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How to Organize Your Closet Like a Costume Designer

Pro-tips and hacks from the sets of "The Mindy Project," "The Good Fight" and "The Americans."
Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

Marie Kondo (and Fashionista editors) aside, costume designers are probably the most meticulous people in the universe when it comes to wardrobe organization. Not only do they have to create the wardrobes for lead actors, supporting cast members and countless guest stars and extras, they also have to figure out where and how to store all the warehouse-level amounts of clothing and accessories — and in an easily accessible method and precisely catalogued manner. Costume designers can be a fountain of knowledge when it comes to taking a big part of their work day and applying certain elements to our own closets at home.

I jumped on the phone with three perfectionists, professionally and personally, for their pro-tips on closet organization: Salvador Perez, who designs and maintains Mindy Lahiri's very colorful and print-happy wardrobe on "The Mindy Project" (and custom-designs creator and star Mindy Kaling's red carpet-wear) and the Barden Bellas in "Pitch Perfect 3;" Jenny Gering, who designed three seasons of period clothing and spy disguises on "The Americans," plus the upcoming also-'80s-set "American Made," starring Tom Cruise, and the "Flatliners" remake; and Dan Lawson, who redefines the office dress-code on "Brain Dead," the upcoming Alan Cumming-starring "Instinct," the dearly departed "The Good Wife" and its very excellent spin-off "The Good Fight." 

Color code your clothes.

Remember that seminal moment in "Clueless" when Cher trashes her closet looking for her "white collarless shirt from Fred Segal?" (Guess the pre-app wardrobe-styling program on her ginormous PC didn't notice that Lucy took her "most capable-looking" top to the cleaner, but anyway.) Moments like that can be avoided if you hang your clothes by like-items first and then order by color within the sections.

"So sweaters with sweaters, pants with pants, suits with suits," explains Lawson, who found the system especially helpful for Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) and Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski), since both characters have "literally hundreds of suits." Gering brought the work method home with her, too. "If I feel like wearing a turtleneck, I'm not going to first be looking for something blue. I'll be reaching for the item first," she says. 

But make extra room.

To allow for ultra-expedient dressing, Lawson suggests setting aside a "stapless" section, for oft-worn "workhorses of the closet," like camisoles, turtlenecks and black pants. So you can just quickly rummage, grab and dress. And if you're feeling extra-thorough (or don't want to repeat a look too soon), allot additional space for just-worn pieces. "If you like to rotate your clothes every week or two weeks, you forget what you've worn," he says.

Find the right hangers.

"Proper hangers are key," says Perez. Our costume designers do differ on their favorite types, but they all agree on two things: uniformity (it looks nice and orderly) and no wire hangers, ever, because they'll deform and ultimately damage your clothing. He and Gering are on team Huggable Hangers (or similarly sleek designs). Along with being aesthetically pleasing, the slim and velvet-y-coated tools allow for more space and "don't create dents or any kind of weird shapes in the clothes," says Gering. 

Although, Lawson, who arguably works with way more structured and luxury suiting, is a fan of the more substantial wooden hangers. "They take up more real estate, but in the long run maintain your clothes better," he says. The bulkier shape allows for more "breathing room," so clothes don't get wrinkled and misshapen. "Do not smash your clothes in," he warns.

Take extra care with vintage.

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"The older [the pieces] are, the more fragile," says Gering. Protect delicate hanging items from dust and general mangling by storing in a canvas or cotton garment bag. "I don't keep things in plastic, because the chemicals in the plastic are not good for clothes," she adds. And never hang sweaters, vintage or not. Either gently drape them over a hanger (or strut, as Perez does on "The Mindy Project") or carefully store in a drawer or stacked storage bin. 

Keep your accessories in easy reach.

Considering Mindy's comprehensive costume jewelry wardrobe or Diane Lockhart's impressive collection of brooches, properly organized — and easy to access — are essential for Perez's and Lawson's day jobs. Lessons learned: Don't dump all your jewelry in a bowl or a drawer because rummaging and untangling take extra time you don't have — and most likely, you'll forget what you threw in there in the first place. 

Gering uses a trick she learned from work: She hangs a muslin sheet with velcro-ed canvas tags in her closet to hold her necklaces — silver on one and gold on the other for easy accessorizing. Jewelry trees, hanging organizers or similar space-saving contraptions preserve your pieces, plus help you put an outfit together faster. Lawson relies on Manhattan Wardrobe Supply for any type of gadget-y organizer you can imagine, like hanging ones with pockets to keep earrings in correct pairs. "It's the industry's secret," he says. (Hanging trees and muslin with velcro or pins are also great for ties scarves and ties, as above).

Warning per Perez: Double check that the lining of any storage holder is anti-tarnish (a lesson he learned after a travel pouch turned all his silver pieces black). "Some of these off-brand ones — yeesh," he says. 

Store your shoes.

To keep or not keep the shoebox, the perennial question — also based on how much room you have in your home. "I'm a big proponent of keeping the box," says Perez. "Especially if they're high-end shoes. Never throw out the box." He also takes photos of each pair to label each box, which he stacks and stores.

Lawson and Gering have parted with their boxes, storing their shoes on multi-level shelves or in clear boxes, like these. To maximize space, Gering likes placing pairs with "one facing out, one facing in." For more delicate shoes, like suede or embellished pairs, store them in dust bags. Stuff shoes you wear less often with paper or extra dust bags to maintain the shape. And remember, your cobbler is your friend.

Last word: maintain, maintain.

Keep the clothes in your closet clean or at least superficially unblemished, so you don't grab an item in a rush, only to realize there's a latte blotch on the front because you forgot to take it to the dry cleaner. For in-between dry-cleaning trips (and also save money) Lawson suggests Dryel at-home dry-cleaning products, which he used in the "The Good Wife" wardrobe department, for select hand-wash and dry-clean-only pieces. Gering is a big fan of The Laundress cashmere and wool sprays and clothing fresheners for in-between cleanings. "They smell so delicious, and they do really work," she says.

Place cedar blocks, liners or potpourri pouches in your closets, drawers and bins to keep away moths (and avoid that mothball smell). And last word of advice: "If you're not going to use it, lose it," says Lawson, because, as we all know, closet and drawer space is precious. 

Follow Salvador Perez on Instagram @SalvadorPerezCostumes, Jenny Gering @JennyGeringNYC and Dan Lawson @DanLawsonStyle.

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