July 16, 2021
This whole idea is a work in process; please share your thoughts!
Those of you who have been here with me for a while know that I read (well, I TRY to read…) personal style books from France. It seems only fitting, since Vivienne was from Paris.
My current fascination is with this book:
This book takes an interesting approach to minimizing one’s wardrobe – they don’t believe that you should even THINK about getting rid of anything in your closet until you’ve had a good, long sit-down with yourself and made some decisions about what you want to look like!
Particularly, they emphasize the idea that your garments send a message to the world; are you sending the message that you WISH to send?
One of their many exercises into better style self-awareness was to choose your 10 favorite garments…
This took me a surprisingly long time!
These first four are things that I would buy again IMMEDIATELY if my clothes were all suddenly lost! I’m actually thinking of getting another chambray shirt anyway, because my mother is wearing mine as a jacket much of the time…
Must have velvet pants! And a couple of black sweaters, and a swishy pleated skirt…
I’m sort of ridiculously fond of my sweater-blazer, and I have a relatively bad habit of buying any black and white Fair Isle sweater that I see…
So these 10 make a decent tiny wardrobe, they certainly convey a sense that I wear a lot of black, but they’re not REALLY expressive of the complex, slightly eccentric and ebullient me…
After I looked at these for a while, I realized that these 10 pieces are actually the bedrock neutral garments of my wardrobe, and have been for decades. Other things come and go, but these 10 (at least) are always present with me in some form.
That sent me back to thinking about what I’ve worn in my 3 most important “incarnations” in my adult life: the bookstore woman, the advertising woman, and the blogger!
I graph my thoughts like this:
For me, the 3 major cycles can be defined thus:
You can find lengthy discussions of The Common Wardrobe here.
Are the 10 garments recommended by my book supposed to be the “Enduring” things, or the “Come and Go” pieces that reflect my current wardrobe whims? Maybe some combination of the 2…
What the heck – let’s try it twice!
Since I’ve decided that pink is a better color for my aging self, I’ve picked up a handful of pink things. They don’t all go together, but that’s not really a problem – a more interesting question is whether pink is a whim on my part, or a long-term style shift that merits some serious planning and investment?
I have a stack of black printed or patterned tee shirts – most for warm weather. They don’t last forever, so these are definitely “whim” choices! Uniqlo is a GREAT place to find these tee shirts – they have an ever-changing assortment of tee shirts!
The purple sweatshirt was bought to match the highlights in my hair… THAT is probably a temporary thing, I imagine!
And the lantern pants feel fun to wear – I don’t see them as an enduring style signature…
And late last winter, for NO good reason I can remember, I bought a couple of really pretty blue sweaters… Might I decide to wear blue more often? Could happen, but I don’t feel it in my guts.
So after thinking about these things for a while, I can see a long-term commitment to pink, but I also see purple and blue as short-term “refreshers.”
What alarmed me the most about this is that it was much easier to choose the 10 “Come and Go” garments that I most liked than it was to choose the 10 “Enduring” garments…
Am I spending too much energy and attention on the wrong things?
Should I move toward a better focus on garments that I will keep until they’re completely worn out?
I’m the first person to admit that I only have questions here, and no answers. But I really wanted to toss this idea out to you all, to hear your thoughts and feelings about a Wardrobe Ratio between these 2 classes of clothing…
2 Enduring Garments : 1 Come and Go Garment?
p.s. Eight years ago, the reluctant tomboy was packing for a business trip. This is timely, given that “La Garçonne” is my style!
Are these 20 pieces for an entire year, or one season or maybe two? How many pieces of clothing in the entire wardrobe?
There’s no guidance in the book at all – they are really just forcing the reader to choose from among their entire wardrobe to isolate their favorites. I think we could define that any way we want if we think of something that might help us learn something about ourselves.
I’ve realized, for example, that I like a lot of garments that are not far removed from a little boy’s wardrobe from the turn of the last century – I need some wool Bermuda shorts with knee socks and saddle shoes! But along with the boyish nature of many of my favorites, I’m also strongly committed to soft fabrics, and flowy feelings when I walk. Interesting, and maybe important to keep in mind for the future!
Things I would replace immediately
Black and white maxi dress
Black smart trousers
White smart trousers
Black sleeveless blouse
Black shoes and handbag
Everything else is come and go
Ooh, I can see this!
I have interpreted ‘enduring’ to mean items that are repeatedly replaced over many decades as opposed to items that are kept for many decades? One example for me would be a pair of dark wash denim jeans. I have worn jeans all my life, although as my body alters with age, I don’t find them as comfortable as I used to and have started to replace them with jeggings which are not the same thing. Similarly, black & white striped short sleeved t-shirts have been a staple for at least 40 years which have also evolved from fitted with sewn in sleeves and a v-neck to a more relaxed style with a drop or dolman sleeve and wide scoop neck – is that classed as the same thing? During lockdown I decided to categorise my whole clothing wardrobe in to an Excel spreadsheet so I can filter and analyse by type, size, colour, fabric, make, age and wear with a comment section. I’ve found it great in identifying gaps, repeats and reasons why something isn’t being worn. I’m going to use it to try and answer today’s conundrum. I’ll be back…..
I’ve interpreted it to mean “things that we replace in the most current, appropriate version.” I also have been through iterations of striped tee shirts, jeans, velvet dresses…
Do tell us what you conclude! I kept a spreadsheet for years, but recently have neglected it. Maybe I need to dust it off and update it…
Might I suggest an addition to your spreadsheet if you don’t already have a column for it? Skirt, pant, and top length. I have found it so helpful in online shopping although I track it on Stylebook – the idea of a spreadsheet is daunting and I am the ultimate Excel girl. For example, I know that for a straight, casual skirt that 18” is my optimum. For a skort, it is 16. For a button down to wear with leggings to cover my bum, minimum of 28” and so on. Some websites are great with dimensions and some are not. Lands End is probably the best, but Nordstrom, not so much. That is why I tend to not shop there.
