Over the past few weeks, I have watched crises and struggles unfold, not only in my news apps but in the lives of people I love. Though my own home is peaceful, this feels like a season of suffering. My heart breaks for friends and loved ones and for those I’ve never met. I haven’t felt much like blogging, especially about clothes.
Here are some of the things I did manage to do: cry, pray, sing, talk, listen, hug, exercise, sit around, stay up too late, sleep too late, play games, eat, not eat, read, work, think, draw, cry again, pray some more, and wait.
And I also managed to shop.
I have so much good fullness in my life–people I care about, pursuits I enjoy and find meaningful–but still I shopped.
I felt compelled to seek comfort through consumption, and for a few moments and hours, I found it.
While browsing racks of clothes, I felt peaceful and in control. I could focus or let my mind wander. I could accomplish the task of acquiring something. I could make decisions or not. I felt powerful and productive.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit this.
If there were a spectrum of healthy-to-unhealthy coping mechanisms, I could easily classify shopping in the neutral middle. I’m not going into massive debt, I’m not hurting myself or anyone else. I can justify it. But if I’m trying to live with less—and I am—I’m not sure I want shopping to remain my automatic response to difficult emotions. It doesn’t seem to line up anymore. It feels a little self-sabotaging.
On my most recent retail therapy excursion, I really didn’t have money to spend. I had already spent most of my month’s fun money on clothes (and you’ll note that even now the month is less than halfway done). While I was shuffling hangers, I took comfort in knowing the tags were still on my previous purchases. If I found something else I liked, I could always return the other things. I wish I didn’t find that so reassuring.
I enjoy shopping, and I don’t mind that I enjoy shopping. I like finding interesting, beautiful, unexpected things. Sometimes I find shopping inspires me and feeds my curiosity and imagination. But shopping for comfort does not inspire me. At best, it temporarily distracts me, delays the inevitable. And plenty of other (free) things can inspire and feed curiosity and imagination even better than buying things.
In the end, I didn’t buy any clothes on that outing. I went home and spent time with family and friends and dealt with the undercurrent of emotion in quiet company.
I don’t want to stop shopping completely. I do want to stop trying to buy off unpleasant emotions. In so many ways, I can’t afford that. It’s not about the action but about my motivation. If I’m shopping to fill a hole or meet a need (in my heart, not my closet), I am going to be left unsatisfied.
My last post was all about simplifying, but what if you need to add to your closet?
I’ve already admitted I have a bit of a shopping problem. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons I decided to simplify my wardrobe. I wanted to say goodbye to regrets and impulses that clogged up my closet and were seldom worn. Cutting back on the retail therapy is helping me maintain my cleaner closet.
But clothes do wear out, especially if you are wearing them more often! Lifestyles, jobs, seasons, sizes, and bodies change. Sometimes we do need to shop in order to maintain a functional wardrobe. This is a huge relief to me, as I’m not ready to give up shopping entirely.
I wanted to let you in on my biggest secret for building and maintaining a capsule wardrobe on a budget: thrifting.
Here are some looks from my late winter/early spring wardrobe. Each of these outfits includes at least one secondhand item.
Nearly a third of my summer capsule is secondhand. My closet includes clothes from J. Crew, Banana Republic, Anthropologie, Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, and Stuart Weitzman. All of these items together cost me less than $50 because I bought them at the thrift store. Most of these items appeared barely worn, and some were new with tags.
I don’t care much about brands, but I am thinking more about quality as I shop. Buying things secondhand makes higher quality items more budget friendly.
I started shopping at thrift stores when I was in junior high school, primarily so I would have a wardrobe that was different from what my classmates were wearing. I liked the idea of building a look that wasn’t straight off the mall racks, and I still have an eclectic style in my home and my wardrobe. I continue to enjoy treasure hunting and regard my best thrift finds somewhat like trophies. I’ve tried to restrain myself from enthusiastically responding to a compliment with “Thanks! This was only five bucks!”, as I’ve found most people aren’t as excited about my deals as I am.
