Oprah pulled a dress out of her closet, noted it was her favorite, and then acknowledged that she never wore it, according to the article on Oprah.com. Maybe we don't have closets like Oprah, but how do we get to the place where we have so many clothes they are crowding our experience?
Ah, ego. Our egos like to keep our mind busy with thoughts of lack and comparison like:
"I need that!"
"I will be happy if I have that!"
"He has more than me."
"She looks more put together than me."
We all know that the quick rush of acquiring that next thing just as quickly subsides with feelings of apathy. And the ego rises again, with thoughts like,
"I shouldn't have bought that."
"That's not as good as what others have."
And of course, the next cycle of wanting begins. And on and on it goes.
The new "wear it once and toss it" wave of the fashion industry is just one big ego manifestation. We rush to buy the new trend, only to realize the poorly made item shrinks or unravels after the first wash. Or that it never looked that good on us. Or that it's already outdated. We are left in an endless cycle of buying more and feeling satisfied less.
But many of us want to move away from that. But how?
And so I bring to you, a new way to approach your clothing: a simple wardrobe.
I wish I could say that I came upon the idea of simplifying my wardrobe out of some great epiphany. But the truth is, the seed was planted by my real estate agent 7 years ago while touring a small house with an even smaller master closet. That I would be sharing with my husband. "You know, some people live with a 10 item wardrobe," she said gently. I smiled outwardly and scowled inwardly. The move would cost us about 1000 square feet of living and storage space, but give us miles of greenbelts and parks, allow us to bike to work, school, and play, and be in a town surrounded by dear friends.
But the tiny closet . . . could I do it?
I did, and the seed of change began to take root. Soon after we moved into that tiny house with a tiny closet my husband got an opportunity to work in Europe for a year. We leapt at the chance and our little family boarded a plane to The Netherlands with just a few suitcases of clothes to get us through the year. After we arrived other things helped make this simple wardrobe idea blossom:
1. I vastly underestimated how cold it would be and did not pack enough warm things. All my sweet little Anthropologie dresses and tops sat untouched all year. As my Dutch friend said, "I'm not going to lie, the winter is terrible." She was telling the truth. And since we only had bicycles for transportation that year I needed warmth to get to the markets, pick up my kids from school, and visit new friends.
2. When we traveled around Europe we had to pack light, so all of my clothes had to work together and for multiple occasions.
3. I am petite (only a bit over five feet tall) and the stores didn't offer those sizes.
So I had to be selective with what I asked my husband to pick up for me when he was back in the States. The clothes had to travel well, coordinate with each other, be able to be dressed up or down, and be warm.
As luck would have it, I came across a fantastic book and blog about a 10 item wardrobe called “Lessons from Madam Chic” by Jennifer L. Scott to serve as a guidebook on this journey toward wardrobe simplicity.
No longer did this feel like a threat.
Now it felt like a necessity!
And this necessity created a great freedom.
As I created my own core item wardrobe I found just how much peace it gave me. My simplified wardrobe meant I spend less time piling clothes in a heap on the bed in the morning trying to figure out what goes with what, sifting through things that don't fit, and wondering what to wear. I found packing for our many trips simple. I found I always had something to wear. This new way of doing things also meant:
1 Stepping out of the disposable clothing mentality and what that is doing to the earth.
2. Less guilt over contributing to the poor working conditions of those making the clothes.
3. More confidence in my authentic style.
4. Less time spent idly shopping and more time living.
Want to try this too?
Before you freak out: I'm not suggesting that you only have ten pieces of clothing to your name. The freedom comes from having a limited number of core pieces that you pull from, like the stars of the show. The other things go with your core items to enhance them. Jennifer Scott has a great blog, TedxTalk, and her book to guide us. I tried much of this, researched other “capsule wardrobe” strategies and came up with what worked for me. Putting it all together, here is a road map I use to get you started:
5 Steps to a Simple Wardrobe and Abundant Life.
1. Go through your clothes and put them in piles: keep, get altered, consign, give away, and put away for the season (this could also mean a season of your life like pregnancy or being an at home parent). Be ruthless! Go through with a keen eye. Does it look good on you? Does the style, cut, and color truly make you shine? Do you LOVE it? Is it still in good condition? This task takes some time. You may need to take a weekend if your wardrobe is huge, and build in some breaks. We tend to get attached to things because we spent good money on them, they were given to us, they are sentimental, or we hope we will fit in them someday. (Side note, there is a great book called Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely that shines light on our funny humanness about hanging on to things). But the more you let those things go that don’t work for you the more free you will be to create a wardrobe that makes you feel so good.
