keys to an intentional wardrobe, part one

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KeysToAnIntentionalWardrobeOne of the most unexpected, but resounding areas of feedback I have received about the blog is that many people would like more style posts. Another piece of feedback shared by many was about breaking up the longer posts into parts.

So today, I plan to implement both of those changes: this is part one of a post devoted to keys to building an intentional wardrobe.

I had never really thought that style would be a huge source of interest for many, despite my own wish for that kind of content shared in an intentional way. Funny how that is, huh? I would want it too, but since I hardly felt like an ‘expert’ on fashion to dish it out, I never shared much about it before.

So though I am far from becoming a fashion blogger, I want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past seven years of intentionally evolving my wardrobe. And going forward, I plan to share more regularly about my style evolution in general.

The first key to building an intentional wardrobe that I’ve learned thus far is…


Creating a clear vision is essential.


Though fashion and style will gradually shift over time, as our lives and tastes change, I don’t believe that an intentional wardrobe can really begin unless some unifying theme or vision emerges. And though that vision or theme may take a while to develop, we must start with this essential step before ever stepping foot in our closets or whipping out our wallets.

To start this process, it might be helpful to reflect on how you feel about your wardrobe as it is right now. You might find that overall you are pretty satisfied with your clothing, or, you might find that you are really wishing for something quite different. To gauge the overall standing of your wardrobe, it could be helpful to do a mental venn diagram and think about how much overlap there is between what you want your wardrobe to be like and what it actually is like.

Big disconnect? Then it’s time to start thinking deeply about what it is you want to look or feel like in your clothing.

Small disconnect? That means you already have a rather good – or great – vision that you may be knowingly or unknowingly acting upon already.

Here are three simple methods to try to determine your vision.


1) Create an inspiration board.

Thanks to Pinterest, this has never been easier. Simply dive through magazines, catalogs, fashion blogs, or Pinterest and find the images and styles you resonate with the most. Consolidating the images to a physical board or online Pin board helps to give you a feel for your overall style (tip: this can even be done seasonally).

Next, it could be helpful to look for themes across the images. For me, I like color, stripes, dots, and all things white and gold. Overall, my look is rather preppy, but I am recently trying to keep it from looking too predictable.

After taking a look at the trends on your board, you might be able to identify pieces within your wardrobe that don’t match your vision, and a others that do. This is what is going to help you when you go into your closet to exfoliate and create an intentional shopping list of items you’d like to include.


2) Create a mantra.

Another way to think about your wardrobe is to think about how you’d like to feel or look. For example, I helped a friend years ago with her own closet exfoliation. She used the phrase “effortlessly chic” to help guide her exfoliations and inclusions in her wardrobe. Her innate understanding of that phrase gave her the courage to donate those items that were nice, but not within with her vision. It also gave her the restraint needed to avoid ‘sale items’ or budget buys that didn’t match the “effortlessly chic” vibe.

For my own wardrobe, I set an intention (ironically) during the poorest time of my life to only have “nice things.” What qualified as nice? Anything that was made with high quality, lasted the test of time, and had a sophistication about it that I liked.

Needless to say, I didn’t have much cash to go buy a lot of nice things at the time. So instead, I spent my time doing what I could: I exfoliated all the “not nice” things that I could live without.

For me, that exfoliation phase meant that I had less things overall, but the proportion of nice things rose with each cheap or unnecessary item’s exfoliation. And for the past five years, I have done my best to buy things that either look “nice” or are intentional investments in my wardrobe.


 3) WWJD

For a phase of my college career, before the “nice things” mantra I shared above, I did a massive exfoliation (of mostly Forever 21 clothes) under the vision of “What Would Jennifer (Anniston) Do?” Sure, it was rather silly. But I felt at the time that she really encapsulated a lot of the style that I admired. Her casual chic pieces were simple and sophisticated at the same time.

This led me to exfoliate a lot of the more frivolous items like aqua sequin tops, pink layered skirts, and a neon orange something-or-other. Even though a little (immature) part of me still liked the pieces a little bit, the dedication to the greater vision helped me get a much more cohesive and collected closet. And I can’t tell you the number of items I decided not buy from Forever 21 when on the “WWJD” spree. Which, in the end, saved me money on things I would have later regretted.

So though picking a fashion icon may not be a longterm key to an intentional wardrobe and vision, it can be a nice place to start if the other methods don’t seem to click.


Once you have your vision clarified, you will be ready to start editing your closet and including new items in an intentional way… but more on that later.

Tomorrow, I’ll be sharing the next key: being proactive during transition periods.


Part One: Creating a clear vision is essential.

Part Two: Anticipate and respond actively to life transitions.

