How Many Clothes Do I Really Need? Part 2

Fashion is frustrating. For many, shopping is an inner circle of hell. Finding the right clothes in the right style and the right fit is not easy. Shopping is actually pretty hard. If it was so easy, personal shoppers wouldn’t exist.

We have unlimited choices when it comes to clothing in our modern times. Gone are the serene days of Little House on the Praire when you would go to the local merchantile, select the fabric you want from a choice of probably no more than 20 different fabrics, and then construct the dress yourself from a pattern that was either bought from the same merchantile from a very limited selection of patterns or a pattern that you made up yourself, or perhaps one that was handed down to you. Now we can have any color, size, style, fit, or fabric. And we can get as much as we want whenever we want it.

My most popular post on this site is How Many Clothes Do I Really Need? (Part 1) And if you’re asking yourself that question, chances are you suspect that you have too many clothes. Maybe you want to be more minimalist with your clothes. Maybe you travel or move around a lot and want to make things easier on yourself.

The answer to that question, if we stick to the strictest definition of “need” is probably something like 2 tops, 2 bottoms, 2-3 pairs of shoes, one jacket or sweater, one winter coat, one bathing suit, 3-4 pairs of socks, 3-4 pairs of underwear, and 3 sets of pajamas. That’s really how many clothes you need.

But I have a feeling that when we ask that question, “How many clothes do I really need?” the real question we are asking is: How many clothes do I need in order to still be fashionable and not look like a loser who only has 2 shirts? How many clothes do I need for the “perfect wardrobe”? What’s the right number? Do I have too many? Do I have too little? How many clothes do I need to be fashionable and express my personal style but not so much that it’s excessive?

Also, if you only had as many clothes as I listed, you’d be doing laundry pretty often.

The answer to that question “How many clothes do I need?” will be different for each of us. How many clothes I need will be different from how many clothes you need which will be different from how many a stay at home parent in Toledo needs which will be different from how many a high powered career person in London needs.

No one’s closets look the same because everyone is different. Everyone’s life is different. And the trendy capsule wardrobe thing is not going to work for everyone. Especially if you don’t like to wear separates.

I can’t answer the question of how many clothes you need for you. But I can help you answer it for yourself.

Our Aspirational Selves

I think the main thing that gets us (and by us I mean me) into trouble when it comes to overbuying and owning too many clothes is that we often tend to buy clothes for our aspirational selves rather than our current right now selves.

Marketing is a bitch. And luxury marketing is even worse. What happens is we become convinced that these objects we buy in stores- be they clothes, shoes, handbags, makeup, fragrances, whatever- are somehow this magical totem to becoming whatever aspirational version of ourselves we think we need to be or should be or want to be. Example: “Once I have those red bottoms, I am going be confident and look like a rich girl and I want to project an image of wealth and confidence.”

There’s nothing wrong with being wealthy and confident or wanting to be that way. Who wouldn’t want to be wealthy and confident? I know I’d like to be wealthy and confident for sure!

But the confidence and wealth (or whatever your aspirational self looks like) are not in the shoes, or any other item we buy. In fact it’s probably the opposite. When we overspend on things we don’t need with money we don’t have, that’s not actually going to make us wealthy. It’s just going to keep us in credit card debt.

And for what? What good is it to look wealthy when you’re actually struggling. Wouldn’t you rather actually be wealthy even if it doesn’t look like it? Because side note on wealth: it’s not your income or net worth or how bomb and glamorous your life looks on instagram. Wealth is being able to maintain your current lifestyle without additional income. And the best, most simple way for most people to do that is to scale back on discretionary purchases.

Fashion and beauty is a big category when it comes to discretionary purchases. These are the things that are nice-to-haves not need to haves. And a lot of the time, these nice-to-haves sit at the back of our closets or the bottom of our makeup drawers unused.

These items that we buy for our aspirational selves go unused or unworn because it’s not our aspirational selves who will be using and wearing them. Our current real selves are the ones who have to use and wear the stuff. Always.

And if you think that buying items for your aspirational self will somehow motivate or enable you to become this new version of yourself, you’re dead wrong man.

I know because I’ve tried. I’ve tried keeping the pair of shorts at the bottom of a drawer so that I could one day fit back into them. That didn’t work. The shorts were given away. But even still, I can think of 5 dresses in my closet right now that I have never worn and one of them was only worn once, despite the fact that 2 of them had been tailored to fit me perfectly and one of them cost $500. Yikes! They’ve all been in my possession and tailored for over a year, probably closer to two. And I still have not become the manifestation of my aspirational self that I had hoped.

My aspirational self wears heels and dresses every day. She always had her hair and nails done and wears makeup daily. She’s basically like Amy Adams in American Hustle. One of those dresses I mentioned is even a Calvin Klein dupe for that blue dress she wore in the movie. And yes, you guessed it folks, that is one of those dresses I just mentioned that I have never worn in my life. I think it still has the tags on too. My aspirational self also loves to go to the theater to see ballets (which is a bit more realistic since I do love the ballet and I used to dance) but I haven’t actually been to a ballet in years. She “dresses for the theater” and also dines at fancy posh restaurants.

Tell me about your “aspirational self” in the comments!

My real self, on the other hand, is a community college student who lives at home with her parents and who should be more focused on saving up to move out than buying clothes and makeup she doesn’t wear for events she doesn’t go. I don’t go out very much, even pre-coronavirus I didn’t go anywhere. All my friends live in other places and I’m not dating at all right now so I don’t really hang out with anyone IRL (in real life) and now that we have COVID, that’s even more true; I haven’t left the house in almost 2 weeks.

