An important thing to know about me is that I’m not a style blogger in the traditional sense. I didn’t come here because I have superior fashion abilities that I needed to share with the world – quite the opposite, actually. I’m here because my wardrobe has always been my biggest insecurity, and until recently, I was deeply unhappy with how my clothes looked most days. I started this project as a way to explore my relationship with my personal style, and to experiment with minimalism and mindfulness in a wardrobe that has been plagued by chaos all my life. After a year of closet purges, capsule wardrobes, experiments, and investment purchases, I’ve developed a simple set of rules for getting dressed that always works, no matter what, no purchases or “must have items” involved. Today, I want to share them with you.
RULE # 1: Don’t wear anything you don’t like
This seems like a no-brainer, but before I went full KonMari on my closet, I was constantly wearing clothes I didn’t like that much. Now when I talk to other women about their wardrobes, I find that many of them are wearing clothes that they don’t particularly like either. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves? For some of us, I think there’s a sense of obligation to a certain kind of garment for work or other activities (I need a pair of black flats, I need a formal blazer, etc.), but if you feel obligated to a piece of clothing that makes you actively unhappy or uncomfortable, I’d urge you to reconsider that obligation, and to really reflect on whether or not you actually need that thing. I’m not saying you have to get rid of all your clothes cold turkey – but maybe try putting some things away for a few months and seeing if you actually still need them. If it turns out you get by just fine without a pair of black flats, I say chuck the ones you hate and move forward with the pieces you know you love (or, if need be, explore new options you may not have considered before – maybe a nude block heel is the thing you were really searching for all along!).
Another reason that I think women wear clothes that they don’t like is because we feel like we’re supposed to punish ourselves for having imperfect bodies. We think, “well, this will look much better on me once I lose some weight” and we trudge forward with a sense of shame and self-criticism that we absolutely do not deserve. If you don’t like the way something looks on you, it has nothing to do with your body being somehow incorrect (not a thing), and everything to do with your clothing being designed for an arbitrary standard of beauty that most actual women do not meet. I swear to you, if you just get rid of those clothes and stop letting them make you feel like you need to change yourself, you will like your wardrobe so much more.
RULE #2: Stick to a defined color palette
Part of what made my wardrobe so chaotic before I revamped it was that it was full of colorful things that I bought impulsively on emotional shopping binges and that did not go together at all. The Great Wardrobe Purge of 2017 brought me some clarity as I diligently evaluated each garment that I owned and had to determine why I did or didn’t like it. In most cases, the color was the culprit. It took me a long time to learn which colors suit me best – black and white, cream, flax, brown, olive, burnt orange. Now, I keep my day-to-day garments restricted to those colors, and it means that if I wake up in the morning and have two minutes to choose an outfit, I’ll always find something that works (even if half my clothes are dirty! which they usually are!).
One common criticism of the capsule wardrobe system is that people who love to wear colors think that a capsule can only be successful if it’s made up of neutrals, but that’s just not true. If you love colors, embrace them! Choose pieces in the colors that make you happy and that you feel good in, and you’ll probably see that you gravitate toward certain color families over others. A color palette full of jewel tones or pastels is still just as much of a color palette as my (admittedly kinda boring) neutral one.
RULE #3: Stay on brand
I like to joke that I always want to look like I could be on my way to give a talk at National Geographic. It’s kind of funny, but I’m secretly serious. The clothes you wear communicate so much about you to other people before you even open your mouth, and so I’m very particular and intentional about the message I send with my outfit every day. I want to look intelligent, classic, chic, comfortable, and interesting. Those are the words on my sticky note that I keep inside my closet – no lie.
Before I determined this aesthetic, I mostly just bought things that were trendy. That can be a perfectly fine way to get dressed if you enjoy keeping up with trends, but here’s the rub: I didn’t have a lot of money, so I wasn’t buying quality trend items, I was buying cheap ones. And they went out of style very, very quickly. As a result, I never looked like myself. I was just an anonymous slob. Now, my clothes have something to say. They aren’t just whatever I pulled off the sale rack at the Loft – they’re a reflection of my personality and my values.
RULE #4: Don’t buy jersey fabric – ever
(EDIT: I have been told by a few readers that there’s a big difference between synthetic jersey and real jersey. I honestly had no idea that jersey existed beyond the cheap Forever21 variety, so please apply the following rule to that type. Thank you to my knowledgeable readers for educating me!)
Let’s be real. Does jersey actually look good on anyone? It’s cheap, it’s stretchy to the point that it loses it’s shape after several washes, and it pills something fierce. When jersey clothing has lived out its short and terrible life in your closet, it’s generally not even in good enough condition to be donated or reused. In other words, it’s a crap fabric that we are tricked into buying on the basis that it is soft and inexpensive. There was a time (a dark, dark time) when most of my tops and dresses were made out of jersey fabric, but I’ve purged nearly all of it. Nixing jersey was the number one thing that took my wardrobe from Literally Just Graduated from College to Actual Professional Adult. I have a few holdovers (one black t-shirt and one black maxi-dress, to be exact) that are still in good condition, but once they die, I won’t replace them with new jersey pieces.
