Monday, July 9, 2018

Ideal Wardrobe Outcomes

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Recently, quite a few of my favorite bloggers wrote about their approaches to building their wardrobe and, through that, some described what their ideal wardrobe looks like, what qualities it has and, possibly, what ideal quantity of clothes it would contain. These are themes that almost all of my favorite blogs talk about sometimes, actually, everyone who writes about clothing and shopping with some regularity, at least! 

More broadly, I also enjoy when people discuss the limits of minimalism for themselves and their lives, and either feeling like or being told "you spent too much" or "you consumed too much", whether to be a "proper" minimalist, or a "proper" frugal person. Those are definitely thoughts I relate to.

One of the recurrent themes to my writing here is anxiety about not being a good enough minimalist because (a) many things I buy (especially for work) are from mid-range mall brands with fast fashion production practices, and (b) I shop a lot, by both minimalist and frugal-person standards. One could very reasonably argue that I have plenty of money to make better consumption choices than I do, from an ethics perspective, but well, that may not be fully compatible with some of my personal finance-related values, which I'm increasingly finding might not easily allow for the big distant future designer splurges I used to dream of saving my way to earning, because those values put a ceiling on the price points I'm willing to consider in many shopping categories. Also, the biggest factors in all my spending decisions are my still gigantic and scary student loans ($2,500+ a month!), for at least the next four to five years or so, most likely, which can be expected to take me right up to when financial obligations to family, especially to the kids I hope to have, really "get real".

Then there's the anxiety about not fitting in to my particular segment of my profession, which sometimes feels dominated by people from wealthy backgrounds, because of those same more affordable mid-range mall brand clothes I stick to, even if I'm pretty sure I'm not actually being judged for that.

What would my own ideal wardrobe look like? 

First things first, I definitely don't have an ideal total number of items in mind. I got into minimalism blogs back when capsule wardrobes just started gaining traction (Un-Fancy was still a fairly new blog back then, for instance), and most of my biggest influences were bloggers who had done most of their fashion and shopping-related posts quite some time ago, and who were winding down their interest in fashion and shopping, or even their blogs entirely (think Assembled Hazardly and La Nife en L'air) by the time I started reading. So capsule wardrobes were never really something they discussed, and I wasn't primed to look in that direction as the idea got more popular.

I find the capsule wardrobe idea appealing as a theoretical matter, how clean uncluttered a closet would be if it contained only a small, discrete number of well-loved pieces, every one of them comfortable and that one is thrilled to wear. I also agree there probably exists an optimal, "perfect" number somewhere, at which one doesn't "need" anything more (and that it's a surprisingly small number, relative to what advertisements say or imply). I'd feel a genuine sense of "everything as it should be" accomplishment if I could find that number, but realistically, I just didn't think it was practical for my needs or my habits. I feel like capsule wardrobes generally have their biggest shortcomings for people with a lot of different wardrobe "needs", whether that's from a job with a restrictive dress code, extreme weather patterns (who really ever derives KonMari-esque joy from a puffy down coat and snow boots? not me, at least, but they're definitely necessary in some parts of the country), or for sports, things like that.

For me, the primary sticking point that ensures a numerical limit-based approach would never work for me is my business casual, sometimes business-formal office dress code. I like to joke that it's "casual business casual" because, in most NYC biglaw offices, there's room for women who enjoy fashion to try and wear some trendy things that aren't traditionally seen as conservative enough for work, but make no mistake, there are also tons of unspoken rules and expectations still. Lots of people out there are secretly mean and judgmental about these things, there exist judges at prominent federal courts who think black skirt suits are the only appropriate courtroom attire for women, court staff definitely are snarking about inappropriate shoe or other attire once they're in private, etc. etc.

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I don't enjoy conservative business formal attire at all, neither the heels nor the suits, but understand that it's absolutely necessary for court and interviews, so that's several pieces of my work wardrobe I dislike, but that need to be in there. I also don't particularly enjoy most business casual either, but it's necessary and gets the job done.

I've sometimes commented, over at JENKR's, who also discusses this theme, that it can be really wonderful to find something that's good for both work and weekend, to start making that work wardrobe feel more "me" and create some overlap between it and my "for fun" wardrobe, but that's an extremely rare thing (seen most vividly in the J.Crew Open Sweater Blazer and the J.Crew Factory version). (That's an idea I think fellow law-person A at Posts Factum also touches on.) Because so much of my total wardrobe is necessarily taken up by all these work clothes I just don't enjoy, the idea of trying to refine the numbers (either of my whole wardrobe, or even just the work portion) just doesn't appeal, even if it is probably possible to create a streamlined "work capsule" and a separate very small "weekend capsule" for each of the seasons.


Having so much of my week taken up by dressing for work probably leaves me free to come up with a remarkably slimmed down and super minimalist-seeming tiny wardrobe for casual wear, actually. If I did laundry for my light-colored clothing often enough, I'd be perfectly happy with just the above set of clothing, two tops (both from Uniqlo ages ago, they've only stocked more traditional-looking breton-striped tops since) and a single standard pair of dark skinny jeans (mine are from Gap now), for all my spring and fall weekends. For summer, two or three short-sleeved or sleeveless summer dresses in some combination of linen, cotton, silk, or rayon (currently the older design of the Grana v-neck silk slip dress, an Old Navy tie-neck rayon shift dress, and a Madewell silk-cotton blend dress I bought secondhand) and a pair of FitFlops is all I really need and actually wear. Because temperatures have been all over the place sometimes, that long Uniqlo linen-blend open cardigan I bought mainly for work has also been seeing tons of weekend wear (it looks great over dresses).

