Brooklyn, thank you, that is all very clarifying! I think for me it would also be everyday over occasion but cool weather over warm. (But, as Angie notes, we Seattleites can no longer ignore our warm-weather capsules!) I like to look at fashion and browse randomly too -- basically I just love textiles! It does make for having a sense of an overabundance of possibilities though.... And great point about going the custom route. That might work especially well for tops, particularly my elusive patterned tops. Oh dear, now I have an excuse to browse fabric!

Helena, this was so interesting to read your description of the changes you have made this year. I am glad they are proving so successful for you! I think both you and I are both deeply analytical AND deeply intuitive people. And finding the right balance between those tendencies can be difficult, but SO, so rewarding. I am taking notes!

Anchie, ah yes -- ratio of neutrals/colors and pattern/non-pattern. I think that's something that would be useful for me, too. Thank you! And it's good to know I'm in such good company struggling with this.

Thank you again, all! I am letting all this wonderful wisdom percolate in my brain, and am excited to put it into action!

Hi Sarah have been thinking about your thread! I am a bit flummoxed myself on where to go with future purchases from here. Have managed to demote a few things to the dress-up cupboard that could be for my Art Deco or 1970s parties…neither of which have happened for over a year but which I hope may come back one day. That left small gaps in my 150-ish item wardrobe that I could fill without getting out-of-control numbers and choices again.
I think “wardrobe holes” for me are usually Angie’s “essentials”. For instance, black ponte pants. I find these so comfortable and a good base for winter outfits where more of the interest is in the top half and the shoes, so something plain in between those is good. So when about 2 years ago I could tell the frequently worn ones with leather lower leg patches were looking tired, I started watching out/hunting for some. In 2020 I found a cheap but good pair through internet searching which I am pleased to have now worn many weekends and days off plus for the occasional work day-81 wears by now. I donated the tired ones last year. Missed my leather patches though, and this year found some by the same brand as the original at their factory sale. Different style. They are smarter and better for work. 19 wears already in a few months.
So with 100 wears between the pairs I think we can say essential for my style!
I tend to have more “wild cards” in my summer style I think, like maybe introducing a new colour. Thrifting is quite good for that for me but not always a success.

I keep piece counts in each category for Summer and Not Summer (our two seasons). So I know how many jeans, sweaters, etc. I have and can spot gaps developing. So one year all I bought were long sleeve tees to put my essentials back in balance. That takes care of making my wardrobe function. I also have a budget, and use the rest of it for things that are trending at retail that suit my style, and what that is varies from year to year. Right now I am loving the skirts and dresses but not the shoes, another year I bought a lot of shoes. The budget makes prioritizing happen.

LOL @ "I have gone, truly, years without what I would consider really foundational items and yet have never gotten arrested for public indecency, you know?"

I think about this a lot, and carry around the awareness that the vast bulk of what I own falls into the "want" category, not "need". That said, I do consider style/textiles to be a hobby at this point in my life, so I've granted myself permission to have more than a tiny capsule of clothes (for now -- that could always change again in the future).

I am slowly and reluctantly admitting to myself that my priority, as long as I live in a four-season climate, needs to be cold-weather gear and clothing. It's hard, because boots and coats take up a lot of space and budget, but they truly are the highest-impact items in my wardrobe. I love warm and hot weather and I can feel happy wearing just about any old tee plus shorts/skirt combo or a breezy dress with simple sandals. I also have a lot of freedom to wear whatever in June/July/August since I work on a school schedule and don't need to look anything other than casual 99% of the time in the summer. The flip side is, I am miserable if I'm cold, so I really can't get by without a dialled-in layering system for the winter, especially if I want to spend significant time outside (and I'm also miserable when I don't do that!). My only summer purchases so far have been replacements for worn out gear and a couple of secondhand linen pieces for fun. I am holding off on more shopping until cold weather arrives and I can reassess my outerwear/layering situation.

