Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Wardrobe planning, sort-of Project 333 and a note about weight loss discussion

A note: Weight and weight loss can be tricky, upsetting topics for some people, and even triggery for people with eating disorders. I would never want a reader to be blind-sided by this, to so avoid harm I will just say this: in this entry, I am going to talk a little bit about historical weight loss and gain, but mostly about how I am planning my wardrobe in a period of weight loss. Despite the fact that weight loss is thing that is happening for me right now, please don't worry this is going to become a diet blog or pre-occupied with weight loss issues. It's really just that, well, I don't know how we can talk about sewing clothes without talking about our bodies to some extent, and a change in body shape and size is relevant to the discussion. Most of my comments will be pretty much factual and as non-political as any size related discussion can be ("This doesn't fit any more" and "I sewed this before in [a larger size]"), rather than celebratory or political. I am not into the whole celebration of thinness, or thinner-ness. I don't need or want anyone else to celebrate it for me or to comment on it positively or negatively, no matter how well-intentioned those comments are. Generally, I won't engage in those conversations or respond to those comments. Meanwhile, I believe that other people's bodies, their shape, size and weight, are none of my business. The care and feeding of any particular body is best left to the person to whom it belongs. I aim, but probably do not always succeed, to neither intentionally nor unintentionally make any other person ashamed or self-conscious about their body.

And with that, on to the sewing content.

The reality of my wardrobe is this: I have weighed a lot of different amounts over the last 10 years, including my very highest weight as an adult and my very lowest, and at every weight I was at I bought and wore various items of clothing. All of the things I own at the moment are from the lower half of that range, for various reasons, but since the range is pretty enormous that still leaves me with clothes in three sizes (by "size" I mean "clothes that fit at a particular weight" as opposed to "clothes with the same number on a label", since the latter are not remotely consistent) complicated even more by the fact that I have different types of clothing in different sizes: lots of winter work-suitable smart and smart-casual in the smallest sizes, but nothing for warm weather or outside of work; nothing at all work-suitable in the middle size for any season, but lots of deepest-darkest winter weekend jumpers. More alarmingly, every size is littered with wardrobe orphans and random assortments of things that really don't go together. And, since I've been a PhD student for years with not much cash to spare and not much inclination to worry overly about my clothes past "Are they clean? And warm enough?", except for the clothes bought/made for summer 2013, most of the things I own are old and at varying levels of wear.

This leaves me with three related problems: What do I have to wear that actually goes together and fits right now, for the season I am in, for the types of activities I have to do right now? What (if anything) do I need to buy to complete my wardrobe? What can I/should I sew to add to my wardrobe?

Since the beginning of the year I've been playing around with a few ways of thinking about my total wardrobe. One thing I ran across is the Project 333 idea. To summarize, in the "official" version of Project 333, you choose 33 items of clothing including accessories, outerwear, shoes and of course day to day wear, and live with that as your wardrobe for 3 months, or roughly a season. (It does exclude things like your work-out gear, wedding ring, etc, and there are some extra "rules" like you can have 3 items in reserve to substitute in over the 3 months, etc.) The idea comes from a minimalist/sustainability/mindfulness part of the clothes/fashion blogosphere, and as such it appeals to me at some levels but not others. Since you have to pay for the content I would actually be interested in (how to choose your clothes) and the content you need to pay for is generally couched in a particular language and style I find irritating, I decided to give it a miss. However, the idea of Project 333 stuck with me, even though I didn't (and don't) think the original plan would work for me.

A few things have changed my mind about whether I could give a variation on the Project 333 theme a chance: 1. The weight loss thing and the related wardrobe problem; 2. The state of my fabric stash, which is really really heavy on certain colours, and which I can't afford/don't have space/am reluctant to diversify; 3. The fact that if I am spending money on clothes right now I need that money to be spent on the right things; 4. An attempt at wardrobe planning that I've been working on for the last few months.

On the latter point, one of the things I did while playing around with wardrobe planning was to produce something that was an inventory of my dream wardrobe. As the list got longer and longer, I realized a couple of things: I found it weirdly stressful to think about owning so many clothes, even if they were mostly imaginary; and I felt like what I was planning was actually a whole series of tiny capsules of just a few clothes. That might really work for some people, but for me personally I suddenly realized I really disliked that idea and that, more importantly, it doesn't actually match up to how I live. This is probably why I have been overall kind of ambivalent about the 6PAC thing I tried: I actually don't like these mini-capsules where it all hinges on a single item of clothing. I kind of want a no-work wardrobe where many things can be worn in combination with many other things.

Probably there are lots of ways to deal with this, but at this point I suddenly became much more interested in the content of a blog I have been following for a while, The Vivienne Files. This is an American blogger who basically compiles wardrobes/mini-wardrobes. Not all her blog content is to my taste (either aesthetically or philosophically), but I really like her take on Project 333, her travel packing plans and her "Whatever's Clean" wardrobes. Her take on Project 333 in particular is much more relaxed, and she's produced pictorial guides to example wardrobes and some suggestions of how to structure the wardrobe in terms of numbers, colours, etc, which I find really helpful -- here's her image of her own wardrobe for Autumn 2013, for example. Her version, which is the one I've decided to try out, is basically 33 items of clothing for a season, excluding work out wear, stuff for lounging around the house, shoes, accessories and outerwear. She also works on a 3-month basis, and she doesn't seem to swap things in and out much, or only if they're really not working for her.

