of shoes (one of those would be their “best” shoes). That is all they would have for the year. Only the very rich could afford multiple changes of clothes like everyone has today. We’ve come a long way, baby!

    I try not to take what I have for granted. I don’t consider clothing or fashion disposable. Sure, I buy cheap items, but I buy them carefully too. T-shirts are meant to be cheap, to me, because they’re thin layers. Sweaters & jeans & jackets are not meant to be cheap tho. Still, I’m not big on “investment” pieces bec. I can’t see myself committing to a dress or pair of pants for 5 years at the outset (I mean, who knows if I’ll be in that same shape, esp. at this age?). The best I can hope for is balance & sticking to the space allotted in my closet πŸ˜‰

    • rb

      Trystan, you have just explained what I’m always trying to say about the tiny closets in my 1909 house!

  14. SAJohnstone

    Thanks for making me feel okay about having a walk-in closet full of clothes! I work at home, so really don’t need a lot of ‘dress-up’ clothes, but I also like everything that I have and don’t want to let it go. The calls to purge that seem to be popular in a lot of magazines right now were making me question my collection, but you’ve clarified that the question of editing or not is personal, and what feels right for you is what is right for you.

  15. Casey

    I think you did an excellent job defining the various factors that play into wardrobe size and determining what is the “right” balance for the individual. At the moment, I have been feeling a bit overwhelmed and taken-over by my half of the closet (that is threatening to take over my husband’s side! lol.). I’ve spent the last couple years finding some really cute and affordable vintage pieces to add to my wardrobe, as well as sewing, but feel that I don’t really have a “working” wardrobe. Meaning that I have a lot of “cool” pieces (vintage/one-of-a-kind or just neat things I’ve picked up in my travels), but not a lot of basics. So things don’t always relate to one another. I think too with the sheer amount I have in the closet, it sometimes hinders me from seeing possible combinations!

    As you know I’m doing the 30 for 30 challenge right now, which has been a huge eye-opener on the idea of what size closet I really *need*. I’m finding that I’m actually more content having less choices to make and am able to see more artistic or interesting outfits utilizing the pieces I am allowed to wear right now. It’s taught me a lot already about areas I need to weed things out in, and other spots that need some beefing up (basics!!!), as well as how I really dress on a day to day basis. I can foresee some closet-cleaning going on afterward! On the flip side though, I do like the variety that comes with having a larger closet, and certainly the fact that I can dress according to my mood (having lots of pieces makes this easier). I think for me I’m starting to realize that right now I suffer from 1.) too many disparate “fun” pieces that don’t always relate/fit/suit me 100% and 2.) too much out and hanging up. I think a dual-approach of weeding out a few things and figuring a seasonal storage system (living in FL where it’s hot/humid most of the year means that only my coldest weather clothes are packed away almost all the time).

    Sorry to ramble… hehe! This is something I’ve been mulling over a lot the past week and figuring out. So I’m a bit obsessed with the idea of the “ideal closet” at the moment!

    β™₯ Casey

  16. Anat

    I realized something changed a few months back, when for the first time ever my walk-in closet started to seem a bit cramped… though I have plently of extra space in my home that I could convert to extended storage, I somehow like the idea of having to make ado with my existing space, as a kind of curbing method for acquiring too much. Probably if it doesn’t fit into my closet, I won’t be making enough use of each piece. It also makes it easier to see everything in one go.

    Another thing, Sal, since I have started frequenting fashion blogs, I feel a need to wear something at least a bit different every day. In the past I would have been quite content re-wearing a combination even week after week if it was great and flattering. Today – no chance! I actually feel kind of disappointed when I feel I need to resort to an already-worn combination.

    I would imagine that for people posting daily outfit shoots, this pressure – to be innovative every single day – is much much bigger. So I think fashion blogging definitely has an effect on how many pieces a person owns.

    • Sal

      Very true! I’ve got a post about repeat outfits coming up soon … I have to say, though, that although it occasionally irks me, generally I enjoy the challenge. It’s great to have a reason to really utilize what I own, and in different ways.

