The urge to acquire

Sometimes the urge to acquire knocks at your door and says ‘hey, you really really need something new… no, you *deserve* it… how could you possibly go on without a mustard cardigan’, and your shopping fast goes out of the window. Sounds familiar?

Since I started pruning my wardrobe in 2014, I’ve mostly observed others going through these dynamics: friends telling that they just *need* to buy something new every month, seeing how some wardrobes fill up immediately with new things once the old ones are edited away, people digging through swap piles frantically to take away something, anything. And, no, I am not immune. It happens rarely but I had a recent flare-up that got me thinking…

Let me set the stage for you: September, Porto, late afternoon, vacations. After lunch C went back to the apartment for a siesta and I went to see an exhibition on Frida Kahlo photo archive. Nice. After coming out of the museum I just walked around and ended up in front of a Humana, suddenly having it very clear that I was going to buy something there.

After a short mental scan of my wardrobe for possible need, I proceeded to meticulously review every top and dress in that shop to select my winners. As after the September swap, I touched the garments, looked at fabric composition tags, scoffed ‘ugh, 100% polyester, of course’, looking for something nice in at least 100% cotton or viscose. While linen or silk would have been nice, Humana in Iberian peninsula is not that kind of place; as with the swaps, what goes around, comes around. And after several trips beyond the fitting curtain I had two garments that made sense for my wardrobe for €12.78. Both of them can be assumed to be functional replacements of a ‘beyond repair’ garment I said bye bye this summer, like so:

To make it even funnier, both are Zara, made in Portugal (the black one) and Morocco (the white one), and the black one even had its tags on: from the original €17.95 to €7.59, even less than the price tag said because in Humana they do all kinds of ‘sales’ – all for €4, all for €1 – and that day it was the -20% day. And on top of that – just to make fun of my fabric composition obsession – none of them has that information. The tags on the white one have been cut off, and all the intact tags on the black one does not reveal the material… my guess would be a cotton and elastane mix + synthetic lace for the black one and no clue for the white one, except for the synthetic lace panel.

Although I can rationalize this episode of the urge to acquire much better than the previous time I heard the the little voice of ‘oh, you are so buying something here’ in the WAG shop in Cape Town last year which cost me €160, I am still curious about that voice and where it came from. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t need a lift-me-up. But I needed a garment, and I needed it now.

I can think of two different but resonating dynamics for this. First, food cravings! Assuming that food cravings can be similar to shopping cravings not only in the good way of ‘my body is smart and wants natural yoghurt / comfy shoes, so I shall provide’, but ‘my body is weird and wants pickles in ice cream / a giant pack of chocolate chip cookies / another supermini dress I’ll never wear…’

The cravings story I like to tell has a morality subplot to it – as does garment acquisition after you have learnt enough about the harmful ways of the fashion industry – and involves anchovies. I’ve been an ovo-lacto vegetarian since 2006 and mostly vegan since 2011, but there were episodes in late 2000s when I just wanted a can of anchovies (always when it was already sitting in my mom’s fridge, never in shop). So I would eat it and move on. With no remorse, btw. And nowadays I act similarly around cheese and ice cream. If it feels like a good idea, enjoy it and relax. If it happens rarely enough – and only you can feel what’s rarely and what’s bingeing – just do it. Relaxing your standards occasionally to improve your quality of life is a good idea. And helps to not get too caught up in the purity politics of holier-than-thou. Note to self: Nobody needs another judgemental and suffering martyr.

I considered a photo of anchovies to illustrate my point but that somehow seemed too triggering. Here, look at this moldy piece of milk robbed to calves instead:

Second, selecting from a fixed set. Contrary to Clarissa trying to expand our horizons thinking beyond the given – look up her smorgasbord analogy; in a nutshell, even if you are presented with a multitude of readily available options to chose from, think about what you want without looking at the buffet as your true wish might be on another table – we tend to treat the given set as final, even in fleeting situations. I’m sure I’m not the only one who, when unpartnered and open to encounters, would enter a bar/party/class and without even thinking about it, do a hypothetical potential mate selection along the lines of ‘if this bunch of people would be the last bunch of people on earth, who would I…’ Why? It’s ridiculous. If you are somebody doing this with garments at shops or swaps, play the game, but try to keep in mind what you already have in your wardrobe. For example, when you have selected a winner at a swap, ask if you would swap anything out of your wardrobe to bring this one in. If the answer is no, reconsider taking it.

I keep reassuring people that it’s fine to bring their swap finds back the next time. The frantic buzz of the swap – as in shops during the sales – alters our decision making and sends it into a post-apocalyptic mode of thinking. Relax! Just shrug and bring it back on December 1.

As for me, I think I’ve found the perfect pastime that allows to open a safety valve for wanting things and prevents me from the scarcity-mentality browsing: sewing magazines! I stroll to my local libraries, fetch a pile of Burda and Patrones, and leaf through, annotating via phone photos and sketches things I like. As I’ve taken up learning to sew, these are fantasies that could be made reality but not immediately. The results look like this and may or may not turn into real garments, but I had my hour or two fantasizing and evaluating along the lines of ‘oh, this is nice… yuck, who thought that that was a good idea? …wow, I could totally enjoy one of these…’


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What’s your relationship with that little voice? Do you have it? Do you indulge it or ignore it?

Guest post: Me, My Clothes and My Club

Welcome to the second installment of guest posts on Un Armario Verde. You read about Marina’s experience with wardrobe tracking in March, now you have Liliana’s post on how she got to the point of organizing clothes’ swaps in Mexicali. This post is part of our post exchange. I wrote a post – in Spanish! – on how to organize a community swap for Liliana’s blog. You can read it here: He organizado seis intercambios de ropa y ésto es lo que he aprendido.

Liliana was a swap regular since the very first edition back in October 2016 and is now doing an amazing job in creating the change she wants back in Mexicali, both organizing community events and teaching aspiring renewables engineers how there is more to sustainability than they thought, and on the internets by blogging and filling her Facebook page with cool memes and info. Go, follow her! And now you have her story about the switch towards more sustainable fashion practices.

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I was born and raised in Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, on the border with California, United States. The textile culture that surrounds me is basically materialist: the proliferation of Outlet Plazas, Malls and Internet commerce are part of normality. Second-hand sales are aimed at an underprivileged sectors of the population and since just five years ago swaps and vintage boutiques are becoming popular in this city. Circular economy initiatives are just emerging. These initiatives are accompanied and driven in part by the environmental movement, the economic crisis and the new youth styles (and others not so young).

Mexicali is a difficult city: in the dog days we have reached 52 degrees Celsius. At the moment of writing this, it’s 47℃ on the street. There is sun all year, it rains a little and the winter is hard. It is necessary to have clothes of light, clear fabrics, and to avoid that which accumulates sweat. The irony? I love black and autumnal clothes, so I had to create a balance, for my survival!

I always say that minimalism and textile sustainability came to me, but I also looked for them. When I moved from my parents home to live alone, when I went to study in Barcelona, when I had other moves, travels, change the North American lifestyle to the Mediterranean… all that motivated to simplify my life, to keep my belongings organized and to be more selective. I stopped spending so much on clothes if it was not something that I really loved or needed, so I can say that the first step is to open up to oneself and connect with the intuition (or develop it in any case).

I got tired of having clothes that were not useful, that ended in gigantic boxes to donate or sell second-hand. Here is a picture of my closet:

I can’t believe that before I had it full and at the same time so empty. All the clothes that you can see are for spring and summer. I know I still have a lot to learn, but that’s what this is all about.

In 2010 I earned only a few bucks, so I made a reduction of everything that was not important in my life. I did not suffer in this process, on the contrary, it freed me a lot even though sometimes I did not make ends meet. The times of scarcity teach us many things.

We already know that it is not necessary to buy so many clothes, we know it, but marketing and advertising strategies bombard us so much, and it has stayed so programmed in our minds that we can not see beyond the non-purchase. In my city there are certain fashionista aspirations and even popular sayings, as when you repeat a garment it is said that “you look like a portrait”. I know people who spend more than 40% of their income on clothes and shoes.

In my case, the relationship with clothes has always been changing, but it maintains a constant: I give priority to comfort, this since I was a baby. I refused to use disposable diapers and against technological super modernity I used cloth diapers.

I do not like to wear heels or clothes that sacrifice practicality for style. With the use of the bicycle this conviction was accentuated: I love the real pockets —not the decorative ones—, and I love the fabrics that let you perspire. This is one of the things I learned the most with my cycling friends, to live sustainability and to go lighter… and happier.

To go to work I have stopped “disguising myself” and I try to be casual or semi-formal. I am a teacher-researcher, and fortunately in the institution where I work there is no dress code. I love dresses, and I like to play with them, that is, having a versatile dress that can be used formally, informally or in a more classy way is a jewel for me. The dresses make you look like you’ve worked hard to look good, but they are actually the easiest thing to do (and my gynecologist has recommended me to wear dresses instead of jeans), so there will always be one or two dresses in my closet that have been washed more than 50 times. I try to use the same clothes in different seasons, as you can see at the beginning of the post. This is one of my favorite dresses, it’s a Lauren Conrad’s, I bought it secondhand, although unworn, and you can see how it is possible to carry it through the all four seasons.

