Thursday, 29 September 2016

How to wear more of the clothes you already own

I banned myself from shopping four months ago, in part because of the vast number of clothes in my overstuffed wardrobe that had barelyor neverseen the light of day. Having all those clothes I loved but didn't wear was making me anxious (in the same way having too many unread books on my bedside table does). 

I'm not alone in having a lot of unworn clothesvarious studies suggest this is common behaviour: one found women have an average of 22 items in their closet they never wear; another concludes people wear only about 20 per cent of the clothes they own

But just because it's common doesn't mean it isn't ridiculous. It is totally ridiculous! It's a waste of time and money, a waste of space and a waste of the planet's resources. So why do we do it?  I read this article yesterday by a consumer psychologist on the science of why we buy clothes we never wear. It sets out a few reasons for the behaviour, but I don't think you need to have a psychology degree to work out it's mostly due to poor decision making.

For  example:

  • You fall in love with a garment and simply must  have it even though you know it isn't quite right—maybe it sits a bit funny or it's half a size too small or you love the style but not so much the fabric.
  • You want to buy something—anything!—new because you're bored or sad or shopping online while tipsy (or all of the above).
  • You shop for the life you want, not the life you have—for example, you buy 'occasion' dresses for occasions that rarely present themselves; you buy a pair of gorgeous sky-high stilettos even though you know they'll be chambers of foot torture; you buy jeans that are too small because you plan to shed a few kilos; you buy something outrageous because you wish you were braver, quirkier, edgier.
  • You buy something you weren't sure about because the shop assistant/your friends/your partner said it looked great on you.
  • You buy a piece just because it's the latest fashion 'must have' or it's ridiculously discounted.
  • You buy things without considering whether they go with anything else you already own.
Don't lose your mind during the sales

But I don't think poor decision making accounts for my bulging wardrobe of rarely or never worn stuff. I feel quite confident in saying that at the age of 44 with 20+ years of shopping under my belt I have moved beyond this kind of poor decision making. I've been much more discerning about what I buy for years now. I'm essentially immune to the dictates of fashion (must-have schmust-have), I ask myself a lot of questions before deciding to shell out for something (even when it's on sale) and I have to LOVE it. If I don't love it, I leave it

So why do I have so many un(der)worn clothes? My problem isn't so much that I buy the wrong stuff; my problem is that I'm lazy and lack time and energy. Because Every Single Day is a struggle for me to leave my beloved bed, I don't give myself time to open my wardrobe doors, stand back and wait for ensemble inspiration to hit me, or to play around with an outfit if it turns out it doesn't look as good on my body as it did in my mind's eye. This means I often rotate through the same eight or ten outfits.  I have one particular outfit I wear on days when I have no or time or energy and don't want to put any thought at all into what I'm wearing, which happens most weeks. (It's a comfy green shift dress worn over a black top with black tights).

I usually have more time to get dressed on the three days I don't work, but still I often find myself wearing old favourites that are comfortable and that I already know will go with everything (or reaching for gym tights and a hoodie even when I'm not planning to do any exercise). I don't know why I do this when I love clothes and I enjoy the creative process of putting together an outfit! The laziness is strong in this one... (Has anyone written a Lazy Girl's Guide to Being Less Lazy?)

Because I'm lazy and/or chronically tired, I still haven't got around to properly 'shopping my closet' to come up with a bunch of ensembles I can throw on without much thought. I have been making an effort to wear more of my neglected clothing every daythat pair of faux leather leggings I forgot I owned; the ace black and blue men's tie I bought at an op shop more than five years ago because I loved the colour and pattern; those biker boots that sat neglected because I wanted to wear my new(ish) red boots all the time. I've even dragged out a few of my button up shirts for work even though they need to be washed and ironed (ugh) after one wear. Yesterday I wore a newish pair of boots that have been sitting under a chair in my bedroom long enough to collect a light coat of dust.

Rarely worn boots

I probably have no place giving advice on how to avoid only wearing 20 per cent of your wardrobe, but I'm doing it anyway. 

