Thursday, November 01, 2012

Capsule Wardrobe Project 333: my clothes, step by step

I was not able to finish navy/grey last night, so I'm doing another step-by-step, this time using my own personal 333.  This is a thought process that I can describe in great detail!

Regarding the final number of tops, jackets, cardigans etc.: start with a general target number for your final wardrobe.  I personally like to have 10 "bottoms" (i.e. skirts or pants), and I want 6 or 8 cardigans or blazers, because I wear them frequently.  And I know going in that I want to include both a very basic black knit dress, and my road-warrior black velvet Eileen Fisher dress.

First, I of course will start with black.  I wear a lot of black, and I never get bored or tired of it.  (lots of scarves make a difference!)  So I want a couple of tops that I can either layer or wear on their own, a simple skirt, and very basic pants.

My project 333 starting point: A Core of Four in black - skirt, pants, tee and cardigan

I love my black cashmere turtleneck - I live in it in the winter.  And my black cabled cashmere sweater is just plain so beautiful that I won't give it up.  Two more pair of black pants - one jeans, one velvet - I now have, at least in theory at least 16 outfits...

The second step of my Project 333: a Core of Four in black, jeans, trousers, crewneck sweater and turtleneck

My new red jeans were always intended to be here!  A couple of red tops, which again can either be worn together or alone, and then I grabbed a token purple cardigan just to brighten up the whole scene, and because all of my favorites are going to be here somewhere.

Accent color additions to a Project 333 wardrobe - red cardigan, tee and jeans, purple cardigan

Woman does not live in black alone!  I have some lovely grey clothes, so this is the time that I pick the "cardigan, top, skirt, pants" formula in grey.  Two neutrals that work together effortlessly are a key to having a 333 that is versatile without being too repetitious.

Step 4 of Project 333: A Core of Four in gray, cardigan, skirt, tee and trousers

Knowing that the final target ratio of tops to bottoms means that I need to add tops, this is the step in which I toss in more favorites.

Four tops to add to a Project 333 wardrobe, white shirt, white tee shirt, black sweater and blue turtleneck

Now that I have a really solid core of solid clothes, some texture is in order.  I wear skirts a LOT in the winter, so I add two more. Having a hem that's up away from the pavement means that slush isn't a problem, and opaque tights are SO easy...

Step 6 of Project 333: Four printed or patterned pieces of clothing

I count everything I've chosen so far, and realize that it's time to pick more tops.  It is ESSENTIAL that I have my favorite stripes and argyles...

Step 7 of Project 333: Adding some signature pieces

Five garments to go!  My 2 dresses, and a pair of jeans!  And the last two?  Hmm...  I toss in a favorite easy outfit - my grey striped top and warm grey wool pants.  I think this is going to work just fine...

Step 8 of a Project 333 wardrobe: Filling in some essential pieces

Reviewing my choices:  I have dressy, casual, cold weather, moderate weather, seven cardigans/blazers, 13 tops, 2 dresses, and 11 bottoms.  What's most important, I have all of my favorites, I have lots of options, and I feel really happy with what I see.

Please note - all of these clothes do NOT go together - it would be possible to put together some excruciatingly unattractive combinations from this wardrobe.  

BUT, they do look like they all belong to the same person - they share a common root in black and grey, they demonstrate my fondness for cardigans and sweaters, and my affection for stripes and argyles is much in evidence.  So this is my personal 333 for now.   I know I'm going to "tweak" it in the next 2 weeks, to incorporate my Paris purchases and move out a few garments that are too lightweight for winter.  But the core is here...

a 33 piece Project 333 Wardrobe for autumn and winter

Artisan Made Jewelry Designs


  1. The first time I read about 333 I thought this is not possible unless one wants to look the same day in and out (or else thrives on depriving oneself). I have now completely changed my mind about this and 'see' how this can work well. I will give this a go based on your common wardrobe. I have no need for dressier clothes more than once or twice a week. My creative juices are flowing.

    1. I think the original 333 concept means 33 of everything--including shoes, handbags, accessories and outerwear. It does seem much more restrictive interpreted that way.

    2. That was indeed the original concept, and I know myself well enough to know that it was too much of a reach, first time out. So I've modified the plan to this, in order to give myself a gradual introduction into a reduced wardrobe. There's nothing magical about the number - it's more the idea that we all understand that we ALREADY have more than enough clothing, and that we should start moving on to investing in things that are more important than our nineteenth white tee shirt...

    3. Totally agree! The number is arbitrary. It could be 25 things including accessories, 50 things excluding accessories... the idea to me is about each person imposing some kind of limit that forces choices to be made.

