28 September 2012

A Better Wardrobe

Autumn/Winter 2009
(I post this collection far too often)

Apologies in advance if this post ends up reading like a self-help guide, but I thought it would be interesting to discuss the process of building a wardrobe, and methods through which you can move forward in a way that you feel happy with. Building a wardrobe can be a daunting task, but analyzing your aims and goals before formulating an action plan can really help make it an easier and more enjoyable process. In the past I have found it all too easy to fall into the trap of buying and owning clothing that is by its very nature a transient and unfulfilling experience. Cheap clothing, disposable clothing, unethically produced clothing, clothing bought on a whim, clothing bought without thought, clothing bought on the say of others, clothing bought only to be forgotten.

Having identified this behaviour and exploring the reasoning behind the thought processes that created it, I decided to make a change. In order to have a relationship with clothing based on something more meaningful (it may only be clothing, but the approach and thought behind it, rather than the material end in and of itself, still require respect), it becomes necessary to really think about what I wear, what I buy, and why I wear it. A thoughtful shopper and a thoughtful dresser, or at least I hope.

So what exactly is my overarching aim? To create a small, versatile and coherent wardrobe that I feel reflects some sense of me and is appropriate for my everyday life ('some sense of me': a problematic idea when you break it down, but one that requires a whole different series of posts). Sounds like a good idea, but how to set about achieving it? Regular readers already know that I was severe in cutting down my wardrobe from where it was, to a state of almost excessive minimalism. Now however I am ever so slowly rebuilding. So what is the next step and how exactly do you go about rebuilding a wardrobe?

As with any major project you may chose to undertake, it can seem a daunting prospect to get started, let alone figuring out a way to reach your end goal. But I think the easiest way to approach the process of rebuilding a wardrobe is by breaking it down into a series of smaller more manageable goals. All journeys, however long or difficult, start with a small step forward, and if you can keep that going you can do just about anything you put your mind to. In that spirit, let's get thinking about setting goals and how to apply them to the wardrobe.

What constitutes a good goal? Simple, goals need to be S-M-A-R-T.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely


The more specific a goal is, the more likely we are to achieve it. Vague ideas for change remain actions untaken. In order to change things we need specific aims. Take a goal most of us set ourselves at the start of the year - getting into shape. Saying "I want to start running" may sound good, but it is not actually a good goal. It is far too vague - how long do I want to run for? how far do I want to run? how often do I want to run? when do I want to start? On the other hand, saying "I want to be able to run 10km three times a week by the end of next year" is a good goal - it is specific, it is measurable, it sets a time frame, it is something we can work towards. Being specific allows you to break down that large goal into a framework of smaller goals tailored towards it. In this case you could start by building up to being able to walk 10km three days a week, before starting short intermittent periods of jogging between walking, and so on.

Saying "I want to be a better son/daughter" is an admirable thing, but it is far from specific. So how can we create a set of goals that allow us to reach some sense of this larger goal? This is where implementing small specific steps come into play. Take for example "I will put aside one hour every weekend to spend time with or telephone my mother" or "I will take my father out for dinner next Wednesday evening". In and of themselves they may not constitute a "better" son or daughter, but they are certainly a move in the right direction. These short term goals are useful in working towards a larger change, and by breaking down long term goals into a series of small term goals we build confidence in our own actions and make it more likely that we will achieve those long terms goals.  

Anyone who has played a video game knows the first few levels are always easy, with immediate rewards for our actions. But the longer you play the game, the harder it gets and the less frequent the rewards. Take for example an RPG (insert Final Fantasy VII boss theme) - getting your character from level 1 to level 2 may only require 30 experience, the equivalent to killing two low level monsters. Once you level up you unlock a new move or the ability to carry a new sword, which makes you eager to level up once more. This leveling up process becomes harder and harder the more you play, so that by level 30, to get to level 31, you may require 120,000 experience, and thus need to clear out an entire legion of monsters.

Game designers rely on a very simple psychological process - those quick and easy rewards early on build up our confidence and desire. It provides us with a feel good factor and a desire to feel that sense of accomplishment again, so later on we are willing to play for longer just to level up and get that same feel good factor, which was so easy before, again (also the reasoning behind addiction). If you started the game and needed that 120,000 experience just to get to level 2, the work to reward ratio would immediately put you off. And so it is with the goals we set ourselves - we need smaller steps to begin with that build our confidence and desire to move forward. Positive reinforcement early on allows us to get further later on.

