the Outfit-o-Tron 5000, or, what an analytics grad student does on break

I have a confession to make.

When I have enough time on my hands, I tend to organize certain things to within an inch of their lives, typically using spreadsheets. For example, when my husband and I hosted Thanksgiving last year at our apartment, I created a color-coded spreadsheet tracking what foods we would serve, how much we spent on ingredients, oven timing, etc.:


           the color coding was more for fun than any actual purpose.

Perhaps, then, it’s not too surprising that after a few days off from class I’ve created a wardrobe inventory/outfit planning spreadsheet. I call it the Outfit-o-Tron 5000.

When the fall term begins later this month, my classmates and I will be expected to wear “business casual” to “business” wear five days a week. This got me wondering how deep my wardrobe was, and reminded me of a general desire I’ve had to catalog my wardrobe (I know, anal retentive much?). When I go clothes shopping I completely forget what I already own and what I need, so an inventory would help me identify holes.

But I wanted to go beyond a list. A snazzy enough spreadsheet would also help me plan future outfits and help me stretch my current wardrobe that much farther.

Warning: The end result is completely over the top and almost frighteningly obsessive-compulsive, so please believe me when I say I mostly did this as a learning and database-building exercise and not because I really need that much help with my wardrobe.

I began by listing out all of my “business”-worthy clothing on different worksheets in the same Excel file: tops, layering tops (such as cardigans and blazers to pair with blouses), bottoms, layering bottoms (such as tights to pair with skirts), and dresses. I left shoes and accessories alone for now. 

Next I applied Ashish Mathur’s very easy-to-follow instructions for using Microsoft Query within Excel to create all possible combinations of multiple lists. (Prior to this project, I didn’t even know you could query in Excel!)

I made intermediate worksheets to create all the possible combinations of layered tops, layered bottoms, and dresses with cardigans/blazers (as well as unlayered tops/bottoms/dresses), and then created a final worksheet of all the possible top and bottom combinations.

I present to you… the Outfit-o-Tron 5000 (alpha)!

One of my favorite features of the OoT5K is that, because it’s formatted as a table, I can start building an outfit using the drop-down menus rather than scanning through the whole list. So if I wake up and feel like wearing a particular top but don’t know what to wear it with, I can select that top and browse through the combinations. Despite a relatively thin wardrobe, I apparently have nearly 8,000 possible combinations of outfits!

My second favorite feature is that I can add or remove an item to/from one of the building block worksheets, refresh the query-built spreadsheets with the click of a button, and voila! Up-to-date combinations.

This is what I could put together quickly, but I’m going to experiment with a few improvements:

  • Make the query more sophisticated.The spreadsheet creates some combinations that I would never put together, such as a polka-dot top with a pinstripe skirt. I could manually delete bad combinations, but ideally I’d like to fix the query to only match patterns-solids or solids-solids, and not to match warm colors with cool colors. That way I could add or remove an item from the wardrobe and refresh the outfit combinations without adding back the outfits I don’t like.
  • Delete the “bottom combos”. In this case it doesn’t feel worth it to see every possible pair of tights I could put with a skirt, top and second top layer - it makes for too much to sift through and I don’t need to be prompted to match up a skirt with tights.

Like I said, completely over the top - but a fun and quick way to practice a simple project from start to finish and pick up some new skills. 

Could you use a tool like this in your life? Maybe for meal planning or building workout routines?