A Guide to Savvy Shopping – Part Four: The Capsule Wardrobe

About twice a year I go through a ritual purification regime called ‘culling my wardrobe’. Once I’m finished I always feel somewhat free. It is an altogether liberating experience, which begs the question, if it is so liberating to get rid of a lot of ‘stuff’, why did I buy it in the first place? We live in a society where the ‘stuff’ you have appears to carry some great significance. To many and often to ourselves it defines who we are and how successful we’ve been.

A while ago my husband and I watched a really interesting and thought provoking movie called The Joneses. The plot in short is this, posing as an ordinary family, stealth marketeers move into a high income suburb to sell a lifestyle to their community. Their neighbours buy into their hidden product placement but the reality of keeping up with the Joneses isn’t sustainable for some and the resulting pressure and debt leads to tragic consequences. It was a stark reminder to us that it isn’t the things that we accumulate that make us happy but rather our relationships and the time we invest in the people around us. As Bob Marley once said:

”The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”

This leads me nicely on to our blog topic this week, that of decluttering, minimalism, and compiling a capsule wardrobe. Once again, as this is not my area of expertise I have called in help in the form of local business woman Rebekah Johanson, owner of Lines & Current.

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imageWhen I think of Rebekah I’m reminded of Cinderella, but not in the obvious sense, let me explain. For those with young daughters, it will not have gone amiss that the new Disney Cinderella movie was recently released on DVD. My husband swiftly got himself to a local Asda store to buy said DVD for family movie night. In the movie Cinderella’s mother tells her to ”have courage and be kind”. Words to live by and words that are frequently recited in our home at the moment. Rebekah is a girl who exemplifies both of these qualities, she has had the courage, along with her husband Jon, to step out and start a business, generating their own income for their family. Rebekah’s kindness is demonstrated in part by the fact that she tithes 10% of all of her profits to charitable organisations. She is also incredibly beautiful and humble with it so in all these respects she is east Belfast’s answer to Cinderella. Something tells me however that you’ll not find a pair of glass slippers in Rebekah’s capsule wardrobe, they may have been ditched in her wardrobe detox. I’m delighted that Rebekah has agreed to share with us about decluttering and how to dress well with less. Enjoy!

Rebekah here and I must preface what is yet to come by saying I’m certainly no expert on the topic of tidying or decluttering or as I say ‘Wardrobe Dieting’, but I’ve been trekking on the ‘minimalist’ road ( to some degree) for a while now. Here’s some suggestions for getting started and how to curate and live from a wardrobe with LESS stuff in it.

My Wardrobe Diet Story

I‘ve been on this journey for about a year now. The moment I finally realised enough was enough was last autumn when I looked inside my bulging beast of a wardrobe and couldn’t find a simple t-shirt. Yes I could see plenty of lovely frilly/ vintage-esque blouses, the ones i had loved about 5 years before, but since having kids and the accumulation of extra ‘things’ that have come with that, I’ve been stripping things back gradually.  Last autumn was crunch time, and I meant business. I was pretty ruthless about it, if I hadn’t worn it in a year, I set it into the discard pile, if it didn’t suit my post-preggo shape even though I still kinda liked it- discard. I vacuum shrunk a small bag of summer clothes and put them in an upper shelf but apart from that, there was nothing kept that I didn’t love or didn’t use. Things looked sparse in there. I admit, almost soulless. I can relate to what Drew Barrymore said when she did a similar wardrobe detox-

“My closet seemed to be clean. But, no longer eclectic or wild enough. It actually seemed like I had no clothes. It got too sparse! I was sad. Had I gone too far? I was missing my old funky self and felt like I had become some conservative, boring woman — but not even in a cool, J.Crew way. I was more like, I don’t know…just not me.” (Drew Barrymore)

I remember when my mum looked in my wardrobe, she inwardly gasped at its sparseness. It’s a hard place to be.. you have two options… One, you can plan an immediate shopping spree to fill the space OR two,  you can resist the immediate desire to fill the space and stay in the tension of having LESS. Whether it’s because we’re culturally or emotionally uncomfortable with not having a wealth of options, I’m not sure, but it was an interesting personal experiment to push through. A year on, I can say it’s been well worth resisting my desire to fill the gaps. The wardrobe is not just as sparse, (it’s actually not all that tidy either,)  but I have enjoyed the experience of dressing everyday from limited pieces and have developed the art of choosing clothing items that resonate with my personal taste and personality. Some outfit examples- if I’m going on a walk, it’s jeans, flannel shirt, Nike trainers or Boots.  If I’m brunching, it’s jeans and an oxford shirt with Hudson boots. If I’m having a day working from home / school run, it’s- yoga pants and hoodie that might turn into jeans and an oversized t-shirt and cardigan.  It’s not glamourous but the point of the entire process is to take the thinking OUT of dressing. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy style and playing dress up, but I’ve enjoyed the liberation felt by doing ‘stylish’ minimalism more. Less stuff = less decisions = more space = more playtime and energy for things that matter to you. It’s an over-simplified view on dressing but there are nuggets of truth in there and personal benefits if you’re willing to push through the chaotic decluttering bit at the start.

