You may recall that back in August, I had my living room and bedroom walls and ceilings replastered and painted (link here.) Since then, I have been in a redecorating rabbit hole redoing both my living room and bedroom. The process has been a fun, creative, albeit slow, process. Between not wanting to blow my entire savings account, which would be so incredibly easy when it comes to decorating, finding the right decor items takes time. It took me weeks just to find the perfect artwork for my bedroom. As a result, things have been coming in dribs and drabs, much of which my husband just looks at sort of confused.

Frank, my husband, gives me complete freedom to do whatever I want when it comes to decorating. Few people get in my way when it comes to anything visual and in addition to that, even if Frank had a microscope, he couldn’t locate his interest in how our apartment is decorated. Therefore, he lacks any context around whatever new objet d’art enters our apartment. He sees a singular item while I see how one piece completes the bigger picture I have planned for how our space will be decorated.

I was thinking about how similar this process of decorating my apartment is to how I style clients and how this process is often what most women overlook when they shop for themselves — a clear vision and goal. There is no planning, no strategy, no bigger picture, nothing. Instead, most women just throw a bunch of stuff in their closets, cross their fingers and hope it works out.

HOW TO CREATE A COHESIVE WARDROBE THAT WORKS WELL TOGETHER

So let’s talk about this because my guess is that this is probably a critical step that you are overlooking. You have no plan or idea where you are going with your wardrobe. You might be shopping defensively vs. proactively, making rushed purchases, lacking any vision, buying simply by want, or aren’t a good editor. Basically, you’re throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping something will stick. And, yes, some of it will stick. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut eventually. The problem is, however, you probably don’t even know why the successes worked and the failures failed. If you think I am reading your mind right now, it’s only because, after 19 years of being a personal stylist, this is what I hear most often. If this is you, you’re normal.

And when you really consider what you’ve been doing, is it any wonder you’ve created an unmaximized, cluttered, closet with things that are disconnected? Think about other areas of your life that require planning, like organizing your kids’ schedules, grocery shopping, running errands, maximizing your workouts, decorating your home, budgeting your finances, planning a big event, my guess is that each one of these things requires some level of planning ahead of time. So why not your wardrobe?

It’s time to try a new way and I am giving you some tools to help you begin to build a cohesive wardrobe.

#1- YOU NEED A VISION

You cannot move ahead if you do not know where you are going. It sounds cliché but it’s true; hazy goals result in hazy results. When I start with a client, I explain to them that the first step will be to establish a baseline, which is their wardrobe starting point, and the second step is to establish our end goal. Our work together will be to get from point a., the baseline, the point b., the end result. I cannot move forward with a client unless I know where I am taking them.

Many companies have missions, some families have slogans, people set intentions, and employees in creative industries often create mood boards before they take one step towards the design process. Vision creates a future to live into and a path to follow. Without this, you’re just feeling around in the dark.

Your first move in this step is to be as pie-in-the-sky as you want to be. I invite my clients to pin inspirational photos that are instinctive and not literal. I tell my clients it is my job to take the information they share with me and figure out how to take these images and distill them down for the reality that they live. The more instinctive you let your mind go during this process the better. This is not the time to edit yourself. You’ll do that later. Just like I got inspired by ideas for my apartment that were much grander than my tiny rent-stabilized apartment could handle, I used these images to set the tone and open my eyes to directions I was drawn to that I might not have noticed if I didn’t allow myself to be as open-minded.

The key is to look for patterns and consistencies once you gathered images. You could pin your images, as I suggest to my clients, start a vision board, save items from your favorite retailers, make note of the styles of people you are drawn to, or whatever process makes sense to you. Many evenings you’ll find me scrolling through Wayfair as I watch TV putting hearts next to the things I love.

#2- TAKE THE BIG 5 INTO ACCOUNT

The Big 5 are the five tenets that I consider for each and every client, they are Lifestyle, Personal Style, Physical Characteristics, and Goals. Personal style is dictated by vision along with picking up on clues I get from my interactions with a client, be it body language, personal energy, mannerisms, and past wardrobe choices. Lifestyle is simply what your life looks like and how you spend the majority of your time. Physical characteristics are easy to understand and they not only include body features but facial features as well. Goals are not just style goals but also what a client has planned in the next 3-5 years. Lastly budget. Not only should you know what your spending budget is, but you should consider how you plan on dividing up that budget when you shop. Taking the Big 5 into account helps ground the vision that you set. I recently spoke with a new client who works in IT and who told me that she is inspired by Kate Middleton’s style. I joked that our goal would be to dress her as if Kate Middleton suddenly got a job in IT.

#3- YOU NEED TO BE A GOOD EDITOR

Editing is one of the most important steps that most women completely ignore and the reason why it is so easy to ignore is that you can’t edit if you don’t have any vision set. If you don’t know where you are going how could you possibly know what you don’t need? And, let’s face it, editing is hard and sometimes even heartbreaking. I learned to be a good editor when I was a fashion designer. I had the great privilege of traveling to Europe twice a year back then to attend fabric shows and when I would return, my boss and I would sit down with the piles and piles of fabric swatches we amassed during our trip and figure out, based on the color palette we set and the vision we set for each group in a season, which fabrics worked and which didn’t. I vividly remember many times both of us would be madly in love with a fabric but it not working with anything else. As stunning as the fabric was, we had to let it go.

