What Your Unworn Clothes are Trying to Tell You

Unworn ClothesWe often learn more from our failures than we do our successes.  Sure, failures are disappointing and can cost us dearly, but if we learn to avoid the same mistakes in the future, value does come from them.   I believe this to be true from the failures that can be found in the closet.  You know, the unworn clothes that were supposed to solve something, but didn’t.  They can be heartbreaking to face because they appear just to be wasted money and clutter.  However, if you take a moment to stop beating yourself up over these mistakes and, instead, use them as opportunities to learn something about your style, you have an opportunity to avoid the same failures in the future.

What Your Unworn Clothes are Trying to Tell You

It’s time to face the music and, I promise you, if you do, you will be able to glean some valuable information that can stop you from accumulating more unworn clothes, or, at least, avoid repeating the same mistakes.  If you feel lost, confused or overwhelmed by the fact that your shopping trips have been less fruitful than you have hoped, take a look at what your unworn clothes might be trying to tell you.

It’s not your style

I can appreciate the way some people look in their clothes.  But I have learned that sometimes it needs to stop at appreciating.  What makes a person stylish isn’t necessarily what they are wearing, but how they are wearing it.  For them, a seamless connection has been created between their inner style and their clothing.  However, when I try to copy it, I look like I am wearing a costume or not like myself.

As much as you appreciate how someone else looks in a particular style or outfit, have you accumulated unworn clothes because you didn’t stop to consider that it’s just not you?  If you have heard me speak publicly, then you know the story I always tell about the skirt suit I bought based on the fact that I needed to look professional for work.  I looked around at women in skirt suits and pant suits.  All these women looked amazing, so I followed and bought both pant suits and a skirt suit.

Years later, I noticed that I never wore the skirt suit.  The thing hung there so long dust collected on the shoulders of the jacket.  Even on my most rushed days with few other options to wear, I still never put the skirt suit on.  Upon finally letting it go, I asked myself why I never wore it.  By asking myself this question, as opposed to just tossing it on the donate pile, I learned that when I wore a skirt suit I felt like an entry level secretary, not a powerful professional woman .  To this day (over 20 years later) I have never worn a skirt suit again.

When I look at other women in skirt suits I don’t think they look like a bunch of entry level secretaries, I think they look amazing.   I can appreciate others in the look while accepting the fact that it will never be me.   Yes, I wasted money on that suit, but I did learn a valuable lesson and have saved tons of money in the long run.

You have outgrown what worked at one time

What inspired this post was the fact that I seem to have outgrown a style that worked well for me at one time.  I have a maxi dress that I bought last summer.  I bought it because it not only fit me well but was very much in line with what had been working.  I have worn the dress exactly one time since owning it and not once this year.  It’s a bummer because it is pretty, but I’m just not a maxi dress person any longer.  Yet, while this disappointing purchase may have been money wasted, it was also enlightening.  I learned something from it and I have moved on.

Could it be that your unworn clothing just means that you have moved on to a different style?  Instead of clinging to the pieces in your closet because of the money spent, don’t beat yourself up, learn from this, ditch the old, and focus on building on what you are wearing and liking.

You are splitting your wears

Splitting your wears means to have multiple items in your closet that do the same thing.  I’m not necessarily against having more than one item serve the same purpose if you have the need.  However, if you have too many similar wardrobe pieces and not enough reason to wear all of them, you have diluted the value of each one and will be left with unworn clothes and less options.  After all, think about how much more you could buy with the money have you spent on too much of the same thing.

In order to eliminate this problem, choose to get rid of a 1/3 of the amount you own.  You can decide which to keep by selecting the ones you naturally gravitate towards and wear most often.  Then make a pact with yourself that no more similar items will be purchased unless you are willing to part with at least one of the pieces you already have.

