The fifty things in my wardrobe

August 2, 2016

My daughter so enjoyed living from a backpack, she said she would shrink her wardrobe to two outfits when she got home

It began when I was confined to the couch with a tummy bug visiting Buenos Aires in November, 2015. My daughter so enjoyed living from a backpack, she said she would shrink her wardrobe to two outfits when she got home.

I idly Googled ‘minimal wardrobe’ and discovered someone who wore the same outfit for a year, and women who had contained their wardrobes to anywhere between 50 and 100 items.

I was inspired!

Putting inspiration into action

Back home in December, I gave an impromptu speech on ‘resolutions’ at my Toastmaster’s Christmas breakup. I spoke about my plan to reduce my wardrobe to fifty things for 2016. I sat down and thought, ‘Well that’s it.  I have said it, now I have to do it.’

M 40-year-old sarong
My 40-year-old sarong

I culled my wardrobe retaining only natural fibres: cotton, wool, silk and linen. The remaining items went to favorite op-shops. My exceptions – I count my one set of workout wear as one item; I do not count my swimmers; and, I don’t include accessories – scarves and jewellery.

Friends encouraged me to use Facebook to tell people about the Fiftythings2016 project and that has been a good way to keep me at it.

One of my role models was Brisbane’s Jane Milburn, whose 2014 ‘Sew it Again’ and 2016 ‘Slow Clothing’ projects show the value of making conscious choices about what we wear.

Why I love this idea

There are lots of reasons why I think a small wardrobe is a good idea. Namely:

1) The fashion industry is second only to mining in its environmental impact and that’s before we wash our clothes, then dry and/or iron them.  And let’s not even touch on dry cleaning. By making conscious clothing choices we can each contribute in a small but practical way to a more just and sustainable global community;

Second-hand capris, second-hand linen shirt & a 20-year-old scarf
Second-hand capris, second-hand linen shirt & a 20-year-old scarf

2) So much time and energy that could be used positively and creatively is used up thinking or worrying about ‘what am I going to wear?’My philosophy is based on liberating my time to have more joy and fun in my life;

3) I want to show people you don’t have to spend heaps of money on what you wear to feel comfortable and look good.  There is a very positive focus now on recycled or upcycled fashion.  Looked after properly, good quality natural textiles will last and last. And it is lovely to hang onto clothes and the memories they hold for you.

In the ‘old days’ …

As one of four kids of parents born during the depression and raised during the war, all my clothes, including uniforms and undies were made by my mother.

School shoes, sandshoes, thongs and a pair of ‘good’ shoes were in the bottom of the wardrobe shared with two sisters, and we each had one level in the chest of drawers.

Around the age of ten, I started making my own clothes – simple shifts, shorts, tops and long pants, and discovered early the joys of the Salvos and Vinnies. By the age of fourteen, my sisters and I had a stall at a ‘flea market’ selling clothes we sewed, tie-dyed, painted and embroidered. Wanna-be hippies.

Coming to the end of my first fifty things year

Off ot the Australian Chamber Orchestra in my 'recycled' outfit
Off to the Australian Chamber Orchestra in my ‘recycled’ outfit

My 2016 selection of fifty items made me think carefully about what I would need. We are now at the end of the seventh month and today I did my 209th Facebook post in which I post a picture and mention what I am wearing.

The what-to-wear bit has been surprisingly straight-forward.  I love not having to spend a lot of time rifling through crowded coathangers, reaching into the back of shelves or pulling out drawer after drawer.

There have been no clothing crises so far, no invitations I have had to refuse on account of having ‘nothing to wear’.

There was quite a bit of interest in how I could possibly survive with three pairs of undies and two bras. Well quite nicely, thank-you, with a bit of hand washing and forward planning. My biggest concern was how I would manage with only seven pairs of shoes when usually I have 50-60 pairs. Now I reckon I could actually be happy with just three or four pairs.

I have had to replace my three undies which had already seen one summer when I began the year. In June, I made new ones from my husband’s old business shirts which are excellent quality fine cotton.

Knowing what I know now…

If I started again knowing what I know now, I would have less jackets (three not five), one more pair of long pants, one or two solid-coloured shifts I could layer, and I’d reduce my five pairs of coloured tights to three.

For anyone who’s thinking of minimising their wardrobe my advice is ‘Do it.’ Go with what you know and love. Stick with simple pieces you can mix up: a couple of colourful scarves are terrific assets; make sure you have a good quality woollen cardigan and a coat; and choose shoes that love your feet.

Don’t be too serious about it: clothes are meant to be fun.