This is week number four of the 52 Weeks to a Simpler Life challenge. I hope some of you have accepted the challenge I presented in Tip #1, one of the hardest challenges to undertake, going through everything you own and eliminating everything you are no longer using (or may never have used) and are storing – just in case, one day, you may need whatever it is. We all know that someday will most likely never come along, but our pack rat nature has us saving “stuff” just the same. If you've chosen to take on Tip #1, keep at it. Believe me, the payoff is well worth the effort.
This week I'm going to hit on another major area too many people are strapped with. Not to be sexist, but this will probably impact the ladies more than the gents, because women are most impacted by the fashion industry.
While there is definitely a male fashion industry, if you go to any kind of department store for any economic demographic, you'll see a significant difference. The women's section is usually two, three, four times larger than the men's department and sometimes takes an entire floor.
Some men can get by with next to nothing and wear it for years. Other men have walk-in closets full of suits, shirts, ties, sport jackets, blazers, slacks, casual clothes, many pairs of shoes, etc. Of course, this is probably more common for women, because the fashion and advertising industries target women.
Here's the thing. Of all the clothes in our closets, we gravitate to about 20% of them. Yes, the 80/20 rule applies, again. And, when we're really honest, of the 20% of these clothes, we probably only wear about 20% of those regularly. I believe it's true for both men and women. I never thought about this until I started doing my own downsizing seven years ago. I have no idea how I collected so many clothes.
Look through thrift shops. We typically believe they sell used clothes, but you'll find brand new clothes (especially women's) with the store tags still on them. The garments were purchased, but never worn. We are conditioned, as “consumers” to buy things spontaneously for a variety of reasons I'll not go into in this article.
When I finally attacked all my clothes, the 80/20 rule was pretty much on the nose. So, I began donating clothes I wasn't wearing and would never wear again. Then I set aside the clothes I wore and again, evaluated them. I set aside more clothes out of the 20% that I “might” wear again one day. I put those clothes in a large, vacuum sealed, compressed storage bag. Guess what? A couple years went by and I hadn't even looked for any of those clothes. So, they have been making their way to help veterans who need things to wear.
First, we wear what we are most comfortable in. Second, we wear what we feel expresses who we are and our personality at a specific time in our lives. Third, we wear what we feel, while comfortable and represents our personality, is attractive and becoming on us.
So, let's get down to simplifying tip #4 – A Simple Wardrobe.
A Man's Simple Wardrobe
I'm starting with the man's wardrobe because, to me, it's simpler and easier and I understand it because . . . well, I'm a man. Women, take note! Everything I'm saying here applies to you as well. So, I'm not going to repeat this when I get to your tips for simplifying. You can start right now with these steps.
Whether you're a man or a woman, go through your clothes. Pull them all out and evaluate everything you currently own beginning with underwear and socks. Immediately get rid of any underwear or socks that have seen their better day. You only want to keep, good, serviceable garments.
Do the same with tee shirts, either underwear or sportswear, especially the ones with all the “advertising” or cute sayings on them. Get out any polo shirts, short sleeve and long sleeve casual shirts. Next come the jeans, cargo pants and casual slacks. Pull out your belts while you're at it. Look at every single item. When was the last time you wore each one? If you wore it in the past week or two, set it in one pile. If you didn't, put it in a second pile.
Ask yourself, as you look at each item, does it fit you appropriately anymore. Have you gained or lost weight since you acquired the items. Do the advertising information or the cute slogans, etc. represent who you are today? Personally, I used to collect a lot of shirts from places like Hard Rock Cafe and other places I'd visit and thought people would think I was cool because I had been there. Those are all gone now. I don't advertise for anyone anymore unless they want to pay me rather than me buying their overpriced “bling” to promote them.
Do you actually wear white undershirts any longer? I don't. Do colors like Day Glow Orange, Red, Yellow, etc. match your personality? Do you actually need a little alligator on your polo shirt to identify how “cool” you are? If you have to, put the item on – shirt, pants, whatever. See if you're comfortable in it, both in appearance and wearing comfort. If you have to actually put the garment on, you probably haven't worn it recently or enough to need it, otherwise you'd already know the answer.
You'll likely see about 80% of your clothes in one large pile and 20% in the smaller pile. The 20% is the keeper pile.
