Does anybody really care what you wear?

A Parisienne friend has been in therapy. One of her issues, she says, is an obsession with her appearance.

Her therapist asked her to try an experiment. She was to dress in mismatched separates, "more than just mismatched", she told me, "really jumbled, random things", then run errands in her chic quartier for an entire day. "What do you think happened?" she asked.

She didn't get a second glance, let alone a pointing finger.


This is the same result reported by men and women (who mostly seem to be in their twenties) who've tried wearing si
x items for a month. Many went for weeks without anyone, from partners to work colleagues, noticing their wardrobes were condensed.

On the Six Items or Less web site, they posted insights about identity, culture and consumption during their month:

"... one’s ’total public presentation’ is largely made up of a combination of
clothing, skin, and attitude. Of the three, I am more convinced than ever that clothing is the least important to spend time precious thinking about and optimizing. Nobody really cares what you wear unless it negatively effects work performance or visually offends." -ATX

"...on a grand scheme of things – no one, except you, cares about what you look like. It’s all in your head. And the nice thing is – you’re still you. Whether you feel it or not." -Proxikid

"I finally understood what
quality was." -thekhesirekat

"Simplicity, conservation, and preservation are
harder to learn later in life but I’m trying. The kids (and I) really will live through and benefit from the less is more mantra." -Shannonandkids

"Stress and complexity in life is most often a self-inflicted malady. There’s lots of opportunity to reduce that stress by reducing ones reliance on material things.
-ATX

"(I learned to) quit buying things just because one day I might wear them." - Addy

"My mom’s friend came to visit this weekend and I heard while they were talking, she said that shopping was her hobby. My mom said that’s what she used to do too. I actually think that’s how most people are today."-Addy

Could you do it?

Even if others barely notice, you might feel choosing your outfit is an embodiment of your creativity and autonomy. That's what I thought– but I wear about 25% of my clothes at least 85% of the time, a wardrobe Pareto's Law.

Anyone try the experiment? I'd be willing to sign on for ten items, just like the supermarket express lane.

Last summer's batch of experimenters had it easy; in Canada, fall means a jacket. And I don't want to live in my gym clothes. Ten to twelve would work; limited to six, I'd cheat.

40 comments

Kristi said...

I'm in.
http://labellafigura.net

Frugal Scholar said...

I might participate, but, Duchesse, you need to define the rules. For instance, on one of these (I think the one featured in NYT), multiples counted as one: so 6 black sweaters=1. Also, on several, accessories didn't count, so your Imelda Marcos shoe collection didn't count at all.

ChristineB said...

My supermarket's express lane is 14 items or less...maybe that would be enough. ;-)

Seriously, I have been trying to follow the Very Small Closet concept (6 bottoms, 12 tops + layering pieces & accessories). I like that I need to map out all the combinations - I've found that having a "crib sheet" of sorts is a huge timesaver.

Jane W. said...

I did participated, and it was a transformative experience. I didn't count "specialized" clothing like workout wear, outerwear or pajamas. I've since expanded to have 10 items in my wardrobe, and it's very liberating. The challenge will be in finding high-quality "replacements" for my clothing when the time comes.

Jane W. said...

Oops! I meant "did participate."

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

I like the idea but like frugal scholar I need more information.

dana said...

Um, I'm trying to be satisfied with purchasing six items or less for the fall/winter season. = my rules. But I really should try this.

LPC said...

I have an extremely small closet. It's quite comforting, I find. And I almost always like what I wear. With more clothes, that wasn't so often true.

Demi-pointe said...

I think some people use their jobs or climate as reasons for having more,tons more. Is it really more challenging if you work outside of the home - only if you think people care and are watching.Cold weather? - make one of your pieces a wonderfully warm sweater you wear...all the time!
A small wardrobe presents a very cohesive identity of self to others (just in case you think they really are looking or care).
Trying this as an experiment is interesting, living this way is a value.

Marsha said...

I think I already do this most of the time. If a month goes by when I don't have a special social engagement (meaning something dressy), I am perfectly capable of dressing every day in tailored white blouses (I have four in the same style, all the store had in my size) and crisply clean jeans, or a black fitted stretchy top with slight interest of pleating at the neckline; maybe I'll wear my wool slacks if I want a break, and a turtleneck. Scarves if I remember. My rule to only buy and wear what I love has made life much simpler.

cathleen said...

For a month? I'm game, too. I think shoes should be exempt, personally, but I'm willing to follow the rules as soon as you lay 'em down!

My only request is that we start soon so we can finish up before Thanksgiving, but this isn't essential.

sewcelticblue said...

