I recently received an email from a reader, who commented that many of the clothes she’s seen in my accountability posts seem very “practical.” She wondered if I had any garments that I feel are “pretty” or which make me smile when I look at myself in the mirror. Although I responded to this reader privately, I decided this would also be a good topic for a post. I often get some of my best post ideas from the comments and emails I receive from readers. Your feedback can bring forth insights I would not have otherwise had, and I love the synergy created through our collective pondering.
Today’s post explores the “happy factor” relating to our clothes, as well as the issue of balance in our wardrobes between practical items and pieces that warm our hearts and bring smiles to our faces. I know I’ve struggled a lot in achieving such balance and I suspect that many of you have as well. It’s my hope that the insights and questions I share in this post will help bring enhanced clarity for both you and me. As always, I welcome your thoughts on this topic. Who knows, another post may arise from what you share!
My Sartorial History in Brief
For many years, practicality didn’t enter my mind at all when I was shopping for clothing, shoes, and accessories. I was like a virtual magpie in that I gravitated to anything that was bright and shiny and knocked my sartorial socks off. I didn’t care if a pair of shoes was comfortable or not. If it was pretty and unique, I was “all in.” The same was true for clothing. I loved all sorts of colors and patterns and was always looking for something special and different that no one else had. I was definitely an individual when it came to the way I dressed and I didn’t care a whit whether what I liked was “in” or not. I just cared about whether or not I loved it.
Of course, there are problems inherent to that type of shopping and I soon found myself with a very “schizophrenic” wardrobe. I ended up with lots of orphaned pieces that didn’t really mix well with anything else in my closet. I also wasn’t able to put together appropriate outfits for some critical life occasions and I struggled to get dressed for more serious events. My wardrobe was undeniably creative and artistic, but it didn’t always work well for my real life. In fact, I sometimes avoided social events because “I didn’t have anything to wear” despite my packed closet (yes, a large wardrobe has been a constant for me for as long as I can remember).
Coming Up on 40 Sparked a Change in Me
As I inched closer to the big 4-0, I began to care more about practicality and appropriateness in terms of how I dressed. The bohemian style of my younger years no longer felt right to me and I started to crave a more sophisticated and mature image. That’s when I started watching “What Not to Wear” and reading style books and worked with an image consultant to pare down my wardrobe and cultivate a new look. I made a lot of changes and my style gradually evolved over the next several years.
Of course, I continued to shop too much and buy far too many new items. One difference, however, was that I stopped listening to my inner style muse and started paying more attention to “experts,” trends, and fashion edicts. I bought lots of things I didn’t really love but were what I thought I should be wearing for my age and body shape, as well as whatever job or career I had at the time. I also focused too much on how much things cost and adhered to a “more is more” philosophy that stuffed my closet with lots of good but not great pieces.
Enter the “Recovering Shopaholic” Project
This year, I’ve been making a strong effort to turn things around. I’ve been focusing on buying less (yes, I know it’s still too much, though!), filling real closet needs, and building a wardrobe that I can count on. As such, I’ve geared my shopping more toward “practical” pieces than I did in the past.
Sure, I’ve still purchased a few whimsical items over the months, but a large portion of the garments I’ve bought have been “basics” for defined lifestyle needs. I considered the shift to be a step in the right direction, as I was no longer shopping as haphazardly. Instead, I was mostly shopping with a list and with target purchases in mind.
A Balance between Practicality and the “Love Factor”
But when the comment and question came in from my reader, I had to stop for a moment to consider the present state of my wardrobe. How many of the pieces in my closet do I truly love? How many bring a smile to my face when I put them on? In truth, not enough! Although I end up liking or even loving many of my outfits, I am not enthralled with that many of the individual components of those ensembles.
I don’t believe we need to unequivocally love every single item in our closets and there is nothing wrong with buying practical items, yet I do feel that a certain percentage of our wardrobes should consist of things that make us smile. That percentage will vary from person to person based upon a number of factors, including lifestyle and how much the person enjoys clothing and style.
Is My Wardrobe Balanced?
As I am a person with a flexible lifestyle (i.e. no need to wear a uniform or follow a corporate dress code) and a deep love of all things sartorial, the “love percentage” should probably be on the higher side. For those who view clothes merely as necessities for covering their bodies and being “acceptable” in society, the need to feel love for their garments is much lower.
I love color, prints, patterns, textures, and shine, and all of these things bring a smile to my face. Yet, when I look in my closet today, I don’t see a whole lot of some of these elements. My warm weather wardrobe is much “happier” and the love factor is higher. That’s because summer is my favorite season and I enjoy shopping for warm weather clothes. Bright colors and fun patterns are easy to come by that time of year and I see these characteristics being reflected in my wardrobe.