      • MelD

        Interesting! Possibly slightly dangerous?!
        It just made me think of when I was 14 and a pretty, rich, nice and popular girl started at our school. She wore something different every single day of the school year and we were all both envious and baffled… she always looked great, while the rest of us were stuck in an endless “uniform” of jeans, band T-shirts and check shirts we felt pressured to adhere to in our peer group. This girl influenced me so much that I later felt I needed to wear something different every day, too, and I have wasted soooo much time and money in the intervening 30 years it really annoys me!! Ok, so it wasn’t her fault, she was just different in a positive way, but it awoke envy in me, switched my brain off and it’s taken me so long to realise my grandparents were just as happy in the 30s with their few well-made (home-made) garments and still look smart on every single photograph I have of them from 30s-present. I would better have concentrated on myself, my own style, quality and clothes to suit my life and my pocket all those years. Now I am slowly getting there and reducing my wardrobe to what I really wear and great outfits get worn repeatedly because they actually look good.

        • Dee

          funny, MeID, your response reminded me of a young female spanish teacher I had in High School. she never wore the same outfit twice!! I was into fashion even then I guess and it totally amazed me that every single day for months on end (till I lost track if I had seen that outfit before) she wore something different. And I was envious, she was attracitvie and had cute outfits. However, now as an adult I realize how she spent way too much on clothes — I would guess –to have such an extensive wardrobe.

  17. Marsha Calhoun

    As usual, you pose an interesting question. I have half of a small closet, and a dresser, in which to keep all my clothes, and I find that this is just about right for me – when I moved all my stuff into this smaller area, I was able to release a lot of things that I had just hung up and forgotten. I did not feel the need to replace them, nor was I excited at the possibility. I have kept about three things for purely sentimental reasons – the blouse I was wearing when I met my husband, a top someone brought me from a trip, the dress I wore when I was pregnant. They don’t take up much room.

    I have a friend who regularly goes through her clothes and gets rid of things that are “old” – perfectly wearable clothes that have somehow gone past their sell-by date. She then replaces them with new versions, and she encourages me to do the same. But why would I? If I liked a dress, or a skirt, or a pair of shoes last year, and I wear it, why does it deserve to go away if it isn’t worn out? My clothing is almost entirely classic (trends tend to bore me, and I look silly in them), so fashion is not really a concern. And I resent the consumer culture that twists the value of things until they lose their original purposes – clothes are to keep you warm, to make you look and feel good, to help you do the things you want to do. They do not exists as vehicles for improving the economy by being arbitrarily replaced, at least not in my book. What is wrong with actually wearing them until they are used up/worn out? What is right about buying things and dumping them after a few wearings? I have never understood this, and by now I am probably too old to learn. I do understand the point of culling items that I just don’t enjoy any more, but my question is, why did I buy something with such a time-limited appeal? I guess the idea of recycling the clothes makes it better, but if everyone has the same devotion to newness, what poor schlub is going to want the old stuff? Maybe, after a while, it becomes vintage – that’s a nice thought.

    Sorry about the ramble, but it’s been on my mind.

  18. Leigh

    As Wendy said above, choice can become overwhelming, and for me that is the reason I’ve stopped shopping altogether this year. For Christmas I was given a lot of gift cards and cash and I actually had trouble spending it all–I just didn’t *need* anything else! I ended up buying two high-quality purses and a pair of Frye boots, and made the decision to buy nothing else in 2011. It’s been tempting at times, especially with spring styles coming out, but I’m learning to combine the things I already own in new ways.

    I won’t stop shopping forever–H&M’s online store goes live in 2012 and I am too excited about that–but I think this year will teach me to be a lot more thoughtful about what I buy.

  19. Audi

    Wow, that was a loaded question to try to answer, and yet you did it beautifully, Sal. I’m not sure I can add much more than what’s already been touched on here, but I do want to echo what Anat said above; I know that for me, posting outfit photos every day does play a role in how much clothing I feel I ‘need’ to have. But that said, my decision to post outfit photos every day also coincided with having more money and freedom (the ‘freedom’ part resulting from divorcing my controlling, tightwad ex) to explore clothing and style the way I had always wanted to. So it’s sort of a chicken and egg kind of thing; does my blog fuel the need for more variety, or did the drive for variety inspire the blog? I can’t really be sure.