Approximately in 2010 I also started to exchange clothes with my friends and family: fortunately my friends, aunts, my mother and I used similar sizes, so we started having fun when we used a dress for eight different weddings, instead of having bought one. With my friends we started to exchange a little more: casual clothes, books, and some accessories. It took away many of the attachments I had with my clothes, and I chose to be pragmatic.

In this time I had some health problems that made me gain 12 kilos (26 pounds) in a few months. Here I went through several conflicts with clothes, for accepting in my mind that I was no longer size 3, or 5 … and that to stop using the style of clothes that I like would not make me feel better. Now I am very well, although I did not lose all the weight I wanted, I am healthy and more in peace with my body.

In 2013, when I arrived in Barcelona, I was delighted with the Flea Market: I found more valuable and original items than the new clothes from H&M and the disposable clothes from C&A. The sterile environment of a Fast Fashion store can never be like the atmosphere of a Mediterranean market. Well, now I have my opinion with respect to those who now organize the Flea in Barna, but that’s another story… Anyway, it was very nice to also appreciate the stories of each garment, give them a new life and, above all, keep my scholarship in my pocket. In Mexicali I swapped with my beautiful friends Laura and Berenice (now they help organizing swaps with me), in Barcelona I made clothes exchanges with my new and sweet friends: Camille, Paola and Tessie, a French girl and two Mexicans from whom I had a lot of support throughout that period.

In 2016 I attended the first swap of Un Armario Verde: The Vermutet & Warderobe Restart Autumn 2016. I found it on Facebook. Here Zuckerberg’s algorithms did work, because I usually did not get something so specific for my taste in the newsfeed. I read the description and at that moment I put my hands to work in my closet. I was very excited, and I tried to go with an open mind to allow for a surprise.

I arrived at the site alone, with a small suitcase. I was a little shy and there I met Luīze. I remember her with a tea in her hand, and with a relaxed face, she said to me: “Bienvenida, tú misma acomoda y coge lo que te guste” (Welcome, you arrange yourself and take what you like). We talked a little about the event and since then I have approached the subject with great joy. From then on I went to all the “wardrobe restarts” that Un Armario Verde made each season and I took some friends to experience the dynamics.

In the event of September 30, 2017, she and I talked about my return to Mexico. I told her it was going to be hard not to have Un Armario Verde, and that I would miss her. She proposed that I adapt the idea to my city and, of course, I said yes! In December of 2017 I returned to Mexicali, and left to Luīze the clothes that did not fit in the suitcase for the next event. With a little advice and motivation from a distance, on February 17 I organized my first swap: “Cafecito & Un Armario Verde”. So it was as if I had been in both events, in some way. My event, considering that it was experimental version with little promotion, was a success!

This encouraged me to open a fanpage and a blog of my own, chose an original name and organize the second event, with more strength and asking for the support of my friends. I was thinking about the name for several hours, as I wanted something inspired by Fight Club and The Breakfast Club. I thought of Fight Fast Fashion Club, but that’s very long…

That’s how the Green Swap Club was born, like a little baby from Un Armario Verde. In the end I put it in English, for practical issues, but the event continues with the Cafecito (Swap & Cafecito!). Especially because it reminds me of the Vermutet of Luīze (vermouth in Catalan) and because I love coffee, especially in diminutive, since that is how we say things with love and because they always mean something more: a space to share. Sometimes, instead of coffee, it may be cervecita, tecito, vinito, etc. ☺

I am using everything I learned about sustainability in my postgraduate studies and communication tools to “preach” Slow Fashion with love and joy, trying not to be heavy or aggressive. Because there is already a lot of that on the Internet.

For the same reason, I think we need to make more community… I like to make funny memes about Fast Fashion, and also share reflections and articles. And I would like to learn how to fix my clothes, as well as organize a workshop for other people to learn how to do it.

I have been invited to talk about Slow Fashion on the Radio and in the press: it fills me with joy! It has been unexpected to capture the attention and get a lot of people to be punctual to an event and leave so happy, without spending a single peso or dollar and without polluting the planet. What’s next? I am starting a new job as a professor and I would like to explore the topic of Fashion and Circular Economy in social and cultural research. Although it is an idea that I am still resting on, it continues to brew. I’ll tell you, if you wish, more about it. Meanwhile, I invite you to a coffee… and in the process we do something for the environment.

Text: Liliana López León. Images by Carlos Cruz. Printscreens from Green Swap Club.

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Thank you so much, Liliana! Looking forward to your next sustainability adventures… What has been your sustainable fashion journey so far, dear reader? Do you share any sustainability triggers with Liliana: emancipation from the parental home, moves (especially transcontinental), travel? What did that thought you?

Guest Post: Marina’s Wardrobe Reset 2018

Welcome to the first guest post in the history of Un Armario Verde. This post is a double win, being an endorsement from one of my dearest friends *and* a feed-back from a happy adopter of wardrobe tracking. Yes! According to my photo-archives, I have known Marina since 2004 and we have lived a big chunk of our adventurous youth together, like the time when hitchhiking to Paris seemed like a good idea in 2005:

We have lived in different countries since 2006 but do our best to meet whenever possible. The last time we met and happily stuffed our faces with Van Leeuwen vegan pistachio ice cream was May 2017 in New York:

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Without further ado, I give you Marina and her wardrobe reset story:

I tried tracking my clothes in a spreadsheet and here’s what happened

First of all I must make a confession – I’ve always admired Luīze’s style and ability to wear whatever she feels like without fear of being judged. It took me years to reach the point of comfort where choice of clothing was based on how I felt rather than what others expected me to look like. Thus, when Luīze started Un Armario Verde blog that explained in such beautiful detail the logic behind her outfits, I instantly became a regular reader and slowly started preparing myself to one day follow her example and learn to really love the clothes I wear.

Let’s backup a little bit – I’m a recovering shopaholic. I grew up in an environment where if something was on sale and it was a good deal it was almost mandatory to own it. I’ve wasted ridiculous amounts of my own and my parents money on clothes that I end up donating or giving away to someone after just one wear (sometimes not even one…) to make more space in my closet and have new excuses to buy more stuff. Until very recently, I was a bargain hunter living in a city where shopping resembles more of gathering practice rather than a hunt as brand discount stores and outlets keep luring one in on daily basis.

I agreed with everything Luīze wrote in Un Armario Verde from day one but it took me a couple months to really be ready to integrate her practices in my own routine. At first the spreadsheet idea seemed nuts – why would one put in so much time and effort into gathering data on worn clothes that is absolutely useless to everyone else except the wearer!? However, as I started tracking my outfits, it became a lot clearer that’s the whole point – becoming aware of the wardrobe choices, mindful of what hangs in the closet and optimize outfits for personal growth and nobody else’s benefit. The process of getting dressed suddenly gained new meaning and sparked unexpected joy. Perhaps, it was the element of gamification what really allowed me to embrace the spreadsheet-ing.

There were a couple of things I wanted to learn from this exercise – which items of clothing I wear the most, what brands are my go-tos so that I know where to allow myself to continue to shop and whether there are any subconscious trends I create.

A few results were obvious – I definitely had a favorite pair of boots and a scarf that was a mandatory staple of my outfit. What surprised me though, was my choice of home clothes – my most comfortable pieces that I hurry into as soon as I nobody’s watching. Those were the items that sparked the most joy and coincidentally were the items that had graduated from outside to inside wear after acquiring un-washable stains and moth holes.

I also developed my own version of office uniform that included jeggings and white shirt with faux fur vest to stay smart casual yet somewhat warm in the freezing New York winter. Unfortunately the pair of jeggings ended up calling it quits and ripping in the thigh area in a non-repairable way. The spare pair of jeans that would replace this piece of uniform did not feel nearly as joyful and I embraced on a quest to find a conscious replacement. I organised a clothes swap at a yoga studio where I teach in the evenings, spent hours browsing Good On You app but at the end fell for Jean Shop sample sale. I wasn’t able to find out how sustainable they are but I promise the pair I bought will be worn relentlessly.

I also encountered a challenge tracking my outfits when I went on a weekend break to Miami. The shift in seasons was almost like shock to me and I was back to being completely lost about what to wear. I packed way more than I needed and even then I wasn’t prepared appropriately for vacation activities. If only I had tracked my summer outfits in the previous seasons – I would have known exactly what to pack in the suitcase. Luckily prior to 10-day vacation to Costa Rica, I was able to pick out some suitable pieces at the clothes swap and felt more at ease with my choices. While I didn’t physically fill in the spreadsheet on my travels, I made very conscious mental notes of everything I wore and how it made me feel.

The biggest win for me was I stopped shopping when bored. I used to spend my I-have-nothing-else-better-to-do-right-now time looking for bargains but now I use the downtime a lot more productively – researching home improvement ideas, looking for DIY inspirations, catching up with friends, reading and literally doing anything else that isn’t shopping. While I haven’t quit spending money on new clothes completely, I only purchase items that I need. For example, a wool hat – a replacement for one that my partner lost, and rainboots – a replacement for a pair with a giant hole.

