Four Years of Dressing with Less

Aug 27

The Story

August 9, 2010, just after noon. I must have stumbled across Courtney’s Minimalist Fashion Project post while eating lunch. I read it several times, thought about how I’d been longing to simplify my closet. I wanted a wardrobe in which everything fit all of me–my body, my style, my values.

I left a waffling comment:

I think I’m in. My fall / winter clothes are packed away, so I’ll have to go to the basement and see what I would want to keep for the project! I love this idea!

Boy, did I ever love it. October 1 will mark four years during which I’ve kept a minimalist closet. I’ve written about it for the Project 333 site, as well as here. I’ve persuaded IRL friends, Twitter pals,clients, and blog readers to give it a try. The initial reactions to the project are often the same: fascination, trepidation, sometimes a defensive “I don’t even wear 33 different items” (often recanted when the speaker goes back to her closet and counts), and sometimes “I don’t like the way my clothes look. How could I find 33 items I’d wear for three months?”

My response to all reactions is the same: give it a try. Just one round of it. Box up what you’re not wearing that round, and see what happens. You don’t have to give it all away, but I’m betting once you get hooked, you’ll give away a lot of those boxed clothes. And I’ll bet you’ll get a better sense of what does flatter you, and as you build your small wardrobe, you’ll be happier and happier with how you look each day.

Project 333 morphed into Project 52/52–ending on Sunday–and that morphed into Project Ethical Elegance.

I asked on Twitter and Facebook what folks want to know about dressing with a minimalish (yes, -ish!) wardrobe. Here are my responses to questions–please feel free to share your own experiences and questions in the comments.

Questions

How do you incorporate “outsiders” in your wardrobe–the occasional colors to brighten up the uniform? Since the 90s when I realized New Yorkers (most city women) wear black to hide dirt just as much as for its chic factor, I’ve been a devotee of black. During my early Project 333, I shifted to gray–I’m no longer a city dweller, and I wanted something ever-so-slightly off of the expected. Last year when I gave up dye and grew out my silver hair, I felt a strong need for color, and I turned to accessories for that bit of bright. Over the past four years, I’ve invested in an orange handbag, a chic pink scarf, a red DKNY cozy. I think hard about each accessory, try to imagine using it with every option in my closet. This spring, I got a ton of compliments when I carried my orange bag and wore m hot pink rain coat. Underneath? Gray sheath dress, fishnets, and gray Malibrans. Accessories are like the party-in-the-back part of a mullet!

Do you feel like you have enough options? I do! After almost four years, I’ve filled wardrobe gaps, found pieces that offer flexibility (check out the DKNY cozy linked above). Accessories (do I sound like a broken record?) help. I may only have two belts, but I have scarves that I also wear as belts. I may have gotten bored a few months ago, but it wasn’t the lack of options!

How do you keep from being stinky? This question really cracked me up, but I was assured it was serious. I rarely wear perfume, and I avoid smokers like the plague, so I don’t get too much environmental stink on my clothes. The first “term” of Project 333, my dryer was broken, and it was a chilly fall (read, not much outdoor clothesline action). I was pretty stingy about how often I washed clothes. I have plenty of undergarments to see me through a week without laundry, and unless I spill, I can wear my black pants, jeans, and skirts several times without washing. If you don’t have a washer/dryer at home, it’s easy enough to do a quick hand wash of that day’s clothes in the sink. Very few of my items require dry cleaning.  Most of the time, if I’m in a sweaty situation, I’m wearing my work out or cleaning clothes. Finally, I wear an apron at home, in the kitchen, when I’m working in my sketchbook, sometimes if I’m out in the yard with the dogs. That’s more to prevent stains than stink, I guess.

How do I deal with relatively inexpensive jewelry I don’t wear but was gifted to me? This can be a pickle, but I’ve used a few different approaches. First, I’ve shared with the folks who tend to buy me costume jewelry that I don’t need or want about my project before a gift-giving occasion. Another option is to see if you can create something you would love to wear out of the pieces. My talented bff Sara of Et Voila Design, for example, will take your unworn bijoux to create a stunning OOAK piece that will preserve the sweet intention behind the gift and let you enjoy it.

