January 28, 2022
I don’t know where the specific number – 21 – came from; if someone can point me in the right direction, I will be thrilled to credit the inventer!
But I also want to pause for a moment to consider the real intent behind all of the various “# Garments for # Days” wardrobes that are in circulation.
To me, the whole point of these is to provide a clear structure in which – for a specific period of time – you can test-drive what it feels like to have a clearly delimited, reasonably small wardrobe.
It started – in a big way – with Project 333. 33 items total (with a handful of caveats) for 3 months. Lots of people who have tried this have come to realize that they don’t need to have a huge wardrobe, and that a lot of what they own can easily be donated or otherwise repurposed…
It’s a reasonable thing to try. If you can get comfortable with a small wardrobe for a small period of time, then you set the stage to be able to gradually expand the amount of time, until you find that you can happily live ALL THE TIME with a more concise wardrobe…
You also start learning what you really love to wear, and what you can cheerfully never see again!
So let’s look at 21 – I love this number, for no good reason. Some people just love certain numbers…
I’m going to start with one of our heroine’s 2 color inspirations, because I think it’s prettier than starting with a grid or a list!
Who couldn’t love this scarf?
So she starts to think – 21 is a great number – divisible by 3, so one could include a week’s worth of 3-piece outfits…
The nice thing about the number 21 is that it fits really perfectly into a grid that’s nice on a standard page side:
Maybe this is painfully obvious, but I think that the best place to start when you’re limiting your wardrobe is to grab your favorite outfits first!
I think that our heroine could already conclude that she really likes her cashmere v-neck sweaters! This kind of exercise forces our heroine to see this preference more clearly than she otherwise might, in a crowded closet…
Now, she wants a few more tops to mix in with what she’s already chosen:
The 10 garments she has already chosen would be great for travel – maybe with the addition of a black skirt?
But she’s already chosen 10 things – almost halfway to her goal of 21. Time to introduce her 2nd color inspiration:
To me, it seems logical to choose your favorites from what hangs in the front of your closet (or from your laundry basket!)
And for me, I can’t imagine getting dressed for any extended period of time without having a grey hoodie, chambray and denim! I think everyone might have an outfit that plays the same role in their life – their ultimate “go-to” casual clothes.
I think our heroine needs to really take stock of where she is, because her wardrobe limit must be getting close…
The last 4 pieces are probably the hardest; our heroine doesn’t feel that sweatpants really belong in a wardrobe, but she wears them every week! Same with a simple black tee shirt – it doesn’t really DO anything on its own, but it can be useful in a million different ways.
She has to pick up another bright accent to wear with her ImageDiary scarf, so she grabs her blue cardigan. And finally, a warm, casual dress – but STILL, it’s a dress!
other participants might want to swap a dress for a skirt, another pair of pants, a jumpsuit…
Finally – 21 garments to wear for 3 weeks:
There’s a fair amount of variety here in her accent colors:
Assuming that she’s going to wear her dresses at least once – probably twice, that means that she will need 17 or 18 outfits to get her through 3 weeks.
It takes less than 5 minutes to assemble 18 different outfits!
This kind of exercise can be useful for a bunch of different reasons. I’m considering this for the next few months, because my closets are STILL not sorted out properly, and I don’t frankly have the opportunity to work on them.
If you’re moving, and you need to segregate clothes that you want to keep available from clothes that are being packed, this might be a good approach.
And one could, of course, use this to plan what to pack for a longer trip…
Maybe, after 3 weeks is over, I will be able to look at my closet with fresh eyes and see some things that can be donated, eh?
p.s. Eight years ago, I shared some of my thoughts and ideas about handling cold weather…
Sandy b says
I do really like a chart. This is one I could stand to see more of. Very tweakable. I once read an article on how to simplify one’s wardrobe, can’t remember where now, that advised picking out your eight favorite outfits and donating everything else. Even I thought it a bit extreme, but the idea has rattled around in my head for over ten years. I think it started me on the path to minimalism. Janice’s chart and group of 21 has some things that make sense to me. It takes into account the season, what might be in my closet, and what I actually want to wear at this point. And my laundry cycle. Kind of the opposite of a travel capsule, which is my current reality.
Beth T says
I usually read your post on my mobile but I was all set to use my computer when I realised that its Friday. This blog sets me up for the day!
So it’s interesting comparing the colours and saturation on two different screens. Instead of black, I’m seeing dark brown, plum and/or olive. For that reason, I would wear brown or plum trousers with the pink and ivory instead of white.