If you’re daunted by the idea of an entire spreadsheet, just start a new Excel file and list what you’re wearing right now. Tomorrow, add the things you wear tomorrow etc. After a few months you will see what’s getting worn a lot and what’s still waiting for it’s chance in the spotlight. By the end of the season, if I have something I haven’t worn, there had better be a really good reason for me skipping over it for 90+ days!
ha! I had to think a bit, and this is only off the top of my head w/out a lot of analysis. Turns out I REALLY like my cardigans, so my 10 enduring things would be: Black joggers (these aren’t sweats – they’re a step up, maybe two – appropriate for work), jeans, black cords, red cardigan, navy cardigan, black cardigan, navy blue turtleneck, denim shirt, black/red/pink striped tee, black/red/pink floral shirt. I’m not sure how easy the last two items would be to replace if something happened to them – I don’t know if that disqualifies them as enduring? For the 10 come and go items I’d have to think a little more. My yellow cardigan and yellow pullover would definitely be two of the ten though! And my navy/white striped tee.
And my navy/white/yellow shirt! All of these things I’ve had for a long time.. that should tell me something I guess.
I don’t know that you would want to shift the line upwards and increase the ‘enduring’ part of your wardrobe. Things change constantly – we get new hobbies, we have pandemics, we travel to new places, we gain and lose weight, etc. etc. I think it’s nice to have a certain percentage of clothes that we rely on, and use the other percentage to acknowledge that we are ever-evolving human beings. Even while we do want neat and tidy capsule wardrobes, we do have to recognize that one set of clothing won’t suit us for the rest of our lives (witnessed by your shift from red to pink) and it’s okay to to have some things that are only useful for a few years, rather than decades. Also, it’s good to try new styles now and then. A new piece of clothing in a new style or colour can revitalize you, so I don’t see a reason to deny that.
Wise, and well-said!
Sally in St Paul says
Rebecca, you bring up very good points! My styles at ages 25 and 35 and now at 47 are so very different from each other while still completely appropriate and right for that time in my life (my weight also changed dramatically between ages 35 and 45). And I’m guessing I have a few big style changes yet to come in addition to the more subtle changes that occur year to year.
Perhaps for some people with a very classic style, having a large number of enduring style elements for the 50+ years of their adult life makes some kind of sense, but I think for many of us, attempting to do that would lead to stagnation and having our style out of sync with our current lives and current selves. I’d guess that for every adult woman who changes things up so quickly she experiences style whiplash, there’s another one who has held on to enduring style elements that they probably would be better off letting go of. (To be clear, I’m talking about enduring style *elements*, not necessarily enduring individual items. These are related but separate issues.)
It’s very easy to “settle” into a classic wardrobe because it’s easy, and everything goes together. I try to keep my generally classic clothes interesting by mixing black and white prints, and by finding things in unexpected fabrics. Good points, well made – as always!
Does anyone have any other books they’re reading regarding the capsule wardrobe? I’m such a bookworm.
Janice Collins Coyle says
I want the vast majority of my clothes to be in the “very useful” and enduring category. I’m in the process now of purging things I just don’t wear, don’t like, don’t fit, or worn out. I mostly only wear things that are enduring. Navy/white Breton stripes tees in summer and sweaters in winter. Navy tops, navy bottoms, teal, aqua, light blue tops and sweaters, tan/taupe/khaki pants. I want good quality only that will endure. I live in jeans and twill capris for summer. I don’t think this will ever change. So in my case I don’t really have “come and go” clothes much at all! Nor do I anticipate any color or style changes except perhaps some fun linen things for summer – the only items I’m looking for. When things wear out or don’t fit, I replace them with as exact a replacement as I can find. Thanks to you, Janice, I know my style and what suits my body and the colors that I will always wear.
You just articulated my style choices.
I will add that I live in the west where we have hiking, fishing, skiing, and other outdoor fun within an hour of our homes if we live in the city and just minutes away for many others. It’s not uncommon to see women downtown wearing very nice-looking outdoor apparel. But, there are arts events, receptions, banquets, and travel to rugged areas and world-class cities! So, one almost needs capsule for outdoors and one for civic, etc. But the ideas still hold. If we are lucky enough to find those well-made crossover pieces, this becomes easier. I once hiked for two weeks in the Swiss Alps carrying one small backpack. I learned that I could wear a grey, crew neck long sleeve trail T and an amazing pair of navy hiking pants (no cargo pockets thank you very much..ugh) for dinners because 2 scarves, a few necklaces and minimal makeup take very little backpack space and really worked to fresh up the outdoor apparel. My eternal hunt for crossover pieces keeps my wallet closed against silly impulses. Too much of today’s “fashion” is what I call single-use costume dressing. Much of it is designed to be worn as a costume without much room to accessorize or alter its statement (dressy, casual or whatever.)
So, yes… a ratio heavy on the enduring pieces is useful. Come and go pieces can actually lead to discovery of an enduring style!
I consider my gym clothes to be a completely separate thing – maybe sports-specific outdoor clothing shouldn’t really be considered part of our normal wardrobe? It’s a possibility…
Totally agree with Janice but cruising next week and I’ll mix my tee shirts with gym bottoms and just one gym top.
Yes, ak, for myself and many friends, this is where our wardrobes have evolved to. We’re retired, so work clothes have disappeared from our closets, replaced by outdoor/active clothes (hiking, boating, etc) that can be converted for more public occasions. There remain some brands in the outdoor clothing marketplace that make very high quality pieces for fair prices.
