December 8, 2012
My commenters are the most insightful people… Yesterday, someone pointed out that, to her, having 33 pieces of clothing didn’t seem like a big sacrifice – it in fact felt like a lot of clothing to her. And she continues by asking me – is this a cultural thing?Well, I know people who have over 200 tee shirts. Over 100 pair of jeans. Over 100 pair of shoes. More than a dozen handbags. Who buy 2 or 3 items a week, EVERY week, although when you do the math, you can clearly see that they’re not wearing 10% of what they ALREADY have…
The average American DISPOSES of 68 pounds of textiles per year. Yea, this includes towels and bedding, but it’s still a LOT of stuff… and that doesn’t even touch the huge amount of unused junk just sitting in boxes, bins, closets, shelves, storage units…
One of the things I like most about traveling is when I unpack my suitcase (completely!) into an armoire like the beautiful thing shown above, and it looks just right. Enough. Plenty. Things I love, things that are beautiful, things that I chose with care, budgeted for, and will continue to enjoy for years.
I know people get tired of me beating this drum, but I will not drop this subject:
- We buy too much clothing.
- We spend too much of our income on things that don’t improve our long-term futures.
- We damage the planet, and
- we exploit people in other parts of the world so that we can have a quick, cheap, fast-fashion thrill.
hostess of the humble bungalow says
I agree we have too many clothes and I am on a journey to keep my wardrobe lean and simple.
It's a lot easier to do when accessories are on hand. I love the European (French) way of dressing…
In our wee 110 year old bungalow storage is an issue so it makes it much easier to have fewer garments bigger than a suitcase and about the same size as that wardrobe you've posted here.
Aesthetic Alterations says
I'm with your commenter . . . The 33 projects sounds like an overwhelming amount of clothes for a season. But then, I really don't think about "number of combinations" and so have no pants and only a couple of summer skirts; I'm happiest wearing essentially the same thing, day in and day out, whatever the season.
That said, I only need to think of my mother's and sisters' closets to know what's going on in most houses. Most of it cheap, on sale, and worn once, if at all. They are likely the inspiration for my lack of excitement about "sales."
Now . . . I do like me some accoutrements, that I would give you . . . Nothing makes me happier than a scarf or a bag.
Many people would be shocked at the price of that beautiful armoire. Yet it would give pleasure for 10-20 years, maybe more. Talk about "cost per wear." One could easily pay for it by skipping some of the disposable clothing.
Like the Hostess, I have an old house with limited closet space. I've noticed, though, that since my kids are mostly elsewhere, I've begun to creep into their closets…
I thought that if I bought that armoire, it would last the rest of my life (perhaps another 30 years?), and then my heirs could use it or sell it. There are armoires all over the world that are hundreds of years old… that's why we always encounter them in hotels!
That's a beautiful armoire – and the price is very reasonable when you consider that it's handcrafted and taken care of, will easily last a hundred years or more.
Armoires in hotels? Not for me! Since bringing back some very unwanted guests (bedbugs) from a very high-end hotel on the Upper West Side of New York, and enduring the stress, expense and sheer ickiness of trying to rid our home of them, I am a much more cautious and safer traveller.
If you're wondering what I'm talking about, there are plenty of great sites on the internet that will show you how to travel and come home without these horrible creatures.
Anyway, beautiful armoire- just keep it safe at home and don't load clothing that has not been thoroughly inspected and baked in a hot dryer/sent to the dry cleaners into it.
Russian Chic says
"…unwanted guests (bedbugs) from a very high-end hotel on the Upper West Side of New York…" – that is awful! Are these species visible to naked eye?
One of the issues I face is that I live in a climate with 4 distinct seasons–we had a 100 degree temperature range last year. Also, I do stuff–go to work (in business suits), hike and garden, attend black-tie events, etc. I have found some clothing (like my cashmere cardigans and basic tee shirts) are part of my wardrobe year-round, but beyond that, I find I need more clothes than I want. If anyone out there has a suggestion, I'm all ears.