If you’re new to thrifting and think you’d like to give it a try, here are some of my guidelines:
1. Look for quality and value. Familiarize yourself with labels so you can recognize whether a shirt came from Walmart or Neiman Marcus. In general, a secondhand Old Navy tank top is not going to be a good value, as it could be found new and on sale for a similar price. Check for condition (no pilled sweaters, stains or twisted side seams). Factor any necessary dry cleaning or alterations into the total cost. For example, I found $100 jeans for $7. Even though they need a $10 alteration for the best fit, they are still a good total investment for me.
2. Try it on. Even if a tag lists a size you don’t normally wear, it might be worth trying on the item. Clothes sometimes end up in thrift stores because of mismarked sizes or inaccurate fit, and these mistakes could be to your advantage. Sizing conventions for vintage clothing and international brands also vary greatly, so don’t count something out based on listed size alone. Also consider whether an inexpensive alteration might make the item a perfect fit. If you’re handy with a sewing machine, you could even do these yourself!
3. Have a plan. Make a list of items you’re looking for to replace or fill the current or next season of your wardrobe. It’s helpful to think in advance of wardrobe needs when thrifting, as it’s unlikely you’ll find the exact item you’re looking for on the first try. My striped tunic dress is starting to wear out, so this is something I look for every time I go to the thrift store. I don’t need it urgently, but I can see the need on the horizon. I also want some type of olive or muted green top for fall, so I look through these color sections when I shop.
4. Try out trends. If you’ve been wanting to try a trend but don’t want to invest in an item you may only wear for a season or two, thrifting is a great way to give it an inexpensive go! I found my floral joggers (new with tags!) for $6 at the thrift store. I’ll enjoy them while I wear them, and I won’t feel bad about donating them back to the thrift store when I move on. For trendy items that aren’t likely to become classics you wear for years, buying secondhand can keep your cost per wear low. Since trends are often revisiting fashions of earlier eras, you may even find a vintage item that looks fashion forward (I’m looking at you, 90s crop tops!).
5. Go often. I regularly explore three or four thrift stores in my area. Because I go often, I am generally familiar with the merchandise and can spot new items fairly quickly. I actually enjoy searching through every item, but becoming familiar with stores in my area makes it easier to quickly browse. Merchandise also turns over regularly, so going often gives you the best chance of finding the item on your list before someone else does.
6. Search outside your area. Thrift stores often vary greatly by location. I like to occasionally look in other parts of town for a different selection, and I also try to find thrift stores when I’m traveling. Areas favored by retirees may have great vintage merchandise, and places inhabited by young professionals may have good options for an office work wardrobe. You never know what you’ll find, but trying out different places will give you the broadest selection.
7. Shop online. If you don’t have thrift stores conveniently nearby, or if you prefer not to rummage through racks, you now have some great online options. Sites like Twice and thredUP buy and sell quality used clothing. You can search by size, color, or brand. People can buy and sell clothes directly with one another through apps like Poshmark, and even Goodwill has the option to shop a selection of goods online. Of course, there’s always ebay (where I recently bought gently used boots for fall for 20% of their retail cost) and the vintage section of Etsy. If you don’t mind paying a little more for convenience, you may find shopping secondhand online can help you build your budget capsule wardrobe.
What about you? Are you an expert treasure hunter with more tips to share? Are you a fledgling thrifter ready to give it a try? Do secondhand clothes have a place in your wardrobe?
A new season of Project 333 began July 1st (more on that later!), so now seemed like a good time to follow up on my first season. I began my own version of Project 333 in March and continued through May. I had a “between seasons” grace period for June and have now begun a new three month season.
Here are the outfits from season one, all put together:
I survived three months with only 33 clothing items (plus shoes and accessories–my modified rules), and I actually enjoyed it–at least for the first eight or nine weeks. After that point, the weather started changing. I started getting a little bored. I made some extra money and bought a couple new shirts. I just…lost a bit of steam.
But I also took two carloads of donations to the thrift store! I kept going back to my stored clothes and further culling my stash, and I know that will continue.
