April 26, 2016

A Word on Capsule Wardrobes


If you've so much as peeked at a fashion blog lately, chances are likely you've run across the term capsule wardrobe. The popularity of this minimally-minded, carefully-tended collection continues to snowball, particularly with eco-conscious fashion gaining more momentum.

As detailed in my Style Journey series, I've been on-the-verge obsessed with wardrobe structure and personal style for a little over a decade now, and I've worked my way through almost two years' worth of capsules since my first examination of the subject. Only a few months ago did I really start to grasp what works best for my lifestyle, my budget, and my creative impulse. I preface with these points to affirm my commitment to a movement which, unfortunately, many are using as an excuse to shop more often.

Whether you're an OG capsuler or you've merely toyed with the concept, I wanted to offer some insight beyond the generic how-to guide; to dig deeper into the hows and whys of the capsuling process.

What a Capsule Wardrobe Should Do:


Simplify the daily dressing process --though not so much that it becomes boring!

Ideally, a capsule wardrobe is widely intermixable, with a style and color concept enabling this. This means that, in theory, you could go to your closet and pull two things at random with a good chance of them "going" together.

Showcase your personality in a lifestyle-appropriate way

The right capsule wardrobe will accurately reflect your "you-ness" while still adhering to the constraints of your lifestyle. This means if you love disco dresses but you work five days a week in a conservative library, you're going to have to make a few concessions. Still, your cardigans ought to have some shiny buttons or something.

Keep your budget in balance and your shopping in check

There's a strange conundrum in life: the less we have, the less we seem to crave. More logically, the less we crave, the less money we spend. This presupposes that the things we have include the things we actually need. Most of us don't need to a new outfit for every day of the year. That myth should have ended with Sex and the City.

What a Capsule Wardrobe Should Not Do:

 

Necessitate a mammoth purging of your pre-owned pieces.

Assuming you're capsuling for the purpose of simplifying, and assuming you give two shits about our planet Earth, whittling your current closet down to some fashionista's list of must-have items kind of undermines the greater principle. Better to wear out the jeans you already own than throw them out in favor of an on-trend style. Kind of like making an effort to actually eat the groceries you purchased before ordering take-out.

 

Confine you to a minimalist aesthetic.

Minimalism -- stylistically speaking, rather than lifestyle-wise -- is definitely having a moment right now. You don't need to go far in this city to find a pair of artistically-ripped black jeans, flanked by a white button-down and Adidas. Since most bloggers are interested in what is trendy (and also what photographs well) it makes sense that their own capsules reflect this aesthetic. That doesn't mean yours needs to as well. In fact, for purely selfish/snobbish reasons, I implore you to dig deeper than black and white and striped -- there are more animals in the kingdom than zebras, after all!

 

Foster mindless consumerism. 

Part of the logic behind establishing a set list or number of items is to avoid unnecessary, impulsive shopping trips. Few of us can make wise decisions on the fly, and if impulse shopping is your joi de vivre, chances are there's a darker impulse driving it. Capsuling should help you face these issues head on, rather than enabling them. Don't bend the rules for bad habits' sake!


Common Problems & FAQs

 

I already have a ton of clothes... how do I weed out the bad seeds?

The first time I created a capsule, I stored a bunch of stuff for "seasonal" consideration. The second time, I expanded the number of items in my collection so I could include everything. I justified these amendments as being necessary for my individual lifestyle. Truthfully, I just didn't want to get rid of anything. Whether it was sentiment, guilt, or fear of boredom, I was a prisoner in my own closet.

Here's how you Shawshank your way out:
  1.  Choose someone you want to look like. (Pro tip: This is called a style icon.)
  2.  Research their outfits, until you have a good handle on their essential style. (This is called a style concept.)
  3.  Go through your closet, piece by piece, asking yourself if your chosen icon would wear this item or not. Give yourself some flexibility here; if your style icon is Prince and you're short one glitter-encrusted purple coat, trust that a well-tailored piece in black velvet would still fit the bill.
  4.  Donate or sell what doesn't fit your style concept. Construct your wardrobe off the rest.

