May 31, 2013
Somewhere in my imagination, I walk across windswept moors, my long flowing hair sweeping behind me. I’m dressed in something graceful and fluid, and it’s all very dramatic and romantic…
And for a long time, I would occasionally buy something for this life..
Reality check? I wouldn’t walk across a windswept moor, I’d stride at about 4 mph. My hair won’t GET long – it won’t grow past my shoulders. And even if it would, it would never flow. It might boing and sproing and ping and pong in it’s curly way…
The fluid garments would get snagged on the gorse, and would get all wet and muddy around the hem…
The hardest part of having a focused wardrobe is the part where you have to decide that you are going to surrender all of these wardrobe “dreams” that you have. I’m not going on a safari. I can’t dress like I’m going to a garden party. I’m not a gypsy. I don’t live in the 19th century. I’m not goth. I can’t swan around Chicago in a high-necked lace blouse with a cameo brooch at the throat.
Figure out who you are, and dress yourself. Dreams are lovely, but you can’t put money and self-esteem into chasing after alternate personalities… If you’re going to chase a dream, chase something more substantial than a costume.
Perfectly stated, Janice. In the past I have been guilty of this myself. I think it explains why many of us have closets full of clothes but 'nothing to wear' because the wardrobe does not reflect the real person but an imagined life. Thank you.
Little Miss Know-it-all says
Madame Là-bas says
Fashion often is based on fantasy. We can be seduced by visual images that are totally impractical and irrelevant to our own lives. Perhaps, as we get a bit older and wiser, we realize that the life that we are actually living is great and we don't need to buy costume or props.
Oh yes, yes, yes. Still working hard to apply this lesson, but this blog has helped me tremendously. Again, thank you, Janice.
Very eloquently put Janice! I love "you can't put money and self esteem into chasing after alternate personalities" – which I think we do when we are unhappy with our current persona. Trying out an alternate persona is human nature but as Madame said, with maturity and self awareness, we can come to appreciate who we are!
I think I am finally there, but it was a long and expensive road to get there. Getting rid of these fantasy clothes was another matter all together, but once that was accomplished, there was no looking back. I now spend way more on my everyday outfits, but I feel better about myself (no small matter), and I probably get much more milage out of my purchases.
Janice Riggs says
Oh, the damage I did to my own self-esteem by trying to be Catherine Earnshaw…
Great advice. Most of us wear the same clothes over and over again because they fit our lives and we feel good in them.
That painting is gorgeous! And I readily identify with this problem. Since I love history and historical fiction, I can easily imagine myself wearing clothing of different times. I often lament that the clothing of our day is so casual compared to times past, but I recognize that I have to dress such that I appear modern to be taken seriously and perform effectively in my job. It is hard to let go of the dreams, though!
Janice Riggs says
The challenge is not to let go, but to channel the dream somewhere other than our closets! I'm still working on how I can be that swishy romantic woman while living in downtown Chicago in 2013…
A few elements of it in formal occassion fashion choices…or a wonderful dressing gown for evenings at home…
Thank you…I *really* needed to read this today!
Susan G says
A perfect post. Thank you!
I wanted to be Dorothea Brooke–though when I told people that, they started laughing. At me.
I think a long cape would work in Chicago–and would accommodate layers when it got really cold.
Janice Riggs says
Oh, but the wind… I would turn into the Flying Blogger!
Interesting topic. I must disagree, at least a bit. Those clothes say something important about what is in some way missing in our lives. The key is to find a way to incorporate whatever that might be into one's day to day life. I used to buy cocktail and evening dresses with little occasion to wear them. I started ballroom dancing. I now am able wear my fancy dresses and in addition, I don't feel the need to buy so many.
I must admit I channeled my fantasies into historical costuming-I do love my corset, bustle,petticoats and button-up boots. However, I can sew, so the expense is (somewhat) reasonable. It helps to keep me on track in my everyday wardrobe.
Such a relief to know that I have lots of company in the fantasy wardrobe. Just finished cleaning out all the stuff I never wear, the quantity was a shock, not to mention the wasted money. Now I force myself to walk away when I can't imagine a situation in which I'll wear a garment, but it is hard sometimes. Those fantasies are very powerful. Your posts have been a big big help in dealing with this and being happier with clothes that I can really live in.
You've read my mind! This is my weekend project. I do volunteer work with elderly Navajos and I do live out West, but now I feel confident that I can whittle down the clothes for that part of my life and store them properly for those occasions. My imaginary life clothes must go and thanks to your humor I know it will be easy. Susan in SLC
Janice Riggs says
Not necessarily easy, but an important part of living in your real life. As long as I'm dreaming about something that's NEVER going to happen, I'm not giving sufficient attention to what's right in front of me (and pretty wonderful, too!).
Marilyn Leslie says
Lovely images and some very solid advise, thank you.
Mary Brannigan says
Great post, Janice! I used to spend money on pieces of clothing that caught my eye, whether they fit with my style or not…after having tons of pieces and no outfits, I learned my lesson. Now, I only buy pieces that suit me and go with other pieces I already own. I have learned to just say no to fantasy life pieces.
So true! You have definitely helped me accept this conclusion. lol But somewhere along the way I identified my preferences as preppy and bohemian. I realize it's best when I find clothes that have a bit of both (a traditionally cut tank with some lace or a funky little print on a shirt dress). It was a matter of finding clothes that hinted to my whims rather than drowned in them.
Yes! And if you figured out who you are in your twenties, it's wise to tweak that character in your fifties (or before) so you're the grown-up version. Women worry about "am I too old to wear (whatever)?"; the other side of the issue,"Does this valorize a grown woman?" is even ore useful.
