Last month, I did a post on wardrobe turnover in which I looked at how old the various items in my closet are. I learned that roughly half of the pieces in my closet were purchased in 2013 or later, another 34% were bought during 2010 through 2012, and the remaining 17% were from 2009 or earlier. In the comments section, a few readers were curious about some of my older items. They wanted to know what they had in common and what characteristics led them to remain in my closet for so long.
In today’s post, I share photos and information about some of my older closet pieces and I look at what has my favorites remain go-to items for years on end. The information in this post is very personal to my wardrobe, but I encourage you to take on this exercise with your own clothes, shoes, and accessories. What pieces do you own that have stood the test of time – and why? It is my hope that some of the lessons I learned from doing this exercise will also be applicable to you even if our wardrobes and lifestyles are very different.
Items from 2011 and Earlier
I started this exercise by taking a look at all of the garments, shoes, and purses that have been in my closet since 2011 or earlier. I excluded a handful of “on the fence” items that may soon be on their way out and counted up everything that remained, those things that I still really like and wear. I was left with 44 garments, 10 pairs of shoes, and 3 purses that I’ve owned since before 2012. Here’s a quick look at those items:
What are the common elements you see among the above items? Here’s what I see as some of the distinguishing characteristics in brief (I will delve a bit deeper later in the post):
- Jewel tones
- Cotton/natural fibers
- Long, fitted coats
- Short, fitted blazers (mostly in knits)
- Henley style tops (many of them waffle knits)
- Short, fitted tanks
- Black shoes, boots, and bags
- Metallic shoes and bags
Many of the above elements were also mentioned in my recent post on my 2015 cool weather favorites. Interestingly, there aren’t many striped pieces among my pre-2012 items (only three). I guess my strong penchant for stripes originated in 2012 or later (which is surprising, as it seems like I’ve liked stripes forever…). I used to like animal prints quite a bit, but I’ve moved away from them and toward stripes in recent years. You can still see some leopard print among the items above, but I haven’t purchased anything in that print in quite a while now.
I have also refined my color palette substantially, such that I only own a few items outside of that palette these days. The orange knit blazer, yellow tank top, and brown tone leopard print dress are really all that remains in terms of colors outside of my current palette.
Now let’s take a look at what has been in my closet since prior to 2010. The numbers are a lot smaller: just 19 garments, three pairs of shoes, and two handbags, as pictured below:
You still see many of the common elements mentioned above, including black, jewel tones, knits, long coats, and short fitted tanks. As you can see, four of my leopard print items were purchased prior to 2010, so that really is a legacy preference of mine. There are also two floral print pieces in the mix. I haven’t purchased any floral prints in a long time, as that print seems too “girly” for my current style. However, I still like those two remaining tops and enjoy wearing them.
I don’t think most people either go on or off a particular style overnight. Rather, it is usually more of a gradual progression toward or away from a certain aesthetic. This is easier to do if we don’t go crazy and buy too much of any style, color, or shape within a short timeframe. Being the shopaholic that I was for many years, I’m sure I had a number of leopard and floral print pieces that I ended up culling from my wardrobe without their having been worn all that often.
When we find a new style that strikes our fancy, it’s far better to start with just one or two pieces and give ourselves a chance to determine if we truly love them. I now believe it’s preferable to have less and to wear what we have regularly than to overstock and end up with a bunch of wardrobe “benchwarmers.” I am no longer a fan of the “more is more” philosophy and am now a much bigger proponent of less is more.
What I Own from Before 2008
If I look back at before 2008, there are only five remaining items in my closet:
- 1 pair of shoes
- 1 cardigan
- 1 dress
- 1 coat
- 1 tank top
Here’s a photo of those five items:
As you can see, two of the leopard print pieces date back to before 2008. I purchased the cardigan in the fall of 2006 and the dress in the summer of 2007. I still love both of these items, but as I mentioned earlier, I don’t feel compelled to buy any new items in animal prints.
The black peep-toe shoes are in dire need of replacement, as they are getting worn out and are starting to hurt my feet (my feet have grown fussier over the years). The purple coat is still a favorite, but I would like to find a new coat in that hue this coming fall/winter because it’s starting to get a bit “tired.” As for the white tank, I still like it, but I am moving away from embellished pieces and would like to find a plain white tank or one with other interesting details (asymmetry perhaps?) to replace it.
Wardrobe “All-Stars” from 2011 and Earlier
Not all of the pieces shown above could be considered wardrobe “all-stars,” those items that I reach for again and again and really love to wear. So to derive the maximum value from this exercise, I decided to separate my true favorites out from the mix.
Let’s look at the clothing first. The 27 garments shown below are my favorite items from 2011 and earlier:
While it was valuable to look at the common elements of my long-standing closet pieces as a whole, it’s even more worthwhile to consider my favorite items from years past. What is it about these items that has had them stay in my wardrobe for so many years? Here’s what I view as the defining characteristics of the above “all-stars” from 2011 and earlier:
- Black – Five of the 27 items are black. Black has been my key neutral for as long as I can remember and my black pieces get worn often.
