Rethinking My Wardrobe
Every time I move, I try and use that obnoxious process as an opportunity to assess what could be improved about my life at that moment. Last time I moved, it was organization (and food, but that’s a subject for another post) – I swore I would never have piles of stuff laying around again. In our house here on Newport, I managed to largely solve that vice, save for an occasional pile of laundry on the floor. While I’ve been packing, though, I’ve realized why my laundry has always been a persistent problem: I have too much of it.
I have never had an easy time finding clothes – I’ve generally been poor and oddly sized. Thus, when I find something that fits and is on sale and is at least vaguely my style, I tend to buy multiples of them out of the fear that I won’t find such a thing again, like a squirrel hoarding acorns. The thing is, without fail, I always find something that works, even if it takes me a little while, and in the meantime I forget about the three copies of said item that I already have languishing in my closet. Then I come home and bemoan the fact that I never have enough money for the quality and style of clothes that I actually, really want: Clothes that are properly tailored for my size, that are in line with my personal style, and that are good quality. The late author Terry Pratchett addressed this issue in one of his books, in a bit of mental musing from one of his characters:
“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.
Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.
But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.
This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”
I don’t have three or four solid pairs of shorts, I have fifteen that are varying degrees of shitty. I don’t have 10 shirts that all look good, I have two or three that do and about 25 that look like I raided the closet of someone much larger than myself. My t-shirts are stretched out, fighting back holes, and too big because for too long I’ve chosen to have five cheap shirts instead of one or two good ones that last five times as long.
Now that I actually have the body they’re made for, I feel much more comfortable in some of the clothing I’ve always wanted to wear more of (like button down shirts and jackets), but I don’t have much of them, nor does what I do own fit particularly well. The good news is, there’s a little thing called eBay that can help short-circuit this cycle, if you’re persistent enough. Many of the brands that I really love are still on the expensive side, even used, but are far, are more reasonable if I change my buying patterns. There are also now more than a few clothiers who have popped up in the last few years to serve the tailoring needs of short or unusually-sized men like myself. Peter Manning, Ash & Anvil, and Silas Jackson all sell clothing for shorter men, while startups like Indochino and Blank Label make clothes based on a custom tailored pattern.
When I began packing up my clothing for my move later this month, I started off by trying on almost every single thing that I own. I did so with my friend Sonia in the room as something of an impartial observer to help me determine when something really didn’t fit. I put things into three piles: things to keep, things to keep but re-assess after the move, and things to give away. The end result? I’ve now gotten rid of two whole bins of clothing (roughly 2.5 garbage bags) and I have another bin that will likely find its way to Goodwill or eBay after the move. In response, I’ve come to a few conclusions that I would like to use as something of a personal guide when it comes to future clothing purchases:
– The minimalists are onto something with the idea of so-called “capsule” wardrobes. The idea of the capsule wardrobe is to whittle your clothing down to your most flexible essentials that allow you to make the maximum number of outfits from the minimum number of items. Now, I tend to be more expressive and colorful with my clothing than most minimalists, so the system doesn’t totally work for me, but perhaps a variation would. I would like to go through my things again, post-move, and figure out which things I essentially have duplicates of and choose the best from them, and set aside the things that I wear the most as a way of seeing what I actually wear vs. what I actually have. I tend toward a specific palette, and there’s no reason for me to have a dozen blue shirts when two or three would serve just as well.
– I’d like to do my best to only buy clothes that are appropriately sized or that are of sufficient quality that it’s worth me spending the cash to have them tailored. Some off the rack stores (J. Crew and H&M) have sizes that fit me more or less correctly, but most do not. This will mean saving up for things that come from the stores I listed above, or for tailoring for anything else I find. The increased cost will mean I won’t be able to buy as much, but ultimately that’s one of my goals, so…yeah.
– No more buying low quality clothing unless it’s “essentials” like t-shirts or boxers or socks, or anything that doesn’t advance my personal style. I’m tired of things that fall apart after a year or two, and that don’t really fit with my personal style. I’ve always been into clothes and fashion (call it a side effect of studying costuming and historical fashion) but never allowed myself to actually indulge in those things myself because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to pull off the look that I generally enjoy. Now that I can, there’s little reason for me to buy generic crap from Old Navy just because it’s what’s cheap and available. I’d rather spend $200 on a jacket that I’ll wear almost every day than $50 each on three jackets that I will simply tolerate. With a little attention to eBay, I should be able to buy items from the brands I like (like Filson, Ralph Lauren, Orvis) without breaking the bank, either.
– I’d like to use this as an opportunity to actually do some thinking about my personal style. For years I’ve worn whatever fit, with my only identifiable preference being for things in blues/browns and without much decoration (god, I sound like a modern-day Quaker). But really, I have honest to god opinions on clothing and with some of the increased confidence that surgery has given me, I’d like to do a bit more self expression with what I wear. Baltimore is truly the city that gives no fucks about what people look like, and I’d like to take advantage of that to be a little bit more of myself and a little less of a store mannequin for Target.
– Finally, I want to stop using laziness as an excuse for dressing poorly. I spend an inordinate number of my days in baggy cargo pants/cargo shorts and t-shirts because I tell myself that it’s the easiest, most comfortable option. In reality, these days a button down shirt is just as comfortable as a t-shirt (and will continue to get moreso the more often I wear them), takes all of an extra 10 seconds to put on, and looks worlds better. The same goes for pants/shorts that actually fit, and running a brush through my hair once or twice. I’m slowly realizing how much better I can look with an extra minute or two of effort, and I’d like that to become my new standard. It helps me to appear more my age, which in turn generally helps with people’s general level of respect for me, not to mention making me feel better about myself – because who out there doesn’t want to look good?
So, while nothing here is particularly revelatory, I do think that it will have a pretty big impact on what I wear (and even more on what I buy) from now on, if I can convince myself to stick to it. If it all works out, I’ll have a better-organized closet, deal with less of the dreaded “floordrobe” problem, and look better on a daily basis. I’ll be sure to keep you guys updated on how it goes, as I know that many folks have expressed interest in my “life hacking”-type stuff in the past.