21 garments and two scarves is a brilliant idea. It provides a method to ring the changes when your wardrobe is over-flowing. You could use this to introduce different pieces every three weeks. I’ve just this week decided to wear light teal as a change to blue, pink or purple. I haven’t worn burgundy/plum much this season, but maybe it’s because I wear those colours in trousers that dont fit – ho hum…
I also consider trackies and hoodies for gym-only wear twice a week. I do have two velour lounge suits in pink and grey which are warm and cosy, so one set would feature in the 21. I’ve debated about getting another set in a darker colour but you can have too much of a good thing and I do have navy and wine velour trousers anyway.
Likewise dresses and skirts are added extras worn for special occasions these days, so I wouldn’t include them here.
Perhaps the same 21 principle could apply to jewellery and accessories – now there’s a thought.
I liked the seasonal look-back. The thought of wet hair breaking in freezing weather would be a nightmare.
Thanks for giving us lots to ponder over this weekend.
I’ve learned I feel like I have enough clothes if I have enough outfits to get me through work for two weeks without repeating. A total of 8 since casual Friday at my job means organization branded apparel (and boy does that simplify things!). If I have 6-8 work tops, I’m good. Then I add two weekends of casual clothes (to allow for laundry turnover) and I’m good.
This may seem like heresy to many folks here, but I have decided to abandon all but two of my pullover sweaters. I’m adopting the uniform of:
Ankle boots/ sneakers
This can be adapted for all four seasons, for almost every occasion (except for the occasional wedding or other event), and makes things simpler in my cluttered mind.
Chris in Indy says
I’m with you, Beth. I don’t wear pullover sweaters – the couple that still languish I. My holding zone are pulled out during the holidays and that’s it.
I am pivoting from cardigans to blazers as well – at this stage of life I feel more structure provided by blazers is better for me. Am judiciously looking for options that suit….
Love love love the scarves!
noreen kelly says
as a non american can i ask what a pullover sweater is? in the uk a pullover can mean any including the v necks here, but i think you mean something specific?
Lori Biesecker says
Noreen, in the US, a pullover sweater is any sweater that is donned/put on by putting it over one’s head and thrusting arms into sleeves. It can have any sort of neckline.
Jackie Katz says
I love this approach to a wardrobe!
I settled upon 28 items for winter with 7 bottoms, 7 2nd layers, and 14 tops. I find this fits perfectly with my 2 week laundry schedule since I wear tops once and bottoms and 2nd layers twice. It has really helped me gain control over my closet, laundry room, and clothing budget!
I pretty much use this same approach as you . We are still hunkering down here in eastern PA due to still high numbers, though on the decline, of Omicron and extremely cold weather , so these items are my stay-at-home garments . I always wear three piece outfits , no matter the season. Because of limiting my neutrals and/ or colored basics to 4 colors and then adding several accent colors and prints, most of which can interchange with the bottom colors, I am provided with a great array of outfit options . I now only purchase tops and toppers that will coordinate with my bottoms in my 4 colors .
Sandy b says
I like your simplification. I, too don’t wear pullovers much, even fleece pullovers or sweatshirts, which used to be favorites. My weather here doesn’t get cold enough to offset hot flashes, lol.
Beth, I love it, I’m with you- same uniform. Pants, top and cardigan with scarf and earrings. Loafers around the apartment and a nice purse, boots and parka for going out (Canada)
Variations on that theme work well for me too.
Awesome. With the exception of the dark blue this could totally be my closet. I’m not sure what color I would sub though.. Oddly, I’m swinging the other way from some of you and going to cardigans instead of blazers. The blazers seem too “stiff” for me, and I much prefer the softer knits. The Blazers have been hung in garment bags – not getting rid of the few I have left, although I’ve donated a bunch over the past couple of years. I don’t know where I would be without my pullover sweaters! I love sweaters. My current “uniform” (since Christmas) has been bottoms (usually corduroy pants) blouse and pullover, scarf. The library has been unusually cold, so the layers are handy. If I should get too warm, usually just taking off the scarf and having my neck bare is enough to compensate. I’m currently playing in the closet (again) and this is a good guide. Last night I took out all but the things I reach for on a consistent basis. I don’t know how much more I will give away vs. keeping but storing away. I did a big purge just a couple of months ago, and have a few more things already. Looking forward to reading all the comments during the day – as usual! Cheers.