So, building a wardrobe. This is somewhere we must necessarily be specific, for to simply say "I want a better wardrobe" is vague to say the least. There are some basic questions we must ask ourselves:

  • What exactly do I want?
  • Why do I want it?
  • Where can I start looking for or researching these pieces?
  • Which pieces are most important to me?
  • Which elements of design or functionality are most important to me?
  • Will it work with my body?
  • Will it work within my wardrobe?
  • Will it work within my lifestyle?
  • Will it work for whichever specific social setting or activity I would like it for?
  • What is my budget?
  • Which compromises am I willing to take?

This may sound like an unusually long list of questions to ask before buying a winter coat, let alone a pair of underwear, however I think it is important to have a focus so that you may make a more informed and worthwhile decision. The first step for me would be to take stock of everything you own and give away or sell everything that is not essential, is not loved by you, you do not wear, or does not hold sentimental value (there is no room for 'maybe I will wear it' here, but if it makes it easier you can always have a 'maybe' pile which you keep and reassess after a few months to see which pieces you do actually wear). A fresh start allows you greater creativity and room for exploration, however it can be a long journey getting to that stage in itself, so persevere.

The second step is one I have shared here a number of times before, however it seems fitting to go over it again. Every morning for a month, before you get changed, write down every single garment and accessory you would ideally like to wear that day. It is best to try to be as specific as possible - this would include everything from choice of underwear to how many buttons you want on the cuff of your shirt. But it is also perfectly fine at this stage to leave it open if you want, as you can refine your choices later on. These pieces can be as fantastical or as mundane as you see fit, and remember that price or scarcity of the piece is no object. The only rule in this process is that the clothing must be suitable and practical for your day ahead - you are not allowed to write down a minidress and skyscraper heels on a day you are working in the office (admittedly it depends on your office dress code, but hopefully you get the idea).

Once the month is over and you have a complete list of outfits for each day, number up the totals and order the pieces by frequency - which pieces cropped up the most and which pieces cropped up the least. The high frequency garments are what we can refer to as your 'basics' or your 'foundation' pieces. This is something fashion magazines and shopping websites love to impose on us, but in reality it depends entirely on what you are comfortable with wearing and what you need on a day-to-day basis. Ignore what other people list as the types of garments you 'need' to own, it is far better to decide that for yourself. These foundation pieces are the basic building blocks of your wardrobe, with the lesser frequent pieces being more akin to adding a finishing touch or point of visual intrigue. 

When you reach the stage of starting to actually look for these pieces, sit down with your list and breakdown each piece. What details or design elements would you like this specific piece to have? What fabric, hand, cut, silhouette, colour, design elements, aesthetic, etc.? Try to be specific, but where the foundation pieces are concerned remember that you want these to be as versatile as possible, at least in terms of where and what you will wear them for. Of course many times you will be lucky in that you may already own a few of the pieces that cropped up on your list, so in a sense you already have a head start. Indeed these pieces can already be viewed as a base upon which to build, and perhaps even a pre-existing framework of aesthetic and the direction you would like your wardrobe to take.

The reason I always say that you should forget price where the list is concerned and when it comes to actually finding your pieces is that price should not dictate choice unless there is no other option. The reason is that you do not need these clothes, you simply want them. Unless they are essential to your health and well-being, say you need a suit for work but do not yet own one or you need a warm coat for a Scandinavian Winter and do not yet own one, you have the luxury of being able to take your time and really build up slowly and thoughtfully. At this point you are more akin to a fashion flaneur, exploring the possibilities and wonders of dress, all the while trying to find something personal and meaningful to you. Enjoy the journey, it is one of learning more about what moves you and how you relate to dress. 

Being specific is a helpful way of making sure you do not settle with something less than what you want when you have a realistic option for something better. Why buy something you are not entirely happy with now, simply because it is available and affordable, rather than something you absolutely love, but just happens to be slightly harder to get a hold of and slightly more expensive? Yes you will have to wait longer, yes you will have to work harder to get it, but you deserve the best and you deserve to wear what you love. Of course what you really want may not necessarily be the expensive option, but I give it simply as an example which may perhaps be most common an occurrence. Remember that things are only ever worth what you are willing to pay for them, so never let yourself be swayed by something you are on the fence about simply because it is on an incredible sale. If you would not even look at it when it was full price, it is not worth your attention when it is on sale. Never settle for less, you are worth more than that.


