Unpacking my bag last night, I was thinking about how, for the last handful of trips I’ve taken, I’ve started my packing by choosing my travel outfit, and then adding 1 piece at a time until I’m at an appropriate number of garments for the length of my trip. It’s a system that’s working pretty well for me…I then started considering the possibility of applying this concept to the building of a wardrobe. Some people just aren’t in a position to buy an entire wardrobe, or even an entire outfit, at one time. And for those among us who are more comfortable moving gradually into changes, this might be just the ticket!
Let’s start with this outfit; maybe this is someone’s very favorite ensemble, including the colors around which they wish to build:
cardigan – Lands’ End; 7/8 pants – Boden
Just to make sure things are clear in our minds, and in the mind of our imaginary shopper, let’s draw a color scheme image.
cardigan – Lands’ End; 7/8 pants – Boden
For me, if I’m just traveling overnight, I pack only a clean blouse or shirt, and re-wear my cardigan or jacket, and my trousers or skirt. (I’m on a one-woman crusade to persuade people that unless you’ve gotten very dirty, or very sweaty, re-wearing clothes won’t hurt anybody. Our grandmothers did it….)So mythical shopper (hereafter to be known as MS) picks up another flowered shirt. She really LIKES flowers…
The essential measure of the “rightness” of MS’s purchases will be what she can actually DO with them when she gets them home. If you buy something and get it home to find that you’ve got no possible way to wear it, it’s a shopping fail. Sorry, that’s harsh I know, but true.But MS knows for an iron-clad fact that she can wear the short-sleeved blouse exactly as she had been wearing her long-sleeved shirt, so this works well.
Next up, a 2nd layer, which could be a jacket, sweater, or cardigan. MS shares with me a fondness for the suit-like feeling of a matching cardigan and pants or skirt, so she chooses this:
She had two outfits before she bought the cardigan, now she has four! Another successful purchase…It’s now time for another pair of pants (or shorts, or a skirt, or capris…) Both of MS’s shirts have white in them, and she had isolated white as her 2nd neutral color, so white pants are her choice (these are just like the navy ones, except for color).
From here on, I’m going to set four new outfit possibilities as our standard of success, because showing more than 4 becomes cluttered. Any time you can buy 1 piece and wear it four different ways, you’ve done well!
The shopping pattern gets repeated now: top, 2nd layer, bottom. Realistically, many of us might toss an extra tee shirt or two into the mix…
If you’re simply not a skirt person, you are, of course, free to substitute whatever will be most useful for you. If your heart sings for a pair of navy coveralls, I’m NOT going to stop you!
This isn’t a “Whatever’s Clean” wardrobe – MS will eventually buy some things that wouldn’t be ideal together. But everything shares the core color scheme, and of course her preferred shapes and lines, so most of the time, she’s going to have plenty of ways to pull outfits together.
It wouldn’t be a real betrayal of the system to buy a few tee shirts at the point – I can picture MS sneaking in a solid navy tee shirt along with this white one…
And this shirt in white seems an obvious possible addition:
I decided to stop at 16 pieces of clothing, because it suggests wearing 3 to travel and packing 13, which feels like a nice number. Sometimes, it’s just all instinct around here…
I swear, I was not looking at the 4 by 4 template when I chose these garments, but after I finished picking pieces, I decided to take a look at how well these garments would correspond to the guidelines of the 4 by 4 Wardrobe. They fit perfectly! (I was surprised…)
Just to test the theory, (or my good luck) I’m going to try this project again tomorrow, in warm colors.
p.s. Tomorrow the colors are beige with blush and soft green – what other colors would you like to see? I love this system and would be delighted to work through it a couple of times!
What a great way to build a wardrobe, I´ll definitely do this! And I´ll join your crusade for rewearing clothes.
Welcome back. This is going to become one of my all time Vivienne Files Posts because it is the way I want to build all my future wardrobes (slowly, with intent). It is only very recently that I started rewearing clothing. I had to overcome some weird mental hurdle first.
