Editing a wardrobe: Lessons from Kurosawa-san

I read this quote from Japanese filmmaker Akiro Kurosawa's autobiography, "Something Like An Autobiography"

"When you are shooting, of course, you film only what you believe is necessary. But very often you realize only after having shot it that you didn’t need it after all. You don’t need what you don’t need. Yet human nature wants to place value on things in direct proportion to the amount of labor that went into making them. In film editing, this natural inclination is the most dangerous of all attitudes. The art of the cinema has been called an art of time, but time used to no purpose cannot be called anything but wasted time."

And I thought, if visual presentation–that is, the way we dress ourselves– is an art, this wisdom applies too, to choosing what we buy and wear.

In film-making, the traps are effort and falling in love with your idea: who cares if it advances the story or not, it's such a cool shot! In choosing what to buy, the comparable trap is that the item is pleasing or even beautiful, especially if it's so on someone else.
I've freed myself from Converses, ruffles, short skirts, long cardis, ponchos, motos, boxy tops, pastels, all of which can look terrific on others. Better to admire a Philip Lim pale colourblocked menswear blazer on my girlfriend than to install it as a museum piece in my closet.

Yet another trap is learned fatigue. As Janice of "The Vivienne Files" says, "We tire of our clothes before they tire of us." If there is one habit I have tried to undo, it's that. 

I've worn the same bright, snuggly wool muffler nearly every cold day for five years. Recently, I found myself trolling for a new one. The whiny, demanding voice of boredom had crept in.  

I examined my consumer-programmed attitude. Had anyone ever said, "Don't you ever wear another muffler? No. Do I have other mufflers I can rotate in if needed? Yes. And mufflers eventually vanish from coat-checks or are left on buses. Never retire one, it will leave on its own! 

I bow before Kurosawa's wisdom: I don't need what I don't need.

Having discovered the good sense of the decades-old advice in "Simple Isn't Easy" by Amy Fine Collins and the late Olivia Goldsmith, I see that finding your look and refusing anything else feels like a rut only if you buy, literally, new-is-better propaganda.

So, first purchases of 2013 (and the only ones till the leaves are out) was this Eric Bompard extrafine cashmere shirt, simple, easy and on sale, for which I waited. 

I also bought three pairs of slim fine-wale cords from Land's End. They'll be right for our chilly spring and the colours, lavender, parchment and vermilion, take me out of winter black. At $17 a pair (sale price) and free shipping, good buy.

Jewelry is my Achilles' Heel, so I try to save for the occasional indulgence. Beauty can override need; as a creator of breathtaking images, Kruosawa would understand. There will always be room for a graceful pair of earrings.

But not a muffler. 


Susan B said…
Duchesse, after many years of you recommending it, I've finally ordered a used copy of Simple Isn't Easy. (Boy, is that book at a premium based on going rates for "new" or "near new" copies!) Love Kurosawa's simple, direct dictum. Funny you mention losing the long cardigans, as I'm going in the opposite direction, and shedding my short cardis which just aren't being worn. (I think the longer proportion just works better on me.)
Susan B said…
Meant to also mention that one thing I learned from my mother about style (whether clothing or interior design) is to always go with the simpler choice as you'll tire of it less quickly. I've generally found that to be true.
Swissy said…
Duchesse and Pseu: Thanks to you both for stiffening my spine. I really have "evolved" in my clothing style. I decided it needed to look more like my house! I have no problem there making decisions that simplify and define a look. I love my house and hope to love my personal look as much before too long.

And I have lost the short cardigans as well, Pseu. I still wear knee length skirts, and I still like the look of a long(ish) slim cardigan over both skirts and pants.
LauraH said…
What a wonderful quote. It also applies to my current wardrobe weeding of what's not looking good on me. So hard to get over the voice that says "but I paid so much for this". And I haven't yet mastered the art of falling on the right side of the fine line between simple and boring. It's all a work in progress and I appreciate your posts so much.
Susan said…
I have finally learned that I should have no ruffled or double breasted garments in my closet. Also no skirts above the knee (my knees aren't bad, but the proportion is wrong.) I fear that my clothing choices border on boring, but at least most are somewhat flattering.

The jury is out on what length of cardigan I should wear.
Duchesse said…
Pseu: The writing in the book is sometimes kludgy and some of it is dated, but there are some good points. Since our builds are so different it makes sense you would suit long cardis. I sit on them and they then get pilly on the butt and bag out there.
Your mother gave great advice!

Swissy: Ne sure to tell us what you choose! I do like the look of long cardis- just not on me.

LauraH: There are a number of us leaning toward the simpler, and always reminding ourselves about quality. Sometimes I feel we are in the minority since there are so many loot blogs around featuring disposable trendy things and "must have" trends.

