In the Closet with Cuniform

Cuniform’s personal styling duo, Colton Winger and Christine Tran, make spring cleaning your closet a breeze with their signature wardrobe audit. A first-person account of how it’s all done
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In the year plus since Cuniform first came on the scene, Seattle-based Colton Winger and Christine Tran (former sales associates at the uber chic Capitol Hill boutique Totokaelo) have grown their personal styling agency to a national clientele that takes the two from New York to Austin, San Francisco and beyond. But despite travel to some of the country’s most fashion-heavy cities, Seattle will always be home. “We love how much sustainability and environmental consciousness informs Seattle culture,” says Winger. “It’s amazing living in a city that composts, and in which plastic bags have been banned. Extending that awareness into one’s wardrobe feels like a very natural thing, and the people here have been really receptive to joining our conversation around how to shop responsibly for beautiful pieces.“

Cuniform’s signature service, a five-hour wardrobe audit, is offered on a sliding scale (anywhere from $200 to $600) based on income and includes a closet run-through that leaves clients with an image bank of styled looks and a “gap list” of items suggested to round out their wardrobe. I signed up for an audit, seeing as my closet had become a bit of a hoarder’s paradise of past-season trends and pieces I’ve been unable to let go of since college. I remember reading somewhere once that Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen have never gotten rid of anything they own and instead have warehouses of clothing somewhere outside of Los Angeles. I think it was time for me to admit I wasn’t exactly an Olsen twin.

Every service starts with a conversation as Winger and Tran get to know their client’s needs and style sensibilities. They ask questions such as, how do you feel about your wardrobe? What is your life like, how do you need to dress for work? Do you have any important events or travel coming up? Then, it’s time to dive.

The initial purge is a whirlwind process. Tran pulls from drawers while Winger takes hanger after hanger out of the closet. If it’s a “no” or a “maybe” from the duo, pieces are organized into two respective piles. Anything else stays safely in its place and is eventually arranged into what feels like a brand new, carefully curated wardrobe. Once they’ve sorted through every hidden, holey sweatshirt and dated statement purse in the darkest corners of your closet, it’s time to talk about those piles. My only leather jacket had found a place in see ya mountain. “Do you have this because you feel like you need a leather jacket in your wardrobe, or because this is really the best leather jacket for you?” asked Winger. The answer was the former. The same went for an unflattering dusty rose blazer, some once-prized knits, chintzy bags, about ten pairs of shoes. Most things were no big deal, but occasionally I had a heart pang that lead to a discussion and sometimes a place back in my closet. It’s not so basic as asking if the piece brings you joy à la Marie Kondo, and I didn’t thank any of my clothes for their service—rather, we focused on how each item represented me and held its own in my wardrobe. Clients have the final say—neither Tran no Winger will rip anything from your hands—but the process gives you a fresh perspective with four eyes looking at the big apparel picture.

Oddly enough, many of the pieces to go were those I’ve been meaning to get rid of anyway. Here’s another roadblock Cuniform circumnavigates: if you choose, they will sort the “no” pile into groups to sell through their resale and consignment partners like The RealReal or Crossroads, or to donate directly to their nonprofits partners. Clients receive 70 to 100 percent of profits from anything sold, but most conveniently you aren’t left with stacks to deal with on your own.

Left with a wardrobe of Cuniform-approved clothing, the remaining time is spent trying on head-to-toe outfits styled and assembled by the two. For me, this resulted in 25 looks, each with three to five shoe options. Once everyone is happy with an outfit, it’s photographed and added to what they’ve dubbed the Rolodex, a reference of images that feels straight out of Cher’s Clueless closet. Each look is new-to-you, as Tran and Winger check to ensure you haven’t put the same pants and sweater together on your own. Once they’re gone, if you ever feel in an outfit rut you can access the image bank for no-brainer dressing, including day-to-night versions.

Finally, the session wraps up with a chance to ask questions or style existing pieces. I pulled out a pair of leather joggers circa 2014, and the duo was quick to recommend how to wear them today. Looking at my closet, now at least 20 percent lighter, I asked Tran and Winger what key items I might be missing. They responded automatically: “third pieces,” layering staples like blazers and cardigans to add depth to my wardrobe. I need a nicer chambray button-up to replace a so-so one that went to the donate pile. When it comes to the “gap list” question, many clients will utilize Cuniform’s services further and book an appointment for bringing clothing in rather than out. Rates for this service are on the same sliding scale for five-hour appointments, with additional hours billed at $100 per hour.

Once they get to know their clients, Tran and Winger are able to shop for new items and pull from their own reserves of Cuniform Recycled merchandise—their branded line of consignment pieces from clients together with Tran and Winger’s own thrift scores (available through this service, at pop-up shops and eventually online)—to offer options to integrate into your closet. They’ll also bring hand-selected pieces from local retailers like Totokaelo, Baby and Company, and Eileen Fisher Renew to your home to try on, or take you out shopping if that’s more your style. Whatever your budget, they’ll bring quality items to you or offer to go shopping anywhere of your choosing. “We didn’t originally start the business by offering to add to wardrobes,” says Tran, “But there was a certain level of demand where we felt we could teach people how to shop in the environmentally friendly, sustainable way that we advocate for.” This means sourcing second-hand items that are built to last, and quality new pieces with manufacturing processes that minimize harm.

Since the two have left my house, I’ve seen my closet in a new light. I’ve worn tops and trousers that have been neglected for years. I haven’t even felt the need to shop (a real rarity and a win for my bank account). Most importantly, perhaps, I have a better understanding of my personal aesthetic and appreciation for my current wardrobe with a newfound confidence in mixing and matching. As someone who has always felt reasonably on top of my style game, it was nice to get an outsider’s perspective on what shapes were working for me, where I can stand to push boundaries, and what pieces I should be looking to add to my wardrobe. (Find for me in wide-leg jeans and more playful shoe pairings this spring.) Going forward, I have every intention of being more thoughtful about my purchases, especially when finding the right, quality staples that’ll stand up against time.

To schedule your own audit with Cuniform, contact them via their website where you’ll also find client testimonials and more information on their retail and nonprofit partners.

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