From Margie in Toronto – This is so helpful right now. I thought I'd need an entirely new Spring/Summer wardrobe (weight loss + things are just worn out) but when I see this worked out step by step I can see that I already own a good few pieces that will still work. I have planned a major shopping trip for mid-April but beforehand I'm going to lay out a number of pieces that I think will work and then make note of what is missing. Summer is so short here that I just can't justify spending the same amount of money as I do for Fall/Winter outfits so I really need to ensure that everything mixes and matches.
And add me to the list of those who now re-wear clothes – I work in an office – I'm not doing construction!
Grandmothers weren't the only ones who wore clothes more than once before laundering. I remember coming home from school or work and hanging up my clothes before changing into jeans and a tee (jeans that I probably wore most of the week before they hit the hamper). I don't know what happened that started me tossing everything into the hamper or dry cleaning bag as I undressed but I am returning to my old ways. Not only do I expect my clothes to last longer, I also anticipate savings in water bills and dry cleaner expenses.
BTW this is a post I will definitely be sharing with my nieces who have recently graduated from college and are trying to update their wardrobes for the adult work world.
Lovely collection of clothes that manages to avoid looking like Ikea uniforms, despite the colors.
I also rewear clothes. For working at home, I will wear jeans for a week or more (there are people who NEVER wash their jeans!) and tops twice, maybe three times. Sweaters even more–they aren't next to the skin. The trick is to have a place to put them, so you can keep track of how many times you've reworn them. You don't want to plan to wear something for a specific occasion and then realize that while it isn't DIRTY, it isn't fresh.
I do the same as you, although I usually wash jeans after about three wearings. Already worn clothes are placed on hangers and suspended from the gadget attached to the closet wall that also holds my iron, although my iron usually is sitting on my ironing board in my closet. I have been blessed with a large walk in closet that can accommodate keeping up the ironing board. Rick Steves, of travel fame, says to not bring any travel clothes that you can't wear 3 times, so why not do that at home as well ? Clean daily undies, however !
Gail Finke says
I love the gray cardigan in there. It is not in the color scheme but it is an attractive neutral, practical piece that goes withe enough pieces that it can be used for a fair amount of outfits that will keep her from feeling as if she NEVER wears anything but navy, white, and yellow.
I recently went over my clothes again, in my quest to have the best two wardrobes (work and casual) possible, using both your "common wardrobe" and "building a wardrobe from scratch" ideas, and found that I had some missing basics that really make a huge difference in how practical it is. Being on a budget, I have bought many pieces at thrift stores (I'm lucky that I have a number nearby that sell high-end clothes that I couldnt' afford to buy in stores) and so I was able to go out and buy two really nice, all-season button-down shirts at on winter clearance at a department store.
Now that I know exactly what I want and need, I also know that I can get by without any of it for quite a while and so I can look at thrift stores, clearance racks, and even the regular price racks when I know a garment will work for me for a long time. The thrift store purchases have been really helpful in another way: experimenting with cuts and styles. Some of the things I thought were wonderful were NOT, and I could donate them again after a few wearings because I spent $8 max. Other things have been great buys and I know that I can now buy similar, more expensive things and will be happy with the purchases.
Great organizational plan! This approach allows you to upgrade the quality of your clothing purchases at end if season prices.
Janice has taught you well…and me too!
Thanks for sharing.
This is almost exactly how I shop! To the point where 4 ways to wear is my magic number. If the item is a solid-colored top, that's not hard – almost anything goes with blue jeans, black jeans, denim skirt, and black skirt. But for a skirt, dress, cardigan, or jacket, it takes a bit more thought. Though again, throw in a black tank with the four bottoms listed above, and cardigans/jackets are easy. Skirts have to actually go with 4 different tops. Dresses count once as standing alone, but then have to go with 3 cardigans, jackets, or pullovers. But this still isn't very hard, so I'm also pretty strict about my colors and only buying things that I love.
Mary mcm says
What else can I say!
Love this!! This is very close to what happens when I shop, now that I've been following your blog. I start with a list of 6 or so items I need, but can usually only find two items that I love, fit well, can afford, right color, etc. I'd love to see more of these, Janice!! Thanks!
