Monday, March 19, 2012

The Simple Wardrobe, Part 2 - A Sort-of-Tutorial

I've spent the last few days thinking...

about how to execute this major closet overhaul.  During this time, I've made about a hundred lists (okay, maybe ten) and tried to take every possible variable into consideration.

I'm concerned because I've made these sorts of wardrobe changes before (like with the 3 jumpers, as well as other various, unnamed failures), and it always ends up falling apart.  Still, all those failures have given me some insight into what doesn't work for me.  And that's a place to start, isn't it?

You may want to start there, too.

What about your wardrobe doesn't work for you?

For me, it's all about comfort.  I don't do too-short sleeves, a too-tight bust or waist, a too-low neckline, too-short skirts or too-long skirts for that matter.  I try to steer clear of synthetic fabrics that make me too hot and too cold.  I don't like too-small shoes, shoes I need to extensively "break-in", or shoes that give me blisters.  I don't do shoes that won't (relatively) easily slip off and on.  Or, at least, I don't do very many pairs of them like I always try to.  Bras that dig into my underarms have to go, too, and so does silly underwear that I never wear because we've been married for a couple years now and, let's just be honest, the silly underwear isn't going to come out again this side of a mid-life crisis.  I also hate flannel pajama pants.  They're too thin to be warm and they ride up in bed.  Plus, they wear out super quick.

What are the pet peeves you have about your clothing?  Write them down if you need to.  I was surprised to find out that, although I already knew everything in that list above of what I do and don't like, I still had at least one piece in my wardrobe that committed each of these crimes.  When I wrote them down, I finally realized just how much some things bother me.  I also realized that it's all too easy to rationalize to myself that, "this waistline isn't that tight," and "I love these shoes, they really aren't too small," when I'm at the store and feeling adventurous and excitable, but I still won't wear those things more than once or twice when I get them home.  So, I've made a real commitment to be realistic with myself and to recognize that there are some things I am not willing to compromise on, because those things are costing me money that does not grow on trees, especially in this recession.

If you want to, make that list and then put it in your wallet where you can refer back to it when you go clothes shopping.  Maybe it will help you to better evaluate your future purchases.

All right.  Now that we know what we don't want, let's figure out what we do want.  For me this was...


I am sensitive to fabrics.  The clothes I wear most are made of natural fibers like cotton, wool, and linen because I simply like the way they feel against my skin.  Synthetics like polyester don't breathe.  They also conduct heat, which means that when it's hot outside, they bring the heat even closer to your skin and when it's cold outside, they conduct the heat away from your body.  I find I'm almost always either too hot or too cold when I'm wearing synthetics (which is too sad because so many of my favorite vintage clothes are made of that infamous 1960's polyester), so they have got to go.

I also want clothes that will breathe in the summer.  I tend to get pretty hot in the summer and the Mister and I try to keep the a/c to a minimum, so short sleeves are a must in order to keep cool.  As are either short pants or skirts.

Things to think about: Get into your closet and pull out a couple of your favorite outfits.  You know, the ones you go back to again and again and again.  The outfits that make you feel sexy and the ones that make you feel cute, even the ones that are most comfortable.  Pay attention to what these clothes are made of: cotton, rayon, polyester, wool?  Also, pay attention to the texture of the fabrics.  Do you prefer clothes to be soft and comfortable above all else?  Maybe you don't like slippery or slinky fabrics, or maybe you don't like stiff fabrics?

Now, consider the weather patterns where you live.  Do you need winter clothes as well as summer clothes?  Is there some way to bring into your wardrobe pieces that can move from summer to winter while still keeping you comfortable?  Be creative!  I'm thinking of incorporating dresses back into my wardrobe to mimic the 3 jumpers experience.  I actually really enjoyed having a set of clothing that could be worn in summer (with a T-shirt, bare legs and sandals) and also in winter (with a long sleeved shirt, wool sweater, leggings and wool socks).  It kept the core pieces of my wardrobe to a minimum, but still allowed me to be comfortable and have enough to wear.


I'm not going to lie and tell you this is a huge motivating factor for me, but it is present in my mind as I think about my clothing.  For one, it has to do with comfort.  I, as an individual, am less comfortable when I feel like my shirt is too low cut, or my skirt is too short.  I spend so much time pulling my neckline up and my hemline down that I don't have time to enjoy what I'm doing.

I also feel like, somehow, making myself mindful of how I appear to those outside my home (and outside my husband), makes me more mindful of my actions as well.  If I'm paying attention, trying to look like the person I want to be (I don't mean this to say that people should somehow spend more time worrying about how they look -- women, especially, I'm just not sure how else to word it), then I might be more attentive to my actions as well.  For me, it's something that holds value and meaning.  I don't want to do it because I think it's what God wants, or because I think it's what my husband wants (I don't honestly think he has much to say one way or the other), or because I'm worried what others will think. I simply want to do it as a means of improving myself as a person.  That is not to say that it's something everyone will feel they need to do, it's just something I want to pay attention to in my own life.

