The year is 2000. I am in London on my first international trip with my whole family during my eighth grade spring break. I got my braces off in time for my passport photo and online shopping wasn’t what it is today, so my sister and I are feeling pretty cool as we shop UK-exclusive stores our friends will envy (well, once they find out they exist).
As this was in my pre-itinerary-making days, I just showed up where I was told to go. And my mom had an ambitious itinerary for us. She hadn’t traveled much internationally, and she seemed to be on a mission to see everything. This turned out to include churches, castles, museums, hot tickets to a performance of “CATS”, and most importantly, the iconic department store, Liberty of London.
I had no idea what Liberty of London was at the time. Since my mom is a quilter, she wanted her trip souvenir to be a few pieces of Liberty’s famous print fabrics for her next quilt project. Naturally, I thought that meant it would be a pretty boring shopping experience since my impression of quilting was that it was not so cool (though I have since changed this opinion!). But as soon as I saw the Tudor-style façade and stepped into the perfect world of unexpected and quirky design inside, I knew my mom was on to something. And sure enough, I became obsessed.
For so long, it was impossible to get Liberty prints stateside, so any sort of Liberty find was met with true teenage girl levels of enthusiasm. Now, the prints are ubiquitous; Collaborations with everyone from Target to J.Crew to Nike means the masses are wearing Liberty of London, and it’s likely they have no idea what kind of history they’re wearing. In fact, Liberty has been around since the 1880s and has been selling its iconic prints since then, typically on the lightest, finest cotton fabric I’ve ever felt, which is their signature Tana Lawn.
But while every hipster might be wearing these florals today, my mom was digging these prints back when most of those kids weren’t even born. So for me, Liberty has become inextricably linked with my mom. And when I scored this silk Liberty scarf in New York City of all places, I couldn’t help but feel the same teenage girl level of enthusiasm I felt when I first walked into Liberty at the age of 14, nerdy and naïve, only to be introduced by my unexpectedly design-forward mom to a whole new world of textiles, pattern and history.
So I’m not worried that Liberty prints are on trend now. Instead, I’m using it to my advantage to find pieces I know I’ll keep longer than the trend-seekers, because they mean something to me. Because when I wear my Liberty scarf, I can’t help but think of my mom, who informed my own taste and passion for design in ways that I’ve never fully given her credit for. And that will keep me wearing these prints for much longer than a season.
Nothing says cool like a scarf. For a little styling help, try Liberty’s own scarf-styling videos for the most creative tying/knotting/wrapping ideas I’ve ever seen. Start with this Youtube playlist, but a quick search will lead you to the other 20 or so tutorials.
I’m moving again. In the past year or so, I’ve moved from New York to New Orleans, traveled within the US and to two new continents (including living in India for a few months), and returned to the US only to continue living out of a suitcase, knowing that it still wasn’t time to settle down.
Inspired by author Elizabeth Cline’s closet inventory in her book Overdressed, I took stock of what is in the suitcase I’ve been somewhat living out of for the last five months:
– 8 sweaters
– 11 knit shirts
– 7 blouses
– 3 dresses
– 2 pairs of jeans
– 8 skirts
– 2 pairs of shorts (Hey, it’s New Orleans!)
– 2 coats
– Miscellaneous active wear, pajamas, underthings, and accessories
Somehow, I’ve been living off of under 60 total pieces – nowhere near Elizabeth’s total. And while I might be closer to her number if I counted up all of the clothes I have in storage, I’ve realized one amazing thing: I can live with less.
Let’s get one thing straight, though: At times, living with such a small portion of my wardrobe has felt impossible. I struggled many days to (more literally) find something to wear with most difficulty happening on special occasions or an unexpected event, including weather changes.
But I also was able to realize a few things:
– We aren’t wearing most of what we own anyway. Even within my small suitcase, I never wore HALF of the clothes. Other pieces, however, were worn almost daily.
