“How many things in your wardrobe do you actually wear?”
When I asked myself that question I was staring at a disorganised rail of clothing packed so tightly I could barely get a hanger out – let alone find anything.
I’d just agreed to try minimalist fashion challenge Project 333, and was now grappling with the daunting task of creating a “capsule wardrobe” of just 33 items – including shoes, bags, jewellery and other accessories. It didn’t mean throwing the rest out, of course, just putting them away (in my case in the spare room) so I was only looking at the clothes I could wear.
Listen: Maggie Alderson talks fashion with Mia Freedman.
In the end, I chose four skirts, three pairs of pants (jeans, black jeans and navy pants), three jumpers, five dresses, three bags, five tops, two necklaces, two jackets (denim and faux leather), leggings and five pairs of shoes.
While project creator Courtney Carver wants people to try the challenge for three months (33 items for three months = Project 333) I was just going to try it for 33 days. A month seemed long enough. This was going to be extremely difficult for someone who likes clothes as much as me, after all.
Fast forward to the end of the month and I discovered it was a fairly different experience to the one I thought it was going to be. Here’s what I learned from trying a modified version of Project 333.
My wardrobe needed some serious organising.
I never really considered myself a shopaholic, fashionista or hoarder. I like clothes and sure, I've been guilty of many fashion crimes and a sucker for the bargain buy, but I didn't have a problem. Or so I thought...
As I sorted through my wardrobe and chest of drawers trying to find the things I actually wanted to wear for the month, it hit me how much I really needed this detox.
For one thing, I realised that chest of drawers was permanently open as much for my laziness as the fact that it wouldn't physically SHUT. This was no small piece of furniture, so clearly some things had to go. The wardrobe was in no better state - I'd ran out of hangers at some point and so as I sorted through found clothes I hadn't worn in years and forgotten I'd owned.
I needed to give away more than HALF my wardrobe.
At the end of the 33 days, I realised that I didn't miss many of the 200 (just a guess) other items I owned. There were some favourites that I'd had to leave off my capsule wardrobe because they simply didn't go with enough things, and I was excited to wear them again once the month was up.
However, there were far more coats, skirts, tops, dresses and pants I realised I could easily do away with. Either they didn't fit properly, they weren't my style any more or I didn't enjoy wearing them, yet I'd been holding on to these clothes for reasons I couldn't really explain. But it was time to let go, say goodbye and donate them.
Why I need to stop buying cheap stuff.
That mountain's worth of clothes in the drawers? A fair chunk of it was - how can I put this best? - crap quality. The clothes I didn't wear anymore were mostly made of cheap materials, had ripped or faded or just looked, well, cheap.
I'm not sure when my tastes had started to steer towards better quality items, but this experience certainly consolidated my new approach to buying clothes - and shoes for that matter. "Quality over quantity" is my new mantra, which applies to more than just my wardrobe.
I can work my clothes smarter.
When I was creating my list of 33 things, I was forced to consider which items worked well together in order to get the most number of unique outfits from my tiny wardrobe. And it was at that moment I realised very few items in my wardrobe go together.
On a positive note, I also found some creative new ways to pair items with others: like a plain white tee I had never considered teaming with my floral midi skirt, or how transformative a faux leather jacket could be in taking an outfit from day to night.
Jewellery (more specifically, necklaces) make a huge difference.
Every day I thanked myself for choosing two statement necklaces part of my capsule wardrobe. They really lifted a blah outfit or pulled things that didn't really go together, together. I realised before this challenge I wasn't rocking my jewellery to its potential. I've since invested (can you even say that if they're only $15?) in a few more statement necklaces and have vowed to never fail to accessorise again.
No one notices or cares if you repeat an outfit.
This challenge was also great exposure therapy for someone like me, who feared that people would judge if I repeated an outfit in the space of a season.
In reality, no one cares if you wear that same thing you wore six days ago. (Unless you're going to a wedding, apparently.) In fact, most people won't even notice, I realised.
Shopping makes me happy, so I'm going to keep doing it.
Part of the challenge of Project 333 is that you're meant to be reducing your wardrobe, therefore not adding to it. Sure, when I realised my sneakers were scuffed beyond being wearable I was able to go out and by some replacements (as I would if a jumper shrunk in the wash or I ripped a skirt) but I wasn't supposed to be clothes shopping. I had to walk past shop windows advertising sales when normally I'd walk in for a squiz. I realised it was best not to even open the umpteen product-pushing emails I receive a day from various brands. The latter is a habit I've kept, realising those emails are mostly a waste of time.
As for physical shopping, that's a pastime I enjoy and not something I want to give up at this stage.
I don't need as many clothes as I thought to still have fun with fashion.
I thought I'd be sick of that portion of my wardrobe at the end of the 33 days, but when the final day came I actually wasn't. In fact, I thought I could just keep going for two more months and do the challenge properly. Instead, I let myself off the hook and started introducing things back into my wardrobe, but weeks on I still find myself drawn to the same 40 (maybe 50) or so tops, skirts, bags, dresses, jackets, pants, jumpers and shoes.
Project 333's creator Courtney Carver talks about giving the challenge a go and then, by all means, altering the "official" rules to better suit your lifestyle - and I guess that's what I've done.
Have you thought about cutting down your wardrobe?