Human nature is known for its many struggles with conflicting desires. One of these is the battle between always wanting more — bigger! faster! better! — and the desire to simplify, to be content with less.
This conflict plays out in fashion circles, too, and in individual women’s closets and lives. I’ve seen many references to “minimalism” in fashion writing this fall. Then I turn the page, or click the next link, only to find very un-minimalist trends like animal prints, fake fur everywhere, and bizarre pairings of military clothing with stiletto heels.
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know that I’ve grappled with my own conflicting desires to be practical and efficient in my wardrobe while, at the same time, avoiding my natural tendency to just blend into the background. Well, a couple of recent happenings in Blog World have rekindled my interest in this central dilemma.
First, Ruby at Ruby’s Musings, one of my favorites, has been running a fun and thought-provoking series called French Girl Friday. It’s based on a book called Entre Nous: A Woman’s Guide to Finding her Inner French Girl, by Debra Ollivier.
In her blog, Ruby takes a chapter a week, summarizes the central “lessons,” and then tells how she is trying to incorporate those ideas to improve her quality of life. She explains it much better than I could, but the book is geared toward American women who want to capture a little bit of what we associate with French women. A certain style. Refinement. Way of life. Joie de vivre, if you will. You know, that certain je ne sais quoi.
This isn’t the only book out there selling the French lifestyle to American women, and it probably won’t be the last. But it still looks like fun! While much of it relates to lifestyle, it’s the fashion part that interests me most. And the central points for French fashion seem to be:
- buy quality, not quantity,
- shop thoughtfully and strategically, not impulsively,
- if you don’t wear it, get rid of it,
- streamline your collection and only wear what you love, what fits you perfectly, and what is really “you.”
I love this approach, and I’ve often heard it associated with the seemingly effortless style of French women. I tend to think that I can’t pull it off, though, because I make the following assumptions about myself:
- I lack the fashion “eye” to put things together properly,
- I can’t accessorize for shit (minimalism relies heavily on accessories), and
- I can’t invest in great pieces because I’m too frugal. Even though I know that investing in versatile, useful pieces makes sense, I never really know which items are useful until I’ve been wearing them awhile. Who wants to make a costly mistake?
However, I will continue following Ruby’s series faithfully because I think I can really learn something! Plus, it’s entertaining to read how she is trying to incorporate these lessons into the real, complicated life of a real, American woman.
Meanwhile, because the universe creates many synchronicities, there is another simplification-related blog series that is blowing my mind (but in a good way). Started by writer Felicia Sullivan, it’s called the 15:30 closet challenge. The challenge? Choose only 15 items of clothing in your closet (not including underwear, shoes and accessories), and wear nothing else for 30 days.
While some women recoil in horror at the very idea, many are responding like crazy to this challenge. We all know that, statistically, most of us wear only a tiny percentage of what is in our closets. We know that we make many mistakes while buying. We all long for those perfect pieces that will become cornerstones of our wardrobe — the ones that will mix and match with almost everything, and that can be dressed up or down, for maximum versatility. One of my favorite fashion websites, Academichic, calls these “Wardrobe Workhorses.”
In short, the point of the challenge is to help us change the way we think about our clothes, with an eye toward minimizing waste while maximizing usefulness.
Several bloggers are participating in the challenge right now, for the month of September. Here is one example that also includes, at the bottom, links to several other participants’ blogs. Now, let me just say, I am not planning to participate. I have enough to obsess about this month already, thank you very much. But I am having a wonderful time reading these blogs and viewing the clothes that were chosen!
I’ve noticed a few interesting trends, some of which might work in my own life & wardrobe, and some of which would not:
- Many, many neutrals. Most of these wardrobes are anchored by black, navy, and/or gray. I’ve avoided both navy and black because of my coloring, but I suppose this concept could work with my neutral browns. (I’ve learned from hard experience, though, that brown neutrals are more challenging to mix and match than black and gray ones).
- Limited color. For the most part, these wardrobes use very little color, maybe just one or two “pops,” if that. A notable exception is this example, which includes more than a couple of beautiful, different, even challenging colors. She either has a better knack for color matching than I do, or she has meticulously tried on everything she owns to find what fits with what. I am duly impressed.
- A judicious mixture of solids and patterns. This allows for maximum versatility and ability to change the look. The patterns are conservative — not too crazy or memorable. It’s all about blending.
- Climatic Constraints. Many participants seem to be from warmer climates. Even though they complain that the weather is too hot, and that they can’t wear fashionable fall clothes in September, I think they’re fairly blessed. They don’t have to spend too many of their limited 15 items on layers, and they don’t have to make sure their wardrobe can accommodate everything from 35 to 85 degrees! Here in New England, our September wardrobes might just have to do that.
- Good quality. I’m seeing some real investment pieces here — names like Jil Sander & Barney’s keep popping up. Even the more basic brands named — Gap, Banana Republic — are priced a little too richly for me! Now, if I knew these pieces could survive a 15:30 challenge, would I be willing to pay more for them? Absolutely! But again, how will I know before I buy them?
- Even the well-dressed have gaps. Many of these bloggers discovered, when trying to choose their 15 pieces, that they were missing key items from their wardrobes. Their plan? Can you guess? To go shopping! Irony alert, anyone? Wasn’t this challenge supposed to curb our shopping? At the same time, though, these women will probably be shopping differently. Rather than picking up the latest trend, or grabbing a risky impulse buy, they will be trying to buy practical items that will go the distance.
Like I said, for many of the reasons listed above, I’m not participating. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t go to my closet and try to figure out, just for fun, what my 15 pieces would be! I actually have a list. Now, if wanted to actually do this, I would need to try on all the items, in different combinations, with different accessories, to see how they all work together. That could be fun…… or, incredibly tedious and frustrating. I’m not sure which. I expect some wine would need to be involved.
White wine, of course. Because I’m not going to risk ruining my two new wardrobe workhorses: a great brown pencil skirt from The Limited and my new pair of — be still my heart — Ann Taylor trousers. Have I told you about these yet? They had the highest sticker price of any that I’ve ever purchased — $98. But there was a “storewide event,” $20 off, plus I had some money left on a gift card, so I only paid $55 out of pocket. These are arguably the best-looking, best-fitting trousers I’ve ever owned, and I think they might actually work in a 15:30 challenge.
I mean, how hard could it be? I’m kind of minimalist anyway, by necessity, and I’ve always loved the challenge of packing the perfect mini-wardrobe into a carry-on bag. Do I actually wear many more than 15 items? Who knows, I may try this 15:30 challenge some day. You may see a “part 2” to this post at some point, complete with photos of my items.
I might get too tired just thinking about it.
Maybe I’ll just have that glass of wine and try a big fake furry collar with stiletto-heeled army boots, instead.
How about you? Could you survive the challenge?