You are wishful wardrobing

Another thing to notice is if your affliction of unworn clothes has been caused by wishful wardrobing, which means you buy clothes for the life you wish you had, not the one you do.  This happens quite often with shoes when we neglect to accept that our lifestyle does not call for styles that aren’t comfortable.  It can also easily happen with clothes when we shop too much for a part of our life we spend less time doing than we think we do.

Look at your life realistically and try to figure out the percentage of time you spend doing each thing.  You want the percentage of clothing you have for that part of your life and and the percentage of time you spend doing it to be a match.

You have aged out of your old style

Yesterday, I needed to run out after the gym for a quick errand before I had a chance to take a shower.  I wanted to get out of my gym clothes so I grabbed an easy jersey knit dress that I could throw on.  I hadn’t worn the dress all summer but was glad I wore it because I had identified that the dress was way shorter than I remembered.  It’s good for a quick walk down the block or hanging around the house, but that’s it.

Looking at the dress on me, I was stymied by the fact that I used to wear the dress all the time last summer.  It was so short.  Either it shrunk a bit or I hit an age this year where the length just felt totally inappropriate.  Whatever the reason, I was glad I put it on and learned this.

Sometimes clothes can suddenly look too young for the age you are now.  Some of your clothing may have gone unworn recently simply for this reason.  It can be helpful to take an opportunity to identify this to not only purge these things from your closet, but to also take note of things to avoid when shopping in the future.

You need to clarify your closet more often

Unworn clothes can accumulate simply by not being more rigorous about clarifying your closet on a regular basis.  Oftentimes, when clients invite me in to go through their wardrobe, they are sure that certain things are keepable.  In these cases, they are going simply by memory of the last time they wore them.  It isn’t until I ask them to put them on that they realize that the style has become dated, it’s not their look any longer, they have aged out of the style or it is just no longer flattering.

Unfortunately, a successful closet edit can’t just happen by perusing what’s in your closet.  Some things can be tossed at first glance, but many times deeper investigation is needed and trying on can be quite helpful in thinning out unworn clothes.

Your unworn clothes are hanging there with hidden messages as to why they haven’t been worn.  Instead of allowing them to clutter up your space and mind, use them as opportunities to get your style and your closet back on track.




  • stacie

    I LOVE this blog! I have felt that way about a “wild” zebra print that I wore almost all the time 2 years ago; one time last year; NO times this year, and a black blazer that has dust gathering on the shoulders, but haven’t worn it in years…But have felt that I MAY need a black blazer in the future. An interesting note, if I grab a blazer, it’s ALWAYS my structured red blazer…Time to let those 2 pieces go…Thank you, Bridgitte!

    • You are SO welcome, Stacie! Isn’t it amazing when the lightbulb goes off and you can actually let go because you have figured out why it no longer works? So often I think we get buyers guilt and feel like we have to make it work, when it reality we’re basically just punishing ourselves, creating clutter and forcing ourselves to wear things we don’t feel good about any longer.

  • Kelly

    Such great tips (as usual) – I’m in Australia and just got a stylist to help with a wardrobe clean out and looking back at it now, I am really disappointed with it. Until I read your post I didn’t realise why that was. I have so many clothes and it is something I am working really hard to do more with less but unfortunately we didn’t go through and look at what I had and why it wasn’t working. I think I missed a big opportunity to look at why I wasn’t wearing some of the clothes in my wardrobe. Thanks for your fantastic blog posts!

    • Hmm, it sounds like you just grazed the process of really drilling down. Not to begrudge your stylist, but I am surprised by this. I do work with clients virtually and in these cases I ask that the clothing a client wants to show me be photographed on the body. If you want to go deeper and get some better answers just drop me a line and we an talk about it. I am sorry your experience with your stylist wasn’t a more positive one.