I don't have a "style concept," and I don't know where to get one.

Many people mistake having style for being trendy or wearing what's currently "in." While that can factor into it, being stylish is more about a confidence with who you are and how you choose to outwardly express that. If you believe yourself to be frumpy, dated, or above-it-all (and if you aren't interested in changing that), then by all means continue wearing what reflects those adjectives. If you'd like to communicate otherwise, however, but you're not sure where to begin, here are some gentle approaches:

  • Was there a point in life when you felt most confident with your style? If so, try to pinpoint exactly what it was about the clothes from that period that you liked.
  •  Buy some fashion magazines or blogs. Bookmark the pages that speak to you, without questioning their practicality in your own life.
  •  Sit at a cafe and people-watch. When you see a look you like, make note of it. 

and finally a not-so-gentle approach, for the polar plungers among us:

  •  Go to a thrift store. Set a small budget for yourself. Buy the first three items that speak to you, with no judgment or concern about how they'll jive with your closet. Take these pieces home and hang them where you can see them. Study them. Better yet, wear them out in the world. If the items match your personality, chances are you'll receive comments from others that give you hints as to why they're "just your style."

 

My work wardrobe is very different from what I wear otherwise.

Make two capsules! I'm surprised this hasn't been more widely discussed or exemplified in the blogging world... I suppose it's because most bloggers have the benefit of working out of their home, though. For the first time this season, I'm separating my work wardrobe from my "play" clothes. It's a relief to know everything in the former section is boss-appropriate -- and also that my favorite silk dress will never be tempted into the reach of jam hands. (I nanny.)

 

I have more than (10, 20, 37...) items.

While setting limits for yourself can be very helpful, proscribing to someone else's standard likely won't get you anywhere. A better approach is starting with the maximum items you think you'll need (maybe two laundry period's worth) and reducing from there.

 

What if I get bored with the clothes I choose?

This is something I was particularly worried about as I started my first capsule, but which decreased as my personal style solidified. At first, having fewer clothes to choose from seemed limiting, but eventually I started to value quality over quantity. I didn't mind wearing my absolute favorite dress to every date night, simply because it was my absolute favorite! If the purpose of a date is to look smashing, having three almost-right dresses won't do you much good. Eventually, the dress will wear and you can find something new. Enjoy it fully now, though. :)

A final note, regarding author bias:
I'm Type A to a t, and I enjoy creating lists, charts, and spreadsheets -- taking wardrobe inventory, creating outfits, and all that. If allowed, I could probably spend days doing exclusively this. As such, I feel like some of this advice might be biased toward people of a similar disposition.
That aside, I'm confident that by playing within your own guidelines -- yet keeping the simple aim of the capsule process close to heart -- you can find an approach that works for you.

Happy Capsuling!

April 24, 2016

Spring Playlist 2016

Admittedly, I'm a little late getting this playlist up. Spring has long since sprung -- did you pass a lovely Earth Day? -- and here in New York it already feels like we have one foot in summer. Nevertheless, I went on a Spotify binge this month to catch up, and I found some new gems waiting for me!


My love of alternative / indie rock / pop (those clangy guitars!!) continues in wild abandon, as does my ability to become totally obsessed with singles rather than appreciating albums in their entirety. In line at Whole Foods, I was able to make out the "No one, no one knows me like you do" of Wolf Alice's "Bros" over their speaker system, and I subsequently spent five hours of my weekend trying to track the title and band from that one line (which I actually misunderstood as "no one loves me like you do" -- i.e. the line in every love song ever. Anyway, I was so victorious at finally discovering it, I've been listening to it on repeat. Like someone's going to come and take it away from me.