– It is the favorite pieces that help us feel most like ourselves, especially in times of flux. It is hard to live with uncertainty, but the uncertainty will force you to look for things you can trust. In this (suit)case, I felt most like myself wearing my favorite gray sweater and a reliable pair of jeans. When things were unpredictable around me, I felt more need than ever for my clothes to feel like me. The predictability of my accidental daily uniform became a great source of comfort. There’s a reason to stick with what you know works.
– Our big closets are keeping us from being creative. Most of us have a color palette in our wardrobe even if we don’t realize it, which makes our clothes infinitely mix-and-match-able. It was a lot easier to to create new outfits with a small portion of my wardrobe that I knew I loved and which coincidentally all worked together than to get creative with an overflowing closet.
– A clothing diet is surprisingly easy to stick to. Without a place to put clothes or much money to spend, I just stopped shopping. And now, when out of necessity I add a new piece to my wardrobe, it feels insanely special. But this is not of the addictive “I need to feel this all the time” quality that could lead to binge shopping, but really more of a wake-up call to make sure ALL of my clothes are pieces that I get really excited about and could become part of my daily uniform. And the “thrill” of going shopping? Well, it’s almost totally gone, and it is liberating.
Despite having successfully made it through more than a year of constant transition, I am so excited to put my clothes on hangers and to be able to take better care of my favorite pieces again. Yet no matter how spacious my new closet will be, I think this accidental experiment in living with less has taught me too many lessons to forget the freedom that comes from being able to fit everything you wear into just one single suitcase.
Over the next couple weeks, I will be relocating to a new city and state! And while I change locales, THIS I WEAR is going to be growing too with lots of new and exciting developments. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram to stay in touch!
Swapping, swishing, shwopping. There are many new buzzwords all pointing to the same idea: exploring alternative ways of adding to our closets without spending money or adding to our environmental footprint. When we need or want something new in our wardrobe, the first impulse might be to head to the store. But what if we could get what we needed without worrying about the sustainability and ethical issues or costs that come with buying new clothes? And we could make some new friends or reconnect with old friends in the process?
Swapping lets you exchange clothes you no longer want for clothes someone else no longer wants, usually for free and often in the context of a swap party. While there are a number of online sites that now let you consign or swap your clothes (I’m personally excited about Bib & Tuck), I still think the best way to swap is in person among friends.
Last month, I attended a swap party hosted by Moishe House, Barrie Schwartz of My House, and Stasia Cymes of Ladies Night Out to figure out the ingredients of a successful swap party. If you’re like many of the party attendees, you’ve just cleaned out your closet and you may have a pile of clothes to share. But a truly successful swap party is a social event and gives guests peace of mind by knowing that even if their contributions don’t get adopted that night, they’ll find a new home through donation.
Stasia Cymes, in addition to founding Ladies Night Out, runs a professional organizing service called Clear the Clutter. When finding your swap contributions, she recommends bringing an item…
– If you haven’t worn the piece in a year
– If you’re holding onto something in hopes that you’ll fit into it again
– If you have multiples of the same item (such as the ubiquitous “black pant”) but only feel good in one or two of your collection
– If you’re holding onto something because of its value in dollars and not its value to you
– If you’re keeping something because it might come back in style, but it doesn’t actually make you feel good or comfortable
– If it fits you physically but no longer fits your personality or where you are in your life right now
If you’re ready to try swapping, here’s how to plan your own party:
1. Clean out your closet and ask your friends (and their friends) to do the same. For a successful party, guests should bring at least 1-3 pieces each. But the more you bring, the more fun everyone will have.
2. Send the invitations. I recommend making the party single sex to make sure you have a good selection for all of your attendees and because stripping down to try on clothes is somewhat inevitable. But don’t worry about inviting guests of different sizes and with different styles. Swapping is about getting creative, and a range of sizes and tastes usually works itself out.
