Monday, May 14, 2012

Building a wardrobe: by fours

People ask me every day how they should go about building a wardrobe.  There are as many different approaches as there are women in the world, but one of my favorite ideas is to work in "pods" of four garments.  Find a color and fabric that really REALLY appeals to you - one that sings to your heart, and either buy or have someone make for your four core garments - two tops and top bottoms.

Seamstresses are going to be very useful friends...

And note, everything in this entire post is from L.L.Bean.  I love them, and they've never (yet!) given me a single piece of clothing in exchange for shamelessly promoting them...


Immediately, you have four new outfits: 


But no matter how much you love nautical red, you can't live in it 24/7.  So let's integrate four neutral-colored items, which you may already own. 




Your options have just expanded A LOT:



Of course you're still working with only three tops, which makes laundry a little bit challenging.  So let's make the next four items shirts, tee shirts and tank tops, to get you enough mileage to go a week without laundry...


You've got a summer's worth of outfits now!


To make everybody in your new wardrobe play nicely together, four inexpensive, essential summer accessories will integrate everything, and give you a certain "planned" look that is always desirable:


The options for these "foursomes" are nearly infinite.  And this is a great structure to use when building travel wardrobes, too...

44 comments:

  1. Thank you so much! I've been admiring your capsules, but still didn't really see how to create one. This is wonderfully helpful.

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    1. Totally agree.. One of the most helpful posts, though I find them ALL priceless..helped me soo much to figure out why I can't find ANYTHING to wear while my closet is full of clothes.. I don't have 'a core of four' in any of the Four/five/six neutral colors in my wardrobe.. but lots of patterned and accent tops and bottoms

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  2. :-)Thanks for explaining this. Now I will not just read your posts, I will STUDY them. You are genius, as usual!
    Have a nice week!
    Greetings from Germany (not really summer here, not yet...)

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  3. The underlying mathematical model is the key to your method. Interestingly, I can do it with budgeting (hence my frugality) but not so much with wardrobes, though I am learning.

    You--or one of your dear readers--should post this on the LLB site. I do not have a Facebook acct--

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    1. I don't Facebook either; since someone I know lost their job based on something seen on Facebook, I've been too timid!
      big hug,
      Janice
      p.s. I'm really just a big numbers geek; I apply it to all sorts of things! It's just the clothes that are the most interesting...

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  4. I still couldn't live in one color! No matter how different these outfits are, they still basically look the same to me. I don't think most people notice your details on a daily basis, but they do notice over time if all you wear is khaki and red.

    I once had a co-worker who loved a blue shirt so much that she wore it 2 or 3 days a week. This was the boss btw, not some under-paid 20 yr old. She found many different ways to style that blue shirt but it still became a joke. Even the hospital patients were talking about taking up a collection to buy her a new shirt.

    Not trying to argue, just to understand. Are you saying this is a whole wardrobe, or are you saying a person should have several of these pods or capsules, not just one? My favorite thing you've ever done has been the pink and black, but I still couldn't wear pink every day for more than a week.

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    1. I think American women are accustomed to larger wardrobes of varying colors, styles, etc. But we often have clothing items that just don't play well with our other pieces. The idea of a small wardrobe, well-chosen and of good quality, is a European concept. Your boss probably would not have garnered a single comment in France. That said, I believe that a young woman beginning her working life or, someone like me, starting a new chapter of life, can use this model to build or rebuild a quality, versatile collection. Having a capsule wardrobe gives you options. You can add on and branch out as you wish, taking your time. And you still have a great basis to work with right away--and at whatever price point you can afford. Just a thought.

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    2. I think the "Expansion Four" neutral core clothes are virtually unlimited in possibilities (especially with changes in accessories) but it's the red plaid shirt and the striped tee that grow very tiring (and, to be honest, look very LL Bean, not a compliment). Except maybe on the coast of Maine, "nautical red" and shapeless styling, in my humble opinion, are not good concepts.

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  5. This is a really great instructional post. I've thought a lot about how to begin or refine a wardrobe recently--I mean, how to articulate it, especially after all my errors in my experimental phase--and this fills the order simply and elegantly. Thank you! (And after your posts, I think I need to revisit LL Bean . . . it's been years since I looked at their pieces.)

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  6. Love this idea. I am still dreaming about that fabulous peacock necklace from the other post. Do you know if it is available anywhere? Thanks!