Susan Bybee says
Great rule of thumb regarding being able to wear the garment four ways. As for rewearing clothing, I am on my third day with blue jeans and an aqua hoodie. Moving house!
This is helpful, thank you. I am starting with a different premise: I have a hard time finding pants that fit and are flattering. With this system I can find the perfect pair (or two) and build around them.
Love,this approach! For me this is the easiest way yet. Can'nt wait to see this done with other colors.
Janice Riggs says
I've got beige with blush and green tomorrow – other color requests? I'd be delighted to do this exercise a few times…
Doré Way says
Hi Janice – thank you for (another) great post.
Colour schemes: 1. navy/beige/poppy (or coral)
This is so brilliant, I love it! Thanks Janice for this idea.
I would love to see blue-green-grey.
Love blue and green together (mostly dark blue and kind of sea green/blueish bottlegreen) and all time favorite ist grey.
Having ginger hair, blue-green eyes and freckled but pale skin, this is I feel most comfortable in.
I too am a ginger (strawberry) and would love to see a light aqua, amber brown, gold and cream. The posts are so helpful in clarifying what clothing is working for me and my wardrobe and what items are "wardrobe orphans". Thank you so much!
Yet another ginger! I'd like brown, aqua and purple
How fun! I'd love to see black, white, and caramel. Or really anything with black, charcoal, denim, or white, along with any accent color. Or really, just anything, haha. I will look forward to these posts. – nancyo
It may sound weird, but my wardrobe is built around gray, cream, turquoise and orange.
Nancy is right – any colours, really. Can't wait to see further posts on how this simple method works. My darling gave me an Hermes scarf for Valentines' Day in colors that I own almost nothin in, and I am really looking for a simple to way build it over time into a wardrobe he and I will both love — because a gift this sweet is a permanent keeper and deserves a solid plan of long-term quality garments and a beautiful accessory pack to boot.
Coco Colmani says
Can I join the previous voter in asking for the dark brown, light acqua, gold and cream colour scheme please?
This post is terrific Janice! It's how I choose what to pack too (having learnt from you) and it's delightful to see how it can be turned into a wardrobe planning/building scheme. Your ideas re so versatile; I love the way you provide us with inspiration and guidance on the thought processes, and then leave us free to adapt the ideas to our own circumstances. The colours you've chosen for today provide excellent illustrations and look so pretty yet it's a very practical wardrobe.
Robyn in Tasmania
Janice, could you a set with one neutral and two accents? Maybe black, pink and green, turquoise or purple? Thanks.
Meg Kundert says
I'd be up for camel and cream with turquoise, or camel and brown with turquoise.
I just look good in Black, and red and cobalt blue – so I've gotten rid of things in all other colors – any help in these colors is greatly appreciated
The Inspired Stitcher says
I always love your posts! Thank you so much for all you do. I ran across and interesting article on Bonjour Paris this morning and thought of you. It talks about the handkerchief but what caught my eye was the Hermes scarf they pictured. Here's the link if you want to check it out. https://bonjourparis.com/chic-or-passe-the-fabulous-history-of-the-handkerchief/ Enjoy!
Janice Riggs says
Oh THANKS for sharing! That's a really old Hermes – I've never seen one "in the silk."
One of Belovedest's most endearing small qualities is that he ALWAYS carries a handkerchief – he's no more leave home without one than he would leave without trousers. I usually have one in my handbag, too. Yes, they have to be laundered, but at least we're not leaving little bits of tissue around in landfills forever…
How do you come up with so many brilliant ideas?? This one fits my life and my budget.
Janice Riggs says
I have NO idea! This one came from observing my own behavior, when I'm packing. And a lot of my ideas come from just observing the world. But how it all comes together is one of the mysteries of my life, second only to wondering how I got so lucky as to be married to Belovedest!
Janice, I can't tell you enough how helpful this is in starting a new wardrobe utilizing some existing pieces. I love the way you think! Now, to put plan into action; a complete wardrobe audit, clear out the orphans, get organized with a list of needs. Yahoo!
