June 05, 2015

Lesson 218: My Journey of Style and Fashion

I've never discussed clothes on the blog before, mostly because I don't feel like I have much to add to the internet conversation on the subject. I don't have great style. I'm not thrifty or creative or up-to-date. I don't use a tailor. I'm not versed in ethical clothing practices. I don't care about what celebrities wear, and for the most part, I don't care about what you wear. It's quite a wonder to me how little I notice the clothes the people around me wear.

I do, however, go through phases where I consider the clothes I wear and today, I've decided to give you an overview of my clothes process. Because it has been that, a process. And even though I'm still not overly trendy, I have taken steps and changed the way I go about building my wardrobe.

And I'd like to share.

Clothes have always been hard for me. Growing up with three boys in the house didn't help, but it was more than that. I have never been able to pin down what I like and certainly have never had any idea about how to go about obtaining it. I didn't want to be boring and definitely wanted to feel comfortable, and it has all always been so confusing, so scattered. My mom would take me shopping, open and willing to buy me clothes, but I never wanted anything. I might have been the only high school girl in the history of 2000 to go into Abercrombie and Fitch and not find anything desirable.

Gabes didn't help either.

Gabriel Brothers, or Gabes, is this overstock warehouse store near my house, where it was possible to find all the important brands at ridiculously low prices. Gabes is lower than Marshalls on the clothing food chain, and as such, is often full of really weird clothes. The off colors. The strange prints. The optimistic cut. These are clothes other consumers have already passed on twice.

This was my dream shopping place through college. Where else could I find such an interesting style at such a reasonable cost?

Next came the overseas years, Ireland, China, Switzerland. I tried to pick up the European cool, but like every other stage of my fashion life, it was a mish mash of "huh"?!?

I love how my older brother rolls his eyes when he thinks about this stage of my life!

Purple leggings. (I still have the coat.)
When I finally returned to the states, I got pregnant at 25 (which was young in all my circles of friends), lived it up for a while in Gabes maternity clothes, and then lost twenty pounds postpartum.

Oh, and then we went to seminary (Read: No Money), and I entered the phase of acquiring everyone and their neighbors' hand-me-downs.

Four years passed, another baby was born, and you can only imagine the state of my closet. It was full to the brim with nothing to wear. Ill-fitting, immature, cheaply made pieces, most of which were not in flattering colors.


And then came minimalism.

Oh minimalism, how I love you!

Remember these posts. One / Two / Three / Four 

Minimalism was helpful in a number of ways.

First, after reading numerous posts of the concept, I finally began to feel the freedom to get rid of all the clothes that did not fit correctly, that I never wore, or that I simply didn't like. Some people do this purging all at once, but it's taken me about two years. Bags and bags of clothes have been donated or thrown out.

Immediately, I began to feel as if I owned more clothes than before. The idea is that when you look into your closet and love every item you see, it excites you to get dressed. You think, "Look at all these possibilities!"

Second, minimalism ingrained the idea in my mind that it was better to take a long, calculated approach to possessions, including clothes. This mindset kept me from rushing out and filling my closet again.

Rather than always buying something new, I learned to appreciate what I already owned. The goal is to be creative with using the items to keep from getting bored.

For me, this translated into a waiting game, an exercise in letting time pass. As you can see from my scattered past, I had no skills in building a comprehensive, age appropriate wardrobe. As I let go of more items and refused to buy new, I began to understand the needs of this life stage and to focus in on what kinds of clothes I habitually reached for.

What should the clothes of a 30-year old, northerner turned southerner, mother of three, who regularly spends time on a college campus and at church functions, look like?

I concluded that my first goal should be to own solidly constructed neutral basics, and here's the key, that perfectly fit me. No more buying almost right, but not quite right clothes. Almost right clothes never get worn.

Because I was taking a long term approach, I planned purchases, saved, and freely spent more money on items that were just right.

I bought a couple solid color dresses, a perfect white button down, Frye riding boots, and for Christmas (2013), Mark gifted me a Longchamp.

It's the only purse I've carried for a year and half now.

A dress like this! (Not that purse though).