How do you deal with those deep-season items that are essential at the weather extremes, but not really used at any other time? I like to layer, which makes many of my warm weather pieces adaptable to cold weather. For instance, my Karina dresses are short-sleeved or sleeveless, making them perfect for summer. With a light cardi, they work in early fall and late spring. Add a heavier sweater, and I’m set for winter. Add tights or no, pull on boots or sandals: endlessly flexible. As far as heavy winter coats and boots? I streamline what I have, purchase with flexibility in mind, and accept that living in New England means I can’t do without cold-weather gear.

I get bored easily with my clothes, even now that I buy fairly nice clothes. Not designer, but well made clothes for work. Do you get bored? In nearly four years of dressing minimalishly, I’ve only gotten bored once, about halfway through 52/52. I love the challenge of styling what I have in new ways (and since tights don’t count, I’ve amused myself by building a small, funky collection). Accessories, selected with care and an eye to edginess, help a lot. Project 333 is great because it only lasts three months, and I don’t know about you, but I can do almost anything for three months. At the end of each three month session, I refined my closet. I thought about what I’d been missing, what would have made me even happier when I got dressed. And then I made those very specific purchases (I’m looking at you, hot pink pleated rain coat!).

How do I get my husband to throw out stuff he hasn’t worn since college? Courtney wrote a terrific post on how to live with family who aren’t participating in your changes. When Neal saw how easy my refined wardrobe made my life, how having an emptier closet brought me more ease, he made some changes to his own closet. 

What do you do when you look into the closet and you hate every single thing in there? I suck it up. It’s only happened one or two times, and it’s usually just my bad attitude that I have to smack back to its cave. By considering what makes me feel good (for me, that means well put together, like if Cary Grant suddenly stepped out of a movie and asked me to go for a drink, I wouldn’t be ashamed of how I look), what flatters me, and what is aesthetically pleasing to me, and investing in those pieces over time, I’ve made it easier to love my closet every day.

I still struggle with balancing a work vs weekend wardrobe…suggestions? Working as a professor makes this a little easier for me than if I worked in a company requiring a more corporate dress code. I don’t dress much differently on the weekends than I do for work. During the summer, I wear dresses or skirts and a tank top or t-shirt. I have work out and cleaning clothes that don’t count towards my 33 or 52 items. I love wearing my black slacks, a tank, and cardi to work with Fluevog Malibrans, and with my Ugg sneakers on the weekend. I have a few dresses that I’d never wear on the weekend, but most of the items, by changing out accessories, are great for running errands, visiting, or even hanging on my porch, writing or drawing. Honestly, I like feeling well put together when I pick up my CSA share!

Intrigued?

If you’d like to start Project 333 (you can start any time; there’s no reason to wait), but you’re feeling a little anxious about cutting down the wardrobe, I recommend you start with Courtney Carver’s excellent Micro-Course Dress with Less: Click here to view more details.* The course is a week-long, and it includes pdf worksheets, playlists to inspire you (Courtney’s a real Mix Master), and access to a private FaceBook group, where you’ll find lots of people ready to cheer for you and answer questions.

And if you have any questions about paring down your wardrobe, well, I’m here for you. I’d love to chat with you about your clothing list-sometimes it helps to hear that you really can get by with one pair of black pants!

Are you intrigued? What’s holding you back?

 *Please note: I am an affiliate for this program. I believe with all of my heart in Courtney’s work. Almost four years in, I know her advice works!

Read More

Find 20 Minutes: Wardrobe Edition

Aug 19

What could you do with 20 free minutes?

  • Bang out 500 words of your novel
  • Strengthen your body with push-ups, squats, jumping jacks, toe touches, and maybe a bit of hoola hooping
  • Sketch your surroundings
  • Write a letter
  • Weed a flower bed
  • Nap
  • Play catch with your kids

For most of my adult life, I’ve had a love affair with my wardrobe. I loved to shop. My stylish mom ravishes sales with her keen eye and frugal nature and lavishes me with her finds. I love to finger fabrics, to try on shoes. I love the promise of a new purse.

