Reader Request: Wardrobe Cycling

Why you should consider cycling your wardrobe seasonally.

Reader Sara sent me this request via e-mail:

You have mentioned before that you have a lot of clothing and some is in storage. I also have a lot of clothing and plenty of storage space–but instead of put away, all my clothes are in piles and baskets around the house. I haven’t quite figured out what to store! Like you, I love layering and I love my clothes. But as is, with all of them out, a bunch don’t get worn because they are at the bottom of over crowded drawers, backs of over crowded closets, or in laundry baskets. I am hoping some sort of seasonal rotation could cure this problem. If you have a system for cycling and storing your wardrobe, do share!

Honestly, I don’t think it’s organized wardrobe cycling helps me keep everything in rotation. My constantly-changing outfit list does that, since it forces me to do a thorough inventory every couple of months. I believe that anyone with a vast wardrobe should make a point of becoming intimately familiar with its contents. Otherwise, the vastness is wasted, good clothes go unworn, and multiples may get purchased unintentionally.

Even if you aren’t interested in formulating outfits in advance, find a reason to take inventory. Cook up a list of underutilized items and make a project of building outfits around them, or make yourself reorganize how you store your goodies. Anything that helps you memorize what you own will help you utilize what you own.

All that said, I DO have a system for storing and reviving my seasonal clothes. It’s based on my own, slightly old-fashioned internal rules about what is seasonally appropriate, so it certainly won’t work for everyone! But in case you’re curious, as Sara was, here’s what I do*:

Cycle 1: At the beginning of each season – when things are still transitioning – I’ll cycle out season-specific fabrics. So, for instance, at the beginning of September I’ll put away linen, light cotton voile, and maybe some lightweight silks. At this point, I tend to keep most items from the exiting season in play.

Cycle 2: Once the weather really begins to change, I’ll store anything else that makes me think of the previous season. So, for fall, this means lightweight skirts, non-layering tees, and some mid-weight dresses. At this point, I also bring out of storage items that fit the coming season.

So, essentially, the first step is to remove anything seasonally INappropriate, the second step is to liberate from storage items specific to the emerging season. Here’s how I time the swap-outs:

  • Fall: Cycle 1 in early September, Cycle 2 in mid-October
  • Winter: Cycle 1 in early November, Cycle 2 in early December
  • Spring: Cycle 1 in mid-April, Cycle 2 in early May (spring is short around here!)
  • Summer: Cycle 1 in mid- May, Cycle 2 in early June

As you can see, the only times my wardrobe ISN’T in transition are the dead of summer and the dead of winter. Whenever I cycle clothing in or out, I evaluate its relevance to my style. If it’s an item that has caused me fitting woes in the past, I’ll try it on, too. As many style experts have said before me, seasonal changes are a great excuse to overhaul and cull, and I definitely do both.

*Since late 2014, I have done away with off-season storage and culled to fit everything in my everyday closets. But this is the system I used for many years before that!

Image courtesy Mark Grapengater.

Originally posted 2010-08-17 05:22:00.

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20 Responses to “Reader Request: Wardrobe Cycling”

  1. Rachel @ suburbanyogini

    Great post but sadly wardrobe cycling doesn't work in the UK. It can be like winter in August (like today) and glorious and warm in October. It can be mild and muggy in February, and snow in April. I have to be ready for anything and layers are key!!!

    That North Atlantic island living for you 🙂

  2. A Sewn Wardrobe

    I do the same as you – right after Labor Day I move the very summer pieces (white items, bright silks, sheer cardis) up into the attic. We rent in a 2 family home, but I do have communal attic space that is safe to store my clothes in. I hang the pieces like suits and coats (there is a little closet in the attic), and fold pants and sweaters and store those in a big plastic bin.

    I stop wearing tweeds and plaids in January (they just seem so *fall* to me), and try to wear lighter-colored wools and sweaters in the spring. As soon as the weather starts to get a bit warmer (usually April), I get out the spring/summer pieces.

    I also use the seasonal change to cull outdated pieces. I'm a ruthless editor for some reason. I love to get rid of clothes almost as much as I like buying/sewing them. Weird, huh?

  3. Franca

    I second that about UK weather! Though I do move my jumpers to a drawer in summer, and hang them up in winter. They are always relatively easily accessible though.

    I also do a wardrobe tidy every 2-3 months (I let it go to mess in between unfortunatley) and that reminds me of all the clothes I have. Also having a visual diary of all my more interesting pieces via my blog reminds me to wear stuff that I haven't put on in a while.

    I think it does help to put an absolute limit on the amount of clothes you have. For me, that is the size of my wardrobe, I don't store anywhere else, and if it gets too full, I just have to get rid of stuff.

  4. gingerR

    I'm on about the same schedule as Sal.

    I have big plastic boxes from Target I store things in to keep moths and dust out. I used to use brightly colored cardboard but they'd fall apart after a few seasons and didn't stack well. I like boxes that are transparent best because I can see what's inside.

    I try to store like things together. All my workout gear for a season is in one box. That way if I need long pants on an early fall day when I'm still mostly wearing shorts I can locate them without going through everything.

    I also keep clothes for vacations -hiking, mountains, beach- in a box for quick packing.

  5. angie

    Yours is a super system, Sally! If you prefer a vast wardrobe, you absolutely have to be more organized about keeping an updated inventory list of sorts. AND, making sure you cycle through your clothing. This requires quite a lot of discipline – which you have!

