Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Vivienne Files FAQ: Do I HAVE to buy basic garments?

Every day, I get lots of emails with lots of questions.  I like that, and I'm happy that you take the time to write to me. (theviviennefiles@gmail.com) As hard as I try, I don't really have time to answer everybody individually, but your questions make a lot of difference when I choose my content every day.

 The single question I'm asked the most: "Is it absolutely necessary that I own neutral, simple, basic, plain, boring garments?"

Let me say this flat out - if you can find a naturalist community with consistently moderate temperatures and well-groomed walkways, you can go without purchasing ANY CLOTHING AT ALL for the rest of your life.  I know this is reducto ad absurdum, but sometimes we need to remember that clothing is something that we've chosen to wear because of our culture and our circumstances...

So at a minimum, I'm never EVER going to tell you that you have to buy anything.  Many of us don't ever need a skirt, or a dress, or a pair of pumps.  And you don't EVER have to buy anything except neon striped pants and animal print blouses if that's what you prefer.  

That said, I think that you can indulge your fondness for prints and colors and patterns more efficiently and more cost-effectively if you start with a core of basic neutral clothes that you renew on a regular basis.  

Here's an example - we're going to start with eight dead-plain garments (which gives you 2 dozen outfits right off the top), and then add in four more... statement... items.  And I will show how those four additional garments, added to the eight basics with which we started, will give you an additional two dozen ensembles.  Twelve pieces of clothing = 48 outfits, if you have a core of basics.

First up - the eight:
all garments - L.L.Bean


If you want to move through the world inconspicuously, this is a great way to start.  (spies, pay attention!)  But with some judicious accessorizing, as I did back in my "A Common Wardrobe" series, these clothes go a long way. 


But one day you wander into Dorothy Perkins, and you fall into a pit of floral and are smitten with many items...  A while later, you stagger out with these beauties clutched in your hands.

Oy.  The cardigan and the skirt might be wearable together, but otherwise, you're in a pickle...

cardigan, skirt, blouse and pants - Dorothy Perkins

But you remember your beautiful, boring, basics and you begin to assemble outfits that both show your fondness for flowers as well as giving you a foothold in the normal world: 




So there are no requirements, but sometimes a bit of moderation makes some sense.  Maybe the best approach is to buy one neutral for each statement piece when you're shopping, i.e. balance the floral skirt with a black tee shirt, or a printed blouse with neutral trousers.  That way you could still have fun while keeping a sufficient stash of basics in your wardrobe.

Artisan Jewelry Designs

27 comments:

  1. LOVE what you did with the mix and match. I'm a new blogger for women of a certain age. I'm looking to make connections with other bloggers. Would you be so kind as to take a look? www.chapter2twotoo.blogspot.com

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  2. You make the point beautifully! I tend to gravitate toward prints and color, but I've learned those are often the first items I tire of. Since making a concerted effort to buy the basics and more neutrals with the occasional statement piece, I'm much happier with my selections and my options when getting dressed.

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  3. I love opening your blog in the morning. More often than not you will answer my question as to what to wear. I have an all day dreaded church meeting to attend today, and I think my basics mixed with a print-on-print top will fit the bill nicely. Have a lovely weekend.

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    1. I thought I was the only one who dreaded all day meetings. Well, I dread all meetings, but all day are the absolute worst! Hope yours goes well.

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    2. Doesn't everyone dread all day meetings? :-)

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  4. Brilliant! If you start with a basic good quality core, you can definitely afford to splurge on the statement pieces. I think this a win/win for everyone. To me, that means I can buy better quality shoes that nurture my feet and my body. I can still play with the trends by buying one or two statement pieces each season. Now if I could just distill my wardrobe into this set, I would be good to go! xoxo Karen

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  5. Actually, if you look through my blog in the last year...most of what I wear are the neutral bases with a little fun on top!! I have discovered for me this is what I like best. I have attempted to go away from it, but just keep returning. I love the slimming effect as well of the neutral base when you find great fitting garments to use there. You handled this topic well...as you always do!!

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  6. I love colour and often wound up with a wardrobe that was difficult to put together in the morning. You've really helped me accept that I need to have some neutral basics (I chose navy and dark brown) in order to bring some coherence to my closet. Perhaps your personal preference for neutrals is so well stated that it might over-influence some readers, myself among them. it's taken a while for me to see that I can use the principles you describe and still have the colour I need.

    March 1!! Does this mean the endless winter might be drawing to a close? Hope you enjoy your weekend.

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  7. "A pit of floral"!! ROFL!
    I am amazed at why people would email anyone questions like this? Great response!
    I have to admit, that neutrals take the stress out of dressing for me and provide a lovely canvas for my statement jewelry, or hand-knit scarf.
    Bookbutterfly

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  8. I would guess that most people already have at least a few base pieces--blue jeans, a solid tee shirt, and so on. I am always amazed by what is lurking in my tiny closet.

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  9. I started following your blog with the Core Wardrobe series. The changes in how I view my closet have been trans-formative. It wasn't so much what was in the closet as how I viewed it. And THAT was a huge difference. I did a closet purge a la Project 333 and lost a lot of poor choices and impulse buys. After that a bit of organization and I was ready to do a real assessment. Purchases are now focused as to what will fit with the whole. Clothing for the most part is now replacement or to fill a gap. Anything I buy must coordinate with at least two of my neutrals. Most of what I buy is accessories--jewelry and scarves. I can tell you that I get TONS of compliments while wearing the same clothes week after week. You have been instrumental in the progress. Thank you! I am still evolving and though I have a lot of basic neutral items in my closet, dressing is exciting again.