But look at the ways this love affair steals time:

  • shopping and trying on clothes
  • maintaining clothes
  • creating outfits
  • trying on clothes to find the just-right fit and perfect outfit for the day

I moved my giant wardrobe from my little New York co-op (oh, it had a closet worthy of my wardrobe) to my adobe casita in New Mexico (featuring two big closets! For me, just one person!) to the little yellow ranch in the woods of Connecticut. Little all around. Little-tiny-crammed closet became the new wardrobe normal.

And it was too much. I spent way too much time dealing with my wardrobe. I couldn’t see what I had; everything was crammed together, which meant I had to press clothes every morning. I had no sense of what needed repair. The time thief was winning.

One decision thwarted the thief.

Three years ago, I joined Project 333.

Sure, I resisted it, even as I longed for it. Thirty-three items? How could I possibly?

Let me distill how Project 333 (or a similar endeavor; the numbers are arbitrary) can help you find 20 minutes:

1. Less time shopping. If an item in my minimal wardrobe wears out, I decide if I want to replicate or replace it. In either case, I strategize before I buy. I know what I have, so I don’t spend much time wondering if a replacement will match anything in my wardrobe. And I no longer shop as a hobby.

2. Maintenance is a snap. I have less laundry, and because my closet is not crammed, clothes don’t crumple in the closet. It takes me a matter of minutes to asses the state of hems and buttons.

3. Mix and match. Everything goes with everything in my wardrobe. I selected a neutral (gray) and chose my wardrobe around that. I’d be willing to bet that I can get dressed with my eyes closed and not embarrass myself.

4. Everything’s Perfect. I also eliminated clothes that were not really my style, which I’d call tailored romantic. If they don’t fit my style, they don’t stay in my closet. I feel like my outside reflects my inside every time I get dressed. My wardrobe may be limited, but it takes me through work days, teaching workshops at the local yarn store, dinners out, and tromping around the 4-H fair.

If you’ve been toying with the idea of dressing with less, I recommend you start with Courtney Carver’s excellent Micro-Course Dress with Less: Click here to view more details.* The course is a week-long, and it includes pdf worksheets, playlists to inspire you (Courtney’s a real Mix Master), and access to a private FaceBook group, where you’ll find lots of people ready to cheer for you and answer questions.

And if you have any questions about paring down your wardrobe, well, I’m here for you. I’d love to chat with you about your clothing list-sometimes it helps to hear that you really can get by with one pair of black pants!

What are your tips for finding 20 minutes in your wardrobe?

*Please note: I am an affiliate for this program. I believe with all of my heart in Courtney’s work. Having done Project 333 for almost three years, I know her advice works!

PS: Want to find out where your time is hiding like so many quarters under the sofa cushion? Registration for my micro-course You Have Time is now closed, but you can sign up to be notified about upcoming sessions!

Read More

Want to Dress with Less?

Apr 08

I’ve written many times about Project 333‘s impact on my life. Here’s a recap:

  • I always feel stylish and put together. The clothes in my closet are in good repair, fit perfectly, and suit my style.
  • I save time. I don’t waffle about what to wear every day, and it doesn’t take long to maintain a small wardrobe.
  • I save money. I rarely purchase new clothes now where once I shopped as a hobby. When I do identify an item I’d like, I spend time considering how it will fit in my wardrobe, why I want it, and then I purchase a high-quality garment that I can wear for years.
  • I learned a lot about myself and my values.

A little later this year (mid-June), I will embark on a new minimalist fashion project: 52/52. I will narrow my year-round wardrobe to 52 items, which I will wear for the entire year. Linda is taking on the challenge, too.

