Sometimes our (well meaning at the time) fashion purchases fit into the ‘unwearables’ category. These items are ones that due to form, function, fit, or fashion reasons end up banished to the the back of our closets until gifted on to charity, friends and family or landfill. In some cases, this movement from our closet might take our lifetime. Anyone who has ever cleared out a loved ones closet after they have passed on, will attest to finding an unworn garment (or in some cases many unworn garments). So why do we hold on to things we don’t wear? A couple of fashion focused academics, Elizabeth Bye and Ellen McKinney decided to have a closer look at the reasoning behind our hoarding.


Sizing up the Wardrobe

In their research Bye and McKinney created a web-based questionnaire and mailed it to 300 participants who were part of a image consultants 2000+ strong mailing list. Forty six complete questionnaires were returned and the study base looked a little something like this.

  • Participating women were 18–65 years old
  • The greatest number (39.5%) were in the 36 to 45 age group, followed by 46–55 year olds (23.7%), and 26–35 year olds (15.8%).
  • The majority reported annual household income of over $100,000.00 (56.8%) and had professional occupations.


The study looked at sizes currently in the participants closet, the number of garments that cannot be worn due to misfit, and current clothing sizes worn for tops, bottoms, and dresses. Participants were also described up to four garments, the reasons these garments did not fit, and their reasons for keeping them.

The results showed that we are complex characters when it comes to fashion hoarding. While it might seem like common sense that one should remove a non functional garment from their closet, the study found what many of us already intuitively know. It’s just not that simple. Some items of fashion in our closet hold meaning to us beyond the idea of function, fit and wear. That our love of an item could be purely for sentimental or aesthetic reasons. Anyone with a school sweater in their closet that no longer fits them, or a fabulous pair of heels they can’t walk in would be nodding along to this. There is also an indication that the way we choose to declutter may in fact be culturally influenced. This is evident when watching American television shows where closets’ are sometimes as large as a whole families living space in a Bangladesh slum.


What does this mean for the decluttering process?

If you do happen to find yourself stuck between a rock and a really-glittery-bolero-that-you-no-longer-wear-but-can’t-bear-to-live-without place, be easy on yourself. Take some time to assess the true meaning of each of those unwearables in your closet. Ask yourself what it is that you really love about that item. If the answer is something as trivial as ‘I got it on sale’ then you can’t really argue that it’s essential to your existence. If the item is something that represents a part of you that you aspire to, or want to reclaim, then keep it, but don’t keep all of it (that’s hoarding). Say you have an amazing collection of pre-baby cocktail dresses. You aspire to one day fit back into them but you know that your cocktail days are going to be numbered post baby. Why not keep a small sample of favourites (if you imagine you might attend two events a month you could keep four dresses and have them on rotation) and re-home the rest? If you think you will struggle to let go then ask the new owners to send you photos of the dresses having fun without you. If you have a collection of amazing designer high heels that you know you will never wear but just love to look at cap the number you can own to fit the space you already have and make a design feature out of them. Don’t keep them hidden. If you hide them they aren’t serving any purpose other than clutter. Sentimental items can be tricky, especially if you have inherited a loved ones items. While it can be tempting to keep ALL of Aunt Mabels clothing, it’s not going to make her come back. Pick a handful of items that defined her in your eyes. If they don’t fit you why not have them made into a patchwork quilt or upcycled into something you would actually wear. Owning just one or two really special items that you will actually use on a regular basis will be far more fulfilling that a collection of dusty clothing ghosts. Aunt Mabel probably wouldn’t want you living in a dusty memorial to her!

Do you have unwearbles in your closet? I know I own a bunch of amazing vintage things that exist in my closet purely because I enjoy looking at them. Air your unwearbles in the comments section below!