Ann Hicks says
I think someone request his earlier, but as per these outdoors type items, I would love to see a piston outdoors type clothing. We hike a lot and rather and I need to pull together a hiking / outdoors wardrobe. I think Janice could give us some inspiration for rugged clothes that can go out for a pizza too. Some “mountain “ clothes are rather thematic or cutesy or not sturdy enough to be washed frequently.
Thanks for considering Janice!
This is very interesting. First, I admire the lady who used lockdown to create a spreadsheet of her entire wardrobe! I suspect a few others here did something similar. Then I am mulling the part about using clothing styles to show the world who you really are. Considering what message about myself am I transmitting. And examining 10 favorite garments as visible manifestation of that message. My enduring garments, for years and years have been various styles of jeans, T shirt type tops and Bermuda shorts. With flannel and sweatshirts in cold weather. I wore the pleated trousers of the 80s and 90s, but no more. I wore a uniform for most of my working life so I did not have that challenge. Things that come and go are various colors and styles, and when I stray outside of my usual style they Go fairly quickly. Because the Come and Go are not usually successful, I would love to have about 90 percent Enduring garments.
Margit Aramburu says
My inclination at a later time in life—retired— is to buy secondhand. Then you only have access to physically long-lasting items. I look for core colors—black, grey , navy and bits that match of blend. Lots of scarves,
Wow! I was playing around my closet yesterday with the whatever is clean 13 worksheet. Found 13 items that would always be in my closet. I know the 3 items that would move to cone and go. Thank w for solidifying those choices!
Re choosing 10 items: Here in St. Paul, we can have -30 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and +100 in the summer, so my 10 covers those extremes. I found that the cold-weather items were picked, first, because they were soft and cozy, and then for color, pattern, etc. The warm-weather items had a lot of bright green, a happy color for me. I do tend to buy similar items in different iterations over the years—a navy polka-dot skirt, for example, or a Kelly green dress—but am adjusting to a more casual wardrobe now that I am working from home instead of dressing up for the office.
My choices of neutral colors have shifted over the years (black-khaki-gray-navy) and my accent colors are in a perpetual kaleidoscope, so for me the enduring items are based on style rather than color: twill pants, capris, or shorts, dark wash jeans, button shirts, tees (short or long sleeve), cardigan sweaters, pencil skirts, low heeled shoes.
Jenny Babb says
I think I’d consider using your 4×4 wardrobe concept to set an enduring list of items. That way I could accommodate the changing seasons on the east coast a little better. The I’d do another 4×4 wardrobe concept for the come-and-go items (again to accommodate changing seasons). That way I’d have 32 to mix and match with the seasons, current life situations a d moods.
Figuring out which of my items would go into each category . . . That will take some serious consideration. I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit this year. Figuring out my personal style for this phase of my life is more difficult than I imagined. I just keep thinking of myself as a work in progress!
Checking in on my lunch time as I knew this would be a lively discussion. Jenny, I relate to figuring out personal style and the challenges involved. I’ve been honing in on mine as well during the past year or so in particular – mainly so I don’t make buying mistakes, and to stop purchasing things for my fantasy life, not my real life. Have a great weekend everyone!
Jenny Babb says
I agree, Sheila! Fantasy life vs real life is full of potential pitfalls when planning and shopping. At 47 I’m trying hard to listen to my inner voice and really only pick things I like the look of, that feel good on me, and that I can pair with other items. Tired of my more youthful mistakes of buying on trend only to have it not fit or flatter me in the right ways.
Great question, Janice! My seasons of life are definitely drivers of what I wear… I left a job in a hospital as a manager (very conservative business attire) and took on a job as a director in a much more casual health plan. So I need to dress as a leader but not formal. Jeans are quite acceptable in most days. I struggle to find other pants that fit and don’t look horribly wrinkled after my commute in to work. And, I am trying to move away from black as my basic to something more friendly to my aging coloring.
So, Jeans, mid and light wash, for sure. I love cardigans over a tee with scarves. Thanks to you, I am trying more LL Bean chinos and pants and they may end up as wardrobe staples. My closet is full of “accents”… and what I really need is common core items. Learning so much from your blog and the others! I recently treated myself to a scarf with glorious colors that revolve around denim as a base… but sure could use ideas for a core up top!
I used to be a chronic Accent person – My wardrobe was full of fun and exciting vibrant one off pieces. To me they are fun to buy and thrift for.
It took years and I still struggle with it to buy the “Nice” classic pieces. For me I have internal and probably undeserved judgement on the people who buy and wear these things. BUT BUT it’s so worth it to persevere and accumulate classic neutrals as these pieces make accent pieces POP. If you really struggle with buying classics – try to find pieces with other interest such as texture or interesting cut.
I now change my hair colour between hot pink, purple and royal blue every 3 months. I find that core neutrals (Navy is a friend to these colours) don’t cause major wardrobe upheaval that I had previously. And going from a cool hair to warm hair was dynamite to getting dressed in the morning.
Janice, I think our brains are wired differently, and that’s alright. I skim right over your charts and graphs, but I eat up your start with a painting/scarf posts. Because I am the queen of thrifting, with a casual lifestyle, I don’t think about investment/core pieces and can indulge any whims I have at the moment. I still manage to put together small cohesive capsules with my approach.
I so happy that you’re different from me! The world would be so boring if we were all alike… And I love you for thrifting so much – it does help the world!
Reminds me of the most recent quote I posted on my fridge ?
If everyone is singing the same note it is not harmony, it is monotony.
always great to think before you buy! after buying and failing with some duds this spring,
I decided I prefer myself in jeans. I work hard at the YMCA so I am going to enjoy wearing what looks best on this frame.
My daughter and I went to a large mall to shop recently and she spoke of only selecting what suited her “brand” so that also speaks of “the message you are sending”.
I have always loved blazers so I am planning to add one to my fall wardrobe.
