After I realised my mental model of storing clothes can’t fit a commercial closet, I decided to design my own closet.

“Hmm, what should I wear today? I have no idea… And this closet doesn’t make my choice easier” — a daily dilemma for me (and for others) in the morning.

It took me several attempts to re-arrange my wardrobe (so that I won’t wonder every morning what to wear), before I came to the conclusion that I needed a new closet. But not any closet.

1. Define the problem

A poorly organised closet means that you:

  • spend more time in the morning, trying to figure out what to wear that day
  • live with the impression that you constantly need new clothes, because you ‘don’t have anything to wear!’ In reality, you already have some nice, decent clothes combinations available in your wardrobe, you just happen not to find them (or see them)
  • end up wearing the same clothes (or the same style) a couple of days, because you stick to that ‘safe combination’ that pops up instantly in your mind when you don’t have time left before your taxi arrives to get you to work. (And this routine frustrates you, because any woman passionate about fashion craves for fashion diversity.)

A well organised closet would allow you to:

  • dress faster, especially when in a hurry
  • define your style easier
  • wear all clothes in time, exposing them all to a similar amount of use (degradation)
  • dress more diversely (not dressing daily with the same clothes, because ‘there’s only one safe combination for work, when I dress up in a hurry’)
  • identify clothes that need to be taken out of use
  • express your personality. ‘Every time you dress, you assert your identity’, says Nina Garcia, a famous fashion journalist.

So it’s worth trying to organise a bit your closet, isn’t it?

2. Analyse available space

Too little space.

Comercial closets are built with standard dimensions and cannot be extended, if needed. A standard 3-doors closet like this one:

My current closet, a standard 3-doors closet.

may be insufficient for all clothes a woman has (dresses, shirts, trousers, skirts, shoes, outwear, underwear etc). What if you want to save space during summer by archiving winter clothes in your wardrobe? Or vice-versa? Do you have extra space in your room to put 2 identical closets, in order to fit all your needs? (I say ‘identical’ because well, for some of us, symmetry matters.) Would it help if you allocate more space in the room for a bigger closet? And is really a ‘bigger closet’ the solution to your problem?

Too much space.

You would be tempted to believe that a BIG closet could solve all your problems regarding storing (and finding and matching) clothes. After all, that’s why dressing rooms have been made…

The dressing room — heaven for your clothes. If you can afford it (space and money).

Although dressings are by default the most elegant and most efficient way for storing clothes, not everyone can afford one, either because they lack the necessary space in their bedroom (or house) or because of the money ($$$-$$$$ instead of $$, for regular wardrobes).

But even dressings come with disadvantages. Unless you’re a fashion designer and know all the time what to wear (with what), too much space between your types of clothes can impair your speed of pairing a top cloth (shirt, jersey etc) with a bottom cloth (trouser, jeans etc).

‘What shirt would go nicely with this Leopard-print Pencil Skirt? I must look again at all shirts’ colours’ — that’s the kind of ‘re-browsing’ you’d want to avoid when in a rush.

The principle of proximity (in design) says that related items should be grouped visually, creating less clutter. So placing top half clothes above bottom half clothes sounds like a good idea.

! Notes for building my closet:

  • If you can’t control the available space in your room, at least save storing space within the closet using thin hangers
  • Design the closet so that related clothes can be seen together and at the same time (translation: 2 bars for hangers in the same vertical area)
A classic wooden hanger versus a thin hanger.

3. Create your personal order. And stick to it

Information Architecture works with organisational schemes to group items by categories, so that information can be found easily and intuitively. So what’s your organisational scheme when it comes to clothes?

The problem with standard closets is that they offer space for too few categories, usually only 1–3 bars for hangers, a couple of shelves and maybe some drawers:

My current closet, now with opened doors. I don’t need so many shelves, but I need more hanger bars.

In reality, any wardrobe has several categories of clothes, each one requiring a special place and a special way of storing:

  1. dresses go to hangers
  2. skirts usually require hangers
  3. thin pullovers, blouses and shirts that are frequently worn require hangers
  4. archived pullovers, blouses and shirts (or ones worn rarely) are ok if put on shelves
  5. work trousers also require hangers, to avoid wrinkle
  6. jeans and leggings are ok with shelves (they don’t wrinkle)
  7. underwear requires a shelf or drawer
  8. home wear go to shelves
  9. outwear requires hangers (it seems that the battle for space is more for the ‘hanger area’, considering the increased number of clothes types)
  10. shoes, bags and other accesories require shelves.

How many clothes categories and how you define a category of clothes really depends on your personality. Some prefer to group clothes by season, others by purpose (work clothes, party clothes, casual clothes), others by type (t-shirts with t-shirts and so on).

Preserve your order. If you found a storing scheme that works for you, then try to maintain it in the long run, every time your collection of clothes changes (clothes come back from laundry, new cloth in, etc).