Yep, that looks pretty much like the wardrobe that I had living in Germany. I could not believe the size closets in this country when I first moved here. We have four distinct seasons in Germany also and dress in layers. And a wardrobe (or armoire) that lasts only twenty or thirty years would be considered a piece of junk in most of Germany made by the likes if Ikea.
I have an armoire like this – it is beautiful, hand made and from my great-great-parents, over 100 years old. It has survived several moves, is very easy to build together – and it still looks absolutly beautiful. My new wardrobe was not usable after one move…. talking about quality.
My armoire holds clothes and acts as a contained vanity table! It might be the best piece of furniture my husband and I have purchased. But beyond that, I love your blog. I love this focus you have, that you should not only buy lovely, lasting items, but ones that are purposeful, too. Keep it up! It's a message more people need to hear and live. I'm encouraged by you to do better!
I'm TRYING to change but it comes slowly, with relapses. My biggest motivator is that too much stuff is too much clutter, and clutter is stressful. Life has enough stress as it is.
Just wanted to add that helpful things to do, in terms of continued "purchasing," are to stay off clothing sites on the web, cancel paper mail order catalogs and stay out of clothing stores. If you HAVE to shop, go to a garden center instead; go somewhere where you'll be less likely lured. It's sort of like eating and dieting…if the bad food is in the house, you're probably going to eat it. Speaking of we who have the addictive tendencies…and it's hard, if you've associated shopping with pleasure and fulfillment, just like some of us associate food as a pleasurable thing of family and festivity, but you can't change the behavior if you don't change the environment (IMHO).
I'm totally with you, Vicki… you describe exactly my behaviour. Avoiding 'temptations' is helping. I have also stopped buying fashion magazines – no need to mention that everything I need for inspiration is given here. During my declutter I have begun to realize how many lovely clothes I have and to learn about the numerous possible outfits. But I often have to remind myself of this fact, though. I am in the process.
Please let me say it is also very helpful to read that I am not the only one who has to handle the addictive tendency.
Thank you for your openness.
I think treating shopping as an addictive behavior makes a lot of sense. A huge segment of our economy is oriented toward getting us to shop – regardless of our needs, our means, what's best for us, or what's best for the planet. In order to steel ourselves against the constant onslaught of allure, we've got to be defense. For me, that means no fashion magazines, cancelling the constant emails from a million stores, getting off of catalog mailing lists (catalogchoice.org), finding things more constructive to do than to shop… What else? We can't be victims of this kind of pressure if we (1) know about it, and (2) take active, deliberate, continual steps to push back.
I appreciate all the good reader comments, and Janice's. It's encouraging.
I would agree with all of this and also add that if you love to shop, shop secondhand! It satisfies the itch for much, much less money, and without directly supporting questionable industry practices. I have practically abandoned retail and shop almost exclusively at thrift stores and consignment shops. There are a wealth of such shops in Chicago, and I love the hunt. Many times I strike out, but just the other day I found three things that were on my shopping list in one trip. I TRY (with varying degrees of success) not to buy things just because, no matter how inexpensive.
Secondhand stores make me a more discerning buyer, I think. I can be patient because I know eventually something good will come along. And I hesitate to pay $100 at retail for a blouse made out of thin, papery silk when I just found a $4 blouse at Goodwill made of gorgeous silk charmeuse!
Janice, I have been following your blog for awhile now, and it is brilliant. I was wondering if I could ask a favour (unrelated to this latest post)? You did a wonderful series on packing in early of October this year, and as I have similar items already in my wardrobe, I like to use those posts when preparing for overseas travel with my husband. There are no tags attached to those posts, so it becomes difficult to pull them up again (without remembering the date you posted them). Could you perhaps attach packing or travel tags to those posts? It would be so much appreciated! Keep up this wonderful project, you really need to publish a book!