Have you tried a knit “sweater blazer”? In adapting to my new, more casual lifestyle, I bought a navy blue one last year and love the look AND the comfort. A real game changer from those old, stiff blazers I used to wear to work. I got my wool-blend sweater blazer from Nordstrom (1901 brand) but they are also easily available from Talbots, J Crew, Eddie Bauer, Banana Republic and others.
Yes! I have one I just bought, but it goes more w/my spring colors so I haven’t worn it yet. I also have a longer coat/jacket that is a knit almost like a heavy sweater that I just adore…… I have trouble justifying cost of a new sweater blazer if I have a long cardigan the same color though……
P.S. I do use Style Book, which helps me track which clothes and “looks” (outfits) I wear the most. Which can be quite illuminating. Not eveything I own is on there, but enough to see what I reach for again and again.
I bought StyleBook a few years ago and used it to help me create outfits and then find the patterns in types of clothing I was choosing to wear. It helped me define my preferred uniforms for each season. Then I kept track of what I wore in an Excel spreadsheet (yes, I’m a bit of a nerd and love spreadsheets). I did that for one month in each season. That really showed me what colors and combinations I actually wear. And surprisingly, it was super helpful with reducing the number and types of footwear I now own, which has translated into purchasing fewer, but higher quality, footwear. Actually seeing what I wear and comparing it to what I had spent, it was easy to plan new purchases for specific items in an overall budget that now felt very generous since I needed to purchase fewer items.
Each season I am reducing the QUANTITY of clothing and accessories I own while focusing on purchasing better QUALITY items as replacements or filling the genuine gaps in my wardrobe. It’s a long, never ending process as I continually change from one phase of life to another and pick up and drop activities along the way. But it is enjoyable. And there is a noticeable difference when wearing things that look and feel great. I haven’t reached a perfect number of items for my wardrobe yet, but it is definitely trending downwards and seems to be settling around 24-ish per season with tons of overlap in things that can be worn in two or three seasons. Looks like 52 might be my number for a year round wardrobe.
I have two notch collar knit blazers from Loft that I bought five years ago and they are two of my favorite pieces of clothing. I used to fret about finding dress pants to wear them with (one is gray, the other navy pinstripe – very difficult colors) as they only work with jeans. But I’ve let that go. Who cares if they’re not super interchangeable with the rest of my wardrobe? I can easily dress up jeans for work and those blazers get worn once a week.
I also second the recommendation of the sweater blazers. I have a black one from last year but haven’t been impressed with the available colors this season.
When the kids were small and money tighter, I always hung my clothes in outfits. This method also worked well when I returned to work and I still tend to wear clothes in the same favourite combinations. Maybe I need to start this again and hang at least a bottom and top together with a second layer if it’s a jacket. Sweaters and cardigans are folded not hung. Each outfit could have another top if I already own it but no buying as I already have too many. Spare and stray items could be donated as they are likely to be less loved. Now is probably the right time to have a marathon trying on session as due to being ill over Christmas and New Year (not Covid) I have lost weight and some clothes will now be too big. I do love a plan.
Beth T says
Don’t do what I did when I lost weight which was to send all the big sizes to charity and only have small sizes that I had shrunk into. Great for boosting self confidence but poor judgement as the pandemic came along.
Lockdowns and closed gyms curtailed my exercise until summer last year. A less stringent diet as well and my weight regained all that I had lost. Net result was that I had to buy replacements for all the trousers I’d sent to charity.
So Cherry, purge your closet and only have in their clothes that fit. But do keep the remainder in storage for at least a year. Just in case…
Linda P says
Hi Janice and Everyone! Thank you Janice for the chart and color selections. I believe the origin of the 21 piece wardrobe is ’21 Garbe du Mois’ (sp ??? Never took French) which was mentioned in TVF at least pre-pandemic. I know this because this is –exactly– how I plan my wardrobe for the month☺
So for January my 21 pieces were a theme of grey/navy/white. However I need a column that says ‘3d layer’ for 6 months of the year. This usually means pullovers (Im I’m with you Sheila), flannel shirts, cardigans, and sweatshirts. I found this month I really leaned on a turtleneck pullover from Lands End and a St John’s Bay grey pullover as they were SO warm.
Bottoms are not a problem for me as I alternate pairs, or wear leggings, or jeans.
