How I Found My Personal Style When I Let Go Of Most Of My Clothing

I can express myself more with a sparse closet of flattering pieces than with an overwhelming amount of choices.
Publish date:
October 23, 2014
capsule wardrobe, outfits, work clothes

I have always loved fashion. In high school, I was usually the first to try a trend (purple knee-high socks and plaid pants, anyone?) and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the same thing twice in one week.

Accumulating more was half the battle of being stylish. If someone had mentioned the idea of a “capsule wardrobe” to me then, I would have laughed and continued procrastinating doing my algebra homework while listening to my Postal Service album on repeat.

I started to develop more of a personal style in college, leaning more toward what looked good on my body than what was trendy. All of this experimentation, however, eventually led to a cramped closet. Nothing I purchased was made of really quality stuff, and rarely was I able to wear something for more than a year or two.

I felt like I had a style that was my own, but I knew it wouldn’t be the one I stuck with five years down the road.

After graduation, I moved from my home state of Oklahoma to Washington, D.C. to embark on my short-lived career in politics. Naturally, I wanted to be taken seriously as a 22-year-old, and I knew a wardrobe made up of H&M wouldn’t cut it. I wasn’t earning much money, but I had enough disposable income to begin to buy a few quality pieces.

The first thing I ever splurged on was an embroidered pink wool coat from Anthropologie. This was my coming-of-age moment in developing my personal style. It was the most money I had ever spent on a single piece of clothing, and this year I will be coming upon my sixth season of wearing it.

It is one of those pieces that I never get tired of wearing, that makes every outfit look great, and guarantees a compliment from a stranger every time I leave the house (usually followed by disappointment that it is too late to purchase it).

That pink coat was the beginning of a self-revelation for me, sartorially speaking. If I could wear something daily and never get tired of it, why did I need so much clothing? And if I spent more money on fewer items, would I eventually save money?

The answer was a big, fat yes.

The few quality pieces of clothing I had purchased since moving to D.C. were proving to be perfectly adequate for my self-esteem at the office. I realized the value of a few well-fitting pencil skirts and a black blazer and was shocked by how versatile my small wardrobe seemed. Because I walked everywhere, I invested in high-quality boots that lasted for several seasons.

I was being smart about my wardrobe. It was the first time in my life that I rarely experienced buyer’s remorse. It was also the first time in my life when I felt like I was truly dressing for me. And I realized something: my wardrobe was shrinking.

Recently, after going nearly two years and only purchasing a handful of clothing items, a coworker said to me in passing, “Ugh, you always dress so cute. It makes me feel like I need to go shopping.” If it hadn’t been in passing, I might have pulled her aside and shocked her with the news that it had been quite some time since I had gone on a shopping trip. I might have enlightened her about the liberation I felt in not feeling like I had to go shopping every time I was inspired by a great outfit.

I was wearing things twice in the same week, but always in a different way. No one ever seemed to notice. Or at least care. And the best part of it was, I never felt more put together, or happier with my clothing options.

Another surprising thing about having a smaller collection is that it rarely results in flustered mornings of wondering what to wear. And that, my friends, is priceless.

Who would have guessed that wardrobe contentment could start with less, not more? Of course, everyone is different, and I am somewhat of a minimalist, but I think that in general, most of us can be happy with much less than we think. In fact, happier.

I recently read Jennifer Scott’s book, Lessons From Madame Chic, in which the author talks about her time with her host family in Paris. Mme. Chic had a wardrobe of fewer than ten items (a capsule wardrobe), and always looked fashionable. I am working on getting down to a basic 10-item wardrobe, with a few extras thrown in (Scott explains the extras in her book, which I recommend) for each season.

Being able to let go of clothes that aren’t working for me, or are past their prime, is a very freeing feeling that, dare I say, transfers to peace of mind in everyday life. Excess only brings you down.

It’s taken me over 20 years to arrive at the idea that less is more when it comes to style. Our materialistic world tells us that more clothing equals more options. But that’s like saying a chef can’t make a decent dinner unless he has a fully stocked fridge, when the truth is, a few basic ingredients (with extra cream) often create the most inspired, and most memorable, meals.

Getting rid of the surplus leads to contentment. I feel that I can express myself more with a sparse closet of flattering pieces than with an overwhelming amount of choices. Getting dressed now is an exercise in creativity and imagination, rather than frustration and stifled expression.

Not only is a capsule wardrobe a great way to start my day, it is the perfect way to develop a personal style that truly represents who I am.