Wishful wardrobe: a tale of having 'nothing to wear'

Last Friday night, I tackled a task I’d been putting off for months: I dumped half my clothes out onto the bed, Marie Kondo style, and ‘archived’ anything that didn’t fit me anymore. Some of it went into storage; the rest I added to a donation pile.

It was a confronting process, trying to wriggle into skirts I used to love wearing, not even bothering with a favourite shirt (it's covered in dogs!) that won’t button up over my suddenly ample bosom.

What also leapt out at me, however, was the sheer volume of clothing I’d managed to accumulate in recent years. I’d ditched or folded away more than half of my shirts, dresses, skirts, and pants, but my closet still looked full to bursting. When I considered that I also have a chest of drawers stuffed with undies, t-shirts, and jeans and a shelf in another cupboard that contains my jumpers and PJs, I felt embarrassed, even ashamed, of my sartorial excess — the consumption, the clutter, the squandered money and resources.

I can SORT OF understand and justify why I’ve ended up with so much stuff.

In the last three years, I’ve changed jobs several times and have never quite worked out how I feel comfortable and confident dressing myself to exist and perform among different teams and in different environments. During this time, my body has also changed significantly (another post for another day), and nothing seems to fit me in a flattering way anymore, at least in my eyes. I’m gradually becoming aware that what I’m drawn to, what’s practical for my everyday life, and what I actually look good in are three quite different things.

Unfortunately, this sartorial clusterf*ck — albeit a decidedly middle-class conundrum — results in a lot of wasted time and energy, especially in the mornings before work on my office days. I will sometimes change my outfit at least half a dozen times, and I'll even feel like crying when I haven't managed to dress appropriately for the day ahead (as silly as it sounds).

Mirror on the wall aside, having all this stuff (stuff that is notoriously difficult to get rid of in responsible ways) no longer aligns with my values around simplicity, sustainability and subduing my purchasing impulses. So, I’m looking to approach the daily task of putting clothes onto my body in a more mindful, streamlined way.

I’ve already made some changes in the last 18 months that have helped me curb my clothes-buying habits, but I have a long way to go.

Some of these strategies include:

  1. Consciously avoiding fast fashion outlets (the Good On You app, recommended by a friend, has encouraged me to be more selective about which stores I allow myself to browse and buy from)

  2. Choosing from a more limited colour palette and aesthetic to increase the chances of items matching well with other items in my closet

  3. Preferring natural fibres over synthetics (this criterion dramatically reduces my options, which I find super helpful)

  4. Not allowing myself to make any impulse purchases — if I think I want something, I add it to a list on my laptop and sit on it for a while

  5. Waiting until a desired item is on sale before I buy it (if it sells out before then, I take it as a sign from the universe that it wasn’t meant to be)

My goal over the next year or so is to cull my wardrobe even further and to avoid the temptation of simply replacing what I’ve discarded. I want to own dramatically fewer items overall, and I want to be able to reach for simple combinations that are comfortable, practical, and somewhat figure-flattering.

Ultimately, I suspect that conquering the illusion of having nothing to wear will have more to do with firmly embedding a less-is-more mindset and cultivating a more empathic attitude towards my body than it does with any magic uniform or formula for curating the perfect capsule wardrobe. I've been thinking a lot lately about the idea of a 'fantasy self' and how this fantasy self, in a complex system premised on neoliberal capitalism, is so often linked to material acquisition. It seems increasingly obvious that the innate frustration I'm experiencing in relation to what I wear is a struggle with false assumptions about selfhood that are quite literally dressed up as something else.

It will take some time and effort to disentangle my sense of self — and self-worth — from the material salves of clothing, cosmetics, and other consumables.

For now, though, I know with the utmost certainty that I should stop trying to make denim skirts happen.