Reader A sent me this question via e-mail:
I was shopping with my sister, and she was telling me that her wardrobe is composed entirely of neutrals, plus green, purple and…yellow, I think. This, she said, is why she can spend as much on clothes as she does – everything she buys can go with everything else. I have to admit that the concept in theory appeals to me. I love clothes, but I’m more likely to wear favorites over and over again, and I’m always tempted to pare down my wardrobe to the essentials. I was taken enough with the idea that I even mentally picked my triad of colors and have been browsing my favorite shopping sites with an eye out for teal, purple and orange.
But then I started thinking: can I really give up the fuschia and magenta shades of pink I love? And what about green, I love green. And I just purchased a classic pale blue button-up shirt that’s seriously appealing to my preppy side. I love color, and I don’t think I could limit myself to just three shades. At the same time, I’m not someone who wants a lot of clothes; I really like the idea of a small, edited closet. Is it possible to have both?
Here’s what I told her:
In my opinion, the “well-edited” wardrobe is a lifestyle choice that is placed on a rather lofty pedestal by style experts. It seems to me that in order to make it work seamlessly, it helps to have a fairly generous clothing budget and the mindset of a creative minimalist.
One can certainly do well-edited on a shoestring, but it works better with high quality, high-end classic basics. If you’re going to be wearing the same dozen pieces in steady rotation, they’d better be beautiful, well-constructed, durable, versatile, and chic. That’s a tall order for most mall stores, and a daunting task for most thrift stores. (Doable, but daunting.)
And in terms of mindset, some women – myself included – prefer variety, options, and the shimmering potential of a wardrobe that contains both beautiful basics and personality-laden non-basics. The prospect of paring down the available resources to a handful of plain-but-versatile items holds little appeal. Some can do it, some can’t.
So unless you’ve got the budget and temperament for cultivating and maintaining a well-edited wardrobe, don’t let anyone convince you it’s the only way. Or a superior way. It’s a way, and it works fabulously for some but it may not work fabulously for you, and that is just fine.
Now in terms of the color question, a former coworker of mine maintained a similar wardrobe to that of your sister. Nearly everything she owned was brown, black, white, or gray and once in a while she’d introduce blue or yellow. Everything she wore worked with everything else, and everything she wore was simple, well-made, and classically designed. But there was almost no personal expression in her outfits, no spark, no creativity. And this likely had more to do with her demeanor than her clothing, but the effect was rather off-putting. My experience with a well-edited wardrobe of neutrals and a select group of colors has been influenced by this experience, so I’m definitely biased!
All that said, here are some suggestions if you’re looking to condense your closet:
Consider expanding the included colors. Just because your sister chose neutrals and three colors doesn’t mean you couldn’t do four or five. And I assume that accessories are a bit more liberal, so you could work more shades in that way.
If you want to tighten up your wardrobe but can’t imagine yielding color as part of that bargain, don’t. Instead, work with your current pieces and determine which are the most versatile. If I were forced to pick a single skirt from my own closet, I’d leave behind all my blacks and grays and grab my flame orange wool circle skirt. It’s been an absolute workhorse for me. If you love color, my bet is that many of your staples are colorful and can be just as versatile as your neutrals.
Finally, if you’re just not sure which route to take, give yourself a month with each. Pick what you’d keep if you did neutrals/colors and eliminated everything else and put all your other clothes in storage or out of sight. Force yourself to wear your selections for a month. Then try your tightened-up-but-colorful wardrobe for a month. Which works better? Or do both make you miserable?
Editing your wardrobe down to the pieces you truly love and wear is a worthwhile endeavor. But no matter what magazine editors may say, the tiny, minimalist, well-edited wardrobe just won’t work for everyone!
Originally posted 2011-12-02 06:15:51.