Thoughts: Yoga & Living

Curating My Closet

Before I begin I should confess that out of college I became an artist-painter and then later a museum director. So I have given quite a bit of thought the power of color juxtapositions and to making museum exhibitions. That said, I am beginning to see a buzz in the places online that I like to frequent for entertainment, places like DIY You Tube videos on creating capsule wardrobes and living the minimalist lifestyle. In these realms the word curating is being thrown around. For instance, that one might curate one’s clothing. This is a word from the museum world and I must admit, I am quite smitten by applying it to my wardrobe. To clarify, to curate is to select and to care for…as museum staff might cull and repair artifacts in a collection. I guess, naturally, I am fascinated by applying this kind of attention to my closet.

I have been on a journey to change the way I interact with the fashion world--with the makers and marketers of clothing—in my quest to cloth myself. I used to be a somewhat unconscious consumer. I liked cheap. I bought whenever I felt like it. I shopped when I was feeling low.  I had a ton of stuff in my closet, most of it didn’t fit me, or was stained or tattered…and I just kind of dug around in there and found something to where.

Now, I have a finite wardrobe. I have 35 hangers, three drawers, a shoe rack that holds 10 pairs of shoes, and two small bins that store out of season clothing. This defines how many items of clothing I allow myself to acquire. I would guess I own about 70 items all together. When my hangers are full, I have to make choices.

When I consider a new piece of clothing…maybe someone is offering me something from their closet, or I am thrifting or, even in a department store, I now puzzle it out: would I trade it for something I already have, does this bring my wardrobe up? And since I started with a very low quality, cheap wardrobe, very often I am evaluating whether the new is of a higher quality than one that I already have? Would it wear better or last longer?

At this point I have a very different rapport with my clothing and a very different relationship to outlets of clothing.  I have come to realize that I have a certain amount of attention, energy and space and that I don’t want the clothing industry to just dump stuff into my world. I allow clothing to come into my world if it is good enough…if it’s a good enough fit, a flattering silhouette, good enough quality, and if it’s the kind of clothing that I need for my life activities. I have come to realize that I do not need opera clothes for instance. Everything currently in my closet is functional and aesthetic. I enjoy wearing everything there.

This attitudinal change has been really lovely. It has lead to a revolution in how I look and feel in my clothing. To have a closet that has nothing in it that is tattered, that has nothing in it that is too small or too large, that has nothing in it that is purely nostalgic is freeing. That last one might surprise you, but I am not a particularly sentimental person and I have photographs to commemorate special events and I don’t need to keep clothes I will not wear again.

So now I am shifting into this idea of curating, that is, selecting and caring for. Let’s think of the different seasons in the year. I think Sonoma County really has three seasons: warmish summers, cool spring and autumns, and coldish winters. So for each seasonal change, I go to my 70 item wardrobe and I curate a collection that I will focus on and enjoy for the coming season.  Without curating, I might dress each day from the 70 item pool, but I find that putting some things away and narrowing my focus, allows me to innovate and invent new combinations and gravitate toward different pieces. Also, putting things away means they will be exciting and fresh to pull out in another season and wear. And I am pleased to say that now that I am selecting clothing of a higher quality, it is worth storing and reintroducing clothing in another season. And, P.S., most of my purchases are from high-end used clothes stores.

In my old way of doing things, out of my jumbled closet, I usually had 2 or 3 favorite things that I ended up wearing over and over. Now I meander through my items over the year and really get around to wearing everything. A seasonal collection might end up being seven tops, five bottoms, five pairs of shoes, two or three pieces of outerwear and various accessories (such as my five purses that I use through all seasons).

That might sound like a small pool of clothing given that a season might last for 120 days, but it is really fine. Although I used to be a kind of pattern freak (I loved Japanese prints, ikat weaves, floral designs), I have found that to have a small, more functional wardrobe, I have come around to having very little pattern in my clothing.  The bulk of my pieces are monochromatic and about half of my pieces are neutrals. The patterns I do have tend to be small in scale so that if you step back, they read as monochromatic. And this means the combinations are almost infinite. In my current closet, I have much better choices each morning than when my closet was overflowing with less functional pieces. Also, I don’t mind repeating outfits many times in a season. I might wear a top 20 times in a season, but in different combinations so it is interesting to me. And so often I am with different people, so it’s only me that would know I wore this yesterday…and, really, I find people don’t really pay close attention to what you wear anyway. And as for me, the wearer, I feel good when I am in clothes that have a good drape for my form and colors that complement my complexion. I have found that I would rather wear an outfit that I feel great in many, many times, than rotate through a bigger number of outfits that are ill-fitting or uncomfortable.

When I make a collection (or you could also call it a capsule wardrobe), and hang it in my closet, it reminds my of shopping in a high-end boutique where you might find a rack with seven or eight pieces that coordinate and combine in different ways to make several outfits. Everything works together and you create variation through adding a subtracting within the group of items. So having the small group of items ups my creativity and makes me really understand what is functional within my lifestyle.

Once I have established my collection for the season, and I am cycling through those items, I use my time with those pieces to evaluate and maintain them. This would include mending, trimming threads, removing stains, going over it with a lint roller or sweater stone, altering if needed. This is when I might re-sole a pair of shoes. And if I find that something is beyond repair, then it goes on to it’s next destination: be it the gardening drawer, the donation pile or the rag bag.

For my summer collection, I know I need lightweight, short-sleeved clothing for the afternoons. But I will add a layer for the morning and evening when it might be more chilly. I have a lot of possibilities, because almost everything works with everything else. So this season will give me the opportunity to find new combinations invented from necessity. After I have the basics selected (tops, bottoms, shoes, outerwear), then I might create a few new malas (prayer necklaces) to pull things together (a red and turquoise pendant can really make visual sense out when wearing turquoise platform sandals to the red and black tank top).

When it gets down to making an outfit, I call on my internalized color wheel (thanks to my art school teacher who insisted we memorize the wheel and all the relationships between the colors) I love to use colors that pull against each other (for instance, red-turquoise). I love to add pop of color with an accessory (yellow ochre hobo bag), and I love to make outfits within harmonious color families (green, blue, sea green, turquoise). I love neutral outfits with one pop of color, or even two opposing pops of color (like a black outfit with green bracelet and a purple scarf). And the same white outfit feels totally different with the red handbag and amber colored sunglasses than it does with a calico red scarf and my yellow handbag. So as I pick my collection for the season, I am not necessarily going for matchy-matchy. I am interested in how things might fire up against each other and excite the eye.  I like the push the edge, but in a painterly way.

What’s in your closet?