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    1. I saw the peacock necklace at Pier One (in the B&M store) yesterday. FYI, it's a very brownish metal. I chose not to buy it because I don't wear a lot of brown. I think it would be great for someone who likes earth tones. By the way, they had peacock earrings too.

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    2. It is also on the Pier 1 website.

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    3. Thanks! I have located it at my local pier 1 and will buy it today!

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  7. Vivienne,

    You has surprised me again, it looks so easy and efortless chic... Could you do it for me in black&white with some dresses???? I do really love dresses for summer but I feel guilty buying them because I think there aren't versatile enough.....

    Thanks again and regards from Spain!!!

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    1. Ilsa...I hope she will because you and I must be soul sisters!! I adore dresses and seem to live in black and white.

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  8. I think this is your most brilliant post yet! I like how it only requires 4 pieces at a time. That's easier for me to wrap my head around (and my budget, too!)

    I remember once reading a post by a clothing designer who described a similar approach-- she called them "stories". She had a brown "story" and a "blue story", for instance. When traveling she would choose one "story" to pack for her trip.

    Ms. M

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  10. I must say, you are amazing and incredible. Your helpful posts just get better and better. I can't imagine ever having a small, limited wardrobe, but i do love this concept and its so fun seeing it all come together.

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  11. Wow, I love how you have broken this down. Thanks!

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  12. Wow, this is great and so helpful! A real eye opener to me!!!

    By the way, I don't understand the comment regarding wearing the same shirt 2 - 3 times a week. Why not? If it is something you love? This is no big thing in Europe....

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    1. American's are weirdly phobic about it. It's one of the reasons we consume so much of the world's resources; we can't get comfortable with wearing the same thing frequently. I'd like to see that change.
      thanks for being here!
      Janice

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  13. I have far too many clothes, but find it difficult to let go of many (I am getting better, however). As a way of looking at old pieces with a new eye, I started assigning myself a 'colour of the month', the aim being to wear something of that colour each day of that month. It's been very educational. For one, I found that though I had many pieces of clothing in navy blue - a good colour for me - few of them really appealed to me any more (so out some of them have gone). Another thing I've discovered is that with only a few items - a top, a scarf, a bag, for example - I can easily incorporate that colour into my clothing plan for quite a while. Things I rarely wear come into their own with this game. Also, I'm finding ways to wear colours I love but that don't love me (green). It's also motivated me to do a bit more sewing, though I'm only up to pretty simple things, like making long narrow scarves with fringe at the bottom. I used to buy fairly often from LL Bean and Lands End, but when I first came to Britain there wasn't that option. Lands End have made it over here (though their prices are higher - and we pay 20% sales tax) but not LL Bean. I'll have to look again at how to get around the obstacles!

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  14. This is a brilliant packing list for a summer vacation: thinking of pods of 4 core pieces.

    When I was experiecing that huge delay in baggage a couple of weeks ago, I only had four pieces in my home closet that were appropriate for meetings. When I explained my luggage story at one meeting and that I was wearing my the best outfit I owned (tailored khaki's and a quality long-sleeve black v-neck T), my friend asked what I was wearing to a presentation the next day. I said, "Well, probably what I'm wearing now!" Her response, "Ooh, I won't tell anyone that you're wearing the same clothes in a row!"

    I thought that was odd and why does it matter? Would it be better to wear cut-off jeans and my husband's t-shirt because they were different clothes (well, "clothes"...)? Isn't it better to wear the best outfit for the occasion, even if it means wearing your best trousers 3-4 times each week? We Americans are funny...

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  15. Laying this out in 4's really works for me. Now if only I could figure out how to translate this "preppy" look into something edgier in blue and grey. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  16. Light bulb moment! How to you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How to you build a wardrobe? One pod at a time! It doesn't seem so daunting when you break it down this way. Brilliant!

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  17. Love it. I haven't looked at L.L. Bean for a few years but I'm headed to their website right now. This is beautiful and I'm hoping they have some of those pieces in Navy.

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  18. You, my dear Janice, are brilliant.

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  19. re the Anon/Kristien exchange:young American women have long been advised to build from a base colour (usually navy or grey) for their first working wardrobes. Access to cheap and continually revolving offerings (The H&M Effect) drowns out that wise advice till one day they get sick of stuffed closets- or debt.

