Thursday, June 14, 2012

How long does it take you to get dressed?

My husband and I talk a fair bit about my styling business. While I may have taught him everything he knows about fashion, he does know a lot about business so I do get a lot from our conversations. The other day when I mentioned that I help my clients with closet reviews - that is, I will visit their homes to help clean out wardrobe items that have either become outdated or unusable, and to help them optimize their wardrobe, he remembered a presentation he saw a few years ago from an MIT professor of finance, Dr. Andrew Lo. He was using a fashion example to make a point about finance, but I think he makes a very interesting point about fashion and the value of periodic closet reviews.

His example takes a man’s wardrobe, so let’s stick with that for now. Dr. Lo asks us to imagine a man’s closet that contains:

  • 5 jackets
  • 10 pairs of pants 
  • 20 ties 
  • 10 shirts
  • 10 pairs of socks 
  • 4 pairs of shoes 
  • 5 belts 

(I know, who has five belts and only four pairs of shoes? But let’s stick with Dr. Lo for now.) If it took you one second to evaluate each of the possible outfits you could create from this closet, how long would it take you to evaluate them all?

If you do the math (as Dr. Lo did) - it would take 23.1 days to look at them all for one second each!

Obviously, nobody takes this long to get dressed - we all use mental shortcuts (
heuristic is the five-dollar word used by Dr. Lo to describe this) to shorten this time. But you can easily see that by simplifying (my husband might say “optimizing”) your wardrobe, you can ease that overwhelming feeling of looking at your closet every morning thinking about what to wear, without losing useful options.

Shifting to a very simple example, a woman whose closet has ten skirts, ten blouses, two belts and ten pairs of shoes would have 2,000 combinations from which to choose. Because we will coordinate by color, we can eliminate most of those combinations, and probably come down to a manageable number of core looks. By strategically selecting and varying jewelry, accessories such as scarves, and adding just a couple of jackets or sweaters, you can create all the variety you need without an overwhelming closet filled with things you’ll never wear or haven’t worn for years. 

Dr. Lo’s example contains 64 individual items, which can be combined in two million unique ways. If you live to age 90, you will only have 26,280 days alive as an adult! Quantity does not serve you when it overwhelms you. You don’t need two million or even one million combinations. You will need more than 2,000 combinations though, and that’s where we can add dresses and make fun yet thoughtful changes through seasons and years. 

What is most important is discovering your individual style and creating the right outfits to express that style!  Readers, what do you think?

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