Quality over quantity

Quality over quantity

Remember that one time when I emptied out my closet and was methodically deciding what was allowed back in? And then remember how my husband and I decided to purge nearly everything we owned, in an insanely short timespan, and move across the country? My methodicalness went out the window, clothes went out the door in a blind frenzy, and what little was left went into a suitcase and a box. (That includes shoes and coats.) I put those into the moving container and packed another small suitcase for the drive from CA to TN, thinking those clothes would be all I had for two weeks, until we were reunited with the container. But the container went into storage, and the two weeks turned out to be two months living out of that one little suitcase. By the time we unloaded the container, it was still ninetysomething outside, and while I really didn’t know what I owned anymore, I knew I had never owned anything for that kind of weather. So there was no hurry to unpack

I did finally empty it all into my tiny closet in the 1963 house we’re renting, and hey!, it mostly fits. But boy is it a weird hodgepodge of stuff — not at all the streamlined set of wardrobe building blocks I imagined. So I’m back to figuring out how to grow a more deliberate wardrobe … from this. In a perfect world — a world where I have more than three hours a week of creative time — I would knit the majority of my own sweaters and sew my own tops. (You’ll never hear me suggest sewing my own jeans. I bow down to those of you that do.) But in reality, I don’t have the time (or the sewing skills) to make more than a fraction of my clothes. I’m committed to making that fraction — choosing things with longevity and making them as well as I’m capable of — but what about the rest? If I don’t want to buy mass-market clothes made in unknown factory conditions for unrealistically low prices, where does that leave me? Especially if my pockets are not deep.

I got into an email exchange with my friend Whitney Bickers, who owns the clothing boutique Myrtle, after she posted the photos above on Instagram. Whitney’s shop is 100% independent female clothing designers, which I think is just so awesome and admirable. There’s a raft of small-scale designer-makers I’ve fallen in love with in the past few years, and the only thing as satisfying, in my mind, as making my own clothes would be supporting them and getting to wear their creations — especially if I can support indie shop owners like Whitney in the process. (Same goes for my friend Courtney Webb of Hey Rooster General Store, here in Nashville, who just added a well-edited collection of small-batch clothing to her tiny second floor.) That killer sweater and tights in Whitney’s pics happen to be from Micaela Greg, the San Francisco sisters who I’ve had my eye on ever since first blogging about them back in early 2012. Whitney has a beautiful new lookbook out featuring that sweater and several other pieces I would be thrilled to own. Also on my list are Minneapolis’ Martha McQuade, who does a combination of sewn and knitted garments, and Nashville’s Elizabeth Suzann, who has also been known to collaborate with local weaver Allison Volek Shelton. I’ve met both Elizabeth and Allison, been to their wildly inspiring studios, and dream of collecting their pieces. And then there’s Elizabeth Yong of Primoeza, obviously. Saving up for a single garment by these lovely people could take me even longer than knitting a sweater, but that’s what I’m vowing to do. Like I said before, I only want to put things into my closet that I love enough to take care of and wear for years, and that make me feel as good about where they came from as I do about how I look in them. Quality over quantity.

Old habits are hard to break — can I learn to buy one thing every few months instead of a few things a month? — but I love this line from a blog post Whitney pointed me to: “women on a budget can’t afford to buy cheap clothes.” A beautifully succinct version of something I’ve been telling Bob (re his Target purchases) for years. Now if only I can remember it the next time J.Crew sends me one of those 40%-off-the-sale-price emails. Maybe I’ll tack photos of Martha, the M-G sisters and the Elizabeths over my desk, and look at their very human, very creative faces the next time mass-market temptation strikes.


PREVIOUSLY: My personal wardrobe crisis / The great closet clean-out, step 1: Emptying the closet / Make, Knit, Mend


Photos © Whitney Bickers, used with permission

The great closet clean-out, step 1: Emptying the closet

The great closet clean-out

Two weeks ago I did as promised: I pulled every single solitary thing out of my miniature walk-in closet, and I also pulled all of the hidden clothes and shoes out of the auxiliary wardrobe. I stacked everything in categorized piles — which is already a huge improvement over the previous mess — but have avoided trying to analyze what’s there. Yet. And then I cleaned the empty closet! Which is now my favorite room in the house. This past Saturday, I counted:

  • 13 jeans
  • 17 pants
  • 4 sweats/leggings
  • 7 shorts
  • 8 skirts
  • 7 dresses
  • 20 shirts/blouses
  • 38 t-shirts
  • 24-ish tank tops
  • 7 vests
  • 13 jackets (as in blazers)
  • 2 coats

Plus too many (outerwear) jackets to round up and count. And then there are the sweaters:

  • 14 cardigans (not counting the ones on the needles)
  • 18 pullovers (including two turtlenecks)
  • 6 vests/tunics

And, uh:

  • 50 shoes/boots/sandals

This doesn’t include pajamas or exercise clothes, nor socks and underwear. Nor does it include anything in the underbed boxes, which is all basically souvenir clothes. (Favorites from other times I can’t bear to part with, plus the dress I got married in, etc.) I had recently gone through those and narrowed the contents considerably, so I’m leaving well enough alone with all that. For now.

I don’t wear a lot of shorts or t-shirts (you’d never guess that by the count) and essentially never wear skirts or dresses. So there are some very obvious and easy cuts to make right off the bat, and I did make two grocery bags’ worth this weekend. But I’m going to take this whole process very gradually: assessing what’s there, thinking about how I want to be dressing myself, and deciding what is allowed back into the closet vs what goes to Goodwill, consignment, Dress for Success, or the studio rag bin.

I’ve established three rules for the allowing-back-in part of that equation:

1) Everything must fit into the closet, with room to spare. No more clothes in that Ikea wardrobe. And the closet mustn’t be full so that it’s immediately a problem again the next time I buy anything.

2) Putting a thing back in the closet has to be a no-brainer — no talking myself into anything or trying to figure out how I might be able to make use of a thing where it isn’t obvious.

3) Nothing shabby. If there are wardrobe staples that have clearly seen better days (and there are!) then they are to be replaced, not kept. I’m asking myself “If I were to run into someone I haven’t seen in years, would I be pleased or horrified that I had this on?” If the answer is not pleased, the item is not allowed in the closet, no matter how well-loved it may have been.

So I have my work cut out for me, but like I said, I’m just going to take it slow. The mess wasn’t created overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight either. I only wish I had time to really read and ponder Sarai Mitnick’s ongoing Wardrobe Architect series, which is jaw-dropping in its depth and apparent thoroughness. But even dipping into it here and there is giving me a lot to think about.

I’ll have more to say about the sweaters. There are shockingly few I wear given how many of them there are …