Part Three: Monitor Exfoliation Habits to Make Wiser Purchases & Shop Sales Intentionally.

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  1. Ashley Laabs

    Great post, Jess! I can’t wait til my blog design is finished so I can start posting on this topic as well! The WWJD cracked me up.

    I guess if I had to pick a mantra, mine would be “the sophisticated rainbow.” I love classic pieces inspired by Audrey Hepburn or Mad Men, structured silhouettes, but with playful colors and prints. Right before Pintereset became a thing I totally went the handmade route for my ideal closet scrapbook. SO glad there’s a more efficient way of doing this now!

    1. That’s great to hear! I love your Sophisitcated Rainbow, so inventive yet still descriptive!

  2. Amy

    Jess, you have a great sense of style! So you are beyond qualified to give fashion advice 🙂

  3. Chicspace/Marguerite

    Another suggestion: spend a few hours/days just observing people. See what silhouettes/colors/items make you think “wow, I’d love to look like her (or him)” and then try to figure out common themes in those. I did this several years back and noticed I really liked styles that included fewer patterns and were simpler (this from a person dedicated to florals and plaids at the time), so I edited and shopped in that direction. This is like finding a fashion muse, but one that is perhaps more attainable/available and geographically/weather appropriate. Hope this helps!

  4. Natalie | Natalie Dressed

    I absolutely love this post (obviously). 😉 Honestly, before you had used this as an example in the workshop, I had never thought about my closet this way. It’s been so helpful!

  5. Nicole Otchy

    Love the message of this post, Jess!

    It’s amazing how the ideas we have in our mind of what being “pulled together” or “effortlessly chic” translates to when it comes our own wardrobes. I’ve created a similar process to help my clients gain clarity around how they want to show up for their lives before we ever go shopping (I’m a personal & wardrobe stylist). Thanks to you, I’m adding a personal mantra style section to my client worksheets.

  6. AdeOla

    I like this post, because I have been thinking a lot about reorganizing my closet. I am on the verge of another move and this post finally made me put it down on my to do list for before the move.

    Off the top of my head, I decide my version of WWJD is probably WWSD – “What would Solange (Knowles) Do?” If I have a mantra, it probably would be Eclectic & Chic Risk-Taker. I may need to think about these more deeply, but for now…

    1. That’s great! You know who I’m rather obsessed with at the moment? Kerry Washington. Her wardrobe in Scandal is KILLER! (No Scandal pun intended.)

      1. AdeOla

        I love Kerry Washington and enjoy her on Scandal. Her style is so not my style…i wish they would infuse some colors. She looks stellar but always in white. 🙁

  7. Ren

    I’ve been going through this point where I’m trying to figure out my style more. I’ve always been in the habit of buying things cheap, because I was in college and then after college I somehow had less money than during it. Lauren Conrad’s LC line at Kohl’s I would say is the epitome of my style, but I’ve noticed that some of her pieces tear easily. If I had the money I would do a lot of shopping at J. Crew, but until then I have to shop cheaper. I’ve also noticed that recently I’m really into Anne Taylor Loft’s style. I like the looser fitting colorful shorts that don’t ride up your butt. I also love Kate Middleton’s and Emma Watson’s styles. The three of them are probably my biggest style inspirations right now. And as much as it pains me to admit this, I really like some of the pieces Taylor Swift wears, too, lol.

    1. Nice! I totally know what you mean about feeling poorer after college and wanting to get J.Crew but not able to afford it (I’ve was there many times over the years myself!). One suggestion I could give is to get less clothes, but buy nicer ones. For example, you could spend the same amount on two nice pairs of jeans than having 4-6 so-so ones. As they wear out, you can replace them, again with nice ones. I’ve moved that direction in my closet and it’s helped keep quality high without spending tons!

      Also, if you like jcrew, you could try their factory/outlet site – they have sales frequently and often could end up getting pretty close (or lower than) full price items at the Gap or other relative stores. Just a suggestion. I think that’s currently my favorite place to shop!

  8. Allie K

    Your “stuff” posts are by far my fave. Mostly because I have way too much of it and always feel inspired to purge when you share your tips! 🙂

    1. That’s great to hear! I’m sure there will be more of those posts in the months and years to come. : )

  9. Amy @ Yellow Hammer Design Sho

    I’m so happy you shared this! I’m at a transitional age where I want nicer longer lasting clothes in my wardrobe and have never sat to really think it all through. Thanks for the motivation!

  10. I love inspiration boards, and they’ve helped me narrow down my style: “colorful classic.”

  11. Josh Furnas

    The tough thing about great posts that show up in google searches, but are split up, is it’s hard to find the link to “Part 2” of the article 🙂

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