4-Season Uniform

May 13, 2014 | Alex

I had to laugh when I stumbled upon a post by blogger Cup of Jo What Everyone in NYC is Wearing. I tried to guess before clicking the link. Black skinny jeans + an infinitesimally hip leather jacket? Flower-spangled chiffon numbers, in homage to spring? Nope.  According to Cup of Jo, every woman in NYC is wearing jeans + striped tee + army green jacket + white converse. Hmm. A quick glance down from the computer monitor confirms that, yes, that is precisely what I am wearing at that very moment. (Minus a green jacket, but I've been acutely pining for this Fjällräven No. 68 Jacket, technical enough to wear trekking but cute enough for bouncing around Brooklyn. You can bet I'd be wearing it right now if I had $600 burning a hole in my pocket.)

What everyone in NYC is wearing, as observed by Cup of Jo (right), and interpreted for this week's hotter temps (left). Images via Wool and the Gang. Right image via Pinterest.

What everyone in NYC is wearing, as observed by Cup of Jo (right), and interpreted for this week's hotter temps (left). Images via Wool and the Gang. Right image via Pinterest.

After years of a complicated, unnecessarily angst-filled relationship with clothing, I've recently synthesized my look into a formula that eliminates all icky feelings from the equation. (It may seem silly to have such a fraught relationship with clothes, but actually, I think it's quite common. Fashion is, after all, mired in questions of social identity, body consciousness and financial decision-making.) So even though it's a bit off-theme for an interior design blog, I'm so content with my strategy for sartorial nirvana that I can't resist sharing it. I think my stress-free approach to clothing has made me a happier person, period. Seeing a sparse, well-organized closet filled exclusively with items I like and wear often (as in, tri-weekly), makes me feel like a more confident, controlled and self-aware woman. I've removed buyers' remorse from my life, and I have more time to dedicate to creative outlets that energize, not vex, me.

My uniform for spring and fall. Scroll to bottom of post for complete list of sources.

My uniform for spring and fall. Scroll to bottom of post for complete list of sources.

I'm hardly the first person to discover the freedom that comes from relying on fewer articles of clothing. In July 2010, the New York Times penned an article called, "Shoppers on a 'Diet' Tame the Urge to Buy," about a handful of people who went 1 month wearing only 6 articles of clothing. My wardrobe is bigger than that, but could I slim down to 6 items/month? Absolutely. Minnesota-based fashion stylist Madelynn Hackwith Furlong has documented a her journey to create a more tightly edited and personal wardrobe on her Wide Eyed Legless. I think the success of Madelynn's blog speaks to a real social trend. Her readers, who may not have the time, discipline or financial resources to rebuild their own wardrobes from scratch, experience the delights of a minimalist wardrobe by following along with her journey.

Admittedly, it's not a strategy for everyone. Many women I know find great joy in shopping and the infinite variety of their wardrobes. I don't. I feel no great calling to be a fashion plate or step out in an original look. I just want to look attractive and presentable, but be comfortable. I imagine my attitude towards fashion is comparable to people who appreciate an excellent meal, but find grocery shopping and cooking to be onerous chores. And I want as little stuff as possible. Clutter makes my brain itchy.

My uniform for summer. Scroll to bottom of post for complete list of sources.

My uniform for summer. Scroll to bottom of post for complete list of sources.

So here's the formula I've landed on: I have a collection of virtually indistinguishable striped and solid tee shirts, plus a chambray shirt. I have two pairs of jeans (white + blue), a pair of army green chinos, a pair of black cords, and two pairs of denim shorts (white + blue). I have sneakers, rain/snow boots, ankle boots (black + tan) and sandals (black + tan), both low and chunky-heeled enough for walking long distances. In the summer, I wear espadrilles around the pool or beach. I have a few sweaters: one turtleneck, three cardigans (black + navy + ivory) and a couple slouchy pullovers. I have three dresses, that can be worn during the day with sneakers or at night with heels. I have a kånken, in which I schlep the contents of my office on my back. I also have a limited number of seasonal accessories, like gloves, scarves and hats.

My uniform for winter. Scroll to bottom of post for complete list of sources.

My uniform for winter. Scroll to bottom of post for complete list of sources.

There are guiding principles too. All new purchases must be highly durable and well-fitting, no alterations required. With the exception of something seasonal, like a bikini, items should be multi-purpose. For example, jackets must be designed to stand up to outdoor adventures, but flattering enough to wear around town. (This is where my devotion to Fjällräven began, long before Polar.) Anything with an irreparable sign of wear-and-tear must be instantaneously thrown away. There is no room for stained, torn, or otherwise unwearable things in my tiny closet. Likewise, anything I don't find myself wearing must be donated or passed on to a friend without delay and without allowing nagging second thoughts.

My basic seasonal uniform is casual. I spend the majority of my days sitting in a WiFi-enabled coffee shop working on my laptop, or running around NYC doing product research, collecting or returning samples and making purchases for clients. (If you see someone carrying a chair on the subway, there's a pretty good chance it's me.) On rare occasions, however, I do have to dress like a professional creature. So as a work supplement to my wardrobe, I have two pairs of trousers (one slouchy + one skinny fit) and two blazers (one traditional + one collarless) and a small selection of silk blouses. My sweaters and shoes do double-duty for work and recreation, although I have one pair of flat mildly weird loafers that are designated work shoes.

