WHEN DID closets become more than just a sliver of space to stuff your clothes in? Somewhere between Cher’s fantastical computerized-rack system in 1995’s “Clueless” and Reese Witherspoon’s costume mausoleum in the new
show “Get Organized with the Home Edit,” many women—and men—decided they deserved more. Namely, a meticulously organized room showcasing their clothing and accessories. We’re not talking about the California Closets-shelved “walk-in closet” that constituted luxury in the 1980s or ’90s. This is more like a fashion museum.
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Let’s call it a Princess Closet. This high-status approach to storage has become a potent symbol of self-worth in our collective imagination, with pristinely organized racks of clothing and shoes communicating a sense of control. On Pinterest and Instagram, images of “closet porn” proliferate. Closet tours with celebrities and influencers are among Youtube and TikTok’s most rabidly watched videos, with billions of views. This fixation on flawless closetry has become particularly pronounced during the pandemic, becoming a source of calm for some Americans as we strive to impose order during an unpredictable time.
Blame the phenomenon on TV and movies. Just as a 13-foot Carrara-marble kitchen island telegraphs opulent hominess in a Nancy Meyer flick, the Princess Closet has come to signify that a rom-com heroine lives a life of aspirational order. You know the scene: A character bounds through her racks of colorful feathered frocks and rows of pristine Louboutins before alighting on the Perfect Look to tackle her day. She’s usually on the phone with her best friend. Or better yet, her best friend is there, wisecracking on a Moroccan pouf because the Princess Closet is always big enough for a coffee klatsch. (Related: The Weapons Closet—as seen in “Men in Black 2,” the “Kingsman” franchise and last year’s “Charlie’s Angels” reboot—is a twist on the cinematic shoe closet, illustrating a different kind of preparedness.)
Just as the ex-husband in a boomer movie will eat a Sloppy Joe in the spotless marble kitchen, messy reality will inevitably disrupt a rom-com heroine’s orderly existence. In an extreme example, Nicole Kidman’s character was battered by her husband in her Architectural Digest-worthy his-and-hers closet on the HBO show “Big Little Lies.” And while in last year’s South Korean Oscar winner “Parasite,” the actual closet escapes a bloodbath, its pristine, Hermès-packed calm could not save Mrs. Park from a gory tragedy.
Just as a 13-foot Carrara-marble kitchen island telegraphs opulent hominess in a Nancy Meyer flick, the Princess Closet has come to signify that a rom-com heroine lives a life of aspirational order.
Perhaps no one knows more about how to design a lust-worthy walk-in than Lydia Marks, the set decorator behind “The Devil Wears Prada” and both “Sex and the City” movies, cornerstones of the Princess Closet pantheon. A key plot point in the first “Sex and the City” movie revolves around closet-storage conflict between Carrie and Mr. Big, with the latter saying, “I can build you a better closet,” as the string score builds. Discussing closets’ role in movies, Ms. Marks said, “It’s become kind of a clue into who these people are and what level they’re functioning on.”
Ms. Marks’s private clients often want closets like Big and Carrie’s…only bigger. “While the ‘Sex and the City’ closets were very famous, they aren’t even as elaborate as some that I do privately,” she admitted. Vast spaces once used as family rooms become opulent master closets. Her clients, many of whom work long hours, are looking for a sense of serenity while they’re getting ready for work. “It’s a nice way to wake up,” she explained.
The Kardashian family has done just as much for closets as Carrie Bradshaw has. Lisa Adams of LA Closets has designed many of their most famous wardrobes, including Khloe’s “sport closet,” with its shelf for kettlebells and a wood-paneled Fiji-water fridge. A closet design from Ms. Adams starts at $50k and goes up to over a million (thus the name of her former HGTV series, “Million Dollar Closets”). The client’s wish is her command: She has installed a stripper pole and a putting green in bespoke closets.
When it comes to their design inspirations, many of Ms. Adams’s clients are looking to replicate the feeling of being in a boutique. She explained, “I think people like the idea that you’re shopping in your closet…. So the idea that it’s not cluttered, it’s well-lit, I think, is attractive to homeowners.” The most coveted closets in movies and on social media do look almost eerily store-like, a fantasy that takes on new meaning at a time when most of us are shopping less outside the home.
Closet design, as spurred on by movies and reality TV, has gone so far over the top that it can feel parodic. Last year, the disgraced and drama-embroiled makeup magnate and YouTube personality Jeffree Star shared a video-tour of his closet, which he calls “the Vault,” that has amassed over 25 million views. With an unending ardor—”Sometimes I sleep in here”—he shows off the Vault’s pristine selection of rare handbags and garments. And then, the kicker: Mr. Star claimed that his closet is secured by armed guards and can only be accessed after a prescreened user submits to a fingerprint and retina scan. Such features might be appreciated by Paris Hilton, whose closet break-in was recreated at her own home in Sofia Coppola’s movie “The Bling Ring.”
But the Princess Closet is not just a narcissistic ode to consumerism. It can be a historic archive, like the wood-paneled space behind the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s office where she stored her symbolic collars. It’s also a place to relax and escape. Tara Johnson, a 44-year-old Connecticut attorney and mother of two, was a “Sex and the City” fan who built a photogenic closet to house her serious shoe collection, chronicled on her Instagram page @esq_fashionista. “That is my sanctuary, my closet,” she said. “If I want to get away from the family, I go in the closet. I could be having the worst day at work and I go immediately to the closet and it just puts a smile on my face.” The stress and isolation of the pandemic, she said, has fueled her appreciation of the room. During lockdown, she often retreated there to organize her collection. “That was a good distraction from all the craziness that was happening outside the house.”
The concept of imposing order on a wild world comes up a lot in discussions about the Princess Closet. Just look at the phenomenal rise of the Home Edit, a Nashville-based service that promotes its chipper organizational methods through bestselling books, personalized services and a Netflix show, “Get Organized with the Home Edit.” On it, they take the items of laypeople and celebrities, from Khloe Kardashian’s daughter’s play cars to Rachel Zoe’s python accessories, and arrange them in rainbow-hued gradients. The company’s founders Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin recognize the role of global unrest in their work. Said Ms. Shearer, “I think that people are looking for any way to take control of their lives…Everything feels so up in the air, so I think to be able to know where your socks are and if you have a matching pair in your drawer, I think there’s some level of calm in that.”
As soothing as organization may be, the meticulousness of the Princess Closet can feel daunting. The notorious “TikTok mom” influencers are taking the idea of the closet as a sanctuary to its satirical endpoint: the closet as a bar for one. Christi Lukasiak, a former star of “Dance Moms,” shared a video to her 1-million-plus TikTok followers of herself retreating to her closet with a bottle of rosé. The hashtags #momsduringquarantine and #closetwine reveal similarly frazzled women holed up in their closets drinking. It’s a chaotic—and comical—response to perfect order.
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