  20. lisa

    Such an interesting comment, and I find the part about how style bloggers seem to have “an infinite supply of clothes” the most interesting of all. I’m a ruthless wardrobe culler and constantly editing things out of my closet and dressers. There’s an empty drawer in one dresser that I use as my “donation drawer”: if I put something in there and I don’t reach for it or think about it for a couple of weeks or a couple of months, it’s out. Many of the items I’ve culled also happen to be items I’ve featured in outfit posts or talked about on my blog. So I guess the moral of this story is, blog readers could easily see the front-end of all of this and think that someone has an infinitely vast wardrobe and tons of storage space and the blogger never gets rid of anything, but might not necessarily see the spring cleaning side of it. πŸ™‚

  21. rb

    I have a slight disagreement with this statement:
    The β€œneed” category of clothing is quickly, cheaply, and easily satisfied, but very, very few people fill that need and then cease to accumulate clothing.

    But my disagreement really depends on how you define “need.” For instance, around this time last year it started to become evident that I needed to wear more sensible shoes, as I started having real problems with one of my feet. Now, that was a real need by anyone’s definition. But my personal tweak on “need” was that these shoes also “needed” to be stylish, flattering and not look like orthopedic shoes. So this need resulted in me buying many, many new pairs of shoes (at least 30, maybe more) to find that needle in a haystack – a new wardrobe of shoes that I found stylish enough to wear but that didn’t exacerbate my foot problems. I don’t wear all 30 pairs. I probably found about 15-20 winners, and the remaining 10 or so are pairs I’ll probably never wear again. But I had to go through the trials of wearing them to find out whether they fit the bill, so they weren’t returnable.

    To some, that may seem excessive and not a strict definition of “need”, but I am not in a position where I can (or would want to) start wearing white New Balance tennies to work.

  22. FB @

    Love this post!

    How about own more of what you wear and less of what you don’t?

    If you love to wear dresses, you can own more of those, less of tops and bottoms.

    To put things into perspective I own 1 pair of jeans — I don’t need any more than one perfect pair, so I don’t own any others, but I own 30 dresses. πŸ˜›

    I wear more dresses and have more variety in them than jeans.

    My rule of thumb is no more than 50 items in each category, taking into account that you live in 4 seasons and therefore have different wardrobes each season. Any more than 50 and that’s just plain crazy…

    No one can possibly wear all of that and make use of cost-per-wear.

  23. K-Line

    What a fantastic question that I was just considering this morning (while getting dressed). I had an epiphany that I don’t believe most clothing should be “indestructible” – that I’m fairly fickle and, if everything lasts well forever, I’ll be less likely to swap it out for something new. Because I can’t actualy support a wardrobe that’s larger than the one I have now, that would mean I’d be in the same clothes for a really long time.

    I’m happy to give well-made items away. But the more I spend, the more carefully I consider doing this. I don’t buy fast fashion (for the most part), so I do repurpose most of my clothing eventually – to make way for new stock.

    To counterbalance this perspective, I feel so badly about contributing to the consumerist collection of things that are so objectively unnecessary. But I love beautiful garments. And I love the jolt of buying and experiencing new (or thrifted or vintage), beautiful garments.

    It’s a complex issue.

    I’m pretty close to using my 5 foot tall tween as an excuse though. Pretty soon (at least for a while) we’ll be able to share things πŸ™‚

  24. LQ

    You cite the closet full of unworn tag-still-on clothes as a case of excess. The other end of the spectrum is the closet full of worn-out clothes you can’t seem to let go of. The thing where you have three dresser drawers filled to bursting with black fitted t-shirts 90% of which have started to look dusty or gone grey at the seams.

    (But they’re still perfectly good! Well, no, if you’d feel sheepish wearing one to work on a Friday then they’re not perfectly good. But I can work out/cook/paint/lounge in them! You don’t need THAT many trash tees…)

    It happens in my case partly because, at 36F with a waist and hips, it’s very hard to find a t shirt that fits right. If I do, I’ll buy half a dozen. Then they all age. Then it’s a year or two later and they suck but I’m paralyzed about getting rid of them because I have this blanket presumption of scarcity. Manufacturers always seem to change their pattern, and the change is always junior-ward, so that the same top that was perfectly fitted in last year’s incarnation is now six feet long and constricts at the hip and chest.

    I finally have an answer of sorts which is good quality custom-made woven button-front shirts that fit right and will last years and years that I can default to for wearing with jeans instead of knit t shirts. I still have to talk myself into not saving them for a day with a meeting or something, because they’re so nice, and I have these scarcity issues. So I need to have enough, like eight, that there’ll always be another one. I don’t have to hoard the one or two that I have because I’m traveling next weekend or whatever. if I spill something the sky won’t fall on my wardrobe, etc. In other words, basically the solution for me is throwing a metric buttload of money at the problem. I’m not actually satisfied with that answer philosophically, in fact it enrages me, but, fwiw, I think it’s working. Because I am not going on the epic quest from hell for for half a doz cheap tees this summer.