3. Once you’ve got a location, set up the space like you would a shop. Designate a “fitting room” or make sure you have a full-length mirror or two. Create areas for each of the product categories. If you have less than 20 guests, separate items into tops, bottoms, dresses, jackets/outerwear, and accessories/shoes. If you have more than 20 guests, you can break these categories down further (example: “bottoms” becomes denim, dress pants, casual pants, skirts, etc).
4. As guests arrive, ask them to place their items in the different categories. At this point, they can browse the items already there but no swapping yet! Cocktails or snacks will help your guests get comfortable with each other while waiting for the swapping to begin.
5. Once everyone has arrived, start swapping. Guests can begin browsing and trying on items. If you have just a few guests, let guests take as many items as they like. If you have a larger group, perhaps guests can take a piece for every piece they brought in the first round (whether by the honor system or by tickets), and then any leftovers are fair game for all.
6. Donate any remaining items. As an added perk to your guests, take care of making sure any remnants have another chance by dropping them off at a local donation center.
The perks of a swap party as both a social experience and one that is free of cost makes me think this trend will only continue to grow. And none of the guests seemed too concerned with what they went home with. Guest Annie Jackson found two items to bring home, but it was the social aspect and the opportunity to unload unwanted clothes that drew her to the event. Brittany Hunt was looking forward to getting some clothes for free, especially clothes that might be more interesting than what she’d find in stores, but she was most looking forward to the community aspect too. Brittany also pointed out that she’s more willing to try on things out of her usual style and to take things she isn’t totally sure about. So a swap party can be a fantastic way to play with your own style at literally no cost or risk. And in Brittany’s words, “You can’t really have expectations. I see it as a way to get rid of stuff that you’re not wearing and then if you don’t get anything, at least your closet is a little cleaner.” It doesn’t get anymore win-win than that.
Special thanks to Barrie Schwartz, Stasia Cymes, Annie Jackson, and Brittany Hunt for sharing their insights! And to our readers: I’ve seen the success of swapping among women, but I’m insanely curious to know if this idea can work with the gents too. Comment or tweet @ThisIWear to share if you think this works for both sexes (and if you’ve seen it in action), or if swapping really is a lady thing.
When my sister graduated college, she had one weekend to move out of her Richmond, VA apartment, sending a limited amount of boxes home with my parents and taking just a suitcase or two to her six-month internship in Paris. Before I even got off the plane in Richmond, I heard she was waiting for me to get there in order to save her from her packing nightmare – how to decide what to get rid off and what to keep. Why was she waiting for me? Because in my family, I am known as the boss of teasing out emotional attachment from items that no longer are doing their job for us. I happen to be quite decisive too.
This could be shocking in the context of this blog. How could I advocate for getting rid of things that mean something to us or tell a part of our story?
And to that I will say: if something is in your closet and it only has a story but no longer a practical use, because you don’t feel good wearing it, it is beyond repair, or you feel too guilty about it to send it off to a new life, then it is time to let it go (responsibly, of course). A story without an accompanying good feeling is just stuff taking up precious space in your closet and your mind.
Whether your resolutions this year involved updating your personal style or just making room for new opportunities, now is the perfect time to take stock of what you have and make sure that what is hanging in your closet matches your values/dreams/goals, without the guilt of holding on to things that are just taking up emotional and physical space. There are items we love to wear everyday that have a story, and then there are items we never wear that have their own story. Today, let’s appreciate the former but take care of the latter.
1. Get organized. I recommend designating three piles to sort your items into:
– Keep – For the no-brainer items that are staying in your closet
– Share – For the items no longer are working for you, whether they don’t fit, don’t work in your current lifestyle, or are beyond repair
– Rescue – For the items that need a little love from a tailor, dry cleaner, or a little DIY help.
