De-cluttering your closet not only makes room for new clothes, it also could help you improve your professional image.

It’s that time of year again. Depending on your level of neat-freakedness, the advent of spring cleaning season either fills you with excitement or dread. But there’s one item you can cross off your checklist that can help boost your self-esteem and potentially even your career—no special cleaning supplies or extra scrubbing required.

I’m talking about a closet cull, where you go through each item in your wardrobe and systematically toss whatever doesn’t make the cut. It’s a good way to de-clutter and make room for any new clothes you might pick up over the season. But it does more than just keep your closet in order. It can also help your career.

How do you want to be seen?

Whether you’re out there interviewing and want to make a good impression or hoping to turn your ground-floor position into something a little higher up the ladder, how you present yourself makes a difference.

I know that sounds superficial, and it is. Ideally, we’d all live in a world where externals don’t matter and we judge each other solely on our radiant inner souls. But appearances do matter, and there’s no use ignoring that. Ignoring it could actually hurt your chances for success. You might be the best worker in your department, but if your regular work attire is a hoodie and PJ pants, chances are you won’t be earmarked for that recently freed-up corner office.

The way you present yourself to your coworkers and superiors is a statement of who you believe you are and how you believe you ought to be treated. Conveying the image of being put-together makes you appear more capable and confident. Dressing for success can even help you feel more confident.

This year’s spring cleaning is a chance to go through your current work wardrobe and decide how you’d like to be perceived. Get rid of the items that convey the wrong message, and you’re left with a quick, easy to manage closet where every piece works for you.

(And for anyone who’s ever rifled frantically through a crammed closet when they’re running late, having a streamlined wardrobe can be a fantastic sanity saver, too.)

Should it stay or should it go?

If you’re staring dubiously at that shirt in your hand, not sure whether it’s a yay or nay, here are some basic guidelines for deciding which parts of your business wardrobe to cull and which to keep:

What to keep

  • Timeless staples like plain pants and solid cardigans that won’t ever really go out of style.
  • Basic foundational items (pants, shirts, skirts) in neutral colors that can be paired with anything.
  • Versatile items that can be “dressed up” or “dressed down” with a few quick tweaks. Think a basic a-line dress you can wear into the office with heels and a jacket, then transform for a night out by adding some cute boots and flashier accessories.
  • Anything that makes you feel absolutely fabulous and all-powerful (granted it doesn’t fall under any of the categories below).

What to toss

  • Anything that’s worn, frayed or dingy looking. Even if it’s Casual Friday, that doesn’t mean it’s time to summon your former grunge self and bust out the holey jeans and flannel shirt. Keep it neat and tidy. You want to look respectable, even if you’re not super formal.
  • Anything that’s uncomfortable. I don’t care how sharp that crisp button-down looks or how powerful your red heels make you feel; if you’re uncomfortable, it will show. If you’re going to be wearing an item for eight hours straight, it shouldn’t be a distraction or an annoyance.
  • Anything dated. Items like shoulder-padded power suits (don’t laugh; I’ve known people who still wear them) make you look out of touch, and the last thing anyone needs in an uncertain job market is to look like a holdover from a past era who hasn’t managed to keep up to speed.
  • On the flip side, anything too trendy. It’s better not to invest in anything for work that won’t outlast a season, but if you can’t help but give in to a few tasteful “hot” items, just make sure they don’t stay in your closet past their prime.
  • Anything that hasn’t fit in a long time, in the hopes that it might fit again. As Stacey and Clinton would say, dress for the body you have now, not the body you want to have or used to have.
  • Anything that just doesn’t feel like “you.” Just because something fits and looks good on you doesn’t mean you have to wear it. It goes back to the “being comfortable” point; if you feel fantastic in your clothes, you’ll exude more ease and confidence (and you’ll feel a lot better, too).

Kelly Gurnett, a.k.a. “Cordelia,” runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do.  You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


  1. Chrysta Bairre

    This article is absolutely on-target in corporate cultures.

    Can I just say, however, that I am making a conscious decision to wear bright colors, sequins, and bold patterns to the office?! I’m aware some may consider this unwise, and yet I’ve fought long and hard for my confidence, competence, and independence and I’m not about to give it up.

    My guidelines for work attire are more along the lines of coordinated and polished instead of conservative and classic. My work style and my inner creative say this is who I am, and if you don’t like me for me, it’s likely I’m not going to like any job I could get for being someone I’m not! Going back to your point about dressing comfortably, I certainly am not neutral and I am not conservative! 🙂


    • Cordelia

      I’m so glad you posted the clarification, Chrysta–this was what I was aiming to convey but might have missed a bit with the basic-ness of my guidelines.

      “Coordinated and polished” is the aim, but that doesn’t mean you have to be “neutral and conservative.” In fact, that goes against the rule that no matter what you keep in your closet, it should be something you love that makes you feel fabulous.

      Having neutral staples and timeless pieces gives you great building blocks for an evergreen wardrobe that lets you create the most combinations with the least amount of items. That being said, you should by all means also feel like “you” in whatever you’re wearing. Stacey and Clinton would be the first to say that while you should look pulled together and professional at work, you should also showcase your personality in fun, meaningful ways that make you feel comfortable and confident.

      I am all about the current trend of adding a pop of bright, saturated spring color to most of my outfits. It makes me feel more energetic and brightens up the day even though it’s still chilly outside. If sequins and bold patterns are your thing, by all means, wear them fiercely. Being coordinated and polished doesn’t have to mean being boring. 🙂

  2. Anonymous

    It is very convenient that a watch with a GPS! There are so many interesting technologies behind Seiko Watches .

  3. 4 pieces of advice that might be hurting your career | Idealist Careers

    […] but that doesn’t transform you into an actual princess. Dressing properly is a big part of establishing a professional image. However, dressing for the job you want only works if the style still makes sense for the job you […]

Comments are closed.