    • Rachel

      LQ, I have issues with wanting to hoard my clothing, too. For me the issue is pants, which I seem to have a terrible time finding. I’m afraid to wear the few pairs I have too often in case they wear out! Not to mention the travelling issue. On the plus side, wanting to put certain pieces of clothing aside for travel has made me dig into the wardrobe a little more. πŸ™‚

  25. Cel

    If someone wears their clothing regularly, even if they have a lot, then there’s no harm. But if someone wears the same 5 things over and over and neglects the rest of their wardrobe… that would fall under too much for me.

  26. Megan Mae

    I think you’ve outlined very well that people have wildly different needs. In my own situation, I’ve had to step back and say “Well I’m getting amazing deals at the thrift store – BUT I have tons of new stuff I haven’t worn” and am trying to explore my own closet before adding to it again.

    I’ve changed in shape and weight a lot within the past 3-5 years. So I’ve definitely had a large clothing flow. I’ve invested more time in pieces that will work on a fluctuating body, instead of solely structural pieces. I’ve found clothing that I love when I first buy it, but it shrinks when washed significantly. So it’s been very difficult finding those right pieces.

  27. Mar

    I myself have a small wardrobe, and feel slightly guilty every time I buy to add to it since I think I already have enough. (I still buy now and then) This has nothing to do with how many clothing items I think one “should own”, but just my own interests and priorities – I often have buyer’s remorse and think my money and time would have been better spent doing something else. I do like expressive clothing and I do devote time to putting together outfits (that’s why I am reading style blogs to begin with), it does make me happy and has certainly improved my body image, all good things, but it is by no means a significant creative outlet for me at this point. I just don’t care enough about clothes right now (or at least not nearly as much as I get the feeling a lot of style bloggers do), and if anything, I sometimes get overwhelmed by the choices and the pressure to wear something new all the time. However, if someone else has different interests and priorities, then I can see how a large wardrobe makes sense, even if it would be excess for me. And the same goes for consumer waste – if the person is really utilizing their closet, it is a significant interest of theirs, a creative outlet and a source of fulfillment, then I wouldn’t call it waste. (Or at least no more than I want to call my racking up air miles on leisure trips or collecting CDs and books that does give me a lot of fulfillment an environmental waste) And I might feel differently in the future as well if my interests shift. So I certainly don’t think there is any sort of a universal truth about the size of a closet: it’s a function of budget, storage space, time, priorities, interests, style, etc.

  28. Eliza

    My freshman year of college, I had about the same amount of clothing (all thrifted) as my roomates. But getting dressed was a struggle. I ended up passing on at least 90% of it shortly before my sophmore year. By the winter of my sophmore year, I had 17 pieces of clothing, (including two coats) which were all that was left of the year before. Oddly enough, getting dressed was easier. Since then, I’ve kept my closet fairly small, though I never hesitate to buy multiples of basics now. I basically have two capsule closets, one in brown/olive/rusty red for winter, and cream/dirty pastels for summer. Since my colors are all muted, I can easily mix light winter or heavy summer pieces in spring and fall to finish out the year. And because my closet stays small, I occasionally indulge in a cheap trendy item, since by the time the trend is over the garment will be thouroughly worn out.

  29. tiny junco

    this topic is so very personal and specific, and at the same time very public – it is influenced by/influences culture, economics, workplace issues, and so on.

    i don’t know about ‘should’ either, but my hope is that a person has the amount and type of clothes that make them happy (aesthetically, socially, physically, financially). so many people (esp. women) have such fraught relationships with their wardrobes – it’s costing too much time or money, they can’t find clothes that fit their forms, they are compelled to shop and always ‘on the hunt’ for the next perfect thing… seems so many women feel they have to hide parts of their relationships with clothes, for fear of judgement or because they feel it’s not healthy or balanced.

    i’ve always had the hope that i could create a wardrobe that was fun, expressed something about who i was and that also made it easy for me to get dressed in a comfortable, socially and physically appropriate way. i’m happy to say that especially over the last year my wardrobe has moved much closer to this ideal. it requires quite a bit of thought, research, experimentation as well as honesty and practicality. not so much shopping.

