After two consecutive posts about communication and relationships, I’m going to switch gears today, but I’ll definitely come back to that topic again soon. In one of my first essays on this blog, I shared my theme for the year, “essential,” and how I plan to ask myself a lot of hard questions this year about what truly adds value to my life and thus deserves a place in my home, experience, and psyche. I subsequently explored the role of information in my life and detailed the steps I’ve taken as a sort of “digital detox” with the technology I use. I’ve also shifted the way I plan my days in order to maximize efficacy over efficiency.
As we move into the second quarter of 2018, I already feel that my theme of “essential” has made a profound difference toward increasing my sense of calm and improving my quality of life. My stress level has decreased as I consume less information, eliminate “digital clutter” on my devices, and include fewer items to my to-do list. Now it’s time to turn back to a subject that I wrote about for four years on my previous blog, Recovering Shopaholic – my wardrobe.
Increasing Awareness of Wardrobe Issues
Wardrobe management won’t be a primary focus on this new blog (if you’re interested in that topic, check out the full archives of Recovering Shopaholic, as well as my specific posts in that category), but I will address it from time to time here. Although it’s not the source of constant struggle that it used to be for me, there’s still room for improvement. On the plus side, I no longer have a jam-packed closet, nor do I spend far too much time and attention on shopping and wardrobe management these days. However, I feel that I still have too many clothes, too much duplication, and perhaps not always the best pieces for my lifestyle.
Taking on challenges and experiments has always helped to increase my awareness about various areas of life. In regards to my wardrobe, I benefitted greatly from doing several stints of minimalist fashion challenge, Project 333. You can read all about those experiences HERE, as well as learn my top 8 lessons from doing that challenge. I highly recommend Project 333 as a tool for closet downsizing, style improvement, and overall wardrobe awareness, but I’m going to do something a bit different this time around.
My New Wardrobe Experiment
My new wardrobe experiment shares some common features with Project 333, but it’s actually more in line with another challenge I read about years ago called the “30 for 30 Remix.” The gist of the “30 for 30 Remix” is that one selects 30 wardrobe items – garments and shoes – to wear and remix for the next 30 days. Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t put my own spin on a challenge, so here’s what I’m going to do…
- Instead of selecting my 30 items before starting the challenge, I’m going to build my wardrobe capsule organically as the month progresses.
- Also, since my at-home wardrobe is such an important part of my life, I’m going to build two parallel capsules, one for “out and about” and one for being at home and going on walks or to the gym. I will include sleepwear items in my at-home capsule, in addition to lounge and workout wear.
- I’m going to list each item as I wear it and keep adding pieces to each capsule until I reach 30 items.
- I’m also going to note how often I wear each piece and keep an outfit journal for my “out and about” ensembles to help me better understand what is and isn’t working for me.
- Finally, since I only wear “out and about” clothes a few days each week, I’m going to extend the challenge beyond the month of April until I reach at least twenty outfits in that category. I may continue on for thirty outfits, but I’m not sure at this point. I’ll make that determination once I reach the twenty outfit mark.
I have cordoned off two sections in my closet to contain my two “30 for 30” capsules. This will help me with outfit creation and building in cohesiveness for the capsules.
How The Challenge Has Already Helped…
I started this challenge on April 1st, so I’m already almost a week in. I’ll do a full debrief after the experiment is over, but I can already share some insights into what I’ve already learned about my life, my wardrobe, and myself so far.
I already was aware that I spend more time in my at-home wardrobe than in “out and about” clothes, but I didn’t realize the degree to which this is true. Thus far, I have only worn two “out and about” outfits. The remaining four days have been spent in lounge wear, workout clothes, and sleepwear, so there’s a two-to-one ratio so far. My weeks vary and sometimes this ratio shifts, but it’s always the case that my at-home wardrobe predominates. In fact, there are already 21 items in my “build as you go” at-home wardrobe capsule, in contrast to only eight pieces in my “out and about” capsule. It won’t be long before my at-home capsule of 30 items is complete.
