I have felt a summer closet rummage coming on ever since the weather changed from off-and-on spring to undeniably summer. For me a closet rummage happens when I begin to think that there may be untapped potential in my wardrobe. So I drag a bunch of stuff out of my closet, lay it out on the spare room bed, and see if there are new ways to wear some of my favourite pieces.

Here’s how it works.

I start by hauling out one piece in particular. Or, sometimes a category. This time I worked with casual pants. I pull on whatever it is I’m hoping to restyle with whatever top or bottom, jacket or sweater etc. that I prefer to wear with it. Then I work my way through a variety of new and different combinations. Pairing the piece in question with different tops, or bottoms, and shoes and accessories. I don’t have a plan, usually one piece leads to another, to another. Sometimes I end up way off track from where I had originally envisioned. Sometimes I even move right away from the original piece. But that’s okay. That’s the serendipity of a good closet rummage. Sometimes I even end up back where I started. And that’s okay too.

Black Vince tee shirt, black Helmut Lang jacket, Aritzia cream "modern cargo" pants, and black Birkenstock sandals.
Favourite pieces, old and new-ish

So yesterday I had it in my head that I needed some new ways to wear my casual summer pants. I have two pairs of casual pants that are not jeans. A pair of black cotton, drawstring cargo pants I bought in 2014. And my cream cargo pants from Aritzia, bought last year. As you can see below, I often have a formula that works best for me. In this case, casual pants rolled up, Birkenstock-style sandals, loose tee shirt, blazer. If my pants are contrasting, I usually prefer colour blocking on top. White tee under white jacket, black tee under black jacket.

Black cotton cargo pants (very old) and cream “Modern Cargo” pants from Aritzia.

Yesterday, I tried the “column of colour” idea with my black Vince tee shirt and black cotton pants. Then I pulled on my white Theory jacket. Yech. I didn’t like this look at all. The proportions were okay, but I didn’t like the black tee under the white jacket. Not at all. Too stark a contrast, I thought.

Nope. Too much contrast here, I think.

The white tee under the jacket is much better. Plus the looser Everlane tee shirt is better with the really casual pants than the slightly more fitted black Vince tee shirt.

White Theory blazer, white Everlane tee, black cargo pants, and black Birkenstock sandals.
I like this look better.

Next I tried the black tee and black pants with my red Uniqlo chore jacket. No, no, no. That one was so bad it didn’t even make it out to the deck for a photo. Ha. I do, however, like the loose white Everlane tee under the chore jacket with the black pants. This outfit would look good with my white sneakers too.

I like this one too.

And now that I’m wearing these black pants for the first time this season, I see how they are getting a teensy bit snug. And how thin they’ve become. I may consign them for wearing around the campsite on our next trailer trip. But then I will be in need of a pair of black casual pants. Ah well, I’ve been thinking I need a new pair of black pants anyhow. See? A good closet rummage can help you assess how to wear what you already own. But it can also highlight gaps in your closet. Note to self: add black casual pants to my shopping list.

This red chore jacket has been a good investment.

While I was rummaging, I spied these old jeans, below, from Elie Tahari. They may be really old, but they still fit and I still like them even if they are basically a skinny pant. This is what I mean about one piece leading to another. So I tried the black tee and jacket with the pink jeans. Oh dear, no, no, no. This combination is too 2015 for my liking. This is how I wore the pink pants back then. Except with a more dainty, strappy, flat sandal. Everything in this outfit, with the exception of the sandals, is too fitted for the way I want to look now. The tee, the blazer, and the pants… all slim fitting. And looking a bit dated, in my opinion.

So off came the black tee and jacket and on went this puffy cotton blouse from Everlane. No. Just no. This experiment simply elucidated why I have NOT been wearing this blouse. I hate the neckline on me. End of. And while the proportions of the COS striped shirt looked okay with the pants, the shirt and sandals look way better with my white Frame jeans. Which means that even if I planned to wear the stripes with the pink pants, I’d probably switch to the white jeans before I even got to the door.

Pink Elie Tahari jeans with Everlane blouse, COS striped top, and Helmut Lang jacket with Vince tee.
No. Nope. Non, plus maintenant.

You can clearly see below, how the outfit on the right is a better look for me now. I don’t mind that the tee and jacket are slim fitting if I’m wearing the loose cargo pants. But I’m not ready to ditch the pink pants just yet. I’m thinking that I may wear them in the early fall. With my old black Max Mara jacket, which is more oversized that the collarless Helmut Lang one, and my black Stuart Weitzman loafers. We’ll just have to see.

Results of my summer closet rummage. Black Helmut Lang jacket and Vince tee look great with Aritzia cargo pants. Not so great with pink Elie Tahari skinny jeans.
Out with the old and in with the new.