Please follow the link below for some additional thoughts about ideal outcomes for new purchases!

What's the Ideal Outcome for Each New Purchase? 

This is a somewhat related idea that's almost entirely inspired by Luxe's recent post about her approach to shopping, where after lots of trial and error as a longtime savvy shopper, she's determined that resale value is often the best criteria for her new purchases. It's an unique perspective, whether one approaches the question from a minimalist wardrobe-building standpoint or personal finance one. The logic there makes a ton of sense to me, though in actual practice, I don't think my tastes in clothing or where I prefer to shop, and the (minimal, near-zero) amount of time I'm willing to put into researching the market or into listing my items for resale, makes it quite as workable for me personally.

My own "ideal outcome" for each new purchase is to end up with something I love and that is practical and comfortable, so that I can wear it all the darn time, for a wide range of occasions (the most illustrative examples would be the Longchamp Le Pliage Neo large tote, a good pair of skinny jeans, or the Sam Edelman Loraine Loafers I've been liking for both work and weekend). I'm not the most careful with my items (though I am careful with laundry and don't put anything I'm fond of in the dryer, ever) and don't baby my shoes or handbags. Plus I tend to get attached to my favorite items and want to wear them until they're worn down well past the point when other people would replace them. Ideally, I want to love and wear my things to their natural death.


In one typical case, I loved these old Nine West moto boots so much that I was thinking seriously about getting them resoled when I took this photo, only to realize I'd already worn a hole into the leather on the side of the outer edge of one boot. I was really sad to lose them! And well, even this very low-quality photograph shows how raggedy-looking they were by that point, lots of salt stains I could never fully clean off. So the items that are the best value for me and were "ideal" purchases are likely not to be nice enough to resell by the time I get through with them. (I probably couldn't ever wear any pair of shoes this long past the point of presentability again, now that I'm a working adult. I was still a law student back then!)

As I thought about Luxe's points, though, I realized there was a lot of good food for thought there, even with my "love it all to death" approach to my clothes, shoes, and accessories. Even when one knows their own tastes in fashion very well, mistake purchases still happen. Though I was years into my minimalism-ish, careful and conscious shopping journey, I was embarrassed to have made several mistake purchases last year. As Luxe points out, tastes and bodies change. Also, in my experience, certain items aren't likely to take on much noticeable wear and tear even with long-term use, and will never be "loved to death" in the normal course of day to day life. (I suspect my Cuyana Classic Tote will look close to new forever, given the nature of the leather and that I only  really carry it on weekends.) While, for the most part, fashion is almost never a true "investment" in the sense of expecting real long-term profit or returns (unless one is collecting Birkins or Kellys, or similarly classic designer handbags, maybe?), it seems smart to me, and totally makes business and budget sense, to try and minimize lost value and attempt to recover some of the costs of no longer wanted items, if one is so inclined (and has a lot of patience for listing items for resale).

Plus, as far as the minimalism piece of it goes, I'm pretty sure dispatching things to the resale market  (if a sale can be made successfully) is among the better possible outcomes, certainly more likely to lead to someone out there getting some more use out of the item than almost any donation option. I'm also under the impression that some of the most popular slow and ethical fashion brands (Elizabeth Suzann is always the most obvious example to me because I just don't know that market that well) have a pretty robust resale market, so something like Luxe's approach would be a pretty natural thing for someone who shops in that market?

Anyway, the takeaway here is that I found these ideas very interesting and worth thinking about. I don't think I could ever put it into practice for my entire wardrobe myself, given how heavily my tastes and work wardrobe needs lean towards those mid-range mall brands that definitely don't have great resale value, nor that much durability or longevity, nor many people out there looking to buy,  certainly not for someone like me who completely lacks the time or will to list items individually on eBay or Poshmark. As Adina and Penny have noted recently, most of your used clothes are probably not worth as much as you hope, most of the time.



Just for fun, my ThredUp resale history, which I'm actually quite satisfied with, can be seen above.  Obviously the average compensation per item is quite low. I tend to send in mostly J.Crew, Ann Taylor, and Loft-type clothes that have some signs of wear, with some things like Old Navy or Uniqlo thrown into the mix on occasion. That first bag with 15 items had mostly H&M and Forever21, items bought long before I started blogging here. Most of what I've sent to ThredUp over the years predate this blog, actually, and it shows how slow I can be about admitting and accepting that I'm probably never going to wear something again. (That bag I got $142.30 for is highly atypical! It had two items that probably would have been worth spending my time to list individually, namely a Rebecca Minkoff MAB Tote and a Diane von Furstenberg Zarita Dress, and that's where most of the payout came from.)

After I took this screenshot, though, they finally processed my most recent bag, and accepted much less than usual, mostly on consignment, for a whopping $0 upfront payment. That's despite everything being of similar condition and from similar brands as previous bags, so maybe their  selection practices and payouts are changing a bit.

Also, do people seriously run around and tell people they're being bad minimalists or bad personal finance people right on their social media or their blogs, or to their faces? I'm extremely well-acquainted with people's capacity to be mean and judgmental on the internet, of course, though luckily not from personal experience, so I definitely don't doubt it. I'm just shocked that people are so rude! What's your "ideal outcome" for new purchases? Do you tend to put much effort into reselling items that are still in good condition? Have you had pretty good luck with that? 

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