Before you shop: 

  • Work out what looks good on you, according to your own standards, not society's silly rules (remember: there are no fashion rules; only fashion opinions). If you think you and your voluptuous self are rocking those horizontal stripes, go for it.  Look at your favourite outfits—what exactly is it about them that you love? What do they have in common stylistically? Find the answers and use them to guide you on what to buy and what not to buy.
  • In a similar vein to the above, put some time and thought into defining your style. This blog has some good advice on how to pin down your style.
  • Once you have defined your style, think about whether a capsule wardobe is for you (great advice on this and many other fashion/style things here). Capsule wardrobes mean fewer clothes, but maximum wearability.  It's a highly curated (*cringe* I hate that word) wardrobe. 
  • Pay little heed to what's in fashion and focus instead on your own style (fashion is fleeting, style is forever, as they say). You do not have to have what the fashion media calls 'must haves'. They care more about advertising dollars than whether you look good or have a functional, value-for-money wardrobe.
  • Work out what you actually need to fill 'gaps' in your wardrobe. Is there an item you don't have that would pull together other pieces in your wardrobe you rarely wear into outfits you would actually wear? Do you have the basics covered? There are a billion lists of wardrobe essentials every woman must own floating around online, but use these only as a guide because we're all special snowflakes with different tastes and styles. (Nude pumps appear on heaps of these lists, but I hate nude shoes and will never, EVER consider them essential!) If you're like me, you probably don't have any gaps to fill (literally and figuratively). Once my shopping ban is over, I plan to only buy what I need, if I ever happen to need anything ever again! Realistically though, I know most people are still going to buy stuff just because they like it and want it. In which case...
Know your measurements for online shopping

When you're shopping: 
  • Take your time, pay more attention to what your gut and eyes are telling you, rather than the opinions of others (especially those who have a vested interest in you parting with your hard earned). 
  • When shopping online, know your measurements and pay careful attention to size guides (even though they can be hit and miss). Read customer reviews about fit and quality and look for reviews written by people with similar measurements (if provided). This has made me think twice about buying plenty of clothes, especially on sites with overpriced delivery and returns. Look at the description for information on what a garment is made from and avoid cheap, shitty materials. Always factor in the cost of shipping and returns when you are about to be seduced by what appears to be an absolute bargain. Those $40 shoes that turned out to be too big? Not as much of a bargain when you have to pay $40 to send them back. (Related: I have a pair of size 10 shoes to sell/swap/give away...)
  • In bricks-and-mortar shops, home in on the stuff that fits your defined style and filter out the rest. Me in the shops: heads straight for the racks of black and anything with black and white stripes (often only to be bitterly let down when the stripes turn out to be navy blue. Harrumph). 
  • Try it on! Pay close attention to fit. It doesn't matter how beautiful or expensive a garment is, if it doesn't fit properly, it won't look great and you won't feel great wearing it. Some fit issues can be easily fixed (too long, too baggy), but others take more work and are expensive. Leave it on the rack if you don't think you're really likely to bother having it altered to fit properly. This blog has some good pointers on how clothes should fit and also on the basics of tailoring clothes that don't fit right. There's also great advice on proper fit here and here.
  • Even if something is really cheap so you think it doesn't matter if you get home and it doesn't fit or flatter, still try it on. If you keep doing this, you will end up wasting a lot of money on a lot clothes you never wear.
  • Consider how a garment fits not only while you are standing still, but also during and after movement. Move your arms back and forth, do a few knee bends, sit down if there's a bench. Does it fall down, gape, ride up or pinch? Having to constantly adjust your clothing is a pain and not conducive to Rocking It. 
  • Look at the tag to see what a garment is made of—a high price does not always mean quality fabric. I avoid nearly everything made with rayon or viscose (which you can still find on the racks in pricier shops), because I don't like the feel and they generally don't wash and wear well. They end up looking crappy very quickly, which means you are less likely to wear them—and more likely to get rid of them after a few wears, which seems like a simple solution for you, but it really just moves the problem down the line, often all the way to landfill, where it will take decades to break down.
  • Look at the care instructions to see if a garment is machine washable. If you're like me, you hate ironing and prefer not to spend much money on drycleaning (although there are ways around those things. See here for tips on cleaning your supposedly dryclean-only clothes and here for ways to minimise or avoid ironing). Your knee bends and sit down should tell you how easily and how much a fabric will crease. Be realistic about whether you will care for it properly or whether it will spend most of its time waiting to be ironed or drycleaned and thus unworn. 
  • Remember that even a massively discounted item is not a bargain if you never wear it. 
  • Consider whether you really, really, REALLY love a garment and are likely to forge a long and happy relationship with it, or whether it's just a fleeting crush, even if it's not costing you half a week's pay. A good (albeit sometimes impractical) test is to hold off on buying something and wait a few days or a week. If it was just a crush, you'll get over it, but if you still think it has the makings of a grand love affair, go back for it. If your size is sold out, it's not the end of the world. Save your feelings of regret for things that really matter in life (like when you get to the patisserie and all the chocolate croissants are gone).
Do you really want to use this thing? 