If you’d like to join me and Linda, or start Project 333 (you can start any time; there’s no reason to wait), but you’re feeling a little anxious about cutting down the wardrobe, I recommend you start with Courtney Carver’s excellent Micro-Course Dress with Less: Click here to view more details.* The course is a week-long, and it includes pdf worksheets, playlists to inspire you (Courtney’s a real Mix Master), and access to a private FaceBook group, where you’ll find lots of people ready to cheer for you and answer questions.

And if you have any questions about paring down your wardrobe, well, I’m here for you. I’d love to chat with you about your clothing list-sometimes it helps to hear that you really can get by with one pair of black pants!

Are you intrigued? What’s holding you back?

 

*Please note: I am an affiliate for this program. I believe with all of my heart in Courtney’s work. Having done Project 333 for almost 2.5 years, I know her advice works!

Read More

Perfect Handbag, Redux

Sep 23

Kym asked what bags were in the running for Perfect Handbag, so I thought I’d post links (dudes, I’m too lazy to save and upload all those pictures. Clickity click. It will be fun and worth it.) with comments about what I like or what is missing.

Jill pointed me to the Kelly Boy Bag. It is *so* close to perfection. I’m just not sure how I’d like the removable/adjustable velcro dividers. I’d have to mess around with them in person to tell.

I’ve long been a fan of Floto Imports and have a number of their bags, so I know the high quality I could expect from the Livorno Bag, but it is missing a key fob, a water bottle pocket, and pen slips. Still, that blue leather makes my heart sing.

Clare Vivier’s La Trop, in brown no less, has the classic, elegant look I crave, but, in the end, brown is wrong for me, and where are the pockets? Still, I’d use the heck out of this if I had it!

Covet by Rebecca Minkoff is also tres elegant. I like the sleekness of the bag, but I couldn’t put an A4 folder in it.

Jutta Neumann’s work is stylish and cool. She doesn’t show any interiors, though, so I’ll have to go to NYC to take a look in person (really, I’m astounded at how few sites selling bags give enough information about the interiors). I have a belt I purchased from her back in 2000-ish, and it makes me happy with its simplicity every time I wear it.

CrystalynKae Troubadour Bag has great interior pockets, but no flap, outside pockets, or cross-body strap. One of my colleagues swears by CrystalynKae bags, and I was impressed by the one she carried.

I would wait for the Kate Spade Algonquin Campbell to go on sale (Kate Spade runs great sales), but really, I want the handles to be long enough to wear on my shoulder, and there’s the water bottle issue. Still, like the Covet, I like it’s sleekness.

The biggest contenders right now come from MZ Wallace: the Jane, and, after consultation with @MZWallaceNYC on Twitter, the Haley is getting the highest score from me. It isn’t leather, which means it will be lighter weight (the Livorno is 3.5 pounds!), and while there is not a dedicated water bottle pocket, my new Twitter friend tested out a 16.9 oz. water bottle in one of the front pockets and called it perfect. So, the only drawbacks are the lack of pen slides (fine, I’ll start carrying my pencil case) and a key fob.

MZ Wallace is also getting a thumbs up for providing useful information about their bags’ interiors. I’d still like pictures, but the sketches and strong descriptions go a long way. The best place I’ve found for learning about a bag’s qualities is Zappos. They’ve created videos for many of the handbags they sell, which show the bags on regular people, who also open up the bag and show off the pockets and other features.

Kelly suggested that I find something close on Etsy or Artfire and ask the artisan to customize a bag for me. I have been scouting around, but have not yet found anything that makes my heart sing. Still, I’m closing in on my quest.

What have you been hunting for lately?

 

Read More

Tall, Organized Female Seeks Perfect Handbag

Sep 14

If you follow me on Twitter, I’m probably on your nerves at this point with all my complaints and sighs as I seek the perfect handbag. So many that I look at are *this close* to perfection, but none are quite there.

Or, some may be, but I can’t tell because the designer’s website images are so 1930s-sex-scene that I can only imagine what happens when that zipper is opened.

