How Many Clothes Do I Really Need? Part 1

Part 2: here

Part 3: here!

Once upon a time, the majority of women owned about nine outfits each.

Omigawd, that’s crazy!  Only 9 outfits?  So that must mean women repeated outfits weekly. How were they all not incarcerated by the infamous Fashion Police?  Weren’t they embarrassed to be seen wearing the same thing week after week?

As of 2015, the average woman in America owns 30 outfits.

Well, now that’s more like it, one for every day of the month.  It’s a lot less embarrassing to be seen in an outfit worn last month than last week!

The first time I heard of not wearing the same outfit for a whole month was when I was in middle school.  My friends and I were obsessed with The Clique book series by Lisi Harrison and I believe it was in one of these books that the series’ “it girl,” Massie Block, ordered her clique to follow the “Two Week- One Month” rule.

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The rule states that the girls may not wear an item for at least two weeks after it is worn and that they may not wear the same outfit for an entire month.  I used to aspire to this standard but now, I am not so sure.

I mean, it is a decent fashion rule to follow if you are concerned about being a “repeat outfit offender.”  According to the Repeat Offender Method of clothing quantity, you would need at least 14 tops, at least 14 skirts or pants, a few dresses (unless you wear dresses every day, in which case you’d need at least 14 dresses, probably more since a dress can be a whole outfit in and of itself), and at least 14 sweaters or jackets.  I’m not quite sure if the fictional Miss Block included winter coats, accessories (aside from her signature gold Tiffany’s charm bracelet, ahb-viously), and shoes into this rule but assuming how wealthy she is in the books, I would say yes.  But if you choose to follow this method, it’s entirely up to you whether or not you want to own at least 14 pairs of shoes (lets be real, most of us have waaayy more than that, ha!), scarves, rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, belts, etc.  And of course, having 14 of everything is all assuming that all of the items go well together.  If they don’t match, or you’re the type of person with multiple style personas, then you can expect to have more.

Following this pattern to determine the number of your clothes allows you to have a lot of variety which means you can easily mix up your style and make room for trends along with classic pieces.  However, having more pieces obviously means more expense and unless you follow the “Two Week, One Month” rule rigidly, you will probably end up wearing your favorite top or skirt the next week as well.  This ultimately means that it would be a waste to buy 14 skirts simply for the sake of having at least 14 skirts when only 8-10 skirts end up being worn frequently.

Furthermore, more and more people are paying more attention to the “cost per wear” of their clothing, meaning, that a $20 skirt that only gets worn 12 times out of the year is more costly than a $100 skirt that gets worn 61 or more times out of the year.  So while this method will provide a more diverse closet, you may have to sacrifice the quality of your clothing in order afford so many garments.

Another way to determine how many clothes you need is what I have dubbed the Laundry Based Method.

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The quantity of clothing you need is based on how often you do your laundry.  For most people, I assume, laundry is done weekly.  Therefore, you would need about 7 tops, 7 skirts or pants, 7 pairs of underwear, etc.  For items that do not need to be laundered after every wear such as sweaters, dresses (if you wear a slip underneath) you could get away with even fewer of each item.  This laundry based method is a lot closer to the amount of clothing women owned “back in the day.”  The trade-off with this method is that you will be wearing the same clothes week in and week out.  This won’t be a problem if you have a uniform wardrobe type but if you’re the type of person to be self-conscious of this, you may feel embarrassed about it, especially if some nosy person asks, “Why do you always wear the same clothes?”  You will also need to consider investing more in the quality of each of your garments with this method.  Having fewer clothes means they will need to be laundered more often which could lead to more wear and tear if the garments are cheaply made; or, you will need to invest more in the care of your garments such as having clothes dry cleaned or spending time handwashing items.

A third method is the Percentage by Frequency Method.  This method is ideal for people who have to split their wardrobe between the various aspects of their life and it’s very similar to the idea of “cost per wear.”  So let’s say that you have to have separate work clothes from your personal clothes and then you also have your workout clothes, your pajamas, etc.  If you work 40 hours a week, then that means 23.8% of your week is spent at work in work clothes and according to the Percentage by Frequency Method, 23.8% of your clothing and/or your clothing budget should be spent on work clothes.  If you get the standard 8 hours of sleep each night, then 33.3% of your week is spent in your pajamas, possibly more since we all love to bum around at home in our pajamas.  And let’s say that you go to the gym or exercise for 2 hours on 3 days out of the week.  This means that the 6 hours you spend exercising during the week accounts for 3.5% of your time and therefore workout clothes should account for about 3.5% of the total quantity of your clothes and budget (unless your personal style is the athleisure style and you wear workout clothes all the time anyway).  This leaves about 39.2% of your time, your budget, and your closet for your “personal”- or non-work- clothes.