This sounds like an excellent, thought-provoking exercise so I plan to start tonight! THANKS!
Whitney Evans says
I think an interesting thing here is the conception of “favorite garments.” You qualified them almost immediately by saying they are things you would run out and replace if lost. But when I think of my “favorite” garments, they are mostly irreplaceable, and I probably only wear them very rarely. Things like a jacquard cocktail jacket, my grandmother’s fur coat, a lofty knit heavy cashmere tunic in the perfect silver gray without any heathering, a powder blue wool cape bought in Ireland, a black cocktail dress with marabou trim. These are all things of which I would love to have a second “just in case” copy, but that I’ll likely never find exactly ever again. But I LOVE them. I would build an entire wardrobe around each one.
I think perhaps this exercise, when considering “favorite” as “eliciting the most positive emotional response” rather than “item you wear most often/plays best with everything else in your wardrobe,” is meant to inform your choices rather than instruct them. From the list above I can tell you that I prize luxury and touch, unique silhouettes, and statement colors. The majority of my wardrobe is black or gray, both of which serve as a quiet background to let these items shine when worn. Perhaps we consider these things as a lens through which we then turn around and purchase our staples, rather than considering our staples as favorites, simply because we wear them often.
Much like a marriage – there are the fun times – trips, date nights, etc. But to truly build a life, the holes are filled in with ordinary time that might not be singular enough to make the list of “favorite times.” But even amazing favorite times can’t make up for a marriage where the ordinary time isn’t also mostly good. Just as you can’t build an entire wardrobe of favorites, because a favorite is superlative.
Sally in St Paul says
Whitney, you have nailed the reason I immediately struggled with the Favorite 10 exercise. I couldn’t figure out what was meant by “favorite” and waffled between operationalizations like “10 most worn” vs. “10 that elicit the most joy” vs. “10 that together capture the key elements of my style” vs. “10 I would always pack for a trip” vs. “10 that I rely on the most” vs. “10 examples of my most preferred silhouettes” vs. well, you get the picture. But I suppose working through the thought experiment with any of these various versions of the concept will tell you *something*.
I see about a half-dozen blog posts in this comment!
I agree with you Janice!! It would be fun to go with this idea of different “10 lists”.
I personally thought on the 10 basics that I always have in handy (except for my white shirt that needs replacement and I refuse to recognize it, so now just hangs in there): jeans, white shirt, black or navy cotton cardigan, coral or red top, striped tee, white tee, black or navy trousers, denim shirt, black sweatpants that are nice enough to sit in a café, and a navy or black dress with a small print that I can wear all year. There’s also a big temperature range between seasons where I live, so the list changes, but these would be items that stay in my closet most of the year.
BTW there’s no reply button for your entries Janice.
Yes! Whitney, I had the same reaction on what “favourite” means here. I , too, interpreted as meaning the things that I love, rather than – as many have – the core neutrals. To me, those are the things that make up the necessary framework for decency while the things that are favourites are the ones that make my heart lift when I look at them (one might say they “spark joy” ……). They are the “green screen” for the real action. Sometimes, one of the foundation garments will also be something with that spark, and I do have to like them or I won’t feel comfortable. My biggest problem/worst failing is the tendency to save my “favourite” things for special occasions, or “for best” – which means I don’t extract the maximum enjoyment from them before they are out of date or past their best. I should know by now not to be afraid of them wearing out because something is sure to come along to replace them when the time comes.
I guess that reaction itself should answer some of the other questions about personal style and messages.
NATALIE K says
Janice, I find as get older (retirement years) that I tend to buy more enduring pieces and less “fashion” pieces(although I need some of those pieces to look “with it” so not frumpy!). My base color is always navy and in summer also khaki and white. So my enduring pieces are a navy linen skirt and a cotton crinkle skirt, a white linen skirt and a cotton crinkle skirt, a khaki linen skirt. I also have a white linen shirt and a navy linen shirt plus a large white cotton button up shirt. I also have several different navy tee shirts and white as well. These I would all consider as my enduring summer pieces. I accent these with the same types of pieces but in different accent colors i.e. soft pinky-peach, soft peach, salmon to coral, soft aqua, turquoise, soft butter yellow, red and medium purple. I stick with my Spring colors!
Adore your thoughtful, slow approach to culling ‘the herd’! I follow another blogger who is basing everything on season and ‘personal style. That’s fine for her as she appears to be an influencer who is gifted tons of stuff and cleaning her closet out is probably a seasonal necessity. My feeling is that we do change over the years..body shape, hair colour,work, retirement etc) even physical challenges can alter our fashion choices ie your arthritic foot! Even our moral codes can change ie reducing fast fashion, thrifting, insisting on natural fabrics etc. We can make expensive mistakes (looking at you cherry red J.C Sophie cardigan and Bloomingdale’s orchid cashmere sweater;) and must learn to live with, donate or sell them. Why didn’t I do what Janice did and buy the charcoal/black Sophie???? I guess our closets are always evolving as are we.
I do agree that spending time with the wardrobe thinking about certain items and our ‘need’ for them is time well spent. I do not believe in slotting myself into seasons or descriptors such as ‘gamine’. Unless one has a very strong, innate sense of style or has invested into working with someone who specializes in that sort of thing most people get it wrong and end up looking and feeling not well in their skin. IMHO gamine or boho etc works on a twenty year old but might read silly on an older woman who cannot adjust to the subtle yet changing nuances required of maturity and takes it literally. I see so many comments on fashion blogs from women who appear to be ‘unanchored’ from a style point of view, proclaiming that they are ridding themselves of their wardrobes and starting anew or purchase every dernier cri the blogger presents. That makes me sad on many levels that I won’t get into here. At any rate I am glad you put forth the notion of taking it slow, considering what works, has worked and will it continue to contribute to the wardrobe. I myself am turning more to pink/deep berry then red, adding olive/navy to the neutrals, moving away from light gray (and pastels in general) and rethinking patterns, accessories and jewelry. Its a journey that will never end, honestly I do not want it to.
