Have you been feeling blah about your wardrobe?
Maybe you've been feeling bored and uninspired. Maybe you've been struggling to put together your outfits. Maybe your clothes aren't fitting their best. Maybe you're just running out of space. Whatever the case, you're living the cliche of "a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear."
Oh man, have I been there. Many of us are in the habit of undervaluing our wardrobes. We let ourselves down by saying that it doesn't matter.
I know that for a long time, I dismissed my instincts to care about how I present myself as shallow. But it's not necessarily about other people's opinions, or fitting in with society, or about devaluing non-physical aspects of ourselves. I discovered that for me, it's about feeling my best and celebrating each day.
I mean, I need to wear clothes anyway. Why shouldn't they be clothes that make me feel good?
There are lots of ways we can end up dissatisfied with our wardrobes — more ways than I can count. And when we are caught in that cycle, it seems that no amount of shopping can help our situation.
Unfortunately, that dissatisfaction has a significant cost and not just with our bank accounts. The word is out about how our society’s taste for fast fashion is creating environmental and humanitarian crises.
Five years ago, I decided I'd had enough of the struggles I had been experiencing in my closet and - with a lot of faith - did a massive, unapologetic decluttering of my wardrobe. Without much money to spend on replacements, I took it as an opportunity to challenge the beliefs that I held about the size of my wardrobe.
Along the way, I discovered the work of Jennifer L. Scott, the best-selling author of the Madame Chic series. When Jennifer was in college, she spent a semester abroad in Paris and observed that members of her host family looked impossibly chic with what she has since dubbed the 10 Item Wardrobe. She has a fantastic Ted Talk about it, and a Youtube channel where she gives genius tips.
I've experimented with a few different approaches to designing a small wardrobe, and I have to say that the 10-item wardrobe is by far my favorite.
The premise is that each season, you have around 10 (it does not have to be strictly 10) core pieces at the center of your wardrobe. You then fill out your wardrobe with "extras" such as t-shirts, sweaters, outerwear, special occasion wear, shoes, accessories, and jewelry.
What I love about this approach is that it allows you to distill your style into a small set of core items. By choosing extras that complement your core items, it's easy to put together an outfit you’ll feel great in on an everyday basis.
I also appreciate that the structure of the 10-item wardrobe allows you to focus your shopping efforts on a smaller scale. I find that this makes it easier for me to try something that pushes the boundaries of my style.
At the same time, the process of switching up my wardrobe each season (which we have to do anyway, here in Massachusetts), provides a natural opportunity to evaluate the pieces of the season that is coming to an end, and get clearer on what works and doesn't work for me.
The 10-item wardrobe method has helped me go from a mishmash of random clothes to a highly cultivated personal style. But it's even more than that.
Over the last five years, I have gone through so many changes. I've changed jobs, I've moved, I've started a business, and now I'm starting a family. It has seemed like nearly every season since I started this journey asked something slightly different from me. The 10-item wardrobe has helped me evolve my style and my wardrobe accordingly without over-investing in any particular moment of my life.
Having worked with this framework to design and cultivate a small wardrobe for years now, I am pleased to offer my process for how I apply this to my life. If you've been looking to scale down your wardrobe while expanding your personal style, read on!
Declutter with Intention
Decluttering your wardrobe can be very challenging. Even as a professional organizer, there are moments where I wish there were another me around to coach me through it. It may be tempting to toss all of your discards into a donation bin and call it a day, but I urge you to look things over first. Why are you letting that piece go? Is it because it's old and had its day? Or is it something else? Maybe it's not your style. Maybe it's uncomfortable. Maybe you bought it in a rush because you needed something in that category right away. What happened here?
By asking these questions, and jotting down your answers (if you're a weirdo like me you'll use a spreadsheet), you can uncover patterns that have been holding you back from a wardrobe you'd enjoy. On top of that, you can start to learn more about your style. Your likes and dislikes. Even the brands that you will or won't purchase in the future. All of this data adds up to greater and greater success with each season and each shopping trip.
Envision Your Style
I believe that everyone is creative, whether they think of themselves that way or not. And many of us are searching for a creative outlet. Why not channel that energy into something you have to do anyway - shop for clothes?
I love to take an artistic approach to my style and go through a whole process of collecting images and translating those images into wardrobe pieces. I like to use Pinterest for this, but you can do it the old fashioned way, too, using magazine cutouts. Your images don't necessarily have to be images of outfits or even fashion-related. Actually, I think it's better if most of them aren't.
Instead, think about your lifestyle for the next season. What you'd like to experience. How you'd like to feel. Brainstorm and use that vision as a basis for your style as you start putting together your wardrobe.
Fill in the Gaps
Now that you have your vision for the season ahead, it's time to translate that into reality. I like to start by making a list of situations that I can anticipate for the next season and try to approximate a percentage of time that I'd be in that situation. For example, in the springtime, there's usually at least one day every week that's an outdoor day, where the main activity that I'm doing is hiking or gardening.
By breaking down my lifestyle, and making a list of what kinds of outfits would serve me best in these different situations, I can figure out what I'd want to wear for the lifestyle I actually live - rather than get caught up in the image of some other person’s life.. And, I can design a wardrobe that has a sufficient quantity of each kind of piece that I'll need.
Once I have my master list, I can check off what I already have - the pieces that survived the decluttering phase. Now I have a focused list of pieces to look for when I'm shopping, and I can look for pieces that I need in the style that fits my vision.
Invest in Quality
When you're dealing with a smaller wardrobe, you are re-wearing your pieces a lot. Therefore, you need to look for pieces that are going to wear well over time. This doesn't mean you need to spend a lot, though you could. It's essential to stay within your means - but realize that in some cases, a purchase that may seem more expensive up front may actually save you money in the long run.
For example, I tend to think it's worth it to pay a little more for better shoes. Poor quality shoes don't last very long, and they're bad for your feet and your posture. I used to go through a pair of flats almost every year. More than three years ago, I switched it up and bought a higher quality pair, and they're still going strong. The way it worked out, I saved money.
No matter what my budget, I also like to pay attention to materials and fabric. What's the composition? Is it soft? Is it breathable? Is it supportive? How does the stitching look? These are all questions to ask yourself if you’re just starting to train your eye for quality products.
Learn Styling Techniques
Ever notice that some of the chicest people are wearing some of the simplest things? It's not so much what they're wearing; it's how they're wearing it. You can elevate your style, and make the most of your small wardrobe, by learning a few styling tricks.
In one of my favorite shows, Queer Eye, the stylist Tan France shows many of the Queer Eye heroes a trick called the "French tuck," where they tuck half the shirt into the front of their pants and leave the other half untucked. There are so many more styling tricks out there. You can google or search for them on Pinterest, or even just look for those details in outfits that you find yourself admiring.
The 10-item wardrobe has provided a simple, practical structure for my self-expression while saving money and space in my closet. I highly recommend it to anyone who is feeling overwhelmed by a large wardrobe, or who wants a cure for the wardrobe blahs.