Thursday, August 02, 2012

Capsule Wardrobe Project 333: Redefining Normal

In the mid-1990s, the average American bought 29 items of clothing a year.  Today, we buy 59 items.  We also throw away an average of 83 pounds of textiles per person, mostly discarded apparel, each year. - From Mother Jones.

I've discovered that wearing 33 garments, well-chosen, is plenty.  Abundant.  An embarrassment of choices.  Going too far beyond this level is, for me, to spend money on clothes that I could be spending on... a trip to Paris?  Our retirement home?  Better-quality garments, made in countries that take care of their workers?  









Here are just some of the combinations I've discovered.  This isn't exhaustive.  I've left quite a few without accessories; you know by now how I would accessorize most outfits!

And you know, if EVERY garment in a 33-piece wardrobe could be combined, you would have 1,331 possible 3-piece outfits?

Of a Kind

57 comments:

  1. Thanks so much! I slip into overconsumption, like many people I suppose. Last year, I asked on my blog: how MANY items do you buy each year? No one knew (one person guessed). Now I have a number to work with. Thanks to you and Mother Jones.

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    1. Depending on the weather you live in, you should have good key mid weather pieces year round, to be worn any time. Layer for winter and add a few light pieces summer. You should do with about 60 pieces year round, including shoes and bags. I don't count scarves and jewelry since if you buy well you could use that for years!

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  2. For me, a good way to avoid that slippage is to have another focus for my saving. Right now, I'm concentrating on our trip to Paris next month. After that, I'm going to maximize my 401K contribution, including the "make-up" clause for people over 50, and I'm going to start socking away money for the down-payment on the retirement home. That way, every time I look at ANYTHING, I can ask myself "does this get me closer to the condo in Ireland?", and if the answer is NO, then I keep walking...
    The year of not shopping was a revelation; I recommend it, or an abbreviated version of it, to everyone.

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    1. Janice- if you do get that condo in Ireland, keep me in mind. Be happy to occupy it for you when you aren't there, lol. Project 333 has me thinking about the huge number of clothing items that I have. While I haven't embarked on the Project as yet, I am going to try it when I return from Ireland this fall. There was a time when I would look at my full closet and say, "I have nothing to wear." After my shopping frenzy last year, I now say, "I couldn't possibly wear this much." I am doing the hanger trick- if not worn, they are turned backwards. In the fall, they will be donated or consigned. I do find it hard to give things up.

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    2. Delurking to comment...

      I had not choice on the no shopping/RTW fast. I could no longer find anything suitable. Well a few tops (and very few at that) but no pants or skirts that fit or were of sufficient quality to justify the additional cost of alterations.

      Between that nightmare and getting rid of the crap I had accumulated, but liked was, as you said, a revelation. And a relief! It is so much easier to get dressed when you aren't overwhelmed by the shear magnitude of your wardrobe and when you have carefully culled it to pieces that actually work together.

      Thank goodness I am a pretty decent seamstress or I would be in deep trouble because I do not have a bespoke income.

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    3. Buying intelligently sometimes isn't about goals. One key to me is to buy without credit cards. So whenever I add something to my wardrobe is done in cold hard cash. Most of the times you fluctuate in weight or you just get older, and clothes is to feel good about yourself. I love when I pull out my closet, try things on, and the chase for that (single) new item that will make me fall in love with my closet again. AND, buying clothes for a single trip is an absolute nono.

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  3. Funny that there's so little style to be had from people who've effectively doubled their yearly clothing purchases over the last 20 years. What a formula. :o(

    I have 29 padded hangers -- for tops, jackets, and dresses. I have six wooden clip hangers -- for slacks and skirts. That means I have 35 garments for my year-round wardrobe, and I wear them all.

    I don't keep anything but sleepwear, underpinnings, and yoga clothes in drawers. Everything is hung up.

    So, it sounds like you and I have nearly the same statistics. Works for us, no?

    Amities,
    Marsi

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    1. Marsi- do you wear T's and do you hang them?

