The following is a guest post from Erin DePew (see her two previous guest posts HERE and HERE). Erin is a web developer and graphic designer who happens to love shoes almost as much as “hackathons.” She also enjoys musing on minimalism, client-side scripting, and the pursuit of the perfect pumps.
If you have an idea for a guest post on “Recovering Shopaholic,” please connect with me to share your thoughts.
I love reading about style challenges. I think that they can be a great way to push us outside of our stylistic comfort zones and reveal a lot about our relationship with our wardrobes. While I have really enjoyed reading about Debbie’s experience with Project 333, I decided that the “Five Piece French Wardrobe” was a little more my speed.
Basically, the Five Piece French Wardrobe (or FPFW for short) is an experiment where you are allowed to buy as many classic pieces and reasonably priced accessories as you want, but you can only buy five trendy or statement pieces per fashion season (fall/winter and spring/summer).
The Five Piece French Wardrobe Rules
The rules are simple:
- Fabric and quality is more important than quantity.
- Basics don’t count (basic tees are always allowed).
- Accessories don’t count, except if they cost a lot more than usual.
- Socks and underwear don’t count; the rest does.
- Shoes do count.
If you are interested in a more detailed explanation, I enjoyed reading through this Reddit thread.
As with any wardrobe experiment, there are pros and cons. I really enjoyed the process and will continue to participate for another year, but I can see how this experiment would not be a good fit for some people.
The “Cons” of the Five Piece French Wardrobe
So let’s get the cons out of the way first, shall we?
Con #1 – It requires a good foundation of basics.
This is definitely not a challenge I would recommend for people who are just starting to build a wardrobe. The expectation is that the person already has a solid foundation of basics, and that they just want to add a little something to stay current and replace their basics as they wear out. If I didn’t already have a good selection of classic pieces, this experiment would have quickly become incredibly frustrating, since I wouldn’t have anything to pair with my trendy pieces – or I would be spending more money than I’m comfortable with on updating my basics during the challenge.
Con #2 – It requires a defined sense of style and limits experimentation.
While this is a major drawback for some people, this is actually one of the reasons why I liked this experiment. I like reading magazines, going through my Pinterest, browsing stores, and then sitting down at the beginning of each season and picking my five “must-haves.” However, I love structure and checking off lists, and I already have a very defined sense of style, so I never felt like I was missing out. If you’re still defining your style or are a person who likes to try out lots of different trends, this experiment might feel too limiting.
Con #3 – The rules are very vague.
The other drawback is that this experiment requires a lot of self-discipline. If you are adept at justifying purchases to yourself, the fact that classics and accessories get a free pass might be an issue. It’s amazing what you can justify as a classic or an accessory when you’re out shopping with friends and you just really want to buy something. I definitely had to restrain myself from binging on scarves at about month three.
Con #4 – It might be boring for fashion lovers.
This complaint is similar to the lack of experimentation. If you’re someone who uses fashion as a form of self-expression, you might find this style of dressing very boring, unless you get really creative with your definition of “classic.” I personally have a very basic style, and I’m perfectly happy in jeans, button-downs, and jersey dresses day after day. But for all of my lovely “maximalist” ladies, the focus on traditional classics and limiting yourself to only five trendy pieces could become stifling. On the other hand, perhaps it would be a good palate cleanser to try out this experiment for a season or two if you are on the trendier side.
The Benefits of the FPFW Challenge
Overall, I really liked the Five Piece French Wardrobe process, and it does have some great benefits:
Benefit #1 – It naturally creates a trend-proof closet.
While some might find the focus on classics boring, this challenge does help people move away from a trend-based closet toward a classic wardrobe that doesn’t need to be replaced every season. I’m a huge fan of anything that allows me to shop less and still look stylish. Also, for us classic gals, it pushes us to spend money on things that aren’t another navy crewneck sweater or pair of black skinny jeans. I always feel a little guilty buying something that’s not a classic, so this experiment allowed me to buy a few trendy things guilt-free, even if my idea of “trendy” is a pair of Swedish Hasbeens.
Benefit #2 – It allows splurges on statement pieces and classics.
I might be a little biased here, since this is how I naturally shop, but I like to spend my money on classics and every once in a while on a statement piece. I expect to wear my statement pieces into the ground that given season and my classics for quite a few years. This wardrobe challenge definitely pushes people into that type of budgeting, and if you were spending a large amount of money on trendy pieces before, you will find that you have a lot of cash left over to update your basics (or even sock away into your savings!).
Benefit #3 – The guidelines are adaptable.
If you check out other people’s FPFW experiments, you will see that this challenge is easily adapted for a wide range of situations. It can fit almost any type of budget, lifestyle, and personal style. You can also make the rules as stringent (or not) as you want. For example, I disagreed with the list of suggested basics or the idea that your pieces couldn’t be discounted or second-hand, so I just adapted it to my lifestyle and needs. For certain personality types, the flexibility and vague rules are an issue, but for others, it’s a huge positive.
The Bottom Line – It’s Worth a Try!
So if you’re past the discovery stage of personal style, have a solid foundation of basics, like restrictions and planning, and have an already pretty classic style, I would say this is a great experiment to try. And if you don’t fit any of those criteria, I would still say it’s worth a try. The process might grow on you after a season or two. Even if you decide to go back to your old method of shopping, you will definitely learn something about yourself and your relationship with clothing, which is the whole point of taking on these challenges.
An Example – My Five Piece French Wardrobe
While of course your FPFW might look much different than mine, I thought it would be helpful to show what I purchased over the past year.
As you can see, my pieces are on the trendier side and are easily mixed in with my basics to update my outfits. I also learned during this experiment that I have a serious weakness for shoes, but that’s neither here nor there.
While I consider these pieces to be trendy, everyone’s style is different, so some of you might consider these your basics! Another note is that while this is the five piece French wardrobe experiment, I never did complete either of my lists, and I don’t consider that a bad thing. Part of the experiment is learning to value quality over quantity, and to never settle for less. Sometimes I just never found that perfect piece and that’s okay.