Wardrobe Detox: Well THIS is embarrassing

Recently I was thinking how great it would be if I could figure out a way to fit another wardrobe storage unit into my small bedroom. Then I could organize my clothes and actually find something to wear in the morning!– I thought naively. Lucky for me, as I was surfing the sewing blogosphere, the Wardrobe Architect crossed in front of my face just in time. It made me realize I didn’t need more storage for my clothes, what I needed was to detox my wardrobe: pare it back to a more manageable size, and make sure it contains only clothes that make me feel and look great.

Just part of the pile of clothes I’m getting rid of. Not pictured: shoes, purses, more clothes. Yikes.

Just part of the pile of clothes I’m getting rid of. Not pictured: shoes, purses, more clothes. Yikes.

So here are two embarrassing facts to come out of this detox:

  1. I pulled over 65 garments that I just don’t love enough or wear enough out of my closet and dresser for the give-away pile. Over sixty-five! It’s embarrassing to me that I could pull that many articles of clothing out of my wardrobe and still have plenty of pieces left to keep me well dressed all year round.
  2. Prior to the detox I had two drawers just for socks. JUST. FOR. SOCKS. In my defense, they weren’t two LARGE drawers, and granted, in this climate one does need a variety of socks for a huge range of weather conditions, but two drawers full was just plain insane. Just the socks I got rid of would have been enough to keep my feet clothed for more than 2 weeks without doing laundry. Why on earth would someone need so many socks?? After detox: just one drawer for socks.

Once I got started, the only difficulty I encountered was resolving to get rid of those pieces that I had really loved at the time I bought them. Even if I hadn’t worn them for years or they didn’t really suit me, I’d still remember that feeling of spotting that amazing print, or getting a great deal, or how that geometric pattern and colour combination got me so excited, and it would make me feel like I couldn’t possibly get rid of this thing. I also had pangs about clothes I had received compliments on or had worn for a special occasion. But I was ruthless, sticking to some of the principles that I’d really always known but that reading the Wardrobe Architect brought into stark relief for me:

  • if you don’t feel great in it, get rid of it
  • if it’s not a style that suits you, get rid of it (WA’s section on understanding sillhouettes was really helpful on this one)
  • if you haven’t worn it in forever, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to wear it again, so get rid of it

Embarrassing fact #3: You’d think I would have loved every item of clothing I bought at least at the time I bought it — I mean, why would a sane person buy something if they don’t love it? — but sadly that’s not the case. These are some of the reasons I seem to buy things that I don’t love. Maybe you can relate to these:

  1. Sometimes I go shopping to relieve anxiety or stress, in which case I often make poor buying decisions, because it feels better to complete the mission (i.e. buy something) than to leave empty-handed, even if it’s not a good choice.
  2. Sometimes I’m on the hunt for a particular thing that I think I need — let’s say a black long-sleeved tee — and eventually I’ll settle for buying one where the neckline is a little too deep or it rides up around the tops of the sleeves but I buy it anyway just to get that thing crossed off my list.
  3. Sometimes I buy something just because it’s on sale and seems like a great deal. (In my defense I believe this might actually be genetic — my parents are both chronic bargain hunters who never buy anything if it’s not on sale and will drive across town to save 20 cents on cheese!)

    Lovely silk dress. Original price: $140. Bought at a second-hand shop in a shi-shi NYC neighbourhood for $20. Bargain? Nope. Waist is too high, it needs a belt that I don't have, and the colour isn't great for me.

    Lovely silk dress. Original price: $140. Bought it with the tags still on at a second-hand shop in a shi-shi NYC neighbourhood for $20. Bargain? Nope. Waist is too high for my liking, it needs a belt that I don’t have, and the colour isn’t great for me.

  4. Worst of all, I sometimes buy things to make up for a previous poor buying choice. Example: a year or two ago I bought a pair of jeans with a pinky-coral and navy paisley print on them, but I had very little that I could actually wear with them. So, I decided I ‘needed’ a coral T-shirt, so I bought one, and for cooler weather a lightweight cardigan that matched would be ‘needed’, so I bought one of those, and then it turned out the coral t-shirt was shitty quality because I had done that thing where I bought one that didn’t quite fit the bill anyway just to get it off my list, so I bought a navy t-shirt instead, and really I don’t like the neckline of that navy t-shirt after all…. I have been trying to make those fucking jeans work by buying more things ever since. Cripes.