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    2. Yep, I wear t-shirts (I have three -- two black, one white, all three are v-necks ... not that it matters, come to think of it!), and yep, I do hang them up. I iron everything in my wardrobe, including my pajamas. When I stayed with a friend in France, she ironed everything, too, and pointed out to me at the Saturday market that it's very French to iron everything, including t-shirts. She did my laundry for me and then ironed everything, and you know, I couldn't believe the difference it made, even in something like a Gap t-shirt. So now I'm hooked on it. It's a nice way to take care of your things -- and when you have so few things, it's best to take care of them.

      Amities,
      Marsi

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    3. I had a cousin who always looked like a million bucks, even if she was just puttering around her house or riding her horses or going to a nightclub. I swear she even ironed her under-panties. No item of clothing went on her body unless it was ironed. And she wore beautiful clothes. She built a house with a room specifically designed for sewing machine, ironing board, etc. The ironing board was never put away, which made it easier. Personally, I don't think I've ironed anything in 20 years; seriously. That's why I found this so interesting. Now, I'm thinking about it. When I was a teenager, I ironed every single garment for school. People were just getting into "stretch & sew" (poly fabrics). I think part of why we ironed was because there weren't a lot of blends, and cotton was too wrinkly but, yes, when I was a smaller kid, Mom paid me each week (my "allowance") to iron all of the pillowslips, aprons (Mom always wore an apron, even in the 1970s), Dad's handkerchiefs. We did iron A LOT, and I'd forgotten. Wow. Much to ponder. My husband and I don't have a lot of luxuries, but we do send out his dress shirts to the laundry/dry cleaner. I'm trying to remember right now if I actually even OWN an iron anymore. I think life just got too busy in some years to iron, or else I got lazy. I did read something the other day about house-swapping for vacations, and the American couple who went to France for a few months on the house swap did indeed talk about how nicely French women dress in Paris. It must have something to do with the ironing then!!

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    4. Vicki, if you get an iron, do spend a bit more money on a steamer iron, which has a separate reservoir base to hold the water. This is what I have, and I used a BB&B 20% off coupon:

      http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/product.asp?SKU=14481052&RN=1025&

      The iron is so much lighter because it's not full of water (nor do you constantly have to refill it), which means ironing isn't quite as dreadful a chore.

      My friend in France had one while I was visiting, but she was awaiting a 2000 euro rotary presser (the huge kind you can feed tablecloths through) that arrived a few days after I returned home. The French are very hard core about pressing their clothes. She pointed out to me who was French and who wasn't while we were walking in town, just by directing my attention to the seams of their clothes. If they looked pressed -- which you can especially tell on jersey shirts by the crisply ironed fold at the top of the sleeve -- then that person was French.

      Sort of a transformative experience for me!

      About half the time, my husband will do the weekly ironing because half of it's his clothing. He loves having pressed t-shirts.

      Amities,
      Marsi

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    5. I am a hit or miss ironer. But this morning when I pulled a tee shirt out of my drawer, it was wrinkled in spite of my careful folding. The key for me is to cull the number of t's that I have so I am not overwhelmed by a huge number to iron. Love the look of freshly pressed clothing. I had been told not to hang my t's, but now I am going to press, fold in half and drape over a hanger so I don't get "bumps" in the shoulder area.

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  4. Inspiring, as usual. But the numbers are staggering. I think you're so right to focus on your dreams and goals. We did that for 16 years prior to my retirement. Sometimes we were wistful, but mostly we were content with our little economies and our endless planning together. It all worked out...so far...and we're comfortably fixed in lovely surroundings. Keep on inspiring us!

    Hugs from S.

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    1. This is such worthy advice and observation. I'm not patient and I haven't planned well as the years have counted down. (My husband doesn't like to plan at all; it's like pulling teeth with him!) Consequently, we're not financially ready for retirement. I was much better at patience and planning when I was a young adult; I don't know what happened to me as I got older. I've learned over time that people with success in their life weren't necessarily lucky; they were just good planners, able to jump on opportunity when it came their way because they were prepared. Because they were proactive, they didn't have to "react" and scramble at every little crisis. I have an ex-boyfriend from years and years ago who was very methodical, cautious about spending, patient...not into instant gratification. Some 35 years later, he has a gorgeous home, kids in college, a successful company which he founded, lucrative investments...and I understand he never uses a credit card, and he gets in two great vacations per year. I went through a period with him where I thought he was boring and too much of a penny-pincher but, when I look at him today in comparison to myself, I regret my mindless spending and spontaneous purchases because "living for the moment" has left me trailing behind. I feel like I'm getting a real wake-up call tonight, in reading the comments to today's blog post (thanks, Janice). Something good in all of this is knowing it's easy enough to get back on track, having gotten side-tracked and off-track! Better late than never.

