Ivy asked in a comment on my closet post about wardrobe essentials. She noted, importantly, that it’s a highly personal thing, and “slippery,” which I liked as a descriptor.
The definition of “wardrobe essential” surely varies from person to person. What I consider essential may be seen as completely worthless or frivolous to another person.
As I’ve said before, one of my 2015 resolutions is to pare down my closet and refine my sense of style to look something like a Parisienne (or what I imagine a Parisienne to be). And so I’m editing down to neutrals, tailored menswear, and great boots and blazers.
One of the benefits of editing your closet down to essentials is that, surprisingly, my desire to shop and buy has decreased substantially. I don’t want to go shopping just to find something new. I have a concrete list of essentials I’d like to acquire, but I am happy to wait on them.
So, without further ado.
What I (Currently) Consider to Be My Wardrobe Essentials
1 crewneck white T-shirt
1 crewneck black T-shirt
3 V-neck T-shirts
3–5 button-down shirts
1 (preferably more) silk blouses
1 chambray shirt
2 pairs black pants (trouser cut and slim cut)
3 pairs jeans
2 pairs other pants
Perfect black dress
2 PJ sets (the button-down shirt kind, like your grandpa wears)
Unlimited collection of sexy lingerie to wear on a daily basis
Essentials I feel that I am lacking, although I am willing myself to be patient regarding acquisition: Another silk blouse / those loafers from Everlane / cashmere crewneck sweater / better black blazer / perfect leather jacket / leather tote bag
So, here’s my question, to men and women, because I am genuinely interested:
What are some items that you consider to be your wardrobe essentials?
Questions lifted from the very excellent book Women in Clothes, compiled by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton, which I bought for myself as a new year’s present and have been happily devouring ever since.
What do you admire about how other women present themselves?
I love seeing a woman who seems to really know her sense of style, and thus, herself. I love seeing a woman who is committed to a particular look, too, even if it’s not the style I’m personally aspiring to achieve. I like to see a woman walk down the street with her head held high.
When do you feel at your most attractive?
In a perfectly fitted dress, and in heels, although I hate to admit it. I only wear heels at dressy functions and for a very short amount of time, but I love feeling absurdly tall, taller than or as tall as most men in a room.
Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple?
I have five blazers and I still want more.
How long does it take you to get dressed?
About 30 seconds, because I lay out my clothes for the work day every evening. But it takes me about 45 minutes to get dressed, do my face, eat breakfast, read, and take care of the dogs on weekdays.
What are some dressing rules you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others but you follow?
Cut out colors and most patterns from the wardrobe. I am following this rule with more dedication this year, but I would never call it a universal rule. Many (most?) women look great in a wide range of colors and prints, but I’ve decided to stick to neutrals. These days, a spectrum of blue is about as much as I want to venture into color.
What are some dressing or shopping rules you think every woman should follow?
Only buy what sparks joy. Only wear clothes that flatter your body (which is a rule I’d like to observe more devoutly). Reject all garments with glitter.
Do you consider yourself photogenic?
What is your favorite piece of clothing or jewelry you own?
Clothing: Gray silk blouse from Everlane. Jewelry: My wedding/engagement rings, which belonged to Guion’s grandmother.
What’s the first “investment” item you bought?
The Oxford shoes from Madewell, which were about $175. I know some people wouldn’t consider than an investment item, but it was to me.
Was there a point when your style changed dramatically?
I’d say now, actually. I’m becoming more thoughtful and intentional about the choices I make when it comes to what I wear. My style was unremarkable/nonexistent in college; I bought cheap things on a whim, usually just because they were on sale. My college roommates used to tease me that everything I owned was in a jewel tone. I had this hot pink cable-knit, crewneck sweater that I wore forever, despite the fact that it was hideous on me. I shudder to remember these things that I held onto for so long.
Do you care about lingerie?
Deeply. I am always ready and willing to shell out a big wad of cash for a great bra. Bras are so important! My mother has always told me this. You wear a bra every day (or, most of us do), so it ought to be an excellent garment. I have a handful of sturdy, utilitarian bras, but I have a particular weakness for lacy, unsupportive lingerie. I am just about small-chested enough to get away with wearing flimsy, lacy little things on a regular basis, and so I do. I’m very basic when it comes to grunders, however; I only wear black, gray, and neutral cotton bikinis. Thongs are abhorrent to me, and I also maintain that they are unnatural and unhealthy.
What are you trying to achieve when you dress for the world?
I hope to project a confident, competent woman. I want to be taken seriously as an adult human being, and I think my new wardrobe goals are striving to communicate this.
How has your background influenced the way you dress?
Growing up homeschooled meant that you grew up in a fashion vacuum. We had no idea, really, how modern kids were supposed to be dressing. Our peers wore a wide range of clothes; some looked like “normal” kids on the Disney Channel, as far as we could tell, since we weren’t allowed to watch it; others, especially girls, looked like they were straight out of Little House on the Prairie. My sisters and I were always instructed to dress “modestly,” but my parents were not big on rules, thankfully.