Most importantly though, I look at clothes now in a more thoughtful way. I take better care of garments I own and put in more effort in fixing items that need attention. I am nowhere near Luīze’s level of sustainable dressing but this is a beginning of a new phase in my wardrobe and I am excited for the journey to come!

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Thank you so much for sharing, Marina! And now, do you do any kind of wardrobe tracking? (Remember, even the easiest – turning the hangers trick – counts.) If yes, what have you discovered in the process? If no, does the idea resonate with you at all? If so, what’s holding you back: the work of preparing the full list, the routine of ticking thing every day, or the dread of what this exercise could reveal about your habits?

Is Sustainable Fashion a Privileged Affair? Yes, and…

Standard disclaimer: This is a bit of August armchair sociology, converting personal demons in a generalized and generational lament. Bauman would be proud of me! Freud, too. Just to be clear, I’m normally quite cautious with the postmodern sociology but in the following context it does make sense. I am not claiming that “postmodernity did this to us”, I’m thinking more along the lines of “these are the postmodern responses to the same old problems”.

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I’ve felt guilty since entering adolescence: of my use of resources, of my privilege. This is not a feminist issues of “they are trying to shrink me”, this is “I am trying to shrink my guilt and my carbon footprint”. Win-win! And I’m clearly not the only one: KonMari’s “throw it all out” is selling like crazy, the internets are teeming with tiny homes, capsule wardrobes, out-of-backpack adventures, digital nomadism…

I’ve promised myself to never use the idiotic notion of “millenials”, although I do remember that year when shops were selling “2000” candles and t-shirts. I shall move towards a generalized “we” instead. In this case it means generation Y and also a certain socio-demographic. However, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, replace every “we are” with “Luīze is”, that should do the trick.

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We are attracted to (1) minimalism in numbers, (2) minimalism in aesthetics, and have (3) ethical (and global) sensibilities in line with Ahimsa. While it’s all beautiful and good for the environment (unless you are one of those people tossing out all plastic / fast fashion and replacing it with stainless steel / sustainable garments; using up and not replacing is the thing, obviously), they are an itch to scratch to a budding sociologist. Where does it all come from? And the smugness! And righteousness!
These are the ad-hoc explanations I can come up with (following the best Weberian traditions, yes, it’s definitely multi-causal and more complex, but let’s just relax and spitball):

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A) We are too well-off. To put it crudely, Russians have an expression loosely translated as “going mad because of abundance” (literally: “going mad because of fat” – “С жиру бесится”). Or, to be more refined, we have post-material values. In line with the infamous, unscientific, and intuitively true work of Maslow, these are sensibilities that arise from all practical needs being covered. And then we reshuffle the priorities! While few might have the discipline to follow the steps of George Monbiot, travel and festivals, and vanguard tacos might be ascribed more subjective worth (as *experiences*) than the biggest TV set and a mortgage.

Old problem counterfactual: Marie Antoinette playing farm and how believable we find that she could’ve suggested that the starving eat brioche.

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B) Our life is unpredictable, and, contrary, to the XX ideal, we don’t expect it to be otherwise. Even if living and writing code from Bali is not your dream, there’s also no certainty of living in this house, in this city, in this country for a reasonable amount of time. So acquiring numerous heavy possessions is not practical.

Old problem counterfactual: not having anything and the plague is coming. Possessions are meaningless, unless you can buy your way into the Decameron mansion, and we all are going to end up in a mass grave anyway.

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C) We can’t handle chaos, hence try to establish a little patch of order in our won backyard. We cannot control economy, politics, terrorism… but we can decide to wear 33 garments for next 3 months, and stick to it. At least something! The doom and gloom seems to accelerate, and if the X-ers were already f*ed (see Coupland for proof), we are beyond that… We are craving meaning and clarity, and feeling special, better than the rest (after all, our mothers believed the indigo children bs, so we grew up confident in our uniqueness and unavoidable success).

Old problem counterfactual: family patriarchy under Feudal or Authoritarian system.

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D) The knowledge economy has gone postmaterial, so we are (selectively) reducing the material stuff and entering the business of selling intangible skill and hot air. Coaching, consulting, curating, networking… several powerful devices and few other possessions might be all we need. We envy the techno-nomads and virulently share testimonies of living out of a backpack.

And we are our own brand! Such careful cultivation when the fruits of your labor are not material. Only the number of followers and “likes” measure our worth. We seek to project our ideal selves – glowing, smart, compassionate, and creative – into reality instead of killing ourselves and all other creatures.

Old problem counterfactual: the world is still material (knock on wood!), and parsonal branding is not new! Either for curating a successful philosophy (1, 2) or explorer brand (3, 4, 5).

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E) The eye has to rest! Contrary to Diana Vreeland’s advice, we might just be tired of all the stimuli. Every day we see a gazillion pictures, read as much snippets of texts, tweets, ads… it’s tiring.

There might be a spiritual-religious spark to it, too: looking for the enlightenment via (selective) renounciation and purity politics (the “clean eatingorthorexia horrors, anyone?), wishing to be on the right side of the history.

Old problem counterfactual: find a cave, become a hermit and wait for the magic to happen! Moving in a semi-secluded cabin and writing a tedious diary is another option.

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Is it that bad, doctor (or, better, holistic practitioner)? I prescribe persuasion by quiet example, *not* surround yourself with the like-minded, and better a smug blog than smug sermons at family gatherings.

Dos any of this resonate or is this really just me?

Capsule wardrobes trans-seasonally and beyond seasonality

What my wardrobe would look like if I’d adopt a completely a-seasonal approach.

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I came across this piece on trans-seasonal dressing and… misunderstood it! Having never seen the term before, my restriction-loving mind filled the gaps along the lines of “yeah, how about just wearing the same items throughout the year! Of course, would be very local climate dependent, but even in 4-season zones we already wear many of our things both in January and July. Let’s see how many of my garments are that versatile!”

Then I googled a bit more, re-read the article that had sparked my interest, and realized that I had made it all up. In the fashion world the term actually refers to the fact that between winter and summer there are these in-between “transitional” periods of weather changing towards warmer or cooler. It’s clearly additional fun for fashion designers and editors, but in my culture we just call them spring and autumn (and Latvian summer) and bring a jacket. There are even such things as summer coat

So I’ll just go back to my initial idea and explore the *beyond* seasonality of my wardrobe.

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First of all, let’s talk climate. Having been born and raised in a temperate climate (humid continental, to be more precise), one of my major cultural shocks have been grasping that my friends from tropical climates have completely different understanding of weather and seasons. Having seen Mozambicans investing in their first wool hats when surprised by snow in Czech Republic, learning that a Panamanian friend bought her first coat when starting to travel internationally for work, and noticing that my Dominican colleague does not change his meals to lighter and cooler ones in summer has brought the point home. And I know that my current Mediterranean habitat of very mild winters and very hot summers would suggest to many (Latvians) that I am out of touch with the 4-season reality. To some extent – as the mutations of my Riga capsule have shown – I am.

I played with my wardrobe excel and divided it by the “beyond season potential” of my garments, i.e. answered to the question would I consider wearing (and do wear) them throughout the year or no way. I separated the Barcelona and Riga items, as different logic (and weather!) applies.

Click here to see the spreadsheet.

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No surprises. I have garments for all seasons, and – I would say – a reasonable mix of season-specific and year-round pieces. Seasonality is mostly dictated by fiber type: wool and synthetics for winter, cotton and regenerated fibers for summer. And cotton and regenerated fibers for the year-round champions! The conclusion here could be that getting rid of some of the most plastic pieces would move my wardrobe closer to a beyond-seasonal ideal. We’ll see about that this winter! (The August heat is inducing repulsion towards all my cold weather gear, so I’ll wait to see how I feel about my polyester dresses when the temperatures drop some 20ºC and wool tights come back in vogue.)

Here are some examples of how my year-round garments look in different seasons:

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What are the garments that you wear throughout the year? Are you among the people who have only one-season clothing for your home base and other capsule wardrobes for travel in different latitudes? Would a beyond-season capsule be possible in your life?

The Future of Riga capsule

My Riga wardrobe is going down. As my future is still in works and I’ve spent so little time in Latvia this year, Riga capsule is becoming 3 dresses, 6 layers, 3 pairs of footwear and 7 pieces of loungewear (our of which several can be repurposed for exterior uses). This new reduced Riga capsule will serve my needs here – being comfy at home, dealing with the weather and attending the somewhat regular formal occasions (hi, Opera!) – while reducing the amount of wishful thinking I had attached to this capsule.

The three dresses: formal, winter, and summer.