2. Consider your daily life. Do you walk or bike to work? Do you have to wear suits or is your workplace more casual? Do you take kids to the park on a regular basis? Consider what clothes work best for you in your life right now. I’ll never forget one of those closet overhaul shows where at the end of it the mother of a toddler was pushing her child in a swing at the park. She was standing on bark wearing heels. How was this helpful, I thought? How can one look pulled together at the park and also comfortable and practical? So question your life and needs. Take as much time as you need on this step. Watch yourself move through your life- what do you wish you had on?
3. Take a good look in the mirror. I often remind my clients: “we are not our bodies, we are just using them to build a life.” So look at yours with fresh eyes: what looks best on this body: what colors, patterns, textures, and styles make this body look its best? If you need help with this, get it! Again, spend as much time as you need on this step. Get clear about what you look good in: do you look good in a crisp white top and jeans, a flowing navy dress and sandals, or a bohemian ensemble? Get clear about what you enjoy wearing: does a suit jacket feel like a straight jacket? Do heels make you feel ungrounded as you go through your day? What type of body type and coloring do you have that someone out there is blogging about? I found looking at petite blogs incredibly helpful. Search with the curiosity of an artist and have some fun with it. Also, remember we look good in different things at different phases in our life. I used to be able to rock a sheath dress, now an A-line suits me better. Be open to adapting to what looks good on you now.
4. Consider what feeling you want to give off to yourself and others. Humans have such a capacity for beauty and art. Fashion is just one more way of expressing this. See clothing as a way of enhancing your beauty and giving off a feeling. Some of my clients find that they wear old jeans every day but desire to feel more polished. Others realize they've been wearing all black clothing like protective armor and are ready to find colors that are make them more approachable. Some of my friends talk about the style their mom thought suited them but wish they knew how to let their authentic self shine. I used the books “Color your style” by David Zyla and “I love your style” by Amanda Brooks for help curating colors and a style that helped my authentic self shine. I then created a Pinterest board of looks. It was easier to see all the new shapes, colors, patterns, and style come together on the board before I spent a dime. I could edit out things that didn’t fit with my lifestyle or budget. Especially if you are visual I recommend trying this out.
5. Create a wardrobe that fits you and your lifestyle. There are many blogs and books out there on creating a capsule wardrobe, but here is what I found works best for me (this is geared toward women, but men you can easily modify all of these suggestions).
- Begin with less than a dozen core pieces that you will draw from every day.
- All pieces must coordinate together.
- Buy the best quality you can afford.
- Get a tailor if you need one to make these pieces fit you perfectly (especially if you are petite).
- Depending on your life-situation, this will vary. For me, in winter this means 3 pairs of jeans (blue, lilac, and black), 5 soft, beautiful sweaters, 1 blouse, and 1 skirt. In summer it means 5 cotton dresses, 1 blue jean, 1 pair navy capri pants, and 3 flowy tops.
- Take good care of these items and they could last you many years.
- Add a few items to coordinate with your core pieces. Keep this simple. For example, to go with the above, I rely on tanks. But I don’t buy 10 tank tops when I just need 3 (burgundy, navy, and black). To keep the majority of your clothing budget on your core items, consider if you can buy any of these coordinating pieces second-hand, or of lesser quality. Be sure they fit well and look good on you. Here are some items you may need:
- T-shirts or other casual shirts that coordinate your jeans, slacks, and skirts. I rely heavily on tank tops year round.
- Outerwear such as coats, blazers, and jackets in a neutral color.