! Notes for building my closet:

  • I need at least 8 distinct areas within my closet: top half clothes, bottom half clothes, party clothes, home clothes, outwear, underwear, small accessories and big accessories.
  • My final organisational scheme used for storage must be intuitive, so that every time I wear a cloth (or wash it or introduce a new one), the order would be preserved easily 🙂

4. Aim for easy navigation to (and through) your clothes

I hate sliding doors for wardrobes because they are heavy, hard to push, make noises exactly when your significant other is asleep in the bedroom and, most important, they don’t let you see all clothes at a time.

‘Now you see me, now you don’t’ — a game played by half your wardrobe, while the other half has already been deleted from your ‘short memory’, thanks to sliding doors wardrobes. Photo credit Wikipedia user

I don’t care if sliding doors can be mirrors (mirrors are always useful). Yes, they save space, but they also consume extra time for navigation (and cognitive resources, if you care to remember what’s inside the other half of the wardrobe).

A similar navigation problem comes with shelves put behind a door:

Shelves put behind a door require 2-steps access, so they break the design principle of Form follows function. Here, the function (1-step access to shelves) was sacrificed for aesthetic reasons (the wardrobe has 3 identical doors as a cover). Photo credit: me

Also, a good ‘navigation’ through your clothes means that:

  • you’ll be able to see all clothes within a category at the same time, in order to pick one that works with the current wear
  • see all clothes in good light, without items forgotten in the back of a shelf, for example.

! Notes for building my closet:

  • choose classical (swinging) doors instead of sliding doors
  • avoid trapping shelves behind a door, the aesthetic effect isn’t worth it
  • choose white colour for closet’s inner spaces

5. Use (visual) labels

Information Architecture works with labels to help users choose where to navigate further into the scheme (website, supermarket, airport etc).

So do we, when it comes to clothes. Some of us already use ‘visual labels’ when grouping their clothes:

  • work clothes go on white hangers, while party ones (or luxury ones) put on black hangers
  • delicate clothes put on textile hangers, while trousers put on wood hangers
  • clean and ironed clothes stored to the left of the hanger bar, while already-worn (but not yet good to wash) clothes stored to the right (OCD at work)
  • for closets with multiple colours doors, it’s easy to create the habbit of storing ‘socks behind the beige door, underwear behind the green door’ (haha, I bet kids & teenagers are the main target for multiple-coloured dressers, although they might not be yet fans of clothes order. Or should they?). But multiple-coloured furniture is simply not my type.

! Notes for building my closet:

  • Make a list with special categories of clothes that are either frequently used in (or suited to) a certain place (eg. ‘office clothes’), or which require special care (‘party clothes’, ‘do-not-wash-at-home clothes’)
  • Buy hangers of multiple colours/textures, assign a colour/hanger type to each special category defined previously, to help maintain those ‘special collections’ in time.

6. Arrange clothes for findability

I sometimes find myself buying a cloth just because I like the price tag (sales, anyone?). Or the texture. Or the colour. Then I realise I can’t wear it anywhere, it’s like it doesn’t represent me anymore.

Women are usually more prone to buy clothes they don’t really need. Then they end up with a huge wardrobe and still can’t find a decent combination for a given place or event. Or they strive to find a match for a piece of cloth that actually has no real, stylish match (because it’s incompatible with the rest of the wardrobe).

Findability here means more than preserving your categories of clothes defined in the third step above. It means any newly introduced item is compatible with your fashion style and fits well in a predefined category.

A highly functional closet is based primarily on a highly functional wardrobe. This translates into clothes chosen carefully, not because you liked the price tag or because you hoped you’d lose some weight in the near future. Always buy only clothes you need and clothes you can wear the next day (with your current body shape). You need to cultivate good taste to achieve order in the long run.

! Notes for building my closet:

  • Carefully curate your collection of clothes by buying only clothes you need and can wear the next day (not after losing some weight or after achieving that athlete body you’ve always dreamt of). This is the #1 line of defense to avoid clutter and a poor-curated wardrobe (with low practical & aestethic value).
  • Archive and donate unused (or deteriorated) clothes periodically.

7. Popularity — bad or good for your clothes?

Information Architecture also works with folksonomies to classify content by popularity. And naturally, we’re doing a similar process with our clothes.

Items worn very often, because of the nasty weather outside? Work clothes put in the nearest place to a mirror? Or favourite jewellery put in the first half of a drawer? T-shirt bras put in the upper, more accessible drawer (because they’re worn daily), aside from lace bras worn with evening dresses (worn less often)? These are all examples of ‘folksonomies’, whether we favour a certain item on our own or the family does it (eg., ‘dresses suitable when visiting your in-laws’).

It’s a good thing to promote ‘special categories’ like ‘clothes folksonomies’, if it saves you time or space (outwear worn very often are already in the hall closet, not the main closet).

It’s a less good thing when ‘clothes folksonomies’ are so tightly defined, that one or more items end up laying forgotten in the back of a shelf. The golden rule for a well-curated wardrobe is that ‘items not worn at all during the last year should be taken out from your wardrobe’, says Nina Garcia, a famous fashion journalist.