    in addition to Already Pretty, two sites which i find very helpful with this type of pursuit are You Look Fab and Wardrobe Oxygen. growing up very clothing deprived (i had two different pair of pants in my sophomore year, and wore 90% hand-me-downs until i was in junior high) in a ‘buy buy buy buy!!!!’ culture, it’s not easy to find out what’s enough – not an overwhelming amount, not barely scraping by, but enough. but it can be done, and it’s a nice place to hang out in……obviously thinking about the same things, steph

  30. Loren

    I think wardrobe size should be a combination of what you wear, and your actual storage space. My closet is larger than it’s ever been before. I feel a little guilty that I seem to have so many THINGS. Even though I wear almost all of them on a regular basis.
    But I had a chance to glimpse some of my friends’ closets recently and they seem so much… BIGGER than mine. My mother even commented ‘how do you get away with so few clothes Loren?
    But for me there are so many choices it’s almost overwhelming right now.

  31. candice

    Like many people, for various recession-based reasons, I have lived on a tight clothing budget for several years now. The recession taught me a lot about my wardrobe and spending/accumulating habits. For example, I realized that before money was tight, I collected a giant closet full of impratical, fun clothing (at least that’s how I categorize it, for me) and very few solid, reliable basics. The practical clothing (again, by my personal definition) that I did have was mostly poorly made and inexpensive; items I would buy from F21 or Target in a burst of need for work clothes or something to keep me warm.

    When I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to shop freely for gorgeous, unique pieces at Nordstrom and high-end thrift stores anymore, I really started thinking about what was hanging in my closet. Fast-forward a few years, and I have used thrift stores and less expensive retail stores to accumulate a modest amount of versatile clothes that will take me from day to night, work to play. I have a few pieces that I have worn consistently for several years now, and it actually feels kind of good to pull out those trusty, comfy pieces again, season after season.

    By shopping at the kind of store where you have to hunt a bit to find good items, I’ve learned more about what kinds of fabric will hold up well and also what shapes/colors I will reach for again and again, without hesitation. I’ve discovered that I’m a jeans and sweatshirt girl at heart and that nothing makes me happier than my worn-in Ariat boots.

    My wardrobe is far from perfect, but it has definitely improved a lot through careful editing, reduced shopping and a little patience.

  32. MJ

    I think an important question is what is your wardrobe for? To me, my wardrobe & clothes are a form of creative expression. More variety means more creative opportunities. I have to admit that when I watch ‘What Not to Wear’ I always think ‘They only got 30 items??’ I’d go crazy having to remix that much. I like variety & even with all I’ve got I find the challenge of mixing & remixing tons of fun. I also have to deal with a somewhat restrictive dress code at work so I like having more clothing so I have variety for work & play.

    I am hitting a point of no more room. My hope is to get a new dresser this summer with more space to put my layering tanks & leggings. Those puppies are taking up a lot of closet space.

  33. Lydia

    I agree that the amount of clothing you own is a very difficult and personal issue to pin down. For me, owning too little, or too much, is actually very simmilar — I don’t want to become obsessed with culling the wardrobe until it hurts, or acquiring so much, I feel overwhelmed. In other words, both extremes (for me at least) amount the same thing. I guess for me, it is about balance, and finding enjoyment in that balance without feeling guilt (for keeping clothes, or deleting them).

    When I stress over buying a new item, and obsess about pruning another unused item, I go through the same anxiety — I am trying to enjoy clothes, and that means enjoying what I already own, as well as ‘freshening up’ my wardrobe with new items that bring colour, vivacity and joy into my life.
    I like buying new things, and I appreciate what I already have — I like introducing the old standbys of my closet to the newcomers and make them ‘get along’ with each other.

    I also don’t subscribe the notion that I ‘must’ purge an item just because I have not worn it for a year — the right occasion, weather, time and place will eventually arise.Also, there have been times in my life where I relied on the same few outfits (when husband was in the hospital), and other times when I wore different things every day. If clothes form part of our ‘imagined selves’ as well as the reality of our lives, then we have to keep and acquire them for both possibilities (at least I do!). I hope this makes sense!

