Apr 4, 2017

Back to the Basics: Simplifying Fashion and Life

My closet is filled with clothes. Finding lack of hanging space, out-of-season clothes have moved into boxes to be unpacked when the time comes. I have no pressing need for anything, yet during a recent conversation with a friend, the two of us discussed the irresistibility of purchasing one more item that we find lacking in our already crowded closets.

This habit has been carefully bred and developed over time by an increasingly materialistic and consumeristic culture. No longer are we satisfied with the basic necessities, but we are taught to need more and more. Many clothes are fashioned with a specific occasion or season in mind. When their time is up, they either sit in our closet collecting dust until the next year or in the trash or Salvation Army bin.

Every year, my family throws out bags filled with perfectly good clothes. We feel good donating these items to the Salvation Army, but we don't actually know what happens to them. Will they find a home, or will they continue to collect dust somewhere? In the end, we're still generating more waste and still unsatisfied with our closets.

Instead of purchasing another item for the closet, what if we gave away a piece of clothing we wear only once or twice a year? What if we learned how to piece together new outfits from the items that we already own? What if we learned how to be content with what we have?

At the end of our conversation, my friend challenged me to write a blog post about the essential wardrobe. Because this is the first time I've tried doing something like this, I decided to take my friend's challenge a step further by putting my wardrobe to the test in the Spring Essential Wardrobe Challenge.

Every day for a minimum of 30 days, I will mix and match 17 items in my wardrobe to create different outfits.

In my Spring Essential Wardrobe: 6 tops (white blouse, black shirt, blue floral-print blouse, black collared shirt, white/black striped collared shirt, plaid collared shirt), 6 bottoms (jeans, black pants, tan pants, black shorts, knee-length polka dot skirt, long black skirt) 3 dresses (black dress, white/black striped dress, sand-colored trench dress), 2 outer wear (black jacket, blue-striped blazer).

Doing the math, that's 6 tops x 6 bottoms + 3 dresses = 39 outfits, and that's before we get creative!! (For example, see Week 1 Day 4 below where I wear my trench dress as a light coat.)

My essential shoes (not included in the count): gold flats, black shoes, black heels, brown ankle boots, long black boots. (Note: in the warm spring weather, I mostly wear the boots on rainy days). Weekends, I will also wear tennis shoes or sandals, but my work requires closed-toe shoes.

You'll notice that my wardrobe includes many items that can be dressed up for a professional work environment or dressed down for a day out. I also have a 2 extra shirts (1 blouse, 1 dress shirt) because I like color and variety. With some heavier items added (like a sweater or thicker cardigan), many of these can be repurposed into a winter closet.

My wardrobe also reflects my style in the tendency towards monotone colors. When I do look for color, blue is the one to which I was drawn. It's a flattering color on me and one that I can easily mix and match with the other items in my wardrobe.

Depending on your location, occupation, and tastes, your essential wardrobe will look different.


{DAY 1} PATTERNS MIX-N-MATCH: Wear different patterns for a fun style. Items: plaid collared shirt, polka dot skirt, and black shoes.

{DAY 2} CLASSIC MONOTONES: When in doubt, go back to the basics. I had an after-school training for a new program starting up at the high school where I teach, so I dressed classy. Items: striped collared shirt, black pants, black heels.

{DAY 3} THE CASUAL BLAZER: My classroom is COLD in the spring/summer season, so I wore a blazer this day. To dress it down, I paired it with a simple white blouse, ankle-length tan pants, and gold flats.

{DAY 4} THE TRENCH DRESS: I wore my trench dress as a coat. To keep the focus on the key item in my dress, I kept the rest of my outfit simple with a black shirt and black pants. Because I'm on my feet most of the day, I wore my black shoes instead of the heels, which would have dressed up the outfit.

{DAY 5} JEANS DAY: Friday is jeans day for Sunshine Committee members. I went with a Western look by pairing it with my plaid collared shirt. I should have worn my low brown boots, but I went with my black shoes. (They're super comfortable for someone who's on her feet most of the day!)

{DAY 6} CASUAL IN THE COUNTRYSIDE: Days 5 and 6 fell on my church group's retreat. Since I went straight to church from work, I packed light, which meant repurposing my outfit from the previous day. The t-shirt pictured wasn't included in my essential wardrobe. I ended up wearing the retreat shirt instead of my white blouse, so I wouldn't have to change later for the group photo. Items: t-shirt, plaid collared shirt, jeans, tennis shoes, and straw hat. (We went out onto a ranch.)

Note: You can see I was drawn to the plaid shirt this week. I wore it three out of the seven days!

{DAY 7} SUNDAY DRESS: Sunday means dressing up for church! Items: striped dress, waist belt, black jacket, and boots (since it was raining).

It's early into the challenge, but I'm already feeling the benefits of a simplified wardrobe.

1. It's easy to pair items
When you don't have as many items from which to choose, it's easy to match items for a new outfit.

2. I save time in the mornings
To ensure a diversified wardrobe, I planned my wardrobe for the week the Sunday before. I checked the weather app and, keeping in mind the cold air in my classroom, penciled in my outfits on my calendar. The night before, I laid out my wardrobe for the next day and, as needed, revised my outfit. (E.g. wearing black shoes instead of heels on Day 4.)

3. I exercise creativity
Because I have less items from which to plan my wardrobe, I'm encouraged to think creatively about my wardrobe and try new things. Before, when I had my entire closet from which to choose, I often felt bored and uncreative. All too often, I didn't know what to wear simply because I had too many choices, and I would end up defaulting to an outfit I had worn before.

4. I wear what I love
I chose the items in my essential wardrobe because they are classic, and I love them. These items are easy to mix and match with each other and reflect my personal style. Because I have less items in my wardrobe from which to choose, none of these items are pushed to the back of the closet. In fact, I get to re-wear the items that I love more frequently.

How do you style your wardrobe? Any time-saving tips?

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