Our Real Selves

Answering the million-dollar question of “How many clothes do I need?” requires separating our aspirational selves from our real selves. If these were normal times, I would say to look at the last 3 months of your life and determine what your real self has done.

We have 4 seasons a year which means 3 months per season which is an optimal amount of time to analyze, not too short like 1 week or 1 month, and not too long like 6 months or a year. For some of us, our lives dictate that there is no such thing as a typical week or month so a span of 3 months gives us a much more balanced view. Any longer and it’s just too much to think about and we eventually start planning for hypotheticals that could (but also could not happen) within the next year like next Valentine’s Day or wedding season next summer or next fall or next Christmas or next year’s vacation.

What has your self done within the past 3 months? I know with COVID for me the answer is stay at home, do my classes online with few to zero video calls, sleep, order Uber Eats, watch TV and surf the web, oh and sleep.

So instead let’s look at the 3 months that happened right before COVID. This was January-March which as far as actual seasons go was the depths of winter, bleeding a little into spring at the end.

During that time I was physically going to school and occasionally hung out with friends to get food and some pastries but never anywhere fancy. I did not in fact, go to any theater to see a ballet or opera. I didn’t even go to a movie theater during that time, except for one time but I left at the beginning of the movie because I saw a rat in the theater isle I was in. (And if you’re wondering, I did pull a Karen and asked to speak to the manager for a refund.)

Clearly, I rarely go to movie theaters or fancy restaurants even during normal times so there’s no reason for me to believe that I go to actual theaters, let alone have not one but several outfits that in my head are earmarked for “going to the theater” and/or fancy dinner. Also during that time, I went to two VentureCafe events (it’s a startup business networking thing) and I went on precisely one first date which turned out to be a catfish so I noped the fuck out of there and went home. (The other date I had in that time frame stood me up. Fun stuff online dating.)

Shopping for your real self

I think when most of shop, we buy clothing, shoes and accessories with specific ideas in our heads about what the items are for. Example: “This item is for wearing to work, this is for date night, this one is for brunch, I can wear this to a concert/festival, I can wear this to the club, etc.”

These reasons and events that we have in our head can quickly get away from us and turn from actual plans and events we have in our lives to the plans and events of our aspirational selves.

I personally have never been to any concert or festival or nightclub. And I don’t buy things consciously or unconsciously thinking that I will wear them to a concert or club. But that’s not because I don’t go to any concerts or festivals- it’s because my aspirational self doesn’t go to festivals or clubs. My aspirational self goes to the theater to see ballets and musicals and to fancy restaurants.

Maybe you’re like me and you have never actually been to a concert or club or festival. But you could still have your closet stuffed full with clothes for these things because your aspirational self goes to these places.

So when you’re shopping, ask yourself these 5 questions:

  1. What is this for? Where do I think I’m going to wear this?
  2. Have I actually been to the place or event that I think I’ll wear this to at all within the last 3 months? Have I been more than 3 times within the last 3 months?
  3. Do I already have something I could wear for the occasion? Is there any good reason why I can’t wear what I wore last time or will I simply feel self conscious for repeating an outfit? (Good reasons include you need a new size, other suitable items have rips, stains, or are otherwise damaged and can’t be repaired, etc.)
  4. If I have NOT been to such a place more than 3 times in the last 3 months, do I have solid plans to go to such a place within the next 1-2 months? (And by solid plans I mean tickets are purchased, reservations have been made, you got the new job and the contract is signed, etc. Not “oh I think I’ll go but I dunno maybe.”)
  5. If for whatever reasons, the plans fall through, will I have enough time to return the item if I don’t get to wear it to the place I had planned for? What’s this store’s return policy?

Asking these 5 questions will help to reduce the unnecessary purchases you make which is the first step to owning only clothes that you use and love. If your closet is overflowing, step one is to turn off the metaphorical faucet. And the biggest category of clothes that you DON’T need are the clothes that you never wear.

If I were to start with zero clothes and had to create a wardrobe for my real self for the past 3 months (before COVID), I would have most of my clothes be for school and hanging out in casual settings with friends. That means comfort and also it was winter so warmth and layers that I could take on and off would be essential. I would have one “date night” outfit that was a teeny bit nicer than what I wear to school, but nothing opera level fancy. Aside from that, I would only need a few outfits for lounging around the house and cleaning, and of course pajamas. All of my dresses that I never wear would never have made the cut.

And when it comes to repeating outfits, most people won’t think twice about your outfit if it’s been a month or more since they’ve seen you. And that’s if you run into the same people! Your friends, if they’re not super shallow people, won’t care if you’re rewearing an outfit. And chances are wherever you’re going- be it a festival, club, or opera- is going to have a different crowd than who was there last time. Sure, there will be some regulars who recognize you. But if your outfit looked good then, it should still look good now and if someone looks down on you for repeating an outfit, especially one you feel confident in, they probably aren’t someone you want to be friends with.

Part 3: Wardrobe Planning

In part 3, I’m going to attempt to help you answer the big question once and for all for your real self, not your aspirational self. We’ll be using various methods for determining how much of what kind of clothing you need as well as how to decide how many items and outfits you need over all.


Featured Photo by Adrienne Leonard on Unsplash

Tell me about your aspirational self in the comments. Where does she/he/they go? What do they do? Are they a different size or the same size? How does your aspirational self compare to your current real self? How different is your style from your aspirational self to your current self?

How many clothes do you think you need? Does a capsule wardrobe of 30 items seem like too much or too little for you?

Stay tuned for Part 3!

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