The only possible hole in my work wardrobe is a tote bag. Right now, I bring my Kånken to client meetings because it has a laptop pocket, a boxy shape that can accommodate larger format drawings, and it distributes the (typically substantial) weight of what I'm carrying on my shoulders more evenly than a tote. But I begrudgingly recognize that there are situations in which a backpack is not appropriate. I think a more sophisticated, but still large and square, leather tote by Love-Dart would do nicely for such situations!

A supplement to my SSFW wardrobe, when work requires it. Scroll to bottom of post for complete list of sources.

A supplement to my SSFW wardrobe, when work requires it. Scroll to bottom of post for complete list of sources.

The achilles heel to this strategy is that my clothing wears out quickly. If you're considering adopting a similarly minimalist approach, I recommend you first track down an ace shoe-repair man and dry-cleaner that offers repair services. (Another of the reasons I'm a big fan of buying Fjällräven is that they have an in-store tailor at the SoHo flagship for technical repairs, especially useful when your repair requires spare parts.) I've also had to swear off the dryer for everything but work-out clothes, to ensure a longer lifespan. Once a week on laundry day, my bathroom converts into a 1-room drying rack. And occasionally spills into the living room...

The other issue to contend with is sticker shock. When you insist on high quality, long-lasting goods, you have to screw up the courage (and cash flow) to drop large sums at a time. I've run the numbers. And I know that I ultimately spend less money on clothing when I employ this strategy. Particularly on an amortized basis, but even net. That doesn't, however, make it any easier to get my credit card bill on a month when I've had to replace a staple item. I also have to budget for semi-annual visits to "the miracle man", my beloved shoe repairman, and semi-frequent trips to the dry cleaner. 

It may seem like a small thing, but this uniform has brought me a great deal of serenity lately. And, interestingly, I think it's quite closely related to my philosophical approach to design. It's minimalist and it's utility-driven. Aesthetically, it's in a restrained and consistent palette, with impact stemming from structural elements and the quality of the materials. I guess that's why it feels so right. So, tell me, would you ever adopt a similarly draconian strategy?

Sources

spring/fall

  1. The Legging Jean, AG Jeans - $168-220
  2. Ovik Melange Beanie, Fjällräven* - $30
  3. Judithe Dress - Cobalt Multi, Steven Alan (mine is actually the Red Multi, same style + print.)*
  4. Tonasa Striped Cotton Terry Tee, Calypso St. Barth - $129
  5. Classic Kånken - Forest Green, Fjällräven - $75
  6. Votan Leather Wooden Heel Sandal, Coclico - $146*
  7. Rachel Comey Mars Boot, via Piperlime - $395 (I wait to purchase mine out of season, on sale.)
  8. Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star Sneakers, via JC Penney - $45
  9. No. 68 Jacket, Fjällräven - $600

summer

  1. The Premiere Jean - White, AG Jeans - $165
  2. Steven Alan Dagney Sweatshirt, via La Garconne - $198
  3. Jean Tank Top, Fjällräven - $45 (I don't own this yet, but since it's on sale at the SoHo store for $30, I think I'll pick one up this week. Because it's a tencel/wool blend, I can wear it for trekking but it's also flattering enough to wear with jean shorts at the beach. Multi-purpose is key!)
  4. Isabel Marant Etoile Daryl Dress, via Barneys*
  5. Chambray Cargo Shirt, Madwell - $75
  6. Classic Kånken - Forest Green, Fjällräven - $75
  7. Votan Leather Wooden Heel Sandal, Coclico - $146*
  8. Low Cut Raffia Espadrilles, Soludos*
  9. Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star Sneakers, via JC Penney - $45
  10. Denim Short, J. Crew - $79.50

winter

  1. Stilt Cord, AG Jeans - $172
  2. Ovik Melange Beanie, Fjällräven* - $30
  3. Ovik Roll Neck Sweater, Fjällräven - $180
  4. Nuuk Parka, Fjällräven - $500 (Pricey, yes, but absolutely worth the investment. My Nuuk got me comfortably through NYC's miserable winter, and three of my friends were so envious of my coat that they bought a Nuuk for themselves.)
  5. 10" Sherling-Lined Bean Boots, LL Bean - $179
  6. Classic Kånken - Forest Green, Fjällräven - $75
  7. Rachel Comey Mars Boot, via Piperlime - $395
  8. HeatTeach Touchscreen Gloves, Uniqlo and Cashmere Infinity Scarf, J. Crew*
  9. Striped Swing Tee, Demylee*

work

  1. Drapey Drawstring Pant, J. Crew - $98
  2. Cashmere Infinity Scarf, J. Crew*
  3. Rag & Bone Adrienne Sweater, via La Garconne - $203
  4. Lanai Blazer, Theory - $375
  5. Blue Pointed Slipper, Zara*
  6. Rachel Comey Mars Boot, via Piperlime - $395
  7. Silk Bloussana Tunic, J. Crew*

* Because I aim to reflect the contents of my wardrobe accurately, many of these items are no longer available. In a few cases, I've presented an article of clothing in a colorway other than the one I own-- here's hoping my friends reading this will allow me a little artistic license.