Wardrobe Blues

This I Wear | Wardrobe Blues

I am not a morning person. I can be, but it is not my default setting. But for the past few months, I have become more unpleasant because instead of the total quiet I typically require to adjust to the new day, I’ve filled my morning air with expletives as I attempt to find a decent outfit in my wardrobe.

Granted, getting dressed when it’s yet another cold day becomes repetitive. However, the real struggle is feeling like myself when I put on my clothes. Even more of a challenge is feeling beautiful in those clothes.

This is not the story I intended to tell when I began my blog a year and a half ago. And I’m slightly embarrassed how often I feel compelled to write on this topic, but I thought I’d share where I’m at, because I have a feeling that I’m not the only one.

Right now, I have a list of several key pieces that are missing from my wardrobe and/or pieces that would make a big difference. They include:
– leather work-appropriate handbag
– black fitted blazer
– white blouse
– white jeans
– black ballet flats
– sandals to replace these (RIP after the India trip)

And beyond the specifics, I’m keeping my eye out for:
– feminine skirts
– easy dresses that keep me looking put together
– fun colorful and/or printed shoes since most of my wardrobe is black and gray (and will stay that way because of where I work)

But each of these items feels overwhelming, not just because of the cost or how picky I am with design and fit, but simply finding an option that works within my values. I have yet to find a store or brand that fits me perfectly AND meets my standards for values and quality.

When I first wrote the list of “would-helps” for my wardrobe many months ago, the top priority was a work backpack since my hiking-friendly backpack kept my back comfortable during the commute but also helped me look like a college student at work. It took me approximately six months to make a decision. Six months! I ended up going with the “perfect” Tumi backpack that fits like a glove on my petite frame (and will therefore keep my spine healthy!) and is built to last. But it took a long time for me to get there, because I kept thinking there must be a better option out there. And in the meantime, I did little work to fix other wardrobe gaps and instead just cleaned out more.

The problem? I’ve been searching for perfect, and I’m doing it with incomplete information since the trend in “ethical fashion” is e-commerce rather than your neighborhood boutiques. Taking the tactile and trying-on opportunities out of shopping makes decision-making a lot more difficult.

But what about “good enough”?

A recent book I read (which I can’t remember) talked about the personality types that have to know ALL the available options before making a choice. And because they’ve exhausted themselves with choices, they are less likely to get as much joy as others from their final decision, even if it’s a well-researched one. I am absolutely that type. And however genuinely thrilled I am every time I look at my backpack, I wonder why I torture myself in searching for perfect.

And “perfect” has started to feel a little risky. When you love something SO much, it’s suddenly easy to be unprepared when unexpected things happen. The perfect pair of pants that rip beyond repair? Not only did they prove to be imperfect but since you were so dependent on them, you have nothing else to wear while they wait to be fixed or replaced. I want to love everything in my closet, but I certainly don’t want my stuff to own me.

Truly, I wish making a sustainable/ethical buying decision was easy, but factoring in cost and taste constraints seems to make my own decisions more like a game of pros/cons and ultimately indecision.

Yes, it’s been hard, but I’ve already learned a few things:
– Trying things on is essential. You’ll never know what works until you put something on your body and see if the magic is there. Style takes time to find and it isn’t permanent.
– Shopping locally and from small batch designers is one of the easiest places to start.
– Start small: aim for one aspect of ethical fashion and if you get more, it’s the icing on the cake. This can include everything from local production (smaller footprint and supporting local economy) to respect for workers to organic and sustainable fibers. It’s up to you how you prioritize them.
– As many clothes as I’ve pulled out of my wardrobe and donated/shared/consigned/recycled, I don’t miss any of them, so I know I’m on the right path.

In the meantime, I’ve become totally obsessed with others’ quest to find their style. I’ve been particularly loving this post by Breanna Rose and this whole series by Madelynn Hackwith Furlong on her blog, Wide-Eyed Legless. Knowing that others are in the same boat makes the struggle a lot easier.

What are your searching for? I hope you’ll share with me what’s on your list too.

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  1. Kristian

    Like others have said, I really like the honesty in this post and can also really empathize with it as I am constantly wondering “but is it the BEST option?” Most of the time, by the time I do finally decide that yes, it is, the item is no longer available…

    I’ve been really enjoying Popbasic, which is online, but designs stuff in smaller quantities and focuses on basic items, which I like.

