The art of dress

I have always loved clothing but hated shopping. I dislike being in malls – they feel so sterile, tacky and devoid of character. I particularly dislike the process of clothes shopping; having to take my clothes off, change several times and wait for different sizes to come to me while I negotiate with myself about whether one particular piece or another really does fit, etc,.

I have had to do a lot of shopping over the last few years; to buy maternity clothes when I was pregnant with my son and then nearly a whole new wardrobe when I lost quite a bit of weight after pregnancy and didn’t fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes.

Recently, I received a promotion at work and my position reports high up in our organization requiring a scale up of my wardrobe to fit the role. So, more shopping was required.

Right before this I had made the commitment to not buy anymore new (never before worn clothing) to reduce my consumption of new materials. So, I had an interesting challenge; get a professional high end (looking) wardrobe – all used – with as little shopping as possible.

I have learned that what we wear can truly be an art form as can the process of procuring just the right items to put together a comfortable, creative, appropriate and smaller (size and impact) wardrobe. We can express who we are and what values we cherish through each piece we own with the choice of colour and pattern, shape, cut, fabric, materials and production origin. Finding the right balance between having a wardrobe that fits your lifestyle, and makes you feel good about the way you look, without buying in excess of what you truly need requires looking at your wardrobe with the eye of a curator.

I have learned a few things along the way that others may find helpful.

Here are my tips so far:

1. I have learned to procure like they do in Italy; buy a few excellent quality classic pieces and wear those same pieces in different combinations to create new looks.

2. Find pieces that can be dressed up and dressed down for multiple uses.

3. Find pieces mostly in one colour temperature (cool or warm) for example if your skin tone favours blues, purples, pinks, and blacks buy most of your pieces in these colours. This will make mixing and matching a smaller number of pieces easier. Throwing in a couple of pieces from the other end of the spectrum can then add enough spice to keep your collection from looking to same same. For example throwing in an orange tank top in a mostly cool wardrobe will add drama to an outfit.

4. Buy “previously loved” clothing from quality consignment stores. You can get a killer bargain at places like Value Village, but there is so much to wade through and so much not worth purchasing that I find it a waste of time. I like to go to places where you can get a piece of clothing that would retail for $200 for $40 or less. And, because I hate spending time shopping I like that you can get clothing from multiple designers and for different seasons all in one store! My favourite store (where I bought the dress above) is Turnabout.Their clothing is always high quality, reasonably priced and their staff are helpful instead of pushy.

If you are used to shopping for cheap fast fashion at places like H&M or Joe Fresh I can tell you the “bargain” is an allusion. Cheap clothing is cheap for a reason. It breaks down faster, pills faster and will lose its shape and colour faster. It is called fast fashion for a reason. It is like fast food…you are not getting good overall value for your money and in the end you spend more because you have to buy replacements sooner.

5. Really be honest with yourself about the following:

-Does it really fit and flatter? If it doesn’t it doesn’t matter how cute it is – you will never wear it and you will have wasted your money.

-Will it go with any of your other clothing or are you going to have to buy several other items to make it work (e.g., a tunic that requires the purchase of leggings and flats)

-Is it going to stand the test of time? I need clothing that can really be tested because I am hard on clothes, don’t dry clean and refuse to iron. They need to be able to withstand reasonably regular washing in a normal machine, a tugging, snotty, dirty toddler and use over a long period of time.

-Is it practical? I decided a while ago that life is too short to iron. I dislike clothing that is uncomfortable in any way and never end up wearing clothing with beading, frills, shoulder pads or any other accessory that breaks the flow. I love the look of the collared cotton dress shirt but they are inevitably the last item I’ll pick in the morning so I have stopped buying them. They just aren’t my style…maintenance wise.

Do you actually need another…t-shirt, pair of shorts, jacket, shoes or are you just buying something because it’s pretty.

6. I made a rule a short time ago, following the advice of another blogger who I cannot remember, that one item in means one item must go out. If I buy a new t-shirt one that is already in my closet must be consigned or given away. This keeps the clutter down and makes me stop to think about whether I truly need that item.

7. Find pieces that act as the backbone of your wardrobe. The little black dress, a good pair of jeans, a couple comfortable flattering t-shirts, a comfortable dress jacket, a good dress up/dress down cardigan…or whatever fits your style. Most people just wear the same few pieces over and over. Figure out what your go to items are build the rest of your wardrobe around these.

Bea Johnson from Zero Waste Home provides some really useful tips in her chapter on clothing and also on her website here

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