I’ve noticed a modification in my shopping habits. My purchases are much more thoughtful, more intentional. I still make some impulse thrift buys, but my “It was on sale at Target!” spending is down significantly if not altogether gone. I consider this a win. I’m also looking more critically at fit and quality when buying clothes. Rather than shopping only for pleasure, I’m shopping with the goal of building a wardrobe that reflects my style and suits my lifestyle.
Earlier this month, our family went on a week-long beach vacation. I expected my limited closet would make packing especially easy, and I beamed with pride at my great planning and organization. I made a list in advance, picked things that layered well and could be combined into several outfits, and then laid everything out to admire my work. I mean, look at that spread: efficient accessories, options for temperature swings . . . I felt really pleased with myself.
And then I started filling the suitcase, which was a standard, rolling carry on. My packed suitcase was thoroughly packed, and I suspected I had packed too much. I pulled a stack of items off the top, removed a pair of shoes, and zipped my luggage easily.
None of the items pictured above were among the things removed from the suitcase and left at home. Rather, I had taken out pajamas and lounge clothes. For a week-long beach trip with my family, I had brought about a dozen outfits’ worth of clothes and only one set of pajamas. We also had in-unit laundry, which I used while there but completely ignored while packing.
I forgot that reality is reality. I spent half my time in lounge clothes or swim wear, relaxing with my family. A pile of lounge wear doesn’t make a Pinterest-worthy picture, but fewer outfits and more pajamas would have been a better fit.
Obviously overpacking for a car trip a few hours away is a mistake of little consequence. Still, I’m trying to cut down on these fashion mistakes and the time, money, and stress that they cost me.
My unedited closet contained plenty of mistakes: the mint green tank that was on sale but isn’t the right color for me; the designer skirt that was a great deal but is a size too small and only fits while I’m standing and wearing super-constrictive shapewear; the silk top in the perfect color that must be dry cleaned after every wear. Those three items collectively cost me less than $60, but those are only three mistakes of many.
Meanwhile, this is my basic black tank top:
Yes, that’s a large hole. It extends beyond the seam into a long run, and it gapes right around my left hip whenever I wear it. That $60 spent on mistakes could replace my basic tank along with my favorite tights that have a run and can only be worn with boots. I think I would even have enough left over to re-sole a beloved pair of heels and possibly alter my charcoal skirt that’s a bit too big.
Not one of those investments has the appeal of buying a new top, even a top in the wrong color. Similarly, packing pajamas sounds far less exciting than packing outfits I will not have an opportunity to wear. I am swept up in the thrill of the new and the idealized, and I end up missing what I actually need.
I’m hoping that with greater intention and objectivity, I will make fewer fashion mistakes. I have grace for myself in this learning process, and I know I’m growing in the art of packing and living lightly. And next time I go shopping, will someone please remind me to replace that hole-y black tank top?
I have now spent a month living in my limited wardrobe. Whether these present constraints remain a short-term experiment or become a permanent lifestyle choice, I’ve discovered that I do prefer having fewer things in my closet. I like knowing what I have and having what I like (as opposed to what I think I should like). In order to maintain some of this newly carved out space in my closet and my life, I have laid out some goals for building and maintaining my wardrobe:
I want to enjoy wearing my clothes as much as I enjoy buying them.
- This is the primary thing I want to consider when shopping.
- Most of my favorite clothes were not impulse purchases. Either I pondered the item for days or weeks before finally buying, or I looked for a specific type of item (i.e., a striped dress) for months before finally finding a deal and purchasing one.
I want to curate, not accumulate.
- My wardrobe is an ongoing design project that requires regular editing. I want my additions to be thoughtfully and intentionally made with regard to my style, shape, lifestyle, and budget, and I will keep the total number of items limited with a “one in, one out” policy.
- If a new item isn’t worthy of replacing something already in my closet, it probably doesn’t belong in my wardrobe.
I want my purchases to be long-term commitments rather than flings.
- I want to buy the best quality I can afford and wear things for many years.
- I will try things on, try them out at home with things I already own, return things that don’t work, and have things altered in a timely manner if necessary.