However, the cold weather section of my closet is a bit more somber, save for my few vibrant colored coats (which I adore). Since I tend toward a gloomier mood during the winter anyway, what with the colder weather and shorter days, I could use a bit of a “pick-me-up” from my clothing.
Striking a Balance When Shopping
This realization does not give me carte blanche to shop with reckless abandon. Rather, it’s more of a way to point me in the right direction for the targeted shopping I do in the coming months. It would serve me well to pick up a few fun cold weather garments that make me smile – and then wear those items to death until the warm weather comes along. At that time, I can “shop my closet” to put together lively summer ensembles based upon the “happy” pieces I already own.
It’s difficult to strike the proper balance between practical shopping and fun shopping. Often when we’re trying to change, we allow the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction. I’ve seen this happen with passive friends and relatives who are trying to be more assertive and end up becoming out and out aggressive for a time. It’s human nature to overreach our marks when navigating powerful life changes.
It’s no different with shopping and clothing. We try to “be good” and buy for needs instead of wants, but the end result may be a rather staid wardrobe filled primarily with bland, solid basics. While this may be better than our prior haphazard buying, it’s still not the ideal for many of us, yet it’s understandable that such a phenomenon may occur.
Questions to Ask Ourselves
If you have fallen into a situation similar to what I described, a bit of “course correction” may be in order. But first, a brief peek into your closet can paint a clear picture of the current state of affairs. Look at your wardrobe and ask yourself the following:
- How many of my clothes do I truly love?
- Which items bring a smile to my face when I wear them?
- Do I wear these pieces often and enjoy them?
- What percentage of my wardrobe is an “8” or higher on a scale of 1-10?
A word about the last question… Some garments may be “8”s or even “9”s but still aren’t pieces that make you smile. These items may fit you impeccably, adhere perfectly to your lifestyle, and be in a color that suits your complexion. They may look great on your figure, enhance your favorite features, and play down what you consider to be your flaws. However, they may be such basic items that they may not excite you in any way. That’s fine, as we all need a good cross-section of stable, reliable basics, as long as that’s not all we have.
If you find that your wardrobe is a bit “snoozeville,” so to speak, here are a few tips to turn things around.
- Determine what makes you smile – Look at the pieces you have that do bring a smile to your face. What do these items have in common? Is it a particular color, pattern, or texture? You may want to add a few similar such pieces to your closet. But don’t go hog wild! I love stripes, but I ended up with a bit of “stripes overload” by following that muse a bit too exclusively. Stick with just a few pieces in any given category.
- Find some inspiration – Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know. It’s helpful to look around and find inspiration from a variety of sources. Peruse magazines and catalogs and tear out pages that excite you in any way. Also consider online sources such as Pinterest. Create an inspiration bulletin board (real or virtual) or a style folder. Determine a few areas of common ground among your inspirational images. Perhaps it’s a particular shape or style or maybe a color or type of accessory that floats your boat.
- Buy one piece at a time – I’m a shopaholic, as are many of my readers. We have to be careful not to infiltrate our wardrobes with too many new items at any given time. Not only can such activity be hard on our bottom line, it can also lead to a wardrobe that is too one-note and uninspired. There definitely can be too much of a good thing! So buy one “happy” piece at a time and start incorporating it into your outfits. Wear each new item at least a few times before venturing out to buy another special new piece.
- Follow your own muse – Take inspiration from others but cultivate your own defined sense of style. Trends can be fun, but they can also make us veer off track from who we truly are. Don’t follow trends blindly; instead look within and ask yourself which of the current trends inspire you. If you love the color of the moment (for 2014, “radiant orchid” will be all the rage), by all means wear it. If you find it ho-hum or dreadful, then stay away. Learning to trust your own inner voice is instrumental to bringing more style-related happiness into your life.
These are just a few ideas and I intend to take my own advice. I will aim to buy a few new pieces that makes me smile over the next couple of months. This will help to infuse some much-needed life into my cold weather wardrobe. I will also shop the accessories portion of my closet to see what I already have that can up the happy quotient of what I wear.
Over to You…
Now that you’ve read my thoughts on the topic of the clothes that make us happy, I’d love to get your insights. Do you have a lot of clothes that make you smile? Is this something that matters to you? Why or why not? Whatever you’d like to share, as long as it’s respectful, I’d love to “hear” it.
Also, if you have any suggestions for future post topics, I’d love to get those as well. Although I have a long list of potential post ideas, I often write about whatever’s on my mind when I sit down to write. This isn’t the first time I’ve been inspired by a reader’s question or idea and I know it won’t be the last. Feel free to add your ideas to the mix!