Duchesse, I'm not so sure about people not noticing what we wear. After a very long time of wearing a 'uniform' of jeans and tops (always co-ordinated and groomed to within an inch of my life), I decided to start wearing all the clothes which have inhabited my wardrobe for years. I have been doing this for 7 weeks and without fail, am complimented on a daily basis about my appearance. I actually have ambivalent feelings about this. I bask in the compliments, otoh,I've always wanted to believe that appearance doesn't matter.

Nancy K said...

I think that 6 would be hard, but 10 to 12 is doable. More rules would be necessary for sure.

diverchic said...

I would love to know which 12 items you will pick as a guideline - you are so thoughtful about these things. What rules shall we have regarding shoes, scarves, boots for snow, accessories, yoga clothes an puffy coats.
Does this include my snowshoes and rubber boots or just my city garb?

Deja Pseu said...

I'd go for ten, but may wait until our weather stops fluctuating from the 60's to the 90's within a three day span!

Does that include accessories/shoes/bags, or just articles of clothing?

Violet said...

I think I unwittingly have a Very Small Closet! Hee!

Just because no one commented on the mismatched and/or repeated clothing doesn't mean no one noticed. I worked with a woman who wore one skirt style and one top style in several colors of each. She wore the same outfit, just in different colors, every day. I never said anything but I noticed.

I do, however, think that no one notices as much as I think they do.

Duchesse said...

Kristi, Frugal,Hostess, cathleen, Nancy K, Pseu:
Just thinking of "defining rules" makes me want to mix a fishbowl martini.

BUT OK, you are all so game! I'll post some guidelines on Wed.

diverchic: Dunno, how about
4 skirts, 3 pr pants, 5 tops, 1 jacket, 1 raincoat, 1 feather boa?

Christine: Your approach sounds like that the designer Halston created decades ago for Liza Minelli: a capsule wardrobe of his pieces with a map of various combinations (except I assume your things are from various makers.)

Jane W: Once you find a few good sources, you are secure on this liberating path. Such simplicity is not for everyone but as Demi-Pointe observed, it reflects certain values, values I admire (even though I do not always behave that way.)

dana: I like your strategy, too!

LPC: How certain and exhilarated you are by your choices, like your LBD! With that confidence, each of us could prune to an edited closet.

Demi-pointe: Most of us can find an excuse for more clothes! When I worked in the corporate world (in an office) I noticed that there was often an unspoken rivalry among women about who had the most or the newest things. Mostly this was a friendly, very enabling rivalry but it was there all the same.

Yes, this approach is a manifestation of values.

sewcelticblue: It's not that people don't notice, it's that it's not as big a deal as we think. As my Parisienne friend said, "They are all worrying about what *they* are wearing, not *my* outfit." I too have enjoyed compliments. We are deliberately conditioned (especially in N. America) to think variety and abundance is desirable.

Frugal Scholar said...

It is pretty stressful to formulate the rules. Maybe each participant can make her own rules.

ChristineB said...

Mine are from various makers, but I'm moving towards a single label...my own! :-) I make quite a lot of my own wardrobe these days.

Fuji said...

I think this is mostly an experiment in awareness. Limiting our choices heightens our awareness of time and resources traditionally dedicated to getting dressed. Aside from some broad parameters it is probably best for the individual to determine what limits would serve them. Climate and lifestyle make for a lot of variation in needs.
Terrific post!

Anonymous said...

Carrot:

how did you KNOW?

this is EXACTLY what have TRYING to DO!

all you wonderful, thoughtful 'gals'?

here we are, using a visual medium!

how'about some picts of the actual

few pieces you CHOSE??

will be watching this site & look

forward to participating

Duchesse said...

Frugal: Great idea, I'll use it!

ChristineB: I'm impressed!

Fuji: That's exactly it, and I will be inviting others to experiment next week.

Anonymous: Carrot? I'm a bit confused, do carrots come into the mix?

materfamilias said...

I've done versions of this in the past -- certainly, travelling for a month out of a carry-on constitutes a variation on the theme -- and I see the value in the project, but I have to confess I just don't feel like it right now. I've been refining, getting closer to those key pieces that one happily relies on more and more often, but I also have fun with the variety. As well, I'm not at all convinced that people don't notice -- not commenting is rather different from not noticing, after all. I'm quite sure my students would -- I remember that the Prof I TA'd for years ago had brown cords which he wore always, the only variety in his outfit coming from whether he wore the burgundy or the navy v-neck over his plaid shirt . . . His lectures were equally monotonous!

Of course, you are all a much more style-savvy crew, and I'm sure you'll look sharp even within the limits you set. I'll be happy to watch from the sidelines . . .

