Nina sent along this request via e-mail:
Just how much clothing should someone own? All the style gurus say quality over quantity, and quote the 80/20 rule, but it seems like you and other well-dressed ladies have an infinite supply of clothes and accessories to put together fabulous outfits.
You’ll be unsurprised to hear that there is no simple answer to this question. Or if there is, I’m yet to hear it. It’s a little like asking, “How much food should I keep in the pantry?” or “How much furniture is necessary for a well-appointed home?” The answer will depend on several highly individual factors:
Clothing is steeped in social meaning, but it was originally invented to keep us warm, dry, and safe from the elements. We do, in fact, need clothing in order to function in most segments of human society. Which KINDS of clothing we need depend on our ages, jobs, hobbies, and climates. If you live in San Francisco, you may only need one heavy coat and a few jackets to get you through the year. Here in Minneapolis, you need lightweight, mid-weight, heavy-weight, and industrial-snot-freezingly-cold-weight coats to get through the year. If you are a television talk show host, you need a wide variety of clothing and accessories to keep up professional appearances. If you work on a loading dock, you may only need several incredibly well-made garments and pairs of shoes, but not much in the way of variety. You get the picture, I assume. We all have clothing-related needs, and quantity is partially contingent upon them.
Although clothing is a basic need, it can be procured for very, very cheap at charity shops, thrift stores, and even big box stores. Those whose financial situations force them to focus available resources on other needs – food, gas, rent, bills, etc. – may choose to spend any remaining income on items more vital than excess clothing. Those whose financial situations provide more disposable income may choose to accumulate larger wardrobes. And, obviously, people with scant money sometimes amass huge wardrobes and people with bales of money sometimes prefer minimalist closets. The point is that financial situation often impacts the amount of clothing a person may or may not own.
If you’re lucky enough to have cash to spend on only-for-fun clothes, your wardrobe size will ultimately be limited by your available square footage. Although some people stack and stuff excess clothing into every nook and cranny, most stop spending once the closet is packed to the limit. The more storage you have available, the more likely you are to fill it.
Body and social fluctuations
Pregnant women need new clothes. Women who have gained or lost weight often need new clothes. Women who have been injured need new clothes. Any change in the physical self is likely to prompt new clothing and accessory purchases.
Graduating from college and entering the workforce often prompts the purchase of a new wardrobe. Moving climates will require new garments. Even internal and emotional changes that affect how you feel about personal style are likely to spur some clothing-related spending. And in all of these cases, new clothing is typically added to the existing wardrobe. Seldom do we donate every last sock and shirt to start from scratch.
Changes in body shape or health impact clothing quantity, as do social and personal changes.
Some women prefer a small, well-edited wardrobe of gorgeous, versatile items. Some women prefer a large variety of styles, fits, and forms. Some women have clearly-defined styles, and seldom venture from their meticulously-honed personal standards. Some women are constantly exploring new avenues of personal style, or still in the process of discovering and defining their own.
All of these factors play into the question of how much clothing a person may or may not own. But the question at hand is how much clothing “should” a person own. And “should” questions make me cringe because they imply judgment and superiority. I can no more tell you how much clothing you should own than you can tell me which toothpaste I should use. Each person is different – in taste and in situation – and each person gets to decide for herself how much is too little, enough, or too much.
As for the subjects of wastefulness and excess, here’s where I fall:
Any person who has more than a few of each basic item of clothing – shirts, pants, skirts, shoes – has excess. The “need” category of clothing is quickly, cheaply, and easily satisfied, but very, very few people fill that need and then cease to accumulate clothing. Because fashion is extremely, undeniably social. It is also artistic, expressive, and deeply personal.
One could say that accumulating 30+ cookbooks is wasteful, or that owning multiple televisions is excessive. But people who collect cookbooks and own multiple TVs might argue that they regularly enjoy their possessions, that they use and learn from them. And that’s the key. In my opinion, if a person buys merely for the sake of buying, has a closet brimming with unworn, unacknowledged items, and still continues to buy new clothes, that is wasteful. Both of personal and natural resources. Clothing-related waste, to me, is contingent on accumulated but unused or underutilized stuff, not on sheer quantity or variety.
Just how much clothing should someone own? I guess this extremely long post is my way of saying, “I really can’t say.”
Do you feel comfortable answering the question, “How much clothing should a person own?” If so, what are your criteria? If not, why not? Do you agree that most people have an excess of clothing? How do you define consumer waste?
Image via weheartit.