Oh, rats! I thought I HAD tagged everything… Tags are harder to find now – if you take your cursor over to the right edge of this screen, where there's a segmented, dark grey bar, you will see when you hover that the 2nd segment, it will open out to the left, and show you the Labels. ANY TIME I don't have the best labels on a post, or you think or more that I should add, please leave me a comment telling what you'd like to see added, and I'll take care of it! thanks
Just want to thank you for your blog – it's inspirational on many levels. Having just helped clean out a loved one's home with years of "stuff", I am highly aware of how much can be accumulated over a lifetime. All my purchases are more thoughtful now. For my wardrobe, I've gone shopping in my closet and added a few necessary pieces in order to mix and match more. I have gotten more compliments in the last 2 weeks on my outfits than I have in years, thanks to your influence.
This is something that crosses my mind.
In earlier years when I had a better salary and was in very productive working mode, I did buy very pricey clothing. I had a certain work life/lifestyle to support. However, in the past years when I haven't had as much money to work with and have been semi-"retired" for a reason/season or two (or more), I began to add in the cheaper stuff for a different kind of day, i.e. no more business suits and party dresses and a lot more of "going-to-go-buy-toilet paper" or "take-the-dog-to-the-vet" and "run-this-by-the-post-office" kind of very-casual clothes…to where things got TOO casual and I'm trying now to find the middle of the road; however, new more-expensive clothing items have to be spread out for the budget due to my circumstances. It's going to take awhile if I'm not going to pander to the quick thrill and shoddy workmanship (inexpensive clothing) to which you speak. So, this continues to needle at me. I am not anywhere where there are decent consignment or vintage or secondhand/charity stores and I have no experience buying clothes in the online secondhand marketplace either. It's going to continue to take some real concentration and planning; in the meantime, I'm still weeding and trying to cull from my past life what I can wear in THIS life (I'm not the same sizes now; ugh…some of the best stuff I've already let go of and sold or donated).
I don't know why I'm second-guessing myself, or panicking somewhat.
But here's what's also on my mind: when you are repeating the same items over and over again, just in different combos, don't the clothes wear out faster, even with the most careful washing/drying and/or dry cleaning? When you're not rotating the clothes with a wider selection of clothes, how do they hold up if they're not all the higher-cost brands (when I'm in this limbo period where I have a blend of nice/cheap)? I'm thinking, hmmm, a shopping "fast" for a year, yet I can't replace something that's getting a bit worn around the edges…so how am I going to flex that…how much am I going to allow myself to bend the rules…
I'm sorry if I sound grumbly; I come here with dedication. Don't have it all figured out yet, though. I'm thinking I have to just do the best with what I have and mindfully replace along the way…use common sense. In which case, it's a no-brainer. I still have that addictive "fear" I'm going to come up against some occasion to where I have nothing to wear, will go out looking for something and not find what I want, then spend too much on something I didn't really want because I need something fast for whatever the occasion/event…maybe because it's what has happened before, 'way back in the day before I became a clothes horse/hoarder and I just didn't have enough clothes from which to choose or create an outfit.
Anyway, I'm getting off course here, but I'm nearly trying to build a new wardrobe from scratch with not enough money now for the things I know will last (quality) and work, so I'm getting mopey about it. I think I remember reading here in the past, suggestions such as maybe not spending so much on a basic black tee and saving the money instead for a really nice cardigan or blazer, at least for the time being. My dad used to tell me, "Rome wasn't built in a day."
Well, one of the rules that I had for my shopping fast last year, and that I'll certainly invoke again, is that if a garment legitimately wears out, I'm allowed to replace it. This doesn't mean that you can give a sweater to the dog for a chew toy, nor leave the iron setting on a blouse for 20 minutes – it has be legitimate wear and tear.
And your dad's entire right (of course!): this is a process. It's a change of habit, and a change of priority, NOT a "perfect wardrobe" goal which will some day be finished. We have to replace clothes – maintain, update, adapt – and so these wardrobes are NEVER truly "done". The key is to remember what we'd like to accomplish when we spend our clothing cash.