Since we've been home from Korea, my necklines have slipped lower and lower and it's not that this bothers me on a moral level, and not even exactly on a spiritual level, as such.  But it does bother me on a personal level.  I want to be different than that.  It's not a wrong thing, or a bad thing, but it's not my thing.  It's not something I want.  Just like I want a simple life, and so I cut out the junk, I also want a modest life and so my seriously scooped necks need to go, too.

Things to Think About: What motivates your wardrobe choices?  Are you thinking about how you look because you're worried what others will think?  Try to point yourself in the right direction by thinking about where you want your life to go in the next year, in the next five years, even the next ten years.  Can you build a wardrobe that will get you there?

Think about your wardrobe choices, which are somewhat frivolous and not incredibly important in the grand scheme of things, I'll give you that.  But which also may have a greater impact on you, as a person, than you realize.  To expand upon my own example of modesty, when I dress more modestly, I feel better about myself.  I feel like I am somehow protecting, covering, my femininity (does that make any sense?) and that I am making a statement to myself, that this part of me -- this womanly part -- is worth the effort it takes to cover my body.  That, in a sense, I am worth the effort.  So, think about how your wardrobe makes you feel and then consider how you wish that it would make you feel because that is your goal.  Work toward that.


The wardrobe I eventually end up with needs to be cohesive.  By that, I mean that most, if not all, of the pieces in it need to be interchangeable and within the same color scheme.  They also need to be easily washable, for the most part, especially those pieces which will sit right next to my body and therefore need washing most often.  I don't have all the time in the world to do laundry.

These are more reasons that I am sticking to natural fibers, specifically cotton and linen.  Both are washable and both only get softer with time.  Natural fibers do fade a little more readily, but I live the casual life of a student and wife, so that's okay with me.

In addition to those things, I want pieces that will be durable, pieces that will last me a while.  That means I'll probably try to stay away from the big box stores as much as possible because those clothes shrink and the seams tend to rip out more quickly.  It means that I'll make what I can, and thrift what I can't, looking for brands that I know might last me a while.

Things to Think About: For this, you need to take your life into account.  Do you work?  If so, what's the dress code?  Are you a stay-at-home mom?  If you have kids, then you're also going to need to take into account things like the wash-ablility of fabrics (stick to cotton, linen, hemp, bamboo), perhaps leaning more toward clothes with a busier print to disguise spills and stains and keep your garments serviceable for longer.  This is another place to take texture into account.  Babies and small children may prefer softer fabrics against their skin and since tiny people require a lot of holding and rocking, their sensitive skin may be in contact with your clothes on a regular basis.  So, take that into account.

Also consider how often you engage in things like: going to church, going out on the town, date nights with your significant other, work parties, travelling for business (or pleasure), camping, sports, rock climbing, bicycling, etc.  These sorts of activities may require certain clothing, so you will want to think about that and plan your wardrobe accordingly.


We are not a rich bunch over here, the Mister and I.  So, for me, this overhaul will not be happening all at once.  That means it's even more important for me to have a plan.  That way, I can sketch out what I want my wardrobe to look like as a "finished product" (if you will, although wardrobes are always changing, aren't they?), the pieces I already own that will help get me there, as well as what I need to acquire over time.  When I approach the planning in this way, it ensures that I don't end up going through my closet in a rabid donating spree, giving away clothes that I will need to hold me over in the interim while I build up a wardrobe that better suits the lifestyle I want to have.  I'm finding it helpful to literally make lists, deciding what I definitely want to keep, what I definitely need to make/buy, and what clothing I will keep to fill out my wardrobe while I am bringing in new pieces.

Things to Think About: The best ways that I know of to keep your clothing durable, of good quality, and also as inexpensive as possible are to shop at thrift stores, and make or sew anything that you can at home.  For me, this means that I don't always get the selection I was used to before, at Target or Old Navy.  I can't look in my closet, think, "I need a red sweater to match that dress," and then head on down to the store and pick it up.  I have to keep a sort of running list in my head, or sometimes I write it down and put it in my wallet.  That way, when we end up at a thrift store, I know what to keep my eye out for.  And, if they don't have what I need, then I leave empty handed.  It's that simple.

Aside from saving money, when you learn to shop this way, you're also ensuring that you support local charities (which receive funding from thrift stores), that you're not funding as much sweat shop labor, and that your money isn't going to big box stores, which run small businesses out of our towns and neighborhoods, hurting our friends and neighbors by putting them out of jobs.  So, if it seems like a pain, or like it's just too much work, think of those things.  You really are, "voting with your dollars."