- Knits – Twenty-one of my longtime “all-stars” are knits. Knits work well for my casual lifestyle and desire for comfort. They are also easy to care for, which is important to me.
- Solids rather than prints – Only seven of the items above include a print and several of those prints are quite subtle. I tend to tire of prints more often (although stripes are still going strong for me after quite a few years), whereas solid pieces are more likely to stand the test of time.
- Burgundy/purple/fuchsia – These tones continue to be favorites of mine and look good with my coloring. Six of the garments shown above are burgundy, purple, or fuchsia toned.
- Blue/teal/green – I am also a big fan of these colors and 5 of my old-time favorites are blue, teal, or green.
- Leopard print – While I mentioned moving away from animal prints as a preference, I still really like the three pieces above that have been in my closet since 2011 or earlier.
- Open cardigans – This is also a style that I’m not as passionate about as I used to be, but my new love of slimmer fit jeans has had me warm up to open cardigans once again. I like the way they look with my straight leg jeans and boots. There are three open cardigans among my long-standing closet favorites.
- Long coats/jackets – I continue to love the fitted, long coats and jackets that I started buying back in 2007. There are five such pieces included among my wardrobe workhorses from earlier years.
- Short, fitted tank tops – While I want to purchase a few more fluid fitting tank tops this year, I still like the short, fitted tank tops that I’ve worn for years. The four shown above still get worn regularly during the summer months.
- Knee-length A-line dresses – I have been wearing maxi-dresses more often beginning last year, but I still really like the three knee-length dresses shown above. They all show off my narrow torso and are comfortable and easy to wear. I like that they are not more pronounced A-line silhouettes, as I have moved away from that style, which is why I have let go of many of my skirts.
- Henley-style tops – Five of the tops shown above are Henley style (buttons partially down the front). I like Henleys because they are casual and adjustable. Standard button-front woven tops don’t tend to fit me, but Henleys are generally in knit fabrics and work better on my frame.
- Low embellishment – I used to like embellishments on my garments a lot more than I do now. I have very few embellished pieces in my closet these days. Only two embellished items – one tank and one dress – remain among my long-standing wardrobe favorites.
Now let’s take a look at my favorite shoes and purses that were purchased prior to 2012:
What are the common elements among the seven pairs of shoes and three purses shown above?
- Black – Five of the seven pairs of shoes are black. While I’d like to branch out a bit and wear more colored shoes, I’m sure black shoes will remain a wardrobe staple for me.
- Metallics – Two of the shoes and one of the bags are in metallic tones. I started to move into buying metallic accessories back around 2008, when I purchased the bag shown, and I now have close to as many metallic shoes – and more metallic bags – in my closet than black ones.
- Boots – I am a big fan of boots, especially black boots. One of the pairs of black boots shown above used to be brown (the ones in the second row) and have seen far more wear since I dyed them. I probably don’t really need three pairs of ankle-length black booties, but they are all worn often and remain closet favorites.
- Solids rather than prints – Almost all of the bags and shoes shown above (8 out of 10) are in solid tones. While I am not against printed shoes and bags, I find that solids are more versatile and better able to stand the test of time.
- Leopard print – The bag and pair of shoes that are printed are both leopard print. The shoes are actually becoming quite worn out. While I am not as fond of leopard print as I once was, I am still strongly considering replacing the shoes, as they have been worn quite regularly and I continue to really like them.
It was both interesting and valuable for me to look at the long-standing clothes, shoes, and purses in my closet and identify their common elements. While I don’t necessarily want to keep buying more of the same when I shop, it’s good to have an idea of what has continued to work for me over the years and why. I do want to evolve my style (I still plan to do Imogen Lamport’s program by that name), but I also want to buy less overall.
Understanding my enduring preferences will help me to shop smarter. Even if I want to incorporate a new style, silhouette, or color into my wardrobe, knowing what makes things last in my closet will help to steer my buying decisions so I don’t end up out in left field in terms of what I buy. For example, if I opt to buy a new silhouette, it would probably be a good idea to select one in a color I truly love and in a knit fabric. Or perhaps I may stick with a tried and true silhouette but experiment with a new color or pattern. If I don’t change too much at once, I will have a better chance of loving my new pieces.
I hope that reading about and seeing photos of my longtime wardrobe favorites has been interesting and helpful for you, even if my style and life is very different from yours. I hope you will take the time to do this exercise in your closet. If you do and would like to report on the defining characteristics among your longtime favorites, I’d love to read about your findings and I’m sure others would as well.
- What has clothes, shoes, and accessories remain in your closet for many years?
- What items from yesteryear do you find yourself reaching for again and again?
I invite you to share your insights about your wardrobe (and mine, if you notice anything that I didn’t write about) in the comments section of this post. I would love to see a lively discussion of what has closet pieces endure over time, especially since we have seen such a dramatic reduction in quality in recent years. If the new items on offer are so often sub-standard, we would all do well to hold on to the pieces we love in our closets. I’m sure the feedback you give will be appreciated and valued by many, so please chime in!