Hmm…. the idea of an orchid cashmere sweater is VERY appealing! Are you going to sell it?
And yes, churning through clothing without a sense of direction and personal style is sad – it’s hard on your budget, yourself esteem, and the environment! Why shouldn’t we plan and organize our wardrobes the way we do our food purchases, or our furniture purchases, or most of the other things that we buy?
Sally in St Paul says
Truly, I’m not sure that most people DO plan and organize their other purchases either! Everything is so cheap and we have so little time, why bother? Etc.
Well my late mother saved the day! I inherited a silk Dior scarf brought back from Paris as a gift. Still in its original box, never worn and an improbable blend of emerald green, black, white and a slightly darker orchid. If I wear the sweater under a black jacket and with the scarf it looks great. All alone she is not the belle of the sweater ball in my closet as I suppose I fall into that high contrast category, next to my face the sweater is too bland. Sigh..an online bargain gone awry.
I am guessing mother never wore the scarf as she thought it was overall not in ‘her colours’ or her style.
This is an interesting question. Just had to return to the office and after putting on some weight had to do this exercise for real as few of my pre-pandemic clothes still fit. I am not sure I came up with a satisfying solution. But for starters, in summer I must have white linen pants and black linen pants. I must have a long, loose, lightweight cardigan, and tank tops / shells in black, white, a print, and a color. A dress. I hate blazers and think they look awful on me, but have to have at least one for “meeting days.”
I also find looking at my wardrobe there are things that feel like “me,” but these are not the things I wear most of the time as work imposes other needs! But post pandemic I have less patience for that and am yearning to be more “me” at work. So far this has meant my new clothes are looser, more flowy, less structured and machine washable. I am running out of patience with skirts, which always seem to look dowdy on me. I am considering ditching the blazers even if everyone else is wearing one.
I am replying to my own post as I keep thinking about this, it seems to me that shape of the garment is even more important to defining style than color. I tend to think a lot about color which is why I gravitate here … a core premise of your approach is defining a palette and working with it. I love that. But my choice of black pants may be completely different than yours .. partially because of differences in what we feel is flattering on our different bodies, or feels comfortable, or just appeals to us.
This is what I feel is changing for me, maybe like your cycles. I have had pretty structured/ tailored work clothes and I am over that. I have a very strong negative reaction when looking at suits. Just … NO! Do not want that!
Loved to read this conversation with yourself, Cat ;)
There are lots of other jacket options if you look.
I am working hard on building a wardrobe of enduring items. Sure, there are things that change over time (my shorts are getting longer) but I like quality work horses in my closet. Those work horses, such as bootcut jeans, are loved because they fit my style and have for probably 40 years. When I think of those women whom
I find stylish, it is not because their style matches mine, but because it suits them perfectly… and perhaps most importantly, they have actual style and not a hodgepodge of cheap, “disposable” clothes. If nothing else, this exercise may help in becoming that woman who knows her style. In my mind, knowing this saves both time and money and decreases frustration.
Kate Makuen says
Dear Janice, I just love your blog. During lockdown I had to think of new hobbies and one was to reaffirm my love of colour and fashion while modifying my wardrobe from banking to tech and from trying to look 40 when I’m actually 60 :) My first discovery was Susan of Une Femme. I was on Remodelista looking longingly at houses in France when their algorithm directed me to Susan’s blog! From hers I discovered you, a fellow Francophile and Hermes afficionada! Thanks for your passion, your wit and humour. Thanks for reminding me of Chicago, a city I love and used to visit when I was married to a St Louis man. (I have now gone native and with a Scottish/Aussie dude.) Wishing you well,
As for a wardrobe ratio, I am working towards a curated total of 52 garments in my closet for the entire year. As this experiment progresses I’m aiming for 32 neutral items and 20 accent items. This works out to 8 items in each of 4 neutral colors (in subgroups of 4 items for warm weather and 4 items for cool weather) and 5 items in each of 4 accent colors (a French Five grouping). So my ratio is 8 neutrals to 5 accents. That works out to a 13-piece wardrobe for each season. (No doubt heavily influenced by Janice!)
I’ve come to realize that I wear the same neutrals all year round, but accent colors tend to be more seasonal. So now I plan my purchases more carefully. For example, burgundy is a color that I only wear in cool weather and pink is a color I only wear in warm weather, so no sense purchasing a pink turtleneck sweater or a burgundy tank top.
It’s a work in progress and I love seeing how my wardrobe has been evolving over the years of reading TVF. As the number of garments in my closet gets closer to my goal of 52 items, my confidence is increasing as well as my level of satisfaction with how I look and how much I spend on clothing. I’ve learned to be mindful of the reason for the purchase of a particular garment and to predetermine the amount I am willing to allocate for that purchase based on whether I am investing in quality or proceeding cautiously while experimenting with a new style or fabric. And remembering when I wear certain colors means I get more mileage from the carefully selected items that work for each season. Overall, getting dressed each day is getting easier and I’m enjoying it much more. And bonus – packing for trips is super simple now using my packing template, a version of the Whatever’s Clean 13 from Warmer to Cooler with a little from Casual to Dressier thrown in. All thanks to this blog. ?
Beth T says
During lockdown, I made a mental note of the clothes I wore to see whether what the ratio of tops to bottoms was. I like variety and my ratio was 3:1 of tops/2nd layers to bottoms. At the moment, I making a note of the clothes I am wearing and I’m getting by on far fewer.