    The offending jeans in question.

    The offending jeans in question.

Yes, I’m a basket case. But I’d like to think I’m now a reformed basket case. New questions I must ask myself when shopping:

  1. Is this truly a style that suits me and I feel good in? (Avoid buying styles I admire on others but aren’t really my thing. Avoid buying things that maybe have one great feature about them like a fantastic colour but something else about it isn’t quite right for me.)
  2. Do I already have something in my wardrobe I can wear with this? Or will buying this one thing necessitate buying a bunch of other things in order to build an outfit?
  3. Am I heading to the cash with this in my hand just because it’s on sale?
  4. Do I really need another damn brightly coloured and/or busy-patterned article of clothing, fercrissake? (It’s important for me to swear at myself on this question to really make sure I’m following it. A closet stuffed with a riot of colours and patterns does not make for easy dressing each morning, trust me. At some point in my life I seem to have forgotten how elegant and easy black, neutrals, and solid colours can be.)

I also have new rules about choosing knitting and sewing patterns, as well as selecting fabric and yarn, but I’ll save those for another post.

What about you? How do you manage your wardrobe? Do you have rules for when you shop, and rules for when you’re purging your closet? Do you stick to them?

File Under: Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Wow, I can’t believe how stupid I’ve been! Here I was thinking that all my female professor colleagues and I get paid less than our male colleagues* because of systemic sexism.  But it turns out I’ve just been dressing all wrong!

The Science of Simplicity: Why Successful People Wear the Same Thing Every Day screenshot

Blow me down with a feather, according to this article all I had to do was wear the same thing every day to become a successful multi-gazillionaire! Thanks, Josh Haltiwanger, for pointing out just how FRIVOLOUS I’ve been, frittering away time and money trying to present a ‘professional’ appearance in order to be taken seriously at work. All I really needed to do was wear jeans and a t-shirt everyday. Just look at the overwhelming evidence Haltiwanger presents: two people who’ve done this, of the 6 billion people on the planet, are unbelievably successful. Could someone please get in a phone call to Oprah and Hillary Clinton and all the successful women out there to let them know there’s no need for perfectly manicured nails, attractive clothes (carefully chosen to be neither too sexy nor too frumpy!), expensive hair cuts and dye jobs and styling products, and a myriad of cosmetics? Because everyone knows that no successful woman has ever been subject to intense scrutiny and judgement of what she’s wearing, what her hairstyle is, or her choice of footwear. (Good god, those aren’t COMFORTABLE shoes you’re wearing, are they??) No one would make rude comments about their new ‘non-look’, because everyone would just be too busy seeing how amazingly smart, talented, and respectable they are! Why didn’t we think of this before?

Anyway, I guess Mr. Haltiwanger simply never considered how his advice of simplifying your appearance so you can focus on what matters might not work for 50% of the human race. Because, as they say, we women are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Condemned as frivolous if we appear to be putting too much effort into how we look, and deemed unworthy or unprofessional (if not ‘unfuckable’ – as if that were a measure of a woman’s worth) if we’re not putting in enough. And don’t even get me started on the author of the article referring to these things as ‘frivolous details’. I named this blog Frivolous at Last because it took me a long time to fully embrace things that I was actually interested in but too embarrassed to admit because society generally judged them to be frivolous (like fashion, sewing, knitting, etc.)  — things that also just happen to be thought of as primarily female interests, generally speaking. I think of the word frivolous as quite gendered and political. (More on that in the About section.)

Alright, having had my frustrated and rather sarcastic tirade, it’s time for some soul-searching. What if I could overcome prejudices about my worth/credibility/expertise just by wearing jeans and a t-shirt everyday? Would I do it? I don’t have a simple yes-or-no answer. I very much enjoy choosing clothes and jewelry and make up (most of the time). The right outfit can make me feel supremely confident. And my clothes/shoes/accessories are an outward expression of creativity — putting together a kick-ass outfit does require a sense of colour, proportion, and many other skills we associate with art and design. On the other hand, sometimes I feel quite put upon that women are generally subject to such intense scrutiny of our appearance that it gets in the way of simply seeing us as credible professionals. There is definitely an investment of time and money that I often resent. I shudder to add up how much money I spend every year on, say, just cosmetics alone. One could argue it’s entirely my choice whether or not to wear makeup, but at the same time let’s not kid ourselves that there isn’t a lot of pressure to present a perfect face and body, made up just so, and that there isn’t a certain level of judgement for those who choose not to live up to those so-called ‘professional’ standards. All-in-all, I don’t have an easy answer for this one, but it’s an interesting ponder.

