Defining style: the transition period
Illustration by me – click to see a larger version
I’m so glad you all seem to like my Defining style series! A lot of you have already done the previous steps, and linked to your results in my comments. I must say you’re doing an excellent job. Hopefully you’re all beginning to get a better sense of who you are, style-wise. So far, though, things have been mostly theoretical. It’s time to get real.
What do you feel when you look into your wardrobe every morning? Are you mostly pleased with what you see? Do you look forwards to getting dressed? Do the items in it suit you well, in terms of shape, colour and style? Is it easy to put together a complete outfit? Is it tidy and inviting? Or perhaps even inspiring? And, if you’ve done the mood boards from my previous posts, does your wardrobe reflect them? For me, the answer was no.
It’s a bit shocking, I know; I’m a fashion consultant, after all, and I spend very much of my time thinking about clothes, style and fashion. And yet my wardrobe wasn’t really functional at all. There were several reasons for this, I think. During the last two years I’d moved to a different city, and gotten a new life and a new job. I’d been dumped. I lost weight, then gained a lot. I became depressed, for a whole number of reasons, and with that came a whole mountain of insecurities and anxieties. I didn’t really know who I wanted to be any more, which was almost a first for me. Clothes and style says a lot about a person, and as I was rather without direction, my wardrobe was the same.
A few weeks ago I looked in my closet, completely fed up with the state of things. I couldn’t “snap out of it” and stop being sick just because I wanted to, but I could do something about my wardrobe. So I took absolutely everything out of the closet and piled it on the couch and coffee table. You know, ever since I moved to Oslo, I’d thought of myself as a girl who didn’t really have a lot of clothes. That was true when I’d just moved, but now, two years later? Boy, was I delusional. Watching it all laid out like that, the amount of clothes I had accumulated was straight out shocking, like a bucket of freezing water over my head.
The other day one of my students described my manner of teaching as kind, but strict (thank you, darling!). I think those two personality traits were equally important in my closet revolution. I looked at everything, and before I was allowed to put anything back into the closet, it had to pass a series of tests. Do I love this? Does it fit me? Is it flattering? Does it make me feel good? Am I excited to put this on? Do I wear it reasonably often? Only if all the answers were yes, was the garment approved.
As you might expect, a lot of clothes didn’t pass the test. Things were too small, worn beyond repair, the wrong shape, the wrong style, or just… not right. Into a garbage bag they all went – not to be thrown away or donated, mind, but to be stored in our attic for an unknown period of time. It is very easy, isn’t it, to feel attached to clothing. You might know that a dress isn’t perfect for you, yet somehow it is almost impossible to let it go. Because I knew I wasn’t actually getting rid of anything, I felt a lot more free to pack things away; if I missed it terribly, I could just climb up and find it. In the end, I put away a full garbage bag of clothes, about two thirds of everything I had in my closet.
Since then, my wardrobe and I have a much better relationship. I know that everything in there fits me, is ready to be worn and makes me feel good. The emptiness feels like an improvement, not like something is missing. There are things I’m missing, of course, like a waist-length cardigan or two, and the perfect pair of black trousers. The important thing is that I can’t find these items in the attic, because I never owned them. Getting rid of all the extra, merely adequate items made me see oh-so-clearly what I actually want and need.
The things in the attic can stay there for a few months more, I think. The important thing was getting them out of my closet, out of circulation. Truly, I can’t think of anything there that I’ve missed. In fact, I can hardly remember most of the items. Any new purchase is now carefully considered. It has to fit perfectly, be the right size, colour and material, and it has to make me feel good. Not to mention: it has to work with my style mood boards.
This isn’t a fast process, of course. There are some items that aren’t the way I want them. I do, for instance, possess a couple of “lazy pants” (they aren’t straight-out sweatpants, but almost) that I wear pretty much all the time I’m at home. I’m on the lookout for pants that are just as comfortable, but also look great and can be worn in public as well. Finding such pants is no easy feat (I might just have to make them myself), but I’m in no rush. I didn’t pack away things that I truly depend on, even if they aren’t perfect style-wise. I’m just not the kind of person who will sacrifice a reasonable amount of comfort just for a principle, and I have no problem admitting that.
My wardrobe isn’t perfect. Yet. I honestly don’t know it will ever feel completely perfect. That’s alright, though. The important thing is that it now functions properly, and I’m constantly improving it. When working on defining your style, a transition period is pretty much unavoidable. Hardly anyone has enough money to get rid of everything they own and just buy new stuff. Really, I don’t think this is a good solution even if you can afford it. Time, and the understanding it gives, is vital when it comes to building a great wardrobe. Which is precisely why I’m so pleased with my method: it allows for time, it doesn’t involve the kind of purging where you get rid of things permanently, and it can hopefully provide some insight to how your style works in practical terms.
Want to give it a go? No permanent harm will be done, you know! It will be wise to set aside some hours for this, though, so you don’t get stressed halfway through and panic. Here are the rules:
1. Take everything out of your closet. Look at it en mass, as a whole. What does it say about you, about your style? The point isn’t to be judgemental or think badly about yourself, but simply to realize some facts you might not have seen before.
2. Scrutinize every single item individually. Do you love it? Do you wear it often (“often” being relative, as a pair of pants will usually be worn more frequently than an evening gown)? Does it fit? Does it make you look good? Does it make you feel good? Does it fit in with your personal style, and your lifestyle? If no, put it in a box or bag. There should be no in-betweens, each item is either a yes or a no.
3. Gather all the nos, and put them somewhere out of sight. If you need to store it in your closet due to space issues, make sure to tie some string or tape around it so you can’t just reach in every time you’re tempted.
4. All the yeses go back in your wardrobe. Preferably clean and nicely folded/hung.
5. Over the next couple of weeks, pay attention. Is it easier to get dressed? Do you lack any specific item(s)? Did you pack away anything and later realize you truly needed it (and if so, for what reasons did you pack it away)?. During this time, you’re allowed to purchase new items only if they have been carefully considered, fill a gap in your wardrobe and help express your tastes and style. If you’re a compulsive shopper, a couple of weeks with a total shopping ban might be a good idea, but it’s not a must.
6. After a not-so-short amount of time (I’d say at least a month), you’re allowed to look at your nos again. Try to remember why you packed them away, and if you truly need them any more. If not, the time has come to get rid of the things for real.
We all know the saying “kill your darlings”. This process isn’t quite as brutal, but the result should be just as good – it just takes a bit more time. As Cindy so brilliantly put it when I told her about this post:
You don’t have to kill your darlings. Just let them sleep for a while.
Chances are, by the time they wake up, you’re ready to wave them goodbye with a smile.