I vividly remember the one time I was told I couldn’t wear something. I was 13 or 14, and I’d purchased a gray mock-neck sweater dress to wear at Christmas. I wore it to my grandparents’ church, with black tights and new black shoes, and I felt pretty. But when we got home, my mother pulled me aside and said that she and Dad had agreed that I wasn’t allowed to wear that dress anymore. I was shocked. I couldn’t think of what could possibly be wrong with it; my arms were covered up, even most of my neck was shielded. I protested. “Well,” Mom said, “you have… um… a young woman’s body now, and your father and I feel that the dress isn’t appropriate and could cause young men to… stumble.” (“Stumble” was always the operative evangelical word for boys getting horny from looking at the female form.) I was mortified and totally grossed out. I never wore the dress again and felt sad and confused whenever I remembered it.
I tell the story to explain the context of “modesty” in dress that I hail from, but my parents were, in comparison to the vast majority of homeschooling parents in our community, quite generous in what they allowed us to wear. There was the sweater dress incident, and once, Mom and I had a fight over a tank top I’d bought with lace trim, but that was it. We didn’t fight about clothes; we were extremely obedient kids. My sisters and I didn’t give them any trouble when we were at home, regarding what we chose to wore. We didn’t watch TV and we didn’t have a ton of peers, so we had no desire to wear a corset and fishnet tights to church to be “cool.” “Cool” to us was having a big evidence binder on medical malpractice policy and a really rad journal to write your devotions in.
All of this is to say that I feel much more freedom about clothes now than I did growing up. I dress to please myself, as a free agent, and I no longer worry about the censure of my community.
Have you ever dressed a certain way to gain a sense of control?
Absolutely. One example comes to mind: I competed in team policy debate during high school, in which swarms of ultra-nerdy homeschoolers pretended to be little lawyers. Dress codes, for girls, were strict. Most girls wore floor-length or calf-length wool skirts, but I always wore a pant suit and heels. I had a short (male) debate partner, and I deliberately chose heels every time, to feel more powerful and to revel in the fact that I was so much taller than him. I towered over our opponents, too. And I daresay I got consistently great speaker points. I think it was mostly for the power suit and pumps.
What are some things you do to feel presentable?
A swipe of lipstick always makes me feel more presentable.
Is there a part of your body that feels most distinctly you?
My legs. I don’t have particularly pretty legs (they are extremely thin, mapped by a network of prominent blue veins, and I have a number of dings and scars), but they are very long. Since I acquired them as a teenager, I have always been proud of how disproportionately long my legs are.
With whom do you talk about clothes?
Grace and Jonathan. They are my style guides and muses.
Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body and style have been passed down to you, if at all?
My mother is a very beautiful and classy woman, and in her post-homeschooling days, she’s also become very stylish. When Grace was still at home, she did a serious closet overhaul with my mom and made her throw away all of her homeschool regalia (denim jumpers, baggy skirts, old sweaters) and start dressing in modern clothes. Ever since then, Mom has looked like a million bucks.
I am not as pretty as my mother, not by a long shot, but I did inherit her body, which I am grateful for (even with all its bizarre, specific quirks). I’ve found this to be helpful, because we know that what looks good on one of us will probably also flatter the other.
What is an archetypal outfit for you — something you would have been happy wearing at any point in your life?
Dark jeans and a white or blue button-down shirt. I don’t know why, but even as a young teen, I have loved a button-down shirt. That’s all I wanted to wear when I was 14, but I was often dissuaded by the price tags on the most beautiful shirts, so I defaulted to Target clothes for most of my young life. I like recalling this about myself, because this is the basic style I want to return to, and knowing that I have always loved it makes it feel particularly right.
What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?
I’m wearing a chunky-knit, oversized cardigan from Zara; jeans from Gap; a dark gray v-neck sweater; and black equestrian-style boots. My face is bare, save for a swipe of blush, a touch of eyeliner, and Burt’s Bees lip color (shade: fig); errands day, so my face is more minimal than it is on a typical work day. And my hair, freshly washed, is at its most curly, so it’s pinned up at the sides.
One of my 2015 resolutions is to simplify my life, particularly my wardrobe. I’m far from declaring that I have achieved a streamlined, minimalist wardrobe, but I think I’ve made progress. It’s a start, at least.
A physical benefit of attempting a pared-down wardrobe is that we have TINY closets. Simply, there is no space to have an expansive collection of clothes. When we moved in a year ago, I begrudged this seeming limitation and envied women with those luxurious walk-in closets. But now I feel grateful for this small space. It has forced me to become a conscientious and ruthless editor over time.
This is it:
And then I have three drawers (grunders not pictured).
My shoes live on a little shelf outside the closet.
The surrounding goals are to (1) discard/donate more, (2) reduce colors, (3) refine what I consider to be my personal style, (4) buy less, and (5) buy better-made clothes when I do buy.
I still have lots of progress to make, but I am feeling refreshed and inspired with this small start. An added benefit is that my mom and sisters (and some of Grace’s friends) are joining in this goal to simplify our closets, and so I have a good deal of peripheral, personal support. I am thankful for them, and for this year of new beginnings, even if it is starting with something as ordinary as a collection of clothes.
“Through housewifely care a house recovers not so much its originality as its origin. And what a great life it would be if, every morning, every object in the house could be made anew by our hands, could ‘issue’ from our hands. In a letter to his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh tells him that we should ‘retain something of the original character of a Robinson Crusoe.’ Make and remake everything oneself, make a ‘supplementary gesture’ toward each object, give another facet to the polished reflections, all of which are so many boons the imagination confers upon us by making us aware of the house’s inner growth.”