I first took on minimalist fashion challenge Project 333 in April 2013. It took me literally days to select my capsule wardrobe and I was riddled with intense anxiety as to whether I could actually dress with only 33 items for three whole months. I even modified the rules of the challenge to make it easier for me, only counting clothing pieces and allowing myself carte blanche to wear as many shoes and accessories as I desired. That helped somewhat, but I still made a number of swaps along the way and felt both emotionally and sartorially challenged by the process of dressing with less.
While Project 333 wasn’t even close to being easy for me, it did force me to grow. I learned a great deal about myself and my wardrobe through the process, including the valuable lesson that I don’t need nearly as many clothes as I always believed were necessary. I managed to pare down my wardrobe by close to 100 pieces during my first stint of Project 333 and I liked far more of my outfits than in the months leading up to the challenge.
Round Two – January 2014
I took on Project 333 a second time at the beginning of this year. Again, I made a few modifications to suit my personal needs. While I opted to include shoes in my wardrobe capsule in my second go-around, I shortened the time frame from three months to two. My reason for that was to lessen boredom while still learning more about what I enjoy wearing, my clothing needs, and my evolving personal style.
It’s worth noting that I selected my 33 items for this past January and February within thirty minutes, in sharp contrast to the numerous hours that process occupied the previous April. Since I had pared down my closet contents by approximately half since I first took on Project 333 – and learned a lot more about myself and my wardrobe, it was surprisingly simple for me to select what I would wear for the first two months of the year. I still made a few swaps, but overall my second Project 333 stint went exponentially smoother than my maiden voyage with fashion minimalism.
Shifting to a Different Sartorial Approach
Fast-forward six months. While I haven’t been officially participating in Project 333 since the end of February, I have continued to track what I wear each month (I’ve been doing this since my first Project 333 experience). I keep a list of all of the clothing pieces and shoes I don during each given month and report the numbers in my monthly accountability updates. I have seen a general decrease in those numbers, but I didn’t really make that much of it. I figured I was gradually winnowing down the size of my closet and wasn’t all that surprised to see that I was wearing fewer items as a result.
But last month, I decided to take a somewhat different approach to getting dressed each day. Rather than pushing myself to wear everything in my closet and reduce the number of wardrobe “benchwarmers” I own, I’ve simply been wearing what I feel most “called” to wear. I started this as a result of feeling uninspired by my wardrobe and experiencing the follow-on temptation to shop more. Deep down, I knew I had a number of wardrobe pieces that I liked quite a bit, so I just allowed myself to wear those items – without guilt.
In addition, I started journaling about my outfits (an update on that soon), noting what I wore, where I went, and how I felt about the way I was dressed and its appropriateness for the situation. I can’t recommend this process highly enough, as I’ve learned a tremendous amount from it and have mostly ended up wearing outfits that were at least an “8” on a scale of one to ten as a result. While I haven’t followed all aspects of the “cunning plan” (outlined at the end of this post) I created to address my style ennui (I shopped too much in July, for one), I have still benefitted greatly from taking a different tack with my closet.
Unintentional Project 333
But back to Project 333… As I looked at the list of what I’ve worn during August, I noticed that I’ve basically been following Project 333 without even trying to do so! As of today, I’ve worn 25 garments and six pairs of shoes this month, which adds up to 31 items total. Since the month is almost over, I think it’s safe to say that I could easily get through all of August wearing just 33 pieces. But the most incredible thing is that I wasn’t even trying to limit how many items I wore! I have just naturally evolved over time into a person who dresses with less.
Yes, we’re only talking about one month here instead of three, but I believe I could wear the same 31 items I’ve worn during August for the next two months as well. Since summer starts and ends late where I live, I’m certain that I could wear the same outfits (most of which I loved) through the end of October and be dressed appropriately and happily for all of the occasions in my life. I won’t necessarily do this, but I easily could if I wanted to.
True, I haven’t included accessories in the mix, but that rule for the challenge never really jibed well with me anyway. Although I have pared down my jewelry and scarf collections quite a bit since I first took on Project 333, I enjoy having the freedom to vary my accessories as much as I want. I definitely don’t fault those who do opt to limit that area of their wardrobe as well, but I don’t feel that need to do so for myself.
How Did This Happen?
I think my dressing with fewer items can be attributed to better understanding my style and becoming increasingly selective about what I wear. I have also become a lot more ruthless about purging pieces that don’t make me feel fabulous when I wear them. I still have some pangs of guilt about letting things go, but I don’t let such feelings stop me as much as I used to. I realize that I feel much happier going about the business of my life when I am wearing clothes that make me smile. Life is too short to wear anything in which we feel frumpy, unattractive, old, and uninspired!