My life is very casual, yet I tend to dress up more than many others in my area when I go out, so there isn’t a lot of crossover between my two wardrobes. I do wear many of my casual tops both at home and out and about, however. This wasn’t always the case, but it’s something I’ve made a conscious effort to change over the last couple of years. I also wear many of these tops when I go on walks and sometimes to the gym as well. My bottom pieces tend to have virtually no crossover for reasons of comfort. I just don’t find most jeans and pants to be comfortable enough to sit around in all day long. In terms of shoes, I wear the same pair of hard-soled slippers every day when I’m at home and I have two pairs of sneakers that I wear for exercise.
In jotting down notes about my capsules thus far, I’ve noticed a few things. For one, many of my at-home items are becoming worn out and need to be replaced soon. I need to make sure to devote enough time and budget toward finding the right types of replacements for these frequently worn pieces. Also, I have a lot of duplication for certain types of items, such as jeans, black pants, black cardigans, and striped long- and short-sleeved tops.
While these are all staple items for me, it’s a bit overkill how many duplicates I own. I think that I’m drawn to these types of pieces when I shop, plus I’m always searching for the perfect version of them. As long as something is still wearable and I like it, however, I keep all of those pieces in my closet. Selecting my capsule items is forcing me to determine my favorites, but I suspect that I may change my mind a few times along the way. This will be a good exercise for me to better understand what makes one item work better for me than another.
If I really want to create an “essential” wardrobe, I need to cut down on the level of duplication I have or else I’ll always have a closet that’s on the large side. I think it’s okay to have more than one version for item types that I wear all the time, but perhaps five or more is too many and will lead to “splitting my wears.” Another side effect of this type of duplication is that many outfits end up feeling the same despite the fact that all of the pieces are being switched out regularly. When I shop, I need to consider whether or not an item in question will add versatility to my wardrobe or simply occupy a space that is already crowded. As much as I love black basics and striped items, I really don’t need more of either of them.
I am not a “trend chaser” and I’m not too concerned with how “of the moment” I look. I don’t want to appear as if I belong on a makeover show, but I also want to follow my own style muse and define a way of dressing that works for me. I also need to feel comfortable in what I’m wearing, both physically and emotionally. I tend to be conservative in my style and I prefer to be more modest than revealing in what I wear. I don’t like “fussy” items that need to be adjusted often throughout the day. I mostly dress in a classic manner, but I enjoy injecting a hint of edge into my outfits. This is often done by means of accessories, which I am not including among my 30 items but am tracking throughout the challenge to increase awareness of what I like and wear in that category.
I will always be a person who enjoys having variety in my closet. I don’t think I’ll ever have a truly minimalist wardrobe, and that’s okay. What I do want, however, is to cut down on wardrobe mistakes and closet waste, as I still have more “closet churn” than I’d like to have. I know that I’ll never be perfect in terms of buying only wardrobe “workhorses” and I understand that we all make mistakes, but I still make too many for my comfort level. It’s my hope that doing experiments such as this one will help me to better understand what I need, want, and wear so that I will continue to improve my shopping track record.
Conclusion and Your Thoughts
Since the weather is still cool where I live (it never gets truly cold here), this current challenge is addressing only about half of my closet. Therefore, I plan to do a second round later in the year after it warms up so that I can address my summer wardrobe as well. I’ll share my process and conclusions for that follow-on challenge when the time comes. Who knows, I may decide to change a few aspects of the experiment at that point to better suit my needs. It’s all about exploring what “essential” really means to me in terms of my wardrobe.
I would love for some of you to join me in this wardrobe experiment. Of course, just like I have done with Project 333 and the “30 for 30 Remix,” you’re welcome to adapt my process to suit your needs. If you wear “out and about” clothes virtually every day, you may only need to build one capsule. You may also choose to build your capsule in advance rather than as you go along. If you like the idea of doing this type of challenge seasonally, a pure version of Project 333 might be the best fit for you. I found that I got bored with wearing the same items for a full three months, but your mileage may vary. You may also have a completely different experiment in mind, if you opt to do one at all.