We have more relaxation of rules and are getting back to ‘normal’. The big change for me is that I’m not currently working. There are not many social occasions and local crowd events have still been cancelled. I’ve decided that when I put away this seasons clothes, I’m going to separate out, those I wore with those I didn’t.
Next year, I shall appraise the clothes I didn’t wear this year either because of fit or no occasion to wear them. By the end of next summer if they still don’t get an airing, I will consider getting rid. So this whole process requires time and careful consideration.
It is too easy and rush to judgement to get to some magical number. I made the mistake of getting rid of all the large size trousers I had shrunk out of from losing weight. Little knowing that I would put half the weight back on during lockdown. I then had to buy trousers in larger sizes again. The problem being that I couldn’t find the same trousers. I won’t make that mistake again.
Beth T says
So for me in a 13 garment segment, my ratio of tops and bottoms would be 8:5. I would also have 8 accent items and 5 neutrals.
Book Goddess says
Could we hear more about your bookstore years sometime? Maybe one of your heroines could be a bookseller.
I was a bookseller for eight years before I went to library school. I consider myself very blessed to have worked with books for most of my life.
Beth T says
So would I like to see some bookish posts – (I’m a fellow Librarian). Libraries like museums are are great meeting places.
Pam Dixon says
This post has generated a lot of thought on my part, thank you Janice. I struggle with comfort versus fashion. Currently at the Cannes Film Festival, Helen Murren wore tennis shoes with her dress. This really spoke to me because I often start dressing with my feet, that is, if walking or ease are an important part of my day I dress from the feet up. But, I love fashion and what feels beautiful. This has translated to crew shirts and shorts or jeans most of the time when I’m not in work out clothes but an occasional all out “dress for an event”. This played into my life when my husband was working (now retired) and we would have command performance events at very special places.
I never put much energy into what would be the everyday clothes, which really became obvious in quarantine. This posting: “Things that Endure” and “Things that come and go” has got me thinking. Guess I would like a higher standard for my everyday that honors ease and beauty.
Really look forward to your posts, thank you!
If I may elaborate on my very short post. I interpreted the remit by only choosing those clothing items that have been the backdrop of my wardrobe for ever. Over those years colours, fashion and my body has changed so other clothes have come and gone. The basics change with fashion/availability but have always been the items that hold everything together. In my 30s I wore black trousers and shoes, a white sweater, hat and scarf with an emerald green raincoat. The emerald green has long disappeared but the other things remain albeit not the exact same ones. These days I lean towards red and blue to go with my black and white core but I can’t say I will stick to these colours forever and certainly the styles will change (remember flares). Janice explains it in the start from scratch posts (the core) that coupled with the French 5 (the transitional) says it better than I can.
Beth T says
This is a fascinating blog, Janice. Just when I had settled into a groove, you ask a tricky question which gets us all thinking again. How much has our style altered over the years? Are we happy with our choices or are we having to compromise?
My style has certainly evolved from being smart all the time in my late teens and twenties to now a bit too casual with occasional dressy occasions. I don’t think that I have completely nailed it but that is down to self-confidence.
My style in my late teens and twenties was midi or maxi length in floral dresses or skirts with pretty blouses; sometimes blouse and skirt combinations. I wore short jackets ,(or the occasional jumper) with everything. In winter, I wore velvet or florals in warm materials plus coats of all lengths for different purposes. My shoes had heels. I didnt wear trousers. Being a Librarian could be tricky getting on to step stools…
I wore similar clothes to work as I did in my social life. I was comfortable with my style but sometimes felt over dressed or out of place because I didn’t wear trousers or jeans for casual wear because they didn’t fit right. I wore cords for hiking. So evolving a style including jeans and tee shirts passed me by.
I certainly lost my way in my mid-thirties and early forties, when I was bringing up my kids. I didn’t know how to dress as everyone was wearing a ‘motherhood casual’ wardrobe that I didn’t. I just didn’t understand the concept of smart-casual of which the key elements were jeans or well cut trousers plus tee shirts. I don’t suit jeans and could not find trousers to fit. A top had to have buttons. I only wore tee shirts for hiking under another shirt. If we socialised I wore a dress. Everyone else wore the same clothes they’d worn to pick the kids up in the afternoon! So I avidly watched fashion transformation programmes for hints and tips wishing that I could be magically restyled. I wish I had known about the Vivienne Files then.
Once I went back to professional library work, I got back on track. The turning point was finding that wide leg trousers suited me best of all. Alternatively side zips or side elastication. Getting on to step stools was .no longer a hazard because I wore trousers with low heeled or lace-up shoes….
Casual trousers were still a problem. Cords were great in the winter. Summer trousers were a challenge as I could only find cargo trousers wide enough in the leg. Then I discovered wide leg linen trousers and pre recently coloured chinos. I also discovered several styles of tops and tee shirts that suited me with u-shaped necklines and balloon or 3/4 length sleeves.
I’m really glad that it is now high summer in the UK, so I can wear dresses and skirts with bare feet and sandals. When I asked my husband what 10 items he would say defined my style in the 30+ years he’s known me, the list included Socks and Tights! It is true that my cold feet are now only warm up enough in late July and August to go without socks or tights! However, in my teens and twenties, I don’t think I wore boots even in winter. Socks for me are essential and I have far too many – thin ankle socks, thermal socks, fluffy socks and fleece lined socks!
My footwear has been the biggest change mainly due to having wide feet and dodgy ankles. In some ways, it defines what I wear now. My footwear, nowadays mainly comprises lace-up leisure shoes and ankle boots. I still have strap shoes (Mary Janes) and low heeled court shoes plus wedge style sandals in summer but at a lower height. I only wear them if I’m not expected to walk any distance.
Ankle boots were a revelation in my 40’s. They give me ankle support and can be casual or dressy so I can wear them with dresses and skirts. My footwear is at least ‘on trend’.