Now, do the same thing with your business attire. If you wear suits to work (becoming less common in many businesses), how many do you have? How many sports jackets and blazers do you have? How many sweaters and vests do you have? Go through the same exercise. Again, you'll find about 80% will end up in the pile of stuff you don't wear or haven't worn in so long you can't remember when. Then there will be the clothes you've outgrown and keep believing you'll fit into again, one day. Maybe, but it's more likely, probably not.
In my case, I have a suit I've been wearing for about 15 years. Currently, I wear it about once a year, generally to see if it still fits. I only have two dress shirts. I have three silk ties. None of these travel on the road with me. Only if an occasion arises where this kind of attire is required, I get and wear them. I do my best to avoid such occasions. I even have a brand new suit I've had for about seven years. It's very handsome. It still has the tags on it and the pants have yet to be hemmed.
Shoes are next. Keep only the ones that are not worn out, you wear and are comfortable. You know which they are because you wear them all the time. Keep one good pair of shoes for your fitness activity. Hopefully, it can crossover to use for walking, jogging, the gym and biking.
Outerwear is next. How many winter coats do you have that fit, are in good, wearable condition and are comfortable? You want to end up with maybe three items, a fleece, a jacket for cooler weather and maybe a coat for colder weather. Everything else goes. Learn to layer if you find yourself in the occasional very bitter cold.
Let's consider accessories. Hats, jewelry, belts, scarfs, gloves, etc. all need to face the same evaluation and scrutiny. Men don't usually wear much in the jewelry department. If you do have jewelry, do you actually wear it very often? Even wrist watches are disappearing unless you're into the new “wrist gadgets” from Apple and others. I'm not!
As the TV character, Larry the Cable Guy says, “git r dun.” Put everything in the big pile in bags and take them to the Salvation Army or to a hospice or veterans center. I personally avoid Goodwill because, despite their non-profit tax status and public image, I'm not in tune with their operating philosophies and executive compensation or treatment of employees. I don't feel they meet up to my definition of “social entrepreneurship” standards. You can make your own choices.
Simple is the mantra, gentleman and ladies. Basically, you want a simple uniform appearance with attire you're comfortable wearing, represents you and your personality, is easy to maintain and keep clean (eliminate everything requireing dry cleaning and ironing), requires minimal space and can be replaced as needed, easily and economically.
Ed's Typical Wardrobe
Here is a list of my personal, simple wardrobe to use only as a guideline. My choices represent me and my lifestyle and not necessarily yours, although you may see many things that work for you.
- Underwear: 14 to 15 pairs - of black or dark gray
- Socks: 14 to 15 pairs of beige (flesh tone) Dockers sports socks
- Socks: 6 pairs of anklets and 3 pairs of calf length athletic socks
- Socks: 1 pair of darker brown and 2 pairs of black socks
- Tee Shirts: 6 pocket shirts in various colors*
- Polo Shirts: 5 polo shirts in various colors*
- Casual Shirts: 3 long sleeve patterned, in three different colors
- Casual/Business Casual Shirt: 1 in a solid color (muted red)
- Pants: 3 pairs of Scottevest** hidden cargo pants, 3 colors
- Shorts: 4 pairs of cargo shorts in at least 2 colors
- Travel Vests: 2 Scottevest** travel vests, one khaki, one black
- Windbreaker: One Scottevest,** water resistant
- Shoes: 1 pair of hiking boots,
- Shoes: 2 pairs of Skechers walking shoes
- Shoes: 1 pair of Rockport, black walking shoes
- Outer Wear: 1 leather bomber jacket, 1 fleece hoodie
- Hats: 1 leather “down under” hat, 2 baseball caps, 1 Toboggan
- Gloves: 1 pair black leather to go with black bomber jacket
- Belts: 2 belts I interchange
- Jewelry: None
- Nightwear: 1 workout shorts, 1 over-sized tee shirt, 1 sweatsuit
My personal wardrobe choices follow a pattern that works for me. I have settled on a specific kind of underwear, all in two subdued dark colors (non-white means no bleach). I have settled on a specific kind of socks that I'm comfortable in.
* Tee shirts and polo shirts have no brand, logos or campy slogans. They are all from the same “house brand” of a national department store I've shopped at for years. Or, they are a name brand I can buy at the same department store or Walmart and can easily replace economically when needed.
