The closet on the left is Manny’s; the closet on the right is mine. These babies hold all of our clothes — sweaters, socks, everything . They’re spacious but not large — certainly not walk-ins. I suppose you could say we’re quasi-minimalists.
I wasn’t always so… reserved… when it came to shopping.
But I changed the summer after I finished graduate school. I had been invited to teach abroad for a few months — a stellar experience, except for one thing: On my way to the airport at the end of the trip, my luggage was stolen.
I was, upon realizing this, distraught. A note to readers: I am not a water-off-a-duck’s-back kind of person. I do not, in general, greet calamity with calm. I am, instead, a somewhat high-strung lady — prone to worst-case-scenario thinking.
But then, after the first few minutes of panic and distress, I felt… nothing. At the time, it was the weirdest thing, but looking back it makes sense. I was, for the first time in seven years, not a graduate student. I had just turned 29. I was about to start my first big-girl teaching position. And very few things in that suitcase matched this new big-girl life and its new direction.
Sitting at Heathrow airport, I realized I’d had this feeling, going through the entire summer, that something was off. My clothes were too colorful, too tight, too big, not fitted enough. They ran the gamut of not-quite-working. And it dawned on me that the slide toward the big 3-0 would necessitate rethinking the way I presented myself on a number of levels.
Nowadays, my style is, I’d like to think, more fitting of an early-thirty-something with a job than a graduate student. (Thank the heavens.) One of the most interesting things about this little transformation, though, is the fact that while I’m happier with my closet than I used to be, I have a lot less than before.
I guess to me a grown-up closet means having better, not more. Better quality. Better fit. Better style. Every item in my closet packs a way more powerful punch — and I actually wear what’s in there.
As you might imagine, black is sort of the uniform for art historians. But I like navy and grey and charcoal as well. I also like whites and creams. The benefit of a limited palette is that things tend to go together. It’s easier to mix and match. Last week, I flew to give a presentation and my suitcase was filled with darks and lights, which made dressing on the fly a lot easier.
Below is a little peak into my quasi-minimalist closet with a focus on the things I wear and use the most.
A cross-body purse for my daily life, a saddle leather tote for work, and a wallet for everything. For the most part, that’s all I really use these days.
Good flats, good booties, good summer heels — and some sweet, sweet duck boots. I have a few additional pairs of shoes, but these seem to get the most work in my everyday life. As an aside, if I could have only one pair of shoes for the rest of my life, it would be the SW Broadband sandals. They’re pricey, so I vacillated on buying them for *nine* months. But they are TDF and have proved worth it.
Okay, away from the budget-breakers. I spend way more on shoes than I do on clothes, generally speaking. I should note too that I don’t shop very much. Really, I tend to shop about three times a year: at back-to-school time in August/September (old habits die hard), post-Christmas in January, and for spring or summer.
These days, I try to buy the best I can afford with the plan to keep clothing for as long as possible. I own three pairs of jeans — casual jeans, skinny jeans, and black skinnies. I have some dark cigarette-pants, blazers and pencil skirts and the like — but I can probably count how many of each without going into double digits. This keeps things minimalist but interesting.
When it comes to where I buy, I’d love to be able to say I shop exclusively at super cool thrift stores and exclusive boutiques you’ve never heard of. But I am nowhere near that cool. Seriously, I’ve met cool people, but… suffice it so say, I tend to shop at Madewell, J. Crew, Zara, Everlane and the like.
I do have a few places off the beaten path I get excited about, though. When we go to Sweden, I like to hit up Scandinavian high-street stores — probably pretty pedestrian if you live there, but super cool to me. My favs are Weekday, Monki, and Bik Bok.
Anyway, here’s my advice for downsizing and up-scaling a little:
- Research. Minimalist fashion blog Un-Fancy is a great resource for those who want help downsizing their wardrobes and upping their style. I think The Simply Luxurious Life is another great blog, especially for those who like the idea of shopping well on a normal-person’s salary. (Regarding TSLL, Francophile Shannon’s post on the 10 Essential Shoes every woman should have is great, as is her post on 10 Wardrobe Essentials.)
- Think value-per-wear when it comes to deciding whether to make a big purchase, such as a good pair of boots or summer heels. Common wisdom by this point, perhaps, but still sage advice. Just think: If you’ll wear it for years because it’s well-made and timeless, you may save money in the longterm by going for it now.
- Clean out your closets. I say: be merciless. I held onto a pair of Frye knee-boots for years because I knew they were expensive. I liked them okay, but they never fit well and I never felt comfortable in them. Getting rid of them “made room” in my closet for the Billie booties I have now, which fit wonderfully and are much more my taste. Chuck the things you’ve been holding onto needlessly — if it doesn’t fit or make you happy, donate it. It could free up space for something in your life you’ll value much more.
- Shop when you travel. I always think super fondly of those items I bought while traveling, be it for vacation or work. For instance, I bought a pair of jeans in Berlin when I was there for a year for school. I totally love them and I tend to think about how great that year was when I wear them.To close, I’d just add: It took me a full year or so to re-learn how to dress myself after suitcase-gate, and it took longer than that to acquire the quality pieces I now really love.
Happy shopping (and/or closet-cleaning)!