Duchesse said...

materfamilias: I'm gonna try it, and yes, it is somewhat like travel. I'm not very engaged by the "I bought this, I bought that" of our culture and I'm guilty of owning too many pleasing clothes. Know what I could do (sell, donate) but purely enjoy what is in those many closets.

So this experiment might offer me some enlightenment, if only in a low key way.

Ms. M said...

I currently live with about 15 pieces (not counting underwear, outerwear, or accessories).

I don't feel the need for more pieces; however, I do feel the need for better quality. Cheap clothes don't last long when you wear them repeatedly.

Mardel said...

I spent most of the summer season living in about 12 to 15 pieces, sometimes fewer, and I enjoyed it and learned a lot. I don't think I will stop loving clothes, either shopping, buying, wearing or making, but it did make me think about what I really need and want. To much choice doesn't really help with anything.

SOFIA said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Duchesse said...

Mrs M. Yes, it's the wearing and also the washing/cleaning. And if you are wearing fewer items, you will notice the quality more keenly.

Mardel: So did I, And yet we keep buying (or making). But I sense a major shift coming on for me. Sometimes I'm so in awe of a garment I buy it as a form of curating. Or I want a lift. So now I have twice as much as I need and am not happy about it.

Rubiatonta said...

I've been noticing how happy I am dressing now that the weather has cooled off and I can get back into the pieces that I love the most -- they aren't many, so they're on heavy rotation, and I really do love the way I look in them.

I haven't counted, but I'm sure that it's not a lot of pieces, especially if I can consider all of my black sweaters as one item. In my case, that's almost like a hive of bees being considered a single organism!

I'm really curious about why my warm weather duds are so much less focused? Am going to cogitate on this one...

Looking forward to seeing the guidelines you come up with -- I may just join you!

Duchesse said...

Rubi: Feel the same; now I can wear one of my 9 black skirts. I start out with few pieces moved into my 'active' closet by by April it's always stuffed, as things migrate up there from storage.

Susan said...

Cold weather clothing is so much more fun to buy and wear--and usually holds up much longer--even if all are quality.

My closet now contains more than I can wear. I'm weeding things out---based on the question---Why would I wear THIS when I have THAT?

Duchesse said...

Susan: The This vs That (what I call The Optometrist Test) is useful. Another screen my readers use is, Would I Wear this in Paris?

Belle de Ville said...

I actually think that as we get older we stop having the need to acquire, because really, how many of any one thing do you need, or can you even store.
If we are smart we find what suits us and just stick with it. We don't need more, we just need more suitable.
There is plenty in fashion that I find to be interesting, but I know will be unsuitable to me at my age and with my lifestyle, so I'm not tempted to shop.
But 6 to 10 items would be impossible for me.

Duchesse said...

Belle: I need less too, but sometimes buy just b/c I like the item or "in case". Want to stop that. I'm not happy with 6-10 items (as a complete wardrobe), either, but some have a goal of maximum simplicity.

Tish Jett said...

Ooooh, I love this. IF and I say "IF" you and I were to play this game together, are we allowed to use all the accessories that are already in our closets?

Perhaps I've lived in France too long, or was in the fashion business from my early 20s, but I do believe clothes are a fascinating, non-verbal expression of our personalities, the way we see ourselves, our creativity (?) That being said, I don't believe one needs walk-in rooms of clothes.

For me it's not shopping that's fun -- in fact I hate to shop -- it's putting it all together from what I have that I love.

Of course no one will say anything to someone who wears the same clothes over and over. That would be would be unkind. But honestly I prefer the French woman's aesthetic of less, but less with panache.

Duchesse said...

Tish: I prefer the 'less with panache' approach too. It is not the typical approach in North America, where I once received a comment, "That skirt has certainly given you good wear"- and it was not meant as a compliment.

And I wonder, if someone wears the same clothes (as in the 6 Items experiment), and the clothes are clean, why would anyone care?

Fuji said...

As I've grown older I've learned to appreciate beautiful items without feeling the need to possess them.
When I was younger it used to be I would see beautiful things, be it clothes or decor, and feel the need to buy them - a form of curating as you so aptly put it. I enjoy the inspiration beautiful things can offer and will often take a photo. Believe it or not it cam satisfy the urge to own and often times simply browsing those photos provides wonderful inspiration to work with what I have.
Of course, sometimes I just have to go back and buy the item. :)

Duchesse said...

Fuji: Thanks for this- photos, books or sketches satisfy our wish for beauty without the weight of possession.

RoseAG said...

My Aunt, who my sister recently petitioned for a court-ordered conservatorship, wore the same thing for six weeks running. In her case this was not a fashion challenge, it was a bad omen.

I think nobody cares what you wear as long as it's clean and you appear to be in command of your mental facilities.

Duchesse said...

RoseAG: Oh dear, there IS that circumstance.