I love to buy clothes, and I realised that’s caused a problem: I have more outfits than I can wear in a lifetime.

How it started

Seeing jumpers piled in my wardrobe, I sensed I had too many. I saw the potential for one of my favourite activities: cataloguing things, and even better, in an Excel spreadsheet!

The best place to start was a complete inventory. I took everything from my wardrobe: every shirt, jumper, hoodie, tie, shoe. Counting and cataloguing took a long time, but was necessary to see the full scope. It was certainly beyond what I expected.

For ease of reading, the full quantities are:

Belts3One belt, the one I included in my 33 items, is reversible: tan one side, black the other. Tacky, but efficient.
Coats and jackets7Spanning light bombers to thick ski coats.
Hats1I have two baseball caps I never wear; they're more like decorations than clothes.
Jumpers, hoodies, blazers27Blazers here are not part of suits
Scarves4Another reversible one here, but that didn't make the cut.
Shirts14Of which five were white. Gentlemen, don't underestimate the need for white shirts.
Shoes11Two pairs of Oxfords, two trainers, two high-tops, and some that defy easy categorisation.
Suits2I have a suit in my 33 items, counted as separates
T-shirts24Of which "only" 10 are game-related.
Ties8I bought a 99c bowtie for a Christmas party; apparently I should wear it more often. It's not in my 33 items.
Trousers12I love buying trousers.

The scale of it really surprised me. I knew I had a lot of clothes, but owning more than 50 t-shirts, jumpers and hoodies in total was really eye-opening. I kept coming out of the bedroom to ask Hannah how many of x item she thought I had (she usually undershot by about 50%, out of kindness, I’m convinced).

How many outfits combinations is that?

That was my first question too, but I didn’t want to simply multiply all those numbers together, for two reasons:

Combinations: You’d never wear a black belt with tan shoes, trainers with a suit, or a shirt with a hoodie (actually, I did think this could be “my thing” for a while)
Redundancy: With some outers, what you wear underneath isn’t seen, so it’s hardly a different outfit if you have a white or grey t-shirt beneath that thick hoodie

What I ended up doing was much more curated, looking at the number of combinations of fundamentals. After discounting needless items – jumpers that don’t go with shirts, running shoes etc. – and omitting redundant combinations – jumpers where you can’t see what’s underneath – I arrived at the below figures.

ShirtJumperTrousersShoesTotal # of outfits
Total outfits34,236

Wow. With 34,236 outfits, that means I could wear a different outfit every single day for almost 94 years and never repeat an outfit.

These figures don’t include a jacket or coat worn over the top: just looking at four favourites (three jackets, one coat), adding those into the mix quadruples the number, for another 102,708 potential outfit combinations, or a different one every day for 281 years. And what if it’s really cold, and I decide to wear a scarf? An additional 128,520 outfits.

They also don’t include suits. Even keeping it simple, wearing a shirt + tie with one of two suits and one of two pairs of shoes, I had 448 different outfit options. If I wore a suit to work every day for a year and a half, I still wouldn’t repeat an outfit.

I think you get the idea now: things were out of hand. For the final standings in the table below, I’ve omitted accessories like hats, scarves and belts, to keep the numbers realistic and meaningful.

Outfit typeNumber of outfits (without jacket or coat)Number of outfits (with jacket)Number of outfits (with coat)Total number of outfits
Shirt, jumper, trousers, shoes25,70477,112
T-shirt, hoodie/cardigan, trousers, shoes7,77623,3287,77638,880
Jumper, trousers, shoes7562,2687563,780
Shirt, tie, suit, shoes448n/a (I wouldn't wear my jackets with a suit)448896

More than 300,000 possible outfits from combining four staple items and a coat or jacket. That blows my mind. I’m glad I’m doing something about it – more on that next time.

In closing

Although I’ve done my best to keep the combinations within realistic parameters, there are plenty of combinations that slipped through: would I really wear my smart trousers with a Sonic t-shirt and boots? Not every shirt, tie, suit and shoes combination works. But the purpose wasn’t to calculate the precise number of outfits I’d actually wear – as we’ve seen, whatever method of calculation I employed, I had more outfits than I could wear in my lifetime. Removing some combinations that don’t work together wouldn’t make much difference – only a massive reduction in item mass would do so.

So that’s what I did next.