Hi Vicky, I struggle with this as well in that I have/or am somewhat evolving to having a collection of 'better' clothes which I wear for work/travel etc. But, like now in Australia where I live, I am going to have 2-3 months where it is 'holiday' time, humid and hot, and you are changing outfits 2-3 times a day. I try and recall the Elegance book (where is my copy??? Perhaps part of my life downsizing)… but she talks about this small wardrobe which she mentions is for going to lunch, work,. functions etc. Perhaps a small house wardrobe. But she also talks about a summer holiday wardrobe where she list may 8-10 pieces and even SHE says, you buy the cotton pieces 'cheap' with the full intent of tossing them at the end of the year/season. Perhaps quite informative given she was writing pre- this terrible shopping consumerist space we are in now. Janis you may not agree, because I am aware that an $8 tshirt has to have come from some terrible sweat shop, but given the heat and amount of washing I have to do to keep fresh while doing the home based chores, I am trying to say have 6 tshirts and 3 pairs of everyday pants/skirt and 2 pairs of sandals that go through the wash often knowing that next summer I will have to totally replace. Winter and work clothes just dont go through the same wear. And I have tried expensive cotton etc things but they don't seem to survive that much day to day cooking/dog/etc spilss and washing so it seems a waste of resources. I do think this is different to the situation where people are buying 100 cheap shirts etc and not wearing them. Not what you all think… Not sure if that is helpful Vicky. I feel inspired looking at Janis's capsules and think well if I have a good section, and then a day to day section I can ramp between the events…
Sorry Janice (not Janis)…. :-)
I'v'e actually thought of changing it to Janus – the 2-faced god of beginning, endings, and portals…
No worries – I'm just glad you're here with me; blogging can be really lonely work without comments!
I am in this same situation of needing almost an entirely new wardrobe due to change in size/lifestyle. I like how you got back to the basics of adding 4 signature pieces to a common wardrobe, and really felt those posts were meant for me. Thanks!
Cotton wears out really easily when it comes to work attire. For working around the house doing really dirty work/painting I have a pair of old jeans from Goodwill that were a couple of dollars as well as a couple of hand me down tee shirts that were actually soccer camp shirts from a friend when he was a kid. They are at least 25 years old, but the cotton/poly blend wears like iron, and I don't mind if they get paint or bleach on them as they are for that purpose.
Also, for regular chores and housework/errands, if you want a casual wardrobe that will last, I have been looking at the tee shirts from places like IceBreaker that have wool shirts with great reviews in terms of keeping away the stink and standing up to years of brutal hiking trips (pack wear on the shoulders, lots of sweat with few showers, lots of dirt, etc.) Just a thought if you don't want to throw away your casual summer wardrobe every year. If you don't mind synthetics, North Face makes some nice performance shirts that will last a long time. I have even washed these types on sanitize in my washing machine, and they come out nicely wash after wash with little color fading. If you don't mind working in nicer stuff, Eileen Fisher's tee shirts in her Jersey line would wear well year after year.
As for building a wardrobe, because I am on a small budget and need a lot of basics, I have decided to start with Janice's Four by Four method. I will be shopping sales to save money, and choosing brands more like JCrew, LLBean, and Banana Republic to start. I want to put together sheets with the combinations just because for a time my wardrobe will be very limited, and I think it will help me feel like I am being less repetitive.
Also, Janice, your comment from a previous post that accessories are a lifetime investment really struck home. I have never focused much on accessorizing, but I think that it's a great way to build upon a small basic wardrobe with pieces that will last your lifetime. Your accessorizing A Common Wardrobe definitely shows how you could get away with only 12 items of clothing(and maybe a skirt or a dress)and be able to have an almost infinite array of variation/color/style by buying a set of accessories and shoes that coordinate and can be used over and over, even when the basic clothes wear out!
I just adore your blog, Janice, and admire your ability to somehow state your strong opinions on this topic without coming across as preachy! I mentioned in yesterday's post that I am unable to read or add comments from my tablet. Do you known of a fix for this?
