Filling In the Gaps (In Your Wardrobe)
What Is A Wardrobe Gap?
A wardrobe gap is, to put it simply, nothing. It’s the absence of something that you need to make expressing your personal style easier or, in some cases, possible.
Almost every wardrobe is, at some point, going to have a gap or two (or several)—even a stylist’s. What’s important is to not overcorrect, where you end up buying so many items to fix one problem that you create more problems when those pieces don’t fit anywhere else. In the same vein, it’s equally—if not more—imperative that you do not create gaps where there are none. If you are, say, in a style “rut,” where you seem to be wearing the same thing over and over again, instead of jumping to add something, first, take the time to really evaluate your wardrobe.
Sometimes, all it takes is getting rid of what you don’t wear to make it easier to navigate and come up with new ways to wear what you have. Take the time to also make everything you choose to keep “ready to wear.” That means, sew that button back on, crop that top you’ve been meaning to crop, steam those wrinkles out, and get anything tailored that needs to be. After all, there’s no point in having a bunch of clothes you want to wear, but can’t yet.
Once you’re sure you’re not just in a rut, and actually have a need, it’s time to evaluate what the need is and why it exists. Gaps can take three forms: specific items you already own that are difficult to style; specific scenarios/occasions that you find it hard to dress for; and/or something you’re missing in order to bring together multiple parts of your wardrobe, which tends to be some kind of basic.
Easy Fixes (or Specific Items)
If you’re anything like me, sometimes you see something you love so much that you hit “Buy” before even fully evaluating whether it fits into your closet. This garment, much like my sheer polka dot DVF wrap blouse, fits in your wardrobe in theory: maybe it’s a style that often works well for you; maybe it even resembles other things you own; but, for whatever reason, it just doesn’t work.
While there’s nothing wrong with admitting defeat and just getting rid of it, sometimes, we can be too quick to say “oh well,” shrug our shoulders, and discard a perfectly good piece of clothing. Before you toss that unstyleable skirt or top into the donation bin, let’s make sure you’re not missing the obvious.
First, put the item on with just your undergarments, no styling, nothing. Do this during your downtime, not right before you have to be dressed to go somewhere. Look at it from all angles, and imagine how to complete the look. Do you have what you’re imagining? What about something similar? I’ve personally spent weeks searching for the perfect, say, black miniskirt to go with a certain top, only to realize the green midi skirt I already owned actually works great.
If you’re still struggling: style it! Tuck or untuck it, unbutton it, tie it, toss it off the shoulder, belt it, hike it up and safety pin it: whatever can be done, do it. Can you complete the look now? Yes? Good, now with this new, more open mind: do it again.
My general rule of thumb is anything that I can’t style at least two different ways is a bust. It’s up to you to decide whether a bust means to get rid of it, or to let it hang in the back of your closet until you’ve built your wardrobe further. Leaving space for your taste, shopping habits, and style to grow can put you in a better position to close those gaps in the future. That said, if you’ve reached your personal shopping stopping point and are trying to downsize anyway, it’s probably safe to let it go.
I don’t necessarily recommend buying something just to go with one other item, thus closing one gap and, typically, opening another. But, when faced with multiple gaps, sometimes one well-thought out purchase is exactly what you need…
Finding Your Basics (a.k.a. Bringing Everything Together)
I’m sure you’ve read plenty of other fashion media that lists off the Basics Every Woman Should Own. I balk at these articles (a lot) because, while there’s nothing wrong with having black trousers or a little black dress if you need and wear them often, there is something wrong with following these lists only to realize you don’t really like wearing white T-shirts or jeans and being stuck with a bland closet full of boring items that don’t reflect you. Instead, you want your foundation to be just as expressive and tailored to your style as the rest of your wardrobe, while still being versatile enough to create multiple looks with ease.
For instance, I have a gorgeous blue pleated maxi skirt in my closet that I’ve only managed to wear once. It’s sort of an odd blue, but it fits me well and I feel pretty in it. Rather than letting it languish in my wardrobe, though, only to be pulled out when I feel like pairing the same plain white blouse with it, I thought long and hard about what else I could buy to fit with it. We all do this to some extent when we encounter something we’ve yet to wear: “Oh, I wish I had a ________ to wear with this” or “This would be so cute if I had a _______.”
To pair with my blue skirt, I came up with: a neutral colored wrap top, a loose silky tank, and some white mules. Once I had my mini list, I took it and looked at what else in my closet would work with the items I’d come up with: I could also wear a neutral wrap top with my green satin skirt, or my black midi skirt. I could rock a loose silky tank underneath a blazer with my black wrap skirt, and I could wear the white mules with any of my many light colored maxi dresses. Voila. Now, instead of buying one piece to match one other piece in my closet and make one outfit, I suddenly had a myriad of options with just 3 new basics, expanding my wardrobe by at least a dozen different looks.
