How to Organize Your Wardobe

First Decide What a Wardrobe Is and Then Organize It

What is a wardrobe?

Many people want to know how to organize a wardrobe. This can get slightly confusing because "wardrobe" has two related meanings. One is, in the words of Merriam Webster:

a : a room or closet where clothes are kept
b : clothespress
c : a large trunk in which clothes may be hung upright

So basically, a place you put your clothing when you aren't wearing it. Usually when people use the word today, they mean a large piece of furniture - also called an armoire, bureau, or dresser - where clothes are stored.

(Clothespress is further defined as "a receptacle for clothes.)

The other common meaning for "wardrobe" is, to go back to the dictionary:

a collection of wearing apparel (as of one person or for one activity) <a summer wardrobe>

Or, as I recently saw it defined in a more artful way on the blog of a professional organizer, "a thought out collection of pieces that work together to express a clear point of view."

So organizing a wardrobe and organizing a wardrobe are two different things.

The one involving a piece of furniture is easier. Organizing a wardrobe is very much like organizing a closet. You can follow tips on how to organize your closet and or use ideas to organize your closet, and many more on the main Personal Organizing page Everything You Need to Organize a Closet.

If you have no closet and a wardrobe is your only clothing storage option, then it effectively is your closet.

If you have a wardrobe and a bedroom closet, then you have more freedom to organize both of them how you like.

You could use one for tops and the other for bottoms, an especially good choice if your wardrobe is shorter and lacks the room to hang pants or long dresses. Or, if your wardrobe is small, you might use it for dressy clothes or those you wear less often. What you put where also depends on whether your closet or your wardrobe has more shelving.

Like closets, wardrobes can benefit from a few well-chosen organizing products, be they bins or shelf dividers or special hangers or hooks.

They can also be overwhelmed by too many, or randomly chosen, organizing products. How you arrange your wardrobe has a lot to do with how you arrange your life, and involves a lot of individual preferences.

As for organizing the other sort of wardrobe, that's trickier.

Whole shelves of books have been written on the topic, and there are multiple ways to go about it. What follows is simply a few basics to think about.

1. A wardrobe starts at the intersection of what you want to look like, what you really do look like, and your lifestyle.

Perhaps the image you'd like to project is a carefree young girl who hangs out at the beach a lot. If you're actually a 40-year-old with a responsible office job living a thousand miles from the shore, though, that's not a style you can apply literally.

2. Acquiring that wardrobe is a process of deciding which of your clothes to keep and which to get rid of, as well as which new clothes to buy.

Over time your clothing philosophy, real-life requirements, and physical appearance can change, so it's an ongoing process. Unless you want to be that perpetual 80s woman with the feathered bangs.

3. Lots of people are enamored of the idea of a capsule wardrobe, or collection of mix-and-matchable items that all go with one another.

But don't feel your wardrobe isn't good enough if it contains a few things that stand (almost) alone. You don't want a closet full of clothes that require constant shopping to make into an outfit, but most people's lives are too varied - with work, chores, dinners out, outdoor activities, cleaning the floor - to support a wardrobe entirely comprised of blue jersey knits. When traveling, however, the concept of a small number of interchangeable pieces has a lot of merit.

4. Feel free to ignore those "must have" lists in magazines.

Some people will depend on a great white shirt or pair of skinny jeans; others (e.g. me) will let the white shirt go unworn for years and have no business appearing in public in skinny jeans.

The most important thing about your wardrobe is that it's yours.