- I would like to build a savings reserve so I’ll be able to replace or repair something when it wears out.
- If I want to experiment with a trend, I can “rent it” (i.e., buy it secondhand for not much money and donate it back after a season).
I can’t buy off unpleasant emotions.
- I recognize that feelings of sadness, grief, insecurity, powerlessness, or anger do not disappear when I throw money around. I am only buying myself a temporary distraction.
- I want to choose other ways of dealing with my feelings, preferably ones that don’t leave me with souvenirs. Do I really want a closet full of clothing that commemorates my bad days?
Fear has no place in my wardrobe.
I don’t have to buy something because I’m afraid . . .
- that I’ll miss a great deal
- that I need it to look stylish
- that I’m missing out on a trend or that my look is dated
I don’t have to keep something because I’m afraid . . .
- that I wasted money
- that I’ll need or want it after it’s gone
- that I’ll hurt someone’s feelings (this one is especially difficult for me)
What about you? Do you have rules for what comes into your closet or your home? Or do you find the idea of “rules” restrictive (as I do)? In that case, what sort of guidelines direct your shopping?
I love to shop. Even with a tight budget, I get an intoxicating rush when I discover a perfectly fitting dress on the sale rack or find a secondhand shirt for a fraction of its original retail price. I am swept up in the thrill of the bargain, and if the deal is “too good to miss”, I will overlook a multitude of issues (the fit is slightly off, it’s not really my style, I already have something similar, I have no occasion to wear it in the foreseeable future…). I will reason that I am making a good investment, that I am actually saving money by spending so little, and I will leave with a shopper’s high and a happiness that will never be matched when I actually wear the item.
And I may not even wear it. I may try it on briefly before abandoning it for an outfit I like better, and my “super amazing steal of a deal” will languish in my closet.
You know the game where you try ten things on while getting dressed and nothing quite works? And then you end up wearing your favorite jeans and sweater for the third time that week. And then you are fifteen minutes late to wherever you are supposed to be because the simple, daily act of getting dressed took way too long. Tell me I’m not the only one who plays this game.
I love to shop, and yet a nagging discontentment has crept in as I’ve added more and more to my tiny closet. My closet is crowded, but I struggle to find something to wear. My heart feels crowded, too.
I am ready to try something different, something radical.
For Lent this year, I am giving up (at least temporarily) the vast majority of my wardrobe, and I’ll wear just thirty-three things from now until Easter.
I’ll be doing a modified version of Courtney Carver’s Project 333, which challenges participants to dress from a 33-item wardrobe for three months. Official P333 rules include shoes, accessories, and outerwear in the count; I’ll be counting these separately. Pajamas, loungewear, gym clothes, and underwear (including tights, socks, etc.) aren’t included in the count. Though I’m bending the rules a bit, I do plan to work from a limited selection of all of these items. One of my favorite quotes from the website is this: “This is not a project in suffering. If you need to create a version of Project 333 that works better for you, do it.” I’m going with that.
I’ve made lists, sorted piles of clothes, selected, swapped, and worked my way down to 33 things (plus three coats) which are now back in the closet. I moved everything else to the guest room closet, which is now overflowing. Please don’t open that door if you are at my house . . .
I am looking forward to the challenge, and I’m also fighting some trepidation. I wonder if I will get bored of my limited choices. I’m bridging two seasons, so I’m concerned I may not have all I need to bridge dramatic temperature swings. I worry about what other people will think. Will anyone even notice or care if I’m wearing the same thing more often? Were these the items I was wearing all the time anyway? I wonder if I’ll feel guilty for forsaking all those other clothes, as if inanimate objects somehow know they are being neglected. I am considering what it would mean to fail and put everything back next week . . . or to succeed and end up giving most of it away.
Lent is a time of remembering and practicing sacrifice, of reexamining priorities and values, a time of not only giving up the bad, but of giving up the good in favor of the better. All that extra space in my closet makes me anxious, but it also makes me excited. There is space, breathing room, and that feels like the start of something better.