A Stylist’s Guide to Organizing Your Closet

Ingrie Williams talks to fashion pros to get the dirt on how to tackle a closet cleanout. Here’s her five-step guide to transforming an unruly wardrobe into your happy place and – this is the fun part – filling it with new things you’ll love

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1. The Prep

First, commit to a specific date and time. This isn’t the type of task that you can squeeze into any given day or rush to finish. “Start with a plan,” says Christina McDowell, the Toronto-based founder of luxury resale boutique Clementine’s and an image consultant who has worked with celebs such as Liv Tyler and Aretha Franklin. “Pick a Sunday morning with no interruptions. Your goal is to have a completely edited closet by the end of the day.”

Editing takes time and patience, as you’ll be trying on everything you own. That’s right: everything. “Don’t discard things just by looking at them on the hanger; put them on and see if the proportions seem out of whack or if they don’t fit you anymore,” says Jenn Rogien, a spokesperson for Winners and costume designer for the hit TV shows Girls and Orange Is the New Black. She likes to work with a buddy to get another perspective. “It has to be someone who is going to give you an honest opinion, who will look at that piece and say ‘You haven’t worn that in years, so it’s got to go.'”

When you’re ready to dive in, McDowell advises focusing on one season at a time and having three piles: one for items to keep, one for those that need alterations and one for donations. Then take out everything, she says. “Sounds daunting, but it’s worth it.”

This is where a few deep breaths can help. The road to closet euphoria can be paved with bumps in the shape of buyer’s remorse or body image issues. But you’re playing a long game here, so keep your eye on the prize: a group of items you like to wear so much that you actually wear them. “It’s that balance of holding onto things that are still very much a part of your wardrobe, but you’re not currently wearing because of seasonality or trend, and getting rid of those things that you truly don’t want to wear anymore to make space for a couple of key pieces,” says Rogien.

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2. The Edit

With your closest contents emptied, it’s time to set some rules around what gains entry back in. Suzanne Timmins, senior vice-president and fashion director for Hudson’s Bay Company, is among the many fashion experts who believe that if you haven’t worn the item in two years, then it’s time for it to go. “It’s a very good rule,” she says, “although there are special pieces that deserve to be archived if you have the space.”

Rogien agrees, on both fronts. “I’m not talking about statement or vintage pieces; I mean those everyday blouses and trousers that, for whatever reason, you don’t gravitate toward any more,” she says. “It may be that the fit is feeling out of date or you don’t want to wear that much pattern in your life anymore.”

For Michelle Addison, a personal shopper and stylist from B.C., her emotional response plays a role, too: “If it doesn’t make you happy, get rid of it. So many clients seem to hold onto things just because they paid a lot of money for them. If you don’t like the way you feel in a certain item of clothing, then it is doing you no good.”

With the ground rules set, you can start assessing items. Addison likes to work through each category separately but prefers to tackle trousers first. “Bodies change and people change,” she says. “Sometimes getting rid of an old, dated pant can be life-altering.” So can reworking a garment you’ve nearly given up on. Between the black and white process of tossing and keeping, alterations can open up a grey area of sunny potential. “I see if we can alter jackets to make them more current,” says Addison, adding that she also keeps note of what needs to be replaced while cutting down on excess.

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3. The Reshuffle

Once you’ve edited all items, you’re in the home stretch. Pat yourself on the back and resist the urge to toss everything back in. It’s time to create a sense of order. Besides being a visual treat, this important step will set you up to make getting dressed easier and quicker.

“I like my closet organized by items: tops together, jeans together, athletic wear in one drawer, blazers all hung together,” says Addison. “I find that this is extremely helpful when putting together an outfit.” Timmins takes a similar approach, organizing her closet by season first, then by commodity, followed by colour. “Keep your favourite go-tos right up front: It makes time-sensitive days much easier to manoeuvre!” she says.

Rogien concurs with putting your preferred pieces within reach and also organizes her closet by category. “That’s how we do it at work as well, so when I’m building a look [for a character], I know right where to go for the individual pieces.” The most important criteria, she says, is to organize in a way that works for you. “If colour works, go with colour. If you’re a dress person, put your dresses front and centre. Make it workable and easy.”

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4. The Essentials

A fabulous closet goes beyond the garments hanging in it. To create a space the pros would approve of, you’ll need a few choice storage essentials to keep things tidy. “The trick is to have a place for everything,” says Addison. “A belt drawer, scarf baskets, tie racks – all these compartments allow you to find what you are looking for quickly.”

Hangers are crucial, and no one wants to have a Mommie Dearest moment. “Never use wire hangers,” says McDowell. For the most part, high-functioning velvet hangers are the preferred choice.

“For everyday [use], I love velvet hangers – they are thin and slip-proof,” says Timmins. “There is nothing worse than finding your favourite blouse trampled at the bottom of your closet! Jackets and coats must be on wider hangers to keep their shape.”

Addison likes to invest in matched hanger sets as much as possible. “I take all mismatched hangers out and rehang everything on the same kind of hanger to create order,” she says.

Boxes are another must-have – an easy way to contain everything from knits to handbags. The latter, Timmins notes, should be stored in a dark area and kept in duster bags to avoid scratching and discolouration. For less delicate extras, such as footwear, McDowell and Addison are fans of using clear plastic boxes.

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5. The Hit List

Fact: The best part of a closet cleanout (besides the physical and emotional letting go) is that it gives you the go-ahead to shop for new duds. You know what you have; now it’s time to get what you need. We asked our experts to name their must-have staples, as well as the seasonal updates they can’t wait to wear this spring. Don’t go shopping without them!

Staple Item: A classic wool coat in grey, black, navy or camel. This is something that should stand the test of time. Nothing makes an entrance like a good coat.

Seasonal Update: I am currently obsessed with anything Phoebe Philo does for Céline. She is embodying the spirit of today’s woman. Wide-leg pants and floral blouses? Yes, please! -Michelle Addison

Staple Item: A little black dress, the perfect jacket, black pumps and a timeless bag.

Seasonal Update: I still like the laid-back ’70s trend, which will continue into spring. -Christina McDowell

Staple Item: A white cotton shirt is one of the most versatile items you can own. It can be dressed up or down – wear it with your favourite pair of jeans or a gorgeous silver sequinned pencil skirt.

Seasonal Update: There is romance in the air for spring ’16! I have my eye on languid, lingerie-influenced romantic dresses, ruffled silks and lace. –Suzanne Timmins

Staple Item: A non-blazer blazer. One of those things you could throw on that works for work but can also be worn when you’re out playing. For me, it’s a leather moto jacket.

Seasonal Update: I get my seasonal style in my shoes. It’s a quick update that can take a classic look in a new direction, and I can always find shoes that make me happy! –Jenn Rogien

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