My Quarterly Wardrobe Planning Routine

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been developing a methodical personal wardrobe plan for making, purchasing, and thrifting new garments and accessories. I’ve broken it down into steps in case you’d like to try it for yourself:


It starts with a mood board, and a commitment to a range of time, usually a season. I tend to do this process roughly quarterly, every 3 months, though I don’t hold myself strictly to that timeline, and prefer to start the process only when I feel the urge to.

My Spring 2022 mood board contains images relating to my upcoming trip to Ireland.

 

Collecting images:

I use Pinterest to build a collection of images that feel inspiring to me. They aren’t all pictures of garments; sometimes they are paintings, textures, interiors, landscapes. I usually do this for a few hours. If there are particular styles of garments I know I like the look of, or certain images I know I want, I’ll use a Google image search to collect those in a folder on my desktop. I usually spend at least an hour, maybe more, on this process.


Combining images:

I make each season’s mood board on a Google slide. I drag and drop images from my Pinterest board and desktop folder and arrange them in a way that feels visually pleasing to me. I usually only end up using about 10-12 images. It’s important for the board to convey a color story and overall feeling more than a shopping list of garments.


Collection concept:

I try to articulate my collection concept once I’ve already made the mood board. I try to describe the visual impact of what I’m seeing in a few descriptive words, or a short phrase. Some past examples are “relaxed elegant earthy architect,” and “cozy patchwork urban witch.” 


Wardrobe needs:

I then brainstorm a short list of “holes” in my wardrobe that I’d like to focus on filling in the next few months. These can be items like “warm winter coat,” “basic base layers,” or “scrappy jeans to wear in the garden.”

My winter 2021-22 mood board was all about warm coats and sweaters in warm magenta and brown tones. Visible mending and patchwork were featured too.

I now have a handy visual “guide” that I can apply to each new item I’m considering making, buying, or thrifting. 

I’ll consider each make or purchase against my mood board, concept, and needs: does it fit into what I’m trying to achieve? Was it something I said I needed?


I can also use the board to think about ways I might play with, alter, or style garments I already have. Can I cut some of my old tank tops into crop tops to achieve a more modern silhouette? Could I do some cool visible mending on those leggings with the holes in them to tie into the patchwork theme? Maybe I’ll dye that boring gray sweatshirt to see if I can get it closer to that dark magenta color I’m clearly being drawn to this season…

My late summer 2021 mood board had inspiration images for my marriage ceremony outfit.

I like this process for several reasons:


  1. It’s fun, and helps me to think critically about what I like, and build a vocabulary around it.

  1. Over time, I can begin to see my aesthetic take shape. What previously felt like an amorphous, hard-to-pin-down concept now can be summed up in a page.

  1. The cyclical nature of doing this seasonally builds in room for growth. This isn’t a lifetime commitment, my preferences can shift and develop over time.  

  1. It’s low-stakes. I do this process privately, using free digital tools like Pinterest and Google slides, and I’m not committing to buying or making anything, just thinking about my style and what I like. 

  1. I can practice editing. Starting with a wide pool of images and narrowing it down, arranging just a few of my favorites into a nice composition, helps train my eye in the art of discernment. 

  1. Over time, I can build a cohesive wardrobe that flows with the zeitgeist but doesn’t rely too heavily on passing trends or the breakneck pace of the fast fashion industry. 

In the past, before I started using this template to inform my wardrobe building, I’d just buy things impulsively.

The store merchandising would get me, and I’d feel like I NEEDED whatever that item was because it just looked so appealing in the store. Same thing with fabric purchases, though I have yet to reel in that tendency in quite the same way I’ve done with ready-to-wear clothing.


I’d end up with a wardrobe of things I wore once, or never wore, because they didn’t really go with anything else I had, or I didn’t have a place to wear them (so many vintage beaded dresses and adorable high heel shoes, lol). As my size increased and it became harder to find things in some stores, I’d buy whatever fit, just because it fit, and not because I liked it. This left me really resenting my wardrobe, feeling grumpy about how I looked, feeling out of alignment with how I was presenting myself to the world. 


I wanted to solidify that vision I had on the inside and crystallize it into something I could begin to manifest on the outside. This process really helps me to build a sense of self through my clothing. 

A photo montage of some of my favorite outfits I've made while practicing wardrobe planning.

 

FWIW, I hardly ever tick off every single “needed” item each season, and I still make impulsive purchases on occasion (like a pair of cowboy boots I picked up at a thrift store out of sheer nostalgia for my college days; they go with nothing and are not very comfortable). But I still enjoy the process of thinking about what I want to look like, of creating a sort of guidebook for myself with a clear vision and parameters.

If you decide to use this process, let me know how it goes for you! 

 

Want to learn more? I'm cohosting a virtual Size & Gender Inclusive Wardrobe Planning workshop on March 16th 2022 with second-hand-first personal stylist Maggie Greene! You can read more about it and register for our event here.

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