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  5. I travel to Germany frequently, and everytime I come back I realize again how much stuff Americans have and buy. I guess it goes along with the bigger house, closet, and car. I will give this 333 project a serious tryout very soon. Thank you for your wonderful insight and inspiration.

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  6. Definitely an inspiration, I may have to do some soul searching in my closet and my bank account will thank me. I have WAY too much stuff hanging in there. You make downsizing your wardrobe and still having options (not looking the same everyday) look extremely easy! Thanks.

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  7. Fabulous illustration! It's so important to choose clothes based on how well they fit your lifestyle and coordinate with what you already own. "Fewer but better" has become my mantra. Not down to 33 yet, but working on it.

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  8. I lost 20 kilos (45 pounds) a year ago, and had to start from zero with my wardrobe. That's when I found your blog, and I've been reading it ever since. I knew that I wanted a basic, high-quality, flexible wardrobe, but I didn't know where to start. You've been my guru. Thanks!

    Now that I've kept my weight off for a year, I'm investing in good quality classic clothes (and some Hermes scarves). I love the idea of project 333, and the tips I see here--especially Marsi's.

    We travel a LOT, and now I have a standard packing list for my trips. I can get all I need in a carry on, and my life is a lot easier now! We live in Belgium, so a lot of our travel is by train and I have to carry all my luggage--we have a rule: if you can't carry it you can't take it.

    It's a lot of fun to build a wardrobe from scratch. I still have a few things on my look-for list (like that perfect red cashmere cardigan), but I'm almost there. then it'll only be replacements that I'll need. And maybe the occasional 'in' thing that won't last too long.

    Thanks for your blog! And thanks to Vivienne, who inspired it.

    Kate

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    1. Next time you're in Paris, look at Eric Bompard cashmere... mmmm....

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    2. Thanks for the tip! I've been to their store in Duesseldorf several times, and I LOVE their cashmere. I'm waiting for their fall/winter catalogue to see if they have a good red in it. This year the reds were either too pink or too orange. I just know that the next collection will have my red in it...

      Kate

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  9. Janice,

    You suggest buying better quality garments made in countries that take care of their workers. I'm not sure where to start looking for these clothing! Do you have any suggestions of perhaps a list of those clothing manufacturers who are more ethical in their practices and make quality pieces? I need a starting point!

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    1. Butting in ... there are a lot of French designers who keep everything in France, from design to fabric weaving to garment construction. Look for Lacoste, Repetto, Anne Fontaine, agnes b., Saint James, just to name a few. On the super high end, of course there's Hermes and Chanel, which are both made in France (and still family owned). Many high-end European designers have operations in China (Dior, Prada, probably just about everyone else ...), so you really have to look at labels to know for sure.

      Oh, and St. John makes clothes in the U.S. I got a black pencil skirt from St. John on deep markdown a few years ago, and was delighted to see a "Made in the USA" label.

      Janice can probably think of more labels for you, too.

      Amities,
      Marsi

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  10. Wonderful post! I think I need to print it out, study it, and keep it for future reference. This should definitely be in *the book*. Thank you!

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  11. Consider me duly impressed.

    "And you know, if EVERY garment in a 33-piece wardrobe could be combined, you would have 1,331 possible 3-piece outfits?"

    Can you explain this or show the formula, please?

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  12. Eleven jackets or cardigans, eleven shirts or blouses, eleven pants or skirts.
    11 x 11 x 11 = 1,331
    You'd have to be working in a really limited pallette, and with almost all solid colors or simple prints, but in theory it IS possible...

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    1. Thanks!
      I call this number the "gross possible combinations". Then I work down from there, taking out the combinations I think would be unattractive or in the case of jackets that can not be worn without a shell or blouse, inappropriate.