  • Heather

    Do you ever notice you go through cycles with your clothes? For instances, sometimes I grab a skirt almost every morning. And then I tire of skirts for a while, and they get little wear for months. Or button-fronts. I have a few great ones (chambray and easy-breezy cotton-linen blends), but sometimes I’m not feeling the button-fronts, and I opt for t-shirts daily instead. I don’t think this indicates I should get rid of either my skirts or my button-fronts. I’ll get back to them. Are you sure you’re done with maxi dresses? You could just be on the off part of a cycle. Now, if something has sat around for a couple complete cycles (which may or may not relate to the seasons; mine don’t always), it should probably go.

    Wishful wardrobing and splitting my wears are both things I am very guilty of. (I have way more dressy clothes than I will ever need!) Thank you so much for giving me a name for both concepts! I always consider them when evaluating my wardrobe or making purchases. That doesn’t always stop me from buying or hanging on to things I shouldn’t, but it helps. 🙂

    • Hi Heather, thanks for sharing your wisdom in your comment. It’s definitely something to consider. I think you are right, there are often cycles to things. And I think it is great that you can identify for yourself that you go through them. As for the maxi dress. I probably won’t get rid of it just yet. In fact, I do have another one that, admittedly, I am a little tired of, that always gets me compliments. That’s why I keep it. The thing I have realized about my style is that I really prefer a more tailored look, even in the summer. This is why the maxi dress is feeling a bit off to me. Interestingly, for years I lived in dresses in the summer and this summer I haven’t worn one. I’m just over it, for now. I used to never wear pants in the heat and now I am all about my ankle length pairs. So, you might be right, this may just be a cycle. But I also think that by the time I get to maxis again, if I get back to them, I won’t want to wear the one I currently have. Anyway, all good food for thought! Thanks!

    • Betty

      I’m definitely one of those people who goes through “cycles”, especially related to a certain hobby or social scene. This probably explains why I have so many multiples. :/

  • It was tough to realize I do not like moto-style jackets on me. I have 4!! I never wear them. Including the beautiful gingham JCrew version ;-( But at least I can stop wasting my time making and buying them!

    I also realized this year that I just don’t like bootcut pants. I don’t care if they’re in. I like a slim ankle length or a full length wide leg.

    It can be annoying and frustrating but by purging you get to have fun with your wardrobe again.

  • Krys A

    What I love about your posts is that you infuse them with personal experiences. A mere checklist showing why certain clothes may not work in general really doesn’t help you “go deeper”. Thanks for sharing! I just got rid of a beige three-piece suit (jacket, skirt, pants) because it just didn’t feel “right” even though it was convenient for business travel. What I found is that the beige had a slight pink tinge to it that was a little “off” against my skin and did not quite go with my warm-toned blouses. Even though the suit fit me perfectly, I donated it and will just use my separates to create a suit look. I also felt a little too prim in the jacket and skirt combo.

    • Thanks, Krys! I’m not perfect and I make mistakes and learn things too. I am glad that doing this makes you feel like you can learn more.

  • Deb Durham

    Wow, Bridgette! Thank you for such a thought provoking piece. I am so guilty of wishful wardrobing but I’ve mostly caught myself before buying these days. I love the look of high heels (even though I am 6′ tall) but I gravitate to the sale ole Via Spiga flatforms for comfort and it’s not that they look like granny shoes or anything–they do have style. Also, I work from home, never have business ‘meetings’ so don’t really need the buttoned up business clothes And re the maxi dress, I bought a darling BCBG leopard print chiffon several years ago and have yet to wear it! I was thinking at the time maybe I was moving into a ‘goddess’ phase (LOL) but truth is I’d feel uncomfortable wearing it out now even though it is beautifully made and fits me to a T. It is currently in the off-season trunk. I’m headed for even more pared down wardrobe with just a couple long skirts and wide leg pants and Majestic Ts which feel so luxurious and fit like a glove. One thing I would like to find is an unconstructed jacket I could throw over everything for cool summer evenings or when I want a little more polished look or for airline travel. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Deb! Thanks so much for your kind words! Have you checked out MM Lafleur’s jardigans? They are sort of cardigan/jacket hybrids.

      • Deb Durham

        Will check it out, Bridgette! Thanks!