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In praise of large wardrobes

Look, I understand the current enthusiasm for minimalist wardrobes. I understand that they can simplify decision-making and reduce clutter. I appreciate that they encourage you to define your style and stick to it. I agree that the Pinterest images of capsule wardrobes look gorgeous and clever.


And yet, despite all this, I admit to owning an extensive wardrobe. And more than that, I confess to LOVING it. I relish the sense of abundance it creates. I adore the variety and novelty it allows. I delight in rediscovering old favourites that haven't had an outing for a while. And as a person with a wide range of work, leisure and social activities, I appreciate being able to deck myself out appropriately for any event.  


That's not to say I haven't tried the minimalist approach. My first encounter was when I was pregnant. I couldn't see the value in spending huge amounts of money on clothes that I would wear for a short time, so I compiled a limited wardrobe of suitable items. By the end of my pregnancy I viewed those outfits with utter loathing. I'm pretty sure that one of my first thoughts on going into labour was "thank God, I can wear something different tomorrow!" When my second pregnancy progressed to the point of digging out my big-belly clothes, it felt less like greeting an old friend and more like an enforced stay with an extremely tedious relative. 


My second attempt occurred when I was busily juggling family, work and a range of other activities, and decided that a streamlined wardrobe could save me HUGE amounts of time and angst. So I read Trinny and Susannah, googled 'wardrobe must-haves' and set about cultivating a collection of simple but stylish clothes that I could mix-and-match endlessly for years to come.


Except it turns out that selling simple clothes that last for years isn't really in the fashion industry's interests. If we are all happily outfitted in our classic wardrobes we aren't out buying the latest gimmick or replacing last year's hot trend that now looks hopelessly outdated. I shudder to think how much time and angst I wasted over months of trying to track down those perfect, timeless items, completely defeating my initial goal of minimising my focus on clothes. 


Scrolling through endless Pinterest images for capsule wardrobes, I wonder how many others are falling into this trap. How many set out with the goal of saving time and effort, only to spend an enormous number of hours on their ideal wardrobe: culling, planning, researching, shopping and creating those clever compilation images...and then repeating the whole process for the next season? How many start with an aim of reducing purchases, but end up buying a whole bunch of new items to achieve that perfect minimalism? And how far can the concept of a capsule wardrobe be stretched? Isn't a 'capsule wardrobe' of 100 items just...well... a wardrobe? Like me, is the capsule wardrobe movement in danger of missing the point?


So how do you keep an extensive wardrobe, your integrity and your sanity? 


1. Ensure that you love and use everything in your wardrobe. Although my wardrobe is large, it is regularly and ruthlessly culled to make sure everything fits, is flattering and suits my current lifestyle.


2. Stick to classic styles.  Simple, good-quality clothes can be worn and loved for years, even decades. My wardrobe isn't large because I shop often but because my clothes stay wearable for a long time. 


3. Know your wardrobe well. Be clear about which separates combine well, which accessories work with different pieces, and which shoes complete an outfit perfectly. And make sure that you have a few go-to outfits. This reduces the stress of desperately searching for an outfit while the clock is ticking.


4. Choose one item as a starting point. When deciding on your outfit for the day, choose one item to begin with. This might relate to practical considerations (comfortable shoes for a day of errands) or be a purely aesthetic decision (a much-loved scarf or necklace). With a clear starting point it is much easier to select the remaining items (particularly if you have spent a bit of time on point 3.)


5. Make your storage system as effective as possible. Store out-of-season clothes in boxes. Hang as many items as you can so they can be seen at a glance. Store accessories in a way that they can be easily scanned. In drawers, store similar items together and return clean clothes to the bottom of the pile so that other items rise to the top and aren't forgotten. 


6. Stick to your storage capacity. Overflowing cupboards and drawers are a sign that you have TOO much. An extensive wardrobe does not mean an ever-increasing wardrobe. 


7. Consider new purchases carefully. An extensive wardrobe can still be a carefully cultivated wardrobe. Shop your wardrobe before you hit the stores to ensure that any new items are necessary. Consider the cost-per-wear as carefully as if you were trying to tighten your belt or limit your wardrobe to 30 items. 


8. Aim for ethical consumption. Seek out options that have the minimum environmental impact and the maximum social benefit, whether shopping at charity thrift shops, buying locally-produced items, favouring resource-efficient fabrics like bamboo or boycotting brands that exploit their workers. Using your purchasing power for good, not evil, will allow you to cultivate an extensive wardrobe with your integrity intact. 


Any other thoughts? I'd love to hear them.

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