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I have found four reasons for not making it a one unique wardrobe located in one place (I haven’t had that since autumn 2007):

  1. There are 4 items that do not make the slightest sense in Barcelona: my parka (~2004), my fluffy jacket (2006), a heavy wool sweater (2015), and the infamous Crocs winter boots (2014). Nokian Hai rainboots are on the brink of falling into the same category.
  2. Travel is so much easier when I don’t have to bring any clothing, especially when taking into account the volatility of Latvian climate. It can be anywhere [-30; 10]ºC in winter and [10; 30]ºC in summer. Carrying winter boots and rain boots back and forth would be very wasteful and tiring.
  3. It’s fun! I’ve observed the flow of garments between the two wardrobes for 10 years, and it’s very telling. Of my naïveté, to start with, as my first wardrobe choices when heading out of home were rather questionable. And of wishful thinking, telling myself that Riga wardrobe was of the same value. Liar! Except for the weather-specific garments, those staying behind in Latvia were always second-tier pieces… But the re-encounters are exciting, although in most cases they serve just to confirm that obsolescence of the garment.
  4. Having things in Riga is a sentimental link, and I have few of those left: passport, family and friends, and some belongings that in last 10 years have proved themselves to be not essential enough to be carried with me but still to important to be donated.


Certain heirlooms also get to stay.

Do you have any geographically separated wardrobes (in summerhouses, at your parents)? How do you make sure that those are still functional and not a dump for the “maybe” pile?

My take on “formal” and dressing up out of a capsule

My life tends to be the opposite of formal…

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One of my early influences from Western romantic movies was a fondness for “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue“. I found out only yesterday that the whole thing is British and it has an additional line “and a silver sixpence in her shoe”, but even 25 years ago the idea of putting an outfit (and that of a bride, no less!) together from pieces that are not new and following a set of quirky rules seemed a lot of fun. I’m not tying any knots anytime soon (or ever, if I can avoid it), but putting together outfits by combining pre-loved items is what I do… We are in the wedding season, so here’s my proverbial sixpence on how to survive formal occasions with a capsule wardrobe.

There is a lot of superstition around formalwear, and most of it is not even as romantic as putting a coin in your shoe. (Also, now you won’t catch a ride home with a sixpence, but in XVIII-XIX that was quite a lot of money.) Most of formalwear superstition now is not linked with good luck or fertility, it’s all about “what will *they* think” instead. Very boring! The most abundant and insidious belief out there is that repeating outfits is a disrespect for the occasion, if you haven’t even bothered to go on a shopping spree for it. Bah!

My unsurprising suggestion here is to relax and repeat-repeat-repeat outfits until your current formalwear disintegrates. Very few of us have lots of these occasions (and if you are one of those people, there is a whole army taking care of your red carpet needs), so even if you have the perfect “formalwear capsule” (= 1 dress!) now, (a) it is very likely that in five years you will have worn it only a handful of times, (b) f* knows what your body will be up to in these years, (c) fashion aesthetics do change, just think of all those shoulder-padded garments now slowly dying in so many storage units. So, unless you manage to create a timeless and formal one-size-fits-all garment (let me know if you succeed, as even men suits don’t live up to these requirements), having a “formalwear capsule” is a wasteful strategy. You will never get it up to #30wears.

A much more rational, even utilitarian approach is to make the best possible combination of your smart casuals and call it a day. If you are reading this, you probably live in an amazing abundance of garments. Some of that is bound be good enough for the occasion, especially if you are not the bride.

Rental services for formalwear is an option. A lot of fuss but obviously better than buying. In my 30 years, I’ve never needed an evening gown. I might look into rentals if an occasion with strict-enough dress codes arises. Second-hand outrageousness or ethnographic costumes might be an option, depending on your crowds. Obviously, all this is lifestyle-contingent. But all the bs of a new dress, new shoes, a matching clutch and half day at the hair saloon is much too much anxiety for me to handle. Also, and for the n-th time, unless you are the bride, nobody is really keeping tabs on how many times they’ve seen you in the same dress.

If you are hellbent on *investing* and wan the old lie of “I’ll wear it again” to become true, stay away from flashy and fashionable, unless that garment is truly and uniquely *you*. Fashionable colors and prints are more likely to feel dated. Opt for something tailored and/or long-lasting (LBD, anyone?). And take into account that most of your cohort is combing the fast fashion places for the right outfit, hence the identical jumpsuit *catastrophe* is possible. Well, if that ever happens, laugh about it and take a photo!

And repeating has a comfort advantage, too. You are very likely to know if you can dance in these shoes and if you can eat in that dress, and how it looks in the photos. And you probably already have the right underwear. All this puts you light-years ahead of people who are breaking in a new pairs of shoes, i.e. those people dancing barefoot.

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To illustrate my point, this is what I wore for:

A high school reunion in 2015.

A wedding in 2015.

Two weddings in 2016.

A first communion in 2017.

My grandma’s 75th birthday in 2017.

Opera in 2017.

I have a wedding to attend in a week and, unless there’s a fashion force majeure, those people will see the same H&M sweetheart dress (2008), my Arcopedico work shoes (2017) and the little bolero jacket dreamed up by me and made by Gunta Upīte (2011). I’m leaving the headpieces at home, because I have no idea what will be going on on bride’s head. Easy-peasy!

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What’s your formalwear startegy? Do you combine from the existing everyday pieces or do you have the one cocktail dress that has seen all the occasions? Or is this the segment of your garment life where you relax the capsule and go shopping?

#30wears and 18 months of counting

Only 5 items have passed a 75 wear threshold in last 18 months: the gray cardigan (80 wears), Hummel jacket (79) and all three pairs of Veja Taua model I’ve owned (92, 154 & 101).

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I sneered at #30wears when I first read about Livia Firth’s initiative. Hah, where’s the merit in that? 30 miserable wears! I do more in few months, let alone throughout the lifetime of a garment… and then I went through my spreadsheets and summed all the wears. You win, Livia!

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#30wears is (yeah, another one!) ethical fashion initiative, in this case reminding that the simplest, cheapest and greenest way to make our wardrobes more ethical is to wear what we already own for as many times as we can. Basic, right? The number is rather arbitrary, but makes an intuitive sense of being a significant number of wears… and less scary than the magic 50 or 100.

It might be the imprint of a (post)Soviet scarcity mentality when hoarding made all the sense in the world, but I find absurd having something just for one wear. In my head that’s some kind of perverse consumption failure. And, no, I haven’t owned an evening gown or a wedding dress. No, I don’t do much red carpet, so repeating outfits is OK. Also, nobody notices what I’m wearing.

Intrigued by a new quantitative threshold (mine is 10 wears per season), the spreadsheet lover in me brought together the numbers for last 18 months. I’ve been counting them for this long, so that’s the available time horizon.

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I went through my numbers, and I am not impressed. They range from 0 (May swap finds waiting October) to 154 (Veja Taua Bahia), and have clear patterns. So these are the lessons learned if you want to wear your items more (and get better cost-per-wear, too!):

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It’s a numbers game. The least items you have, the more likely you are to wear each item. Obvious, yes, but I had an already heavily reduced wardrobe during this period, and less than a third of the garments I’ve worn have reached the magic 30.
Step 1: Reduce the total number of items in your wardrobe!

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This one follows the previous: the longer you have something, the more opportunities it has to be worn. There is a trick there, though. First, some exceptional items – special occasion garments, family vintage, sentimental stuff – work against this rule. If you are keeping something for its sentimental value, admit it and treat it differently. But only after really inquiring with your heart and all the family ghosts. The other mental hurdle is the well known “I’ll wear it someday”. Na-ah, if you are not wearing it now or waiting eagerly for seasons to change so that you could wear it, let it go.
Step 2: Keep only those items that you wear! If even a #30wears challenge can’t make you wear it, find another home for that party dress you wore once.

The same denim jacket from 2003 till 2017. 45 wears in last 18 months, but a scary unknown number since our paths crossed in 2003.

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Very few tears and unravellings are unmendable. Time is your ally in upping the number of wears, and so is mending as it will keep your favorites with you. If you have a “fix” pile that just silently dies in some bag for months, do yourself a favor and get rid of it!
Step 3: Find a seamstress you trust and can afford (or do it yourself if you have those kind of fingers!), and get your stuff fixed.

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Seasonality! Contingent on your location, but throughout-the-year versatility really pushes up the number of wears. Think jeans. Think t-shirts with and without layers. In my case, think necklaces.
Step 4: Depending on your climate, think about ways how you could carry the same garment throughout (most of) the year!

The same Dana Zēberga necklace in February, March, May and June.

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Function, function, function! If you have only one thing for one use and you need it often, you have a winner! I have one winter hat – a hand-me-down from C – and that’s easy, I have six winter scarves and struggle with indecision. And they are all heirlooms, too. Harsh weather garments – bikinis and winter coats – can fall into this category if you manage stick to having only one. ONE IS ALL YOU NEED HERE! (Underwear and hosiery are clearly exceptions to this and the next rule.)
Step 5: Question the function of each garment! Try to bring it down to one per function.

And this is only a half of the scarf-situation.

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Duplicates are bullshit. I’ve done several attempts at this in my life and it has always been a massive fail. Even when two not identical garments have exactly the same function, they are not helping anybody, unless your lifestyle requires it (think uniforms!). There is clearly one item too many between my two pairs of informal short shorts (going at 30 and 13 wears so far).
Step 6: Rethink your duplicates! Chances are that you prefer one to other, so keep your favorite.

My problem here is that the patterned ones are much more comfy but even I’m not ready for this kind of pattern clash. Ugh!

