While our ideas about what is comfortable couldn’t be different, I agree with Caroline from Un-fancy that dresses are a shortcut to comfort and happiness.
My wardrobe might not seem to fit the Pinterest understanding of comfort. I have very few oatmeal knits and boyfriend denim going on, zero to be exact. In the world where most of my peers pull on a pair of skinnies and a funny t-shirt/nice blouse, a wardrobe consisting of dresses and loud patterns might seem complicated. However, I insist that the wardrobe editing and curating that I’ve been practicing for last three years (1, 2) is towards 100% comfort: comfort about the ethics of my garments, physical comfort, and the aesthetic comfort in recognizing myself in my wardrobe.
There is some heterogeneity, I know, but sustainable fashion brands normally do try to cover bigger share of the market by prioritizing neutrals and timeless shapes. Depending on your fashion strategy, for bold shapes and patterns you may have to look very hard, look into bespoke designs and secondhand market. No matter what your aesthetic preferences are – you have read any of my “be reasonable and take care of your feet” sermons, you’ll know that my brand of feminist fashion blogging is the now infamous you-do-you, especially when it comes to purely aesthetic choices (I do get more demanding about ethics, care, etc.) – you need criteria to decide which garments enter your wardrobe. Both buying new sustainable fashion and using hand-me-down chains have possible pitfalls. With new and expensive (because ethical and sustainable fashion is more expensive, and it has to be) you are afraid of wasting your money and a likely victim of sunk costs bias. Secondhand and hand-me-downs have the opposite problem of no entry barrier; why would you not take something that is free or almost free? I’ve been on a main clothing buying ban since 2015, and I sometimes wonder what my wardrobe would look like if my choices would be made among more varied offers of retailers instead of wardrobes of my family and friends. For example, I consider red to be my favorite color but my wardrobe is currently dominated by blues and grays! Go figure.
My swap acquisitions are not random, of course, but they are restricted to a complex chain of path dependencies and accidents. To get there a garment has to be chosen to be discarded via swap by the owner, brought in (this part might get complicated due to other plans or hangovers), then I have to notice it before somebody else has taken it, like it, and it has to fit… And, no, there’s no other size, color, or one without that stain. Complicated alright!
However, I was surprised to read this Good On You piece claiming that the author was confused and unable to curate her style because of the hand-me-downs. Dude, that’s just weird! You don’t have to take all the garments that come your way! They are not puppies! Unless you have suffered a serious loss of stuff lately, you probably already have more than you need. It makes zero sense to move stuff that won’t be worn from one overstuffed wardrobe to another. That has nothing to do with poor hand-me-down sources, that’s just being hooked on getting new-to-you clothes!
All my swap acquisitions so far: nothing in October 2016, Liisa’s lace dress and velvet skirt in January 2017, Julie’s cardigan and an anonymous striped mini in May 2017, and Laura’s polka dot dress and a floral shirt of unknown previous ownership in September 2017.
Not to sound creepy, but I pay attention to what people around me wear, I keep mental tabs on my partner’s wardrobe, and one of my biggest pleasures in life is when my mother is up for tidying her wardrobe with me… After almost two years of tracking what I wear, I can claim an advantage over those that don’t: with all that data, I have no way of maintaining illusions around garments. I know with great certainty which pieces are really *mine*, which ones are here as placeholders until something better comes around, and which ones are on trial.
Each garment that offers itself for my wardrobe falls into one of these three categories:
(a) I know it’s not mine, I’m completely unmoved. Examples include: neon colors, leather textures, white underwear, trousers… Meh!
(b) I’m not sure, I’m attracted but have some reservations.
(c) Things jump at me and it’s love at first sight.
Unfortunately, C happens rarely. Most incomers in my wardrobe are Bs, and I do what most reasonable employers do: I give them a trial period! And this is where my spreadsheet love proves fruitful in making sure that those garments don’t just stay at the back of the wardrobe. I include the newcomers in the next weather-appropriate season and challenge myself to wear them at least 10 times during that season. Nope, not once or twice, but 10 times! We, humans, are masters of self-deception, and first few wears can still be liable to lies. At least 10 wears will show the fit – physical and aesthetic – for different weather, activities, moods… if it shows sweat, if you can sit down, raise your arms, walk, tie your shoelaces, etc. Very soon it is clear which pieces fit your needs and which ones are just not that into you. And you shouldn’t keep things that aren’t yours!