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  13. Oh my. Every time I read one of your amazing Project 333 posts I think "Eh, alors? What are you waiting for?" because although I am no longer a big buyer, I no longer buy as well as I should either. How incredible it would be to get it down to the few pieces that fit and I love. And then hang them up nicely à la Marsi and actually be able to see them in my closet!

    What does it say about me that I only buy things that are on sale? Please don't answer that, oh wise one because I know!!!

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  14. I have just discovered your blog via the sewing forum Stitchers Guild where many ladies are Sewing with a plan and follow the principles you do. I am just getting started with this approach but I am drawn to it as I am undergoing a change of lifestyle from careers woman to part time worker / mum to one daughter ( though twins are on the way!!!) I am thinking of having my colours done. Is thins something you would recommend? Obviously I want the elusive smart/casual look.
    Catherine

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    1. Yes, but you don't necessarily have to pay to have them done - maybe some of your friends would be interested in consulting with you on this? I have a hunch that many women already know their best colors, and just need to hear confirmation from someone in order to really cement their commitment to those colors.

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  15. I am trying my best not to over-consume, but buying only what I love. It's easy to say but sometimes hard to do, especially when I see things on sale.
    Sam

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  16. Janice, as always you are such an inspiration! I know you mentioned once before where those awesome palazzo-style (wide legs) pants came from, but I'm having the hardest time finding a pair. Could you do a post on styling with those? I think they would round out my (small!) wardrobe wonderfully. Thanks again for a wonderful, thought provoking, ethical, and environment-saving post. If we all shopped and planned like this the world would be a different place.

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    1. Eileen Fisher silk. Best investment I've ever made. I machine wash them on delicate!

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  17. I started Project 333 in July. I did include shoes and accessories (but not undergarments, workout clothes or sleepwear). It was fairly easy to get down to the 33 pieces and for the most part I've been very happy with my choices. However resiting the lure of the Nordstrom's Anniversary sale has been tough! But since I've been happy with what I have for the summer I'm hoping I'll be equally as happy with what I choose for the fall. And if not, then I'll discover what I'm missing and buy something then. And with all the money I'm saving I'd like to find some really nice pieces to upgrade to someday.

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    1. I love your idea. I was trying to think how I could do this using only the 33 pieces for all seasons. It would be very difficult to do, living where we do. Seasons are radically different. I am going to do a fall/winter 33, storing the summer items and then a spring/summer 33. I hope that I can eventually overlap some of the items to create an even more concise wardrobe. Sometimes going one step at a time is easier for me than trying to do it all at once.

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  18. I actually can't believe that there are only 33 garments. My wardrobe is crowded and I have nothing to wear and I am contemplating buying another jacket!! I think I need to put everything together in outfits, make a list, jettison things that have not been worn for ages and see what is left. 33 garments really? I have the diverse British weather to contend with of course!

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    1. I also live where there are real seasons and was thinking about that, too. I wonder if you did half of these items as summer weight and half as winter weight if that would work. And add a good, sturdy overcoat for when it gets truly blustery and cold.

      The other thought was 66 items and you store the out of season half somewhere. If you live in a mansion - lol.

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    2. ps
      There really are only 33 items, not counting jewelry and scarves. You know I am the type to actually make a list and count everything. 10 tops, 10 jackets/cardigans, 6 bottoms, 2 dresses and 5 pair of shoes, as I recall.

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    3. Lindy

      I think living in the N England I may think 3/4 AutumnWinterSpring 1/4 Summer as I can utilise Ts as layers for all seasons. No mansion so nowhere to store out of season items. Layers are the name of the day here. The list wil be made and yes I did buy the jacket!!!! I do have the sturdy coat, 2 in fact, 1 red wool, the other black, cosy and quilted.

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  19. Brilliant! You have refocused not only my wardrobe, but my life. Thanks! Karen

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  20. I'm in the process of born-again house/wardrobe decluttering and have an uneasy feeling that those 89 pounds a year of discarded impulse-buy/recreational shopping textiles have not been thrown away but have just been guiltily jammed into every crevice of every closet in my house for the last three decades or so.... But, thanks to you, Janice, I'm now a self-declared member of Acquisitors Anonymous.:)

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  21. So glad to see this post. I am reading two books that are pushing me over the edge into even more serious decluttering and paring down.