- Sweaters that coordinate with all of your core items.
- Special occasion wear (Keep this simplified. Try to find a season-less dress or two that looks stunning on you. You can make it look fresh through different jewelry, hairstyles, shoes, purses, scarves, sweaters, etc. In addition to two seasonless dresses I have a couple of suits and blouses to wear for meetings or big presentations).
- Scarves to make an outfit look more elegant, and instantly change your look. (I have two, one for winter/fall and one for spring/summer).
- Good quality shoes that work for you. Why good quality? They last longer and feel better. And they elevate a less expensive outfit. Less is more here, so buy fewer pairs of higher quality. What do you really need? For me it’s one pair of each: ballet style flats, heeled booties, casual sandals, dressy sandals, running shoes, black heels, and warm boots. Consider your lifestyle. Buy colors and styles that compliment your core item wardrobe.
- Well fitting undies and jammies you love.
- I was cracking up watching Fixer Upper the other day when Chip was teasing Joanna about her messy undies drawer. Somehow pulled together Joanna still manages to not have wardrobe malfunctions, but we don’t all have stylists and crews around to let us know things are ill fitting. So make sure you have some will fitting undergarments that make you feel like you, are comfortable, and that make your clothes the star of the show. And women, we need a bra fitting every year or two (things change)!
- A good set of pajamas. What you wear to bed can say a lot to yourself about how you treat yourself. Are your night clothes oversized, undersized, ratty, torn, stained, or just never felt like you? Consider treating yourself to a silk nightgown or warm flannel PJ's.
So that’s what worked for me. But let me share some bumps I had along the journey to help save you the experience:
I got really hung up on the “best quality you can afford.” It would have been better to get a less expensive wool coat altered then shiver for years until I could afford the higher quality wool coat.
I really wanted to wear a style that does not suit the body I have. I learned to modify the pieces (silk blouse with capri pants instead of a long shapeless bohemian dress). This got me the romantic feeling I wanted to express without looking like a 12 year old child with wrinkles.
I left holes in my core items when I couldn’t find them making the wardrobe less workable. Over time I learned to adapt the plan if I couldn’t find items on my list (petite options are getting more abundant which is helping). After the second season of fruitless searching for three pairs of capri pants in my size, I let the idea go and easily expanded my number cotton dresses.
Laundry errors and moths ruined an entire season of sweaters. Oops. I now put plastic around my wool/cashmere sweaters at the end of the season and put them away at the end of the day so they don’t accidentally end up in the laundry.
I wasn’t realistic about what shoes I actually needed. I love the look of ballet flats year round, but my feet are sensitive to the chill of winter and unbearable valley heat in summer. Over time I got more aware that I need to wear boots in winter and sandals in summer.
I have the perfect season-less skirt that works with all of my tops. It feels great on, looks elegant, can be dressed up or down, and fits beautifully. For a year I put it in with my core items, but rarely wore it. Why? Because it is dry clean only and impractical for my current lifestyle. So I moved it over to my extras and use it for presentations, date nights, and special occasions. This made room for an extra pair of jeans or dress depending on the season.
In the beginning I made some weird outfit mistakes and shamed myself over it. I wish I had given myself more grace to explore my style early on. I wish I had breathed through the shame ego put there to try to keep me from making this great change. I hope my example saves you this trouble.
And one last confession. Even after successfully implementing many of the strategies in Marie Kondo’s “The life-changing magic of tidying up” my drawers never fully maintain their folded wonder. I gave myself permission to let that go a bit. Afterall, even Joanna Gaines has a cluttered attic and undie drawer. At least with a simplified wardrobe there are fewer items to sort in my tiny closet and dresser!
The main thing moving to a simplified wardrobe gave me is a sense of ease and abundance. I am more comfortable walking around in this body through my life. I have more abundance in time and resources now that I don’t waste it on clothes that don’t work for me. I wish this for you too. This transition can take time to take root and blossom but is well worth the effort in the simplicity it will give you. I hope to see you blooming with ease and abundance real soon!