When women shop, the only criteria required is how beautiful something is and if it fits. Many justify it by thinking they’ll just figure out what to do with it later. But we all know how that ends. They come home with a pair of boots they’ll never wear because the heels don’t work for their lifestyle or they buy a top despite the color is completely out of whack with the rest of their wardrobe. Walking away can be hard but the better you are at editing because you set a vision, the better off you’ll be. And don’t think I don’t get the reasoning. Women get desperate and desperate people make panicked choices. Many women feel fortunate if something fits so they’ll buy it despite it failing in all other areas. Shopping can often feel like an overwhelming full-time job, but it’s still not an excuse to burden your closet with mediocrity. I have worked with every shaped and sized client and none of them have purchases that fit but they feel meh about.

And as limiting as editing sounds, being a good editor is actually quite liberating. Part of the reason I don’t wear black is that other colors work better on me, but another reason I don’t wear it is that it makes shopping a lot easier and faster. While it does eliminate a lot of what is in the store, I don’t see this as a bad thing. There is already too much to choose from and by removing some of the options I can be more focused and intentional. Perhaps a goal you can set for yourself is to try eliminating wearing one type of item or a color from your wardrobe and testing out what shopping is like when you do that. At first, it might be hard but over time you may find yourself becoming a quicker and more efficient shopper.

#4- DON’T BE TOO RIGID AND BE WILLING TO CHANGE COURSE

This may sound counterintuitive to my last tip but extremes of any nature can be detrimental. Visions aren’t set in stone and they can change. It’s not uncommon to think we want to go in one direction only to get there and realize it doesn’t work or we get inspired by something new that sets us off on a completely new path. Case in point, when I began decorating my bedroom, I originally intended to decorate it in shades of teal with white. It was going to be this fresh, bright, feminine bedroom. In my head, it was set. As the warm ivory paint went on the walls, and I fell in love with this gold and teal chinoiserie-inspired duvet, I changed course and am still decorating with teal but the decor has gone in a new direction and I am mixing in other chinoiserie elements, adding different patterns, and incorporating some gold and yellow. Yes, you can change course and set a new vision but once you do you have to follow it up and plan accordingly based on the new direction.

#5- NOT EVERYTHING IS GONG TO BE MIND BLOWING AND EXCITING

There are two types of items in your closet, the stayers and the players. The stayers are the pieces that I often refer to as the ones that aren’t that exciting but they are really reliable. These are your workhorse pieces, the never-go-out-of-style items, the staples that don’t let you down. If these pieces were your friend, they would not be voted popularity plus but these friends would post your bail or take a call from you at 2am. The players are the more exciting pieces, the fleeting novelty that lasts a season or two, are trendier, add some pop to your looks, get people talking about your outfits, and have a lot of personality. If these pieces were your friends, these would be the friends you could count on for a good time, who might be a bit flaky, and who would likely be the reason you wound up in jail in the first place.

People like shiny things. We’re drawn to the exciting, fresh, and new and pay little mind to the reliable old staples that are like the glue in our wardrobes. We need both the stayers and the players equally. When you create a wardrobe with vision, you begin to understand just how critical having both are. Believe me, my Command picture hanging strips aren’t as exciting as the artwork they are keeping on my walls but without them, I’d have nothing hanging. You can’t have one without the other.

#6- DON’T WORRY ABOUT LABELING YOUR STYLE

Let me tell you what the biggest waste of your time is when it comes to building a cohesive wardrobe. It’s feeling like you need to give your style a label. Why? Why is this important to you? What benefit does it provide? It’s not like it’s some psychological personality test that would help you navigate the career world. It literally provides you with nothing and is incredibly subjective. Sure, if labeling your style has helped you and you feel settled in it, that’s fine, go with it. But more often than not, I hear a woman tell me, “I can’t figure out what my style is,” as if there is some sort of few-word answer out there that will solve all her wardrobe problems. So you have given your style a label. Now, what do you do?

How about instead you just allow yourself to be guided instead of searching? People know what they like and what they are drawn to and if they let that be their indicator instead they would be much more successful in narrowing down what they like. But this whole need to define and label one’s style is just an exercise in futility. I don’t label my clients’ styles. I don’t quiz them, I don’t give it a name, I don’t do any of that. If I don’t find it necessary I’m not sure why you would.

#7- YOU’RE CURATING

When creating a cohesive wardrobe you have to have to put your curator hat on. You’re building something that needs to be fleshed out, complete and workable. You need to set the bigger picture and then work backward. You can’t get where you are going if you don’t know where the destination is. As the vision is set, when you buy an item it should belong, it should work with your wardrobe and it should enhance what is already in there. You need to look at your wardrobe like a big puzzle or like you are producing an event or redecorating a room. There is the vision and then there are the steps you take to realize that vision. Each item you add or take away is another step towards that bigger picture.

#8- DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN

The moment rules are created people tend to have two reactions — they either get really rigid about those rules (these are the control freaks out there) or they get really frustrated and feel oppressed (typically the free-spirits who don’t like being told what to do.) None of these guidelines should feel like some sort of restrictive punishment nor, if you are one of those control freaks out there who lives and dies by a system, should it feel like another thing that comfortably boxes you in and makes you feel safe. Just like how at some point we all needed to learn how to manage our finances so we could feel in greater control of our spending and actually enjoy our money, the same is true for building a cohesive wardrobe. The greater command we feel over the process the more enjoyable it becomes. Yes, you may have experienced a momentary high when you bought that unwearable piece of gorgeousness, but how did you feel when you brought it home and then spent the next several months staring at it with the tags still on it? Instead, by creating some guidelines for yourself, you’ll be able to create a sustainable and workable way to manage what comes in and goes out of your closet.