Toward a Small Closet

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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about size. Specifically, closet size. I’ve been steadily making most of clothes for the past two and a half years, which has been super rewarding as a creative outlet, a way to challenge myself to learn new things, and a way to feel good in my clothes and express myself through my style. It has also been an amazing portal to deepen my understanding of and appreciation for slow fashion, and a lens for thinking critically about the current fashion system — the #2 most toxic and harmful industry worldwide.

Something that comes up a lot in conversations about “what you can do” to change the status quo of fashion is the “buy less buy better” adage. My takeaway is that by growing a wardrobe slowly, we can choose longer lasting pieces and likely spend more per item (which can help bridge the gap for internalizing the costs of clothing production) but get more out of them (reducing the cost per wear as well as textile waste). I wholeheartedly agree with this as a guiding principle, but for a while when I started making clothes I wasn’t necessarily following it.

Even as my sewing and knitting skills improve and shave time off the process of making clothing, I still feel like my handmade garments are a slow and lengthy production. And I think this is a good thing because it automatically slows the pace of growing my wardrobe. And yet, sometimes a new pattern comes out or a new (or secondhand find) fabric catches my eye and I feel like I need to whip through a project right away, or I see someone sharing a recent make on Instagram with a comment along the lines of “love this pattern, definitely need 10 more!” and it always makes me pause — do I really need this new item of clothing superfast, or does anyone really need TEN of the same basic tees/sweatshirts/dresses? 

So I’ve been thinking about slow growth, appreciating what I already have, and being intentional with what I make. This illustration by Sarah Lazarovic really hits the nail on the head:

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Between a big closet cleanout, a smattering of Wardrobe Architect exercises, a cross-country move, and 2 me-made-Mays documenting what I most love to wear, I’m finally coming to a place that feels like a good balance of a small, curated closet with just a little room to grow, and plenty of room to breathe (by the way, Jenn and I share a closet so mine is the left side of the photo above, and about half of the dresser drawer space).

No doubt this evolution has been informed by the “capsule wardrobe” movement, and more recent approaches like the “minimal wardrobe” or “lean closet” framework. This past fall I actually went so far as to use the capsule wardrobe model to plan out what to wear for my first cold winter in several years, and I fell in love for a few reasons:

  1. It was immediately reassuring to know that I had enough winter clothing to layer and enjoy the cold weather
  2. It was a good motivation to put away summer clothes and really embrace the cold instead of trying to layer warm weather prints under heavy sweaters (fun in early fall, not so much in the depth of February)
  3. I could easily identify a few gaps in my wardrobe and that helped me focus my “making” time budget as well as my spending budget
  4. I had no stress about “nothing to wear” because I could quickly, and mentally sort through my options
  5. It was a lot easier to take care of my clothes and keep them orderly, which was soothing since my bed faces my open closet storage
  6. I like a good challenge!
  7. Bringing out my spring clothes was like seeing old friends and going shopping, without spending any money!

With one extended seasonal wardrobe exercise down, I’m thinking of approaching the capsule wardrobe concept with a little bit of flexibility within each season and a lot more holistic contemplation to make sure all items in my closet are interchangeable and well loved.

There are plenty of great terms out there that capture this clothes-minded sentiment: lean, minimal, capsule, conscious, curated, even un-capsule, and so I’m just going to term this series small closet chronicles. Because my closet space is small, and I think my handmade, intentional wardrobe can be too. I’ll be discussing, documenting, and reflecting on it here.

In my next post I’ll share a few resources for different approaches (like those coined by the above-listed terms), and what I’ve found useful or gleaned from them, and then I’ll dig into how I’m putting this into practice. I hope you’ll share tips & thoughts on intentional making and slow fashion too!

 

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Published by

Jess

making things & asking questions

4 thoughts on “Toward a Small Closet”

  1. I feel the same about the advantages of having less. And I love how tidy my closet is! By reflecting at my wardrobe for the past few years I’ve learnt that I have a few garments I only wear every other year (my taste changes / fluncuates). One disadvantage of the minimalist /capsule approach is that it pushes towards the idea of wearing 100% of what we have all the time. But taste changes and if we get rid of garments we don’t like now (but will potentially wear again in the next few years) we will end up buying/making them instead if digging them from the bottom of our closests. I find that the capsule approach needs some margins to be sustainable for 8-10 years. Additionally I think it is unrealistic to expect 100% success rate with our hand-mades. I sew because I love the process and the time I spend making something. The material I use serves the purpose of the hobby, not just the end product. I find that the more I’m hard on myself for less than perfect makes, the more I stay away from the complicated patterns that have more potential of failing. This is very disabling for any craft. Therefore I think we should leave some room for the less than perfect makes (both in our closests and in our mind), and remember that wasted fabric is not a failure but part of the creative process.

    I couldn’t agree more with your comment about the “I need ten more!” approach. The only exception for me is with Grainline’s Scout and Linden patterns – I have about 6 of each which I wear daily 😉

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  2. Such good points! Yeah, I agree with the drawback of hyper-minimal wardrobes where everything is in rotation all the time — I definitely wear my clothes pretty hard and one thing that’s nice about rotating pieces in and out is that you can give them some rest. I also love what you’re saying about being a process-based maker, because sometimes expecting perfect fit & wearability stalls me from digging in and actually making something! Curious though, what do you do with your “waste” fabric or makes?

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    1. Oh I don’t have a very good system for that. I have a box where I put all the “failed” projects that I never finished. I take them out from time to time to check if I still dislike them. I’m not very good at reusing the fabric, mostly because most of my failed projects are pants, and it is difficult to re-cut it for another project. If I finish a project and doesn’t like it I usually give it away.
      Ideally I would get rid of my failed projects instead of putting them in a box because it is unlikely I’ll ever do something with them, and physical space usually mean mental space as well. But I find it difficult to let go of them.

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      1. totally hear you on the tension between holding on & holding space… “physical space usually means mental space” — yes! Feeling this with my stash lately, which I think is also why I’m realizing that I want a pared down closet/slow growth 🙂

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