The reason you order your list by frequency is so that you can figure out your own personal foundation pieces, i.e. the pieces you want to wear the most. Given these are the pieces you will get the most use out of, it seems the logical place to start. Whether it is a matter of building upon what you already have, or starting from scratch, it is nice to have these smaller steps ordered according to your own priorities. As you work your way through your list, you can begin to tick them off. Indeed this focus provides you with the opportunity to give the consideration of each and every piece the time it needs, and thus enables you to make a more informed choice. I think the important thing is to make sure you never rush a decision, unless it is something you have no other option but to get as soon as possible.

You can work on finding one piece at a time, which focuses your attention and provides lesser distractions, or you can work on finding multiple pieces and really just keeping an eye out and researching as widely as possible. It really depends on your own way of working, although I would personally recommend the latter just so that you are thinking far more about how pieces will work together rather than in isolation. A garment on its own may look beautiful on the hanger, but in reality it will be upon your persons and in the context of a whole outfit, so thinking about the garment in relation to both your own body and the rest of your clothing is important. You may find that some pieces take longer to find and decide upon, but that is fine, because you are still always moving in the right direction to achieving your goal.


Never settle for less, but know your limits. I wrote earlier that things are only ever worth what you are willing to pay for them, and this is an idea I think is particularly important to realize. You need to decide upon your budget, of what you are willing to pay for a specific garment, and stick to it. This will hopefully help avoid the risk of buying something simply on the basis of price, which is never a good idea, but rather allows you to judge multiple options within your allocated price range on an even setting. By approaching clothing in terms of design, personal functionality, and personal feeling, you have a much better gauge of what the value of the garment will be to you - something that is entirely unrelated to how much it actually costs. Indeed you may find certain pieces on your list are suitably fulfilled by spending next to nothing, and others require a certain amount of saving.

That being said, only ever buy what you can afford - if it is financially harmful, ignore it, you can find something better for you. Similarly I tend to find that if I have to try and rationalize the price to myself it is probably not worth it. However there is always room to save money - buying pieces during sale seasons, buying pieces secondhand, buying pieces on auction sites, making your own pieces, etc. Indeed you may find that some of the pieces on your list will necessarily require you to buy secondhand, say a garment from a season a number of years ago, so if you are willing to search around and are patient you can actually get away with spending very little. The thrill of the hunt is in itself a pleasure that makes finally getting the garment all the more enjoyable. Never automatically assume that what you want is out of your price range, just accept that certain things will take longer to get, and enjoy the journey.


There is only one rule when writing your list of outfits for the day - it must be appropriate and suitable for what you have to do that day. The reason for this is twofold, the first being that it grounds you firmly within the realm of the everyday - it is far too easy to approach the process of building a wardrobe with some unrealistic ideal that is impractical and disparate in its approach; and the second is that it gives you an idea of what your day-to-day activities actually entail. If you work in an office five days a week that requires smart dress, you will obviously have to place emphasis on this side of your wardrobe - three leather jackets and only two suits would be rather an odd choice. Or say you spend more time walking than you do in the car or in the office, then you probably do not need to place emphasis on heels that are not comfortable for you to walk in.

Your wardrobe should be practical and functional for your lifestyle. The primary function of clothing is after all to protect the body. Once this is noted, and it is often a subconscious prerequisite anyway, then you can focus on aesthetic direction. Of course it is entirely up to you whether you want to sacrifice part functionality for certain design elements, so you have to find that balance for yourself and judge accordingly. Personally speaking I find it an odd concept to ever wear clothing you feel physically uncomfortable in - I am fine with a garment that is unusually cut and feels odd or different in movement, but not one that is physically uncomfortable. However we all have our own preferences and boundaries, so it is up to you and finding out what you are comfortable with.

The issue of budgeting raises its head here once again. It is all well and good to spend on certain luxury items if you so desire them, but you have to be realistic in your approach. If you only have a certain amount to spend, you have to search according to that budget. But here I would also recommend the mantra of spend more, buy less. This is also somewhere that the list is useful, in that you have a specific list of what you would like to get, and that is all you have to concern yourself with. There will always be garments and pieces that fall outside the remit of your list that you find yourself drawn towards, but for now you have to exercise self-control and keep to the list. In this manner you allow yourself to become more focused and precise, meaning you will budget better and be a more efficient shopper.