    For some of us it takes decades to question our reflexive consuming; others are more enlightened by the time they are out of high school. Great illustration of the principle, regardless of base colour.

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  20. I love, love this concept and how you broke it down. I basically do this, but did not realize it!! Thank you for laying it out so perfectly for all of your readers!! This is the formula I am going to use for my trip to Paris!! Kathysue

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  21. aesthetic intelligenceMay 14, 2012 at 11:01 PM

    Great tutorial, this really makes it easy to 'see' and emulate. Thank you again for all you do!

    Question: would the formula work if the 'core of four' we colors that worked together with each other? Or is it better to stick to one color for the core? Could the core be anywhere from one to four colors?

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    1. aesthetic intelligenceMay 14, 2012 at 11:03 PM

      Sorry that should read ...were colors that worked...

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    2. The core could be multiple colors, but part of what I'm shooting for here is a central column of one color that (theoretically!) makes us all look taller and thinner, and that is a no-brainer to pull on when we have more important things to do. Like run the world...
      But variations are ALWAYS possible. I just suggest things - I'm not the oracle!
      big big hug, for all your thinking,
      Janice

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  22. The four times four concept is perfect for a child's wardrobe too. How would you add a dress? By removing a skirt and a top? or just a top? :-)

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    1. I'd eliminate one of the tops... but for children this would be a great idea - not a lot of investment, but a lot of mileage out of a few core garments. Good thinking!
      big hug,
      Janice

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  23. brilliant, and extremely useful!! i have recently fallen in love with teal, a new but surprisingly flattering color for me. so far i have a pair of pants and 2 tops in this color, all by cut loose. (ah yes...shopping again). i have found that these look good with some of my very old turquoise jewelry, and also with black and with brown. would love to see a post on teal! (btw, esme noir is also a nom de plume---so much more chic than my real name!).

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  24. Many thanks for this excellent post (among your many :D).
    I would like to write a post for my own blog (sewingplums.com) on the patterns to copy this wardrobe.
    Please would you give me permission to copy your illustrations ?
    Many Thanks and Best Wishes
    Lisanne

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    1. Dear Lisanne,
      I'd be thrilled!
      thanks for asking,
      big hug,
      Janice

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  25. I am sorry if my forum post at Stitchers Guild about your excellent wardrobe post here mistook your intentions. I should have asked you first. Now that I understand that you are happy to swap dessert cooking skills for your seamstress friends' sewing skills I am even more impressed with your wardrobe planning, most cost effective for both seamstress and recipient ;)
    Now if I could convince my sister that me sewing for her = dessert, she would have more clothes and I would be much fatter, just what I need!

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  26. Thank you so much for posting this! I need another wardrobe badly and didn't know where to start! Now I can plan my sewing or purchases without feeling like I'm going overboard!

    You make it seem very easy and for that, I thank you!

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  28. Your capsule concept is a complete revelation for me and in theory, it seems like a perfect way to build a wardrobe. My issues are:
    > Online or in store, other than 'black' -- which, I've worn exclusively for years, despite it being too harsh for my coloring -- there just aren't four garments in the same solid color, all available in my size.
    > My arms are muscular, which means finding sleeves that don't make me look like a small version of Sylvester Stallone in drag -- other than totally sleeveless, all blouses fit into this category.
    > I've spent the past three weekends trolling the mall for HOURS to no avail. Hours and hours of traversing the same retail territory, trying to see it all again with fresh eyes each time. I'm exhausted from it, and my husband must think I'm defective -- a woman who can't SHOP?

    THANK YOU for your blog, though -- I love your writing and the concept is solid -- I just need to figure out how to make it work at the mall.

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  29. I love this post. After a decade of IVF treatments with hormones and steroids, I have begun to fight back the horrible weight gain. This is a perfect concept as I work my way down the sizes. Even buying inexpensive clothes gets pricey when you have a great deal of weight to lose. I look forward to putting together a small and high quality final wardrobe when I hit my optimal weight. Do you have this same concept illustrated with examples of a more formal, office look?

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  30. Your gift is really wasted behind a bakery counter although I would love to come buy a loaf of bread from you at a slow time. I am reading old posts and am sooooo curious as I move forward, very quickly, to see what you end up finding, career-wise. Now, saying that I move forward quickly, I have to point out that I fully intend to come back to so many of your posts to study them in depth.

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