Maybe you can point me in the right direction. Here’s the list of demands:

  • Handles long enough to fit on my (narrow) shoulder even when I wear a bulky sweater and/or winter coat.
  • Removable cross-body strap for those moments when I want to be hands (and shoulder) free.
  • Beautiful leather and craftsmanship (I know, the irony of the vegetarian who craves beautiful leather. I make efforts, just not with this bag. I’m sorry, dear animals) (Okay, waxed canvas would do if Moop would custom-make my bag).
  • Silver hardware. I rarely wear gold. Don’t make me send mixed metal messages.
  • Easy to open flap.
Now to the storage. Pockets. I want them. Here’s what I need:
  • Slip pocket on back, ideally large enough to hold a full manila folder or a magazine. I promise to put only high-quality magazines in that pocket.
  • Interior zip pocket against back wall.
  • Key fob. Don’t make me fish for those keys, please!
  • Dividing zip pocket. Make it large enough to hold iPad 2 in its wool case, and I shall swoon.
  • iPhone + smidge (for George’s sweater) interior pocket against front wall.
  • Two pen/pencil slips against front wall. Not too deep, please. I need to get the pen/pencil out of its slip at some point.
  • Moleskine pocket-sized journal pocket. Next to the pen/pencil slips and iPhone pocket works.
  • Outside front, under flap, a small zipped pocket for sundries.
  • Outside on side, a water bottle sized pocket. Not a disposable water bottle, but a Sigg-sized bottle.
I’ve found some bags that are close, but I’m holding out for just-the-right-bag. What’s on your list for the perfect handbag? Have any suggestions where I might find mine?
Read More

Eleven Thirty-three

Sep 02

Flippity flops

I don’t think I wrote about my summer Project 333 endeavors at all, so let me create a recap. I decided at the end of the spring P333 that I was going to shift the time frame for the summer to encompass mid-May through August: my non-teaching months. Here is what I included.

Clothes

1. Gray a-line skirt

2. Blue a-line skirt

3. Black dress

4. Denim skirt (I only wore this a few times; don’t love the fit, so I’ll donate it)

5-8. Black tank tops

9. Gray tank top

10. Black cap-sleeved top

11. White striped sweater

12. Blue sweater

13. Bone cardigan

14. Casual jeans

15. Green pants

Accessories

16. Sunglasses

17. Moop Paperback bag

18. Beige silk wrap

19. Jewelry (if I counted the jewelry I wore separately, it would include my friendship bracelets, silver bracelets, four necklaces, a watch, and two rings…but I decided after the first round that jewelry counts as one item for me)

Shoes

20. Fluevog wedges

21. Flip flops

22. Ballet flats

Ahh, the living really is easy in the summer! I pulled out a few items that I thought I would want to wear, but none of them saw real rotation in my closet, so I will pack them away or donate them. I did also wear black slacks and shoes not on the list when I attended a wake. Overall, though, the laid back nature of my summer made it easy to really pare down my closet.

What did I learn?

  • Good flip flops are worth the price. I’ve worn through more Old Navy flip flops than I can count. This summer, I splurged on a pair of Havaianas, and they feel SO good on my feet.
  • Skirts are far more comfortable than shorts. I’ve only worn shorts when biking or hiking this summer, and I haven’t missed them one bit.
  • Skirts are flexible. I’ve worn the gray a-line skirt most often, and I’ve worn it while sitting on the deck reading, meeting friends for lunch, and enjoying dinner out with Neal.
  • Accessories make dressing fun. I enjoy changing the look of an outfit by adding a scarf or wearing a stack of bracelets. I don’t need a lot of accessories, yet I don’t feel restricted by a limited wardrobe when I have my favorite accessories on hand.
  • I need less than I imagine. Far less. But I learned that during the first round of P333, didn’t I?
I’ve completed 11 months of Project 333, and they have been life changing. I still have some bins of clothes to sort through, clothes I didn’t know if I wanted to give up. Most of them will be donated as I prepare to embark on my next elegant, minimal style project. Stay tuned for more on that!
What have you loved wearing this summer?

 

 

Read More
Skip to toolbar