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  10. Reminds me of 2 friends I had years ago, b4 I understood much about building any wardrobe. One showed me her closet & I asked, 'where are your neutrals?' Everything was bright, it was a Rainbow in there. The other one was obsessed with wearing her pieces in the 'One Best combination', and everything she had was decorated in some way, because plain clothes were too boring. Neither one of them had many outfits, altho each had lots of clothes! lol

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  11. This is a brilliant illustration of the power of a core of simple neutrals!

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  12. Thanks to Janice, I have spent the past year beefing up the basics in my wardrobe. Formerly missing--the right pants and shoes to make outfits with. There were plenty of clothes in my closet, but it was hard to put outfits together. I'd get the jacket, the shirt, the pants and the belt only to discover there wasn't a pair of shoes to finish it off. Then I'd have to start over. Now every single item in my closet can be made into an outfit. Anything that couldn't coordinate with other things now has what it needs to shine or has been tossed. It took a lot of thinking and effort and I admit I made a few mistakes, but many fewer than in the past. Yes, the type of shopping it takes to wrangle a wardrobe into workable shape is not "fun". However, it is a pleasure to go to my closet now. I need one more thing, a pair of navy ballet flats and then I will have shoes to match every potential outfit in my closet!!! I was so close to having a wonderful wardrobe before. I don't know what was stopping me from filling in the basics. I guess it just took Janice to help me understand what I was doing wrong. Now it seems so obvious....

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  13. I am all in favor of a core and have worked on that! Thank you for validation.

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  14. Love this post and it's inherent wisdom. I think it's rather surprising that I seem to be know as a woman of style since I buy so little and my wardrobe is probably smaller than most others. I have a core of basics - these are taken right to my tailor if they don't fit properly on me. Then I have fun and artsy and lovely pieces - fabulous scarves, beautiful tops, armfuls of fun bracelets (I typically were classic silver bangles or 6-8 layers of fun bracelets). I always, always have a focal point and maybe that is what makes simple and basic look beautiful!

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  15. I love this! Very well put. Also, you have beautiful collections of clothes based off of scarves and paintings, so even for those who really do not like "basics," they could make several capsule collections and have all the color their hearts desire, but maybe just a little less variety in the combinations. I like that you have pared down the common wardrobe to just 8 basic pieces. I bought a black cardigan and a couple other basics after your common wardrobe installments, and I am loving them for winter because I just layer the cardigan over my summer shirts and dresses. Never thought I was a cardigan person before, but I love how cozy I feel in it.

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  16. Great illustration of why a core group of clothes in "neutral" colors are essential. I am reminded of my (late) father, who one day in the satorially-challenged 1970s, was wearing blue checked pants and a blue plaid shirt. I told him he couldn't wear plaid and checks together. He said, "Why not? It's the same shade of blue." He was right -- it was the same shade but I still had to grit my teeth all through Sunday dinner. (Hard to eat with gritted teeth.)

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  17. Check out this video of Ali McGraw (age 71) being interviewed on Oprah as a testimony to neutrals. http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/Ali-MacGraw-Embraces-Her-Age-Video The perfect simple black T, the perfect fitting black slacks, the stunning black boots--all simple but A+ neutrals. Then she layers on a great collection of silver necklaces and earings and adds a statement belt. WOW!!!

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    1. OMG I can't believe how fabulous she looks at age 71!!!

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    2. Ali looks amazing! So elegant, so comfortable, so down to earth.

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    3. Ali looks amazing! So elegant, so comfortable, so down to earth.

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  18. One of the problems in that question is the conflation of "basic" with "boring". For example, I have two navy v-neck t-shirts. One, by ça va de soie, in fine Egyptian cotton has a graceful, lowish vee and a perfect cut. It's supple, sexy and enormously pleasing to wear. The other is a Gap classic- the cut is a bit boxy, the whole effect is "meh".

    I doubt the Ali MacGraw ensemble the happy forgiver mentions was from Target. I'm not suggesting anyone buy overpriced luxury basics (unless you want to!), but there is a world of difference b/t the low end and the well-made.

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  19. Well stated, Duchesse!

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  20. Anyone have suggestions for "one stop shops" for basics besides LL Bean? I'm specifically looking for very well-made basics that run smaller because LL Bean runs way big for smaller ladies.

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  21. In the "statement" section you could easily pair the cardigan and the pants, especially with some jewelry to tie them together...and I know some folks who could pull off the print blouse and print pants, I'm thinking with a wide plain belt to give it some balance. Just pointing out that sometimes the "statement" pieces can add extra options for you all by themselves...

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  22. I have to chime in on the quality discussion. I believe I'm finally learning that, at 46! I love simple, basic styles and classic black. I'm learning that there is a BIG difference between a basic black t-shirt from gap and some of the high-end pieces I've slowly been purchasing. At first it seems ludicrous to be spending upwards of $100 on a basic t-shirt but, as Duchesse has pointed out, there is a world of difference.

    The other thing I'm noticing is that once you cross that threshold in price, and start really noticing the difference in the details and quality, it's very difficult to go back. An Old Navy t-shirt just won't be the same to me. — Hope

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