**I buy my pants from Scottevest (disclaimer – I'm a Scottevest affiliate because I really like their clothes and I highly recommend them). The pants are actually cargo pants, but the extra pockets are hidden inside the pants and not on the outside. The pants can also fit in business casual situations.
**I use Scottevest travel vests because they have between 24 and 44 pockets hidden in them. I can carry everything I might need including electronics, ID, hidden cash when necessary, multiple pairs of glasses, my point & shoot camera, my cell phone, and so much more and no one can see it. They are my wearable attache cases. They are made for women, too, and eliminate the need to carry a purse. One of them even has a built in backpack that I can use when doing an overnight or two by plane to some location.
**I use a Scottevest water resistant (not waterproof) windbreaker that has extra pockets and can be very warm when layered properly. It folds compactly into it's own pocket. I can attach it to my belt and use it as a small pillow if a need arises.
That's my wardrobe. I wear everything I mentioned. Everything is wash and wear so my laundry requirements are simple. Pretty much everything can be easily and economically replaced when something is damaged or wears out. Most all of it I wear for several years with proper care, so my clothing budget is minimal.
Since I travel and live in my van, everything needs to be compact and need minimal care or concern about wrinkles. With the combination of pants, shorts and the variety of shirts, I can have a different look for days on end with only a limited number of items. And, I can fit into most situations other then full formal affairs like White House State Dinners. I don't expect to be invited to the White House anytime soon.
A Simple Wardrobe For A Woman
Your turn ladies. First, go back to the beginning of the Simple Wardrobe Tips for a Man and go through each step. They all apply to you, equally. After you've done that let's look at a few things that are specific to your gender.
Let's start off with underwear.
Okay! I'm a man. I get it. So what do I know about women's underwear? I know this much. Unless you're one of the women who prefer to go “commando,” women are targeted by the fashion industry and it begins with underwear. Typically, you pay two to three times more for your panties than men for their underwear. Your panties come in numerous styles, fabrics, patterns, with and without lace, etc. This includes thongs that appear to be one of the most uncomfortable garments ever invented. But, how would I know?
I am under the impression most women, or at least a lot of women, want comfort and comfort seems to mean simple, easy to maintain, cotton panties. Whatever you are comfortable wearing should be what you wear. Put all the others in the other pile. Have enough of what you are comfortable in to last for as many days as you want to go before doing laundry.
Bras are another item you have to deal with that us gents don't (other than knowing how to get you out of them in intimate situations). I'm certainly not an expert about bra buying or wearing. However, in reading I've done over the years about the subject of wardrobes for men and women, I learned a woman can usually get by with three or four, properly fitted, supportive bras made from easily laundered and maintained fabrics. Anything in your possession that doesn't meet this standard should be in the “to go” pile.
Yes, I know there are special “push-up” bras, backless bras, strapless bras, deep cleavage bras, sports bras, etc. But, now we're talking about the fashioniestas, again. Remember, we're simplifying your wardrobe so you have the minimum you need to dress comfortably and represent your personality. You most likely won't need all those special bras for the simple wardrobe you're going to end up with.
Victoria's Secret is not going to like me very much. Look, I'm a man. I love a sexy looking lady. Companies like that make a lot of money selling sexy things you wear under your clothes most men (or even women) will probably never see. So, here's a question for you. Do you have to pay a lot of money to buy these things to be sexy? OR, are you already sexy because of who you are? I can tell you my thoughts on this, but that is not the topic of this simplifying tip.
You call them tops or blouses – they are the same as shirts for men. Keep and wear what you are comfortable in and are easy to launder, don't wrinkle or are easy to unwrinkle and are practical to wear for multiple situations. Probably four or five women's tee shirts or similar and maybe four or five other tops, all of a similar design and type should be adequate. You might want three or four button shirt type tops you can wear as over shirts or for business casual.
Dresses and skirts are something else women deal with that men don't. Based on your lifestyle or the lifestyle you want to live, how practical are dresses and skirts? Okay, I like seeing a woman in a nice dress or skirt outfit from time to time. But, you can probably get away with one or two simple, practical dresses and the same for skirts.