I try to stay away from thinking in terms of "wardrobe holes" these days because for me it can too easily become a game of mental gymnastics to justify adding things that catch my eye but aren't true needs. Eg, "I only have dark coloured sneakers right now, so I *need* this light coloured pair!" Do I frequently find myself unable to create outfits because I'm stuck with black sneakers? Nope? Then it's not really a hole, is it! Better to just be honest and say, "Wow, those ecru sneakers are really cute! What would I wear them with, and how often? Am I okay splitting wears with my other sneakers? Will I be annoyed with how quickly they get dingy?" etc.

I have a really large wardrobe, in part because I rarely get rid of stuff. My weight has mostly been very stable for 30 or 40 years—until I lost about 10 pounds nearly two years ago. Ten pounds isn’t much unless you’re 5’ 1” like me. Now those sheath dresses that I kept tugging down and that T-shirt that showed too much fluff can now get more rotation, and a few blouses droop at the shoulders. Frustrating that even five pounds can make a difference!

I’ve found that too specific a list has led me to subconscious settling and convincing myself that something is a 10 when it’s a 7 or 8 just so I can cross it off. I no longer buy at thrift stores due to no returns and the prices aren’t good in my area. Nearly all my clothing purchases are from Nordstrom since I am able to return them whenever; no deadline.

I put items in my Nordstrom Wish List and wait for them to be marked down or until I decide they won’t meet my needs/wants. That’s how I got my new bras to replace a few that got too big and a pleather vest to replace the one that’s starting to peek which replaced my first pleather vest that suddenly started to peel big time.

I have noticed that I have become extremely sensitive to temperature and weather changes such that what may have worked for me several years ago may not do so in the future. These days my feet get cold like nobody’s business so that has to be in my priorities.

Finally, I have to admit that I am a recreational shopper. I am over age 69 but work one day a week to fund my Nordstrom addiction. My husband is in poor health so we don’t do much so this is my entertainment. I feel like I am single-handedly upholding the American economy. Who else has their old (from several years ago) UPS driver ask the current UPS driver to give me a shoutout? I love them both.

That last bit is great Donna! I am sorry about your husband’s poor health though. I definitely don’t single-handedly uphold the NZ economy as I am too tight-fisted for that, but I sometimes spend quite a lot all at once like we are adding an outdoor pergola to our 4-year old house soon as the 4 summers without it made us realise we will have a much better summer with one. And it is $$$.
I do what you do with “wish lists” and then sometimes buying on deep discount.

So, I discovered a wardrobe hole today when the zipper on my lightweight/ fast dry white shorts broke. I wear those shorts at least twice a week in summer. Yes, I have a denim pair but I don't like them nearly as much. No, I can't find a replacement (yet) and am hoping I can find a tailor and get a zipper sewn in. These shorts are over 10 years old but apart from the zipper they look like new and they still fit me so I would rather repair if I can.

But there it is -- an essential for me.

I get that you wear more of what might be called "completer" pieces but I still see your style as included essentials. Some that I have seen:

  • Skinny or slim jeans.
  • Knee high boots.
  • Short water proof boots / booties.
  • Patterned (probably Fair Isle) cardigan. (Yes, I know in some closets that might count as a statement but in your case, I think not.)
  • Pin-tucked or other detailed tops (not sure which colours would be your essentials but I am sure you can narrow down favourites that would be awfully hard to do without as opposed to others that are less crucial but nice to have -- those would be completers in your closet).
  • Raincoat/ rain gear (simply because of climate -- this *has* to be essential for anyone in the PNW, I would wager.
I'm sure there are more!

Given how often you make outfits with these elements, I would think they might be. your priorities unless you already have a huge stockpile of items in these categories.

This is the reason outerwear and footwear is a huge priority for me -- probably my main priority. I have to ensure that's in place first and each season I check out footwear before I do anything else -- followed by outerwear in fall/ winter (not so much for spring/ summer for obvious reasons.)

The best I can make of the whole essentials/statements/completers business is to do what Suz did with Fair Isle sweaters & detailed tops for you—figure out what I wear and need to get dressed. That means ignoring the idea that they have to be bland, basic things that you don’t enjoy shopping for and figuring out what works for you. I didn’t get arrested without the bike shorts I got earlier this summer, but they make a couple skirts more wearable. Having that option means I’m wearing the skirts more, even if I don’t wear shorts that day. That’s been my uniform this summer. The skirts have colorful patterns, yet I swap them and the colorful monochrome tops out easily. I recall that you have a long over lean formula with very specific requirements for the pieces.