2. Start trying things on. I recommend making time to try on everything…literally. It’s a new year and you’re a different person. Try on old things you’ve already written off as well as the pieces you wear everyday. This will give you new ideas for styling recent purchases or gifts with old pieces, ensure each piece ends up in the right pile, and help you catch those sneaky pieces that you secretly hate but that somehow never get cleared out. (This goes for that blouse with the annoying buttons on the sleeve, the itchy sweater, and the pants that stretch out after just one wear).
3. When you get stuck on an item, give it your attention. You’ve gone through half of your closet, you feel great, and then you get to a certain piece that you have no idea what to do with. Instead of plunging into despair, start asking questions: When did you buy or receive the piece? When did you last wear it? How does it make you feel when you wear it? What does it make you think of? Any good or bad memories? And the clincher for most people, how much did you pay for it? Perhaps you paid a lot for the item, so it’s supposed to be perfect, right? Wrong. If you don’t feel good in it, let it go and give it a chance to make someone else happy. Perhaps you received it as a gift and you never liked it, but you are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. Let it go. If that person ever asks (which he or she probably won’t), focus on gratitude for the gift rather than lying about its use. Perhaps you’re holding onto something because it has sentimental value. That’s ok, but make sure it’s still serving you and not owning you. If you aren’t wearing it anymore, consider repurposing it with a little DIY or tailoring work. Not the answer for you? Think about why you are keeping the item and then decide if you’ll still have that memory even if the item is gone. If the answer is yes, set it free.
4. Invest in making the clothes and accessories you keep last. Now that you’ve whittled down your wardrobe, make sure the things you keep are taken care of. Add some cedar balls to your sweater drawer or try making homemade sachets to ward off pests. Invest in shoe trees or make your own boot stuffers to help your shoes and boots retain their shape. Take care of clothes and accessories in your “Rescue” pile by taking them to the pros or by repairing and cleaning them on your own with YouTube mending tutorials and laundry tips from The Laundress.
If you’ve generated items in your “Share” pile that you are ready to let go of, click through for tips of what to do with unwanted clothes to make sure your discards are put to good use. In coming weeks, I’ll also give you the details on how to host a swap party to help you share your unwanted closet finds with friends and maybe even take home a few new things for yourself.
And finally, as you return the items from your “Keep” pile to your closet and drawers, enjoy the moment. Our wardrobes change over the years as we change as individuals. The stories our clothes tell of us now are unique to this time. A good closet cleaning ensures that the stories we unconsciously are sharing are true to who we are.
Did you find anything amazing during your closet clean-up? Comment below or tweet @ThisIWear to share your stories of your closet lost-and-found moments.
When I first moved to Manhattan, my coworker Sara introduced me to the man who would become “my” shoe guy. When you live in NYC (or any walking city), you will destroy every pair of shoes you own, so having a shoe guy in NYC is like finding a trustworthy doctor when you move to a new city: it’s inevitable and best not to wait until you’re desperate. But even with a fantastic shoe guy, I have a long history of being embarrassed by the state of my shoes. I take pride in my appearance, but somehow my shoes can never quite keep up with the rest of me. They have been the enemy: uncomfortable and unreliable no matter how much money I increasingly spend on them. And even more embarrassing, I have to admit to throwing away some shoes in the past that have let me down one too many times. I needed help.
Alexander Bourne is a young entrepreneur who set aside his dream of becoming an orthodontist to start Patina Shoe Parlor in New Orleans in early 2012 after he accidentally purchased a shoeshine kit at a garage sale. Almost overnight, he expanded the business from just shoeshines to include repairs of shoes and leather accessories. I spent an hour with him to pick up some tips on how to take care of my ever-embarrassing shoe collection and how to know what shoes to invest in.
Here’s what I learned from Alex:
1. Before you throw out a pair of shoes, take them for a consultation at your local shoe repair shop. I was amazed at the extent of repairs that Alex can do (and I LOVE seeing the “After” shots on his Instagram). Need the whole sole replaced? He can do it. Got a scuffed shoe? He’s your man. Just a quick heel repair? He can help. So before you toss, it’s worth asking if a repair can be done. Depending on the extent of the damage, it might not be cheap, but your shoes could look like new with a little love and investment.