You are the best!
A faithful fan,
How about rose as one of the colors? With hair naturally greying, I find I need stronger colors up top to give me some definition.
Love your blog, and the endless variety of ideas – thank you! I like the idea of a wardrobe "backbone" with color to vary.
I absolutely love the thought process behind your visions and the way you allow us to see that process visually. I would appreciate a light warm color capsule of aqua, lime and/or coral with light khaki or taupe and ivory neutrals for spring and summer. Deb in KY
Oh, I like these colors too!
This colour scheme sounds gorgeous – I hope we do get to see something along this flavor from you soon, Janice. : )
This seems like such a reasonable way to shop and build a wardrobe. Thanks for this post. I remember my mom saying that washing your clothes when they don't really need it, just wears them out. I'm a big fan of wearing them multiple days if they are not dirty.
Janice, you have outdone yourself. Somehow I really "get it" this time. (As a plus, these were my late Mum's colors, and today is the anniversary of her passing, so it added a happy note to a challenging day.) Thanks!
I echo Deb for a color request — very much like what I'm packing right now ! The only caveat to this plan is that I have found that if I don't buy the cardigan or jacket with the matching bottom or print top at the same time, the dye lot is off when I go back to make that second purchase, or my size is gone, leaving me with an orphan. Sometimes I have been lucky to find exact matches years later, but that's the exception. I do love seeing how your brain works ! Subconsciously you are in 4×4 mode !
Oh, and I'm loving seeing the print tops in subtle patterns ! So many of the prints I see in catalogs are either high contrast or large scale, neither of which suits me.
I'm leaning towards pairing this bright yellow and hot pink as my two accent colors this spring/summer (navy and white are my neutrals). I would love to see this concept with two accent colors!
I love that you keep coming up with different ways to approach wardrobe building. Kudos for finding another great way. The only thing I would change would be to add a solid tank or two for layering under the flowered blouses, thus changing them over to top layers for those outfits. It would look especially good for spring and give a lot more options for not much more money.
Janice Riggs says
Great post! I'd love to see gray, khaki, denim, and ivory with coral and turquoise (my summer colors?).
I like these too.
becky johns says
I think these would be lovely colors, but I would love to see something with turquoise and coral with a cool color basic like black or gray, or demim. The black is good for travel.
I grew up in a frugal home, no washing machine or dryer and no trips to a laundromat. I learned at a very young age how to wash my clothes and sheets in the bathtub and hang them outside to dry. Sometimes, it took them a long time to dry in our wet Vancouver. I always rewore my clothes and spot cleaned.
Deb from Vacouver
Thank you so much Janice, I wanted to learn how to incorporate yelliw with my navy-tan-cream wardtobe. This is perfect ! I look forward to tomorrow's post as it would be great to add blush .. Light green is already a staple.. Janice Collins , washibgton, DC
Josephine Faith Gibbs says
One piece at a time is about the only way for me! Thank you for doing this! I'd love to see this done with my dream wardrobe colors: black & olive neutrals, wine/burgundy/garnet, white, and cognac for the leather. I'd most like to see it in an outdoorsy style, but with a few very classic pieces for the occasional dress up situation.
Last comment I promise. ? I like this too. I also am an outdoorsy type. I usually need to translate style.
Carol S86303 says
I've been mostly staying at home with a knee injury for a long time now so I always wear my clothes two or three days. I dream of the day I can get out to shop in physical stores but I'm already putting your ideas to work with online shopping! Please consider using black, grey,purple and a strong pretty blue.
I love this approach. It's the only way many of us can afford great quality.
I have no color request, but would be interested to see what happens when you also consider accessories.
Which accessories have the most impact? What if MS started out with a well-made but otherwise basic neutral bag and shoes- what would be the first five, six, seven accessories she would add to her new wardrobe? Would they be different accessories? Would she make do with her well-loved but unexciting bag and shoes or add an accent bag/shoes even if it meant leaving bracelet purchase for a later day?