I re read your post from 8 years ago about cold weather dressing, and I couldn’t agree more. I also concur with additional comments of staying hydrated and wearing good-soled shoes. I can verify about dry skin in the winter as I have been in omicron house-arrest for 2 weeks and could not see my kiddoes in person. My scratchy cracked hands are smooth again.
PS we are all fine.
Thank you all for reading this, and have a good day!
With you on the 3rd layer column, Linda. I am always cold, even indoors and am constantly glad that I can easily adjust to swings in body temperature by wearing or removing a 3rd layer.
Beth T says
I have several thick fleece wraps and ponchos as third layers for when we have the heating off during the day or when I’m sat reading or watching TV. The lounge faces North-East and you can feel the breeze through double glazing. Add a blanket (or two) and I’m as snug as a bug….!
Our dining room faces South-West so that is the opposite problem. The kitchen has no heating so its freezing in the morning. I have to wear layers which I put on/take off when I’m in different rooms.
For some reason my iPad is not allowing me to respond to your post immediately under yours, so here it is instead . I am in your camp with a return to softer and for me, more comfortable, toppers . Blazers are too formal for around the house, which is where I am most of the time, and when I do go out , I find them to be harder to fit under a coat or jacket . However, I am retired, but I might have a different mindset if I still had to go to work somewhere.
My daily outfit is a pair of lightweight knitted bottoms , like a sweatpants though much less bulky, a camisole, a crew neck or turtleneck top, depending upon how cold I am feeling, and a quarter zip fleece pullover . I am one of those people who is always cold ! In the evening , if it’s a particularly cold night, which we seem to be having fairly often , I’ll even add a fleece jacket if I’m sitting near a window while watching TV or reading, and my body temp starts to go down as it prepares for sleep .
Sandy b says
Shrebee, in response to your above comment, if you don’t mind my asking, what are your four neutral colors? I am So tired of only navy and grey and I think they might not suit me in any case. You seem to have your colors under control. I might steal your ideas. ?
Sandy B ,
I have muted soft warm coloring ( Sandy or beige blond hair and medium brown eyes) and therefore select colors that work the best for me, so my neutrals are a sliding scale in the brown family ( I am counting tans and browns as two colors here) and what I call my two basic colors that I use as neutrals , are denim blue with a smidgen of navy blue thrown in and olive green . Accent colors are chosen by the season , often up to 5 of them for a season . I may add that this plan also avoids shopping mistakes in buying items that just don’t go with anything or maybe only with just one thing . I am definitely in the mix and match camp !
I know from experience that I cannot do black, white, gray, or bright colors. They either overpower me or make me look like death warmed over. My mantra is that as I go through life , I want to make it as personally enjoyable as possible , and wearing my best colors is a big part of that plan ! Could I wear those other neutrals? Yes, but I would feel drab and crummy all day, so why do that to myself ? How do I know —- I’ve done it ! ” Know thyself and to thine own self be true “ !
This post is similar to my approach. I wanted 8 days of outfits in order to do laundry once a week so I decided on 5 uniforms that I like to wear and how many days I want to wear that uniform each week:
3 days: bootleg pants, sweatshirt
2 days: denim jeggings, tunic, cardigan
1 day: swing dress, leggings, sweatshirt
1 day: sweatshirt dress, leggings
1 day: denim skirt, tee or denim shirt, leggings
Then I added up the pieces and that’s it, done! I liked this approach because it caused me to really think about what I like to wear and focus on what I need and not what I want and the result is a concise closet.
Some of us ?? have ADHD, so having a chart/method for organizing the wardrobe is extremely helpful. Thank you.
Beth T says
I have the attention span of a flea and easily distracted, so I frequently start projects and don’t finish because I lose interest or go off on a lengthy tangent. When I was drowning in clothes, I kept on being drawn to read TVF posts on Pinterest. Then I found the website and discovered the methods by which I could bring order out of chaos, structure out of mess. It was a lightbulb moment! I got stuck in and enjoyed the process, perhaps not going as far as some other readers in creating spreadsheets (that’s admin). The best thing is that Janice offers guidance. She is never preachy, dictatorial or pious, so I can keep my ‘too many clothes and accessories’ but they are now rationally organised and I’m more at ease and confident in my appearance. During the day, I often think about my clothes sitting their waiting for their turn to be in the spotlight and I’m quietly pleased that one aspect of my life is ordered.
Sandy b says
Ladies, what a great conversation!! Been re reading since Friday and is so helpful to see the many ways Janice’s advice takes shape in our closets.