Whatever the case may be, I welcome your thoughts on this post. Here are a few questions to spur on your insights, but feel free to comment in any way you’d like.
- What is your definition of an “essential wardrobe”?
- What is your optimal closet size and how do you make that determination?
- Have you ever done a wardrobe challenge like Project 333 or the “30 for 30 Remix”? If so, what was that experience like for you?
- How many “multiples” within a given wardrobe category or style do you think are too many?
Thank you for reading! I’ll delve more into other aspects of “essential” in the coming weeks and months. If you have any suggestions for future topics, please share them below or via the Contact page. I have a reasonably long and eclectic list going already, but the more the merrier… I’m enjoying writing this new blog and I like the freedom to explore and reflect on a lot of different aspects of life. It was fun to dive back into the wardrobe world again today, but I’m glad not to be as limited to that realm as I once was.
18 thoughts on “Working Toward an Essential Wardrobe – An April Challenge”
I love reading about how you are evolving on your path, it sounds so encouraging and helpful to those of us who still have a lot to learn!
I’m glad you find these types of posts helpful, Claudette. I appreciate your ongoing encouragement!
I love these capsule wardrobe type posts LOL. I loved reading about your journey and the issue of duplication is one that I’ve been noticing as well in my wardrobe. Last year, I started buying way to many basic white tees and jean (which I need and love, but still).
I think a lot of us have problems with duplication, Jane. It doesn’t always have to be a BAD thing, but having awareness of it can help us determine if we want to continue on that path or make a change. Sometimes what we’re duplicating is a signature piece that we wear all the time, but other times it may be just a habit to buy certain things that we really don’t love and wear very often. It all depends…
You know I already love this challenge for you😊
I figured you would, Dianne! You are a master at wardrobe capsules and I love your unique take on it (for those who are reading this and are curious, check out this post: https://recoveringshopaholic.com/2016/04/01/rolling-capsule-wardrobe/). I am already learning a lot through doing this – it’s a very worthwhile exercise that I know I will be repeating!
Hi Debbie. This was a fun article and I enjoyed reading it. Whilst I have largely got my clothes shopping under control I still find myself buying too many duplicates. I have recently purchased good quality lounge wear which I’m very happy with but as its often very difficult to find I recently bought 5 pairs of cashmere pyjama bottoms that I found heavily discounted. As I’ve often commented previously, I find myself buying for a lifestyle I simply don’t have, so I think I have addressed this issue. Now I have to work on my scarcity issues!! It sounds like you’re making great progress with your wardrobe management. I think we have to remember our style is constantly evolving and therefore the occasional wrong purchase is absolutely to be expected.
It sounds like your buying the cashmere pyjama bottoms was a good idea, Sharon. They sound very luxurious! I’m glad you feel you’re buying better for your actual lifestyle these days. I am, too, but I’m already seeing from this challenge that I need to focus even MORE on my at-home wardrobe, as I wear those pieces more often and they get worn out. You’re right that our style continually evolves and that mistakes are to be expected from time to time. My style has evolved quite a bit in the past few years and challenges like this one help me to better understand what I love and need. More soon…
Capsule wardrobes are a neat concept – but I have not managed to create one for myself. It’s not the numbers that scare me, I don’t have a lot of clothes. But I shop second hand, knit and sew….my wardrobe is a bit haphazard. Everything doesn’t go with everything else and things refuse to mix and match. As you can imagine I don’t have many multiples!
I try to have two or more tops to every bottom (as per Jennifer Skinner) and tend to base my outfit on the shoes.
I enjoy thick socks and wear boots for most of the year. Then, somewhat reluctantly, I switch to ballerinas if it gets really hot 🙂
My life is very casual and revolves around ponies and dogs, weather and mud. Getting dressed up nicely to go out is a bit of a struggle and I really should go look for some appropriate clothes for concerts and parties!
Thank you for making me think, from a longtime reader in Switzerland!