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Verdict: Wear counting is a fun thing to do! It opens your eyes to the very short life of our garments and to how rarely we actually wear stuff. A thought experiment: a garment you machine wash after every use (keep in mind that very few garments need this!) and wear seasonally could get around 25 wears per year (52/2) while a garment worn year-round on every third day = 365/3.
However, counting and the slows progress of numbers will drive you crazy if you start with a very ample wardrobe. My suggestion is a Marie Kondo purge of everything not fitting (the body or the lifestyle) or sparking joy, followed by counting. Spreadsheets don’t lie but they need room to do their magic!

Breathe deeply, it’s clean enough

I keep observing – and dealing with – several mental hang-ups that hamper access to a more sustainable living. The great taboo of cleanliness is at work! It’s very natural as notions of purity and cleanliness lie at the very core of cultures, separating good and bad, beneficial and pernicious. Even more – and this coming from a sociologist – there is a clear evolutionary need to distinguish rotten and smelly as bad (i.e. inedible; cheese came into being long time after) for our survival.

However, industrial societies have brought the hygiene revolution a tad too far. With the advances of chemical industry, household appliances and the new abundance of garments, it’s all too easy to become overzealous with cleanliness.

Apart from health and overall environmental implications (look those up anyway, please!), I want to bring your attention to two areas where twisted notions of hygiene affect the sustainability of our wardrobes: care of garments and ways to obtain them.

So, first of all, when it comes to basic care issues, reconsider your laundry habits:

When I’m taking off a garment after wear, I check it for smell and stains. If the item can do with just airing, back to the wardrobe it goes. I know this is a hard one to overcome, especially if you come from a “you’ve worn it, put it in the laundry basket” household. For inspiration (and courage!) I suggest you read up care advice from top denim brands. Despite the fact that those are intensely worn and constantly crotch rubbing garments, Nudie Jeans’ advice is “six or more months of daily wear before washing“. Boom!

If you have items that need washing machine to get back into shape after one wear, I suggest you get rid of them. One wear per wash is a very bad deal for anything except underwear and socks.

Work around the care labels. Read them but see if you can hack them. For example, “dry cleaning only” is usually a hoax. The only thing they’ll do is break your buttons, take your money and, depending on method used, might flush down the drain all kinds of nasties meanwhile. If the item is especially delicate (or you need it for tomorrow), wash it by hand, either in the sink or bring it with you in the shower.

Wash with cold water! Unless you have exceptionally dirty clothes (hardcore food stains, mechanical oils, etc.), cold water will do. Upgrade to 30ºC if very dirty and save 40ºC for special occasions. In our household 60ºC is for our grimy tea towels and 90ºC only for very persistent stain treatment (which happens maybe once a year and involves bleach, yuck!).

Working with these low temperatures I’ve realized that separating colors is a laundry superstition. In my washing machine everybody goes in together and only very occasionally the whites come out baby blue or light pink. Learn to recognize possible dye leakers and separate them. Letting go of this separation makes sure you always have full loads.

Upgrade your detergent to a better alternative (inquire with knowledgeable people, like these) and consider getting rid of the fabric softener, it’s offensively smelling black magic anyways.

Line dry if possible. Depends on your dwelling and on your household composition, of course. We are very lucky to be able to line dry on the roof of our apartment building. I feel that only extra laundry needs, like having small children, justify investing in a dryer. I’m biased,  because that’s not a typical household appliance neither in Latvia nor in Spain. The only ones I’ve ever used have been in laundromats when I lived in Brussels. And I don’t miss them.

Rethink if ironing is an activity you want to invest in. I iron only my handkerchiefs. And only in winter, the handkerchief season.

OK, so you’ve let go of many things your mom taught you about laundry. Now we can tackle an even trickier one: the great secondhand prejudice. Making your own stuff last for years and obtaining clothing second hand can be linked with the purity taboo, specially if you find yourself among people that sneer at pre-worn garments.

My sensation is that fear of poverty tends to be at the bottom of the second-hand aversion, much more prevalent among people that have experienced scarcity (hello, Eastern Europe of 1990s!). Seems that the key for embracing second hand is not having fear of being perceived as poor and abandoning the idea of new as intrinsically better.

(A toxicity side note about newness: when dealing with fast fashion, you are much better off with pre-used and pre-washed items that have lost some of possible toxicity of pesticides and dyes that garment might have had when fresh off the shelf, provided that the re-seller hasn’t sprayed it with any new crap. Community swapping is a way to avoid this hazard.)

If the ones mocking your pre-loved outfits are other people, f*ck them. Try, at least. Ignoring what (significant) others say is very hard, I know. However, in this case you have your Values by your side. The next time your grandma asks if you are really so poor as to wear other people’s stuff, let that comment fly over your head knowing that goddesses of sustainability are by your side. I’m sure you are already ignoring other similarly well intentioned but off mark advice. So let go of this one as well.

If the cockroaches are in your own head (we all have those, relax), it might help to think about all the other things in life you share with people. This exercise might be triggering for some, but most (more or less) neurotypicals should have no problem admitting that we share tableware with strangers at restaurants we frequent. We go to hotels and sleep in bed linen many other people have slept before. We share soap and hand towels (and other personal care items depending on household) with partners and family. The logic we routinely apply is that things become as new after a good wash. If you have a hygiene-based aversion to second hand garments, I suggest two things:

First, calm down. As with all subtractions, this is a friendly invitation to review and question certain aspects of your everyday life. However, sometimes it makes sense to keep things the same after that critical examination. And that’s fine. You’ll just know that your wardrobe detox strategy shall be one of replacing with sustainably made new things. It takes google time and money, but it surely doable. As I’ve explained before, for me it makes more sense to buy my underwear, hosiery and footwear new. But here you have an example of how underwear does not have to be bought new.

Second, consider the gradient formed by different strategies of obtaining pre-worn garments. The true thrift shop with certain levels of mess, tackiness and that particular smell is the most hardcore way of incorporating second hand items in your wardrobe. Depending on your personality and mood, it can be an exciting treasure hunt or an exhausting nightmare, especially if you are looking for something very specific. A very basic notion for for thrifting is looking for broad categories (“a full skirt”, “a dress for my cousin’s wedding”) instead of a something exactly as you have imagined. And always keeping your eyes open for unexpected gems. I did a lot of thrifting in my adolescence, but that was stopped first by my incursion into fast fashion browsing habit and then by change in acquisition dynamics via hand-me-downs and swaps. But that’s still the kind of fashion browsing I could get behind.

A more pleasant second hand experience can be consignment stores and curated vintage places, but you’ll pay for the selection work done for you. Usually these places are much smaller and tailored according to curator’s taste. So you might find a shop that’s a match made in heaven for your style, but don’t hold your breath for that!

If your aversion comes from the fact that second hand garments have spent unknown time in containers, trucks and warehouses, and you have no idea where they are coming from… clothes’ swaps could be your thing! Depending on how they are done, those could be events with things from relative strangers, but you’ll be sure that the garment came directly from their homes. So no mystery locations and smells to get rid of. I don’t even wash the things I adopt at swaps, I just wear them and they become mine. Without infrastructure, transportation or money. Pure magic!

If strangers make you squeamish, organize an intimate swap with people you know. Make a party out of that or just casually ask if your friends have stuff they are not wearing (or volunteer to assist them with a wardrobe revision).

The lowest stress option on the pre-worn gradient is shopping your own wardrobe and wearing your stuff. Many times. As long as it makes sense for you. This is why I do the strictly controlled spreadsheet thing: it shows me what’s working for my current lifestyle and what has to go. Those “not for me, not now” pieces then return to the circular fashion economy via my friends and community, and keep wearing and re-wearing my wardrobe heroes.

The #30wears hashtag is going around promoting this exact idea. Thirty seems a rather low threshold for me. Just during the 3.5 months of last winter my trench got 50 wears… I wish there was some mechanism in our apparel counting wears. I’m sure that some of my garments have seen several hundred wears.

How I pack or #whatiwore 2017w16

Week 16 featured this year’s first trip, so I had to pack for four nights away from home and two flights.  My travel planning for last few years involves a pen-on-paper list (pictured above) divided by days and activities. I fill it with weather appropriate items I want to wear and – voilà! – I have a list of all I need to pack. This approach allows packing only the necessary number of things and planning to repeat outfits if appropriate. I will never tire of repeating that other people actually do not notice that much of our outfits. So repeating is a very smart travel strategy: if it passes the smell test, wear it again (and carry less with you)!

I make the list quite some days before the trip. It helps to assess my needs in a more detached way and helps to prepare all that has to be washed or mended before the trip. As with wardrobe pruning, you have to know your stuff very well to be able to do this without opening your wardrobe. To make sure that nothing stays behind in the laundry basket, I prefer to get the suitcase out a few days before the trip and just start to put in stuff that’s on the list.

My basic travel outfit is a long blouse and leggings adjusted for weather with adequate footwear and additional layers. It’s comfy, relaxed, and still feels put together. Lack of pockets in women’s apparel becomes an issue when traveling, so the additional layers need to have those. And, knowing how crazy cold it can be on a plane, I always bring that additional layer and a scarf with me.

