Repeating Outfits

A couple weeks ago, I found myself in an awkward position. I was headed to a meeting for an upcoming internship with a startup company and as I was getting dressed, I realized that I didn’t want to wear the same pink sweater to the meeting as I had worn to the networking event last week. So I selected a different sweater and went about my day. After the meeting, I wanted to have dinner at a restaurant that I discovered and had fallen in love with earlier that week. Upon arriving and taking off my winter coat to eat dinner, I realized that I was wearing the same loud, ugly Christmas sweater as I had worn to the restaurant the first time.

Immediately, I was slightly embarrassed especially since many of the restaurant staff was the same as the previous night and the sweater was pretty memorable. I thought to myself that I should’ve re-worn the pink sweater because it is significantly less memorable than the Christmas sweater, therefore, no one at the meeting would’ve noticed (people in tech startups don’t generally care about fashion too much anyways, coughzuckerbergcough). To add to my embarrassment, the first time I went to the restaurant, I was on a date but that evening I was eating alone. I know it’s irrational but I didn’t want the staff to recognize me and see me eating alone like a loser in the same holiday sweater from three days ago.

This really got me thinking about the fashion crime of being a repeat (outfit) offender. Realistically, there is no Fashion Police, the restaurant staff didn’t kick me out for daring to wear the same sweater to the same place in one week. So why do we feel embarrassed for repeating outfits?

Less than a century ago women owned only 9 outfits but the average number of outfits owned today is 30, and yet how often do we complain to ourselves, “I have nothing to wear!” I think our aversion to repeating outfits has several causing factors.

1. Keeping Up with the Kardashians

Like it or not, celebrities are the standard of beauty and style for our society. Celebrities have a seemingly endless wardrobe filled with designer clothes and limitless variety.  It’s impossible for us normal people to keep up and that we understand. But with the increased visibility that social media gives us of Insta-famous people who are just “normal enough” to make comparisons between them and ourselves believable, having an unlimited wardrobe feels like it should be within reach for us too.

2. Wardrobe Staples vs Statement Pieces

How unique an item is directly translates to how memorable it is. I doubt I would’ve cared if I had worn the same plain T-shirt to the restaurant instead of the flashy Christmas sweater. Nobody would’ve remembered the plain shirt but I assumed the sweater was unique enough to be remembered by the restaurant staff. Its a lot easier to “get away with” wearing certain items more often. Items that are considered “wardrobe staples” can easily be re-worn more often. For example, I doubt anyone cares about wearing the same pair of jeans every day; I certainly don’t and I didn’t care that I was wearing the same jeans to the restaurant. Items like jeans, coats, and neutral colored items are staples and we expect that they’ll be worn regularly. Items that are “statement pieces” are expected to be worn more sparingly.

3. Status

This goes along with number 1 and maybe this is an old notion since we live in a time when billionaires wear the same outfit every day and minimalism is a popular lifestyle choice but my mom, a 70s kid, recounts a time when wearing the same few outfits every week (and thrift shopping, for that matter) would get you teased in school. Having a large number of clothes can be a signal of wealth and perhaps to some people, in spite of the chic minimalist closet trend, having few clothes is a sign of being poor. One of the ways people can mask their financial status is with a large variety of outfits. There are some rich people, like Dolly Parton, who never wear the same item twice.

4. Style Preferences

While some people have embraced the minimalist, “uniform”-type wardrobe, or they have a distinct style that they don’t deviate from (like Dita Von Tesse), many people want to look different or show off different looks and styles from day to day. This is one of the most enjoyable and creative aspects of fashion- one day you could be a vintage pinup girl, the next a biker chic, and the day after be going for the model-off-duty look. Others have a desire to always be on trend and with the introduction of 52 micro-seasons within the fast fashion industry, wearing the same outfit from just last week is so last season.

I think my discomfort with re-wearing that sweater also had a lot to do with my own self-consciousness. I would have preferred to just “beige out” and not be seen or recognized. I was more concerned with what the waitstaff at the restaurant was thinking about me above my own delight with my favorite holiday sweater and the delicious food I was eating. And that’s so messed up because not only is it indicative of my own lack of confidence but in a way, it’s kind of bizarrely self-absorbed to assume that anyone aside from a total snob cares about how often I wear something.

You wouldn’t care so much what people thought of you if you knew how seldom they did.

– Shallon Lester

Clothing can strongly affect how we feel and we choose our clothing because every item holds a certain feeling for us, whether that’s the leather jacket or hot pants that make us feel badass, the tight bandage dress that makes us feel sexy, or even the old baggy sweatpants that give us that comfy, hygge feeling. Each of our items of clothing makes us feel some type of way. I was more concerned with other people’s opinions instead of relishing the cozy, Holiday Spirit feeling that wearing my ugly Christmas sweater brings me.

If you find yourself feeling as though you need more clothes, ask yourself if that’s because of practical concerns like your job or your climate, a desire to be more creative and try new styles, or if you feel wearing the same things “too often” is embarrassing. When it comes to that last one, I think we would all benefit from recognizing that no one cares about us repeating our outfits nearly as much as we think and that we should simply enjoy our clothes as often as we want for the feelings they give us regardless of if other people care or not.

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