  34. alice

    What an interesting topic. My mother is a hoarder and her clothes spill out into her bedroom and multiple other rooms. Despite having so much, she only wears a handful of outfits ever. I think in reaction to this, I maintain a pretty edited wardrobe myself and am constantly going through it to see if I can pare it down even further. At the same time though, I wear completely different things in the summer and winter months. When it’s cold out, I wear skinny jeans and multiple layers (shirt, thin sweater, bulkier sweater); when it’s warm out, I am exclusively in skirts and dresses and plain short sleeved tops. On top of this, I maintain a small collection of professional attire since I attend about two week-long conferences for work per year. I have exactly two “fancy” dresses and have worn each of them several times to events. So in general, even though I wear the heck out of my clothes in the appropriate season, I’d say the size of my wardrobe is still larger than I would strictly like. But I can’t actually pare it down any more because I need what I currently have for the life I have. It’ll be interesting to see what happens once I finish my training and have to present a more consistently professional appearance in my next job, I imagine a major overhaul of the old wardrobe will be due then (fun!)

  35. Angeline

    I love the points you make. My definition of “how much clothing should you own” is this: However much you want to own without driving yourself into debt. I guess debt is a personal choice as well, but as there are many options for cheap clothing out there, clothing debt just seems unnecessary to me.

  36. Eudoxia

    I think another inportant point to consider is: where do clothes come from? Garment workers in many countries are still treated extremely badly – which makes the cost of a Β£4 T-shirt look rather different. I’ve been thinking about this issue for the past few weeks and have come to a new resolution: I don’t really need any more clothes, but whatever I buy from now on I aim to buy from certified ethical sources (e.g. shops like PeopleTree, or sourcing ethically produced and traded fabric online and sewing my own). This will definitely be more expensive (although I’ll still be looking for sales!) but I think it will be worth it.

    One day I think I would like to only have a few outfits that all came from sources I trusted, fitted really well, and would last for years – but I suspect I’ll have to get better at sewing before I can make that happen!

  37. Candice

    I think you have the right answer in your post: it just varies! There’s no right or wrong amount of clothes as long as the person is happy and satisfied with that. Generally should avoid getting into debt over it, overcrowding their rooms and taking another person’s space, etc.

  38. Amaranta

    First, I have to say that that’s my dream shoe-closet.

    Now, to the topic. Regarding the question “Just how much clothing should someone own?” as you rightly put it, it depends on so many variables that there’s not one straight answer. For me the most important thing is to have a working closet. However, one thing is what I think is perfect and quite another is my real closet. I’m still struggling trying to find an answer for the when-is-enough question.

  39. Diane

    It’s true, it’s different for everyone. I have guilt over having too much stuff I don’t use. So as a rule, I don’t buy things unless I absolutely LOVE them and know they will get used.

    I’m trying out something new for lounge/pajama clothes. Criteria is that tops and bottoms (or tunics/leggings) must look decent enough to hit the grocery store, or meet a friend for coffee, but comfy enough to sleep in. Super comfy. Thus eliminating a whole section that’s pajama only (like flannel sets with monkeys on them). I see people out all the time in flannel PJ pants, sweatshirts, and UGGS.

    So far, leggings or yoga pants, long cardigans, bra camis or tank tops have been serving me well. And aren’t expensive. I troll eBay for knits from Splendid, and shop Target and Old Navy. When I wear them out I replace them. And they cross over into my casual wear sometimes. So by editing out the PJ category, I’m justifying (in my head) other fashion or beauty splurges.

    Plus, since there are no monkey pants in my house, there’s zero risk I will wear them to Starbucks in moments of weakness πŸ™‚

  40. Henni

    Interesting summary of which factors influence our clothing needs.
    There are some actual numbers given by different people, and even if you don’t stick to them them it’s nice how they make you think about your wardrobe needs.
    There is the quite extreme 6 items or less challenge, where people try to do with the same 6 items for a month (excluding shoes and outerwear).
    Some style bloggers chose 30 items of clothing for 30 days (including shoes, excluding coats etc.). While for a style blogger that would be a challenge, I don’t even have that many pieces (per season).
    A rule which I think is realistic and reasonable for me would be to have 12 outfits to bring you through two workweeks, based on 6 bottoms and 12 different tops, where a “top” can also consist of layered pieces. I would need that per season, and then some things to wear in the weekend and for special occassions.

  41. Wendy

    I’ve been addicted to buying clothes online so I get rid of clothes just as much as I buy them. I’m not the type that likes a lot of clothes, I like to adore and wear everything I own. I think the one in one out rule works best to keep your wardrobe to a manageable level.

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