Project 333: One-month update

by Sunita

Happy February! January felt about 90 days long, but at last we’re finally through it. I’ve been wearing my 33 pieces and wanted to take stock now that I’m one-third of the way through. With a couple of exceptions I managed to stick to the rules. The idea is to choose 33 pieces for 3 months, or essentially a capsule wardrobe for a season. I deviated from the official rules in a handful of ways: I didn’t count scarves, jewelry, a belt, and outerwear accessories; I swapped out a couple of pieces that I started with but didn’t wear; and I had to exchange one of my skirts.

I managed to wear 27 of the 33 pieces over the course of the month. The things I didn’t wear were mostly for weather-related reasons; it was a cold, rainy, snowy January, and I stuck to turtlenecks, boots, and my heavier sweaters. I got a couple of chances to wear my snuggly wool kimono coat, but for the most part I was in my LL Bean down parka and Heattech. This meant, however, that I had fewer opportunities to switch up shoes and tops, and it got a bit boring. It also turns out that I picked a LOT of black, navy, and grey, which also got boring. My folded poncho was a welcome change, as were my bright olive pants, but for the most part my clothes were as dark and gray as the days. Bleh. The funny thing is that I love wearing no-color colors as a rule, but until I limited myself I didn’t realize that I do mix in actual colors on a regular basis. Lesson learned.

I’ve also spent a fair amount of time this month reading about capsule wardrobes and fashion. I borrowed two books from the library and skimmed/read most of both of them: The Conscious Closet by Elizabeth Cline and The Curated Closet by Anushka Rees. They are both designed to help women make better fashion choices, but Cline emphasizes eco-conscious clothing while Rees has a more traditional approach to finding your personal style. They’re both writing in response to the rise of fast fashion, which I find very interesting as a phenomenon but not entirely applicable to my situation. I don’t do a lot of clothes shopping unless I need or want particular items, and I don’t buy much fast fashion apart from Uniqlo, where I get basics and some pants and tops (I like the Ines de la Fressange collections that drop twice a year, but after buying from them a few times I’ve pretty much exhausted my options).

I do, however, have more clothes than I regularly wear, and I’m not talking special-occasion or extreme-weather items. This is mostly because I don’t get rid of things enough. I don’t have a lot of pieces that I never wear, and my clothes aren’t bursting out of my closets and drawers, but I still have more than I need and I’ve hung on to things even though I haven’t worn them in ages. I’ve done a few big purges over the years, but not as recently as I should have, and I don’t systematically weed things out every year.

The culling I did last month has helped, but it’s not enough. That cull was the easy one, where I got rid of things I actively didn’t like, were obviously worn, or that I could quickly admit I wasn’t going to wear ever again. I still have a bunch of “maybes” in the closet. Wearing only 33 pieces has brought home to me that I should keep going on the closet reduction plan.

That said, I’m not wholly in love with the 333 approach. There are definitely good things about it: I’m wearing items that I’d forgotten I had or wore very rarely and I’m enjoying rediscovering them. I’ve learned to put things together in new ways, since my options are limited. To assuage my fears of wearing the same things to teach in week after week I’ve been writing down what I wear on work days and it’s been quite easy to avoid obvious repeats.

I did rethink some of my initial selections. It turns out I don’t have a lot of winter skirts and dresses, and I picked a merino wool A-line skirt that I discovered had numerous tiny moth (or whatever) holes in it. They weren’t easily visible from a distance, while I was wearing it, but once I realized they were there I was done with the skirt. It’s made of fine merino wool and even if I mended these holes, new ones would appear. It’s just not a good choice for me (I do mend my wool items, but these were going to be the start of a losing battle, I could tell). So I recycled it and pulled out an old French terry skirt I’ve worn for years. Sadly, however, I think that one may be closer to the recycle pile than I realized (I caught sight of myself in a mirror and it has clearly lost its shape). So in will come a ponte knit skirt in its place. I also wound up swapping out a grey knit top for a printed shirt, and I added a regular cotton T-neck because it turns out that sometimes Heattech is too hot. Who knew?

I don’t find that my what-will-I-wear process is completely simplified, though. 33 pieces is still a fair amount, and having to mix and match means thinking of things in new ways. It’s different from standing in my closet in the morning feeling frustrated, but it’s still an expenditure of mental energy.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is that January to March means dead of winter to early spring here in St. Louis. And I’m not sure I want to be wearing my less heavy winter clothes when I could be wearing spring stuff. I think this falls under the heading of “I like black, but not only and always black.” Yes, I have scarves, but I also have a number of pieces, especially tops and dresses, that I like and that I don’t want to wait until April to pull out. And the same thing is true for April to June. By May we’re over 80F in St. Louis and it’s time for summer clothes, but we occasionally get some seriously cold and icy weather in April, so I can’t abandon all my winter clothes on April 1. The 33-item limit means there aren’t many degrees of freedom, and I wind up with one or two pieces for the less frequent weather conditions.

Does this mean I’m not really a capsule wardrobe kind of dresser? I still really like the idea, and I’m going to keep wearing the 33 I’ve chosen into February. After all, I do like what I’ve been wearing, and it won’t hurt the unworn stuff to have a season off. But I think I may want to approach minimalist fashion in a different way. There are a bunch of strategies out there and Project 333 is just one of them. There’s the 10×10 option, where you wear 10 items for 10 days. Or I could stick to 333 and change the composition of the 3-month blocks to December-February, March-May, June-August, and September-November. That would make somewhat more sense for my academic and weather schedule and it fits the meteorological schedule rather than the calendar.

Another realization I’m coming to is that quite a few of the capsule-focused fashion types either work from home or have different jobs than I do. Academic style is not that formal, but women professors, at least in the social sciences, tend to dress in specific business-casual sorts of ways. This can range from understated and tailored to flowy and colorful, but there is a code. On top of that I also teach in the law school, which is more formal than the Arts & Sciences side of campus. So my range of everyday work wear may be wider than your average capsule aficionado, or at least the sample capsules I’ve seen have jeans as a staple more than I can manage. (An aside: I have been to Pinterest more in the last few weeks than in the previous decade. I still don’t like Pinterest. And I will stick a fork in the back of my hand before I create a personal fashion mood board.)

I’m really glad I started this project, though, because it’s addressed something I’ve been frustrated with and has made me more mindful of how I dress and how what I have makes me feel. Like a lot of women, getting older has meant fashion changes in my wardrobe, but not always in a conscious way, and I’ve often been frustrated even though I don’t lack choices. But it turns out that I like a lot more of my clothes than I realized. On the other hand, I also have a lot more clothes than I thought I did. I don’t think of myself as a clothes hound since I don’t consciously, actively shop that often. But to some degree I am. So I’m undertaking a somewhat scary additional project: I’m cataloguing all my clothes. Well, all but nightwear, loungewear, and exercise clothes (I may get to those, but not on this first go-round). It is going to be an eye-opener, I can already tell. And as I said, it’s a bit scary. I’ll let you know how it goes.