    Inspired by you, I got my summer wardrobe down to about 40 pieces, and found that getting dressed is so much easier, and that 40 pieces is still too many, more than I can wear regularly. I'm learning that in order to not only use but also enjoy (and how to enjoy without using?) my clothes, I must have even fewer. If I love something and only get to wear it once a month or so because I'm so busy rotating in other good pieces, then I'm missing out and have too much.

    I sorted through fall/winter clothes recently. Even after a good sorting out last year, I still have more than twice as many winter clothes as summer clothes, and for my climate it should perhaps be the opposite. It will be a job of selecting, paring, and parting to get my winter wardrobe down to 40. And then ultimately I'll be paring both seasons' wardrobes down even further. I don't know what my perfect balance will be in a total wardrobe number, considering wearings, laundry, seasons, types of use, and so forth. It might be more than 33, but it will be fewer than 80!

    The two books I'm reading are Overdressed (about the shocking implications of fast fashion and overconsumption in apparel), and Life At Home in the Twenty-first Century (about the amazingly overstuffed and under-enjoyed conditions of our homes, and therefore our lives). "Overdressed" has inspired me to commit to only buying slow fashion from now on, when I do buy at all. It is hard to figure out what that means actually, and I can see I'll rarely find perfect choices.

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  22. (this continues my long comment above!)

    But I will seek out pieces that are as optimized as possible to these characteristics (it looks like just meeting one condition at a time will be challenging enough):
    *Garment made in the USA or in a country which does not have exploitative pay and working conditions, or is credibly manufactured under Fair Trade conditions
    *Fabric produced organically or sustainably, or at least 100% or nearly so a natural fiber
    *Fabric produced in the USA or fair treatment country or under Fair Trade conditions
    *Vintage or second hand item, if at all possible meeting at least one of the above conditions
    *Designed and/or produced locally (in my region, since I'm not in a big city), or made by a dress-maker or tailor

    I have started a list of sources that work for one or more of these conditions, and there are options, but they require research. This makes wardrobing a true hunt now, and really takes impulse buys and casual shopping and overbuying off the table without even having to think about it. If I have to pay 2-4 times what I am used to paying for clothes in some cases, I will be planning ahead, making sure I love it, that it is versatile, and that I will use it for a long time.

    It means staying out of the chain stores, and many of my favorite places. Good-bye J Jill, Ann Taylor, and Talbots. It means being very picky at J Crew, Dillards, Lands End, and so forth for the few pieces that are made in the USA and also in a fabric I'll consider acceptable (not fully or mostly synthetic).

    No more $15 on-sale tees, $30 on-sale sweaters. But also no more over-consumption. No more overloaded closet or homes. And I want to start applying such careful discernment to everything I buy. I just don't want to participate in the craziness any more.

    I only wish there were fashion and style bloggers out there who could help with this process, but I'm not finding them. I don't need the political blogs or the crunchy, hemp-y crowd blogs, or the sew-at-home blogs (because I don't sew and don't plan to start, but wish I already did sew!).

    I wish there were blogs showing where and how women are sourcing and wearing stylish, attractive clothing from sources as close to the new integrity of apparel choice as possible, and also how they are managing their lives and clothing choices so that paying a good bit more for each piece works within the reality of a person's financial constraints. I think those blogs will spring up eventually. I'll keep looking for them. So glad to see the subject at least coming up here.

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    1. When you figure out what companies to buy from , please let us know. Thanks

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  23. This is a great post. Thank you.

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  24. These posts certainly speak to me because I've got a bad, bad problem on this subject. I've taken up most of the closets in the house, yet every day I wake up and lament, "I have nothing to wear." Too many sales, too many tempting catalogs, too many online "deals," and you wind up with a mishmash, where nothing goes together. I also have reluctance to part with favorite and good-quality clothing which no longer fits me. I dream I'll return to that size, but the dream is a long one by now. Feeling the effects of the American recession of the last few years, I've been cautious to discard clothing "in case" I can't replace it (but that's the sort of "what if" thinking that gets a person nowhere!). Thanks for the ideas; I know I have my work cut out for me. I think "embarrassment" is a good word here. Embarrassment over excessive consumerism which really hasn't gotten me to what I need (and that's wide open for interpretation, I suppose, and not just about the clothes...).