So what have I achieved with my summer closet rummage? Not what I had hoped. Instead of expanding my outfit options I have limited them. Ha.

However, I will no longer gaze gulitily at that black puffy cotton blouse. Into the storage drawer it goes until next year when I will no doubt consign it or donate it. Similarly the pink pants. I’ll pack them away until I can think how to wear them so that they don’t look so dated. No need for them to hog my limited closet space if I’m not going to wear them until September.

And as far as wearable outfit combinations, I have simply reinforced how much I like the way I usually wear my black pants and my cream cargo pants. Which is fine. Even if it does put me back at the drawing board. Wearing the exact same outfits that I started with.

I have learned a couple of other things. I would like to have a looser black tee shirt. Perhaps the black version of my white pocket tee from Everlane.

And I have ascertained that I need new black casual pants.

On a post last year about my then new Aritzia cream cargo pants, Wendy from York said that I had done well not to have ordered them in every colour. At the time, I felt virtuous that I’d limited myself to the cream. Ha. Except now I’ve just ordered them in black. Just this second.

Of course, in my defense, we have established that I do need black pants. I knew I needed black pants, but I thought I’d make do with the old cotton ones. I’ve changed my mind. How often do you know exactly how a pair of pants will fit you? And how often does it happen that the brand offers exactly the same style pant a year later? And how often is said style in the size and colour you want… and on sale? Not often enough, I say. So I clicked and ordered them.

I do wish that more brands offered the same good basic pieces year after year. But so many brands are chasing the cult of the new that they fear offering pieces in exactly the same style as the year before will lose them sales. And maybe it would do. But it might also gain them devoted clients who come back year after year. I know that’s why I continue to buy Vince tee shirts and sweaters. And even Everlane tee shirts. Their box-cut tees are perfect for me. And I can safely order one in black knowing that it will suit.

So my summer closet rummage was a bust in some ways. At least with regards to finding new ways to wear my two pairs of casual pants. I merely reinforced my current outfit choices. And that’s okay. Affirmation is good. Even with one’s outfit choices.

Besides a previously completed closet rummage could save precious time on a day when you think you know what you’re going to wear, loggygag when getting ready because you’ve been listening to a really good audio book, and are now suddenly late. And when you throw on your chosen outfit, all freshly ironed and ready to go… you hate it.

Ha. Been there. Recently, in fact.

Last week to be honest.

And if I’d done a closet rummage before then. And tried the outfit that I’d decided to wear, I’d have known it looked dreadful. Or at least not as good as I’d hoped. But because it was all ironed and ready to go and I had no time, I still wore it and felt off all afternoon. Wishing I had a sign on my back that said, “My other outfit looks way better.”

So let that be a lesson to us all. Closet rummages are not just playing dress-up with one’s clothes. They are a vital part of a well-organized, and well-dressed person’s efficient use of time. Anyway… that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Are you a closet rummager, my friends?

P.S. Here are some links to pieces I tried today. Where the exact piece is unavailable, I have tried to find similar pieces: Vince tee shirt. Everlane box-cut, pocket tee. Theory blazer. Birkenstock sandals (mine are look-alikes, these are the real thing.) Aritzia “modern cargo” pants. The Uniqlo chore jacket is not available. Here and here are similar ones.

P.P.S. The above links are affiliate links, except for the link to the Aritzia pants. If you make a purchase after clicking an affiliate link I will earn a commission which helps to pay for the blog.


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From the archives


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41 thoughts on “Summer Closet Rummage”

  1. The Uniqlo chore jacket is a fabulous piece and it really suits you. However, one would be hard pressed to find anyone that could make the puffy black peasant blouse work – it’s definitely the piece and not you. I’m more a closet dabbler than a rummager. I don’t have your commitment and forensic eye. Had you not been an English teacher, your organisational skills and creative flare may have found their application in being a librarian or costume designer, should you have wished.

    1. I agree about that blouse. I was looking for something different… and I did buy it during the pandemic. Desperation maybe. Ha.

  2. Yes I do this sort of thing periodically . I find I need to have tidy hair & a little make up on too otherwise everything looks wrong . Is it just me ? You look good in all these but I can see the subtle differences & I much prefer your loose trousers . My eye has gone right off skinny pants now but there are plenty of trendy folk still wearing them . The red jacket is lovely & must give you a real lift when you wear it . I can see why you are not liking the black peasant blouse but we need to try new styles & the odd risky item gets us out of our rut . When it comes off it’s great . I’m glad I’m not the only one who gets it wrong sometimes.
    On a different subject , you might like this article about reading from today’s Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/jul/03/how-to-read-a-guide-to-getting-more-out-of-the-experience

    1. That article was so interesting, Wendy. Makes me wish I was still teaching. Kind of. But in another way I am glad I am out of the fray. P.S. I’d love to see a picture of your Margaret Howell chore jacket. Maybe I’ll do a post on “Our Favourite Jackets” and ask readers to send in photos.