I’m currently in a path similar to Lena and others mentioning downsizing number of items and making the most of our most beloved ones. I am currently using about 21 items too and makes things much more easy! Really enjoying not stressing about what to wear in the morning.
Love this post! My usual seasonal capsule settles out to about 20-24 items of clothes.
I’ve been doing the project 333 capsules for 2 years now. I wanted to see how it would work. The first few times I gave myself room and had 33 items of clothing- I ignored the guidelines that aim for 33 items that includes accessories and outerwear.
Doing 333 I put aside the other clothes and just wore those items I chose plus I gave myself unlimited access to accessories and outerwear.
I found it easiest to start with a tiny “stress dressing” set of 6 -1 cardigan, 2 pants and 3 tops and build out from that core. Add up about 8 more, then 6 more for variety.
I noticed I rarely wore more than 20-24 items in a single 3 month session. A friend on Instagram started a 2 week session 14x14minicapsule challenge and it was fun – I am midway through another one now.
Each time I do these I learn more about how my tastes have changed, how I feel about each piece. As I began the project 333 I very quickly donated a bunch of stuff that didn’t fit or feel comfortable and replaced some gaps I had been unaware of.
In May 2019 my inventory was 156 items. I took it January 22 this year and it’s down to 56 items. I don’t know how it was precisely 100, that’s a fluke but I got rid of a lot more and bought some replacements that work better. I’m much happier with my clothes and my closet has room to spare.
I feel like I have more to wear now probably because I identified some gaps and I focused on things that fit, are completely comfortable in colours I enjoy.
Awesome Margery! I share project 333 in my sustainability class, and been working around it since 2019 too!
PS. Forgot to say in previous comment that I also LOVE the post and for me would only change the blue shades to more periwinkle or light blue.
This is fascinating. I am sorting and donating items that no longer fit either my life, age or size, but have reached a where do I go from here plateau. There are still way too many pieces as I feel overwhelmed by the current quantity. Problem is that the things that I want to purge are seasonally needed, even though I hate the piece. I have kept 4 hated slightly ill-fitting extra heavy pullovers because the piece I loved & thought would replace them wasn’t warm enough and it’s a cashmere/merino wool blend that takes 3 days to fully line dry. Not a bad piece as it replaces 4 ratty cardigans, but just can’t also replace the sub-zero temp pullovers too which was my intent. So…am hoping to maybe find ways to further reduce in a thoughtful way & end up with only things I love…including the winter gear, the dance gowns and the floor length formals which will be needed as soon as covid dissipates enough for the regular events to kick back in. Speaking of…any thoughts on how many formals needed when they get worn at least 4x yearly & seen by mostly same people who never repeat a gown? Thanks all…
Beth T says
In my dreams, I’d love to have one formal occasion in a year when I could wear a gown.
Kari have you considered one of those rent the runway type formal gowns. You get access to very high end high style up to the minute clothes, wear and return. You don’t have to own it, store it, maintain it and these are meant for single use. You needn’t explain the magic if you don’t wish to.
About the pullovers you need but hate, I had a few items like that when I began. Like you I made some mistakes as I tried to replace them but I kept trying. I kept things like that in my guest room closet that I called the holding tank.
When I got reliable replacements I let go. Over the years the “holding tank” got smaller and as I put my latest winter capsule together I was able to let go the last holdouts in that guest closet.
I had to forgive my mistakes and have courage to keep trying. Unfortunately my reliable good black pants brand quit making them. It’s never “done”, it’s a process. Never perfect, always in flux and revisions but it gets better and better over time.
Hope it’s helpful.
Such a great point – a wardrobe is never done – it’s by it’s nature transient as we change internally & personally due to health, age, activities and also externally due to seasons.
Ah, thank you. Love the idea of renting, but not sure it would work. Most things are 4-6 inches too long because I’m short. I don’t mind a set number of gowns bought at consignment shops to rotate through as the Mr has 3 different mess dress…white in spring, blue for the academy event & black in winter…it’s just that they take so much space…and then the dry cleaning. Then shoes…street heels to go in & a ballroom pair to dance in. And the coat or shawl, purse & whatnots. Lots of space hogs.
Thanks for this ! I’m doing about a 6 week trip this spring and have been struggling with how to organize my travel capsule. Given the need for casual to dressy clothes plus the potential weather differences (the very north of Norway to the very south of England) I’d decided on 20-21 pieces (far more than I’d normally take). This template gives me a great way to cover all my bases but not overpack.