Sunday, February 26, 2012

Step Seven: Perfect Your Wardrobe

On the day of the Oscars, when so many of us are focused on who wore what and how well, I think it might be fitting to turn the focus inwards and find our own sense of style. We don't always have stylists, make-up artists, and thousands of dollars at our disposal, but that doesn't mean we can't look and feel fabulous every day. When you find your personal style, whether it's regarding what you like to cook with to how you like your hair, you can breeze through life feeling confident and  put together.

It took me almost a decade to find my style, and to be self-assured enough to follow it in everything I do. There was a lot of research, journaling, and trial and error involved, but now when I do purchase something, I know it will serve me well for years, and I'll love using it. I don't need to constantly unclutter, and caring for my things is a joy, rather than a chore. Best of all, being a gatekeeper has become second nature. I already know if I'll like something when it is offered to me, so I don't bring unnecessary things into my home.

Of course, while finding your style will touch all parts of your life, it's easiest to start with your wardrobe. Picking out what you wear sets the mood for the rest of your day, and communicates to others the kind of person you are. Whether you have a uniform like Steve Jobs, a sense of adventure like Carrie Bradshaw, or a focus on comfortable functionality like Hilary Clinton, owning a stylized, organized wardrobe will speed your morning along, relieve frustration over what to wear, and allow you to live your life in clothes that make you happy.

Everyone has a different style, so everyone will have to discover their style in their own way. However, it helps a lot if you do these things:

1.  Pull out the clothes, shoes, and accessories you love. Look at what these things have in common, how you like to use them, and how they make you feel. Now pull out some things you don't like, or even hate. Ask yourself why they don't work for you, if there are ever situations in which you'd wear them, and how they made it into your closet in the first place. Keep these common themes and answers in mind as you evaluate the rest of your wardrobe. For example, I love a long sleeved shirt I have because I can dress it up or down, layer it well, and it's easy to wash. I dislike a bra my sister handed down to me because it doesn't fit me right, is white (so it shows dirt easily), and is padded (I usually don't want to enhance my bust). Looking at these things lets me know that I want things that fit well, allow me to get dirty, and work in a variety of situations.

2.  Think about what fashion pictures you've seen and admired. For most of us, this means looking through a magazine, but you might find your sartorial inspiration online, through the television, or from things you've seen people wear in real life. Ask yourself what you're drawn to, what you already have in your closet, and why you like the things you do. Though most sources won't advise you to collect clothes for a life you don't have, I think it's alright to dress for your aspirations, as long as you're actively working towards them. For example, I don't often wear heels, but I still own a few beautiful pairs, because when I want to look amazing for an event, I tend to pull my look from the pages of Vogue, where everyone is incredibly, impractically, beautiful..

3.  Now that you've examined your stylistic tendencies a little bit, let's dive into your closet. Ideally you'll have all your clothing clean and in one room, but I had to go through several stages of decluttering to pare down my closet, so if you have to make more than one sweep, I promise I understand. Pull out any clothes that you don't like, that don't fit you, or that are irreparable. These can be donated, recycled as rags, or composted if they're made of natural fibers like cotton or wool. Empty the pockets, slip them off the hangars, and put these clothes directly in bags or boxes labeled with their intended destination. Remember not to donate any clothing to charity that is unwearable, as this taxes thrift store resources unnecessarily. In my own wardrobe, I had a few sweaters given to me by my father for Valentine's day. I love my dad, and the thought he puts into his gifts, but I never wore the sweaters, and was not fond of them. Letting go of them was hard at first because of the sentiment involved, but the guilt that weighed me down every time I saw them was huge, so I decided to release them into the world, and focus on my good relationship with my dad, rather than a few misguided but well-intentioned presents.

4.  Since all the clothing you dislike and cannot wear are now gone, the rest of your wardrobe may think it's safe, but it's wrong. Now you'll want to pull out anything that doesn't match the rest of your clothing, any duplicates that you don't use (white shirts are prime suspects), and any clothes that you haven't worn in more than a year. Some clothes get away with being worn less than that, like swimsuits if you haven't been swimming since your vacation in 2007, or a tuxedo that only gets worn to formal occasions, but these garments are few and far between, as well as easy to recognize. Getting rid of clothes for these three reasons may seem hard at first, but with a little practice you'll be able to do it without much effort, and I promise you'll notice quickly how a little culling on these guidelines will produce big results in how you look and feel. For example, I had eight pairs of pants that I was able to pare down to three, because they were all a similar color and cut.  Though they all looked good on me, it was a waste of time every morning to try and decide which wide-leg navy blue pants to wear. By eliminating the duplicates, I now save time, know exactly which pair to reach for, and have no trouble with storage space.

5.  Last of all, maintaining your wardrobe is key. Only bring clothes into your home that flatter you and which you love wearing. Keep your clothes clean and in good repair. Set up clothes systems which you will actually use to store your clothes in, rather than just tossing them on the floor or over a chair. As time passes, you may note that a certain garment doesn't get worn. Feel free to donate it if it's not earning it's keep.  Likewise, if you notice that you have a need for an item, find a version you love and that matches the rest of your wardrobe, and wear the  hell out of it. In a well-selected closet, all your pieces will work with others, suit your needs, and make you feel great every time you put them on. Last August was the first time I've purchased a piece of clothing in over a year, but I bought a purple cardigan that I wear several times a week and love to death. It matches the rest of my clothes, and because it was a carefully considered purchase, I have no doubt  that my money and effort were well-spent.

When I work on anything, I like to remember that perfection is reached when nothing can be added, and nothing can be taken away. I love all the clothes I have, and though my closet is full, I couldn't do without any of them. Perfection will mean a different number of clothes and combinations for everyone, but you'll know you've gotten there when getting dressed feels easy and fun.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

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