Susan: My knees aren't bad either (especially in tights ;)) but the above-knee proportion is off for me, too. It's another one of those looks I can admire on other women and have finally learned to leave it with them.

Marsha said…
You have beautifully expressed a sentiment dear to my heart when you discuss your muffler (which is quite beautiful, by the way). I don't often have problems retaining things that continue to work for me, but staying stalwart in the face of tempting but unsuitable items (meaning consistently unflattering styles, or things that I tell myself would look nice if I would just change something about myself, because it's me that's at fault) continues to be a challenge. I am encouraged.
GP said…
THREE PAIRS OF TROUSERS? - You see now why I say your blog is materialistic - how can you spout so much vapid philosophy then list your unnecessary purchases so unashamedly?
BTurner said…
I'm a newcomer to your blog, but I'm a fan! Like Deja Pseu, I snapped up a copy of Simple Isn't Easy and also a pair of those corduroy jeans from the Lands End sale! Thanks for the tips!
LauraH said…
GP your comments say a lot about you rather than about this blog. If you find it distasteful, the remedy is obvious - stop reading it. I regret that such comments were made in a space that is so positive and affirming and lively.
Susan said…
I seldom get tired of clothing items that work well for me. Rather, they wear out! I just picked up from the tailor today a fine gauge long sleeved top which had to be repaired due to three small holes appearing. I have no idea how they happened and the repair was $20.00. I would have attempted it myself, but knew my tailor would do a superior job rescuing this mainstay of my wardrobe.

Another issue is fit. I am struggling with maintaining the optimal weight/size for me. No one to blame but myself, but I often have wonderful items that go unworn due to their size.
Duchesse said…
Marsha: Thanks, and I am encouraged too.

GP: No, actually four, I added a a pair. Lost so much weight that alterations are more expensive than these replacements. See what you will; I like my pants to not fall off my body.

BTurner: Welcome, and I'm glad that sale worked for you.

LauraH: I thought that too; there are so many excellent blogs out there, anyone exercised by this one has plenty of other options!

Anonymous said…
Do you mind me asking what size of Bompard shirt you ordered? I was interested in the same one but the sizing has me stumped, I guess they run small but not sure how small.
Duchesse said…
Anon@3:38: I ordered an XL but I have a better suggestion than figuring out your size from mine. On the web site, each garment is displayed with text that says "See the size guide". Click on that and you'll see the length and width measurements for each garment. (The catalog also has a listing of dimensions.)

Measure something you currently wear, then compare.

If you need further measurements, such as sleeve length or shoulder width, call them. The customer service dept has English speaking staff. Hope this helps.
Anonymous said…
What a great quote !
Anne Touraine (Playing with Scarves)
GP said…
LauraH - I agree my comment says a lot about me. It says I'm intolerant of the excess of stuff that the Western world deems appropriate. It also says that I'm intolerant of the pseudo spiritual justification that is being made here for yet more purchases.

I have dipped into and out of Duchesse's blog for years. I know she is intelligent and humorous, but I've definitely noticed a blind spot when it comes to the accumulation of 'stuff'. And it seems to happen every January. All this simplifying of wardrobes that seems to be the trend appears to me to be just an excuse to throw away the old and go out and spend more.

LauraH - in your world should everyone always agree? Is that why you think my opinions should not be give a platform?
Anonymous said…
GP, I think most of us here are OK with opinions that are not the same as ours, as long as they are expressed with respect and tolerance.

Using words like "spout," "vapid," "unnecessary," and "unashamedly" don't pass that particular sniff test for me.
Usually the blogs that suggest a capsule wardrobe see losing or gaining a significant amount of weight as an exception. Jeans and similar trousers are notoriously difficult to alter - and expensive. Probably a better idea to give them away to a charity shop so someone else who needs them can benefit. (Or to a relative or friend, if one happens to be the right size - and shape).

I've often found quality garments in charity shops, but jeans, never. as they are can be so hard to fit.

Duchesse said…
GP: January is the time of good sales, GP, so yes, I do tend to stock up then. The pants, originally %50, now $17 and free shipping: passes my wise-spending test.

What "pseudo spiritual justification" have I offered for more buying? In *this post* I mention "consumer-programmed attitude" and "I don't need what I don't need".

But, with the weight loss, I *do* need those pants.

In the future, I will occasionally buy something beautiful and useful, just because it delights me or my family. I will buy a beautiful gift for a friend, and I will buy something made by a skilled artist whose work I wish to support. There's room for that in the world too.

If those forms of acquisition incite you to hurl insults, please stop torturing yourself by reading.
Duchesse said…
rubiatonta: The comment crossed the line of my abuse policy, not for its viewpoint, but for the language you cited. However, I wanted to learn how other readers felt, so I let it stand.

lagatta; That's exactly it. Tailor says one size down in fine but two or more means taking pants apart and recutting- not worth it as mine were well-worn.