2. You will wear through your shoes, even if they are well-made. This was my zen moment, and I was quite glad to hear it from Alex. Shoes get more wear and tear than the rest of your wardrobe. I feel guilty because I seem to go through shoes so quickly, but in reality, it is because I love walking and I tend to rotate just a few favorite pairs of shoes rather than buying lots of pairs. If this describes you as well, you are going to need to make friends with someone in shoe repair.
3. Invest in shoes that can be repaired. An expensive shoe does not necessarily mean it is a repairable shoe. When you buy a repairable well-made shoe, simple sole and heel replacements can be done over and over as long as the rest of the shoe holds up. For men and women, turn the shoe over when you are shopping and look for leather soles and wooden heels. Avoid molded rubber soles (sorry, comfort shoes!) or anything that has been fused to the shoe’s upper rather than stitched.
4. A big price tag doesn’t mean the shoe will last. When I asked Alex if shoe price relates to shoe quality, he pointed to the example of the infamous Louboutins: “Christian said, ‘I don’t make shoes for you to be comfortable in. I make them for you to look good in.’” That makes sense. If shoes are difficult to walk in, they probably weren’t made for walking. Save them to wear on special occasions, but don’t expect them to last forever.
5. Leather lasts, but more ethical options exist too. Alex says that a surprising number of his clients are vegans, who don’t wear leather products both for ethical reasons and for the environmental impact, especially of the tanning process. Vegan alternatives can include synthetic leather substitutes, which are improving. It’s not a black-and-white choice quite yet, though. Leather is typically more expensive but easier to shine and refurbish (and therefore, save), while vegan alternatives are less costly but less likely to be repairable or as durable as leather, meaning they are more likely to end up in a landfill faster. It’s worth it to do your research.
6. A lot of people just don’t know shoe repair is an option. I asked Alex what types of people he sees investing in the repairs. He says you can’t predict clients by demographics: his clients include everyone from vintage shoppers and young students to some of the city’s wealthiest. However, he thinks the difference is in awareness, which is too personal to quantify. Alex explained, “You have individuals who may have grown up with their grandfathers, their parents getting things repaired, so they feel that is something they should do. More often, you get individuals that just aren’t aware that these services even existed.” And sometimes those new to shoe repair need some convincing: “They look to get something repaired, and they say, ‘That’s more than I initially spent for it.’ That right there…negates what they originally bought them for. You bought them because you liked them, you liked the way they feel, maybe over time, you’ve acquired an emotional attachment to them. You have people that it has nothing to do with whether or not they can pay for it, it’s strictly reasoning. These people don’t want to reuse or repurpose their goods because of essentially a number.” Moral of the story: think about the value of the shoes to you, not just the cost of the shoe. And if you’re just starting to take your shoes in for repairs, ask questions and feel free to get a second opinion on a repair cost. It can definitely be worth the investment.
And finally, a tip from me: don’t wear dirty boots with run-down heels to interview someone who works with shoes. He’s gonna look at your shoes, so be prepared. Alex has always had high standards for his own shoes, mentioning that “I’ve always been the one, even before I got into shoe repair, I’d be the one to go into the bathroom, and if [my shoes] ever got dirty, I would get some dishwashing liquid, take a glass, get an old toothbrush, mix it up, and I’d just scrub ‘em. I’ve always been that way. My shoestrings, I’ll take them out, throw them in with some bleach, let them soak in the sink…” Now that’s dedication.
In New Orleans and in need of a repair? It’s easy to find Alex of Patina Shoe Parlor on his website, Twitter, Facebook, or in person at 2036 Magazine Street.
In NYC? “My” shoe guy can be found at Yakub Shoe Repair (212-673-6230) at 229 Sullivan Street in Greenwich Village. He’s in the back of the shop behind the dry cleaning counter. Tell him I say “hi.”