My love of vintage started early. When I was six or seven, my dad gave me his old transistor radio. He showed me the dials, and we tuned in to hear The Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”. That was the only music I ever heard through that little radio; every time I’ve flipped it on since, I’ve only gotten squeaks and squeals and static.
This object became a treasure for its nostalgia and its aesthetics. With its candy apple red plastic and shiny silver speaker, the transistor looked so different from the functional 1980s clock radio we had in our house. Hearing that one song over the airways became a magical memory. I also remember my dad telling me about hiding this radio under his pillow and secretly listening to rock ‘n’ roll when he was a child. When I see this radio, I see a story.
When I was nine or ten, I went with my mom to a large antique market and made my first vintage purchase. I found these tiny leather books that captured my imagination. They were small and beautiful. The embossed leather covers and the smooth printed pages felt important. With my mom’s money, I bought them and began my vintage collection and discovered my interest in thrifting.
As I work toward simplifying my home and my life, I am considering the form, function, and significance of my possessions. The more I clean out and donate, the more I can appreciate the things that remain.
These pieces obviously hold meaning for me. They will stay in my home, not tucked away in a closet but displayed where I will see and enjoy them. I will continue to clean out and donate to make space for these things that are important to me.
Vintage items, even those not as sentimental as my radio or books, intrigue me because they have a built-in history. The unknown story behind these things piques my interest. Often the forms of vintage items bring back memories. I feel an attachment to history and humanity when I buy vintage.
Buying secondhand also carries an element of redemption. I appreciate discovering forsaken or forgotten things and giving them a new life.
Some of my favorite pieces are four oil paintings, all made by the same artist in the 1950s. This man was not famous and was likely a hobbyist, but his work spoke to me when I found it at a thrift store. I wish I could express to the artist that his work is being enjoyed more than half a century later.
This is how buying vintage and simplifying coexist for me. As I bring in new (old) things, I let go of things that are less beautiful, less interesting, or less important to me. Some of these things (the transistor radio, the books) will stay with me forever. Others will remain in my house for a season and then travel on to someone else. This refining ebb and flow allows me to collect without becoming overwhelmed. Rather than dulling my space or my life, simplifying spotlights what’s important and makes space for the interesting and the beautiful.
P.S. I love helping other people incorporate interesting and beautiful vintage treasures into their homes and lives. If you live in the Atlanta area, come shop at Salvage tomorrow. It’s a one day event, and I’ll have a booth there (Hark at Home) along with another forty or so vendors selling vintage and handmade.
One thing I love about Courtney Carver’s Project 333 is her careful clarification that it is not a “project in suffering”. The rules are there for you to follow, modify, adapt, or ignore. If something wears out, replace it. Swap things that aren’t working. It’s a great system and starting point that can be adjusted to different climates, lifestyles, and body types.
I deviate from the rules of P333 by not counting my shoes and accessories (or my outerwear in colder seasons–I count sweaters and jackets that would be part of my outfit but not coats that I would only wear out in the elements). I include up to 33 items of clothing and 8-10 pairs of shoes. In my summer collection, I have four belts, three scarves, and a selection of jewelry (though I generally wear the same 5-10 pieces). Obviously this ends up being much more than 33 items. I may try a strict 33-item wardrobe in the future, but for now this system works for me. It has helped me ease into a lighter way of living.
I also still do some shopping while participating, though I try to focus on finding specific items rather than impulse buys.
I mentioned in an earlier post that one top has left my collection, and I’ve added in one dress and one pair of jeans. I also left some space in my original count to add a few things. My galoshes are also falling apart, so I’ve swapped them for some brown loafers that will work for rainy days.
After my initial closet clean out in March, I realized I no longer had a green top in my wardrobe. Green is one of my favorite colors, so I’ve been on the look out for a flattering and versatile top to fill this color hole. This month I finally found one! It cost a little more than I wanted to spend, so I left the tags on while I considered. Then something lovely happened: it went on sale! I was able to get a price adjustment and receive about a third of the cost back, and now I feel great about my purchase. This is a year round shirt that I can wear under or over things, buttoned, tied, tucked or untucked. It’s the perfect shade of mossy, forest-y, olive-y green.
I feel a different sort of delight with this purchase. Rather than the adrenaline rush of spending money and acquiring something new, I feel something more akin to when I finish a project or complete a household chore. It’s satisfaction, not velocity. I think I’ve discovered a different kind of shopping.