  2. Thank you! Cannot wait to see what my closet holds for my own 333 project this weekend. It will help me transition from summer to winter and cull items that no longer work. Looking forward to seeing what you have in store for future posts.

  3. Cool. I've been thinking about all this 333 stuff for couple months already, but every time I gave up because of lots of emotional reasons.
    Yesterday I found Your blog and... I'm impressed. I like that You chose to include just clothes (no shoes, no acessories etc.) and the way You categorize/choose them.
    It gives the feeling that I can do that too. Maybe I will not have somewhat 100 items in total to get me dressed, but that's the way to not having full closet of nothing to wear.

    Thank You! :)

  4. Beautiful! I love these combinations. I miss the little notes on the bottom telling us where you found these gorgeous clothes, especially the sweaters/tops. Thanks for all the help! :)

  5. Inspirational as always :-) I am a great fan of black. And as you said with a scarf to brighten up a total black outfit, it's just superb.
    Thanks for all the ideas!
    All the best,
    Anne (Playing With Scarves)

  6. I'm inspired to try this.......

  7. I'm curious -- how do you deal with black clothes that don't match, you know, both items are black but when you put them next to each other the shades are just slightly different (but enough to be noticed)? I have this problem frequently, and not just with black but other colors as well, though black is the worst...

    By the way, I absolutely love this blog! I found it just days ago, and have since been devouring your archives. You've totally inspired me to stop looking at the stores and instead look in my own closet, where (much to my amazement) there's a lot more potential than I ever realized before! Thank you!

    1. Frankly, unless they're identical fabrics (like 2 pieces of a matching suit), I don't care if they're not absolutely perfect. If anybody wants to get really close enough to my outfit to sniff it, and determine that the garments didn't come from the same dye lot, then I'm happy that I could give them something to get lathered up about!

      That said, I'm going to dye a handful of my black things (that are looking a bit tired), sometime in the next couple of weeks. I just have to figure out what dye I want to use...

    2. Ooh, I'd love to read about your dyeing experience -- I've only ever dyed one garment (not including tea-staining) in a bucket, and it turned out badly, so it would be great to know how it's supposed to be done.

      You've got great accessories by the way -- do you really own all those Hermes scarves? They're gorgeous! Any advice on finding nice silk squares at a lower price-point?


    3. I'll definitely let you all know how the dying turns out!

      Re scarves - look EVERYWHERE! Scarves are plentiful, especially in thrift stores. Lots of people buy scarves and then never wear them, or else they inherit a mess of them and just donate them. Ebay is a good source for 2nd hand Hermes and other scarves. Craft stores. Street fairs. Anyplace EXCEPT someone selling counterfeits!

      And yes, I really do have all of those Hermes scarves. I buy two a year, and after 20 years or so, it's possible to amass quite the pile. That's one of the benefits of being disciplined enough to buy just a few really nice things - you have them for years.

      Today, Passage des Pearles (a wonderful blog, by the way) is about her cashmere sweaters that she's owned for years. THAT's what we're talking about!

    4. ive had good luck with liquid RIT in the washer - a least with linens. just be sure to run a load of hot water with clorox afterward to clean the washer.

    5. I have heard RIT isn't the best, because it's meant to be an all-purpose dye, it's kind of mediocre for all fabrics instead of being really good for one fabric.

      Cellulose fibers should take different dyes than animal fibers... great resource at if you haven't seen this site yet. I documented my own project dyeing a rayon dress (with mixed results, but I wasn't starting from black) here.

    6. I've had good and bad luck with the black Rit dye (the powder) in my distant past. This was with a top-loader washing machine and, warning, it does discolor the wash tub a bit. If you have the slightest hint of a stain on anything, it will be glaring afterward. Also, some fabrics take to it better (cottons); poly fibers can be iffy. I would also, from the dye point forward, always wash those items together and separate from the rest, for bleed-off, although cold water would be your usual and safest anyway, dye or not dyed. It's been awhile since I've done this and was only just recently reminded I should give it a try to refresh some of the blacks so, as I have some boxes of dye right now in my laundry cupboard, I'm anxious to hear about results. I have a new front-loader washing machine and I'm wondering how I'd even accomplish a dye job, come to think of it (my husband says over his dead body, for what it cost) as the clothes aren't sitting in water the way they do in a top loader. Guess I could go to a laundromat but I understand most laundromats have 99% front loaders now...hmmm, might be a dilemma. Oh, but Mom still has a top loader (I had a light bulb moment!). But, yeah, let's share the dye stories; how's it working for everybody...thanks...