However it is important to note that once you have your list, you can still make a purchase on the spot if you fall in love with a garment - provided it is a type of garment already present on you list. Here you have to practice individual judgement and perhaps even a certain amount of compromise, e.g. "I wanted a boxy white cotton shirt with two cuff buttons, but this only has one" - provided it still fulfills the major function and you are happy with it, then it is an easy decision. The idea is not to be strict to the point of forcing yourself out of buying or wearing something you absolutely adore, indeed it is in actuality the very opposite - to help you find and wear clothing you love.

During the journey you may encounter pieces you had never previously even considered or thought about, and that is quite natural. However instead of buying on the spot and trying to work out how you will actually wear it later, you have to allow yourself the appropriate amount of time to consider the piece. Indeed the very idea of creating a list is not to simply create one and stick to just that, but to make one at regular intervals, allowing you to constantly reassess your direction and style. Although your goals may be fixed, there is always room for additional goals and the option to change your mind at a later stage. Some may even find that after a year their lists have changed entirely, and in this case it is not something to feel bad about, rather a fascinating opportunity to study how and why that change occurred.


A wardrobe needs to accommodate all the seasonal variations you are likely to encounter. Remember, the goal is to have a wardrobe that fulfills all your everyday requirements without compromising on aesthetic. As such I find it helpful to make a list at the start of each season (of course you can adjust this accordingly, so make one every two months if you happen to feel the need). Many items will no doubt crop up again and again, but that is fine because buying everything on your list in just a single season would be highly inadvisable. Indeed I usually find something I think I would like to buy and give myself a month to evaluate the decision. This may sound a surefire way to miss out on the garment, but in reality it is actually helpful in reducing rash decisions and buyer's remorse.

Constantly reevaluating your list allows you to measure and document changes in your tastes and desires. This flux is both inevitable and highly important to study, because it pertains to your own thought processes and feelings. Understanding the reasoning behind why you like what you like, or why you no longer like what you once liked, is important to better understanding yourself as a person. This is often related to larger personality shifts and life changes, and so it is interesting to note how your style changes in relation to your experiences. This study also allows you to understand your own path, creating a more focused and sensitive sense of your own clothing desires.

Freed from the constant questioning of "Would I wear that?" I feel you find that you are better able to explore. It gives you the opportunity to appreciate the artistic and conceptual sides of fashion design far more when you remove yourself from the equation. Of course you will always ask yourself whether you would wear something you see, but knowing that you already have your own goals, it means that even if you do find something, it can wait. You have a focused path for your own clothing desires, which immediately shuts out the majority of the noise that is out there. Rather than creating a rigid framework through which to look at all fashion, you simply have a personal framework for yourself, and are otherwise free to look and be interested in whatever takes your fancy without the feeling that what you currently own and wear does not measure up. And who knows, by allowing yourself that sense of freedom, you may just discover something in a place you would have otherwise never even paid attention to. 



  1. If only I had you at work to write out my goals for me..I might get points!

    Great explanation! Great post!

  2. Totally, some great thought into this post.

  3. I find the more thought I put into buying, the less thought I have to put in dressing. I like to pull something on and forget about. When I was building my wardrobe from scratch, it was important for me to lay the foundation first--simple, neat clothes that would allow me to look put together everyday. Now, I'm at the stage where I can buy the fun stuff. But even then I try to make sure pieces will go with other things in my wardrobe and are practical for my lifestyle--that said sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants.

  4. I enjoyed to read long essay.)

    What fascinate feeling when I found the clothing that exactly what I wanted .Usually those clothing are expensive.Most of the time ,I have to give up to buy.But I have some clothing that I bought after careful thought. Those are my favorite and special even time passed.Still wash by hand and take care very much.I like clothing that make me happy.

    Yohji's men's clothing are so nice,I like first one (hat and shoes are midnight blue? And shirt has dot print?Very beaytiful!)and last stripe PJ.I am wearing colorful clothing usually but I want to wear black clothing whenever you show Yohji's clothing.

    Thank you for sharing.

  5. SMART - that reminds me of Marketing 101: How to write a marketing objective.

    Anyway, that's a very thoughtful post. Whenever I'm in need of a less superficial topic to talk about, your blog always comes to mind.