RULE #5: Repeat your favorite outfits often
This last one might seem like counter intuitive advice from a style blog, but like I said at the beginning of this post, I’m not really a stylish kind of style blog. A few of my wardrobe experiments have involved hokey little games like wearing the same dress five days in a row, and while it might seem like a click bait, there was actually a lot of value in it. I learned that no one really cares what I’m wearing, and so not repeating outfits on the off-chance that someone might “catch me” became less and less of a priority. Variety for variety’s sake was a stupid, fruitless effort that left me broke from buying new clothes all the time, and unhappy with the “unique” outfits I had to put together from limited resources. Again, it was a practice that kept me in a rotation of buying cheap, trendy clothes because I thought that quantity was more important than quality.
Once you liberate yourself from the idea that you need to wear a different outfit every day in service of others’ expectations, you can settle into the outfits that you love, define personal uniforms, and find contentment in styles and silhouettes that are uniquely you. Rewearing your favorite clothes over and over provides an opportunity to evaluate your clothing consumption – are you buying a thing because you need it or because shopping makes you feel better? – and, if you are a person like me who doesn’t have a lot of money but strives to dress well, it will help you to save money for quality pieces that you’ll wear for years to come.
These are the rules that have helped me go from a person who hates her clothes to a person who adores her whole wardrobe, and I didn’t have to spend a lot of money to do it. What guidance has helped you along on your wardrobe journey? What do you still wish you could change?
As always, thanks for reading.
14 thoughts on “5 Rules for Getting Dressed”
This is awesome advice! Your blog continues to be insightful and super helpful as I am on my own similar wardrobe journey 🙂
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Thank you so much! That means a lot to me!
My only quibble is with jersey- if you invest in quality jersey items (typically 100% wool jersey), they look gorgeous for years, flatter the figure, and hold their shape when stored correctly. It is much like cashmere, though- it’s incredibly easy to buy cheap blends, and difficult to find the quality!
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I stand corrected! I actually had no idea that there was any kind of jersey besides the cheap Forever21 variety. Do you have any recommendations for where to find the good stuff?
I’ve only found my good stuff in second hand stores because that’s my price range currently haha- I would recommend purchasing it in person, so that you can take it in hand and actually test the stretch/give, and see if it takes it’s shape back. I would also look at fabric composition, and see the breakdown! (Cheap jersey looks awful, to be sure 😓 The lure of the comfortable!)
I enjoyed this article! And yes, I’ve been actively trying to buy only clothing that I like. Your aesthetic is an awful lot like mine, re the National Geographic talk, neutrals vibe. I don’t use jersey fabric except for undies and loungewear, and for tanks that I layer under shirts and blazers. Good cotton jersey absolutely does not pill! Synthetic jersey pills, and I wouldn’t touch it with a very long pole.
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I’m really glad to learn that there’s jersey out there that doesn’t suck! I honestly had no idea – clearly I am still on this wardrobe journey 🙂
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I love the idea of being “on brand”, I think I’ve naturally been tending in that direction but I’d love to be more intentional about it.
I also hate cheap jersey, but some of my favourite clothes are made from natural fibre jersey. Wool, viscose, and my personal favourite for this season is linen jersey – although I’ve learned the hard way that this has to be sturdy so as not to suddenly develop a million holes in one go.
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Choosing a “brand” was such a game changer for me! It really helped me to focus on those mornings when I felt chaotic and didn’t know what to wear, and it keeps me from being pulled in too much by trends (some trends I like, but most aren’t for me).
I feel like I have to change my views on jersey now! I’m definitely going to be keeping an eye out at my local consignment shops for good pieces that suit my wardrobe! 🙂
Reading this felt truly provocative, and simultaneously serendipitous.I will soon transition to a new job where travel is required at least three weeks per month, and my wardrobe choices will need to accommodate a professional yet relatable persona in many parts of the country. I think your rules will not only help me analyze the usefulness of my current wardrobe, but will inform my choices of what works for future projects.
I have all too often gone away with ten days of clothes for five days of work due to poor planning and no confidence in my outfit choices.
Your blog is fun to read, and it feels real.
Thanks for breaking things down in an honest way.
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I really appreciate your feedback, and I’m glad that this post helped you to consider your wardrobe differently. Traveling with too many clothes has been one of my biggest weaknesses – I find that it’s really worth it to take some time before your trip to evaluate your activities, the weather, etc., and then pre-plan your outfits in advance. Bonus points if you can re-wear a garment a few times in the same trip!
Wow, I really enjoyed this post. I have things in my closet for the “one time I might wear it”. I have too many of those items. Ugh. I do know my style and I do have pieces that I adore. My closet is over half full of things that I wear once a year. I’ve been considering getting rid of all of those one time a year wears. The closet space I’d have!
Oh man, I completely get it! When I was struggling with whether or not to get rid of those pieces, I put them all in a bag under my bed for the entire season that they were wearable, and if at the end of the season I hadn’t once thought about pulling any of those garments out, I got rid of them. It worked really well, and I discovered I actually didn’t go into the bag for a single item all year long!
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That’s a great idea! I have done that. What might help for now is to separate my winter from summer. That will free up some space. I now live in a four season state, which I found almost doubled my wardrobe! I’m actually going to wear a dress I’ve had in my closet for 27 years! Oh my! Dating myself.