In our increasingly busy lives of multitasking and extended work hours, binge-watching Netflix and juggling social media accounts, it can be difficult to keep track of and remember our favorite clothing combinations. Fortunately, the same technology that addles our brains can help us manage our wardrobes.
“What counts is not the quantity of canvases that have been created, but the organization of the brain, the order established in the mind” – Henri Matisse
Though Matisse was talking about painting, his words are relevant to the gentleman’s wardrobe, not in the sense of organizing one’s closet space—though that’s important too—but in keeping a mental account of the wearable combinations in one’s collection, the “canvases” comprised of a certain pocket square that pairs particularly well with a particular tie that coordinates beautifully with a specific sport coat; these are the colors that paint your canvas.
Why You Need Wardrobe Management
1. Keeping Track of a Growing Wardrobe
The wearable combinations in an essentials or capsule wardrobe when you first start out buying tailored menswear are easy to track: you have a navy suit and a gray suit, a burgundy striped tie and a blue grenadine, a blue shirt and a white. There are limited possibilities, satisfactory for the moment and easy enough to remember. However, once you become enthralled with the possibilities of men’s style and establish a collection of a fifty ties, shirts and sports coats, the quantity of “canvases” matters, making it difficult to maintain “the organization of the brain.” Nothing is more frustrating than putting together a great combination only to struggle to recall it later. So, you need some way of noting how your orange and brown mottled knit tie paired beautifully with a sky blue Donegal sports coat, brown flannel trousers, and royal blue paisley pocket square.
2. Pride and Protecting Your Investment
When you become a collector, you inevitably develop an impulse to catalog what you have in your collection, whether it be stamps, coins, fine art, or clothing. There’s a sense of pride and satisfaction in knowing what you have, and this knowledge can help you anticipate what you want in the future while avoiding duplicate purchases. Of course, documenting your investment in hand-rolled ties, quality MTM shirts, and bespoke suits makes good financial sense to protect yourself in case your house burns down and you need to put in an insurance claim. Why not do it in a way that also assists in maintaining your style?
3. Time Savings
As another practical consideration, having a record of your clothes combinations helps when you’re pressed for time, rushing to dress for work in the morning, and need to pick out articles of clothing. While “slow dressing”–carefully considering your combinations, laying out clothing the night before–in the manner of Bruno Cucinelli may be the ideal for the gentleman or dandy, realistically, it’s worth having a cheat sheet, crib notes, or a chart to consult to remind you whether you’ve tried something before and, most importantly, whether it worked out. You can quickly find a particular piece and see what to wear with it.
I, personally, am a list maker, and I love exploring combinations and permutations, so recording my wardrobe is a pure pleasure. I like to think about things and tinker. You may enjoy doing something similar like pairing different wines with particular dishes or planning different sightseeing routes when visiting a new city. The principle is the same when charting your outfits: it’s a stimulating mental activity with a touch of hedonism that yields concrete benefits.
Tech Tool #1: Excel
As with many things today, technology provides the most user-friendly wardrobe management tools. Of course, you could just write your wardrobe groupings on a piece of paper or type them into a document, but the ideal no-frills tool for this is a simple Excel spreadsheet.
Most everyone uses Excel on some level, and the tech knowledge needed for a wardrobe management workbook is minimal. After building my wardrobe over several years, I created two sheets, one for warm weather combinations and another for cold weather. For column headings, I used Jacket, Shirt, Trousers, Tie, Waistcoat, Pocket Square, Shoes, and Belt, in that order. I keep my socks fairly basic, so I don’t have a column for them, but if you have a strong sock game, you could add one. I treat jackets as the foundation for the rest of my clothes, so I have them, alphabetized, in my first column. Then, I can choose an odd jacket for the day and see all the possible shirt, trouser, and tie combinations I own that work well with it, based on my experience.