Now the Percentage by Frequency Method doesn’t account for exactly how many clothes you need.  It’s more of a tool to help keep your wardrobe and your budget balanced in case you feel tempted to buy that 13th pair of workout leggings even though you only spend 3.5% of your time at the gym.  Also, it’s entirely up to you whether you take your percentages and apply them to the number of your clothes or the amount of your clothing budget.  Personally,  I think it makes the most sense in terms of budgeting.  For easy math, let’s pretend that I have 100 total garments in my wardrobe.  Do I really need 33 pajamas?  I don’t think so.  But, the quality of the pajamas warrants about 33% of my budget.  And it’s ok if I don’t spend 33.3% of my clothing budget on sleepwear.  If I can get quality clothing for less money why wouldn’t I?  The 33% is not a minimum but a maximum budget, a guide to prevent overspending rather than to ensure a standard of quality since a hefty price tag ≠ good quality.

This brings me to another key point with regard to all of these methods- its ok to use different methods for different types of clothing.  Personally, I buy and own sleepwear based on the Laundry Method; I only feel the need to have 7-8 sets of pajamas.  Perhaps you care more about not repeating outfits at work than in your personal life so you use the “Two Week, One Month” rule for your work clothes but you don’t feel the need to have that many clothes for your personal time even though, according to the Percentage by Frequency Method, you “should” have more personal clothes than work clothes.

The last method I have to discuss is not really a method at all.  I call it the Carrie Bradshaw “Method”.

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Sure, it may look organized but was each purchase a conscious decision and a worthwhile investment? This so-called “method” is for people who can afford to never repeat an outfit (like ever) and who get rid of a garment the day after it’s been worn the first time.  This isn’t realistic for most of us. The other type of person this method encompasses is the people who simply own a lot of clothes because they like their money right where they can see it… hanging in their closets, but then they really only end up wearing the same few clothes that they truly love over and over again.

I try not to dictate how your closet should be curated, how you “should” pair items or what your style should be but I must say that the Carrie Bradshaw “Method” is the worst method listed here, particularly the second version which leads to a cluttered closet, wasted money, and environmental damage. The first version of the method in which the wearer “discards” an item after wearing it once is, in my opinion, a lot less bad for several reasons.  First of all, after one wearing, the garment can easily be sold on eBay, donated, or returned to the store so that your money isn’t wasted. Most people wouldn’t just thrown a garment into the trash after one wearing unless it looked like it had been through a war zone. Secondly, the garment won’t be taking up the valuable real estate in your closet if you wear it once and get rid of it. And lastly, allowing the garment to have a new owner keeps it out of a landfill and allows someone else to make use of it.

The second version of the Carrie Bradshaw “Method” lacks intention; at least with the first version, the wearer has a clear intention of how the garment will function as part of their wardrobe, even if it is only for a day.  A lack of purposeful intention (and when I say purposeful intention, I don’t mean the wishy-washy “Well I could wear it some day to *somewhere* if…”) is the main reason why the average woman owned about $550 worth of unworn clothing in 2014 and it’s no surprise that 75% of the women surveyed said that it was because they preferred other items. Not only is this a waste of money and closet space, it is also a massive waste of the resources used to produce the clothing.

Curating your closet and how to do so is ultimately a personal choice so it’s entirely up to you how you want to do it.  But I would advise that when you’re shopping for new clothes if it’s not a “Hell yes!” its a “Hell no!” and if you have to ask yourself if you really want it, you don’t want it enough.


Update 8/12/20: I wrote a Part 2 to this article since it is the most popular post on the blog and I think there’s more to be said.

3 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on fletchnic and commented:
    A great read, it’s really got me thinking , how much stuff do we really need ? Hopefully we can see some more of this , great work ….

  2. Great read 😀 now I will be spending some time trying to catergorise myself … And seeing it that book is available to read … Happy Sunday .

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