The Psychology of the Curated Closet
How clarifying our closet goals can clarify our minds as well.
Posted Jun 26, 2017
It was only recently that I completed Anuschka Rees’ The Curated Closet. And honestly, come to think of it, I have no idea how that particular Amazon purchase came to be. I don’t particularly recall searching for a book on organizing my wardrobe, as it’s something I give very little thought to. So perhaps it’s for the best that the Amazon fairies knew to recommend it for me, as the title has been a complete game changer for my closet, and life, to say the least.
Armed with her master’s degree in psychology, Rees combines her vast fashion knowledge with that of her psychology expertise to write a book that most of us should really consider reading. I’ll be honest, I was guilty at times of not exactly following all of her activities of finding swatches and making a fashion vision board. But I did sheepishly create her pie chart of real life versus fantasy life activities and realized I really don’t need to be spending a disproportionate amount of time online shopping for one-off occasions (the rare beach vacation), and need to invest more time in the day to day gaps in my closet (the reason I ponder if yoga clothes are acceptable grocery-shopping attire). I also followed her advice and came up with a pseudo-descriptor of my personal style ambition: northwest nautical sophisticate with subtle glam—basically, a combo of pink, gold, navy and creams. But in doing so, I also came to realize her essential premise—that we are a consumerist society that chronically purchases on whims, rendering ourselves constantly broke and simultaneously, without a single thing to wear. While Rees provides many golden nuggets in her tome, below are some of the highlights:
Stop shopping sales!
The psychology of sales and discounts is a simple one: reduced price = jumping for joy = I can buy more with less. So often we all succumb to purchasing sale items because they seem like a good deal. But in the process, more often than not we come to settle for less than what we really desire. It was actually my husband who taught me that the highest quality items in the most desirable neutral shades never go on sale. And he’s right. The blacks, tans, and greys don’t have to go on sale, because they are universal, not a one-season fad, and they can be used endlessly. Rees discusses fast-fashion stores that sell items that you can use for a season, but then immediately fall apart and need to be replaced again. Instead, she advises going in with a plan. After completing her book and assignments, I came to realize exactly what I needed and how sales can quickly divert us from our intentions—we go in for jeans and come out with five tank tops.
Pick your palette
In her book, Rees provides examples of color palettes but also shares ways you can create your own variations. She also makes distinctions between accent colors versus neutrals, basics pieces, key pieces, and accent pieces. While the goal is not to complicate, it is to elucidate. By getting an idea of what colors you like and for what types of pieces (i.e., red blouse versus red pants), it allows for a lifetime of simplicity. I walked into a store the other day and was nearly sucked into every gimmick and sale, until I realized none of the colors on the display were a part of my chosen palette. As lovely as the summery yellows and bright greens were, they simply weren’t for me. Short dresses were also something I had put into the category of “nice on others, not for me.” Rees explains that by zeroing in on your own unique style, you are never a slave to fashion trends ever again. You can certainly update your wardrobe every few years, but as we all know, some things simply never go out of style. White crew neck t-shirts, a tailored oxford and jeans will always exist. You can always mix things up, but like staying true to your own identity and personality, a color palette and unique style is the same. You don’t have to be a carbon copy of everyone else and constantly run to keep up with the pack. Talk about one less stressor in life!
Shop Quality, Not Quantity
As tempting as it can be to get more for less, in the long run, you end up paying more. I’ve learned this lesson many times over with winter boots. I remember my intern year living on a meager stipend and buying $20 boots which I was really excited about. Less than a year in, they were tearing and the heel needed to be replaced at the cost of the boot itself. Fast-forward to when I got my first real adult job and was convinced by my husband to buy real boots to last. While I balked at the price tag, the boots are three years strong, and I know will last another four to five years minimum given their construction. While quality does not always have to translate to a steeper price point, the key is paying attention to quality. Rees discusses looking for natural fibers such as cottons and wools and avoiding synthetic fibers if possible.
I recall growing up admiring the work clothes offered by the Limited; the models always looked so chic and sophisticated, and of course, endlessly professional. As I stocked up my wardrobe with their pieces, I couldn’t help but notice the items were stiff, didn’t breathe and needed frequent washing. Again, captain obvious husband pointed out they were all polyester. I was basically wearing plastic he told me. And he was right. Rees discusses checking for stitching, whether fabrics are see-through and their general construction in addition to the fibers used. Once you start looking for these details, it becomes easy to see what you are paying for. How many times have we put down our hard-earned money on an item that is already starting to pill in the store because we justify the purchase due to price or other factors?
One of the most uplifting philosophies of Rees’ book is that less truly is more. While this is a mindset that appeals to many millennials, it is also kinder to the environment, our wallets, and ourselves. At the end of the day, clutter is mentally consuming. How we feel emotionally walking into a clean house is vastly different from walking into one that is a total mess. There is a reason there are so many adages regarding closets and hiding things in the English language. Perhaps because that is where we store old memories, things we’d like to forget about, or simply don’t have the time and energy to devote ourselves to. While we are quick in life to have fitness goals, professional goals, and relationship goals, we are often apt to forget about our life on a macro-scale. What clutter do we want to get rid of? What is holding us back? While at times I felt silly and superficial reading a book about my closet, I realized it was about more than fashion—it’s also a statement of the quality of our lives and the clarity of our minds.
Visions Take Time!
Rees reminds us in her ever so practical way, that visions and change take time. She warns us not to chuck out everything from our closet and start anew. After all, that is wasteful and can start back the cycle of buying things out of convenience and stocking up cheap items because we are desperate. Good pieces take time to curate as well as funds. Maybe you buy a winter coat that takes up a good part of your budget, and so you don’t buy other pieces for some time. Either way you look at it, it won’t happen overnight. So while I was excited and eager to dump my closet as a whole, I realized she was right—I’ll be wearing plastic for a little while longer, but at least I know where I’m headed.
Rees, A. (2016). The Curated Closet: A System for Discovering Your Personal Style and Building Your Dream Wardrobe. Ten Speed Press: Berkeley.