If you do sew, there are a number of ways to obtain inexpensive fabric.  Personally, I look for quilting cotton (and occasionally cotton jersey) when making clothes.  Poly-cotton blends don't need ironing, but in my experience, they wear out faster and don't breathe as well in the heat, so they're not for me.  Some people really like them, however, so you may want to give them a try.

Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • The clearance section of your local fabric store.
  • The linens section of your local thrift store, where you might find cuts of fabric, or (if you're like me), cute old sheets, table cloths and curtains that make terrific skirts and dresses, or nightgowns for little girls.
  • Search out a printable 50% coupon to Jo-Ann's Fabric Store and buy fabric at a steep discount.  This doesn't solve the, "no big box stores" problem, but it is cheap! (make sure to read the coupon for stipulations on what you can and cannot purchase)
  • If they ask, tell friends and family members you'd like gift cards to your favorite fabric shop for your birthday or Christmas.

Online fabric resources:


I already mentioned that I want a wardrobe with a cohesive color scheme, but another important point about color (for me), is to leave out blacks and whites as much as possible.  The problem is that these are my favorite colors to wear!  BUT.. they are also the most difficult to care for.  Blacks fade and whites get dingy and stained.  I'm not leaving them out completely, but I am leaving them out as much as possible.

Things to Think About: This sort of goes under practicality as well, because color is really quite practical when you get down to it.  For example, how is it that a person may have a mountain of clothes, but still can't ever find anything to match that one, particular skirt?

Color is important.  Refer back to your favorite outfits, the ones you pulled out of your closet (or thought of in your head) and consider their colors.  They're probably colors that you feel you look really good in, colors that make you feel good when you wear them.  Start thinking about what your favorite colors are to wear.  Not your favorite colors in general.  Pay attention to this, because it may very well be that your favorite color is flamingo pink or chartreuse, but the truth is that not all of us (despite what we may think) actually gravitate toward wearing these colors.  Even if they have made a grand appearance in your wardrobe, that doesn't mean you actually wear them, or even want to wear them, much less return to them again and again as wardrobe staples.  Because that is what we're looking for here.  Clothes that you will be happy to wear again and again.

When considering color, also consider fading and staining.  For instance, black items may fade fairly quickly.  Are you going to want to commit to re-dying them?  Or replacing those items of clothing?  You might think about limiting the black in your wardrobe to pieces that you will only wear on special occasions, or pieces that don't matter as much (then, if they fade, it's no big deal).  Also, think about white and other light colors.  White stains, it turns dingy and yellows in the armpits if you wear antiperspirant (if you use deodorant without an antiperspirant, that doesn't happen!).  You may also consider limiting very light colors to a minimum.

In this grand journey, I've also considered...

My Quaker Roots

I grew up as an Evangelical Quaker.  Now that I'm older, I identify more closely with what are known as Liberal Quakers (or Liberal Friends, as Quakers are also called Friends).  It's an important part of my life, who I am, and it influences and shapes the way I think.

One of the more basic tenets of the Quaker faith is simplicity.  Traditionally, that meant that Quaker homes were usually kept free of many unnecessary possessions, furniture was often simple and unadorned, and that walls remained bare.

More famously, this "testimony of simplicity", applied to Quaker dress (think: Mr. Quaker Oats), also referred to as "plain dress".  Some modern Friends are taking up plain dress again, as it has died out substantially since around the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  I don't feel like taking a more traditional Quaker approach (which might include ankle-length dresses, neckerchiefs and Amish-esque kapps) to my wardrobe is something I resonate with, but I do feel like I want to both calm my spirit as well as honor the Quaker tradition, by developing a form of plain dress for myself.

Things to Think About: Is simplicity as a way of life something that's important to you?  If you desire a simple lifestyle, consider making a simple wardrobe a priority in your life.

It's true that isn't always easy.  You have to stay out of the clothing section at the department stores.  I try to stay away from window shopping and keep out of thrift stores unless I'm looking for something in particular, and if it's not clothing-related, I steer completely clear of that section of the store.  But if you want a simple life, you can't continue to mindlessly consume, because each pair of shoes and each piece of clothing (or each kitchen tool or appliance, each new bathroom product, each piece of furniture or new DVD or electronic device) that comes into your home disrupts the lifestyle you want for yourself.

Consider what you truly desire for your life and make those things a priority.  You don't have to jump in headlong, but start inching in the direction you want your life to go.  Clean out your closet, empty your junk drawer, weed out those magazines on the coffee table.  Each step you take toward a simpler life brings you that much closer.  And each step reminds you how peaceful the journey can make your home, even though it may not always be easy.


I'm sure your wants and needs are different than mine as everyone's living situation requires special consideration, so take your own needs into consideration when planning your wardrobe.  I hope this list made sense and that, perhaps, you might feel inspired to also take the leap!  In tomorrow's post, I've come up with a color scheme for my new wardrobe, as well as a comprehensive list of the items I hope that it will eventually contain.

Thanks for stopping in and for putting up with my seriously long post. ;)

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