Thanks for chiming in, Miriam! I would love to get back to Switzerland – I have only been there once and it was over 20 years ago! I used to buy a lot of secondhand items, too, and that does make it harder to have a cohesive wardrobe. I started to be stricter with myself and go in with a list, but it’s tempting to pick up “gems” that don’t fit our requirements. I think the two or more tops to each bottom rule of thumb is a good one. My ration is probably more like five to one, but that’s because bottoms are so hard for me to find. I like the concept of basing outfits around shoes. I don’t do that all the time, but I definitely pack for travel with shoes first, as those take up the most space. I have a very casual life, too, but no ponies or dogs here… Yes, getting dressed up can be challenging, but I do it so rarely that I don’t even have a dressy capsule anymore. If something comes up, I may be in trouble!
This is a really interesting challenge. I love your take on it Debbie. I can see it working really well for you. I haven’t really done any challenges as such, just tracking, which highlighted what I did wear the most. I used that to reduce my wardrobe down and found I had about 30-40 items for Spring/summer and for Autumn/winter. So kind of a larger capsule. These don’t include Formal, exercise, nightware or swimwear. These categories I don’t have a lot in after decluttering a bit. It will be interesting when I start back working (I will have a uniform) to see what I do and don’t wear and how often. I may find I have too much again! I might do a version of your challenge to see what I do wear. I like the idea of putting it aside after you wear it. It is a simple and easy to do task. I have noticed after our summer there are a few items that might need to be replaced next summer. Perhaps I may not actually need to if I don’t have the chance to wear as many items. It is still nice to have some choice though! Anyway it will be interesting to see.
I have found tracking to be very helpful, too, Ruth. In fact, I have been doing it since 2011 and will keep it up as long as I find it beneficial in my wardrobe management, shopping, and style journey. Tracking has helped me to pare things down, but not quite to the level where you are now. Your seasonal capsules sound like they are a great size, but of course what’s ideal will vary as we move through our lives. Now that you’ll be wearing a uniform, you may end up paring down your capsules. I’m finding my challenge quite enlightening, especially when it comes to similar items, as I want there to be variety in my capsules. I have multiple items that occupy the same place in my wardrobe and I’m having to choose just ONE such piece for my capsule so that I don’t have too much “sameness.” Maybe this will help me to stop buying so many like items – I hope so! I wish you the best of luck with your new job and please let me know if you opt to do my challenge or a variation of it.
I’ve been one of those stuffed-closet-nothing-to-wear people for a long time. I finally grew impatient and put my mind to it, with the help of thoughtful blogs such as yours. It turns out several factors are in operation. First is lack of follow-through. When I do buy an item, I fail to complete alterations in a timely manner and to make sure that I have the necessary completer pieces to make outfits. As a result, things hang unworn in the “pending” section, where they get the occasional petting and admiring glance. The Stylebook app and a to-do list on my phone have helped a lot with inspiring and prodding me to assemble outfits, keep track of what else may be needed and make alterations. I’m still working on it. The second factor is difficulty finding exactly what I want in those completer pieces. (The initial “star” piece is usually stumbled over serendipitously.) It has become really challenging to locate flattering tops in natural fabrics, but I find most polyester unpleasant to wear, and rayon is not durable. My proposed solution is to start sewing more of what I want; we’ll see how that works out. Third is not buying for my lifestyle and the weather. I live a very casual lifestyle in a warm climate. (We’re in the same county, you and I, but I’m 10 miles farther inland and 10 degrees hotter.) As much as I love silk shirts, I can only wear them during the cooler mid-winter/early-spring weather, which is not most of the year. I’ve had to force myself to stop buying them. One of the best shopping tips came from Bridgette Raes, I think, who suggested buying summer sweaters to wear in warm winters. Epiphany! I had previously ignored the marketing of summer sweaters, finding the entire concept absurd for my climate. I will never be a wardrobe minimalist as, like you, I enjoy variety, but I finally feel like I’m making progress in developing a wearable, comfortable wardrobe that reflects my personality. Thanks for the help!