An advantage of Excel is that the list is easily searchable. You don’t even need to start with the choice of jacket. You can just as easily prioritize your search by tie or anything else. If you’re wondering about the possibilities of your blue gingham shirt on a summer day, you type that in the search box and can see everything that you’ve worn and liked with this shirt. It’s also quite easy to add a row when you acquire new clothes and remove one as you rotate out things that have worn out or that you no longer like. Autofill makes quick work of data entry.
Tech Tool #2: Web Diagrams
As a university professor who teaches writing, I have often used web diagrams, variously known as bubble charts, mind maps, or web diagrams, to teach brainstorming and help students keep track of ideas for essays they were planning to write. The free online app Text2Mindmap is a great way to do the same with your wardrobe combinations. You enter the individual items in a column and the app generates a multicolored chart with branches showing individual outfits that can be saved as a .pdf or .jpg.
The mind map can be saved by setting up a free account on the site and changes can be made easily. The resulting chart is more complex to trace, but those who prefer the visual element of a diagram to the plain text of an Excel spreadsheet will find a mind map appealing.
Tech Tool #3: Closet Apps
Those who favor an even more visual experience, coupled with smartphone access, will find free Apple and Android apps designed to enable you to document and manage your wardrobe. Many of these concentrate on women’s fashion, on the assumption, wrong or right, that most men don’t care about personal style; however, some, like Your Closet and Men Closet, incorporate menswear. These generally feature the ability to create lookbooks or collages based on photographs of individual items.
The apps enable links to shopping and images of clothes, but these usually come from mainstream fast-fashion brands and large department stores, basically what’s available on Shopstyle. Tailored clothes are in short supply; the ateliers and smaller shops favored by aficionados of classic menswear are not to be found. So, the usefulness of these apps lies mainly in photo-documenting your items. You’ll need to photograph your own clothes, use the one-click background remover, and upload your images, which can be a time-consuming process. Once you do this, you can categorize them (by color or season, for example), create combinations and save them, with good-looking results. Often there is a calendar feature that enables you to plan when to wear a particular outfit or record when you wore it last. If you’re dedicated to spending a weekend photographing and uploading your wardrobe, these features can be appealing. Even if you aren’t into sharing images of yourself on Instagram or Styleforum, having photographs of your outfits is the most effective memory aid, while “visual reinforcements are reminders of how the results are worth the effort,” as Parisian Gentleman observes.
Wardrobe Management of the (Near) Future: Smart Closets and the Amazon Echo Look
With wardrobe management so closely tied to technology, it’s inevitable that we’ll see continued innovations in this area. One trend in personalized style advice as sophisticated algorithms assess the outfits we upload and offer suggestions based on weather, things we like, and the feedback of stylists. Following the success of their Echo, Amazon developed the Echo Look, which does many of the smart home tasks provided by their virtual assistant Alexa though with the addition of a full-length camera. Similar to closet apps, the Echo Look allows you to create a lookbook based on your wardrobe though not by individual items. A difference is Amazon’s touted Style Check function, which lets you compare two outfits in terms of which is better and to check the overall style of your choices. It does so by a proprietary method that includes the knowledge of “professional stylists.” Reports online suggest the Style Check to be fairly accurate, with well-fitting clothes usually getting the nod. There may be glitches, but for those who are new to dressing well, this function may be a useful tool to build knowledge and confidence. As a piece of hardware, the Echo Look is not free, priced at $199.99 at the time of this article.
Still in the beta stage is something called Tailor, a system that includes electronic “TailorTags,” tiny sensors you actually embedded in your clothes that are supposedly impervious to washing and drying. These sensors detect what you own and wear, offering suggestions based on your preferences and weather conditions, all “without requiring any user input” though photographing your wardrobe still seems necessary at the start. Essentially, it’s a closet app with automation. It’s not available yet but provides an interesting glimpse of where wardrobe management may be headed in the near future.
In our technologically driven world, it’s not surprising to find that a range of tech tools exist to help manage your wardrobe. These vary in terms of how simple or sophisticated they are, but there is ample choice depending on how visual you want your system to be and how much time you want to invest in the project. All of them offer something useful, and there are many good reasons to choose one. Do you know of or use another system of wardrobe management? Share it in the Comments section below.