Project 333 wrap-up

by Sunita

I ended my Project 333 experiment after two months. This is a fashion challenge that asks you to choose 33 items and wear them for 3 months. Categories like exercise and sleep wear are excluded, but it counts most other wardrobe items. I discussed how I approached it in this post, and here’s my one-month assessment.

Overall, I enjoyed the process and learned from it. I didn’t clear out my clost of the non-333 pieces so I had to remember or look up what was in the list of 33 when I couldn’t quite remember. Most of my choices worked well, although I did swap out a couple of things because the weather turned out to be colder and icier than I had expected. I departed from it a couple of time to wear coats that were not on the list, but otherwise I stuck to it.

What I liked: I chose pieces that I knew I enjoyed wearing so I didn’t have any unpleasant surprises, i.e., discovering that the shirt I had chosen wasn’t going to go with anything and I was stuck with it for months. There were pieces that I didn’t wear in January but that I was able to wear (and was glad to have) in February. I also liked the way the limited options made me put things together in ways I hadn’t done before. A dress that I’d generally thought of as kind of dowdy became much more stylish when I added a belt and a scarf draped in a new way. Shirts rather than turtlenecks under casual sweaters made the overall look more polished. My bright olive green trousers looked great with a cropped navy sweater. And so on.

I was also able to rotate my teaching clothes enough that I didn’t feel I was wearing the same things over and over again. Yes they were the same pieces, but adding scarves and pairing them with the full range of complementary pieces meant they didn’t look exactly the same. If anyone noticed, they didn’t say so. And more importantly, I felt that I was mixing things up, so I was confident and I’m sure that makes a difference. I did wear the same pair of jeans once or twice a week, but they are classic skinny jeans in a dark wash so they’re basically uniform material anyway.

I really did feel I’d broken out of a style rut by the end of January. Because of the limitations I had to wear everything in rotation. I think that had I had the full run of my closet I would have worn fewer things more often, if that makes sense. For example, I really like the olive pants but I’ve been unsure how to style them. Having to wear them meant figuring that out. I wore my folded poncho more often than I probably would have otherwise, and I loved how I felt in it.

Finally, I discovered that I really do like most of my clothes. My problem is not that I buy things I dislike, but that I get stuck in grooves and some things fade into the background and then I become unsure how to integrate them back in. Choosing a combination of always worn (hello Heattech turtlenecks) and rarely worn (a jersey shirtdress in the winter can work? yes it can) made me think more and bring back pieces I’d almost given up on but wasn’t willing to give away.

What I disliked: By mid-February I was really looking forward to the 29th. 33 clothes, even with my extensions (e.g. jewelry didn’t count) meant I wore my Doc Martens Chelsea boots over and over and over again. I have three Heattech turtlenecks but I only put the navy and black on the list, so I was gazing longingly at the maroon one after a while. Ditto for my dress shirts, once I realized how much I liked wearing them. 33 pieces isn’t enough to fully use even a not-huge wardrobe over a season. There were a few very cold days where I really wanted to wear my giant, super-soft cableknit turtleneck sweater. But it wasn’t on the list because it’s not versatile enough.

While I had plenty of clothes to wear, I had to select across two overlapping but distinct categories: teaching vs. non-teaching work clothes. For example, I wear jeans to work but not on teaching days (or at least not for undergraduate teaching). I was grateful this wasn’t my law school semester, because those outfits are closer to business formal than business casual so the disparity is even greater then. That dichotomy means that there are clothes that only work in one category, which effectively reduces the number of outfits for each. I wondered how other people dealt with this, so I went looking at various Project 333 writeups. What I found was that most of them either don’t work, work from home or co-working spaces, or have a work wardrobe that is pretty consistent and/or overlaps with their non-work stuff. Obviously it is doable, because I did it and it was fine, but the effective number of outfits available will depend on what your daily life is like.

The other big variable is the weather. The Project 333 creator lives in Utah, I believe, so it’s not as if she isn’t dealing with four distinct seasons and big temperature swings. But a St. Louis winter, which in January served up single-degree days, 50F days, ice, snow, and rain, is at least as variable. Two days ago, on March 1, it hit 70F. Welcome to global warming in the midwest. Combining these kinds of weather fluctuations with my work wardrobe requirements meant that there were days when it was precipitating ice but it was skirt day in the rotation. And did I mention that I either take public transit or walk the nearly two miles between work and home? I don’t get to dash from the parking garage to the office, so my outerwear has to take account of that.

Finally, I have a much better sense of what a capsule wardrobe life is like. I’ve always loved the idea of capsule wardrobes, and I definitely use them when I travel. But I see no reason to purge my closets to get down to a capsule wardrobe life as an everyday practice. The best thing, for me, about thinking in terms of capsules is that you refine your own sense of style and what works for you, and it helps avoid bad impulse-buy choices. But I don’t shop as entertainment anymore, and I only buy online when I already know that the brand and fit work for me. The cottage industry of Instagram Fashion Advice is not designed for women like me, who have been working through how to dress themselves for decades. I already have the French Style starter pack, the Business Casual starter pack, the City Brunch starter pack, etc. etc. etc. OK, I don’t have the most up-to-date versions, but I have most of the classics, and I’m betting a lot of women in my position do too.

Next steps: I’m not doing another Project 333 season, but the good things I took away from it are practices I want to keep doing. So I think I will next take up the 10×10 experiment: 10 items worn over 10 days. I’ll start it when we get back from our holiday. As it turns out, my walking/hiking wardrobe is more or less a 10×10. 😉