Why revamping your wardrobe is the perfect lockdown distraction

Jess Cartner-Morley
Composite: Getty

In times of crisis, we turn to the wisdom and comfort to be found in the classics. I refer, of course, to Clueless, the 1995 film starring Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz. “Cher’s main thrill in life is a makeover,” her best friend observes. “It gives her a sense of control in a world full of chaos.”

We could all do with that right now. In the space of days, the fabric of our daily lives has changed out of all recognition. We are in our homes, yet in completely unfamiliar territory. It helps a little bit, I think, to take control of that home environment in a positive way. A wardrobe sort-out is a pitch-perfect distraction, at some point over the next three weeks. It is just absorbing enough to keep your mind from spinning out on the centrifugal forces of existential angst, without being taxing on your already overloaded brain. You can purge what you don’t wear, and realign the clothes you like into outfits you want to wear, when wearing outfits is a thing again. You have been meaning to do this for years, probably, but it’s the sort of thing that has never quite made it to the top of the to-do list – until now. Putting together jazzy outfits at a point when your social life is non-existent is a cheering reminder that, although this is seismic, it is temporary; the world will start turning again and it is nice to remind ourselves that there will be an afterwards.

Focus on the clothes you love wearing and build a wardrobe around them

The revamp plan below is a six-stage process of bite-size chunks. Despite the time freed up by all the plans that have evaporated from my diary, I am finding that – what with working from home, functioning as the cheerleader for two remote-learning timetables, endlessly hand-washing and surface-wiping and juggling Houseparty dates and WhatsApp loo roll memes – I don’t actually have uninterrupted swathes of downtime. What I do have are random, unscheduled nuggets of time – 15 minutes here, half an hour there. Easy enough to fritter away on Twitter – or, alternatively, a road to a new, streamlined wardrobe.

Step one: get started

Some people will tell you to start a wardrobe revamp by getting everything out of your wardrobe and dividing it into piles on the floor. Those people are mad. Those people do not have teenage children who will urgently announce the need for a new printer cartridge that must be purchased and installed before a live maths lesson that starts in 20 minutes and also when is lunch and can they have a snack? We are all a little overwhelmed right now and I don’t think turning our bedrooms into a giant fabric tangle is what anyone needs.

Instead, start small. Empty out your sock drawer, throw away odd socks and ripped tights and look at what you have. If you have enough socks in good condition, you don’t need to hoard tatty ones “just in case”. Just do one drawer, then make yourself a cup of tea. You can do this with your underwear next, then your pyjamas and sports gear and so on, bit by bit.

Step two: your at-home wardrobe

You need different clothes right now, so let’s start with that. The licence to be cosy and comfortable is one of the few positives of this moment, so take full advantage, but it is worth keeping it civilised. If you are working from home, then, yes, you can get away with conducting Zoom or Google Hangouts meetings in a crisply ironed silk blouse while wearing jam-smeared joggers on your bottom half, but that doesn’t mean it is a great idea.

You don’t have to sit at your kitchen table in a tailored skirt suit, though. A pair of smart tracksuit bottoms and a crew-neck sweater is ideal for maximum comfort while still looking presentable. Pull out all your comfortable-but-not-scruffy trousers, then find a top half to match each: a silk T-shirt with a cardigan, perhaps, or a buttoned-up polo shirt. If working from home is new for you, consider hanging up an outfit for each working day, even if you don’t normally plan outfits in advance.

Step three: the foundations

Get half-dressed in a white or black T-shirt and knickers. Make a pile of every pair of jeans or trousers you own, then try on each one in front of a full-length mirror. Compare and contrast is the only way to work out which jeans and trousers actually fit and suit you. Be ruthless. Which clothes are you excited to wear when you start going out again? The rest can go. Now may not be the time to be making unnecessary trips to charity shops – although most are still accepting donations, with precautions including leaving them for 72 hours after drop-off – but you can bag them up and stash them out of the way.

Step four: the treasures

The quickest route to a style revamp is to focus on the clothes you love wearing and build a wardrobe around them. This is much smarter than weeding around the edges of your wardrobe, which takes ages and doesn’t really change all that much – all you are doing then is physically getting rid of the low-hanging fruit that your brain relegated months ago.

Pull out the 10 pieces in your wardrobe that you wear time and time again and would be devastated to lose. Whether they are Hermes or H&M does not matter – those are your treasures. Imagine those as the centre of gravity of your wardrobe, then pull out pieces that work with them – if you have a silk blouse in your treasures, find the bottoms that work best with them and hang them together. If it is a summer dress, see if you have a blazer or a chunky cardigan that could make the dress work as a cool-weather outfit also. Hang this treasure chest together. Are there themes you can spot – colours that you like wearing best, a skirt length that works best? If so, log those for future shopping reference.

Which jumpers are your treasures? Composite: Getty


Step five: the outliers

Whoever came up with that thing of having a “summer” wardrobe and a “winter” one and flipping the two around had clearly never spent any time in the British climate. It just does not work. A workplace in January can require fewer layers than a beach in July. But what is helpful is siphoning off the extremes so that they don’t clutter your wardrobe and your vision. Heavy winter coats can go in a suitcase, along with snow boots and thick gloves. Likewise, your holiday wardrobe – most swimwear, beach cover-ups, stuff that aesthetically only works out of office – can be packed in, say, a straw basket and stashed somewhere.

Step six: the rest

You are nearly there! That was easy, right? Next time you have got a chunk of time free, go through all of your dresses – pull out your five favourites, then your next five, as if you were picking a sports team. Add in a couple of unexciting but solid dependables. You can probably get rid of the rest. Then do the same with your knitwear. Rinse and repeat until you have streamlined your wardrobe. You can do this bit by bit – if it takes a few weeks, that is fine. While the world is on pause, we have the time to do the things we never have time to do. You won’t be in those tracksuit bottoms for ever. There will be an afterwards. And if that is not worth dressing up for, I don’t know what is.