After shopping (aka 'stern note to self'):
  • Sometimes you can't really tell until you take something home and wear in the real world whether it works or not. Maybe that top doesn't look as good with that skirt as you thought it would or the shoes you planned to wear with it are not quite the right colour. Make sure you return it straight away and don't just leave it hanging in your wardrobe. Maybe it shrank in the wash or stretched a bit too much with wear and it's no longer flattering or has to be constantly hoiked up, but it's too late to return it. If you can't (or don't want to) have it altered, get rid of it—swap, sell or donate. 
  • Keep everything where you can see it. Out of sight = out of mind = never worn. The last two dresses I bought before my shopping ban started were hanging in my spare room because I didn't want the pleats/gathers to get crushed in my packed wardrobe, and I then promptly forgot I ever bought them. (But despite moving them into my main wardrobe, I still keep forgetting they're there! Next week!) 
  • Shop/remix your closet. Cull the crap, make the most of what you keep. (Find more useful advice here.)
  • Plan ahead for what you will wear the next day.  
  • Set little challenges for yourself, like wearing something 'new' every day or wearing a different pair of shoes at work each day so the neglected stuff gets its moment in the spotlight. Today I'm wearing a pair of boots I haven't worn since last year. Maybe not since 2014, but I love them too much to ditch them.
Finally and not surprisingly, I recommend just not shopping! You could try it just for a few months to see how you go. You might be surprised. I've certainly been surprised by how little I miss it, how much I enjoy re-discovering the clothes I love, and how great it is not to have the constant craving to buy more. I'm also amazed at how much my attitude to shopping and spending has changed in a mere four months of not shopping. Of course I might be speaking too soon, but rather than simply giving up shopping for a few months, this challenge looks set to actually change my life (but more on that in another post). 

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Back away from the athleisure wear, Jayne

I've been doing quite a good job of wearing more of the neglected and never-worn clothes in my wardrobe on the four days a week that I work, but I'm struggling on the three other days. 

Unless it's one of those infrequent occasions that requires dressing up a bit, all I want to do is wear exercise gearlycra leggings, sneakers and a hoodie. Wearing sneakers a lot (albeit casual sneakers, not trainers) is nothing new for me because I don't own a car, which means I walk a lot and need to be comfortablebut I've rarely worn them in public with exercise gear, unless there is (or will be) actual exercise is involved.

But that changed when I bought lycra tights for the gym last year and everyone else was wearing their gym gear as casual attire (thus the term 'athleisure wear' was coined), so it was fashionablenot like wearing your saggy baggy trackies in public, which I will NEVER do.

Not that I really care about what's in fashion, but they're just so comfy, and the (Target cheapie) compression ones make me feel sleek, even though I think the flesh mostly gets pushed up into a muffin top.

Every Friday and Saturday when its comes time to get dressed I have a debate with myself about whether I'll just pull on my tights or wear proper clothes. I have so many proper casual clothes that I could beshould bewearing, it feels wrong to neglect them, but the lycra wins the debate about half the time.

Last Saturday I was pleased with myself for wearing a denim dress I haven't worn in months and a pair of boots I haven't worn in so long that I checked whether any spiders had taken up residence before putting them on. 

On Sundays I usually just go to the supermarket so I go straight for the lycra without any internal debate. I think I'll make it a rule that I can only kit up in athleisure wear on Sundays, if I'm going to yoga or on days where I'm not leaving the house. 

Thursday, 8 September 2016

I'll never be a hardcore minimalist

This is NOT the pool of minimalism

I've been dipping my toes in the pool of minimalism* since I started my shopping ban on 1 June. There's a lot I like about it, but other stuff that does not resonate with me AT ALL. I doubt I will ever be a fully committed minimalist - more of a moderate minimalist.

I like decluttering, but I don't feel the need to jettison everything that I don't absolutely need. And then go through my stuff and reduce it by half again. Some things I just like, you know? Some of my stuff I want to keep because I think it's beautiful and I like looking at it, or wearing it.  

The hardcore minimalists even encourage you to get rid of belongings you keep for sentimental reasons. The memory is in you, not in the object, they say. That may be so, but where is the harm in keeping something that brings up fond memories of someone you love or a happy time in your life when you look at it? 

My friend Victoria posted a photo of her bedroom in her new abode on Facebook during the week and on her bed was a teddy that her grandmother had given her when she was born. He has a key in the back and when you wind it, it plays The Wheels on the Bus.  That is just so, so precious. The thought of him being given away wrenches my heart a little (and he's not even mine!). You just don't get rid of that stuff.

