How to make a visual closet inventory

How to make a visual closet inventory

OK, so I’ve had a lot of questions about how I do my photographic closet inventory and Closet Rummy™ outfit planning — especially since talking about it on the Love to Sew Podcast — and with so many people participating in the closet cleanout challenge for Slow Fashion October, I wanted to post a full rundown on how I do it.

This has been the single most effective thing I’ve ever done in terms of helping me really really KNOW what’s in my closet and how it works together; saves me time getting dressed; and prevents poor making/purchasing decisions. For instance, if I’m considering knitting something like a navy blue pullover, let’s say, it’s easy to think “oh hell, that’ll go with everything.” But when I can pull up all of my pants (har!) and say, Now really, which of these will you wear it with?, and the answer turns out to be two plus jeans, that’s informative. (Like is that enough to justify it, or will it lead to the ol’ “I need to make x, y and z to go with my navy sweater.”) Or if I’m obsessing over a pair of shoes, I can glance at the most recent outfit rundowns and ask myself How many of those outfits would I actually wear them with, and are they better than whatever is already pictured there?

It’s funny how many people have said to me “I know your closet better than my own,” and that says it all about how clear and illustrative it is to have this sort of photo inventory, and to consult it regularly.

My process might not work precisely for you, but I hope you’ll be able to adapt it in a way that will! Here are my steps:

1. TAKE PHOTOS

This takes like two minutes, total, when it’s a matter of adding a new acquisition to your existing inventory (and hopefully you add rarely anyway, right?), but it can feel daunting when you’re starting from scratch. So I don’t recommend trying to photograph your entire closet. Pull a selection of the clothes that are relevant right now, that you’ll be wearing in the next month or two, and just photograph those. Then you can add gradually over time.

– Place the garment against a white wall or surface and in daylight. (You don’t want a surface color or the yellow tint of artificial light throwing you off.) Our guest room gets excellent natural light so I use the wall adjacent to the window for this (and the rice paper blind acts as a natural filter). I take a painting off the wall and hang the garment on that nail, then aim my iPhone at it. It would be even better to have a large sheet of white foam core or illustration board (from the art/craft store framing department); lay it on the bed or floor near a window or open door; and lay the garment on there with no hanger. I do this with shoes and mean to start doing it that way with clothes to eliminate the hanger.

– Why is that better? Ideally, you’d have nothing in the photo that isn’t the garment, and especially nothing that’s adding an extra color. If you make a black-and-white outfit combo and the shirt is hanging on a pink hanger or background, it will register on your brain as a black-and-white-and-pink outfit, which it’s not. My wooden hanger is at least a neutral, but it would be better to have a white hanger or no hanger at all.

– Do your best to hold the camera so it’s parallel with the garment. You want the photo to be as straight and accurate as possible, with no distractions or distortions. And I try to keep the scale the same from one photo to the next, so the relative proportions are evident — although that’s not always strictly possible. The hanger (along with the paneling of my guest-room wall) is helpful in that regard: I try to keep the hanger about the same size and position in the frame when shooting tops, for instance. You could also make markings on your foam core for where you want the hanger and the edges of your photo to be, or whatever works!

2. EDIT AND SAVE PHOTOS

-iPhone photos, at least, tend to be quite yellow and/or grey, and you’re not likely to have perfect light every time, either. I use the A Color Story app on my phone to correct the photos (as previously discussed here, along with tips from Jen Beeman and Brandi Harper) but you can use the built-in edit function or any app you like. If you are not familiar with photo editing, a few simple steps will go a long, long way. Use the Sharpen function. Play with the Brightness and Contrast settings, and try the Curves tool in ACS. (It can be as simple as grabbing the center dot on the curve and dragging it toward the upper left corner a little or a lot.) Use the Warmth slider to correct the blue/yellow balance, and the Tint slider to balance the green/red tones. Seriously, with just a little trial and error you’ll get the hang of it! Then it will only take you a few seconds per photo once you do, and you’ll be able to use those skills to improve all of your photos.

-Again, try to be as consistent as possible with editing the photos so they’re all nice and clear and bright.

– If nothing else, make an album in your camera roll and keep all of your garment photos together in there.

– Even better is to save them together in a folder on your hard drive or in the cloud, which is what I do, with descriptive filenames like “black linen pants” and “ivory fisherman sweater.” I have few enough clothes that I don’t subcategorize them, apart from the fact that I keep shoes in their own folder, but if you want to make folders for pants and dresses and sweaters, go for it! (That might also help you see any imbalances, like if you have 20 pairs of pants and only two shirts.) Again, organize them in whatever way works best for you. I like having mine on a cloud-based service so I can access them from anywhere, anytime I might need to.

3. COMPILE PHOTOS INTO OUTFITS

– Once you have them saved somewhere, even just opening up that folder in grid view wherever the images live can be enough for you to see your whole closet at a glance, and that alone will likely give you outfit ideas or guide your future decision making.

– Since I use Photoshop every day of my life, I use it to compile my outfit grids for the Wardrobe Planning posts, which I then print out and keep handy. There are quite a few apps now that apparently allow you to do the same sort of thing, but I have not personally tried any of them, since I have a process that works for me. Stylebook is the one that gets mentioned to me the most often. Capsule Wardrobe was created by knitter Kelsey Leftwich. And I recently ran across one called Personal Lookbook on Instagram. I’m sure there are many more, and would love to hear from anyone who has used any of them!

– But you can also line up pics into outfits anywhere you can import a photo. It could be a spreadsheet or a word doc or just about anything, really. The only important thing is that you be able to place any given photo more than once, since you’ll want to incorporate any given garment into multiple outfits, right?