So what were these 31 items that I loved wearing during the month of August? They are all shown in the images below (separated out into tops/toppers, skirts/dresses, and shoes), but here’s a list to help make things clearer:
- 6 dresses (black maxi, b/w stripe maxi, cobalt, brown leopard print, white/grey leopard print, navy embellished)
- 7 skirts (black maxi, black knee-length, black seamed, b/w print, cobalt maxi, coral/black stripe, zigzag stripe)
- 6 tops (black sequin tank, black ruffle top, burgundy tank, floral tank, striped tank, teal tank)
- 2 cardigans (black tie-front, cobalt)
- 4 jackets (black/grey moto, b/w striped knit blazer, denim blazer, orange knit blazer)
- 6 pairs of sandals (black/cream heels, black low wedges, pewter low wedges, metallic flats, leopard print wedges, silver low wedges)
While I have other summer closet favorites that I haven’t worn during August, the photos above show some of my most loved items for this season (I rarely wear pants in warmer weather). I feel great in all of these pieces, which is why I reached for them when I wasn’t trying to push myself to wear everything I own. Sure, there is some duplication among the items I wore – 3 black skirts, 3 pairs of metallic sandals, etc., but I feel like the capsule I unintentionally created allows me to easily put together a wide variety of outfit options. I definitely did not exhaust all of the possible combinations during August.
The Power of Project 333 Principles
What’s the moral of this story? Once you do Project 333, the principles stay with you and guide you even when you’re not consciously focusing upon them. Here’s a short list of the “dress with less” values that are increasingly governing the way I shop and get dressed a year and a half after I decided to feel the fear and do it anyway with Project 333:
- You don’t need a large wardrobe to be stylish. In fact, dressing with less often leads to better outfits and increased style satisfaction.
- Wear what you love! If you feel good in what you’re wearing, you’re less likely to want to buy more. In fact, a good practice is to wear your favorite clothes when you shop and only buy things you like at least as much as what you have on.
- Aim for quality over quantity. If you’re wearing the same pieces over and over again, they will quickly wear out if they aren’t made well. Invest in higher quality staples that will serve you well for multiple seasons.
- Dress appropriately for your lifestyle. Even if you work in an office, have diverse hobbies and life activities, and live in an unpredictable climate, you can still dress well with 33 items or less. I’m lucky in that I live in a temperate area, but I know of other women (like the creator of the challenge, who lives in Salt Lake City) who have successfully dressed with less in cities with more variable weather.
- Select a narrow and cohesive color palette. This practice will allow for increased mix-and-match potential and more mileage out of your wardrobe overall. If I were selecting my Project 333 wardrobe intentionally, I probably would choose fewer black pieces than what is pictured above, but black is my key neutral and I love wearing it.
I’m sure there are more principles that are now part of my sartorial psyche, but the list above is a good representation. I know that some of you would never take on something like Project 333 – and that’s okay. But if you are intrigued by the challenge but fear you’d never be able to do it, perhaps you might want to think again. I truly believe that if I can do it, anyone can!
Project 333 Inspiration
If you want to dip your toe in the water, here are a few of my past posts that you can check out for information and inspiration:
- “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” – My guest post on the Project 333 blog about my four big fears around doing the challenge and how I chose to address them
- “Off and Running with Project 333” – My initial selection process for Project 333: how I did it and what I chose.
- “My Top 8 Lessons from Project 333” – The key things I learned after my first Project 333 experience.
- “Project 333 Round Two Recap” – A review of my experience with my second Project 333 term: on swaps, capsule wardrobes, quality, and favorite outfits.
The “Dress with Less” Microcourse
You may want to also invest in the “Dress with Less” microcourse created by Courtney Carver, the founder of Project 333. This comprehensive and low-cost course really goes a long way in preparing you to take on dressing with less. It’s a week long and includes the following:
- 10 Lessons
- Project 333 Worksheet (to make your list)
- 4 Audio Recordings
- Recorded Q&A Webinar
- 2 Awesome Music Playlists (to inspire you as you go through the process)
- Option Access to a Private Facebook Group (where you can ask questions and interact with others who are doing the challenge)
I took this course prior to starting Project 333 and found it very informative, helpful, and supportive. I highly recommend it!
I’m not sure whether or not I will officially take on the Project 333 challenge again. I love that the principles of Project 333 have become more and more ingrained in me over time, and I’m happy that the challenge is there for me whenever I need it. If I find myself continuously clamoring for more or increasingly gravitating toward quantity over quality, I know that Project 333 would help steer me back in the right direction. I definitely want to dress with less – and I’m doing it – but I don’t wish to hold myself to prescribed limits at this time.
Limits and challenges have served me well, but I’m really trying to move more toward simplicity and joy (my theme for 2014) and doing what’s best for myself and my life without having to “legislate” my behavior. I strongly believe that there are reasons and seasons for what we do in our lives. After a long season (with lots of compelling reasons) of being all about rules and limits, I feel drawn toward giving myself more freedom to do what’s best for me in the moment. I have gradually evolved to this state of mind – and it’s possible that I may not yet be ready for it, but I want to give it a try.
While I haven’t decided yet how I will approach my wardrobe and shopping in 2015, I’m leaning toward fewer rules and restrictions and a greater focus on building a full life for myself. I have been wrapped up in shopping and clothes for far too long, and much of it has been a way to avoid other areas of my life that are uncomfortable to address.
I now feel much more courage to walk along the road less traveled and forge a more compelling future for myself. Project 333 played a very important role in my evolution and I will always be grateful for that. It’s highly possible that it will continue to become a way of life for me without even trying. That kind of effortless flow is what I want to create more of in my life at large. Now that’s simplicity and joy at its finest!
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