  3. Chore jackets are everywhere here in the UK this summer. I rather like them. Whilst away down in London for a brief visit and musing out of the train window I decided to ditch my jeans – they will go off to the charity shop as the Levis have barely been worn. I think jeans and I have pretty much come to the end of the line after 50 years of struggling to find just the right fit, no matter if I have lost weight or not. You cannot deny that I have given them a fair trial. It is something of a relief.

  4. i am obviously in a minority of one but i really like the black puffy blouse on you!

  5. Loggygag! Love the term, never heard of it before.
    A timely post as today I’ve been doing a closet rummaging to start planning my ‘capsule wardrobe’ for our 🤞 September /October OS trip…a holiday 4 years in the planning!
    It involved setting out travel wear/ hiking wear/city wear/ lounging wear to work out gaps and eliminate unnecessary items. Lots of work still to do! Thanks for your thoughts, Sue! I’m hoping not to wear a sign saying, ‘my clothes at home look way better!’🤭

    1. Love planning a travel wardrobe. And doing it in a timely fashion is so much better that rushing around before you go… or even worse hating what you’ve packed.

  6. The Uniqlo chore jacket is such a gem and what a beautiful colour!
    Am I a closet rummager? Sometimes yes and sometimes no,not regularly,for sure
    I’ve got an idea or an inspiration and I try it,one thing leads to another,with results or without…..Lately,it seems that when I find a perfect match,this is it and all the other combinations are not good enough
    As you know, I’m a serial buyer and would be veeeery happy if brands were offering exactly the same style for a couple of years! So,yes,thumbs up for your new black cargo pants

    1. I love that term “serial buyer,” Dottoressa. My Uniqlo chore jacket was a score all right. And I’m glad the colour looks the same in real life as it did on the website.

  7. The pink pants look dated to me, both because they are skinny jeans and because they are pink. I do love your new look with the slightly oversized clothing pieces. It feels relaxed while being put together. It’s a style that definitely suits you. You wear it well.
    I’m not a closet rummager. Perhaps, I should start and switch around my outfits.🤔

    1. You’re right. I had assumed the jeans were dated because of style only. I had not thought of the colour. The day of brightly coloured jeans is past.

  8. I’ve been rummaging right and left and donating a bunch…body changes, weight don’t you know. I do have to say…I liked your column of color…and I love your black puffy sleeve blouse, think you look fabulous. And skinny jeans, I love them, they are my reminder to stop eating so much.😉

  9. As always, I’m impressed by your organization and analysis of what you wear; if only I could be inspired enough to adopt a smidgen of your approach! Instead, I seem to risk a few too many moments wishing for the T-shirt that says “My other outfit is better” . . . or dithering at the doorway before rushing back to change into the tried-and-true. Your way, there are sure to be more of the latter.

    1. I still dither in doorways too. Particularly if I am not 100% sure of what I’m wearing. Gad. I always thought that I’d grow out of worrying so much about what I’m wearing.

  10. I loved this post! Thank you for taking the time to take so many photos to illustrate your points. I like the column of black with the white jacket actually and I would add a scarf. And the red jacket is perfect. Thank you so much for a thought provoking and fun post!

    1. Thanks, Rita. When I looked at my photos I thought of a scarf with the black tee and white jacket too. It would soften the look around the neckline. But I wanted something to wear for warm and hot weather, so maybe not.

  11. I did my own closet rummage yesterday, in preparation for our trip this week to Munich, followed by a Danube River cruise. Like you, I tried on things that worked in my head but not on my body, and found a couple of things that are too worn for travel (travel pieces must always hold up!). So now I have a pile of possibilities, and I’m staring at the weather forecast as I decide what’s going to make the cut.

    Boy, that boxy over skinny just looks dated now, doesn’t it? Such a shame, as it was a workhorse on me for so long. I’m finding that I can wear a slim or straight cut pant with a boxy top, but on my frame, no wider that that or I just look huge!

    1. Hope you get good weather for your river cruise, Carol. I know… full tops over skinny jeans just look wrong to me now. At least the way I used to wear that combination. I still think that a slim jean (maybe not super skinny) can look good with an oversized blazer and sneakers.

