CURATING A CLOSET WITH CONNIE LEAL BALLENGER
Written by Amelia Jeffers
Photography by Gary Kirksey
When I downsized in early 2018, one aspect of my new (historic) home caused me considerable consternation: the closet. Not every closet, mind you - the master closet. For more than a decade, I had enjoyed the luxury of all luxuries: a massive, dedicated space for my entire wardrobe (yes, every season!) with custom built-ins, an island, a spacious reading “nook”, and a fully-integrated audio / visual system. On the third floor of my home, my master closet nirvana hosted many wonderful memories with my girls: styling outfits, trying on pieces they hoped to borrow, and quiet moments of reflection. Though my 1929 French tudor by the Olentangy has many charming traits, a spacious master closet isn’t one of them. My time at home over the past few weeks has motivated me to tackle what has become an achilles heel: crowded, disorganized, and small (emphasis on small!) personal closets. The goal? To maximize my wardrobe and create an environment that feels happy and organized. I sought out one of my closest friends, Connie Leal Ballenger (who happens to own my favorite boutique - Leal in Arlington) and was encouraged to hear that I am not alone in this frustration.
Perhaps, like me, you would appreciate an expert guide to tackling and curating the shared challenge of the master closet. Read on for a Q & A with Connie.
AJJ: Connie, I get so overwhelmed with the idea of organizing, that sometimes I don’t even know where to start! What do you recommend?
CLB: The first step in any closet makeover should be cleaning. Pull everything out, then dust, wipe down, vacuum. Do whatever it takes to make the closets and drawers clean and fresh smelling, and the “home” for your garments will be so much more appealing. The same applies to the actual garments. If anything is not clean or needs ironed or mending, take it out and give it some TLC.
AJJ: I love that. I have an old “Martha Stewart” guide to laundering and wardrobe care that is a beautiful reference for this. Once everything is out, what is the best way to get it all back “in”? It seems like that is my biggest challenge!
CLB: First, I am a fan of sorting out things that you have not worn in the last year. I have heard a suggestion to position your hangers so that they all face the same direction; then, after you wear something and put it away, alternate the direction of the hanger. Pretty soon you will be able to tell which items are not seeing much wear. We will tackle what to do with those pieces later....For everything else, I suggest organizing by type and then color. Hang pants on similar hangers, ideally by color. Do the same with blouses, dresses, skirts, etc. It really helps to use uniform hangers and to hang everything in a consistent manner. For example, if you hang pants from the waist, hang all pants that way. Or if you prefer to hang them draped over the hanger bar, hang them all that way.
Now is the time to consider if you need some new hardware. Invest in hangers that match in size, shape, and color. It frees up space and looks better. If you can hang and display belts and scarves, that is helpful when dressing. The same with necklaces. They can be hung on a wall or there are hanger fixtures that work. The more you see, the more you wear.
Ideally, you can create more space by storing all off-season clothing in another closet. Very few of us have a closet big enough to house our entire wardrobe. Even if you do, it is so much better for off season garments to be stored away clean, away from light and protected from dust. It does not need to be fancy. You could put a rolling rack in your basement and throw a sheet over it.
Now let’s talk about things you have not worn for at least a year. Many times, I find that women cannot let go of pieces in their wardrobe for sentimental reasons, or because they believe they will lose 20 pounds, or they love something so much yet never wear it because they have nothing to wear with it.
If you are hanging on for sentimental reasons, get it out of your main closet. Maybe you have basement or attic storage. Just find someplace else. It should not be in your “active rotation”. Be brutal about fit. If you cannot wear something because it is too big or too small, get rid of it. If you KNOW you will gain or lose weight, store it somewhere else, again, not in the “active rotation”.
Now for the fun part...identify those pieces you love but never wear because you are uncertain about how to style them, and allow yourself to play. Start by shopping in your new beautiful, organized, clean closet. If you cannot find anything, bring it in to your favorite boutique and ask the stylists for suggestions. One of our favorite things at Leal is helping a client bring a favorite item back to life by pairing it with current trends or a new, timeless staple. There are also several reasonably-priced wardrobe consultants in town who will help for a small fee.
The bottom line is your closet can be so appealing and fun to look at. Make it work for you. If it is clean and organized and not overloaded, you will find yourself wearing many more pieces and using them in different ways. And, really, what better time to tackle it than right now?
Editor’s note: When cleaning out your wardrobe, keep in mind that several well-known central Ohio charities will pick up donations at no charge. Additionally, check out fashionforwardonline.com, a brand-new luxury consignment platform launched by Vicki Bowen Hewes (founder of Dress For Success Columbus) to benefit women in need.
Leál Boutique is open as of May 12th. Visit them on Arlington Avenue in Upper Arlington from 11am to 5pm Monday through Saturday.