    My wardrobe cycling system is different because I prefer to have fewer things. I share a small modern walk-in wardrobe with my husband. Absolutely all our stuff is in there accept for coats and underwear. We do not swap out seasons either. So at first glance, I can see everything that we have. No need to keep an inventory list when you can use your eyeballs. And when I add something new – I have to remove an item to keep the quantity of items constant. I feel I’ve failed if I overflow into another storage area. This system works for us!

  6. orchidsinbuttonholes

    Fantastic post, Sal. I agree with you that going through my collection of things seasonally is a wonderful way to re-evaluate all that I have and ask myself again why I have it if I'm not wearing it. I also love to keep certain pieces for different seasons because it makes me look forward to wearing them again. A dress feels new if I haven't worn it in six months!

    For me, everything lives in my closet, but I seasonally rearrange it all, moving the things I will need better access to forward and pushing those other things to the back. Reorganizing makes me see my things differently, which makes me reach for different things.

  7. Faith J.

    Great post! As for me, I have a few plastic trunks. All of my winter/fall/early spring clothes and shoes are in them now. Come late Sept./early Oct., they switch places, and all my summer clothes and shoes get put away, locked up, and mostly forgotten until late April. It's a drastic change, but it's a habit I've had my entire life, and keeps it simple.

    When I do the bi-annual change, I purge some items.

  8. sara star

    Thank you Sally! After you emailed me a quick response, I boxed up my thickest sweaters and wool pants, and many of my long sleeve dress shirts in dark colors. I kept one or two cardigans out for cooler days or air conditioned places. I still have too much stuff, but its getting better.

  9. Anonymous

    I'm on roughly the same schedule as you (I used to live in the Twin Cities, and where I live now is a very similar climate).

    I have thought about taking photos of my clothes so that I can remind myself of all I have. Has anyone tried this method?

  10. Laura

    I do something similar to your wardrobe cycling, although my schedule is a bit different due to climate. It took me a while after moving from my native midwest to the San Francisco area to develop a good schedule; we do have seasons even though they're not as dramatic as other people's. I have 4 rubbermaid containers that fit in the back of my closet, and my 'rule' is that all of the out-of-season clothes have to fit in them, or at the far end of the closet rod for hanging clothes.

    I will put up the high-summer items sometime in September, depending on the weather (we really haven't had much hot weather this year, but some years we do) and pull out some fall transition items – light sweaters, etc. Sometime in November I'll pull out the heavier pieces for use in winter, and reverse the process in spring.

    I find myself limiting some items to certain seasons based on color or texture, even though the weight could be suitable all the time. If you weren't too picky you could wear the same thing 3/4 of the time in this climate, and I find that really boring.

    As far as outfit planning, I tend to put together outfits on the weekend and hang them together at the end of my closet rod. That way I can just grab them if I'm in a hurry – although much of the time I change my mind and construct something different some days anyway.

    Anonymous, I have played around with Touch Closet, an iPhone app that organizes your closet with photos and allows you to build outfits, but I haven't taken photos of all my wardrobe yet.

  11. Mother of Style

    I like the idea of storing out of season pieces, but the closest I get is to keep my big coats and evening dresses in a storage closet downstairs. Everything else I keep out because 1) I get tired at the thought of being so organized and 2) if I put it away there is a chance I will forget I have it and buy something just like it. Very interesting reading other's practices, though 🙂

  12. Nancy

    What Rachel said about UK weather goes for the Bay Area, too (except for snow in April, or any other month). It's been in the 50s and low 60s all summer; I'm wearing cashmere today. But we had an 80-degree day in March. I think that was the last time I wore something sleeveless.

  13. Tiffany

    We don't have sufficiently different seasons to really justify cycling like this. And I don't have enough clothes! All my clothes are there all the time, in plain view, whatever the season … I am an excessive purger, probably because I often end up buying stuff I don't really like (because I hate shopping). I'm working on it.

  14. Future Lint

    I don't "cycle" my clothing, but I do have some flat tupperwear bins I shove under my bed (full of heavy wool sweaters in the summer, replaced by tank tops in the winter)… otherwise everything is available in closets or dressers year-round!

  15. Mary

    When building our new home the closet was a major thing for me. I now have room to have all clothes out at all times–it's incredible! I do plan on shifting some things around–put the tanks on the shelves and hang the sweaters etc—the bad thing I've found though is the bigger the closet–the easier it is to pick up things to fill it with!

  16. Emma at Daily Clothes Fix

    Great insight Sal.

    I don't cycle my wardrobe. The weather where I live goes from hot to cold and dry to wet within the course of a day, rather than a season. This means that at any time I can need any of my items. Combine that with a love of layering and it simply doesn't work to put anything into storage.

  17. Kaitlin

    I am definitely going to try this! There is a lot of things I had in my closet during summer that I never wore and I missed out on wearing a lot of cute clothes!


  18. sliptakz

    interesting. i actually don't have lots of clothes, and sometimes feel as if I should not have gave away my old ones…

  19. Emily Kennedy

    My system is similar, but I only cycle twice a year. Once when the cold temperatures seem here to stay and a second time for the hot temps. That usually means once in October and once in April/May, but it varies.

    Also, I only keep what will fit on my hangers, and often less, because the seasonal switch is truly the best time to cull. It's a chance to reflect back, like you said, on things that worked, and things that didn't.

    I store most everything that is in off rotation in under-bed storage containers, that way if I mis-judge it's pretty easy to grab from the other season's stash.

    The one thing that is kind of throwing the whole system out of whack is maternity clothes. It's like a whole new challenge!