June 20, 2024


We Do Shopping Right

Overwhelmed by clothes, I digitized my closet

Everyone I know is faintly, cautiously thinking about their post-pandemic plans — from the trips they might take to the people they’ll hug. I think about those things too, of course, but mostly I think about what I’ll be wearing. I consider the outfit I’ll wear to my first day back at the office with the same seriousness I once reserved for the first day of school. I long for a real reason to wear a dress again or for a suitcase to pack.

I find myself thinking about clothes the way people on a sugar cleanse obsess over a chocolate croissant. The not-having is a kind of torture. I love my clothes. I miss my clothes. I vow to never again waste an opportunity to wear something nice.

Despite owning enough to outfit a lifetime, I’m no stranger to bouts of sartorial indecision. I consider my shopping to be thoughtful collecting, but I’ve thoughtfully collected my way into an overstuffed closet. Even in 2020, a year of nowhere to go and no one to impress saw me facing my closet racks, absolutely clueless about which jeans to wear to the grocery store.

The “I have nothing to wear” thing feels universal. The image is so common it has become a cliché: the small mountain of clothes on the bed, the half-dressed woman, exasperated and trapped in indecision. I’m no expert, but I think that part of the dilemma isn’t having nothing to wear, but having nothing new to wear. Our brains are addicted to novelty, and we get a little rush of dopamine the first time we wear a new item. After that, the dopamine tapers off and that new-in sheen wears off. too. That Peter-Pan-collar blouse you were so excited about becomes just another thing in your wardrobe. The cycle repeats again and again. We keep buying because we think that just one more pair of black trousers/check blazer/leather ankle boots will unlock our ideal wardrobe.

So how do you break the cycle? There’s the time-honoured closet clear-out (and the ensuing ruthless purge), the capsule closet method (that is, wearing a small selection of items that all match). There’s the shopping ban. I’ve tried almost all with varying levels of success. This year, instead of restricting or minimizing, I decided to digitally catalogue every fashion item I own. Because the first step in any kind of self-improvement is gauging your baseline.

Planning an outfit using the closet carousel on the Whering app.

The time investment happens upfront, but the process is simple: Photograph every shirt, skirt, blazer and pair of shoes, and upload it to an app that will help sort, match and track what you wear. There are plenty of apps out there — from Stylebook (for iPhone) to YourCloset (for Android). I chose Whering, a free app that also auto-suggests looks and neatly crops my photos so I can layer and collage my items into visually pleasing flat-lays that remind me of playing with paper dolls as a kid.

I made a fresh French press, cleared a weekend morning and proceeded to systematically hang my clothes on a hook on a white wall (most apps advise against busy backgrounds) and photograph them. Yes, my arms were sore by the end, and the coffee went cold and mostly untouched. But three hours after I snapped my first picture, everything I owned took up residence in my phone’s camera roll.

Once I uploaded the hundreds of photos to the app, I could now plan outfits from my couch. Instead of staring at the racks, frozen in indecision, the app works like a slot machine, letting me scroll through tops, bottoms, dresses and shoes until I struck a pleasing combo — yes, exactly like that scene in Clueless.

I could also hit the surprise button, and let the app suggest a random combo. Sure, I rejected most of its suggestions, but every once in a while, an intriguing idea would pop up, causing me to see an item in a new light; the jolt of novelty not dissimilar from buying something new. I saved the outfits I liked, creating a sort of lookbook, a weapon against outfit indecision. I could mark outfits as worn, getting a true gauge on what I’m wearing and how often. Whering calculated that I currently utilize 11 per cent of my closet — hardly surprising in a WFH, loungewear-clad year.

Still, as fun as it is to absent-mindedly plan outfits with a flick of my thumb, I have higher hopes for the app, and my newly digitized closet. The arm ache after photographing years and years of purchases, the sheer volume of items uploaded, the seemingly infinite outfit combos the app suggests — let it all be a reminder of how much I own, and of how little I need to buy. Just like a fitness tracker alone won’t get you in shape, a closet app is only as useful as the intention — and action — powering it. With an app to hold me accountable and organized, I vow to wear what’s there.

Like so many, I have high hopes for a better 2021. I’m wishing for good things, normal things. Like a dream job, I plan on dressing for the year I’d like to have. Eighty nine per cent of my clothes await me.



Liz Guber