That goes double for B├śRNS' "Past Lives." When I added "Fool For Love" (Lord Huron) last winter, I was delighted to hear it on the first episode of Girls, which I didn't watch for a few months after its release. Turns out I was in for a double delight with the former track. I had apparently liked "Past Lives" so much that I make note of it in my phone on two separate occasions before Shoshanna's pensive balcony shot. How could I forget that catchy chorus ("duh-destiny!...") Third time's a charm, I guess. Someday I will remember Shazam exists.

Of course, no playlist of mine is complete without a few 60s throwbacks. I tried to branch out with some covers here and there -- hell-oooo, Bee Gees and Dusty! -- but sometimes there's just no replacement for the real thing (namely, if your name is Paul, it seems.)

Cheers Elephant, Best Coast, and The Shins continue to please-please me. The tracks I've included here are old news at this point, but they were a joy to rediscover and commit to seasonal memory.

Happy Springtime, lovelies!



April 13, 2016

My First YouTube Video

Well, folks, I've gone and done it. I filmed myself and put it on YouTube. I've officially expanded into the realm of vlog. This is something I've been hoping to explore for a while now, but out of fear, embarrassment, and/or lethargy, it took me this long to actually get there. (In fact, in the past year or so, I've filmed a couple videos which I even edited with the intention of sharing, only to chicken out when push came to shove.)

At the very least, I'm hoping that working in this medium will offer not only a different perspective into my wardrobe projects, but also that it will improve my on-camera facial and vocal awareness -- an important skill for any actor with silver-screen dreams!


Taking a monthly, seasonal, or yearly wardrobe inventory is so important for anyone looking to improve their style or closet organization. Unless you've mastered minimalism or possess a photographic memory, it's just too easy to lose touch of what's in your closet. Besides, you never know when your tastes are going to change. (Or maybe you do. And if so, good for you.)

I don't suppose many people approach the inventory process with as much delight as I do (in case you haven't heard, I'm an organizational nerd who would typically rather root around in untidy drawers and piles of books than greet the afternoon sunshine or, you know, talk to other human beings...) but there's no need to make a big thing of it. Just pull everything out of your closet and onto your bed, then take it, as Ann Lamont advises, "bird by bird" (or, uh, shirt by shirt.) You can make spreadsheets and flashcards as I've been rumored to (Who's spreading such lies? Pas moi, certainement!) or you can just work on instinct -- tossing anything too old or seasonally inappropriate, keeping what interests you, and shopping with a budget, timeline, or list for guidance. Easy-peasy.

As of today, this video is already a little outdated. Since March, which I filmed it, I've culled several other pieces and made a few more purchases (basics only, of course!) for my upcoming Spring/Summer capsule. As promised, I will share the completed capsule in another video, providing I don't lose my nerve.

x's and o's and outfits to come! Happy Wednesday, everyone.

March 17, 2016

MY STYLE JOURNEY (III): Sustainability


In last week's post on smart shopping, I shared my recent decision to stop buying clothes "new." As mentioned, this decision doesn't rule out "new to me" clothing -- i.e. secondhand purchases, hand-me-downs, and gifts from well-meaning friends and family. Thrift shopping is an essential joi de vivre of mine and is also happens to be one of the most environmentally-friendly ways to outfit yourself (and your home!) On the same vein, disposing of perfectly useful gifted items kind of counteracts the whole use-what-you-own goal behind this whole endeavor.

Despite my best efforts to minimize my possessions, I still own a lot of clothing -- probably around 100 items here in NYC (counting shoes, pjs, bras, etc.) and maybe 50-70 additional pieces stowed away at my parent's place. So I really have no excuse to buy new things. I realize eventually I'm going to have to purchase something new (at the very least I'd like to keep my undergarments coming to me firsthand...), but for now I'm focusing on actually wearing out the clothes I have. When a good enough excuse comes along, I intend to seek out eco-conscious, fair-trade, and/or USA-based brands to fulfill this need. In other words, I'm redirecting my focus to maximize garment sustainability.