Then I got pregnant again. And I don't know about you, but I refuse to spend money on maternity clothes. Thankfully, I don't typically get uber-large until month 8 and this time, my sister-in-law loaned me hers for the last month. Regardless, during this time I bought even less and got rid of even more.

We also moved.

And my closet shrunk. As in, the dimensions of my closet shrunk.

In Clover, I had a nice space that looked like this. These are terrible pictures, but you can hopefully get an idea about the size.

My new closet? Well, it's just not quite the same.

When we moved in, it was blue and had one bar.

But my husband has skills, and together we designed the space to work in such a way to meet my exact needs. The bottom bar is hung so that knee length dresses can fit, and the top bar allows enough space for women's shirts to fit. Along the left side is a stack of shelves for shoes, sweaters, and jeans.

Oh, and look, there's my seminary diploma. Because where else do you hang such a thing if you have no office?

What this decrease in space practically meant was ... you guessed it, more purging.

Finally by this point, I had gotten my closet to a place where I actively wore every item hanging.

After Ford was born, I specifically bought a few pick-me-up pieces. A stretchy navy top, a navy jacket, a fun printed scarf, a few graphic tees, and gray TOMS. As my body returned to normal, I felt confident in the new clothes and seemed to always have an outfit ready to go, even if I was wearing the same combinations again and again.

A few weeks ago a friend sent me a link to the blog, Unfancy. Caroline has recently finished documenting a full year of living with a capsule wardrobe. A capsule wardrobe is this concept going around minimalist circles, where you essentially choose a specific number of clothes to create a wardrobe for three months of the year. For three months, you only wear these clothes. The clothes are meant to interchange and go together in such a way that you can make endless outfit combinations. As the seasons change, you build a new wardrobe to fit your needs, though oftentimes certain pieces move from one capsule to the next. Most capsule wardrobes do not include accessories in the number.

Caroline's number is 37 items.

I've never latched on to the idea of a capsule wardrobe, mostly because it felt like way more planning that I could handle. I would occasionally read such posts with interest, but then move on. For the most part, I got rid of clothes.

Anyway, summer has come, and Caroline's blog is beautiful to look through. I found myself reading through her posts, making notes about the combinations of items she collected. It inspired me to see if I actually had been using the capsule concept all along without realizing it.

You'll make fun of me here, but I needed to visualize the wardrobe I had been wearing for the past winter / spring. This was a fun little exercise over breakfast one morning. I was shocked by the discoveries.

As I mentioned before, Caroline's minimalistic number was 37 without including accessories. I had been living predominantly on a wardrobe of 28 pieces ... including accessories.

I was more minimal than the minimalists!

The numbers made me realize that I had achieved my goal. I had put together a small collection of well-made neutral basics that I happily wore time and again.

But I still did not have a wardrobe.

The time had come to complete the look, to carefully add a bit of interest, in a thoughtful way. Rather than flippantly buying a colorful top that goes with nothing I own, the adding back had to be done with care. It had to be done with my go-to items in mind. New pieces had to provide such versatility that multiple outfits could be created with the inclusion of the one item.

Which is why I had to turn down the $20 skinny jeans from Anthropologie (that originally were $150). I already owned ones so similar that adding them to my closet provided no value.

It's also the reason I bought these black joggers from Gap. They offered a freshness, while coexisting happily with the clothes I already own.

On Tuesday I was itching to go shopping. I haven't been so excited about the prospect in years, because I felt so confident in knowing what types of items to look for. Poor Ford had to spend six hours at the Southpark Mall with me. It was so fun!

(On a quick aside, I'd like to mention that I just picked a random day to go shopping, not a "sale season" day, and everything was on sale. I point this out to say that sales are occurring all the time, and so there's no need to stock up out of fear of missing a sale. Sales are marketing ploys to entice you to buy more. Beware and be aware.)

I bought a lot of clothes. Well, a lot of clothes for me.

Two pairs of shorts, two pairs of pants, sandals, Converse-like sneakers, two sweaters, a cardigan, a basic white tee, and a bracelet.

The best part is that every piece fits interestingly in with the others I bought and the ones I already own. For the past few days, I have been perfectly giddy about getting dressed. In fact, I am so excited about the mixing and matching that's about to occur that I've contemplated picking up where Caroline has left off.