I think that it is easier now to dress whether you are tall, short and everywhere inbetween. Clothes come I’m a multitude of sizes, lengths and cut and fit. Finding what suits you can be trial and error but buying your ‘experimental clothes’ from a charity shop or supermarket is not going to break the bank. If they don’t suit, you can pass them on.
Nowadays, I’m comfortable with my style. Though I think that I might make more effort when I go shopping. Sales assistants are always more attentive when I am dressed up a bit.
Beth, this was so well written and fun to read! I’m a mom with two young kids in New England, the home of L.L. Bean casual, and while I do feel comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, I really enjoy putting together a more creative, polished look and I sometimes feel out of place. I just have to remind myself that I like looking put-together, and to enjoy any compliments that come my way (even if they’re the self-deprecating kind from someone feeling less put-together… although I also feel the pull to do it, I wish folks didn’t feel the need to put themselves down when admiring someone else’s look!)
Beth T says
Additionally, could go a long way with wardrobe comprising navy, grey, burgundy, teal, purple (in all its hues), pink (from.dark to light) and teal/blue-green.
Someone mentioned orchid – one of my favourite shades of pink. If I needed to grab some garments, these would be the colours I would choose.
I’m known for being colour coordinated.
However, having reorganised the seasons when I wear particular shades of colour, I’m.left with a new pair of red sandals… Perhaps Janice ought to introduce a swap page…
The interesting thing is my husband didn’t include my vast array of jumpers and cardigans as defining my style, yet I wear them almost every day!
If you asked what my favourite materials are then velvet, sparkling embellishments and florals.
I have been thinking about this post and the comments all weekend, off and on. Excellent ideas here. One thing that caused a personal aha moment was the idea of exercise, fitness, sport clothes being on the list, especially among retirees, in particular. I did not add fitness clothes to my personal list, but of course they have been a constant, always. Things to run in have changed to things to walk in. Even better if they are nice enough to go out and about. Those are easier to find now. I have had my mind too much on color, neutrals and accents and whatnot. This Great Question has me thinking about styles. Which is the other half of my puzzle.
Thanks for a great post!
So– maybe the trick is to make lists with all the different permutations of favorite– the go tos, the immediate items to replaced, the most worn, the most comfortable, the most ________ , etc., etc. and then do a venn diagram –what items are always there in the intersection?
Beth T says
Excellent idea, Jo. Favourites are hard to choose. It depends on the criteria by which you are choosing. I would add in by colour, by fabric, by design elements, and by fabric. I like your Venn diagram idea too.
Hmm, there is a lot to think about in this post and in all the comments! I’m starting to think about making those 10 things be better quality. If I’m going to buy a pair of jeans, then how about I get the best jeans I can afford, rather than ‘settling’. That white shirt? Really splurge! Then I might find that they are the most useful AND the most loved things in my wardrobe. I find I tend to get something that’s ‘good enough’ then I do need to wear it often, because it’s a basic, but I don’t adore it.
Maybe it’s best to have the ‘good enough’ pieces be the ones that come and go – a colour you are trying out, or a new shape. If it morphs into a favourite, then upgrade.
I’m currently working from home until the end of September, but I have no idea what will come after that. It’s making it hard to wardrobe plan!
I like your idea of buying better quality Enduring pieces. There is a fine line between relaxed and sloppy. I teeter.
:-) I have found my idea of really splurging is not tied to dollar amount, but really paying attention to material, construction and fit. Those mean a great deal more to me on a daily basis.
Alison M Gunn says
My perspective on this subject is that the initial question is more like “what clothing pieces would you replace immediately if you had a house fire,” or if your ten items just happened to be in your never-found-again-lost luggage. Mourning a unique, irreplaceable love is not the point here; this is more in the realm of pragmatism. Surely there are 10 (let’s say) items in your wardrobe you actually wear frequently enough to notice when they’re in the wash. Something makes me think I’d better take my ten pieces out of their various locations and hang them all together so I can snatch them in case of emergency… but in reality, I have done this emergency-type of thinking on more than one occasion, just to see if what I would take is rational and bears any relationship to one another. On another thread, so to speak, how about starting a forum which allows people to trade their clothes/accessories with each other?
This subject is so fascinating. I think you mentioned the Garde-Robes idea back in the spring sometime. And I jumped on what I thought would be a new way to play with the wardrobe I have. Somehow I got in my mind that 21 pieces (not counting accessories) would be a number to allow some variety. So every month since March, I have “shopped” my own closet for the 21 pieces I will wear for the month. I have used a “color plan”, a start with art, a sear all my cotton skirts with my black tee shirts. My plan is to keep doing this for the whole year and then take a look at what never got chosen. Certainly there are things I would never give up… the black turtleneck sweater… (even in the heat dome days of June in Portland, I pulled it on early for an almost dawn walk.
Great question. I’m not sure how many but
1: I always have a winter white to cream colour fisherman knit pullover sweater, from my teen years to now at 65. Always worn with black or navy pants.
2: I always like a navy & white striped Mariniere type top. Breton stripe type. Usually a scoop or boat neck, usually 3/4 sleeve. Polka dots in navy & white are my other favourite print.
3: Black, navy or charcoal pants. Never jeans. I used to wear jeans in my teens to fit in, but as I grew up & began to find my own style jeans were not it. Tailored dressy somewhat fitted pants. Even at my heaviest.
4: Always a soft V neck pullover in navy and or black. With matching pants and a scarf around the neck.
5: Always white or winter white tops. Again since my teens.
6: Always always always pearl stud earrings. I got pierced ears so I could wear them in my late teens. Never without them since.
7: Black leather loafers. I don’t like running shoes.
8: A good leather purse. Currently my favourite style is a Saffiano leather tote by Calvin Klein. I have it in pale taupe, chalk white and blush pink. My other purses are a black glove leather pouch and a black Longchamps.
