Wardrobe compass: Analyzing your style with graphs

Gather ’round, nerds.

So we’ve all heard the advice to come up with a few adjectives or a sort of mission statement for what you want your style to communicate. Hell, I recommend doing that. But we all know that most things in style come on a spectrum. It isn’t all either Met Gala gowns or oatmeal loungewear. Likewise, there’s nothing stopping you from wearing things throughout the spectrum of any opposite descriptions. Are black combat boots my ride or die? Yes. Do I also like wearing delicate white boots? And cork sandals? Yes, and also yes.

If you’ve felt that a couple of adjectives are not sufficient to visualize the depth of your wardrobe, the MULTITUDES of your aesthetic, because they are simply single points marooned in the infinite seas of fashion options – the exciting extension to all this is to think of where your clothing lies on the sort of number lines or 2-axis graphs of the dimensions that you are interested in. And not to plot your wardrobe as a single point, but to visualize the distribution of items within it.

An example – say you want to get a handle on how dressy your clothes are. But what is dressy? Is it the same as formal? Is a low back puff sleeve organza dress casual? I mean, you probably can’t wear it to work. What even is “polished casual”? To get some clarity of this, examine your clothes on informal vs formal along with how extra vs low-key they are.

graphics originally made in Instagram Stories editor 🙃

Unless you are an extreme “personal uniform” dresser, you probably have a variety of options within this. Here’s an approximate depiction of my closet. If you haven’t spent an unholy amount of time scrutinizing your wardrobe, but you want to go the extra thorough route, you can go through a checklist of your items (all, or most-worn) and plot them. Don’t think too hard – this is a napkin doodle level analysis to get a relative sense of the pieces you’re working with. You’re not quantifying your closet to featurize it for your pet machine learning model. Another approach you can take if you’re in the habit of taking outfit photos is to scroll through the last season’s worth of pictures and use those to get a sense of where things lie (this is more what I did to make the below graphic).

I think this can be quite useful even if you’re just eyeballing things, or even just as an exercise to practice viewing your outfits through different lenses. In fact, I suspect that with just dots or text it will get quite overwhelming if you actually go through every single item in your wardrobe, so I would consider this more as a note-taking device and not something meant for a complete record. There’s probably an app or website out there somewhere that would let you easily make a chart with the dots labeled on mouseover, but your basic paint app or some markers is fine. Understanding how different elements in your clothing can intersect can help you decide which direction to shop in or tune your outfits even if you’re not out to do a grand survey of your closet.

Anyway, now I can show that while my stuff is generally pretty informal, it covers a wide spread from more low-key things like old tees and jeans to more dramatic things like puff sleeve gauze dresses and western boots.

To further break things down, I can color the dots by clothing category and see how things overlap.

I think this in particular could be helpful if you’re trying to figure out how to reconcile different things in your closet. Maybe you have mostly formal and low-key shoes for work, plus a pair of sneakers, but you’ve also accumulated a stash of informal and slightly extra dresses that you impulse bought because your lizard brain told you to. You like those dresses as-is, but have trouble getting them to work in outfits. If buying informal/extra footwear isn’t in your future, shoes in an adjacent quadrant will likely still work with the dresses. You can think about whether more of your other clothes lie in extra/formal or informal/low-key to inform what kind of shoes you’ll look into so that they can work in other combos besides poofy dresses. (Yeah, I always use poofy dresses as examples, but I have a lot of poofy dresses and I’m always thinking about them.)

That is just one example! There are endless other combos you can use, either just on one axis or in combination. Some ideas:

  • formal/informal
  • low-key/extra
  • colorful/neutral
  • muted/vivid
  • dark/light
  • cool tone/warm tone
  • drapey/structured
  • smooth/textured
  • mature/youthful
  • serious/playful
  • soft/edgy
  • futuristic/modern/vintage
  • feminine/masculine
  • cute/hot – for example, feminine mori kei could fall under boho, but one defining aspect is it leans towards the cutesy side rather than sexy.
  • fitted/loose
  • Fitted: tailoring/stretch
  • conventional/alt – e.g. preppy/grunge
  • Prints: painterly/crisp, large/small scale

Another fundamental one I’d recommend pondering if you haven’t yet is what types of fabrics you like, on the axis of drapey/structured vs smooth/textured

Or if it’s easier you can go by actual items that you have and use more fit-oriented adjectives. Again, just do what sounds fun or useful. The list above isn’t a checklist of charts that you ought to make for your wardrobe in order to reach True Understanding.

Some things to consider when trying out some doodley compass charts:

You can have more than one distribution for different styles you like! You don’t have to plot your whole closet on the same chart if you already have it segmented in cool/warm weather capsules or generally have 2-3 distinct styles you dress to.

If that isn’t something you’re at yet but you’re seeking more clarity on the directions your style could take, this could help you Identify the centers of mass of your current wardrobe, then instead of trying to reconcile everything, you can then start tuning the different categories individually. So instead of trying to force your casual weekend errands style to feel cohesive with your weekend social outings style, you can create separate profiles for them.

Identify wardrobe holes – as in the example with the formality vs extra-ness, if your goal is to get more of your pieces to work together, you can use a chart to figure out what types of items might help bridge the gaps. Again, in this case it may be helpful to consider designating categories of items.

Visualize where you would like your wardrobe to be – this doesn’t have to be an exercise in cataloguing. You could work backwards and think about what you’d like your outfits to ideally be, then look for clothing with those qualities. If the written description thing doesn’t stick well in your brain, this could also be a nifty way to quantify a Pinterest board. As you look through it you can note how the pieces and outfits fall on various spectra.

Or even if you are content with your wardrobe’s direction, this could also just be a fun creative exercise to think about what clothes and styling would create different feelings. For example, what type of look would fall into different quadrants of mature/youthful vs playful/serious? Futuristic/contemporary vs textured/sleek? Creative/basic vs extra/low-key?

Let me know in the comments below if you’ve tried this, or where your own outfits lie on some of these scales and quadrants! What dimensions do you find most useful for defining your look?

7 Comments

  1. My personal single-axis chart is scruffy/elegant. Sometimes I want to lean into one end or the other and sometimes I want to combine pieces that bring moderate elements of each category.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I found the informal to formal and low-key to extra graph to be really clever when I saw you post it on Instagram stories! (My wardrobe in total, both work and personal clothes included, leans heavily towards the formal, but low key, side of the graph.)

    Liked by 1 person

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