But I quickly realized I have no desire to spend all that time thinking about outfits, putting them on, posing, writing and editing the posts. The whole point of this concept is that you do some work up front and then never have to think about your clothes again, yet still look put together.

And I am no good at styling my hair, doing my make-up, or posing in attractive ways.

And even if I was good at those things, I don't have a photographer in my family.

At the end of the day, quality pictures are the point of a good fashion blog.

So, for now, rather than beginning an entirely new blog, I simply want to leave you with some thoughts. I hope this post is inspiring for you in whatever way it should be. Perhaps you need the freedom to let go of clothes or items that are dragging you down, making you feel unattractive or burdened. Perhaps you need to feel the freedom to save and purchase quality items that will last for years and be worn a lot of times. Perhaps you need to consider whether or not you are throwing good money at clothes that will never satisfy. Perhaps you need some encouragement to add a bit of interest to your wardrobe.

Perhaps you think I'm crazy, and you're thinking "For a person who doesn't think much about clothes, you certainly think a lot about clothes." Haha, based on this week, I have to agree with you!

Alright. So that's it. That's my journey of style and fashion. It's not over. There will always be editing. Clothes will wear out. Styles will change. And to be perfectly honest, I would love to eventually move towards a wardrobe that is amassed of items from ethical companies and / or local businesses, but I am just not there yet. It's expensive and it takes time to do the research.

Everything in life is a process, but I think simply owning less is certainly a step in the right direction.

Finally, just for fun. I'll give you one "clothes blogger photo shoot." Just so I can see what it feels like to stand awkwardly and not look at the camera.

P.S. I fully intend to embrace the front tuck.

Lesson Learned: Simplify, and things will be ... simpler.


  1. i love this, and i relate to so much. why can't i have been like sola and johanna and morph into a TOTAL fashionista post-college?
    i also hate shopping. my mom used to take me shopping and i would have to pray before hand because i always just became so immature and ridiculous because i just wanted to go home.
    i hate buying maternity and postpartum clothes. i'd MUCH rather just look dumpy.

    and i completely agree about the 37-piece wardrobe. i think i wear fewer pieces as well. i also can't imagine buying a new capsule every season. i don't shop that much as it is (but she says she SAVED money this way!)

    1. Amanda, I just think we were so meant to be friends!!! I think the thing that struck me from her blog, that I had never considered before, was how much shoes can change an outfit. She would allot 9 pairs for each season and I was wearing tops two. I have since moved to five pairs for the summer (including basic flip flops) and feel like my options are so much greater.

  2. Does this include exercise clothes/bummy things that you would wear when working around the house, or is this just clothes for when you will be "getting dressed"? I think taking away fav sweats and exercise shorts and work/sleep tees, I am pretty close to that with my most recent clean out because we needed to put laundry baskets in our closet so I had to make space. I think the thing I am missing is it being mix and match. I also get attached to things and then keep wearing them after they are falling apart. We joke at our house often about the FRIENDS episode where Chandler tells Monica she needs new clothes as she is describing the pants with the ink stain and the shirt with the hole, etc. I will raise my arm and Ryan will see w big hole on a cardigan and tell me how I need new clothes.

    I have been trying to loan out maternity clothes because I don't like wearing them either, but I have to usually start wearing them by 4 months. I recently purchased some nicer maternity pieces (bc I had bought many ill fitting this will work for now things). The new items don't look like maternity as much so they can be used post partum without feeling like I was still in maternity panel pants.

    1. Hey Lyns, This capsule thing does not include workout gear, bathing suits, underwear. I do think the ability to mix and match here is key, so maybe once baby is born that's direction I'd head purchasing in. As I said, my clothes are a wash when I'm pregnant. I usually have one shirt I actually like wearing to go out and see people, and usually just look not cute pregnant the rest of the time! :)

  3. Then again, I haven't actually counted so I could be at 237 and think I am doing pretty good and being optimistic. Haha

    1. Haha! I don't the number is as big of an issue as the feeling you get when you open your closet. Are you overwhelmed and can't seem to find anything or are you excited by the clothes you have an ready to wear them!


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