8. Recap my notes for building my closet

  1. save storing space within the closet using thin hangers (which have half the thickness of classical wooden hangers, so that’s up to 50% more storing space)
  2. design the closet so that related clothes can be seen together and at the same time (translation: 2 bars for hangers in the same vertical area)
  3. I need at least 8 distinct areas within my closet: top half clothes, bottom half clothes, party clothes, home clothes, outwear, underwear, small accessories and big accessories.
  4. my final organisational scheme used for storage must be intuitive, so that every time I wear a cloth (or wash it or introduce a new one), the order would be preserved easily 🙂
  5. choose classical (swinging) doors instead of sliding doors
  6. avoid trapping shelves behind a door, the aesthetic effect isn’t worth it
  7. choose white colour for closet’s inner spaces
  8. make a list with special categories of clothes that are either frequently used in (or suited to) a certain place (eg. ‘office clothes’), or which require special care (‘party clothes’, ‘do-not-wash-at-home clothes’)
  9. buy hangers of multiple colours/textures, assign a colour/hanger type to each special category defined previously, to help maintain those ‘special collections’ in time.
  10. carefully curate your collection of clothes by buying only clothes you need and can wear the next day (not after losing some weight or after achieving that athlete body you’ve always dreamt of). This is the #1 line of defense to avoid clutter and a poorly-curated wardrobe (with low practical & aestethic value).
  11. archive and donate unused (or deteriorated) clothes periodically.

9. Design the actual closet

First step is to decide the vertical dimension: my closet will be as high as the ceiling makes it possible. I know the upper area (higher than the level of my raised hands) will be less accessible for a closet of 220 cm height, but I’ll use that area for temporarily archived clothes.

Second step is to assign horizontal space to the main areas: hanger area, shelves area and drawers area. The measure unit will be in number of vertical doors, and 1 door = 60 cm length.

For hanger area it’s pretty simple: 2 adjacent vertical doors for daily clothes, 1 door for party clothes (usually kept separate from daily items, to avoid friction and deterioration), 1 door for outwear. My closet looks like this for now:

First sketch for my closet: assign space for hanger areas.

Validate the division so far:

  • daily clothes put in a hanger area of 120 cm length x 220 cm height: I will use 3 hanger bars here: the lower for bottom half clothes (trousers, skirts etc), the middle one for current season’s top half clothes (shirts if now it’s summer, pullovers if winter), the upper one for top half clothes used in the opposite season (shirts if now it’s winter, pullovers otherwise). The idea is to see clothes suitable for the current weather in the middle part (the most visible area), but to also have quick access to clothes suitable for changing weather (warmer/colder). A shirt is usually 60–70 cm long, 70 x 3 bars = 210 cm (my closet height is 220 cm), so 3 bars should fit vertically —Checked! A hanger bar of roughtly 116 cm width (120 minus closet walls) could store at least 77 hangers, but no more than 116 (skirt hangers are thicker than shirt hangers), enough for my current daily wardrobe — Checked!
  • party clothes put in a hanger area of 60 cm length x 220 height: length should be enough for how many party clothes I have now, although height is too big, I can only put 1 hanger bar (long dresses) and maybe a top shelf — Checked!
  • outwear put in a hanger area of 60 cm length x 220 height: length is ok (since currently worn outwear will stay in the hallway anyway), height is only enough for 1 hanger bar (same space for long coats and short jackets) and maybe 1 top shelf. Best if I design hanger bars with adjustable height, aka more vertical holes to fix them. Checked!

The shelves and drawers areas are also simple. I’m not a fan of shelves, because a closet which is 60-65 cm deep (that’s the standard closet depth, dictated by hangers width, actually) blocks most of the natural light inside the shelves. A darker area translates to less visible clothes, worn less often. So I’ll favour drawers to shelves, whenever possible (though from a certain height, drawers become totally inaccessible because you won’t see their content).

I’ll assign the equivalent of 2 vertical doors for drawers and shelves, as a horizontal space, without using doors to access the drawers. That’s 120 cm width. A smaller area, like the equivalent of only 1 vertical door, would be too small. If the horizontal space inside the room doesn’t allow this section to be tied to the first one (hangers area), then I’ll consider using a second closet, similar in style. But ideally, all clothes should be stored in a single closet.

What’s the maximum possible height for a usable drawer (hands can open it and eyes can see its content)? Warning: the next calculations come from me, a person not trained at all in ergonomics (so please bear with me). Given the average height for Romanians nowadays is 172–157 cm (mine 170), I would personally go to the shoulder’s level as the maximum possible height for a usable drawer (the idea is to be able to open the drawer without raising your arm). Additional studies in ergonomics might be required here. Shoulder’s level means human’s height minus head minus neck. 170/7~=24.28 (human height divided by 7 because in figure drawing, an average person is generally 7-and-a-half heads tall, including the head). I’d say 120 cm is the maximum possible height for a usable drawer (the company which will actually build my closet on demand can correct me later on all these sheepish calculations). 120/20 cm (drawer’s height) means 6 drawers. The rest of vertical space will be filled with shelves. My closet looks like this now:

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