Or you shouldn't. I have kept very little from my childhood (not that I had teddy as special as Victoria's) and I really wish I had kept more. I didn't appreciate that knitted teddy bear given to me by my great aunt when I was a kid (especially when my brother - the first born child - had a proper furry teddy bear), but I would love to have it now. 

There's other stuff from my childhood I wish I still had - like my mother's button tin, which ended up who-knows-where when my parents separated when I was 26. You know what I mean? The old tin that contains a random assortment of buttons leftover from years of sewing projects, or rescued from old clothes? Mum's was an antique oval chocolate tin with a lady on the lid and it was full of buttons, lots of little plain ones, but also some big ones, colourful ones and fancy glass and metal ones. I used to love playing with them, and sorting all the matching buttons into little piles. I wish I had thought to get my hands on it back then, but I guess the button tin wasn't exactly at the forefront of my mind at the time. 

I've done better at keeping sentimental things as I've got older. During a wardrobe clear out in the last year or two, I was going to donate the blue faux leather jacket I wore the day I met Luke - I still like it, but it doesn't fit anymore and it's not like it was expensive. But Luke told me I couldn't get rid of it because of its sentimental value (he's way more sentimental than I am, bless him). So I kept it and I don't regret letting it take up a few centimeters of hanging space in my wardrobe one little bit. 

When my Nanna died and we were cleaning out her place, nobody wanted her collection of china cup, saucer and plate sets and although they were very flowery and gilt-edged and not my style at all, I couldn't bear the thought of them going to an op shop, so I took them and I still have them and I love them, even though I don't have a suitable way of displaying them...partly due to lack of space. I also have some of her mixing bowls - she was a cook by trade and continued to bake tasty treats long into retirement - and I think of her every time I use them. 

So, no thank you, minimalist gurus, I won't be getting rid of the stuff I keep for sentimental or aesthetic reasons. If you change your mind about keeping something, that's easily fixed, but there's no way to get back stuff you ditched if you have a change of heart later. What are you going to do - go to the op shop to try to hunt down the woman who bought your old teddy with the intention of wrenching it from her kid's hands?

I think this hardcore approach to decluttering bothers me because it's so unemotional and shows no appreciation for beauty and the pleasure it can bring. For me, an emotional connection to things and the appreciation of beauty outweigh the pleasure of ruthlessly downsizing my possessions to the bare minimum...or at least I suspect so since I haven't done any ruthless downsizing for comparison. 

Another aspect of minimalism that annoys me is the way some minimalists can seem a bit sanctimonious and sneering, as if they think owning less makes you superior to someone with a house full of stuff. As if spending your money on experiences is inherently more worthy than spending it on goods. I can't say I've read anything explicitly stating views along these lines, it's more of a tone I detect...or maybe imagine because I feel as if I'm being judged for owning so many pairs of shoes. 

The question of wardrobe downsizing is one area where I find some minimalists are quite sneery, I guess because caring about fashion or style is so pointless and ditzy and superficial and ridiculous. The man who dies with the tiniest wardrobe wins, apparently. It's like they are engaged in a competition to see who can pare their wardrobe down to only a loincloth and a pair of thongs (the footwear kind). 

I will never be a wardrobe minimalist (as you've no doubt gathered already). Clothes aren't just for keeping warm/cool and covering my rude bits.  I love my clothes and shoes. I enjoy thinking about what to wear and putting together my outfits. I  love that feeling you get when you look in the mirror and know you are rocking that outfit like nobody's business. Many don't feel the same, and that's fine for them, but don't sneer at me or think me superficial because I have a lot of clothes and get pleasure from looking good.

But I'm a total hypocrite because I can be sanctimonious and sneery too, like when I see stuff like this on Pinterest: 
I just think, "What sort of a life is that?" I feel sorry for people who are on this work-consume-work treadmill.  There's so much more to life than working and consuming (this part of minimalism I'm totally on board with). Leaving aside the moral and ethical issues inherent in excess consumption, if they are happy, then I should just STFU. It's their life, their money, and their business.

Ultimately, the minimalist movement is broad and I've only explored a small part of it so far (the hardcore sanctimonious part, it seems).  Perhaps I need to seek my minimalism inspiration and advice elsewhere. I've not read any Marie Kondo, the new doyenne of decluttering, but I suspect her approach might be more my style given she lets you keep things that "spark joy".