This week I’ve made two more purchases of this sort. I have been looking for some jean shorts that fit the following criteria: not cut off or distressed, not too short or too long, mid-rise, dark wash, good quality, inexpensive. After months of scouring the thrift store and trying on plenty of duds, I finally found some that fulfilled all my requirements! So these are going into my capsule wardrobe, and just in time, as temperatures are in the high 90s Fahrenheit this week. Jeans are starting to get a little too hot and sticky most days.
I also had a top hit the wear out point. My blue and white striped tee (J.Crew, purchased at the thrift store over three years ago) was already starting to fade, but this week it got a hole. Goodbye, striped tee. It survived longer than I ever expected, especially considering I wore it when I was nine months pregnant. I don’t know how it returned to its original size after so much stretching! But now it’s done. Stripes are a staple for me, so I knew I wanted to find an alternative. I bought a blue and white more subtly striped Gap tee from the thrift store, and it will be replacing my old one.
I am about midway through this season of the project, and these adjustments help my closet feel fresh and interesting.
The best thing about my new additions, though, is that they inspired me to remove some things. I filled a shopping bag with clothes and accessories to donate, and I love that clearing out is now a part of the shopping process for me. Shopping involves maintaining my closet, not just endlessly growing it.
I’m about six weeks into my second round of Project 333, a minimalist wardrobe challenge that involves wearing just thirty-three items of clothing for three months. I bend the rules by not counting shoes and accessories in my 33 items, though I’ve chosen to limit those as well. I started this round with 28 items of clothing, and I have since lost one item and gained two (more on that later!) to bring my working total to 30. I left a little space in my count this time so I could fill some holes or bring in a couple fresh items, and I think this is a good approach for me.
Here are some snapshots of outfits I’ve put together this round:
Like I mentioned, I have made a couple modifications to my collection since beginning this round. The mint tee (seen in the fourth outfit from the top left) has not survived. Pasta with marinara sauce, a toddler, and overly ambitious stain removal tactics left the top with two large bleached out circles. So that shirt has left the collection.
I have added two items that were both hand me downs (hand me overs?): a maxi dress not yet pictured and a pair of straight leg designer jeans (seen in the bottom row, third from the left). Free clothes can be a help or a hindrance to dressing with less. In this case, these two items fit me and my style well, and they filled gaps in my wardrobe. I was thankful to accept these generous offers.
I’ve also noticed some differences in seasonal capsule wardrobes. In my first round, I tried to make a different outfit for each day of the project. I made a game of it, and I enjoyed the creative styling challenge. Making unique combinations was easier when the weather was cooler and I could layer sweaters, jackets, and scarves.
Though I have fewer layering options in the summer heat, I’m still finding plenty of new combinations. I’m also repeating outfits at will. The second outfit from the top left (striped tee, dark skinny jeans, black canvas sandals) has been one of my summer favorites.
Another aspect that makes summer more challenging is laundry. I live in the Deep South of the United States, and the weather gets HOT! Sweat is an unfortunate summer reality, and my items require more frequent laundering this time around. I have adjusted, but I’ll be happy when the weather cools down again in a few months.
I have now been dressing with less since March, and I am dressing with more freedom and confidence than ever before. I haven’t fully cracked the code on my impulse shopping, but I’m making strides. I can now say with assurance that I have enough. Thirty-three items are enough–more than enough, even. I would rather have a closet contain 33 items I love than one bursting with things I sort of, kind of like.
Are you thinking about trying a capsule wardrobe or Project 333? Are you already dressing with less? I’d love to hear about your experience!
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?
Full disclosure: this wardrobe simplifying thing is still a work in progress for me. I have clothes in two closets, one dresser, and two under-bed boxes. I still have too many clothes. But I am making progress!
Here is my closet from February and my closet now:
I have also done some major cleaning out in the second (guest room) closet. A couple months ago, that was an “open at your own risk” type of closet, the type to open v-e-r-y c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y. It was packed to a comical, pile-toppling point. If you came to my house now, you could not only open the closet door, but also safely step inside! The single rack is still full of clothes on hangers (mostly my off season or vintage pieces), but a guest could easily stash a suitcase there. Progress.
I’m still learning, and I feel my relationship to my belongings being transformed. Simplifying is a process.
If you are interested in simplifying your wardrobe and don’t know where to begin, here are some ideas. These are things I’ve found helpful in my closet makeover, and perhaps they can get you started on your own journey.
1. Start the “keep” pile with your favorites and your basics.
Begin by setting aside the items you love and wear often, the things you know you want to keep. Sometimes it’s easier to eliminate some clothes once you’ve identified what stays. Also include your wardrobe basics or staples, like your favorite jeans.