    7. I wanted to add something about the dye task. I have found it takes more than a box of dye to get a good, deep, saturated color. It might take two or three for a full tub...that said, the garment takes it better if you're not trying to do too many articles of clothing at one time (try one garment and a small load of water and maybe one box of dye will do, but then you're going to want to rinse it with a full load once or twice). Trial and error; READ the instructions on the box (or google for tips/tutorials)! I'm a victim of haste makes waste, always too impatient, wanting to do a bunch of stuff all at one time. Better to go at it in a more measured fashion...with your fashions.

      Maybe in the years since I've attempted a dye job, they've improved the dye. I'm a fan of Rachel Ashwell (Shabby Chic guru) and she dyes old linens (vintage tablecloths, napkins); I'd bet her books have how-to's on successful dye projects.

      Janice, can I segue? The Hermes scarves...would you say, though, you are mostly buying them firsthand from Hermes?...I think I read you can...or do you in Chicago have one particular store from which you purchase? I worked for a guy once who came to us in California from Rock-something near Chicago...Rockford? Some suburb; I should look it up. Anyway, his wife worked at Marshall Field's for her entire career; I'd never heard of Marshall Field's, then learned it was a very nice department store. They went back "home" a lot and she'd always bring me back some lovely thing from that store...silver brooches, gorgeous silk scarves; she had incredible taste and I was so impressed. She always looked so elegant from head to toe. But I think, haven't I heard, that this is a store that's no more? Anyway, wondered if you had somewhere like that where you buy a lot of your stuff. Forgive me for my ignorance of all-things Midwest. I just don't know the region, much less the weather. I come from surf and sunshine out West.

    8. I usually buy one scarf per year at the Hermes here in Chicago. The staff there is SO nice, the store is beautiful, and I make an occasion out of the project! And then I buy one second hand - sometimes in the "depot-vent" in Paris (consignment shops), and sometimes on Ebay. Ebay can be a great place to get a good buy on a scarf, as long as you can tell real from counterfeit - they are LOUSY with fake stuff...

      And yes, Marshall Field's is now Macys, and has not benefited from the transition. Field's was a lovely store...

    9. Thanks for the answer. I got curious after I remembered about this from the 1980s, got to googling, and that nice man from Rockford and his wife are both passed on now; they were native-born to Chicago. Then I read about the protests people had for a few years after the demise of Marshall Field's, like an annual event under these famous, elaborate clocks; extreme loyalty to a Chicago icon. Very interesting how the store survived over so many, war, Great Depression, competition, etc.

      We have a similar situation in Los Angeles; my elderly mom often waxes nostalgic over her years in downtown L.A. and its lovely stores of the 1930s and 1940s, when women wore suits and gloves to shop in gorgeously-appointed department stores. About 20 years ago, I did take a walking tour of this former, standout shopping district and the buildings are so stately with amazing architecture, Lalique glass accoutrements, etc. There was one store which was still a men's fine clothing shop and the dark, polished woods inside were something to see, with discreet shelves and pull-out drawers for men's underthings and socks, etc. Definitely something out of a more refined time. The Biltmore is magnificent there, built in 1923; was always a great stop for breakfast or lunch. Mother loved, back in the day, seeing downtown's storefront Christmas windows; fond childhood memories of elaborate Santa displays.

      Of course, as today's non-celeb shopper from the burbs, there IS Rodeo Drive for that once-a-year-shopping expedition if you've saved some money for it, can fight the tourists and insane traffic going in and out of the city...much less find a place to park (no mass transit here, you know).

      At least the Marshall Field's building still survives! Hope I can see it some day; I'd love to go to Chicago. It seems/sounds like such a thriving place; so nice with the lakefront, the art institute, etc. And Hermes! It's just a matter of picking out the right travel month for weather (suggestions welcome).

      Anyway, that's the thing with the concept of 33 and curtailing unnecessary shopping. You can wait for those special-occasion moments, making quality-shopping a real treat, saving for the authentic product you love and which will last. It all makes good sense, doesn't it.

      My husband has bought two cars on eBay, but he knows his cars. I'm a little less confident about my ability to pick the right thing...but, see, you know your scarves!

  8. please just wrap it all up and send to me. it's perfect in every way!

  9. Thanks for showing us how you worked through the Black 333. After reading yesterday's post I went and looked at your winter 333 and couldn't quite figure out how you used the formula with that group. And I couldn't re-work either group into my navy base in a way that worked for me. Seeing the slightly different applications you did with the brown 333 and the black 333 was very helpful to get my ideas going as to how I could apply the concept to my wardrobe. (And I am looking forward to seeing what you do with navy and gray.)

    Thanks for all your effort.


  10. Awesome inspiration. I especially appreciate your explanation on the logic of how you select things, and hints on where such basic items can be found.

    At the risk of ruining your short list, I went online to buy a black cashmere sweater at Lands End, and they are having a -/+ 30% off sale for a few days on their cashmere stuff, if you need to update or replace anything.

