NEW YORK — Any way you hang it, that strong-shouldered jacket from the 1980s is never going to quite look like the ’80s-inspired jackets popular now. Same goes for the ’70s maxi and slinky disco-style dresses.
That means the time has likely come to get rid of them.
Think of this as a time to clear your closet — cleaning and updating in one fell swoop — by strategically paring down your wardrobe, making a few new additions and finding shelf space for those items that truly are timeless.
Even something as simple as knit leggings, a staple now, were a fashion “don’t” a decade ago. They could go into hibernation again. And, chances are, anyone who kept their stirrups from the Culture Club-era still can’t make those look modern.
Adam Glassman, fashion director at O, The Oprah Magazine, says anything you haven’t worn in two years should be booted from the valuable closet real estate. He used to say one year, he explains, but he is allowing for a little more flexibility in size fluctuation, popular colors and immediate trends.
After that, though, the items — unless they’re expensive, top-tier designer pieces in beautiful fabrics with precision cuts — should go. It’s romantic to think that other items, even pricey ones, could wear that “vintage” label someday, but, in reality, very few things do.
“Very high-end stuff, like [French design label] Balmain, you can save that because, eventually, it could be a collector’s item. I have friends who hold on to Prada like that,” says Glassman. “But that’s a small percentage of what’s out there. You don’t need to save H&M, Gap, Zara.”
Most closets are cluttered with stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day in a very long time, says Jackie Conlin, a personal style consultant in San Francisco. “Timeless pieces are real gems,” she says. “I like the idea of timelessness, but the way things change so rapidly, a look is going to change and your look is going to change.”
She advises a “classic wardrobe with punches of personality,” including a trench coat that, if it’s not a Burberry, is made in the brand’s spirit, in a neutral color, and a tailored and trim silhouette; pencil skirts and pencil black pants; and shift and sheath dresses.
Conlin puts a white blouse or man-tailored button-down on the list, but Glassman warns that those can be tricky to keep because, even protected in the closet, they’ll yellow over time.
They do agree that keeping traditional handbags, clutches and totes, for instance, and high-heel pumps (probably just the round-toe ones) makes sense as long as they’re in good condition. Heavily embellished accessories, however, might be perfect donations for a little girl’s dress-up box.
Professional closet designer and organizer Melanie Fascitelli says she sees stacks of purses and boots collecting dust. “People have a much harder time parting with them. There’s something weird about boots that no one wants to part with. They’ll be run into the ground and be Band-Aided to death,” she observes. “Yes, there are some leather items that look good worn-in, but some don’t, and boots are one of those things.”
She also sees too many college sweatshirts. There’s a place for some sentimental items, she says, but not with your everyday wardrobe.
Put clean items in breathable garment bags, which limit discoloration, and throw in lavender sachets, which act as an antiseptic and bug repellent, says Fascitelli, who also created the Clos-ette Too line of storage products. Store these bags in a humidity-controlled location.
For the things you’re on the fence about, Fascitelli says, ask yourself: Would you buy it now?
The answer probably would be no when it comes to that old interview suit, says Conlin, yet there are so many ill-fitting, double-breasted jackets with matching knee-length skirts — both probably misshapen from so many years on the hanger — still out there.
Some suits can be resurrected as weekend separates, if the fabrics work with denim or khakis, says Glassman, which will help you feel like you got your money’s worth.
People also tend to hold on to their old black leather pants. “I think because it’s leather, which is worth something in people’s minds, they think they should keep it. But,” she says, “there probably couldn’t be anything less flattering. Maybe they cost $400 15 years ago, and people can’t let go of that.”
Nothing is worth keeping if you don’t look good in it, adds Glassman. “The most important thing, you really have to be honest with where you are with your size. Don’t think ‘I’m getting back into it,’ or that you may go up two sizes. You are the size you are right now.”
If you have, say, skinny jeans that you loved the look of years ago, then go try a new pair in the right size from the same brand, he suggests.
(Altering and tailoring are wonderful tools, when used sparingly for special things. But you can end up spending more money than you would on something easily replaced.)
Fascitelli says tackling the closet with an honest, trusted friend is the way to go. Then make piles: one to keep, one to store, one to sell on eBay or to a consignment shop, one for relatives or friends (that’s where good stuff that doesn’t fit right can go), and one for charity.
Purging seems to be less traumatic when you think it’s going to find a good home somewhere else, she says.
Still think you’ll miss your prairie skirt or flannel shirt?
Go buy some dark denim jeans, an interesting cardigan, cuff bracelets and some new T-shirts, suggests Conlin. Those are the updates that will easily fit in the new, edited closet.