A few things to remember:
Your basics don’t have to be neutral colors. If you’re big on patterns, or colorblocking, you may find that what you need to unify your wardrobe is a bright solid, or a pastel, or a jewel tone. Likewise, you may need a pattern for that “pop” like a leopard or a stripe.
Even if your basics are, well, basic, they don’t have to be the most bland version of that item. White T-shirts, for example, come with all sorts of design features: V-neck, oversized, cropped, I even have one by Halston with a back side made of silk. While the many “timeless classics” brands out there are great when you do need something uncomplicated, don’t be scared to take your time and find something unique that still fills that need.
It’s important to also understand that you can’t really figure out your “gaps” without being acutely aware of what you have and the way it all fits together. When you’re doing your initial evaluation, after you’ve gotten a good idea of what you don’t wear, make a real effort to pair those things with the things you do reach for often, before getting the idea cemented in your head that you need to buy something else.
Once you’ve determined what holes need to be filled, there’s the matter of deciding what you need to fill them. Not everyone can just imagine outfits from the ether, so don’t hesitate to seek some additional guidance (outside of this article) via my favorite method: just search the thing on Pinterest to see how other people have styled similar pieces.
From there, the process is the same. Take note of what you like, and what you think would work, then work out how much other stuff that stuff would go well with. Whatever you determine you can get the most use out of is your new basic.
Complex Dilemmas (i.e. Occasions and Scenarios You Struggle to Dress For)
I’ve saved the most complicated gaps for last: what happens when you do (or plan to start doing) a thing fairly often, but you honestly, truly have nothing to wear?
These Complex Dilemmas can take many forms, the most common of which being: formalwear. In fact, women struggle with formalwear so much that I made it the topic of (half of) the first True Style podcast.
To be honest, though, I don’t think those of us with 5 weddings and two galas planned for the summer and no other formal (or semi-formal) events for the rest of the year should be too concerned with building a permanent collection of floor-length gowns (for white or black tie) and cocktail sheaths when there’s so many rental options available. Nuuly, Rent The Runway, Armoire, and Dia & Co (among others) are all great for borrowing one-time use occasionwear with the added bonus of not even having to worry if you spill a little wine during your best friend’s reception (all of these services have robust cleaning capabilities). This isn’t an ad…but someday, it will be.
For the gaps that actually need a more permanent filling,—like officewear for those who are returning to a physical workplace, cold weather wear for those who just moved from Miami to Manitoba, or just summer clothes for those of us who are goths at heart and don’t like dressing for heat—the solutions are fairly straightforward.
Just look at what you already enjoy wearing. No matter the need, there is something you can switch out, something you can add, or a version of what you already like that is appropriate. Consider the fabrics: try switching out regular trousers or jeans for linen in warm climates. Think of the details and colors: your officewear can still be printed/patterned if that’s what you like. And don’t shy away from hidden layers in colder weather, like thin long sleeved tees under dresses, or fleece tights under skirts (and jeans).
Are We Finished or Are We Done? (i.e. Moving Forward)
Speaking of buying things: where do we go once the gaps are closed?
Now, while I propose shopping as little as possible, I’m both realistic (and hopeful) enough to know that there’s never going to be a world where we only own the bare minimum of what we need and never seek more. What’s important is to strike the balance between shopping for the sake of shopping vs. becoming the kind of person who never shops and lets all their needs pile up until they’re forced to do a huge haul just to have enough to wear for several years (also known as the Burst shopper).
Once you feel you’ve gotten to a point where your closet is effective, but you still feel the draw of the shiny and/or new, be sure to stop and consider these three questions in order to avoid creating a new gap:
Does this fit into my wardrobe? Can you come up with at least two looks off the top of your head with this item?
Do I already own something like this? If yes, you don’t necessarily have to put it back on the rack, but rather ask yourself when you’d wear this item over that other one you own. The answer can be as simple as “I just want it in yellow, instead.”
Is this the best that I can do/afford? Sometimes, liking something isn’t enough if you know it’s not very well made, or needs a lot of work that you’re not really excited to do to make it work. Be sure to also not compromise. If you hate silver hardware, don’t buy a skirt with it just because you like the style if you know you’re going to need to buy jewelry/accessories to go with it. Unless you have zero skirts (or pants, or dresses), you can take your time to find something better.
There’s nothing wrong with keeping things fresh, and you should aim to upgrade things as you can, just be mindful.