Susan" A tailor who can invisibly mend your holes is a treasure. I find the price so good might fly there next time!
KSL said…
Oddly, I never tire of clothing I love. I don't tire of things in my home either. I tend to dress in a sort of "uniform" with blue or black jeans as the base. I do tire of certain silhouettes, or as trends change, I think I get influenced and want to stay a bit current.
GP said…
My apologies for upsetting your little blog world - perhaps it's a culture thing (I can't see anything insulting in my choice of words - perfectly everyday words in the UK) - what a shame that only people who agree with you are welcome. Enjoy your trousers!
GP said…
My apologies for upsetting your little blog world - perhaps it's a culture thing (I can't see anything insulting in my choice of words - perfectly everyday words in the UK) - what a shame that only people who agree with you are welcome. Enjoy your trousers!
Viktoria Berg said…
I think simplicity is excellent advice, and, yes, hard. Also, intelligent, curious human beings evolve constantly, and their wardrobes will reflect this. Clothes are about so much more than just modesty, warmth, and comfort. In our culture, they are an important tool of communication, and a clever person will respect them as such.
barbara said…
GP - blog world is endless.
Surely their are some where is no need for express yourself somewhat more sophisticated.
Kristien62 said…
The remark more than just disagrees, as the writer states; it's meant to insult. Disagreement, stated intelligently, is usually welcome. And I don't believe UK readers would agree with the writers assessment.

I love your choice of cords. They should be lovely in spring. I am using weight watchers now and doing aerobics and hope that some wardrobe replacements will be necessary in the future. Have a lovely weekend.tatban3775
Kristien62 said…
Sorry about the tatban 3775. I didn't notice that my cursor was still in the comment area when I entered the id code.
Duchesse said…
GP: It's not the "perfectly everyday words" in your comment, it's the officious certainty with which you somehow know what would be "unnecessary purchases" for me that I found disturbing.

Usually I'd respond to a person writing this tone in a personal e-mail, but you do not provide that. I appreciate that "the little blog world" called out a comment that fell short of their standards for respect and tolerance.

Finally, you note that you have "dipped in and out of my blog for years". Perhaps if you read more constantly, you would note that I often question consumption- mine and others', and practice the "something in/something out" method of keeping a leaner closet than in years past. I suspect we in fact hold many of the same values.

Unknown said…
What is the quality on LandsEnd cords like these days? I used to be a fan of their clothes, then a fan of their turtlenecks, tees and cashmeres, but this year returned everything I ordered. So thin and cheap (even the men's sweaters at my local LandsEnd/Sears were no longer merino wool, but transparent wool/cotton blends). I'm really disgusted, they used to be a reasonably priced brand with not-exciting, but well made timeless items. I have 10-18 year old cashmere sweaters from LE that are still in good shape, but they were also made thicker and better then. Now so much for sale is thin and cheap - I guess I'll keep wearing certain things for another 10 years.
Duchesse said…
Kristien62: Good for you! WW's a solid program (I'm a Lifetime Member) and at least in my experience gave me enough to eat- and taught me how to manage my eating. Let us know how it goes.

I share your perception of the intention behind that comment.

Artful Lawyer: I buy so rarely from LE that I'm a poor judge. These are my first LE pants in at least 15 yrs.

Cords are great, not thick or bulky- more like chinos. Tried a cashmere 2 or 3 yrs ago (deeply on sale); has worn well. Thought this year's offerings dowdy- and no v-necks!

Looks like they are trying to up their style game; would be too bad if they cut quality.
DEAR Duchesse,
I haven't commented for some time, but that doesn't mean I haven't been nodding my head in agreement with the brilliant observations that you share! This post is particularly thought-provoking, and I thank you for that.
Mes meilleures souhaites!
Hadilly said…
Just ordering some of the LE cords here. What a great price! (Also, they are having a 25% off sale, perhaps worth asking for a price adjustment?)

Lifestyle matters so much in thoughtful clothes buying - I find I need more clothes than I think I should just because of how grubby, and how quickly I can get grubby, taking care of small children.

materfamilias said…
Late to the conversation, but glad to see how clearly your commenters made it quickly obvious what we value here.
What a pretty colour those LE cords are -- surely very welcome in a long cold winter!
And I'm intrigued by that Bompard cashmere shirt -- I don't know that it would work in my climate, but it must be perfect for layering in yours.
Duchesse said…
C'estChic: Thank you very much.

Hadily: I got first three @ 30% off and free shipping, than added one more more pair @ 40% + free ship. The price was around $15 pair.

materfamilias: Not winter here! Too light for our winters (even with longjohns) but should be perfect for March or so. On other hand, Bompard shirt is an extrafine (same as your navy v-neck) so you could likely get good wear there.

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