One day, I swept out all ditsy florals.
I sewed myself the long, black cloak in uni some 25 years ago. While I haven't worn it a lot in my regular life, it's been worn many times through the years, mostly as part as a costume. Last worn as the wicked witch in a production of The Wizard of Oz! I think it was a good choice, but you just need to recognize that it's a piece for your fantasy life rather than your day-to-day. And you only need so many fantasy pieces!
I have not commented on your blog for a while, but this is a perfect time to do so.
Thank you for your blog. I have used your blog both to focus my mind and to open up my mind to new ideas; to use several ways to analyze both my wardrobe and my occasional fantasies about clothing.
What I have found incredibly helpful for focusing: the Not-So Crazy Eights; the Four by Four; the Project 33 in conjunction with the Four by Four; and the Common Wardrobe.
What I have found incredibly helpful for opening up to new options: accessories in tying together the use of multiple neutrals in my wardrobe.
What I have learned the most about: the possibilites when one pays attention to subtle differences in shades of color.
I admit that I have copied many of your postings and put them in two notebooks. I change the arrangement of the individual postings, adding and subtracting to find what I like and why, and how it could work for my body and my lifestyle as well as my preferences.
All I can say Janice is … bless you. You are generous with your time and your talent. You are so open and honest with your experiences. It has been a gift to me.
Susan in WA
There's a black wool hooded cape hanging in my spare closet right now. Worn about five times in 30+ years. What was i thinking? Now i keep it because it!'s a lesson.
I remember when Oprah had a closet clear out a few years back.
Even someone of her status realized she was never going to be going to garden parties and needing those dainty purses.
I call this part of my closet my pretend life clothes. I occasionally take out one of these pieces and try it on…thinking maybe today, because I really love the way they look, it's just that my real life style doesn't fit my pretend one.
I have an idea too…what about a very gothic robe and nightgown? You can come home from work, take a bubble bath and flounce about your apartment like Catherine and Heathcliff to your heart's content.
In my own life, I have always had this bizarre passion for being Ma Ingalls, from "The Little House on the Prairie" books. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to wear calico, churn butter, shoot a rifle and build my own log cabin. And wear a bonnet to church, of course. Stepping away from my covered wagon daydreams, the fact is, I don't camp (I loathe both dirt and bugs), I am not handy in any way, shape or form and homespun just doesn't fit into my lifestyle. So….what do I do? I have a few calico aprons. They're adorable. I don't know how to make a roast out of a possum, but I do make a pretty mean Boeuf Bourguignon, and my aprons keep me from wearing red wine sauce down my front.
So, that's my own little "fantasy" into real life methodology.
Janice Riggs says
Brilliant – but coming from you, I'm not at all surprised…
Ironically, my fantasy wardrobe runs more to chic, professional clothing when the reality is that I am a super casual person who works in a super causal environment where I could (and probably will) wear capris and tee shirts all summer long. I am sitting here right now looking at two scarfs I recently bought (inspired in part by this blog) and wondering if I will in fact actually ever wear them or if they will languish in my closet next to my previous attempts down this road.
Bitsy Beans says
A timely post for me. Recently I've been thinking about the clothes I want to wear, stuff I see on other people. But the truth is it is mostly clothing I can admire but isn't really "me". Time to accept the real me, even if that doesn't match current "fashion" and be happy and comfortable in the clothes that suit me and my personality.
One more comment from me: I live in Dallas. I need to quit buying more winter clothing. There are just not days here to wear it.
Janice Riggs says
But by late July, we're overwhelmed with images of soft, snuggly sweatery things, complete with mug of cocoa, roaring fire in fireplace, and Golden Retriever at our feet. Not exactly how winter in spent in a downtown high-rise, either…
Janice – can I ask you a more personal question? I know from your posts that you live in a small (stuid?) apartment in downtown Chicago.
My husband and I are building a new house and in the meantime, are thinking of moving to a very small apartment. Is that what prompted your interest in a minimal wardrobe, or did you minimal wardrobe make you realize you could live in a much smaller space?
Or was there some other reason altogether?
Love your blog – and havign trouble committing to 33 items because I keep changing my mind about accent colours!
Oh, bother – make that "studio?) apartment
and having trouble committing to……
Sometimes I buy clothes for when I live in the style to which I wish to become accustomed. But I also realised lately that I have over the years been choosing clothes that would look really good on my sister…… She always had what seemed to be effortless charisma and confidence and has always known what would look good on her (if bought anything else – by family or friends – she would just carefully put it in the wardrobe … and leave it there….).
The best possible advice for me! This one and the post "don't bye stg nice, just because it is on sale & it is famous fashion brand" are my favorite ones. You were opened my eyes, so now I know exactly where I was made mistake. I love your blog :)
Thank you Janice!
I sew many of my clothes, and constantly loooong to be like the model on the front of a pattern envelope…..So, I buy those patterns on sale,stash them in the folders with those I WILL make, and dream on- without wasting too much money, or any of my precious sewing time.
I just decided a similar thing today. I really wanted white to be my core summer color. But in the summer I am outside half the day playing at a park or in the mud with my son. At the very least, I needed to pick him up and put him in his carseat and get streaks from his shoes on my clothes. I think that we need to dress for the life we are living now. Four years ago I wore silk skirts all the time. I love them. Now I would be too concerned about dribble on them, so easy wash and wear it is… In colors and patterns that can be forgiving of some creative additions by a child.
You forgot to say face-planted in the heather. Remember the cape I had? It was a fantasy through and through, and one of the warmest garments I've ever had.