Janice Riggs says
Oh, now my head is really spinning with ideas… I may come back to some of these posts, with ideas about what accessories could be purchased at what intervals in the process…
No wonder shopping confounds so many people – it can truly be complicated!
thanks for asking, and thanks for the excellent blog post idea,
and a big hug, because it's Friday!
Yes, yes, yes!
I must admit that more than once I have resorted to buying accessories almost item-for-item in a bundle that you suggested, Janice, because I find the task of mating the details and mood overwhelming. Would LOVE to hear your thoughts on how to build an accessory pack over time — and with my new scarf I have the perfect opportunity.
Actually, anything you write on how you do what you do is such a gift to us. You have an amazing design talent AND the mad reverse engineering skills AND the delightful writing skills to unwrap fashion complexities for us in to usable, meaningful language and actionable steps.
cheryl :) says
This is fantastic! I would love to see it with brights such as lime, turquoise, hot pink and bright orange.
I'd love to see this, too. In the summer I sometimes fall in love with an outfit in a major strong color and then falter on ways to expand the pieces into options. This year it's a set from Trina Turk that I adore. PLEASE consider this suggestion to do something in the hot colors of summer — it's so different from what you usually work in, you may enjoy it a lot : )
I got started with a capsule wardrobe because of travel packing. I was always so happy to live out of my well planned suitcases (like a carry-on only for three weeks!) but seriously struggled to get dressed at home. Planning for the occasion (sightseeing/fancy dinner/business meeting) meant I didn't overpack and a cohesive color palette and style meant I won bested dressed on the trip! So my desired for a pared down closet came from the happiness of opening a suitcase and seeing perfectly coordinated separates for a variety of activities.
I also grew up re-wearing clothes multiple times before washing. My sister and I had a clothes tree to hang up our clothes. I follow the same system now. How dirty can my clothes possibly get if I'm cleanly showered and wearing deodorant? A good airing out and a few days between each wear makes all of my clothes last longer as well.
If you're looking for more color schemes, I'd vote jewel tones (amethyst and emerald especially).
Debra Handa says
Love Love Love this!!! Great for building a new capsule from scratch. Or from a few items we all ready own. You said you'd be doing one in warm colors next. I'd love your ideas for a cool, but softer capsule wardrobe.
Lori estes says
Love this! I might just shop my closet in this fashion. Looking forward to the next installment!
Nancy B. says
Truly, this is the post I've been waiting for! I seem to wear warm gray/charcoal and camel/beige as my neutrals. Maybe a warm combination of grey, camel and lightish teal/aqua? Or any combination of grey, beige and aqua or soft turquoise? Thanks, Janice.
Mary WG says
Love this wardrobe! Could you do cool colors in charcoal, dusty mauve, and a heathered teal please?
I have set myself a washing clothes rule… the closer the garment is to my body the increased likelihood of it getting washed after one wear! So underwear, shirts etc. washed after one wear. Outer layers might be a week of wear before being washed. Saturday hugs from Carol S
Sandra James says
Love this post. Practical on every level. I always reware clothes! Love to see olive green, turquoise and grey done like this. As I grey I'm steering away from black, very gradually because I love it.
Do you have any ideas for wearing harem pants at a certain age? They look so comfy but all the ways I've seen them worn seem so young.
Janice Riggs says
They are comfy, but they really risk looking "droopy" if you're not careful. Eileen Fisher slouch pants are a good alternative that can be worn just as one would wear "regular" pants; Uniqlo recently introduced "drape" pants which are similar, but a fraction of the price. They both have that insouciant fluidity that's so fun, without running the risk of having the crotch of your pants down to your knees!
What a fun post! I have changed my neutral color choices several times just by experimenting with clothes picked up at our local consignment sale. I figure if they don't work as well as I thought, I can just resell them at the next sale. A year or two ago, your Starting from Scratch posts inspired me to buy 5 or 6 pairs of grey pants in different styles. Most of them are gone now, but it was an instructive experience and I can see it as fun to experiment now rather than worrying over every purchase. I also vote for cool colors: neutral/beige, white, med denim blue, and pink. My favorites at the moment.
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