Jen on the Edge says
The 33 pieces are a bit more than I generally wear, but not by much. I've been losing weight for the past two years — 40 pounds down and another 30 or so to go — so my wardrobe has changed greatly as I've gone down clothing sizes. Because of the transient nature of so many of my clothes, I've kept my wardrobe intentionally small, so as not to waste money and resources. I'm doing a lot of shopping at consignment/thrift shops, but I still need to buy some things new and I just don't want to spend a lot of money, so I'm wearing fewer items and keeping things interesting with my accessories. Once I hit my goal weight, I'm not sure how my wardrobe will change in terms of numbers of items, but I don't see it being all that much higher.
OH SO PRETTY says
I totally get where you are coming from and I definitely think I consume too much in general and I know I have way more clothes than I need. So this is going to sound like I'm justifying buying clothes, but hear me out. Putting an outfit together is like an art form to me. I love to do it in the way a painter likes to pick out his paints for a new painting. I like to try new trends-not b/c they are trends but because I genuinely like some of them. I don't wear trendy things for the sake of being trendy. I'm really into neon right now, but realistically I know that will fade over time. So, I'm not going to buy a nicely made neon item (unless it's on super sale) because I know I won't like it forever. I buy clothes from Goodwill and alter them to make them more unique. I try to buy things locally. However, let's be real. I can get really cute clothes from Forever 21 and I've had some of their items for years. Cheap clothing/cheaply made clothing doesn't necessarily mean it will wear out. I've had expensive clothing "go bad" way before it's prime & vice versa. Also, buying more expensive clothing definitely does not guarantee that you are buying clothing that wasn't made from exploited people.
Basically at this stage in my life I'm not ready to commit to a closet of basics that I can mix and match. Sure I can add accessories to jazz up the basics but then isn't that the same problem- how many accessories are too much? My clothing style changes too frequently to have a closet full of investment pieces.
Certainly do wish icould convince my husband to look atclothig this way. Mywardrobe stays fairly small because his is enormous and takes 2/3 of our closet space! In awaythats a good deteret for me.
I have been lucky to have a very close relationship with a French family. They would be upper middle class by US standards, but my "sister's" entire wardrobe fits in an armoire and a large chest of drawers! And of course she looks sensational all the time. Your blog is getting me closer to my goal. I only buy if I find a "coup de coeur". –Susan
Love "coup de coeur". I will take that word to the store with me, it will help me focus and stay on track.
I promise to wear the three gap v-neck t shirts that came home with me from Gap, until they rot off my body.
Truly Janice, you are a voice of reason and calm in a land of "too much". In a season of "too much".
I aspire to your aesthetic,
But sadly I have a long, long way to go.
I probably have about 75 items of clothing in my wardrobe right now – not counting accessories, gym clothes and outerwear. Reading all the comments I feel like I should reduce it further, but I do really like all the things I have, and I do wear everything (although there are several dressy outfits that only get out for rare occasions). How much is enough is one question, but now I find myself asking – how much culling is enough? Not sure what the answer is!
Hi anon. I recently culled down to 50 items (also not counting accessories, gym/lounge clothes, undershirts and shoes) but that number has crept up with a few shopping trips I've taken lately. I'm at about 60 now. For me, it's too much when the quantity starts to work against my goals. For example when I had so many things that I forgot about some of the most beautiful and flattering clothing in my closet. Or when I had the habit of spending money on impractical, shiny party clothes I never had opportunity to wear, while I didn't even have a proper work skirt or a pair of jeans made in the last 10 years!
You sound to be in a great place. I don't feel you should cull just for the sake of culling. If you love and wear everything, and you have the physical and emotional space for it all, personally I think you have found the right balance.
Thanks for replying to me, Anne! i like the concept of having "enough emotional space" for clothes!
I think I may have the opposite problem in some respects. I loved shopping when younger but when I started practicing Tightwad principles, I fell out of the habit of frequenting department stores, etc. I shopped first at thrift stores, then consignment, and only without success with those did I go to regular shops. I only go when I have a specific need. I wear my clothes probably beyond the point when I should, because having found something I love, I hate to give it up. Because I don't shop in department stores regularly and I'm trying to buy quality, avoid 'fast' fashion, etc., when I do shop, I'm shocked at the prices. I'm frightened of making really expensive mistakes. Having been a Tightwad for many years now, I can probably afford to buy reasonably good clothes, but being retired I don't need an upscale wardrobe. I find it very difficult to buy clothes these days. Wardrobes are far more common in England than closets and to my eye that is a fairly inexpensive, plain model. I bought mine at a secondhand shop and love the shelf labels for 'gloves and veils, furs, underlinens, handkerchiefs and sundries'.