Like just about anything, this could feel daunting and time-consuming while you’re in startup mode, trying to figure out your best tools and techniques and process. But once you find a system that works for you, it will actually save you a ton of time and take only a few minutes here and there to update — and then a fun hour here and there planning a month of outfits or what to pack for your next trip.

I hope everyone will share their own strategies and advice in the comments below! And if there’s anything I’ve left out, just ask!

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By the way, pictured is my recently finished Anna Vest, the pattern for which published yesterday. It’s my 21st FO of the year, the third knitted garment I’ve finished in 2018, and there are a few other details on Ravelry. So this photo has been added to my wardrobe files!

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23 thoughts on “How to make a visual closet inventory

    • Once I’ve made whatever little grid of images in Photoshop, I just print it out (on regular printer paper, nothing fancy — which I may regret someday) and glue it in with archival glue-tape.

  1. Wow, this is so helpful. You have inspired so much change in the way I think about making, and getting this done will help me focus on what garments will help me out vs. the impulse knit/sew.

  2. I’ve started photographing my makes during Summer of Basic, and it was kind of “illuminating”. What also helped is that I sorted my closet around colours (especially the tops, since the pants are black or denim). It showed me how cohesive my wardrobe already is.
    I take photos with my i-phone (old SE model) and edit them with the Lightroom app. There is a great white balance, and the automatic setting works quite well.
    PS : I’m sorry to hear you won’t make any dark blue sweater …

  3. You should try the Stylebook app! It erases the background of the pictures, and lets you combine different clothe items to create outfits :) Also, you can log and plan outfits in a calendar and lets you know the cost per wear of your clothes. I use it since I switched to a capsule wardrobe!

  4. thanks for the how to! I should do this, as i seem to always want to knit a blue-green sweater, when what I want to WEAR is often a gray sweater, or a pink one. Hmmmmm.

  5. I want, I need to do this. I have found myself standing in front of my closet recently feeling a bit uninspired, and I know that sounds nuts. I don’t know if it’s my current mood or if I’m really ready to refine my wardrobe, but I feel ready for a radical change. Yet I’m loathe to let things go lest I want them later. I know that’s not what I’m supposed to do, but there are a few items that I’ve gotten rid of/given away that I’ve lamented the loss of.

    • I believe in hanging onto things I particularly love and have worn a ton and believe I will again. I have lots of things that have gone through dormant phases and then become stars again.

      • I hear you. I may need to sequester part of my closet and work through it bit by bit, figuring out what I tend to lean toward and then letting go of things that I’m just simply reluctant to get rid due to any number of reasons (aspirations, ideas of who I am, how much they cost – hah!).

  6. I have been experimenting recently with photographing my clothes, but my flat is proving to lack suitable hanging areas with appropriate background plus daylight. The experiment continues. May try the bathroom next.

  7. Thanks a lot for sharing your process. I recently added a nail on my newly redone bedroom wooden wall for this purpose. I bought Stylebook but I found the app is lacking, it is very hard to get a decent picture with the crop tool included. I think your system works better.

  8. Hi Karen,

    Slow fashion October has been fantastic so far, all the discussions and prompts have really opened my eyes and made me take the time to think about how I dress. Last weekend while trapped at home with a kid with gastro I shifted my wardrobe over from winter to summer (it’s a very small space so hard to store it all) and I took the time to do the yes, no, maybe exercise and then photograph every item going back in. I then catagorised them on my computer into folders for each clothing type (eg. Long sleeve shirt, skirt etc.) I also did an interesting exercise where I broke things down into purchased, handmade, hand-me-down, thrifted, and gifted from there I could work out what percentage of my wardrobe they comprised. 28% gifted!! When I used indesign to lay everything out on a grid and organise into outfits, I straight away started noticing what my gaps are and what prevents me wearing certain things. Interestingly it was usually the things gifted by others that didn’t fit with my style or colour palette and just hung around in the back of my wardrobe due to guilt.
    I’m not a big shopper and find the things I enjoy wearing most are ones handed down from friends or some of my long term purchases. I probably only have 3 gaps to fill but I’m going to take my time, research what I can make or where I want to direct my money if purchasing. The biggest take away for me is the conversations I’m having with friends and family. I think we can all do with a shake up from time to time. Thanks for a fantastic month so far!

    • This is all so great, thank you. Now I want to categorize mine that way and see! It’s interesting how often this subject of gift clothes has come up this year! That’s such an important observation you’ve made for yourself on that.

      It’s virtually unheard of for anyone to give me clothes as a gift, unless they happen to know of a particular thing I’m coveting. Everyone knows how picky I am! lolo

  9. Thanks Karen. Lots of helpful information here especially after listening to the Love to Sew podcast and wondering how the heck you did all that technical stuff. I’m downloading all the suggested apps and having a play around. I don’t use photoshop much so get a bit boxed up with it but I think an alternative for making the grids using iPads/iPhones rather than a laptop might be Canva (not Canvas), for use after the photos have been colour corrected or otherwise edited. I love your blog and your aesthetic – thank you!

  10. I’m really enjoying this series and this process is just what I need. I am in a season of change and am getting back to sewing for me after many years. I’m a very slow knitter so making a garment it a big commitment for me. This will help a lot in deciding on patterns and fabric/yarns to make the things I need for this next stage of life. I have good natural light so ta day is photography day!

  11. Thank you for taking the time to explain your method. I just photographed my current everyday wardrobe (no sleepwear, beachwear or sportswear) and it really didn’t take very long! Just used my phone and used Google Photos to make collages for each category. Apparently I have 33 items only 18% of which are handmade but of which 76% are handmade, thrifted or mended. The process helped me to do a little edit and it showed me the items I want to replace. Now I know what to focus on with my sewing. Thank you!!!

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