You may wonder how someone who has spent 25 years indulging in a consumer-capitalist lifestyle -- the owner of many fast-fashion, department store, and sale-bought items, and someone who loves shopping -- suddenly decides to prioritize sustainability. As this blog evidences, I've been interested in honing and perfecting my personal style (a process which typically involves a more careful shopping approach anyway) for several years now. Still, it wasn't until this past summer that my motives evolved beyond a mere selfish thirst for perfectionism.

My youngest brother -- hero, science genius, touter of all things worthy of touting -- made the choice to go vegan last spring. I was traveling abroad at the time, and I when I first heard news of it through the family grapevine, I was astounded. In fact, I was almost annoyed. My brother? Champion eater of all things animal? The kid who for years made fun of my healthy baking replacements, my refusal to eat lamb, and my preference for veggie burgers over beef? How dare he!!

Upon my homecoming, I learned that my brother had not only stopped consuming animal products, but he was also swearing off plastics, drinking Soylent, composting, buying less, donating more, and judiciously explaining his reasoning for it to anyone who so much as raised an eyebrow in his direction. Within a month of living back under the same roof, he'd convinced our entire family to watch Cowspiracy, solidified me (and my parents, at least temporarily) as vegetarian, and converted my Taco Bell-enthusiast second brother into an equally devout vegan ambassador.

Once my head stopped spinning, I realized I was immensely proud of my brother, and simply envious that he'd managed to perfect something I often lacked: commitment to his ideals. Sure I'd fancied myself something of a hippie since I was old enough to know they advocated granola and hugged trees and and kept farm animals in their backyard. But what was I doing personally? Despite living with a vegan roommate-and-best friend for two years of college, I was still a meat eater. I recycled, but I continued to drool over plastic organizers at The Container Store. I shopped for new clothes when my old ones were perfectly useful. My brother, on the hand, made a choice to remove himself from our consumerist world's earth-destroying habits -- and he didn't just start drinking soy lattes to make it happen.

What began as mere impetus to become vegetarian gradually made me rethink my entire lifestyle, and I owe it to my little brother -- and now both my brothers -- for inspiring such a change in me. When J and I moved into our new apartment, we purchased almost everything secondhand, resisting the simpler glow of a one-stop shopping trip to Target. I started making a better effort to bring my reusable bags to the grocery store, and I (graciously) implore the Trader Joe's assistants to lay off the triple-bagging when I forget them. I have taken up a personal crusade against plastic home products. Perhaps most importantly, I've followed my brothers' lead at being more vocal about the reasoning behind these choices.

Since I knew cutting meat from my diet would not be a huge sacrifice for me (beyond salami and seafood, I hardly miss the stuff), and since I knew I wasn't quite ready to take on veganism myself, I started brainstorming my own version of sustainable abstinence. When I started the KonMari process, it became immediately apparent what my own eco-mission would be: buying less in an effort to seek quality over quantity and, in the meantime, learn to be content with what I had.

Yesterday I entered a Gap store for the first time in 13 months, and I felt the compulsion to shop surge immediately back through my bloodstream. I was never a huge Gap fan per se (if we're talking unethical fashion, H&M is way more my jam), but I had come there for a blogging event, and the open bar, cute appetizers, and pumping music all served to put me in prime consumer mode. My discovery of The Denim Jacket of My Summer Dreams on a rack near the mojitos only amplified this problem, and it was with a pang of regret that I confirmed "Made in China" on the side-seam care label. I wondered: should I treat fast fashion like fast food? Should I avoid window shopping like I avoid walking by Panda Express at certain times of the month (for fear I will lose control, hop the food bar, and begin force-feeding myself orange chicken)? Was it too torturous to even look?

While I'm still examining the answer to that question, I believe I've at least I've discovered the ultimate weapon against falling back into familiar, unwelcome habits: staying curious. With each book I've read on the history of garment production, I've become more committed to seeking out quality clothing. It's the same with baby pig videos; nothing will cure a ham sandwich craving faster than watching the cutest baby animal alive racing around a pen with its squealing siblings. If you're a logical person and you want to break a habit, then your brain needs continual reminders why it's not getting that which it thinks it wants. If you are setting / have set out on a sustainable fashion journey and are hitting your first obstacles, the resources below might help steer and/or solidify that focus.