You probably want to have some nice looking neutral colored slacks/pants. If you wear shorts, you may want two or three pairs. If you wear Capri's, clam diggers, 7/8's or even pedal pushers, one or two pairs of one of these styles, again, in neutral colors, is sufficient. BTW, Scottevest will soon be introducing pants for active women, too. And they have a full line of other great clothes for active women and women who travel.
Foot and leg wear is the next consideration. I know a lot of women are foregoing pantyhose these days. Some wear leggings or tights. Again, it's is all about your comfort. If you're in the working world, you may have to wear pantyhose from time to time. For a more casual lifestyle, perhaps a couple pairs of tights and a couple pairs of leggings are all you'll need in complimentary, neutral colors. You may prefer anklet athletic socks or possibly regular calf high athletic socks and maybe some of both. Keep them simple, uniform and easy to maintain and replace as needed.
Shoes! Women seem to have a thing about shoes. If you're going to simplify your life, you need about three or four pairs. They need to be comfortable and neutral colors so they can go with everything you own. They should mostly be FLAT. One pair might be sandals. You might want one of the pairs to have a raised heel for those few occasions when they might help dress up the situation. But, the raised heels should, again, be comfortable and wearable in just about every other situation other than, perhaps, hiking trails, climbing mountains or chasing bad guys like they do in the TV cop shows.
Belts, scarfs, jewelry and other accessories. Once more, less is going to be more. Select two or three belts, scarfs, simple jewelry and perhaps a couple other accessories and you'll have everything you'll need to make your own personality and fashion ideas stand out. You can use these few things to make hundreds of statements about who you are and how you are feeling on a specific day. Combining a top, a pair of slacks or shorts or a skirt, shoes and whatever accessories you add to you basic wardrobe can make the statement of the day.
A simple wardrobe for a woman, like a man, should allow you to have an almost infinite ability to present yourself in virtually any social situation other than, perhaps, the White House State Dinner scenario. Four or five tee shirts, the same number of polo shirts or other simple tops, two or three pairs of pants and the same number of shorts, one or two nice, simple, easy to launder and maintain skirts and maybe even one dress should fill the bill. Add three or four pairs of shoes, some simple socks or leg wear and three or four scarfs, a couple belts and maybe three or four pairs of earrings, a couple bracelets and a simple necklace or two and you're covered.
You'll also want a fleece hoodie, some kind of comfortable, warmer jacket or coat for cooler weather that you can layer if the temperatures get colder and probably a raincoat or water resistant windbreaker. Hats are optional for women, but I know many women who love a baseball cap or a ”down under” style outdoorsy hat. And many women make a personal statement with a few hats. Limit the number and make sure they don't require special care.
Last But Maybe Least
Okay, we've covered just about everything for both the men and the women. But, how about nightwear?
Let me address men, again. Men are easy. They typically sleep in their underwear or nothing. They still make men's PJ's, so I guess some men wear them, if you do, then you need one pair. Personally, I can't remember the last time I even owned any PJ's. I will sleep in my undershorts or, if I'm in a situation where a bit of modesty might be appropriate, I keep a pair of workout shorts and an over-sized tee shirt to sleep in. And, for lounging in a situation where it might be a little chilly and, again, appropriate in mixed company, I keep a sweatsuit – pants and sweatshirt. On cold nights in the van, these really keep me warm in my sleeping bag. If you find yourself in an intimate situation, most likely, nothing above applies.
Ladies, once again, you have multiple choices. You may sleep in the “altogether,” in a pair of panties and an over-sized tee shirt or nightshirt, a pair of PJ's of various descriptions, a nightgown, a pair of workout shorts and, again, some kind of tee shirt, a lightweight jogging suit or a sweatsuit and any combination, thereof. You really only need one or two of the combinations mentioned, depending on how you're comfortable, and one of those should probably be warmer for a colder evening. Less is more is still the mantra. And, like for the men, if your evening involves some intimate encounter, all bets are off, as is the nightwear.
The Bottom Line
One last thought, AVOID ANYTHING WHITE. It's high maintenance. Have fun creating your simple wardrobe. Like everything else in the simplifying process, once you actually go through the process, you'll wonder why you ever ended up so bogged down with so many clothes, especially the ones you no longer wear, don't fit into properly any longer, were never comfortable or were just spontaneous purchases you really didn't need or want, but seemed right at the time. Have fun and tell me about your adventure in simplifying your wardrobe.