For this trip involving Granada and Seville, however, I was preparing for warm weather on ground, so my Mom’s hand-me-down blazer it was. As long blouse and leggings combo work very well for almost all casual travel situations, I only needed a hotter weather alternative… So the shorts season is officially open!

By the third day the white blouse already had some grease stains (hello, Andalusian tapas!), but the little pink number (a hand-me-down from Kristine) did a great job replacing it. I have to admit that I chickened out when packing and included an extra top and leggings. In vain. Lesson learnt: trust the list!

I don’t mind showering together with my socks and underwear, so five of each was more then enough even if I changed into fresh socks after siesta. And my new Veja sneakers are now officially broken in and extra comfy for long walks.

We also attended a formal family event, so my aunt’s hand-me-down dress, the Arcopedico shoes and the same blazer topped with a sparkly headband did the trick.

Persuasion or #fuckfastfashion, but gently

Liisa threw a post idea at me the other day: “How can we – gently and lovingly – convince our friends and family that fast fashion is an aberration? How can we respond to some of the most common arguments people use to shield themselves from thinking about the conditions their garments are made in?”

The idea is an excellent one, especially as adoption of more sustainable fashion practices (very similarly than becoming a vegan) leads you to exclude certain groups of products from your consciousness. Your wardrobe is build as if the big cheap retailers would not exist, and you get shocked every time you hear that somebody still goes there. This trick our minds play with us leads to less capacity for empathy for those who still continue with *the habit*.

Empathy is key in messaging, because the substance of all our “fuck fast fashion” speeches is no other than dividing garments in “good” and “bad”, and telling people that by purchasing “bad” garments they are directly responsible for oppressing people and destroying ecosystems. Nobody wants to be part of that club, so denial, defensiveness and anger are only natural reactions.

So both with veganism and sustainable fashion, unless people are really trying to provoke me (I wish I’d received a euro every time I’ve heard a variation of “what about the pain that carrots feel?”), I adopt the “every step counts” approach and never tire of celebrating the smallest changes that people are willing to make.

However, there are some common illusions that people use to shield themselves from the inconvenient truth of fast fashion. Be gentle and firm when addressing these, imagine you are unraveling a knit: you have to be careful during the process, but this stuff’s gotta go.

A: Fast fashion as employer. Sounds like something along the lines of “but these people are happy when the bad garment industry jobs come, they would be even more miserable without them”.

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The fallacy is assuming that if it could be worse, it cannot be better. Also, unfortunately the fact that people making fast fashion garments in most cases are far away from the consumers reduces our empathy. In many cases labor, social justice and feminist activists would fight for similar issues at home but do not see the links with struggles thousands of kilometers away. There are exceptions, of course, but the geographical divide is clear. In Spain – the birthplace of the Amancio’s empire – Zara started by relying on Galician seamstresses, but then the price squeeze came, and now time by time we get TV segments lamenting death of the industry as all production jobs have been moved overseas. However, rarely it gets connected with “be ready to pay more if you want the industry back”.
The rawest point that unravels this falacy is that current garment workers do not envision happy future in the garment industry for their children, instead they face alienation from the final product that they are creating and hope that their daughters will have much better jobs. Being in favor of smaller but local garment industries has to do with less carbon footprint, but it is easy to imagine a better garment industry both in Cambodia and back in Galicia. But not at the actual rock bottom price point. And that leads us to the second fast fashion illusion…

B: Fast fashion as a cheap option. “But I’m poor/looking for the best deal, the price is very important to me, that’s why I go to fast fashion places”.

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Two issues are at the root of this reasoning. First, we have learned that cheap garments are possible, and the assumption that follows is that they *should* be cheap. That is not true. For most of clothing’s history garments were scarce and very expensive. Everybody had very few items, and those were mended, upcycled and worn to threads. The abundance we live in is very recent and has clearly diminished the value of each garment. And the same logic has worked the other way around: pressure for cheap garments have propelled use of worse materials and worse stitching. So, on one hand, people want cheap stuff. On the other, they know that the cheap stuff won’t last, and are ready to buy another one very soon.
Second issue are hidden (i.e. unpaid) costs. As with other industries that rely heavily on a global production chain, many negative environmental and social impacts of garment industry go uncounted and unpunished. Due to strategic placement of operations, they are likely to pollute in places with lax environmental regulation and bully labor union activists in places where governments prefer foreign investment to organized labor force. This is a major trick for making the final garment cheaper: you just move your production to more savage capitalism and avoid Western regulations.

C: Fast fashion as as easy and ubiquitous. “I’m busy and need a pair of flats now!”.

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Garments are not drinking water (or potatoes, if you are Eastern European). There are very few real clothing emergencies, i.e. you have only one bra and the fastening broke. Or it’s -30ºC and you have no garment that would cover your legs. I doubt that any of you, my friends, have been in a real emergency of that kind.
Our fake emergencies tend to be more along the lines of “I cannot wear this dress to this wedding, I already wore it last year to common friends’ wedding” or “this purse is several tones off from the shoe color”. Meh. Nobody cares, believe me. Not even if you’re the bride.
These fake emergencies stem either from the ubiquity of fashion and meaning we assign to garments (“I need new stuff for this event”) or bad past decisions (“these shoes are killing me, let’s pop in H&M for a 5€ pair of whatever”). The alternative is pruning, planning and knowing your stuff intimately. And letting go of many preconceived reasons for shopping.

D: Fast fashion as the amplest choice. “I like to see the biggest possible number of things in one place, and then chose from them”.

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It’s like if you’d enter a bar, choose the least unattractive person there, and decide they are your crush now. While all you actually wanted was a glass of water.
In a nutshell, fast fashion moguls decide for you and then you browse their badly made stuff that won’t last for even one season knowing it’s either this or nothing until the next “update” (that happen at least weekly in most of those places). And even if the garment would last, you don’t even like it enough to wear for one full season and make it your signature item.
I admit that hunting down something specific in the ethical or second-hand market is hard. But internet exists. Seamstresses exist. Learning to sew is a possibility. And letting go of twisted fantasies about the perfect dress too.

E: Fast fashion as a pastime. “But it’s fun to go an browse, and then be able to buy at least some of it (or make a *haul* of it)!”.

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Get yourself another hobby! If it has to be fashion-related, do the more exciting (and funny too!) thrift-store browsing. Or try to swap with your friends. If you want it fashion-related and being even more selective (and without spending any money), I suggest turning to Pinterest. Curate your own collections, capsules, editorials… Make collages and share them on the internets! (Like this person.) The gratification should be at least on par with spending hours indoors listening to chunda-chunda music and going through racks of poorly made polyester garments.

F: Fast fashion as “fast”. “Fast fashion is like fast food: After the sugar rush it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth”.

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This is a bonus one, coming from this post that undoubtedly had best intentions. It’s only partly correct, though. It’s spot on about instant gratification and lack of long term benefits. However, despite the fact that industrial food production has a lot of issues going on in oh! so many fronts, fast fashion is worse because it has a bigger impact while being made and that stuff lingers…
While with food we have to worry (and rightly so!) about recycling the wrappers, it’s harder with garments. You have the bags and boxes, and the thing itself. Yet most cities don’t run a textile waste program. And charities that accept donations are overwhelmed by the quantity of badly made and worn out fast fashion garments nobody wants. So they ship containers of unwanted textiles to (mostly) African countries where they dynamite the traditional textile markets. And even if your 3€ novelty t-shirt end up becoming a cleaning rug in Ghana, there is still uncompostable waste at the end of all the moving and shipping that piece of mixed fibers has experienced.

OK, so I’m not sure how gentle this turned out to be. Not much, I suspect. However, here you have at least threads of conversation to use – more gently and lovingly, preferably – to advance the conversation in your community. Remember that you never know when just a one phrase you utter might make that *click!* in somebody’s head. I cannot promise converts, but at least you are prepared for the conversation now.

Constant Gardener: Edit your wardrobe!

So you have curated a solid vision for your wardrobe or just feel like making a spring cleaning in your wardrobe… Each wardrobe is a world, so you have to decide which approach works for you.

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Strategy A: The intuitive one

If you have an extensive wardrobe that hasn’t seen pruning in long time, I’d suggest you go for the intuitive approach. This is the strategy you will find described in most places that give advice on wardrobe cleaning:

0. Get into a warrior mode, a good documentary or a podcast on the evils of consumerism and fast fashion might help.

1. Get it all out together (on the bed, on the floor).

2. Sort it into three or four piles: “love”, “maybe”, “out (donate)”, “out (textile trash)”. Try the items on if need be. “Tailor it” could be an additional pile, but be careful, it can become a ghost that then sits in your wardrobe for months waiting to be tailored. I’d suggest a certain degree of ruthlessness, i.e. if that things has been waiting to see a tailor for months, it has gotta go.

3. Return “love” to your wardrobe, get rid of the “out” piles, reconsider “maybe” by either giving it a period of grace (i.e. hide it somewhere and if in few weeks you haven’t wanted any of it, out it goes) or just go through it again, making new “love” and “out” piles.