  • 30 Ethical Fashion Brands (Into-Mind) - Really can't say enough about Into-Mind. I have yet to crack the sustainable clothing seal, but next time I have a buy-new need, this is definitely where I'm going to start!






Clearly this post just grazes the surface of the project at hand, and I realize that I've offered more narrative reflection here than actual guidance. If you're interested in this lifestyle or if you have questions you'd like me to explore in future posts, please note them in the comments section or via personal message! And of course I'd love to hear your own tips and tricks for sustainable living as well.

March 10, 2016

MY STYLE JOURNEY (II): Smart Shopping


Shopping.

The mundane act that nevertheless shapes us.

You may remember the childhood trauma of going on errands with your mom -- which of course seemed endless and never involved enough cafe rice-krispy treats or toy store detours. Or perhaps you recall the preteen significance of receiving an invitation (via landline, naturally) to to "hang at the mall" with fifth's grade's top queen bees. Or the sacred bonding, however materialistic, that blossomed between you and your mother when she unexpectedly agreed to buy you that Paul Frank tee (which you knew was vastly overpriced, but which you also knew would surpass even the Bearers of Gum on the junior high great chain of being.) Trying on hideous prom dresses with your friends at the Macy's clearance center in the years before selfies; learning what it meant to be a woman in the hands of a troublesome society; nitpicking the oddest parameters of your body in mournful imitation before your confidants' reflections. Discovering yourself in the process of combing through discarded fashions at Value Village, realizing you're the type of soul who takes comfort in the anomalous, who even finds beauty in it.

Whether the mall is your church or your throat gets itchy just thinking about it, we've certainly all had to shop for ourselves at one time or another. (And if you haven't and your age includes two digits, it might be time to reexamine your relationship with your parents.) Chances are, whether you're a man or woman and whether you like shopping or not, we've experienced some amount of universal clothes-buying experiences. Pondering from the safety of a fitting room cubicle whether we can "pull off" a new trend. Feeling like the seams of a garment weren't sewn with our bodies' best interests in mind. Inducing a headache from weighing prices against budgets against wants against worries.

Long story short, shopping can be a total pain in the ass.

While there are certainly marathon, curatorial, and psychotheraputic shoppers out there, the majority of us would like to spend less time thinking about what to wear and where to buy it. We mostly want to look the best we can for the least amount of money and have a merry old time making it happen. (This and this, amiright?)

Personally I've always enjoyed the shopping process, and, largely thanks to my mom, I've always been a fairly mindful buyer. I never had to deal with shopping addiction, credit card debt, or designer fever.* Regardless, I still fell victim to the occasional impulse buy and all too often I'd stand before an overstuffed closet with the age-old quandary of having "nothing" to wear.

My parents provided almost all of my clothing through high school, and I waltzed through college in a combined wardrobe of Christmas-gifted items from them and secondhand clothes I purchased myself. This is when I truly learned to budget, setting aside 10% of my campus job income to cover my purchases. When I graduated and started working full time, I immediately fell victim to that seductive temptress Fast Fashion. (More on her later.) With time on my hands and money in my pocket, I was more inclined to buy new than to thrift, and I'm pretty sure my wardrobe suffered from it. Fast fashion garments (that is, quickly-manufactured on-trend styles often made with cheap materials and cheaper labor) rarely hold up for more than a season, let alone a year. As sweaters pilled and dresses lost their shape, my closet was constantly in need of replenishment. I found myself needing to shop more and more and enjoying it less and less. It was exhausting, it was wasteful, and it may sound all too familiar.

In line with my new interest in minimalism and my decision to embrace a more sustainable lifestyle (a topic I will address in my next post), I decided to stop purchasing new clothing. While I have not eliminated secondhand shopping, I have made far fewer purchases even in that arena than I normally would. With the exception of Christmas gifts my wardrobe has not seen a truly "new" addition since I made the move to New York -- and if you've ever stepped foot in SoHo or taken a stroll down 5th Avenue, you know it's not for lack of opportunity!