  12. Another closet rummager here! I indulge in this effort at least once a month sometimes more often, and have to set a time limit to avoid going overboard. Sometimes I discover nothing new and simply confirm that the way I’ve been wearing my clothes is the best way for now. But sometimes I discover a new way of dressing that I never considered before. It’s very exciting when this happens.
    Somehow you and I seem to be on the same style wavelength. I agree that the black puffy blouse doesn’t suit. It’s not sleek and sophisticated enough for you. The boho look is not you. And I absolutely love the red chore jacket. I bought a mid-wash denim chore jacket from LL Bean a little over a year ago, wondering if I would ever wear it. It’s now one of my favorite pieces of clothing. However, I like the black pants and tee with the white jacket, perhaps better than the white jacket and tee with the black pants. But then, I’m not you and cannot know how the clothes feel on you.
    Thanks for taking the time to take these very good photos and for putting your posts together. It must take a lot of time and effort and are much appreciated!

    1. I think part of the reason I didn’t like the black tee is its slimness with the pants that are becoming too snug around the middle. Maybe my new loose Everlane tee will look better. I love writing the posts and trying on outfits. But it takes a while to get decent photos, and that can be frustrating. So many have to be deleted, hair gets messed up and I don’t realize it, the maple tree behind me looks as if it is sticking straight out of the top of my head, camera angle has shifted and I look like I have a huge head and tiny feet, etc etc. Ha.

  13. Margaretanne Clinton

    I’m sticking to that story too.
    The best part is I go to my closet and copy your successes. ( with my own versions that I already have. )
    Saves me a lot of time.
    Again , sit back and “wait for the compliments. “
    And , you get them !
    I do add a beautiful colour leather tote , usually bright and contrasting .

    1. I had on so many outfits the other day… more than were in the photos… that I ran out of energy when it came to adding a bag to the outfit. But a colourful tote is always a good idea, I agree.

  14. My mother used to say, “Do the best that you can with what you have. Then go and forget about your clothes. Just enjoy the people.”

    1. I like this, Jenny.
      I have to tell you, I think I may be close to the winner on how long I’ve been looking for the same style as last year. It’s frustrating, although it starts out as a good challenge. I would order on line what I think is the same, but most of the time it’s just NOT.
      I did take some things out of the closet for a rummage yesterday, but I’m between trips, with two more to come, so I’m not as motivated as I could be.
      I do think it’s time to “put away” or “pack up” my skinny pants, which have worked so well for me as a long-legged, short person. But which ones?
      I always like your style, and will keep learning from what you write here. Thanks!

      1. There are skinnies and then there are skinnies, Eva. I packed away all the ones that clung to any part of my leg, or were skinny all the way down. But I’m keeping out the ones which can actually pass for a more narrow straight-leg. Like my white Frame straight-legs jeans which are quite slim.

  15. Can we just retire the term ‘ column of colour’??? How about ‘I’m too lazy, tired, bored, hungover etc to put together something interesting’ ? I was in a restaurant and noted that eight of ten women I saw were styling the C of C . None looked interesting or particularly chic (mostly in black, a few in navy and one outlier in RED) Maybe they needed to do a little closet rummaging. I can get my head around colour blocking because that takes some thought, just throwing on the same colour top and bottom is so…predictable. We’ve all done it but dang it’s blah.

    1. I hear you. That’s why I put the phrase in quotation marks in the post. It seems to be ubiquitou now. I remember hearing it on What Not To Wear back in the day…. along with “completer piece.”

  16. I’m not a regular closet rummager and I think that my wardrobe would benefit from me rummaging a little more often. I do not get creative with my outfits often enough. I admire your rummaging and trying on skills. Your outfits are the result of your rummaging and careful consideration.

    I’m admiring those Birkenstocks. I wonder if the “Birko-Flor” uppers will give me blisters. I have very sensitive feet and I don’t like breaking in shoes. I’m a fan of suede Birkenstocks for that reason. They are so soft and never hurt. However, that black patent has been calling to me ever since I saw a photo of you wearing them.

    1. My sandals have a soft fabric on the inside of the straps, and they are quite supple and soft. They’ve never irritated my feet at all.

  17. I’m a bit confused. These are your summer outfits? It’s too hot to wear any of these things (except the sandals). What about floaty dresses, tank tops, shirts, skirts….to wear in the heat of summer?

    1. Well… they are some of my summer outfits. Can’t cover everything in one post. I also do tank tops and skirts… but not floaty dresses.

  18. A great post Sue! I’m going to do a rummage to see which tops go best with my new cream colored chinos and my cotton black cargo pants. Then I’ll be set for any event where dressing in something besides jeans. I do enjoy a closet rummage, but don’t often have the house to myself to do it.

  19. Those pink narrow trousers – under a long colourful tunic with interesting sandals or even black ankle boots. The tunic would have that pow! pink in it and could be…a kaftan of interesting texture and colour.

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