My dear men, I know you have your difficult issues and societal pressures, too, but let’s face it — you can wear the same thing every day all of your life and people will pat you on the back for rejecting “frivolous details” — if they even notice. (Check out this male Australian TV anchor who purposely wore the same suit every day for a year to prove a point and no one noticed.)

Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 3.42.07 PM

What about you? Would you be happy wearing the same thing every day if it meant you could get past the gendered lens through which you’re sometimes (often?) viewed? Do you think this article has a point?



*Our faculty union publishes aggregated salary data that clearly show female professors in my faculty get paid on average about $10k less than male professors with the same number of years of service.

Dirty Clothes: the Quest for Cheap Fashion

Last week it was reported that a fund is being set up to compensate victims and victims’ families of the Bangladesh garment factory collapse….but that some notable retailers whose garments were being made there were absent from the meeting.

Like Walmart, for example. But you already knew that Walmart is a giant dickhead among retailers, right? Low wages, union busting, decimating locally-owned businesses, obvious disregard for the well-being of the people manufacturing their products as long as they’re as cheap as possible. Even knowing all that, I was still a bit stunned to hear that they’re not at least playing the PR game and showing up at the table — you know, at least *feigning* that they care that people, who were forced to work in unsafe conditions to ensure Walmart’s clothes were being churned out as fast and cheaply as possible, actually died for this rather ignoble cause.

Ultimately, I think Walmart knows that there is only a tiny fraction of consumers who know — or care — that the demand for ever cheaper, faster, disposable goods is taking a toll on a lot of things we should value: the environment, human rights, worker safety, and a living wage, to name a few.

It was also widely reported that Canadian retailer Joe Fresh (parent company Loblaw) was among the clients of the collapsed garment factory. It’s not surprising, considering their extremely low prices.

People of a certain age will realize, when they stop to think about it, that the prices of clothes have dropped significantly over the last bunch of decades. Strange, isn’t it? Hasn’t the price of most things naturally gone up over the course of decades? I remember a sweater I coveted when I was a teenager in the 80s — black with a busy green & blue motif with gold threads and big shoulder pads — that I put on layaway. (For those born after 1985, layaway is a quaint practice whereby you would put a deposit down on something you wanted but didn’t have the money to pay for all at once, and you returned each week to pay more until you had it all paid off. No credit card debt incurred. Imagine that.)  The sweater was $60, which was a pretty hefty sum at the time. Nowadays that sweater would retail for probably $20.

The acrylic sweater in question. Yes, I paid $60 for it. And oh god, matching earrings.

The acrylic sweater in question. Yes, I paid $60 for it in 1987. And oh god, matching earrings.

My mother could tell you about how clothes were an even bigger investment when she was a young adult in the 50s. She saved up for clothes, and chose them very carefully, ensuring they were classic styles, well-made, and good-quality fabric so they would last a long time.

Anyway, back to that $20 sweater: how is that price possible? How can a whole garment be constructed, shipped, and sold, and all the people involved (designers, seamstresses, factory workers, shipping companies, retail workers, etc.) be paid, and a profit still be made for the parent company? The answers, I think, are obvious.

And now back to Joe Fresh. They did come to the table to meet about the compensation fund, and they did sign on to an international pact to improve conditions for garment workers since the Bangladesh factory collapse. Details of two such pacts, and which companies signed on to them, are outlined here and here.  But is this enough? Should a conscientious consumer feel alright about purchasing from such a company? I have to admit, I bought a shirt from Joe Fresh today. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I think it may feel like a dirty shirt even after it’s been laundered.

What about you? Are these issues on your mind when you shop? Can you afford to shop conscientiously? I mean, it costs a lot more for clothes that are sustainably and ethically produced. I’d love to hear your thoughts.