As it turns out, New York is also the perfect place to become a dedicated thrifter. Between the plentiful Housing Works, eclectic Beacon's Closets, and hidden gems like the East Village's Cure, I've been want for nothing here. Besides, there's a city's worth of fashionistas (and -os!) to keep refilling my stock.

In places where exclusively thrifting might prove more challenge, here are some other approaches to try:

1) Limit yourself to a budget or number of items, then make a clear GAME PLAN. Yeah, yeah, you're spontaneous. Having a roadmap cramps your style... But if your end goal is a cohesive, uniquely-you wardrobe, this is an essential part of the deal. Sit down and get real with yourself about what will support your current wardrobe. Not what Zooey Dechanel was wearing on the last episode of New Girl (unless that happens to fit your style, of course) -- not what you want, but what you need. Take time with this, and let it marinate awhile. When you're getting dressed in the morning and you realize you could really use a fill-in-the-blank to achieve the look you want, make note of it. Once your list is complete, copy it into the Notes section of your phone or onto an index card in your wallet. Reference it before you leave to go shopping, while you're in the store, and while you're in the dressing room. Reference it to the sales people who have commission lasers beaming out their eyes. Whatever you do, don't stray from that list.

EDIT: As your wardrobe takes shape and your sense of style becomes more clear, then by all means relax these guidelines a bit, and don't worry so much about following "the plan." Until then, however, I'd advise learning the rules before you break them.

2) Just don't shop for a while. Arguably the most challenging, you can always just quit shopping cold turkey. For a time. Try a year, six months, or a three-month season. Maybe keep a journal of what items you find yourself wanting, and how you feel throughout the process. The times I've taken shopping hiatuses have always been something of a stress-relief for me. Just one less thing to think about!

3) Wait a week. This is a tough one for sale shoppers and thrifters, as there's always the issue of scarcity at hand. Still, if you struggle with impulse splurges or buyer's remorse, this is a great remedy. When you see something you think you'd like to buy, but you're not really sure you need, leave it there and do your best to forget about it. If you're still thinking about it in a week or two, give yourself the green light.

4) Try a Wardrobe Challenge. In addition to the links I posted in Part 1 of this series, the following challenges are particularly structured to limit superfluous shopping:
  • Project 333 - I haven't tried this challenge myself, but it seems straight-forward enough! Another one you can find various versions of in several bloggers' archives.
  • 30-Day Winter Wardrobe Challenge (Who What Wear) - While I wouldn't advocate trying to recreate all of these (doing so would only serve to further enable unnecessary spending), these monthly challenges offer great suggestions for building of-the-minute looks from pieces you probably already own.
You may be wondering why any of this matters. You may love shopping, have the funds for it, and wonder why you'd want to limit this pastime at all. There are a number of benefits I see in evaluating our consumption habits -- learning to value experiences over "things," taking stock of our privilege, understanding our own psychological habits, encouraging civil rights, appreciating craftsmanship and function over novelty, challenging double standards of the fast fashion industry... But the most important reason lies beyond these concepts. The fact is, the shopping-obsessed, capitalist-driven, mondo-consumerist lifestyle embodied in much of our world today is simply not sustainable for the planet we call home.

Kind of brings a new weight to "Shop til you drop," doesn't it?

Other Useful Shopping Resources:

*If you do struggle with any of these, and/or if the concept of budgeting is mind-boggling to you, I encourage you to check out this series for tips on how to deal!

**One mystery I have yet to solve about this challenge: Once the season is over and you're left with these 5 key items, where do they go? Do you store them for next year? Do you sell them before they're out of style? Do you integrate them into your basics and donate 5 old things? Or is your closet just supposed to expand by 5 pieces each season until you cull again? If anyone wants to hazard a guess, PLEASE SHARE IT BELOW, because I'm desperately curious!!