Tips on ‘Going Minimal’

First things first- the obvious clear out session. There is NO way out of it and if you’re like me you might not love this stage too much.

Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, an international bestseller, has probably been the most useful resource I’ve read on my journey so far.  Some of the following suggestions are based on what I’ve found the most useful from the Kon-Marie method of tidying from her book and from my own experience:.

  • Go category by category, starting with the easiest to part with. Her ‘Kon-Marie method’ encourages a category-by-category system, rather than the conventional little-by-little approach. I would say I’ve found this helpful although it’s best to just get started rather than getting paralysed with the correct ‘method’. The idea is to practice with the easier decisions (e.g. underwear!) and move onto the harder ones (like the party dresses you invested in but never wear!).
  • Instead of deciding what to get rid of, focus on what to keep. “Do you need it and does the piece of clothing spark Joy?” This phrase has become quite a useful ‘tool’ on the wardrobe diet journey.  It might seem a bit strange but with the Kon-Marie method, you take each item in your hand ask yourself “does this spark joy?” If yes, then it stays. If it does not spark joy, then throw it out. Note: You must touch every item so that your body can react. This is NOT an intellectual process.
  • Finally, it’s so much easier to read about this subject than actually DOING it! So take whatever momentum you have conjured up until now and run with it.
  • Resist the urge to immediately fill the space. Save some money. Live in the tension for a while. See if a new found creative or mental space is unleashed.

Your Capsule Wardrobe

Now is play time- your minimalist curation. This looks like whatever you want it to. Theoretically, a Capsule wardrobe (a term coined by Susie Faux, the owner of a London boutique called Wardrobe in the 1970s) is a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces.

Some modern minimalists advocate having 37 items in your wardrobe. Basically your new clothing collection is made up of a combination of items you already own and love to wear, as well as new, quality items that you can shop for once a season. I’m not fussy about how many pieces are in there, as long as it is moving away from the fast-disposable clothes mentality.

Keep versatility in mind when slowly building your collection. Also, think about a more neutral colour palette. Can you wear that blazer casually and dress it up for a more formal setting? Will this wash well? It’s helpful to look at your life and consider what you need for 80% of the time. These are the timeless,  good quality pieces you may want to revamp if you are low in supply.  My everyday wardrobe is the pretty basic.  A few pairs of jeans that I feel comfy in are important items, many of mine are from River Island. For Autumn/ Winter you may invest in a few oversized knitted cardigans or  good quality cotton blend t-shirts or vests for underneath. So far this season I’ve invested ( or actually been bought as a birthday gift, ) a brown knit jumper from Zara, find it here; a loose grey cardigan and black Trench Coat from Gap Sale, find similar here, and I made an online purchase of an oversized flannel shirt from Uniqlo, find it hereI bought my daughters one each as well. That’s it, I probably won’t buy anything else this season except perhaps a brown pair of boots if I find any I love closer to Christmas.

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Next come- the flourishes- the way you stay YOU. I like to express this in the statement accessories, like hats or a splash of lippy colour or jewellery. Family hand-me-downs are an important part of my collection, some are handmade jumpers or passed down jewellery pieces. I have a vintage shirt that seems to raise its head from season to season too.

Again, these are only suggestions to freeing up some creative energy in your life and limiting the anxiety that can arise with too much choice. The whole idea is to NOT jump back into old habits of spending and consuming. I’m really only learning about what it is to be a responsible consumer. I’m inspired to be part of a ‘slow’ fashion movement where we mindfully consider our clothing purchases and steer away from the fast-disposable fashion culture that is inevitably filling our landfills with non- biodegradable tat. Living with a collection of LESS is a great way to start in this.

I’ll leave you with some inspo of a capsule wardrobe made of of 37 pieces and how various items have been mixed and matched to create a wide array of options for a Winter 15 collection. This is from a minimal dresser called Caroline with a minimal Fashion Blog called ‘Unfancy.’

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Here’s some helpful resources:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective way to Banish Clutter Forever, Marie Kondo

– A TEDx Talk.  A Rich life with Less Stuff,  The Minimalist

– http://www.theminimalists.com

– Consider where your discarded clothes are going? Are they going to end up in landfills? Maybe someone could up-cycle or consider donating your leftover Pregnancy clothes to a local Pregnancy Care Charity. One local to Belfast is life.ni/Pregnancy Matters charity shop.  It’s called Vie, at 183 Lisburn Rd. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Vie-Charity-Shop

– Why I Put My Closet On A Diet (In 6 Simple Steps), Drew Barrymore

The True Cost, Netflix Documentary
http://www.peopletree.co.uk- a Sustainable and Fair Trade Fashion Company

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