Let it go! Overcome both fallacies that might be holding you back: (1) no, you won’t suddenly start to wear it someday, and (2) no, it’s not your duty to keep them out of the landfill by turning your wardrobe into one. Yes, it’s a contradiction with my “use up what you have” commandment, but that rule is about full-time members of your wardrobe and is meant to prevent you from willy-nilly acquiring functional duplicates. The ones that are on trial are only partly in. You are trying out the relationship, and, if it is not working, the garment has to go. Yes, even if you paid for it! Sorry, have an ice-cream, assume the sunken costs, and try to make somebody else happy with that piece. Don’t keep it for one day, when… That day never comes! If you have done any wardrobe editing, you’ll know that you very rarely think of those discarded garments ever again.
I’ll admit that consciously trialing garments is not always comfortable. Sometimes it becomes clear very early on and only stubbornness will keep me wearing the thing I now know I don’t want to own, sometimes – even worse – doubting goes on until the last moment. The thing is that you are already curating for comfort when you reach for the same pieces again and again. That’s fine, but what are those other pieces doing in your wardrobe then? I prefer to face the torment head on, give garments their chance, and act accordingly after that period.With such discipline in mind I encourage people to take B category garments home from swaps and give them a try: “bring it back if it doesn’t work for you!” I think that all garments deserve a chance to return to the rotation and to keep looking for the right wardrobe to fit in.
Despite the fact that textile recyclers are overwhelmed by the quantity of discarded garments, a conscious wardrobe starts with a purge. My experience shows that the real editing for 100% comfort starts when you are down to around 50 main garments. It’s an exercise in honesty with yourself and a little field research. Is there a type of garment you keep acquiring but not wearing (fancy shoes? formalwear “for work”? funny t-shirts?)? Are there colors or patterns that attract you as artifacts but end up sad and lonely at the bottom of your wardrobe?
My recent material insight – under Julie’s educational influence – is that I find it hard to resist synthetics because my first criteria when looking at garments are color and pattern. I momentarily forget that I move more than most people and sweat more than most people, so an additional plastic wrapper is clearly not needed. I don’t mind the prolonged moisture of natural fabrics, but I want it breathable! So in January several plastic-oh-fantastic garments will go out and I’m making a pledge to do better work at avoiding them in the future. Not all synthetics will go bye-bye, because there are some that I love unconditionally, but so far I’ve marked five pieces as “outgoing” because of their fiber composition.
All four of these are among my synthetic favorites!
From the seven dresses of my current capsule, two are going out for sure. They both have material *and* fit issues. I could deal with either, but both in one dress is too much. Laura’s blue dress is 100% polyester with a very nice flow but still plasticky against skin. The top keeps falling off the shoulders (I have been wearing it by pinning the dress to the bra), and the waist keeps climbing up. I’ll put in bra strap fixers before bringing it back to the swap (this is the first item I’ll be returning), that will fix the shoulder fit … I was attracted by the hue, the polka dots, the movement, but after 8 wears so far I know that we are not meant to be.
The grey bow dress, a hand-me-down from Marina, goes out because of its shortness. After 7 wears, I know I just cannot live like this… Style icons like Twiggy, Jane Birkin or Pattie Boyd would not understand what’s wrong with me as this is not a super-mini, but the fact that I cannot roam around freely – or tie my shoelaces without losing dignity – bare legged is a deal breaker. Yes, there are tight and legging seasons, but that’s just not optimal. Also, it has no stretch (100% poly), so while it’s pretty much precisely my size, shoulder movements feel restricted. I’ve already had the armpit holes fixed, so it’s ready to go to somebody looking for a rather formal dress for no-movement events. Being below my 167cm might be an advantage shortness-wise.
So this how I curate for comfort: trial period of rigorous evaluation and till death do as part unconditional love afterwards. What are your mental hacks around availability of second hand and hand-me-down items? When do you say yes, and when no thanks?