No one notices what you wear: Results of my Six Item Wardrobe Diet

After wearing the same six items of clothing for 30 days, I have learned a few things:

1. Truly, no one cares what you wear. No one notices. The only folks who remarked on my clothes either (A) knew nothing about the project but complimented me on looking especially stylish and sharp or (B) had read my first post and knew the experiment was past, and wondered how it went.

2. It is much easier to get dressed in the morning when one has fewer choices. Normally, I put on and take off at least one outfit each morning, trying to figure out what to wear, before settling on an outfit; often I go through several outfits at a time. During the 30 day experiment I think I swapped my top in the morning four times total.

3. Having multiples of an item — four black tank tops, for example — makes a world of difference. I was able to do laundry just once a week, which helped a lot, particularly given the heat of August and my tendency to sweat. On this, I bent the “rules” a bit. I had just one black tank top at the start of the project, and one white t-shirt. About a week in, I went shopping and picked up three more black tanks and one more white t, and all of them were better designed and more flexible than my original items (looser fit for the t-shirt, wider straps for the tanks to better cover bra straps). This made it much easier for me to feel confident wearing them, and I credit this with part of my surviving the month. So, having great-fitting and well-made items is important, and having enough that you don’t have to wash your clothes every night helps.

4. I used to wear scarves and belts a lot, particularly in the 90s when I wore suits and my wardrobe was more “corporate” looking. Those accessories made my outfits more varied. It wasn’t critical to me, but it was sort of nice. For someone who has a more public life, like TODAY’s financial editor Jean Chatzky who did the same experiment during much the same period I did, it might make a bigger difference. Here are her notes about the project, plus the segment TODAY broadcast on Thursday about her experience.

Video segment on TODAY about “sixperiment” wardrobe diet

5. Choosing the right items for the project is key. Two days in, I realized I’d made a strategic error in choosing linen-type pants during a particularly sweltering August. I would have to wash the pants every time I wore them. I opted to cheat take a mulligan and swap the khaki pants out of the project in favor of a pair of wide-leg black knit pants. These turned out to be a fantastic and flexible choice, one that I could dress up or down easily, yet never looked wrinkled or sloppy. (They did look linty and attract cat hair, but I think that’s mostly because of how I am.) So, as with the t-shirts and tanks, selecting clothes that are flexible and that one feels terrific in makes this project work.

6. Wearing the same colors all the time was more of a challenge for me than wearing the same items. In fact, the day after I completed the project, I wore a plum-color t-shirt and the khaki pants I abandoned after day 3 — in other words, i kind of kept going with just a change of color. (I thought of it as kind of a penalty day, penance for my day two swap.) Then, in the past week, when i could choose anything from my wardrobe again, I’ve defaulted to the black pants and black skirt several times. And this weekend, when I’m traveling to attend a friend’s wedding, I wore the black pants AGAIN, brought the brown capris (which I bet I won’t wear), and packed t-shirts and tank tops, one of them even in black. The major  additions to my project wardrobe for this trip have been a cocktail dress for the wedding and two jackets, one dressy for the wedding and one more casual — and frankly, I could have gotten away with just the one dressy jacket. I’m thinking I might just get another pair of these wide-leg pants and make it a uniform for my work days.

My friend Jenda asked me if I would ever choose to do this six-item wardrobe experiment again. I don’t think I would, not because it was too hard but because I feel I’ve gotten about as much from it — in understanding of myself and in rethinking appearance in general and mine in particular — as I can. Plus, as we’ve seen from my wardrobe choices since the project ended, I’m kind of just living the smaller wardrobe now anyway.

But one way that I might choose to do it again, differently, would be to choose six items that were not as “safe” as the ones I chose this time. Maybe an extravagant frock coat, like Captain Jack Sparrow’s; fancy pants like my party pants or some ruffle capris; a notable dress; a t-shirt and a tank top, but neither in black nor white; and remarkable sweater. Could I wear those items for a month, to client meetings and the grocery store and everywhere else? I’ve said before that I am weary of wearing boring clothes, that I want only to wear fun clothes, yet I drift back to the staid and safe again and again. If I were to do this again, I’d like to challenge myself to be as freaky on the outside as I fell inside.

If you’re thinking of trying the six-item wardrobe diet or any similar wardrobe-limiting project, do it. Fascinating.

I base most of my fashion sense on what doesn’t itch.  ~Gilda Radner

People seldom notice old clothes if you wear a big smile.  ~Lee Mildon

Fashion is what you adopt when you don’t know who you are.  ~Quentin Crisp

8 replies on “No one notices what you wear: Results of my Six Item Wardrobe Diet”

  1. I love this idea; I just don’t have the basic pieces for it. I should work on that. I love the idea of having a “uniform” that’s my look. Right now it’s random, or just my default jeans and a shirt. Which is boring.

  2. Cool. I am proud of you! But the thought of wearing so much black makes me sad.

    If I were to do the six-item diet, I’d probably go with something like what I take when I’m traveling, which nearly always contains the same core of things: brown knit cotton-lycra dress, black ditto, pink tank top or T-shirt (depending on the season), blue or green ditto, green knit skirt, green zip-front cardigan. After that, it’s all in the accessories. This was basically the kit I took to Oslo and Paris last spring, and here’s me in Italy this summer rocking the brown dress: 1, 2, 3. The black dress is identical. They pack small, don’t wrinkle, and make me feel adorable.

    What about shoes? Did you give yourself free rein with those? I usually travel with just two pairs—brown and black, in winter; red-brown Mary Janes and seafoam green sandals (Dansko Sally and Raleigh, respectively), on this Italy trip. But when I’m at home, I probably rotate through at least a dozen pairs of shoes in a month.

  3. Vanessa: I find that having the basic pieces is the key to getting dressed quickly, and the big surprise is that you need fewer of these basics than you might guess. Once you find an alternative to jeans, you might discover that you’re drawn to it and the jeans stay in the closet more often.

    India: I wish I had the wide-leg pants and long skirt in another color, like deep plum. I can get them in charcoal gray, but that’s not much better than black. Brown might be a good option, and the brown dress you wore for your trip makes a great case for it.

    I gave myself free rein for shoes, but I ended up wearing just a few pairs of sandals over and over. If I’d undertaken this project in cooler weather, I bet I would have used a wider range. But sandals are so comfy in the heat. Still, I can bet I don’t have as many pairs of shoes as you do. I’ve been holding back from buying shoes for some time, mostly for economy.

    Kathie: Doing this has helped me a lot in feeling less stressed about what I choose to wear. That’s a nice freedom to have.

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