When I graduated college, suddenly painfully aware of how clothing and debt could accumulate so quickly, I decided I was a minimalist. That lasted all of a few weeks, but for a month or so I was throwing out more than I was buying. But shockingly enough, downsizing was wasteful. Because I was throwing out a lot. But nevermind that, I was streamlining my life and this is what it took!
Then I started exploring gender, and I bought a sizeable amount of masculine clothing. I wore it probably more than most people wear fast fashion, but I’m aware I was part of the fast-fashion problem. Ugh! I hate myself a little. I mean I can’t have been the only person to have ever gone through a phase, but I hold myself to pretty high standards (even if I break them all the time), and that “but other people do it all the time!” excuse doesn’t feel good. ANYWAYS. I had a lot of stuff, is my point. (I am a self-indulgent waste of space, is my other secondary point. Kidding. Ish.)
So I decided I had to find more organized ways to think about my wardrobe, just as with the rest of my life. Because as much as I hate organization (I’m in fact a very disorganized person), organization is an absolute lifesaver. And when my identity is a mess, having a system for where to start rather than catering to my every morning whim, really really helped stabilize me mentally.
So this is a story about getting one’s gender-scattered wardrobe organized.
The first thing i did was look up ALL the ways in which people pare down their wardrobes. There are a lot. But they all come down to a common first step of putting things into three piles based on frequency of wear and/or how much you love the garment:
- Pile 1: the best things of your wardrobe. Either you wear them a lot or you just love them.
- Pile 2: the “meh” things. Things that are necessary but that you don’t totally love, or maybe you just never find time to wear them because they’re never quite right for an occasion.
- Pile 3: are things you never wear or never enjoy wearing (anything that is too small, that causes dysphoria, etc.) Some of these items might be necessary evils (if you’re closeted, if you don’t have anything to replace said item, if you hate non-black clothing but have a dress code for work) but generally these items should be considered dead to you.
This is all well and good, but what about if you’re experiencing hints of gender fluidity? In that case, what causes you dysphoria or what makes you feel joyful may change with the day. Or your ideas about how much discomfort you’ll put up with in an item of clothing will irreversibly shift, and that high-waisted skirt you used to wear now digs uncomfortably into your ribcage. Sometimes I’ll find that suddenly something I thought I liked was not true to me, was a costume all along. Or some days I just feel less feminine than others.
It can be hard to tell what you love and what you don’t. So here’s a modified version of the 3 piles thing: divide it (roughly) by gender. (Note, this assumes clothing falls into binary genders, or that there is a binariness to your wardrobe.)
- Make a pile of menswear and a pile of womenswear. If something might fit in both piles, put it in whichever pile you usually wear it.
- I fold my shirts narrow so that this works out, but I divide my dresser drawer into 3 sections and “file” my t-shirts so that I have one column of men’s and one of women’s. Then whenever I do laundry I put the shirts in the blank 3rd column.
- For hanging clothing, I use the “stack” algorithm (Last In First Out): in computer science, this is a way of cache-ing data: after you access a piece of memory it goes to the top of the pile, and because piles get searched from the top down it just so happens that the data get sorted in order of how often you access them, and that the ones accessed more frequently are faster to access again. This assumes that past behavior informs future behavior… which is how our wardrobes work: typically whatever you wore most recently is also the thing you will be most likely to wear again. Here I put masculine clothing on one side of the closet and feminine on the other; but whenever I’d wear something I’d put it in the rightmost position of my closet and slide everything down by 1. This way I was categorizing my clothing into 3 sections: masculine-only, feminine-only, and any/all-gender-expression-clothing that I wear often work together.
- Workout clothes are a jumble. I’ll deal with those later.
So there it was, my pseudo sorted wardrobe. On more masculine days, i could easily find what I wanted; on more feminine days, I could easily find something that went with those skinny jeans. The best part of this was that if I pulled something out of my wardrobe and wasn’t happy with it, often switching to the other gender pile resolved the issue. It was a good way of boxing things into gendered piles without limiting myself to wearing only say, men’s t-shirts with men’s shorts.
If you want even MORE structure, you can do a modified-for-gender-fluidity Project 333. The original Project333 involves paring down your *active* wardrobe to 33 items for 3 months; after 3 months, another 33 items. Now if you want to organize by gender, or if your gender is fluid or switches or androgynous, then it might help to do a double-Project333: 33 items of menswear (enough for multiple menswear outfits) and 33 items of womenswear. (This includes clothing and accessories and outerwear.) Use the stack algorithm to see what rises to the top of the pile. And then maybe the next round around, you reduce those 66 items to maybe 50, and then 40, and then 33 combined menswear and womens’ clothing, until you achieve genderfluid nirvana-in-a-capsule-wardrobe a la Queer Household.
Last but not least, Lost In a Spotless Mind’s “Defining Style” series covers how to incorporate multiple styles: if you apply this to masculine and feminine as styles (what elements of masculinity feel right? What elements of femininity?), it might help strategize on how to make sense of your wardrobe. So for me, here are my things:
- I don’t like high-necked masculine styles: I prefer open collars and v-necks.
- I don’t like tight-waisted feminine styles: my waist is high and not very defined which makes non-stretchy waistlines stupidly uncomfortable, and lack room for cookies.
- I don’t like overly dainty feminine footwear: my wide flat feet need more structure.
- I don’t like overly saggy men’s pants; I have a butt and I’d like to show it off.
- I like clothing that accentuates my hips and butt; even the mens pants/shorts I have hug the hips and derriere area.
- I like structure in the upper body area: either through layering or a tailored fit, which can happen in mens clothing or womens clothing, to balance out my slopey shoulders and ample yet not overly perky boobs (anything that makes them look saggy is a nono).
- I like flattering colors, which I sometimes can find only in the men’s and sometimes only in the women’s. (no pale pink, yellow, blue, or overly delicate hues; but no overabundance of neutrals either)
- I like flat shoes with structure: sneakers, androgynous/unisex boots, something with some weight to it.
- But overall, I stick to jeans and t-shirts; knowing this, 90% of my wardrobe (regardless of its gendered characteristics) should be casual.
Given this, I can definitely incorporate both masculine and feminine elements into my wardrobe without going full-on menswear or super dainty. These exercises help maybe not understand myself and my internal gender, but where exactly my gripes are with current trends and how to dress that feels *me* and cohesive. And if certain “feminine” things don’t feel right, that doesn’t mean that *all* “feminine” things will feel wrong. That maybe I can embrace my femininity rather than push it away, that I can incorporate all parts of myself and not just what I think the world expects of me.
That’s it, I hope that helps!If you’ve ever suffered from chaotic wardrobe-related feelings, start breaking it down. It’s not really about the clothes but about getting in tune with how you feel in your body, which can be complicated and difficult and incredibly confusing. So get some structure in your wardrobe, embrace your gender or lack thereof, and be free you beautiful handsome butterflies!