I feel like I'm in an almost opposite place right now! I've been buying more than I've bought in years. For a long time I didn't shop much due to health reasons and ordering things online..either I chose badly or the styles of the past 4 or 5 years just didn't appeal to me.
As a result, most of my wardrobe is old…not classic, just dated…and I'm very tired of so many things. Honestly, I have some sweaters that are about 25 years old! Pants, most are about a decade. I want new things, a new look, a new outlook. Thanks to Janice, for the most part I'm buying wisely (but not all…she let me have whappage!), but I've probably bought 10 new items in the last month. I'm also purging but I am totally in consumer mode.
And just to further rock the boat, the one French woman I know is the least stylish person I know. Also sweet and humble. She laughs her head off at the idea of "French style"…swears it's every bit as much a stereotype as "ugly American". Sure it's there, but it isn't the whole picture.
When were in Bay City, MI last year we found a HUGE antique mall that just seemed to go on forever. I wandered upstairs, and to my delight, found a whole room filled with these antique armoires–most of which were just exquisite in design and workmanship. I love them! But when I open their doors, examine their shelves, pull the drawers I am always amazed that this one piece of furniture likely housed a person's (maybe 2 persons') wardrobe including shoes, hats, underthings, etc. It is humbling. I recently purged my closet again and I am down to about 30 items hanging in my closet (some are marked with a ? and may not be around long)…of course this does not include accessories, underthings, exercise wear. I find I think better and am more creative with fewer items in my closet. Pulling a favorite pieces together with the help of some great accessories is so much fun.
Wow, these were amazing reader comments on this post, Janice; thanks for replying to several of them yourself. What impresses me most is that we're motivated; that we're thinking about it. Mindfulness. I'm using that word for so many things. I just have to keep plugging away at it. It's hard to part with some of my clothes; I still remember ones I got rid of with this lingering voice that maybe I shouldn't have, but it speaks volumes of how bad my shopping addiction was and how I don't want it in my life anymore. As my husband says, clothes are just THINGS. He and I both are going to make a big push on clothes purging when he gets time off after December 15 til the first of the year; his closet and mine. He's spilling over, too. It's so embarrassing. We have this teenyweeny house, vintage homes being known for having such a small amount of closet space, and I've got rolling racks in too many places. No room for those either, not when space is at a premium! Hubby decided we will box up and take the donated items to the secondhand stores ourselves rather than waiting for their trucks to come to us…in order to keep the stuff moving (or I'm sure to prevent me from changing my mind!); the stores aren't near us, but if that's what he wants to do, we're at least getting somewhere and I will let him do the heavy lifting!! We have a lot of other things going on ("life problems" don't we all…) but I think, together, in our quest for simplicity amid all the current life crap, cleaning up our home environment is a good distraction and productive use of our time, and starting out the new year with even one homekeeping accomplishment (and clothes are part of homekeeping because it's about reducing the clutter and being able to have a clean home that breathes) will make us feel so, so good. Wallowing and inactivity is bad. I can be smarter than this! Action is good!
I've said it so much, but I appreciate this blog, Janice; you've attracted some really great readers, and you and everybody provide me so much inspiration. It makes me feel hopeful; empowered. It's very healing. Positive change is uplifting.
I actually love the idea of accessorizing. I've never done enough of it, thinking I look bad in scarves and hats, and I was never a big jewelry person and only somewhat into bags. Shoes were secondary to clothes; I've been all about the clothes. Changing my mind on that now, obviously! It's going to be my new focus, within reason of course, to accessorize thoughtfully and wisely; be inventive. And, gee, accessories take up a lot less room!