  2. Rebecca | Seven2Seven8

    You have so much company!
    I *just* went through this on my own sandal journey, and ultimately purchased a pair for which I couldn’t determine the manufacturing practices. On the other hand, they were budget-friendly, leather, sewn-not-glued, and the reviewers pretty consistently raved about their comfort, durability, and style. They are, quite simply, exactly what I was looking for, and I hope to wear them for several years.

    “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”
    Funny story: my husband is also a “perfect hunter”. I heard the same story (NPR, I think) about decision-making styles. I set a criterion threshold and once exceeded, I select based on less tangible qualities (beauty, comfort, familiarity, instinct). The husband, on the other hand, wants to find EVERYTHING that meets the criteria and THEN find the best among that set.

    Normally, as long as I am mindful in my selection, I’m perfectly happy with my decision. The exception is when I ignore one or more of the criteria: in this case, the “I want my sandals to look like X” criterion. I picked my new sandals over another pair I knew to be ethically manufactured here in the US simply because the style of the ethical-and-local sandals wasn’t what I was looking for, and I was worried I would “still be shopping” for the next pair that was “just right” if I purchased them.

    FWIW, I’m nearly 36, and I think it’s just a process, rather than a destination. It’s just about striving to live authentically, whatever that means to you (which is also part of the process). It’s certainly not about perfect, because perfect isn’t really an option. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try for it anyway, and notice when we fall short. Ah, the human condition (and most religions, really) in a nutshell.

  3. Emma (This Kind Choice)

    I really liked the honesty of this post, Rebecca. That line between having high standards and being perfectionist to the point of making us unhappy is an interesting thing to think about both in terms of clothing and other areas of life.

    I have a had a few cases where I couldn’t find something that met all my criteria (ethical, aesthetic, my budget etc.) and it was quite distressing when you really do need something and feel powerless to live up to the standards you set for yourself. I couldn’t find running shoes that seemed okay ethically and environmentally, and I ended up getting ones from a regular brand after weeks of agonizing. I also had trouble finding eco/ethical underwired bras and compromised by looking at quality (well made straps + the piece between the cups especially) and handwashing them to keep them for as long as possible. That’s something I would really suggest to people – focusing on quality & garment care if nothing else is possible. My most recent dilemma was black boots. I’m vegan but don’t want to buy poor quality PVC shoes. I spent months looking for high quality vegan boots online but couldn’t find anything I liked (I don’t think buying something I don’t like and won’t wear for a long time is better than buying leather, not to mention that shipping to NZ is EXPENSIVE). I looked through all second hand stores in Wellington and on online second hand places, but couldn’t find anything. In the end I bought leather boots, but I’m determined to keep them as long as possible and look after them.

    I really like the quote “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” and try to bear that in mind with my wardrobe :)

    • Rebecca

      Emma, so many wise words here! I too have experienced the “weeks of agonizing” when I feel like I can’t find what I’m looking for (in fact, too many examples to name!). I’m so grateful to have a kindred spirit in the search for better :)

  4. Deva

    I’ve probably been searching for my style for a decade. The fact that my weight fluctuates so easily (when I’m training for a race versus not training) means buying clothes is more of an awful chore rather than a fun adventure; so I don’t put as much thought into it. Oy.

    • Rebecca

      Ugh I feel like so many women experience that exact same problem. There must be a better way! I’ve been thinking that when I turn 30, all these identity problems and comfort in our skin problems just go away…let me know if that’s true :)

  5. Lisa Magee

    I’m on the hunt for sandals too. I want some that will be made to last and not just cheap ones that will last a year. The unfortunate size of my foot does not help me any though. Some brands only start at sz 6. And I have a particular style that I want that is not matching up with what is available.

    • Rebecca

      Thanks Lisa! As much as I’m moving away from online shopping, if you’re going to buy shoes online, do it at Zappos. They are constantly ranked on top business lists for how well they treat their employees and customers. It’s definitely a great way of doing business, even if not all of their products are sustainable (baby steps!). Also, Timberland has a surprising number of cute women’s sandals in their Earthkeepers line that are very affordable and are ecologically responsible.

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