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This approach should leave you with a significantly reduced amount of items, all of them in good condition. Success! If you want more variations of this strategy, check out how Lee from Style Bee, Courtney from Be More with Less, or Anuschka from Into Mind do it.

My very personal final suggestion is that you make an exhaustive list of all that remains once you are done with this wardrobe edit. That will help to assess the overall size of your wardrobe (normally the sheer number is enough to scare one into adding some more to the “out” piles) and the weight of different categories. Plus, you might want to follow up with Strategy B.

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Strategy B: The brainy one

This one is more appropriate once you have gotten down to a wardrobe that you feel in control of. You know each garment intimately, you know how it feels, how it sits, how it washes, how it shows sweat, and where exactly the hemline hits. In most cases such knowledge means a reduced number of garments, and this might lead to fear to get too excited with editing and throw out a key basic that maybe does not spark that much joy but actually is an essential layering piece. Keep calm, this approach is for you.

1. Make an exhaustive list of all your clothing. Yes, it can be overwhelming, but, please, bear with me. Make a list of all serious clothing you have (except lounge, sports, sleep, underwear, hosiery; i.e. only stuff you wear when you let strangers see you) and footwear. And I suggest you do that in a spreadsheet or at least a text editor, instead of a paper notebook. More or less like this:

This accountant-style exercise will most probably provide a lot of insight on its own. Here you can see my current wardrobe spreadsheet. Just for fun I’ve also included country, year I obtained it and how I obtained it.

Preliminary conclusions? (a) I’m a dress and skirt person. (b) As you already know, all my footwear is new while the rest of items tend to be either quite old or hand-me-downs. (c) I am already down to numbers what other people curate as capsule wardrobes. But I have two of them! So, this still feels very abundant and might need some more pruning, especially taking into account (d) my problem with identifying the right moment to say goodbye to worn-out items.

As you know your stuff well, just taking a look at the list might be enough to make bye-bye decisions, especially as you can see other garments in the same column and be assured that you will have something to wear. For example, my plan for the end of my Spring capsule is to finally retire my old denim jacket (est. 2003) and bring one of my military-style blazers from Riga to substitute it. This will be the swap:

Making the list can be cumbersome the first time. However, once you invest in having an easy-to-update list, the following edits can be made while you are curling up in your bed with a cup of hot cocoa. No need to get it all out again in order to prune out an item or two.

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2. Make a parallel tab in excel (you can also print the list and cut out the individual items, yet I prefer the good old “copy-paste” for this), and organize your items in a table like this one:

Celebrate your “winners”! Then think about the rest. Which things you could donate today and never think of them again? I suggest that out they go. Erase them from your list (feels good, right?) and, if doing this at home, bag them for donation. Hopefully you can let go of all “don’t like don’t wear” and “forgotten” items and then proceed with the two other categories.

For pieces you don’t wear but like: Would you add them to your wardrobe again tomorrow? No? Out. Are they wrong or you this year/this body? Out. Life is a complex thing already, you have no need to accumulate guilt and remorse in your wardrobe, thank you very much.
While there are some garments we save for special occasions (evening gowns! ski overalls!), ask yourself if you will wear this one when the occasion comes. If your response is along the lines of “probably I’ll get another one, and there hasn’t been an occasion since 2009 anyways”, consider donating it.

For pieces you don’t like but wear: If some circumstances frequently make you wear something you abhor (work uniform? high heels?), maybe there’s a small tweaks you can make to improve the feeling. Or, on a bigger scale, maybe it has nothing to do with the garment to start with…
If there’s no external pressure to wear these, you are need of another list: a wishlist to keep your eyes peeled for better replacements in your next swap, second-hand shopping trip or ethical fashion app.

By the way, do you have any duplicates? How well that functions? Maybe you need only one? Especially if you already keep wearing just one of them. Erase them from the list and into a bag they go

3. Shop your own wardrobe! Think about the current season or the next one, whichever feels more inspiring, divide your remaining items in two groups: season-appropriate and season-inappropriate. If something works year-round, include it. See? That’s a clear pool of options for the season in question. And what a haul it is!

Mixing and matching is magic, multiplication works in your favor.

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4. Mix and match the abundance! Move around your “like & wear” items creating outfits for a typical week in your life. It can look like this or even more finely divided, whatever works for you. Note if something essential (black tights? comfy walking shoes?) is missing and if you would like to replace something with a better version (color, fit, worn-out).
If one week of combinations feel like too few, fill two or three. Unless you are a person that wears only dresses and rompers (I might become that person one day), the odds are that you will have more combinations that you have slots. That’s just math: 3 tops and 3 bottoms make for 9 possible combinations.

The outcomes here are (a) a reassurance of an abundance of combinations, (b) a workable outfit plan with only beloved items, (c) a tentative wishlist. At any step of the process, feel free to set aside garments that do not sit well with the rest of items or you just don’t want to wear. That’s fine. Get rid of it.

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Congrats! You’ve made it till the end and welcome to your new wardrobe.

An additional note on textile donations: Research your options, talk to people at the charity shops, make sure you donate only stuff that they handle. For example, look up if the charity manages textile waste; only in those cases throwing in your (clean!) worn-out socks is a legitimate thing to do. If the place you want to donate to does not manage textile waste, all the items you are donating should be same mint condition as stuff you would give to a friend.

Talking about friends, organizing your own clothes’ swap is one of the best options to do your share in preventing textile waste. The scale is up to you, it’s the spirit that matters. You know it already: one woman’s “I finally got rid of that guilt piece” is other woman’s “OMG, OMG, can you believe that somebody does not want this?!”

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Vision-building for your wardrobe

Despite my conviction that using up what you already have is the cornerstone of a sustainable wardrobe, I know well enough that style visions and desires change. And, luckily, most garments can be styled in a myriad of ways, so your style can evolve even if most of the items stay the same.

Having a clear vision of how you want your wardrobe to feel (at the end it is always more about how it feels and not about how it looks) helps to put together an outfit and to make sure that you are projecting your authentic self into the world. It might be pure vanity, but my mood is highly contingent on what I’m wearing.
Also, if you aim to prune your wardrobe, conceptual clarity is key when deciding which items stay. Unless you approach your wardrobe as an infinite cabinet of curiosities (I did that for a while, “adopting” the weirdest items I could find because it felt cool; then I was faced with a problem of having to move all that stuff internationally and realized that I needed to change my approach), the items that you have should serve to cover your body while you go on with your life. They should help instead of holding you back and cluttering everything from your head to your living space.

So today I propose that you curate your own unique vision for your wardrobe. Then the next stage will be pruning and editing your wardrobe to free up space for that vision.

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Step 1: Prep and get into the mood

Wear an outfit that helps you feel really good. I suggest also a choosing a favorite spot: bed, reading chair, coffee shop, park, whatever helps you channel your authentic self… As for tools, my choice for this exercise would be a paper notebook instead of a screen, but that’s up to you.

Inhale deeply, go to your happy place and… Write down how your outfit helps you feel, what you like about it the most. There are so many possible reasons: how the material feels on your skin, the perfect length, the happy memories it holds, the attention you get when wearing it…

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Step 2: Revisit the good times

Go wider! Visit your happy outfit memories, be they from many years ago or yesterday. Note down context, details, materials, colors, how it felt… Write down several of those.

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Step 3: Come back to present

Remember that even now there are some clothing that you love and enjoy wearing! What are your power outfits? What combinations, silhouettes, materials, colors make you feel most *you* these days?

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Step 4: Imagine the future

Visualize how you would like your clothing to feel. Forget the details and get the big picture. I suggest three different strategies for this, you can do all three or the one that resonates the most.

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Strategy A: Find words describing that feeling! It can be a chain of adjectives (for example, relaxed – colorful – artsy or put together – sophisticated – natural). It can also be a phrase instead of separate words. Phrases work better for me to make those visions solid. Mine so far have been:

    Winter 2015/2016: The anarchist librarian that once studied anthropology.
    Summer 2016: The resident conceptual artists in Albaicín* in August.
    Winter 2016/2017: A very well selling young artist: sharp and unique.

You might look back to what I wore then and think that my outfits did not look like that at all. That’s OK. They felt like that to *me*. That’s all that matters in this exercise. By the way, I think I’m gravitating back to anarchist librarian feel. It will look different this time, no doubt. It’s the feeling that counts.

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Part of my Dressing in Summer board.

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Strategy B: Find pictures that capture that feeling! Pinterest is the place to go for me, and for this exercise I suggest you make a vision board for the weather of current season but without thinking about the practicalities. At all. This is the space for all the outrageous fashion editorials, vintage photos, celebrity shots, famous artwork, landscapes, patterns, etc. etc. that transmit you *that* feeling. Most of the times the board ends up having a clear common overall feel of what shapes, colors, textures attract you.

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You can download these paper dolls here.

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Strategy C: Draw your vision! It might feel intimidating at first (here’s some inspiration that helped me to make the first sketch), but can be beneficial on so many levels. You get to depict how it feels instead of being reality-bound, and artistic expression is always good.