  11. I have used RIT dye successfully and unsuccessfully. Their website gives very good tips for using it successfully. I would also add a 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the rinse water to help with colorfastness.

  12. Thank you yet again.

    I have to admit, I laughed. After yesterday's post, I sat down and did my homework, transposing the concepts to cool colours. I quickly decided to make the second core of four another black module, because black is the core of my wardrobe. So it was really too funny to see that you had done precisely the same thing.

  13. Thank you.

    Yesterday, I went to Polyvore to try & duplicate your results. I got stuck because I couldn't decide on ONE color. Then, today, reading your Step 3, I see that I didn't have to!


  14. Very excited to see the navy and gray since I just bought a 4-piece wool suit in gray and a 3-piece wool suit in a muted navy. Incidentally, I also just bought the LL Bean plaid skirt you featured yesterday in the Navy and the Eggplant with matching sweaters. I'm hoping to pull my Navy skirt in with my two new suits.

    1. Well, that's going to make my work easier! I'll try to find some similar garments for my 333...
      thanks so much! for being here, and for your suggestions,

  15. Looking forward to the navy and gray since it's two of my neutrals! I also wear a lot of black, so your wardrobe makes a lot of sense to me, too. Maybe you could discuss tights in a future post. Aside from black, I always run into trouble considering other colors. Is navy with navy matronly? Could I get away with some color like burgundy at my age? What happens when you can't find a perfect gray-it's either too warm or too cool for the skirt or the wrong shade-argh? It seems that a perfectly great outfit can be ruined by the wrong hoisery. Any help in that department?

  16. Love your blog. What about coats? do you have several for autumn/winter?

    1. 90% of the time, I wear a quilted Barbour jacket. It's princess seamed, lightweight, but warm enough for me except when the weather gets really severe. Then, I pull out the super-serious Lands' End parka, in which I could comfortably sleep outdoors in a blizzard. (seriously, this thing is that warm). My trench coat has a wool lining that zips in, so it gets an airing every few weeks too! My commute is only 9 minutes door to door, so coats aren't a big problem for me during the week!

  17. Hi Janice. You are amazing and I absolutely love your blog. The advice contained therein is so much better than any style magazine I've ever read! Even though I live in Sydney Australia so am always in the opposite season to you, your basic advice transcends this and so much of your wardrobe advice is seasonless anyway. Thank you so much for all your valuable work. Love, Megan

  18. You have inspired me to do an analysis of my wardrobe on the 333 basis. Love the way you lay out the number of each type of item, makes so much sense.

  19. Hi Janice,

    I am the anonymous commenter who asked you to describe your logic. Thank you very much for baring your brain. It is infinitely helpful for all of us out here wanting to love our clothes and our bank balance at the same time.

    Deb from Vancouver

  20. It does strike me again that 33 is a lot of clothes. Who woulda thunk?

    I'm right there; I go for the black. I know some people think it smacks of "funeral/mourning" but it makes me look thinner, it almost always looks dressier and just makes me look better.

    BTW, Janice; you've got some great clothes!

  21. Hi Janice,

    I've been reading your blog for sometime, but just now am commenting. Love this helps so much as I have been culling my wardrobe and perfecting it (well almost) to being usable, versatile and not huge. Your packing post was also very timely...I believe I will be able to get about two weeks of outfits into my carry-on!

    All the best, Stacy

  22. Thank you for sharing your thought process! I've been a lurker for a while, and have adopted your common core approach. I would LOVE for you to 'think out loud' about your process for finding and selecting accessories, most especially jewelry. I am over-whelmed at the jewelry counter.

    You have changed the way I dress and shop. You inspire me and I'm so grateful for your insight!


  23. Black & grey with colour and navy & grey with colour... this is MY wardrobe Janice! :-) Well, except for the argyle. And somewhat less stripey. But the inspiration, oh, the inspiration. I need to clear out my own wardrobe and lay it out like this. Thank you!

  24. Dear Janice,
    you are such an inspiration!!! You have helped me so much to organise my closet, could you please please please show us also how to combine these specific 33 items so to make different looks? This was always my biggest problem - no any sense of style unfortunately ...
    Niki from Greece

  25. Dear Janice,
    A picture does say a thousand words! I absolutely love your Project 333 Step by Step panels. You have made order out of chaos and enabled us to be creative in the process! Please keep up the good work, I can't wait for your Spring/Summer Project 333!
    New to the Site
    Virginia USA

  26. I really like your blog. I find your clothing style very elegant and modern. I also like the fact that you choose to have a lot of black coloured clothes as its my personal favourite colour, it really suits me and I can easily match it with everything else that I wear. Thank you for sharing this.