JenniNZ great that you have found this discussion thought-provoking! I agree with you that the easiest wardrobe holes to recognize are those involving "essentials" per Angie's definition. And very good point in your second comment about how the budget for non-clothing priorities intersects with wardrobe planning. We're doing some decarbonization of our home this year and my awareness of the cost of that surely factors into my thoughts here. Though the just-passed climate bill here in the US should help with that. Can I just spend the tax credit we get for low-carbon home upgrades on secondhand clothes? lol

cat2 keeping piece counts of different categories sounds like a useful strategy. Of course I've done wardrobe counts before but I'm not sure I've taken it the next step to establish how many items I *should* have in different categories. Worth pondering that further.

LaPed, it's great to "see" you. I hope you are well! Absolutely YES on the murky difference between wants and needs, and the relief of intellectual honesty. Thank you so much for articulating that way! I literally felt my shoulders relax when I read your post.

DonnaF also wanted to say that I'm sorry for your husband's health struggles. I like your system of making a list and then just waiting for the price to fall (or for the item to fall off the list). There's something very freeing in that. Very good point about the perils of an overly-specific list causing one to settle -- I think that's true for me too so duly noted!

Suz how fascinating -- a wardrobe hole caused you to discover a new essential! The opposite order of operations to what we have mostly been discussing on this thread. Your comments about Angie's essentials concept -- yes, I definitely do have them in my wardrobe -- prompted me to revisit some earlier threads on the topic, here and here. The second of those links is especially interesting because in some ways the discussion is so similar to the one on this thread. *facepalm* Hilarious but also frustrating that I seem to need to learn the same lesson over and over! (In my defense, I guess, my bandwidth for focusing on style/wardrobe waxes and wanes, and I sometimes lose the thread a bit in between those periods of focus.) Anyway, reading back over that thread reinforced my sense that I have long felt that I tend to over-accumulate essentials (particularly in dark neutrals), and have consistently wanted to shift the balance of my wardrobe more towards color/pattern. So I'm skeptical of the idea that purchasing essentials (again, per Angie's definition) ought to be my default priority -- although I do think "Are my essentials sorted?" should be a question in the mix, probably near the top.

SF, yeah, the essentials discussion is always slippery, and I think people often want to conflate "neutral or quietly colored items that serve as the 'glue' holding outfits together" (what Angie means by essentials) and "items that are essential to expressing my style," which could be much less quiet/neutral -- like those fair isle pieces that you and Suz are both (correctly, I think) identifying as playing that role for me. I think we need language to name those wardrobe items. I am going to let my ecologist freak flag fly and propose "keystone pieces." An alternative might be "signature pieces." I think wardrobe holes involving those keystone pieces can be harder to recognize than those involving essentials -- yet we feel that there is something ineffable missing from our wardrobes. Your bike shorts example is interesting because I think those are what Angie would call a "wardrobe basic" -- I have a tendency to under-invest in wardrobe basics, and have definitely had experiences where the lack of a wardrobe basic stopped me from getting as much use out of another item as I might otherwise. So that's good for me to keep in mind as well!

Thanks again all for the discussion on this thread! Inspired by your input I have been doing some analysis and planning for fall 2022 -- I will write up some thoughts which I hope might be useful to others as well as me but won't have time to do that until later in the week. Excited to put some of the great suggestions you all have made into practice!

This has been a fascinating thread. Thank you! SarahD8 for initiating this discussion. I clearly need to get organized and there are so many great suggestions here. Hmmm. a spreadsheet would likely help me weed out those items that I really don't wear and help focus on those that I should wear more often or 'holes' that need attention. Even though I've been reading YLF for several years I have yet to fully embrace the 'organized' approach to fashion. Maybe this discussion has finally pushed me to the point of truly becoming more intentional about my wardrobe. I have started putting a few items in my Finds... so that's a start. Thanks to everyone for sharing their ideas and personal experiences.