Life can often feel like a series of endless decisions. On any given morning, you might find yourself staring at your wardrobe, frozen by the breadth of decisions needed to get dressed. You’re trying to decide which of your tops are appropriate for the office, then mentally pairing them with various pants, shoes, and jackets… Until it gets too late to keep deliberating. Later that evening you’re browsing shopping sites — because you’ve decided you now need a new transitional jacket — and you’re inundated with sponsored ads and thousands of options with various panic-inducing price tags. Now you’re questioning whether you need a new jacket at all. Your eco-anxiety chimes in, and suddenly your decision is playing a primary role in the climate crisis. So you decide your wardrobe is already filled with a million things you don’t wear anyway, close the browser and repeat.
This frustrating game of mental ping-pong plays out inside all of us. Social psychologist Roy F Baumeister named it decision fatigue. This term applies to any area of our lives where we feel there are too many choices to make. According to a 2024 report by at-home styling service Stitch Fix, over half of their clients said they felt “mentally overwhelmed or stressed when deciding what to wear” last year. While feeling like you have nothing to wear can seem both universal and inescapable, there are plenty of tangible ways to combat that decision fatigue — and make fashion fun again.
Andrea Cheong explores why we feel this way in her recent book Why Don’t I Have Anything To Wear?, which ultimately traces back to how we think about shopping. “I think we struggle because we have so many options, but we didn’t really know where to begin,” Cheong tells Refinery29. “In the kindest and most respectful way possible, I don’t think most people actually know how to shop for fashion … We weren’t taught how.”
Services aimed at helping us shop and dress better have increased in popularity over recent years. From clothing rental app to size-specific styling services and even digital wardrobe apps, it is clear that outsourcing your decision-making isn’t all that farfetched. The UK-based styling platform Harper brings both the stylist and the fitting room to your door for a “try before you buy” service. Not only does the stylist come back to take the clothes you don’t want, they can also provide you with professional advice.
Victoria Irving, Harper’s head of service, tells Refinery29 that having a subjective stylist on hand can help clients make otherwise difficult decisions about what to wear. “Although we’re a service that helps brands sell, we’re there to make sure that customers make the right choices. We’re not trying to push them into pieces or head-to-toe outfits that don’t feel right to them,” says Irving.
Decision fatigue can get pretty overwhelming — especially when heightened by factors like cost of living and fears of overconsumption, or conditions like ADHD and autism. That’s why we asked the above experts how we combat decision fatigue in our everyday lives — and ultimately bring the fun back into getting dressed in the morning.
Put away your out-of-season clothes — then audit the rest of them
A wardrobe audit is part one of Chong’s five-step Mindful Monday Method, which helps people develop healthier relationships with their clothes. Whenever you don’t know what to wear, Cheong suggests putting away anything that’s not in season so that you’re not distracted by too much choice. With the clothes that are left, figure out what you love, what might need mending or repairing, and what you’re ready to donate or recycle.
“If you aren’t familiar with what hasn’t served you in the past, I always encourage people to look at the retailers that are in that pile. Look at the fabric compositions. What happened that didn’t work for you? Did they not wash well? If they didn’t wash well that could be a sign of planned obsolescence,” says Cheong. She also suggests looking at the colors or styles you don’t like and asking yourself why these things matter to you. You understand a lot about your personal style this way.
Be mindful of the content you’re consuming
Social media can play a huge role in the way we dress. “I think it’s so difficult to step back currently where there’s so much product and the trend cycles are so short that you almost feel like you need to be consuming every month when it’s not necessary,” says Irving. She advises her clients to step away from the news feeds and For You pages, and “allow time to actually reflect on the pieces within your own wardrobe.” This also goes for the types of content you are consuming. Cheong notes that if you’re following higher-end brands or influencers, the fashion you are seeing will be less accessible, and will create a deeper sense of lack.
Reconsider your approach to shopping
Are you shopping because it’s payday? Because it’s the weekend? Because you’re bored? Cheong points to these ingrained habits as playing a factor in decision fatigue. “That mindset is so hard to break out from because since we got our first pay cheque or first bit of pocket money, that’s when we started reinforcing the wrong approach to shopping,” she says. In reality, there is also no escape from perpetual sales and discounts, and the fast fashion approach that can feel like there are 52 seasons in a year. The change really needs to come from you.
Take control of your self-expression
Fashion is sometimes more about how you feel than how you look. Working with clients, Irving likes to take a more empathetic approach to help them find what works best for them. “It’s really about self-discovery and trial and error, allowing the time to make mistakes, and really figuring out what it is that you like and don’t like about a particular piece,” Irving says. “Getting dressed each day is a practice of that.” In the same way that you might add more veggies to your diet, or curb bad habits like self-judgment, we are all capable of making executive decisions about our wardrobes — which will ultimately provide energy rather than fatigue. Making sure there’s some versatility across your pieces can be really helpful, too.
Whether you’ve got a huge wardrobe or prefer a more minimal selection, it’s inevitable that you’ll run into the occasional panic. There’s no one cure for these decision woes but like most things, a clearer answer can usually be found when you tune into what’s pulling you the most… Even if that means being an outfit-repeater or — dare we say it — wearing something that’s simply boring.
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