Dirk Wray, a 37-year-old financier from San Juan Capistrano, has a clothes closet that looks like a fashion boutique.
Inside his elegantly appointed wardrobe, which is roughly the size of a small bedroom, Wray's suits, shirts and ties are filed according to a numeric system. Every article of clothing and accessory has been neatly organized, right down to the meticulously folded socks.
Like Wray, many Orange County residents no longer treat a closet as a place to stuff their clothes but as a retreat where they can put together a polished image. They're calling in image advisors and storage experts to help them weed out fashion blunders and dated garments, identify missing pieces and arrange all of their clothing and accessories so everything is right at their fingertips.
Wray, for one, was not always such a neatnik. His shirts and suits were once jumbled together in a sartorial mess.
"If a suit came back from the dry cleaners, wherever I had an open space in the closet, that's where it went," he says.
Wray sought professional help for his wardrobe woes. He consulted with Tom Velte, a clothier with Costa Mesa's David Rickey & Co., custom tailors who helped him yank out-of-style clothing and catalog every item.
"I had 23 suits. He convinced me that 18 were outdated or needed tailoring," Wray says. Velte also made Wray a wardrobe book so he could mix and match numbered suits with corresponding shirts and ties.
"I can tell which suits go with which shirts and ties. They even suggest which socks to wear--when you're as dense as I am, you need that," Wray jokes.
Organizing their wardrobe helps people see what they're really wearing, says Rick Lamitie, a co-owner of David Rickey.
"Even if their clothes aren't numbered, they can get a much clearer picture if they put their shirts, slacks and suits in separate sections," Lamitie says. "Most have at least 30% of their wardrobe they're not wearing anymore. Part of the problem is they buy things on impulse. They'll see a sport coat or tie, bring it home and never wear it because they don't have the proper slacks to wear with it. If your wardrobe is organized, it's easier to see that and be more strategic with your next purchases."
Much closet chaos could be alleviated if people wouldn't cling to their old clothes for years after they've stopped wearing them.
"I've seen clothes that date all the way back to the '60s," says Dianna Pfaff-Martin, owner of California Image Advisors in Newport Beach, who routinely helps overhaul clients' wardrobes.
"People hang on to things hoping the style will come back, but when it does, the designers usually change some element, like the line or the fabric."
Her clients are often afraid to part with an item because it cost so much.
"When we pay money for something, we hesitate to get rid of it, so we tend to hoard things," Pfaff-Martin says.
One way she coaxes clients to cast off old clothes is to encourage them to recycle the items through a resale boutique. That way, they can recoup part of their investment. If the resale boutiques refuse to buy an old garment, it tends to lose its luster in the eyes of the owner.
Sometimes, people don't wear an item that they like because they have nothing to match. The boom in discount shopping has only added to wardrobe clutter.
People are afraid to pass up a good deal, even if it doesn't fit into their wardrobe, Pfaff-Martin says. She helps clients pull those pieces that are worth saving. Sometimes a mate can be found somewhere else in the closet, and sometimes they need to shop for a coordinate.
"People don't understand how to coordinate clothes," Pfaff-Martin says. "Whatever the saleswoman sells, that's what they see. They don't see alternatives."
One trick she uses is to separate suits so the client is more likely to mix and match the jackets and pants or skirts with other items.
Many don't wear what's in their closet because once it's out of sight, it's out of rotation.
"Most people tend to over-pack their closets. They forget half of the things they own," says Paris Bernhardt, senior designer with Closets by Design in Laguna Hills. "I've seen people throw their sweaters in big plastic boxes. Those are terrible because you can't see inside. The No. 1 rule is to make everything as visible as possible."
Bernhardt can help clients create lavish walk-in closets, complete with all kinds of drawers, cubbyholes and shelving, decorative wood paneling, drawers with clear fronts and even built-in ironing boards.
"I've even had people install refrigerators," she says.
Pfaff-Martin has a client on Linda Isle whose wardrobe has a motorized revolving rack similar to those found at a dry cleaners.
For the budget-minded, there are all kinds of do-it-yourself closet-organizing systems. Storage specialty stores such as Hold Everything (in Crystal Court, South Coast Plaza and MainPlace/Santa Ana) and the Container Store, opening June 1 in Costa Mesa, offer myriad solutions.
Some tips for organizing a wardrobe: