With September comes the usual switchover of linen dresses and sandals for knits and boots, the summer holiday gear stored away for another year. It’s a routine with many benefits: “It’s good for the garments but also nice for you to be able to see all your clothes properly,” says Frej Lewenhaupt, co-founder and CEO of Steamery, which specialises in clothing care products.
Its consistent growth since it launched with a garment steamer in 2014 is indicative of the pleasure so many of us take in organising and maintaining our wardrobes.
There’s more to a wardrobe rejig than keeping weather-appropriate clothes to hand. Several women I know joke about their “floordrobe”, but crammed rails and piles of clothes threatening to topple make me feel stressed. I don’t want anything that I don’t love and wear consuming cupboard space. For me, an ordered wardrobe is a form of self-care.
The same is true for Sharland England founder and television presenter Louise Roe, who maintains a beautiful dressing room at her home in south-west London. “My husband laughs at me, but if things aren’t in their place, somehow my brain feels foggy,” she says. “It actually helps me function better elsewhere, it’s like starting the day off right. It also makes choosing an outfit much faster, which really helps on a busy early morning.”
An organised wardrobe is a discipline that can help you to make the most of the pieces you love, and to identify the gaps. I find it also forces me to weigh up the value of adding something new, so it saves me money which has never been more important, given the cost of living crisis. And yet restraint is hard.
It’s much easier to buy a new top from Zara than write an inventory of the tops you already own. It’s a running joke with one friend, who has a generously sized but overstuffed wardrobe. She regularly buys new items akin to those she has already, because she forgets what she’s got.
She’s not alone. The average person in the UK has 118 garments in their wardrobe, of which a quarter haven’t been worn in a year, according to WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme, a climate action NGO).
Given that the UN states that fashion is responsible for eight per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, we probably all need to buy less.
As a result, organising has become an essential process – not just for weeding out the old, but also for helping you to really use everything you’ve got.
In my home, everything has a place, and this applies to my husband and twin toddlers’ clothes too. Every inch of space matters – this is how I make the most of it, and how you can organise yours too.
Fold or hang?
A bespoke pink walk-in wardrobe like that of style editor Erica Davies is the stuff of dreams, as is Roe’s hand-painted dressing room. But the reality for many of us is that space is limited and must be shared with a partner. That’s my setup too – but I’ve organised it in a way that suits both of our needs.
Folding T-shirts and jeans neatly is the easiest and quickest way to create a sense of order. I use a folding board so that they all look uniform on the shelf. Knitwear should also be folded, never hung, which causes jumpers to lose their shape.
But even a walk-in wardrobe requires intelligent use of space, says Davies, who dedicates most hanging space to her many dresses. “On the shelves, I organise by item and colour – so all of my striped tops in one cubby, navy jumpers in another, neutral knits in another.”
Use the rest of the home if you can, too, says Davies: “I have always had a thing for coats and store my collection in the spare bedroom wardrobe too, along with any pieces that aren’t in everyday use.”
Roe also considers occasion when organising her wardrobe space: “I hang long, formal dresses together, and then I have an area just for workwear, so dresses and suits that are right for TV or a meeting,” she says.
Organise within drawers
For anything kept in drawers, fabric storage boxes with dividers allow you to stack them horizontally, rather than vertically, so you don’t have to rummage to see what’s at the bottom.
These are also handy for lingerie. “I split my knickers into little boxes in the drawer, each serving a particular need,” says Georgia Larsen, founder of lingerie label Dora Larsen. “For example, I’ve got my VPL-free knickers, my wear-with-anything knickers… then I can more easily pick out a bra to go with it. I also keep a lavender bag in there to keep things fresh.”
Invest in good hangers and racks
I use wooden and padded fabric hangers, because I like to have a little breathing space between each garment, but space-saving hangers can make a huge difference to rail capacity. Steamery’s version (£22, steamery.co.uk) allows you to hang six pieces vertically in a space that might usually occupy one.
The average British woman owns 30-35 pairs of shoes, so a rack on which to stack them is a no-brainer. Keep valuable pairs in dust bags, as light exposure can affect their condition.
Consider your long-term storage
Anything that you decide isn’t needed in your everyday wardrobe can be put into longer-term storage – whether that’s another wardrobe in a second bedroom, or a crate under a bed.
“Wash [garments] before storing for long periods, and store with natural deterrents like lavender and cedar to help repel moths,” says Rachel Carvell-Spedding, founder of knitwear brand Navygrey. “The smell does fade in time, so you will need to top the scent up with a few drops of essential oil every few months.”
Moths don’t just love cashmere – they feast on all animal fibres, including wool, silk and leather. Not even Missoni bikinis are safe, as one colleague was recently horrified to discover. To avoid a similar disaster, take a leaf from Davies’s book: “I pack all of my knitwear into anti-moth cashmere storage bags which I buy from Amazon.”