Note that your basics might not be typical neutrals, like a trench coat or a white oxford shirt. Just because these items appear on many “must have” lists does not mean you must have them! I do have a trench, but in a darker tan that suits me better than classic khaki, and I prefer my blue button down to white, especially since I spend much of my time with a toddler–crisp white and everyday childhood messes do not mix well for me. High-waisted, rust-colored shorts might not be everyone’s basic, but for me they are a staple. They go with all my favorite tops, can be worn with flats or heels, and I even sometimes rock them with tights and a sweater in the fall.
I love pattern mixing, and for me, stripes are a basic. I wear my striped tops with just about any and everything. A capsule wardrobe can be black and white and gray, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.
Find your own staples, pieces you feel great wearing and can easily combine into outfits. Let these be your signature pieces and form the base of your wardrobe.
2. Eliminate duplicates.
You may find you have two or three very similar items but generally prefer wearing one of them. When I put my colorful tanks (or my oxford shirts, or my patterned skirts) side by side, I usually have a clear front-runner. The others serve as back ups or extras, and I can free up closet space by keeping the favorites and donating seconds. Now instead of going to my second best when my favorite item is dirty, I just do laundry. It’s slightly less convenient, but I actually feel happier and more comfortable wearing only my top tier clothing.
3. Store out of season and out of size items.
If you have the space (under bed storage, an extra drawer or closet space), store things you aren’t currently wearing, or at least move them out of the front of your closet. Since I had a baby two and a half years ago, I finally put those last couple maternity dresses in storage. No need to have these items right in my sight line when I’m dressing each day. The weather has also gotten hot, so under bed boxes and space bags keep my sweaters out of the way and moth-free during the summer. When the seasons change, it feels like a treasure hunt to rediscover what’s been hiding in storage. If space is at a premium, a wardrobe bag in the back of your closet or a box on a high shelf could keep these items out of the way.
4. Remove things that are worn out, stained, or beyond repair.
When I examined some of the clothes I wasn’t wearing, particularly former favorites, I discovered that many of them were worn out. It’s hard for me to say goodbye to once beloved clothes, but I am not going to feel good wearing the pilling sweater or the shirt with twisted side seams. If the items cannot be cleaned or repaired, I am better off without them crowding my closet. If you are particularly attached to something that is no longer fit for daily wear, consider whether it could transition to lounge wear. This is the best second life I’ve found for moth-eaten sweaters that I still like but wouldn’t wear out of the house.
5. Find new ways to wear what you have.
This won’t get anything out of your closet, but it might grow your appreciation for some things you already have. This is one of my favorite uses for Pinterest, where I keep a secret board of capsule wardrobe inspiration. I included the mustard cropped chinos from my spring capsule in my summer collection, and when I search “mustard pants outfit” or “mustard color combo”, I get lots of new ideas. If you have a piece you’re unsure about or wonder if certain colors work together, search for how others have worn them and find inspiration. You can do a regular internet search as well, but I like how easy it is to collect and store inspiration on Pinterest.
Also think about whether some pieces could be worn unconventionally. Two of my dresses also serve as tops when tucked into a skirt or knotted at the waist with a pair of pants. The two outfits on the right, from my late winter/early spring Project 333, show that in action.
6. Discover what you’re actually wearing (and eliminate what you’re not wearing).
Try the hanger trick or keep a log (written or photographic), or use an app or online resource to document what you wear for a season. If you are struggling with some of the previous tips, this one might lend some objectivity to the simplifying process. Becoming aware of unworn clothes may make it easier to part with them or could motivate you to make new outfits and transform these items into favorites.
Seeing what’s not working can also help with future shopping. Common themes among my unworn clothes included demanding care requirements (dry clean only, etc.), unflattering styles and colors, or items unsuited for the climate where I live. I now check care labels when I shop, and I limit “hand wash” and “dry clean only” items. I have also avoided buying additional cold climate items like heavy sweaters or lined pants; I live in the Deep South of the United States, and I will rarely have a chance to wear those clothes.
7. Go for a trial separation if you have trouble letting go.
Sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder, and sometimes out of sight is out of mind. And sometimes clichés also apply to clothes. Try stashing clothes about which you are undecided. I kept a pile in that doom closet for a couple months and then reassessed. Most of those items have since been donated, but I’m holding on to a few until I make my fall wardrobe. A box or bag in an out of the way place can give you a break from the clothes. If you haven’t accessed the stash or thought about its contents for a specified time (I recommend between one and six months), you might be ready to part ways. You could do this sight unseen or go through items again–whatever works for you. Or you might discover you are more attached to an item than you realized and choose to keep it in your closet.
Ready to try it? Let me know how it goes!
Have you already cleaned out your closet? What helped you get started?