My plan is even more relaxed, mainly due to weight loss constraints. I am starting from The Vivienne Files version: 33 items of clothes for every day wear, but I am working month by month rather than for the full three months. I am excluding: shoes, accessories, outerwear, exercise clothes and PJs or their close cousins that I wear to lounge around the house. I am also excluding any clothes I need for totally one off events, like if I have to go to a wedding or something (I have nothing like this planned, so it's a theoretical exclusion at present). I am not limiting swaps, except insofar as it's one-in-one-out. This allows me to swap out anything that doesn't fit due to weight loss and also anything that I've ear-marked as requiring an upgrade due to overall condition.

At this point, I had to actually confront a series of mental objections to the idea of even a relaxed 33-piece wardrobe:

1. It would just not be enough clothes.
2. I would miss the diversity of my full wardrobe.
3. It would mean giving up a lot of sewing AND shopping (and I am not even someone who shops a lot so why I worried about this I have no idea).
4. I am not actually capable of putting together that kind of co-ordinated wardrobe that genuinely contains 100+ different outfits, even if I follow some general guidelines culled from several posts in that blog about what needs to go into the wardrobe (number of tops and bottoms, how to add colour, etc)
5. Free-form guilt about "wasting" clothes that fit right now by not wearing them while I can.

Over the weekend I pulled together a 33-piece wardrobe for September and put everything else away. I did all my laundry so that I had the total, complete 33 piece wardrobe hanging up where I could see it. Actually, I had 31 items, because I decided that to make my wardrobe work I needed two specific things, both of which I bought yesterday.

Here are my discoveries so far:

1. 33 items of clothing is a LOT MORE than you think it is, especially if you do laundry every week. I could actually easy go 2 weeks without doing washing, which is the longest I tend to leave it. When it was all hanging in the same place I suddenly realized that 33 items is WAY more than I launder most weeks, once you exclude PJs and exercise clothes and so on. I had a problem getting to 33, in a way, and that was for the very specific reason that my current wardrobe does not have the right proportions of top/bottoms/layers. I sort of knew that because I was constantly frustrated by it before, but now I could see much more specifically what I was actually lacking (and hence, what I had to go buy pretty much immediately).

2. I can't really say, after 4 days, whether I will find I have enough choice or will miss the diversity of my wardrobe. Right now, I feel like I have a lot of choice in my wardrobe. Yes, there are colours that are not in there because I can't fit them in. Like, my brown trousers got exiled because they just don't fit in with the general scheme I am working. On the other hand, I didn't pick brown as a colour in the scheme because 98% of my wardrobe doesn't work with it anyway.

3. I had to include a few things for September that are actually not in great condition (see above re. the overall state of my wardrobe) and since the whole weight loss thing is kind of a long-term venture and as I move into different sizes the same exact problems and wardrobe holes will chase me the whole way. So there is plenty of scope to sew (and because I'm picking the colour schemes based not only on what I already own in the way of clothes but what is in my fabric stash, this should really work from a stashbusting perspective). In the longer term, I can also sew my loungewear (which I already do a lot of) and my "frosting" clothes for special events, and outerwear, and bags, and also knitting and maybe picking up some other related hobbies, as well as gradually moving closer and closer to a mainly hand-made wardrobe. I really don't think not having options about what to make is going to be an issue.

4. I am amazed by my 33 piece wardrobe now I have it in one place. It actually DOES look like it all goes together. I mean, it's a bit unadventurous and I'd like to put some different colours in, but actually getting dressed in the morning is really easy, not least because I can see everything.

5. It's no more wasteful to put half an outfit on, realize it doesn't go with anything, take it off again and put it back in the wardrobe than to have it hanging somewhere else to begin with. Plus there is not some optimum amount of wear that will make my return on investment on any particular item of clothing more palatable.

In conclusion: I've been talking about a radical wardrobe reinvention for a year. This is the actual radical wardrobe reinvention in implementation!


  1. Good for you to get to the implementation stage, Westmoon. I hope you reach your long term personal goal.  

    There are some style blogs I follow & your rendition of Project 333 reminds me of Sheila's Emphemera's 12 month capsule dressing challenge.  She called it 30 for 30 by 12. I couldn't find a link to the very start, but here's one to her favorite month.

    1. Thanks! That's a really interesting blog, thank you for pointing me to it. Her aesthetic is way off mine but I found her 30 for 30 really interesting.

    2. My favorite 30-for-30-er is Kendi from Kendi Everyday, I did it once, and it was fun to challenge myself to wear my favorite items in new ways, but by the end I missed the rest of my wardrobe so much.

    3. Yes, I remember seeing Kendi's when I was first looking at the idea and started watching her blog as a result, though she doesn't do it any more. She puts together some gorgeous outfits!

      To be honest though, I don't actually even HAVE that much of a wardrobe at the moment, or at least, not a wardrobe that works. I only took out around 20 items to get to 31, and of those I rarely/never wore about 6-8 of them. Hard to miss what you don't have or use!

  2. Have you seen this blog and her "10 piece" wardrobe?

    These discussions fascinate me. It's like working a puzzle to get the pieces come together in a way that will give you something fresh and interesting wear all season long.

    1. That blogger looked gorgeous in the wardrobe she'd picked, but wow, silk blouses and dresses, a cashmere sweater and white jeans in an 11 item + 4 t-shirt wardrobe? I'm way too grubby and prone to spillage for that combination, half my wardrobe would be out of commission by the end of the second week.

      One of the most fun things I did while I was convincing myself that I should do the 33 piece wardrobe thing was put together images of a totally imaginary 33-piece wardrobe. I pretended I had no existing clothes, no budget constraints and I had all the sewing skills in the world. I put together a wardrobe from scratch using RTW images I pulled off the net, line drawings of patterns I've ear-marked as things I'd really like to own, and my own fabric stash. It was actually that exercise of the imaginary wardrobe and actually really WANTING that wardrobe that convinced me to try it for real even with all the constraints I actually have :D