Monday, June 27, 2011

Questions for the method

I'm still trying to reform my closet and consumption, though I still lack the discipline required. To that end, it's been helpful to separate in my mind the purchases that might be specialized acquisitions (a gardening hat, hiking clothes), short-term clothing (maternity wear), and long-term wardrobe additions. With the last, I find myself asking these questions to ascertain whether items might end up as investment purchases.

Will I still want to wear it in 10 years?
No one can be absolutely sure of this answer, of course, but sticking with classic styles for you will place the odds in your favor. I've had a few constants, like Birkenstocks, overalls, and long-sleeve jersey tees that I've incorporated into my style for more than a decade--replacing items as they get worn out. With these, I hardly have to ask myself to know the answer to this question. Knowing my foundational pieces, the anchor to my style, helps in knowing whether spending more on something might be worthwhile.

For me, part of the problem lies in the fact that my foundational items are not the sort that I need to spend a lot on, which may not seem like a bad thing except that it makes my whole wardrobe disposable. And these items work best for a casual life that I have half outgrown. Birkenstocks top out at around $100, and jersey tees soon get stained and worn out. Overalls look best the closer they are tied to their functional roots. So for me, the dilemma lies in knowing what could work as anchors of a more elegant and grown-up style, one that I'd like to move towards.

(Minor sidenote: A few years ago, I wasn't concerned with this question at all. My thinking was that I should indulge in the items that I wouldn't be wearing in a few years, and wear them while I still could and wanted to. Hence, I now have many impulsive purchases to be gotten rid of, but I don't exactly regret those purchases. They fulfilled the purpose I had for them at the time, and they gave me a lot of pleasure.)

Does it fit my lifestyle?
Fashion is all about aspirational thinking, which I think confuses the issue. You see pictures that provoke desire but have no correlation to your own life. It's easy to forget. And it's a fine line, when dressing is tied so closely to creating your identity, and sometimes you dress for who you'd like to be, rather than who you are at exactly that time.

I don't have fancy parties to go to, but I still thought I might get a lot of wear from the Rachel Comey Blithe tee I blogged about yesterday. I thought I might enjoy the incongruity of wearing something slightly formal as an everyday piece. But then I pictured myself in my day-to-day life and saw that a semi-sheer, oversized silk tee would inevitably tug downwards, become stained, and be relegated to a back drawer. So I packed it into a box to go back.

Is it weather appropriate for where I live, and how much out of the year will I wear it?
I'm still having to remind myself not to spend a lot of money on warm-weather clothes. Even now, out of habit, I want to buy pretty dresses and short-sleeve tops, but I know my money is better spent on cold-weather clothes that I'll be wearing most of the year. This question prompts you to think of the cost-per-wear of the item.

Do I have several like it already?
This one is a bit tricky. I think it's fine to have multiples of your foundational pieces. In fact, I'd love to have a uniform where all the pieces in my wardrobe are simply variations on a theme. But sometimes having many of the same thing means that none of them are exactly right, and it's time to stop and analyze what I'm really looking for. Too, I don't like to have items that are too similar or differ only by color because invariably there will be one version that I prefer and wear to the exclusion of the other. 

There are other questions that factor into the equation--like, how much do I love it, and is it worth the price asked--but these were the four questions that kept popping up into my head as I was sifting through my choices on that sleepless night. I'll be keeping them in mind the next time I want to buy something.


  1. This is a great post and I find myself constantly trying to stick to a set of rules I have carved out for myself. But sticking to the rules is a hard thing - I think invariably, it's human nature to want what you can't or shouldn't have. I've found myself departing from self discipline especially when the sale season comes around and particularly when I am extremely stressed out. Sorry for the ramble, but my point is that it's good to have rules, now if only we can find the determination to stick to it.

  2. I find rules so hard to follow as well! And I know what you mean by sales and stress. Those are exactly the emotions that tend to kill my best intentions.

  3. "For me, part of the problem lies in the fact that my foundational items are not the sort that I need to spend a lot on, which may not seem like a bad thing except that it makes my whole wardrobe disposable" -- I can relate to that. My foundation items are jeans and t-shirts, and there's very little to go from there since jeans last forever, and t-shirts are...t-shirts. It makes me start looking at all kinds of things.

    Perversely, yearning for things that I can't afford actually helps, because in the meantime inexpensive novelties seem to pale in comparison and I manage to avoid those moments of weakness.

    Oh, and I bought that green-grey APC blouse in your last post! I love it, and was v tempted by a striped version in the sales here, but I have to admit I don't need a third blue-and-white striped shirt...

  4. This is a really helpful post, it mirrors much of what I am currently mulling over in my mind, yet in a more succinct manner! I hadn't even considered my choices in relation to the weather, and the same applies here - my summer items will only get an airing once in a blue moon, whereas my more transitional/winter pieces will certainly come out often.

    I still occasionally give in to impulse purchases, sometimes plying myself with the excuse that I should wear it whilst i still can, but more often with a devil may care approach, if the cash flow allows. But I do need to step back here and assess the issue, because my closet space is now bulging with many items that I shall possibly never care to wear again. Sometimes the voice which informs us that our lifestyle may not match the clothes is eclipsed by a stronger, more impetuous voice that convinces me that the correct occasion 'will' arise eventually!

    Definitely food for thought. I am currently in the process of trying to make little changes which will guarantee a more balanced approach to shopping. yet what to do with the pile of unwanted items if you are Ebay-shy? Agh!

  5. Lin--I saw that you had the same shirt! It looked so lovely in your post. Between that and the pics on Creatures of Comfort and La Garconne, I decided that there was a good chance I'd like it. The pic on Saks made it look tight and constraining.

    I'm not sure what the solution to our problem is. Maybe spend more money on things like shoes instead? Well, even with tee shirts, I find that certain ones give me pleasure to wear because it's exactly how I like it. Maybe it's time to take a cue from the men, who are incredibly discerning about detail because their foundational pieces are so ordinary.

    Artsandghosts--I grew up in a hot climate, but now I live in a colder one. It makes no sense to spend a lot of money on stuff that will be packed away in boxes for most of the year.

    I myself am trying to get over my fear and aversion to eBay. I've brought things to secondhand stores like Buffalo Exchange and Crossroads before, but I know I only get a fraction of what I could get on eBay. I try telling myself that if I sell the stuff, I won't feel so guilty about the money ill spent. Haven't sold anything yet, but maybe soon . . .

  6. Great process of elimination to root out the ones that don't work and the ones that do!

  7. Thanks, L.L. Now to find the discipline to actually follow this process!

  8. I plan on taking these rules to heart when rebuilding my wardrobe after its purge. It's easier said than done though, discipline will be a hard campaign.

    Also, I'm a big fan of multiples. When I find a piece I love I like to get it in different colors so that no matter the color I know it will looks good on my body. I see what you mean about sometimes neglecting one item in favor of the other though. I have a dress in both navy and purple. I pretty much only wear navy in autumn/winter and the purple in spring/summer. I often consider getting rid of one until I remember how dispensable it is during its peak time of the year.

    Thanks for the post. It was a great refocusing for wardrobe building!

  9. Multiples would keep alleviate the desperation I feel when a favorite item nears the end of its life.

    Interesting how you designated a specific color for a particular season!