Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Capsule Wardrobe

I realize this looks like I'm jumping on a bandwagon as many bloggers have recently posted about consumerism, quality and excessive spending on clothing--see here, here and here, for example. Last year I recognized that I couldn't carry on consuming clothing as before--I'd accumulated too much, at costs to the environment, our living space, my bank account, etc. While I pride myself on being a savvy shopper--not paying full price and waiting for sales, my discovery that I owned 85 sweaters and too many striped shirts was a wake up call. Investing in silk dresses when I live in a climate that's either too hot and humid or too cold to wear them doesn't make a huge amount of sense, so I've tried to build on what I wear a lot and avoid the dual ills of stockpiling and fantasy purchases. Still, I've not been that good--when things go bad, I buy. I'm also tempted against my better judgment by the Jason Wu for Target even though I well know that the pretty dresses in the promo shots will look cheap and scratchy in the flesh. But really what I need to do is stop, as the example below demonstrates. It's just that it's not that easy.

Whenever I go home to England, I travel light. I have had my baggage lost before and it's not fun. Also not fun--dragging heavy bags through airports, on public transport and across Britain. I usually carry a soft bodied bag that limits me to a few items and maybe one pair of shoes--in the winter, with heavy clothing, I can bring even less, especially when I'm also carrying Christmas presents. I do store a few things at home--I have underwear, nightwear, tights, a couple of dresses and a skirt or two. I think hard about packing--I wear heavy items (jeans, knits, shirts) to travel, and, if its winter, boots and a jacket or coat. I bring 2 or 3 dresses--generally one that can be dressed up, a cardigan, maybe 2, plain dark skirt and pants, maybe another skirt, a few tops--striped long sleeved ts, plaid shirt or 2 and a couple of more dressy tops. I may add another skirt, a few different color pairs of tights and, if it's winter, another couple of sweaters. Amazingly, I find I have more options with a few items. I never run out of ideas, I never find myself without anything to wear and it always looks like I have an extensive wardrobe. Back in NYC, I often struggle to find something to wear.

Maybe it's because the weather in England is more temperate that I don't need to worry about the same degree of temperature fluctuations--there's little chance of insane cold or blistering heat and humidity. But I think there is something to the less is more ethos, including the way it causes me to think about what I need to wear and how to put it together. Certainly, I bring some of my favourite items with me but there is more than that involved. I think the clutter distracts and prevents me from being able to see what I have.

So this year is a year to pare back. I still recognize I have the key problems of "investing" in those sale pieces I know I'll wear a lot, and often stockpiling those items (like J Crew cashmere boyfriend cardigans which really don't pill) in the even they will not be as affordable in future years as well as falling for some beautiful but perhaps unwearable/unnecessary items that capture my heart. I'm going to watch out for both weaknesses this year and marshal my willpower and discipline.

I set up Community Closet Sale partly for these reasons--I have lots of lovely clothing that I don't wear and maybe wore once or twice, if at all. I come back to the same favourites--three Rachel Comey dresses, my green plaid Rag and Bone Victorian blouse, my Lyell/Tocca blouses, my blue and white plaid Madewell shirt, my black Rag and Bone pants, my black Lyell box pleat skirt, my Earnest Sewn denim skirt and my cashmere J Crew/Club Monaco/Inhabit crew neck sweaters and boyfriend cardigans and my J Crew striped long sleeved tops. There are other pieces I wear a lot--and of course several of my Lyell (and Tocca) and Mayle coats get heavy wear--but not all of them. I'm also struck by how many of these items are several seasons or even several years old. Of course extreme weather (cold and hot) leads to major changes--the wide leg pants come out in the winter and the cotton dresses in the summer. But you get the point. This wardrobe itself is very much like the ones I bring home to England--not always the most exquisite items I own, but the ones I actually wear.


erica said...

it is really really hard to not be tempted by sales, especially when you live in nyc and have access to sample sales!

i totally agree with you that there are more options when you pare things down to a suitcase. this is why i started purging my wardrobe. i'm planning on wearing my work-horse pieces until they fall apart and then replace them on an ad hoc basis.

i used to have 20 pretty dresses and 10 skirts, and i've gotten rid of almost half. the ones i've kept are special pieces that will be worn no more than twice a year for conferences or teaching.

matthew and i have a new budget strategy that you may find useful.

1. calculate a reasonable monthly budget for eating out, snacks, clothes, books, and various sundry items. be honest!!

2. divide that number by 4 (for the weeks in a month).

3. on monday morning, withdraw that amount from your bank. only use that cash for non-grocery purchases until the next week. if you buy something with a debit or credit card, deposit the same amount of cash back into your bank or put it in an envelope and leave it at home.

4. withdraw your allowance from the bank on the following monday. the cash from the previous week works like rollover minutes.

5. if you find an amazing deal and need more cash than is on hand, DON'T play the math game of magical thinking. you have to wait until you've saved up enough cash. if that means missing out on a sale, too bad!

sounds strict, but it's the only way to curb my shopping habit!

Donna Neumann said...
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