I hear ya! My husband went through his wardrobe yesterday and took out everything that didn't fit him. He kept one shirt that doesn't fit him from his sister- I asked about it and he said it serves as a daily reminder of his exercise goals. It's great when everyone in the house gets into the same groove of simplifying and assessing our things.
Janice, found your blog recently and love it so much, I've gone back and read just about everything.
I'm newly retired and trying to transition to a very different wardrobe – more casual but not sloppy. It's tricky. Inspired by your posts, I removed some stuff from my closet last night and colours look a little more coherent already. I'm feeling more confident on that front, have learned a lot from your wonderful work with basics.
However, I've never been very good at buying what suits me best – a lot of regrets – and now I'm worried I'll make a whole new set of mistakes. Before I start buying, can I ask one question? May seem simple to you but I'm confused as to whether I should be looking for v neck cardigans over my v neck t shirts or does the shape of the cardigan neckline even matter? Any advice would be welcome.
Thanks again for sharing your flair and dedication.
Buy whatever neckline you like most – I have a mix of the two, but I pretty much always wear jewel-neck tee shirts – my cleavage isn't really great for v-necks, and I'm so short-waisted that if I wear a v-neck, I could theoretically tuck it in so that the "point" of the V is inside my waistband!
A lot of the key to making this work is the REALLY REALLY know what you most love… and it's something that, surprisingly, many of us don't really grasp. We're so used to being externally influenced that we've lost touch with our true preferences.
Thanks for your advice. I know what colours I love but come unstuck over what garments to buy. Hmmmm…I need to reflect a little more. Maybe go through some catalogues and cut out what I like, see if any common themes pop out.
As one who is currently paring her whole home down, particularly her wardrobe, this hits home. I have too many pieces that I bought for the wrong reasons which don't really belong in my home any more. It's about practicing what I preach and focusing on quality over quantity….basically rediscovering the European version of me rather than the American me I've reverted back to a little. I mean, for all the clothes I own, too often I seem to have "nothing to wear." Thanks for this post!
Little Miss Know-it-all says
My first apartment was the top attic floor of a 1733 half-timbered farmhouse. It had been made into two large rooms, a bathroom under the eaves and an open kitchenette. There were two pieces of furniture in it – a huge painted chest and an enormous armoire in the same style. Both pieces of furniture were at least the same age as the house and had been too large to manoeuvre downstairs when the apartment was converted, as they were made of thick planks whose corners were worn away by the years.
By European standards this armoire was very large and I promptly stuffed a lot into it – it had actually probably been used for numerous linens in the past, as young housewives would collect a lifetime's supply before they married and it was a matter of pride for them to display fabrics that they had likely spun, woven and embroidered themselves.
This daintier type of armoire is still dictated by the available space in many apartments, and I have also always admired them and thought how nice it would be to have only enough clothes that it was comfortably filled. Most people do have larger wardrobes now, though, with 4-6 door wardrobes along one wall being the most common. Our tiny house allows a 4-door, 2 metre wide wardrobe in our bedroom, which I share with my husband. Therefore I have 50cm of full length hanging space and 50 cm of half hanging space with a few drawers below, which hold my accessories. Plus a low 3-drawer dresser. That is all I can fill, probably a good thing, as even though I don't have a lot by US standards, my wardrobe is more than comfortably full!! (I am able to keep coats or formal dresses in a second wardrobe in our entrance hall!)
I've been working as a seasonal holiday employee at a major department store, and it's been an eye-opening experience. I agree with Aesthetic Alterations' post — most of the clothing in stores is not designed for a long shelf life. Sales and coupons certainly make these clothes a "better" value, but a lot of the clothes are too trendy and made of so-so fabrics, etc. It's hard to find value. I shop in consignment shops so I can snag a higher quality item at a very affordable price. I even buy basics like tees and jeans at consignment stores. I used to sew so I am picky about clothing construction (finished button holes, knotted threads holding buttons in place, matching fabric at seams, etc.). I'd rather have fewer but better constructed clothes that can last many years. So 33 clothing items per season is a lot for me, but I love how Janice puts her wardrobe together — very instructive!!!!
