November 09, 2011

On repeats and no repeats

J. Crew factory rosette cardigan (similar here)
Kate Spade dress (current season version)
Gucci wedges
Heathered bittersweet Spanx tights
Vintage necklaces, Linea Pelle leather bracelet, Target enamel bangles, Betsey Johnson watch

Alternate title: Why I don't (30 for 30) remix. The ideology of consumerism is powerful. The lure of the consumer fix and the emotionally transformative prospects for retail therapy continue to inform purchase decisions among even the savviest shoppers.* I've long believed in the idea that through repeated wearing, a garment's use-value increases (so if you take the cost-per-wear calculus, it becomes less expensive to the purchaser the more you rotate an item through your ensembles). Still, that desire for more, newer, better has meant that so many of us continue to pursue quantity, regardless of quality. Personally, I know I have too many clothes, even if the majority of the stuff I buy at this point is of nicer quality. Reading through the intelligent and practical thoughts of "The Year of Nothing New" helped me better understand my own personal tendencies for amassing quantity. And rewearing pieces (without self-imposed wardrobe constraints) is something I practice constantly (monogamous dressing is my pastime). I admire that so many people participate in the 30 for 30 challenges, as I do think they can inspire creativity and innovation among people who have limited wardrobes (during extended travel, for financial reasons, or just for the sake of relative minimalism). But I have never considered participating in such challenges myself.

Like many of the various remix challenge participants I find myself thinking that I have too much.  Even after consistent edits and weeding, trying to be as ruthless and unsentimental as possible; even after multiple resolutions to "buy less, buy better," I still find myself capable of avoiding repeats within the fall and winter months of the semesters. I suppose that sounds obscene to some. And I guess I should clarify that I don't mean each outfit I wear is always completely new. But the central component of an outfit can easily be swapped for each new semester audience. After all, right now I only teach my students two days per week. When I have a wealth of options it makes me think I should rotate for the sake of equitable use even when I get the urge to repeat (to the same audience) in quick succession. So I try to go through a rotation of outfits that is organized based on season.

Obviously some pieces can't be worn in the dog days of late summer and others simply are not practical to sport when it is 10 degrees below freezing. So my wardrobe strategy is seasonally dependent. Within the rotation my goal is to maximize what I have without pretend limits and with realistic attitudes about when to cut something from the roster (hence the difficulty I've had in finding pieces to include in Jewish Girl's rounds of the Use it or Lose it Challenge). Especially when they are novel or especially flattering, I find myself wanting to wear some pieces every day (like the above dress). But I resist, perhaps irrationally.

Should variety be the default when your options are plentiful? I often wear the same outfits in quick succession when they can be spread among diverse social circles. Some days I even want my own personal super hero uniform to involve an arsenal of the same garment that I thoughtlessly and happily sport all the time. I envy the simplistic chicness of a wardrobe consisting of all neutrals and/or just a reasonably small number of key pieces. And yet (like so many privileged Americans) my own relationship with consumerism  has been such that "more" often conflates with "better." Maybe it is the inevitable side effect of existing in a Supersize-happy culture?

Lately when I find myself staring into my wardrobe, wondering what to wear, I fantasize about that small, perfectly-edited, neutral-tone wardrobe where everything matches and everything is unfussy and chic.** And repeats are inevitable.

*For an academic take on the intersections of faith and shopping, see this excellent book by historian, Lizabeth Cohen.

**I acknowledge fully the immense privilege it is to have such a non-problem (aka a "privileged person in the developed world problem" which is increasingly becoming my more nuanced version of the useful shorthand meme, "first world problem").


the dea diaries said...

Jess, I really enjoyed reading this post, well put!

BiblioMOMia said...

I applaud this post and its whole-picture perspective.  Thanks!

thatdamngreendress said...

I love your line about monogamous dressing.  heh. I love re-wearing and re-booting old favourite pieces year-round, but then there is definitely an allure to adding new 'favourites'- the tricky thing is listening to your real wants and desires and not falling prey to every shiny thing that catches the eye.  I stopped thrifting as much for that reason but I guess I'm in a dangerous in-between phase where I only want to invest in quality fabrics and colours that express me, but not always being able to edit those wants.  You seem to have found a good groove, with keeping what you love and adding within reason some quality pieces (and great finds like the rosette cardi!)

I have a co-worker who dresses exclusively in a yummy array of neutral tans and blacks (with monochromatic prints too).  It's so subtle and yet fun, and makes me feel like an overdone rainbow brite sometimes!


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