An alternative – and an opportunity go back into childhood for many of us – is making a paper doll (or using my dolls or any of the gazillion silhouettes that you can find online) and a whole selection of outfits for her.

Some of my last summer’s #ootd sketches to encourage you.

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If you do at least one of these, it should already help. If you do all three, congrats, you will have a solid vision that then can be used when editing your current wardrobe or obtaining new items. Meanwhile, happy imagining, pinning and coloring!

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* Albaicín is a magical neighborhood in Granada, Spain. A must-see and not only because of vistas to Alhambra.

Baby Steps: Detoxing A Wardrobe Takes Time

Downsizing a wardrobe has one negative social effect… negative for us, social animals that look for recognition and pats on the back from our inner circles. Your friends will notice something new and flashy while they won’t know that, starting from now, you will treat your wardrobe differently. Unless you post that in all your social media, of course.

I want to assure you that every little step you make is good. I want to confirm that your effort is real, even if it means resisting the fast fashion advertisments green washing your brain and telling that they have changed just this one time. I want you to know that habit formation takes time. I want to promise that – after the initial resistance and adjusting – there will be a day when fast fashion will stop being a viable option in your microcosm. And that moment takes you into a whole new world.

My strategy of wardrobe detox is three-fold, slow and invisible. That’s fine. Relax and do your thing. Actions matter more than appearances. You will know that you are evolving, and that’s enough.

1. Use up what you have! Despite the temptation to start anew, our wardrobes are already full. I prune and edit, but keep living with things I have had for a long time. I still have some stuff from when I went to fast fashion places to browse. This first rule of sustainability sometimes leads to paradoxical situations. I might be lecturing you against the evils of fast fashion dressed in items I bought first-hand from the very same brands I viscerally hate today… well, I bought that garment in 2012 and its life with me is not over yet. At the moment I have few such items left, but it has taken me 5 years of not buying anything from those people to get here.

Denim jacket from 2003, black blouse ~2006, paisley pants from 2010, romper from 2012.

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2. Replace with used whenever possible! Yes, there are vintage gems and sewn-by-familiar-hands items in the second-hand and hand-me-down circles, but they are a minority. Most of the stuff that is going around come from the same fast fashion brands. Reusing a fast fashion item is obviously much-much-much better than purchasing that stuff new, but the tag doesn’t lie. Those things were made in poor conditions and, unless you explain to everybody you meet that this fast fashion garment is reused, i.e. redeemed, it looks like you are wearing fast fashion. A lot of my wardrobe falls into this category, and I treat them like adopted shelter animals: the whole situation is not their fault and I’ll make sure I give them the best possible life (a lot of wear!) until the natural end of their lives.

And these are not even all of my adopted fast fashion wonders…

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3. Buy well made only when new is your only reasonable option. For me the buy-new categories are very clear. So far in 2016 and 2017 I’ve obtained brand new underwear, hoisery and shoes. Underwear and hoisery are categories that do not invite reusing, those are intimate garments that many of us wear to shreds. Also, these are the things that wore out sooner than the rest, gets the most washes, etc. New items have to come in and replace the worn-out ones, hence there isn’t that much second-hand market even if you’d want to!

My leggings are ZIB and Amoralle (Latvia FTW!), my stockings, tights and pinkie socks come from Calzedonia (carefully selecting made in Italy items), my knee-socks are Bonne Maison (made in Portugal). I’m not sure about the supply chains of any of them,  so these are mid-term solutions. Google on your own for better ones! GoodOnYou, although Australia-centered, is a good place to start.

My knickers are Luva Huva (UK) and SiiL (Barcelona), my bras are Lauma and Rosme (unclear supply chain but made in Latvia) + a Luva Huva bralette and a fast fashion sports bra (a 2015 slip-up that I’m owning up). I like to have moderate to high amount of support, so the flimsy bralettes that most ethical producers throw at me do not cut it. I’m still looking for a responsibly-made solid underwire bra. So far those seem to be as elusive as unicorns!

Footwear is another category (and whole another post) that in my case invite to buy new if I’ve found something that fits my needs. I have very wide feet and use them a lot (walking! cycling!), so my shoes have to be wide, comfy and securely attached to my feet. Adding another layer of requirements when it comes to responsibly sourced and ethically made (and vegan!) makes buying shoes an impressive challenge. The whole trope about women and shoe shopping is something I’ve never understood! So second-hands do not tend to be my option (there have been exceptions, though), but after years of footwear struggles I currently have a set of favourites: Veja sneakers (currently I’m impatiently waiting for my fourth pair in two years), Muroexe boots and Arcopedico pumps.

The Minimalist Wardrobe Masterpost: What Do People Do and Why?

I’ve been playing with the idea of a consciously small wardrobe since 2014. I’ve tried different approaches and have read ravenously on how other people curate their minimalist wardrobes. Basically it all boils down to three approaches, and I’ll take you through the pros and cons of them all. See if any of them resonates with you while you are reading.

The 3 types of minimalist wardrobes are:

1. The Uniform

The internet-famous uniform of Matilda Kahl.

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One of the most famous uniformers, Steve Jobs.

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A uniform so ubiquitous nobody sees it as one.

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The Uniform: For your main life activity (i.e. work) you chose a strict outfit formula – white blouse and black pants (Matilda Kahl), dark blue suit (Obama), turtleneck and jeans (Steve Jobs), gray t-shirt and jeans (Mark Zuckerberg) – obtain a sufficient number of those, and just wear that. Works if you really do not want to pay more attention to it and if seasonal weather changes are manageable.

A lot of people practice this strategy unconsciously. And, at least for men, there is a gold standard of uniforms called suit. But even among more informal people you can easily find folks with an interchangeable collection of jeans and t-shirts and/or button-downs. Few of them call it a uniform, but it does the trick.

Outcome: Never have to think about it again (only slightly adjust to weather).

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2. The Marie Kondo

The Marie Kondo: You keep only stuff that brings you joy, hang all you have in your wardrobe and do not change it seasonally (partly because you have so few things it does not make sense). My favorite blog describing this kind of wardrobe experience is Paris to Go. Bea Johnson’s approach to fashion is a similar one.

Outcome: The interaction between occasions and  season indicates you what to wear. For example, a formal summer occasion means that one dress, because there is no other dress. Done and done. Works if you enjoy restrictions and very streamlined decision making.

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3. The Seasonal Capsule

What the difference between the strategy 2 and 3 would look like in my wardrobe. However, that wardrobe actually normally looks like this because I share it with another person (who, btw, practices a mix of strategies 1 and 2).

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Seasonal capsule: you select a restricted number of pieces that you will wear this season, the rest is stored away. There are several marvelous blogs documenting this approach. My favorites are Into-Mind, Un-Fancy, Style Bee and Project 333. As you can see in the picture above, the feeling when you contrast the strategies 2 and 3 is quite different. The seasonal wardrobe works better for me because I prefer everything I see to be a real option for today. Thank you very much, but I do not want to see things irrelevant for the season.

Outcome: You can draw things from your wardrobe with your eyes closed, because all of it is curated for your style and season. Works if you keep the discipline of sticking to rather few items (~33-37 pieces, footwear included tends to be the internet consensus) and not adding stuff mid-season. This one works especially well for recovering shopaholics and browser fashionistas because the joy of selecting pieces is not stripped away completely. It’s paired down, though, to few times per year for new items and the rest of the browsing pleasure comes from shopping your own closet.

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If you are aiming for an even stricter approach to your capsule, there are additional options:

Seasonal capsule, lightly controlled: As above, but you make sure you wear all of those items at least once (by switching the clothes’ hangers), either once a season or more often. Even more discipline.

Outcome: As above, but also controlling for “wardrobe impostors” that you love the idea of but actually never wear. Works if you then get rid of the poorly worn pieces.

Seasonal capsule, strictly controlled: As above, but your goal is to wear every piece as much as possible (for example, at least 10 times), you document it and this drives your styling decisions.

Outcome: As above, but is even stricter with rarely worn pieces. This approach obliges to question and, ideally, get rid of, those items that don’t get worn often enough, aiming at most wearable and versatile wardrobe. Even more discipline, the data nerd fetish + an excel sheet! This is the strategy that I follow, you can learn all about how I got here and how exactly I do it here (part I) and here (part II).

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Every person practicing one these, of course, add their own twist and adjust them to their lives. But all three strategies have the potential to open space for several straightforward benefits in your life.

Help yourself

Which one of these three strategies – if any – sounds the most appealing to you? Would you like to try it? What do you think these changes could trigger in other areas of your life? What are the obstacles that you foresee?

A year after… 2018-02-13

Nothing has changed in the overall concepts, obviously. However, in 2017 I gave uniforms a chance by wearing 7 dresses for 3 months, here you have the rationale and here the lessons learnt. As I already suspected, that was too boring for me. And since January 2018, just to recover from the uniform boredom, I’m doing the all-visible strategy. I’m down to having around 30 pieces that need hangers, so it all still fits inside the wardrobe (and something is always in the laundry bag). It feels very abundant and slightly overwhelming to have all those garments displayed and available. Seeing the seasonally inappropriate ones does feel a bit weird, but make me look forward to wearing them!