9: white cotton eyelet blouses in summer. Sleeveless is best. Hard to find so some years I’ve done without but I am always happy wearing one in summer.
10: my scarves ranging from silk to cashmere. I use them to add warmth, plus inject colour and pattern in my very neutral core.
So, I have been away from your lovely blog for a bit due to life/schedule changes and when I popped back in today and came upon this post and all the lovely, thought-provoking comments, I felt quite compelled to comment myself. So many thoughts…
To the idea of life “incarnations” as an influencing factor on the wardrobe, I must heartily agree. My own include: engineer in an business-dress firm (loved getting to play dress up everyday), engineer in a chemical plant (could dress nice, but had to be at the ready to go in the plant at any time, i.e. heavy on jeans, steel toe boots, and flame retardant clothing), and engineer in a manufacturing facility (kept the jeans and steel toes, but now only dress in the most basic of tops as I am covered in sweat and welding/grinding dust by day’s end). I can say that I currently stand at a crossroads and am very much ready for a new incarnation, one in which I can write my own story about the message I WANT to send. And I second that I also would love to hear more about your bookstore incarnation, Janice!
To the question about what constitutes a “favorite,” I’m afraid I don’t have clear answers. I understand both concepts of those pieces that are irreplaceable and possibly not worn very often (the blue fox fur coat, my mother’s wool blazers from the 70s) and those that are replaced over and over throughout the years in some form (bootcut jeans, corduroys, fine gauge turtlenecks, leather ankle boots). To these possibilities, I would add those items that I always dream of having, the clothing items that I wish I could find but somehow never seem to be able to (the unicorns). Somehow, in my mind, I think these are the pieces that ultimately convey the message that I want to send. The other tricky part is to ask oneself whether that message works with one’s current lifestyle. I can most assuredly say that my dream turtleneck, wool plaid jumper dress or wool pleated skirt, and t-strap 40s-style heels would absolutely never work for my current life/job, but they do more to convey who I am as a person than what I wear on a daily basis now. In this example, I don’t see this as the problem of wanting a fantasy wardrobe (I’m not dreaming of ball gowns here) so much as rather an unfortunate circumstance of not recognizing the impact of career choices on other areas of my life at certain times.
And to the idea of “Come and Go” pieces, I will cite one example that readily comes to mind. Back in the mid-2000s, Dillard’s had a particular blouse offered in an array of colors (as Janice has often mentioned retail stores used to do) and in a rare moment of lucidity, I chose to purchase it in an antique white color rather than going for one of the brighter, more colorful options. That blouse came to be one of the key pieces in my business attire wardrobe, going with almost anything and everything else I had, including more casual clothing, too. I have long thought that I would love to have another blouse like it, something that would be as insanely versatile as that one had been, and not too long ago, I came upon a similar version of the color and style in a thrift store and immediately purchased it. However, I found that I couldn’t seem to make it work in the same way as the original and ended up rethrifting it. Was it the blouse’s fault or merely that my life had moved to a different place and time and it just didn’t fit in anymore? I’m not really sure, but I do think there are those things that we like for a time and place and then we move on. Should we try to reduce the amount of our closet that we devote to those come and go pieces in favor of more enduring pieces? I’m thinking that we should shoot for having more of the enduring pieces, but we also need to allow ourselves some flexibility for the come and go pieces. Whether it’s to deal with a new job uniform or dress code, to try a different color or new style, or to adjust to a changing body. It is possible that a potential come and go piece might become a new enduring piece.
Nina T says
ooo… Love this idea! It’s time for another closet re-org and this is a brilliant way to sort! My 30s, for sure, were mostly come-and-go style rather than things-that-endure. That was a lot of money… Approaching 50, I’ve come to terms with my core style that I denied for at time as “so not me.” This requires a think. Will update soon!
Josée B says
I bought the book. It is very interesting. Thanks,
Thank you for such a thought-provoking question.
I am pleased to report that your capsule concept is really helping me to love my clothes. I have now limited my winter wardrobe down to 31 items, and I really like them all, even the “useful” neutral items. I no longer have the frustration of choosing one item I love, but then having so work hard to create an outfit, because now I no longer have so many colours and shapes that don’t play together nicely.
My “top 10 favourites” is almost the same as my “10 most worn” for the 2 months of winter so far, here in Tasmania. It will be interesting to see what I like wearing for the final, grumpiest month of winter.
My favourites are:
1. Denim-coloured fleece hoodie
2. Thick black sweater-dress with tiny white spots (a new eighties-style classic with no class at all)
3. Thick hand-knit hot pink cardigan (loose fit)
4. Dark Magenta sweater (crew-neck)
5. Black cotton turtleneck with large fawn contrast section across the upper chest (my compromise to reduce black near my face)
6. Black compression leggings
7. Black velvet jeans
8. Black ponte pants
9. Black button-up cardigan
10. Silk second-layer insulated vest with Leopard print (fawn with black).
Of these top-ten only 3 are super-casual, only 3 are classics which follow Janice’s example.
I am a reluctant convert to black and I am surprised at the amount of black that I have actually enjoyed wearing this year. (6 items from this list are mostly or all black). I think I like them because they are nice garments, and they look so nice with my other clothes.
The 3 accent pieces are great, I just love colour, but I’m finding patterns such as the leopard print add the bit of fun and interest I’m looking for without needing a huge amount of planning each morning.
Only the black compression leggings were purchased new. The others are mainly op-shop purchases with a few cast-offs from friends. Compression leggings are now a requirement to help control blood pressure, but I have happily been able to include them as part of an outfit, or as long underwear during cold days.
It has been interesting to see that limitations have so far made my outfit choices more creative and interesting.
I’d love to hear more about the exercises they suggest. Please consider updating us.