Do your repairs
Wardrobe maintenance can be an expensive business, but there are a lot of small repairs we can do at home to save money and keep our clothes in good condition. Of course, there are times when nothing can beat professional expertise. “If your repair skills are minimal, a good rule of thumb is to consider the item, and whether you care if the mend is noticeable,” Layla Sargent, founder of repair service provider The Seam, advises. “If you want it to look as though the damage never happened, take it to a specialist.”
To freshen clothes coming out of storage for autumn, use a clothes brush to remove dust and lint. In lieu of dry-cleaning – bad for the planet and wallet – spot-cleaning, steaming and airing are all effective and will prolong the lifespan of your clothes. For knits or fabrics with pilling, a de-bobbler is a swift and satisfying way to remove it.
I ask myself a series of questions to work out if a garment, if not in regular rotation, has a future in my wardrobe: What’s stopping me from wearing it? Is it the size? Fit? Lack of occasions? Will I have a chance to wear it before it goes out of style?
“I am a ruthless purger,” says Roe. “Every couple of months I streamline my closet and take out items I either don’t wear anymore, things that don’t fit, or that I have fallen out of love with.”
It can be tough working out what to keep and what to get rid of, but it’s important to look past the sentiment and guilt that often clouds our judgment.
Enlist a friend to help you be more decisive, or try the “hanger method” favoured by Siena Barry-Taylor, of secondhand marketplace Thrift+: “Hang your clothes with the hanger hooks all facing one way. Whenever you wear an item flip the hook the opposite way. After a month or two you’ll be able to see what’s not being worn,” she says.
Donating and selling
We often find it hard to part with old clothes for a variety of reasons. We live in hope that we will one day fit into the side of the wardrobe relegated to things that are a size too small, then there’s the guilt we feel about items we spent a lot of money on but ultimately never wear. A clear-out requires a ruthless mindset.
What you do with your unwanted clothes will depend on the condition and value of each garment.
Designer and premium high-street clothes in excellent condition are worth the most, and can be listed online on eBay, Vinted or Vestiaire Collective.
In many cases you can now sell back to the store you bought it from. Cos charges just 10 per cent commission, while Zara’s new re-sale service eliminates the need for lengthy product descriptions. Toast hosts store events at which you can swap one preloved Toast piece for another, while John Lewis will give you £5 off a purchase of £20 or more if you donate five unwanted garments at its fashion counters.
Davies resells at a variety of second-hand shops near her home in Colchester, as well as one she set up herself: “My friend Ciara Elliott and I set up Fashion Reboot locally, which is a preloved clothing car boot sale. We regularly have events – and get some amazing sellers who come and join in. I take a rail there and move on pieces I no longer wear.”
Of course, we all have clothing that can’t be sold on: old socks, underwear, items beyond repair. Second-hand marketplace Thrift+ works with Ward and Cotton Lives On, both of which ensure that discarded textiles are recycled, not sent to landfill.
How to sell your old clothes online
By Antonia Johnstone, owner and CEO of pre-owned boutique Sign of the Times
Photograph the product with any original boxes, dust bags, hangers and tags
If people ask questions, add that information to your listing so that other potential buyers have it too
Share the history of the item – why you bought it and why you’re selling it. It humanises you as a seller and builds trust
Include all brand logos. If possible, use a third-party authenticator for more credibility
People rarely read the description so keep it short and bullet pointed. With second-hand it is all about the photos, but don’t use more than eight
If possible include an ‘on person’ photo as it helps to convey size
Be transparent about any stains or damage – use coins for scale, and photograph worn patches so there are no surprises
What to Sell Where
The second-hand marketplace is dominated by eBay, where you can sell pretty much anything from rusting old cars to authenticated Gucci handbags, but sometimes it’s more effective to use a more targeted platform where your listings will sell faster and for a better price
You can recognise a reformed fast-fashion addict by their Vinted habit. The rapidly growing app is full of past-season premium high-street brands like Boden, Me+Em and Rixo hits, often at Primark prices and nearly-new condition
Depop encourages users to follow the sellers they love, and this is especially effective when it comes to vintage. If you’re regularly listing well-priced pieces from a specific era, say – 1970s Laura Ashley dresses or 1980s St Michael from M&S – you’ll build a following of people seeking exactly that
Designer clothing and accessories
Vestiaire Collective and HEWI authenticate the goods they sell, which gives buyers confidence that they’re getting the real deal, and you’ll get a better price as a result
Those who love ‘hype’ trainers will know that enthusiasts largely congregate on Grailed (grailed.com) and Goat (goat.com). StockX (stockx.com) is useful in working out the value of streetwear merchandise