A bunch of comments and questions:
How do you feel about natural vs synthetic fabrics? I tend to like the feel of natural fabrics — cool linen in summer; cashmere sweaters in winter — but the upkeep of natural fibers adds a lot of overhead. How do you balance that?
Also, do you vary the way a design is 'supposed' to be worn? For example, I thrifted a men's cashmere pullover. I kept it for me, but I feel a little strange knowing that it was 'supposed to be' for men.
Do you ever change your core colors? For example, I find that I have a lot of black and navy in my closet. But black is not my best color. How do you change your core colors without either (a) breaking the bank; or (b) looking patchwork?
I wear mostly natural materials (linen in the summer and cashmere in the winter) and it all goes into the washing machine on a gentle cycle and then air dried. The only upkeep issue I have is keeping the bugs away from my woolens.
ora, look back thru the archives, and you will find a post Janice wrote that tells how her friend Vivienne will change gradually from a black wardrobe base to a grey one. And her red accents will become softer rose accents.
The best wardrobe I've ever had was my maternity wardrobe. When we took a vacation, I literally took every piece of maternity clothing I had and it fit in one small suitcase. I always felt well-put together, and had enough separates to change things up a bit. Total number of clothes: right around a dozen. My son is now 12 and I have never been able to replicate that level of wardrobe satisfaction.
Part of me thinks that the clothes in the closet are only part of the story. I had maternity clothes that made me feel pretty and confident, but what I focused on was bringing a new life into the world, and preparing my corner of that world to receive him.
I ADORE fashion. But if I look to my clothes to fulfill me, am I ever truly satisfied? My current closet says no. If I look for fulfillment in my relationships and my activities, then my clothes can regain their proper place — providing suitable attire that makes me feel pretty and confident. But is not solely responsible for my happiness.
Janice, as always, thank you for providing insight into our wardrobes as well as our psyche.
I did a 33-things cleanout in combination with a preparing-to-move-house cleanout about three months ago. Yikes! Even with a slightly more generous limit of 50 items, I still filled two big plastic tubs with clothes to store and another one with clothes to sell/donate. One of the thing I've learnt from your blog is to think about my wardrobe as a whole, rather than individual items. Cleaning it up means that I can focus on curating a collection that better reflects how I'd like to be seen, as well as making it quicker to get dressed in the morning.
Kasi L says
This post really hits home because it echos why I started my own blog. I was shopping all the time (at least once a week) and owning more and more and more and was less and less and less happy with my closet.
Your blog has helped me go from over 200-300 items to under 150 and I live in a 4 season climate. Thanks for always inspiring.
Hear, hear, Janice! Keep beating that drum, I'm marching with you! What constitutes a "pared-down wardrobe" is of course relative but a stuffed closet (and stuffed credit card bills) should tell the story.
A year ago, I wore 12 items (not counting underwear or shoes) for a month. Liberating and I wasn't sick of them; I'd have to go above 36 to accommodate our distinct seasons; 48 would be plenty.
I am very strict about what goes into my wardrobe and wear everything (with the exception of the business clothes I need for a conference or interview and three party dresses I reserve for weddings and holidays), but I realized not long ago that true 'investment' dressing is not for me. I need my clothes to last longer than 1 year (preferably 3+ for items such as jeans and sweaters), but they don't need to last 10 years because 1) my style will likely evolve, 2) classic items are always being updated so the version of the classics I have now may look really frumpy in 10 years, 3) my body may change, 4) my lifestyle may change. Since I wear things over and over again, these items also wear out! Where I spend a bit more money is on handbags and coats. I really think the best way to keep a minimal wardrobe is to find your color palette and stick to it. It also makes critical shopping a breeze because you can eliminate a ton of items just based on color and won't be tempted by sales.
Oh wow, I was away for a few days and when I looked again, not only had Janice answered my question on the previous post, she had written a whole blog post on the topic! Thank you so much for such a great and interesting post! And the comments are fascinating too!
Exploitation of others around the world so that we continue to enjoy the fast fashion track is what annoys me the most.We are so down the wrong path.