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    1. Vickie- Please, please, please dress the body that you have today. Eat for health and happiness. Get rid of the things that reflect a former size. They are there to haunt you. Dress to flatter the figure you have and thank your body for serving you well. And the "dream sized" items, either consign or donate. Either is a good choice.

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  25. I don't have 30 pieces of clothing to choose from and what I do have is garbage...
    Starting from scratch is a daunting and very frightening task...
    I've been studying 'Vivienne Files' for months and maybe just maybe I'll try to put some good choices together for this coming fall/winter season....

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    1. I believe we are in a similar situation.

      After scouring this and a few other blogs that speak to my frugal/modest sensibilities, I started by listing what I do have. Since my wardrobe, like yours is very small, it did not take long.

      Then I started looking at how I could combine things like Janice shows here. Listing all the tops and how I would combine them with the bottoms, how I would accessorize with what I have now, etc.

      That helped. But since, like you, I basically hated everything that I own, I went back and made notes on my list of WHY I feel that way. That helped me narrow down what I need to replace immediately so I don't feel so ugly.

      That was a few months ago. I have now replaced 3 things. I feel good when I wear my new choices, even with my old things that I plan to part with as soon as possible.

      Also having identified what I don't like lead to the game of "what would I rather be wearing?" Now I know exactly what I need and keep an eye out, save my pennies for, and get what really works for my wardrobe.

      It really does help, even in small steps, once you have a place to start from. It is daunting, but also surprisingly freeing.

      I hope this helps and you will comment again on your progress.

      (Thank you Janice for your on-going inspiration and encouragement!)

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  26. Hi,
    There are quite a few blogs whose purpose is to let people know about products made in America-including clothing. BTW,Only 5% of clothing sold in America is manufactured here.I have really put an effort into locating American products and it really does get easier. What is available ranges from high end to inexpensive.There is at least one blog that features American fashion( and sorry right now the name is escaping me). I have loved the American clothing and shoes I have purchased. Arches in shoes-do you remember them-so nice! Love the Loggerhead polos for my husband-South Carolina grown and sewn and 10% of the profits to sea turtles-$68 ppd-the colors are limited but they told me that they will be adding 4 new ones.Love my American grown American made t-shirts-oh they are organic too-but again a limited choice of color and style.
    And even from what I have seen that is available,Ralph Lauren could have easily sourced his hideous(Giant polo pony on the blazer?-Tacky) Olympic clothing here in America.
    Oh and any of you who are in health care,scrubs and labcoats are available American made!Which reminds me that there is a cosmetic surgeon who has a blog dedicated to American made products! It is really a diverse group of people who are doing these blogs.An interesting blog, (which is only rarely added to now, because it covered a year of buying American) and and which I can remember the name off the top of my forgetful head is "China Ate My Jeans".

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    1. Thanks for the tip on "China Ate My Jeans;" (intriguing name!). I added it to my faves and will explore it further. She has posted fairly recently; July 28.

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  27. I think you need to be good at maths for this, I am dazzled by how you put all of these sets together.

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  28. Meg over at Minimalist Woman has a tab with a list of Made in America items, mostly clothes.

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  29. This is a fantastic post and I can see it has stirred the thoughts of many readers including myself. I also see myself in many of the comments. Great food for thought and I appreciate those sharing their resources, too.

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  30. I know you like the Stuart Weitzman Creampuff loafer...did you know they are making it again, in black with tortoise, navy suede or leopard?

    My all-time favorite shoe.

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  31. WOW...this is really thought provoking and shocking. Both the amount of water needed for one pair of jeans and how many outfits one can make from 33 pieces. I am going to whittle down to 33 for Fall/Winter. Great post, thank you !

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  32. Overconsumption is an american trait. If you were to see an Argentine woman's closet you'd find less than 100 pieces year round. That's because clothes here are so expensive. Of course, we underdress, I challenge you to find something nice for going out at night.
    That's why I've been focusing on making my few items better quality and having more formal outfits. Still, you dress too warmly for summer, that's for sure.

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