I’m glad my blog posts have helped you to better manage your wardrobe, Terry. I think a lot of people intend to do alterations and/or buy complementary pieces but never get around to doing these things. It sounds like you have come up with some great solutions to your wardrobe issues. I love your idea to sew more. That’s a skill I wish I had and may opt to learn one of these days… It seems we have similar lifestyles and it’s nice to “meet” someone who lives near me, too. Yes, it definitely gets a lot warmer when one goes inland and you probably don’t have to deal with May Gray and June Gloom so much. Bridgette Raes’ idea to wear summer sweaters for warm winters is an excellent one! I have very few sweaters for the same reason you mentioned, but I can totally see the value of wearing lighter weight sweaters for the “winters” (such that they are) here. Best wishes with your continued wardrobe journey. I think we all want a wearable, comfortable wardrobe that reflects our personality. It’s easier said than done, but it sounds like you have made great strides.
It’s really fun to hear about your wardrobes escapades again 🙂
If I could take a moment to vent. My health stuff is making it nearly impossible to dress. One of my major symptoms is a pressure/touch hypersensitivity that puts “normal” fitting out of grasp for most parts of my body already, but usually I can make something work using looser/fluid fits and stretchy stuff. I mean, I already can’t wear bras and had to give up underwear at one point. Now I have developed this reflux thing (I think related to one of my meds making it worse?) and like, I can’t wear pants that have enough structure to stay up on any part of my abdomen right now. At this point, I am starting to wear the few lounge pants that are sorta passable in public. I can only wear a couple pairs of athletic shoes so I can’t use that to help “style” them. I guess I am going to try dresses when it gets warmer but I really don’t feel very comfortable in them. This whole situation just suuuucks and takes up such an enormous amount of mental/emotional energy. And time! that i spend shopping and returning and putting things on and off at home just trying to find something I can stand to wear that wont result in a hot flash or nausea or some other discomfort after 5 minutes of having it on.
Anyway I am living vicariously through your wardrobe experiments!
Ps – agree with Terry about the fabric issues, I have the same problem confounded by the health stuff . i can manage certain cotton/poly blends in winter, rayon is inconsistent, any quality cotton items i can wear are like solid gold
Thank you for being open about your health challenges related to getting dressed, Claire. I have experienced similar issues, but it sounds like things are much worse for you in terms of hypersensitivity. I always try to find loose and stretchy items and natural fibers, too, but they aren’t always easy to find. Style and comfort often don’t go hand in hand, sadly. Having health issues that make it hard to get dressed only compounds the shopping challenges that many of us already have. Buying and returning seems to be a way of life and it’s super frustrating! I find it easier to dress comfortably in the warmer months, too, and look forward to that time coming soon. I feel for you, as it’s already hard enough for me to find clothes that work. Part of this wardrobe experiment has to do with both comfort and body acceptance. I will write more about that in my update, but I really want to discover what does and doesn’t work and let go of those things that look good on that hanger but don’t work for my body and life. I have already moved more items to my “holding zone” and I have decided that whatever doesn’t work by my birthday (about 4 months from now) will go. I have been holding onto some things for about two years and maybe I will never fit comfortably into them again and I need to accept that. Fingers crossed that you will find some good quality cotton items soon. If you do, please share the information!
I really like this approach, Debbie. I’m getting better at buying things for my real life, but I definitely have some favorites and want to think about how many extras I have in some categories. On the other hand, I do wear out and about clothes everyday, and then change out of eork clthes when I get home. So I have two categories of clothes : things I can wear to work and things I can’t wear to work. The “not for work” category is bigger, because it includes both very casual things for home and dressier things for going out. I’m trying to have more crossover items, though, but those things are a challenge to find.
Good for you for being better at shopping for your real life, Murphy. I know it’s challenging to find crossover items and that’s something I still struggle with, but I’m doing a lot better than I used to in that regard. I think it’s okay to have “extras” in some categories, but many of us end up with TOO MANY extras. I had an “aha moment” when reading your comment! You mentioned that your “not for work” category is bigger and you also said that you wear “out and about” clothes every day. I have been realizing from my challenge that I need more at-home and crossover items, but after reading what you wrote, I’m thinking that this should really be the bulk of my wardrobe given my lifestyle (and it’s definitely NOT at present).
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