According to a fashion theory study, 85 per cent of women are hanging on to clothes that are too small for them.

According to a fashion theory study, 85 per cent of women are hanging on to clothes that are too small for them. Photo: Getty

Take a moment to think about the clothes you have hanging in your wardrobe. You may have a range of different styles and colours. Maybe you have some designer pieces or perhaps you prefer a more laid-back look. But whatever your style preference, chances are your collection includes clothes that don't actually fit.

According to a fashion theory study by Elizabeth Bye and Ellen McKinney, 85 per cent of women are hanging on to clothes that are too small for us. So why do we keep them?

Lucy Gilkison, who has clothes ranging from size 14 to size 22, says the smaller clothes inspire her to get back in shape. "Most of my favourite outfits are smaller sizes, and I feel more comfortable and confident with myself when I have more choice in what I wear," she says.

Lucy is not alone – in fact, "weight management" was the most popular reason given by women who took part in the Bye and McKinney study. But is the desire to fit back into smaller clothes a good motivator when it comes to weight loss?

Margaret Hays is an accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia. She says that although the desire to fit into smaller clothes can play a part in motivation, it is important to be realistic.

"Keeping clothes that you're unlikely to fit back into could cause feelings of failure and frustration," she says.

Hays warns that women could fall into the trap of thinking that they'll look and feel better when they can fit into their smaller clothes. "It's important to live in the present moment and accept ourselves as we are," she says.

However, Hays also notes that clothing can also play a positive role in tracking progress. "Often when people start exercising more they gain muscle mass, so, although they are losing body fat, the number on the scales is going up, which can feel very frustrating," she explains. "Using clothes as a measure can give you a better idea of how you're going."

For Katherine Frasier*, wanting to get back into smaller clothes is not about size at all, it's about fashion. "I want to be able to wear clothes that I love. Having worked in fashion for a really long time I have stacked up a wardrobe of beautiful clothes, and, even though my body shape has changed, I suppose there is a whimsy that one day I could wear the Balenciaga dress again," she says.

This "whimsy" is very normal says psychologist Cindy Nour. "Clothes can be a reminder of a good time in your life. Clothing can evoke old memories, particularly if they're associated with strong emotions."

Nour says that hanging on to clothing that holds particularly important memories, such as the clothes you wore on your first date with a significant other or your wedding dress, might be important to some people.

Naomi Pritchard-Tiller is hanging on to numerous items in her wardrobe for purely sentimental reasons. "I have several outfits that I'm emotionally attached to; my wedding dress, my high school leavers' dress and a hideous jumpsuit type outfit I wore to my final year of uni ball in the early 90s," she says.

"I've had them so long I can't see a point in parting with them. They are a reminder of who I was at certain points in my life; where I thought I was heading, of friends – some that I still have," says Pritchard-Tiller. "I have lots of memories associated with clothing, it doesn't matter that some of it no longer fits."

* Name has been changed.