Sunday, 23 April 2017

Cutting of losses

There’s an aspect to minimalism I think doesn’t always sit easy with people committed to simplicity – the whole business of cutting your losses.

Say I’m looking for a jacket.

It must be the right weight. If it’s for occasions like officiating at funerals, preaching and public speaking, I’ll probably choose something less warm than I otherwise might, because public buildings are usually overheated and I find it harder to deal with being hot than cold.

It has to fit – and that includes being long enough to cover my derrière; because if, wearing trousers, I have to process in past people or go up to the sanctuary to fetch an offering plate, it’s always the rear view that takes people’s mind off the occasion and refocuses them onto contemplating the lamentable error of my sartorial choices.  So why not wear a skirt? Because then I either have to own two jackets (as shorter jackets suit skirts and longer  will suit trousers) or wear skirts all the time – then you get into tights and slips and the complications of shoes that don’t look tragic with skirts but are still good for walking, etc., etc..

It has to be black, as it’ll be worn at formal occasions including funerals.

And – now this is the spanner in the works – it has to be cheap. The way to get high quality clothes for very little money is to buy at auction from private sellers on eBay. And generally speaking private sellers don’t accept returns.

I ask for measurements and scrutinize photos. I stick to brands I know, because they are made for different imaginary women. For example, Per Una clothes are designed for women with short backs and small frames, so the larger sizes are for plump, busty women with short backs and small frames – but thin arms. More your Italian type of woman. I need clothes made for another kind of woman altogether – with broad shoulders, a long back, long arms, and altogether hefty. More your Germanic type of woman. So I don’t buy Per Una.

I make sure to buy in stretchy fabrics because woven (rather than knit) fabrics feel like straitjackets to me. And I don’t want to do any ironing. As in ‘ever’.

Even with all this thought and caution, the purchase often doesn’t work out. What might seem an obvious preferable alternative would be to save up for a high quality shop purchase so I could return it. Except that it usually takes me 2 or 3 months and several times of wearing a garment before I reluctantly conclude I don’t like it. So an expensive purchase would simply mean a bigger mistake.

It’s important to me to like my clothes. In my jacket I’ll be on public display, but not at an event which is about me (if you see what I mean). My work isn’t like a TV presenter or actor – it points beyond myself; I need to be effaced, and concentrating entirely on something else. I need to be able to forget myself utterly when I’m preaching, or leading a quiet day or a funeral. I’ve watched preachers who aren’t easy in their clothes, tugging at this and tweaking at that, watched them readjust in alarm as their bra straps emerge from their too-generous necklines – no no no; that’s not for me.
So if I take hours of care and thought and select a second-hand high quality jacket and it arrives and I think it’ll do fine, and I wear it a time or two but have to conclude it makes me look lumpy and frumpy and I feel miserable in it – then what?

Two options; soldier on or try again. If I try again – ie buy a different jacket – this is the point where the minimalism/simplicity conflict kicks in.

Simplicity is humble and lowly, thrifty and responsibly and not wasteful. Simplicity is satisfied with what it has and doesn’t throw things away.

Minimalism runs a tight ship and travels light, so throws things away very readily.

In my particular case, I’ve opted more for the minimalism. If something doesn’t work out, I pass it on. It goes to a charity shop and earns them good money.  I have noticed that with a minimalist wardrobe, what I like and what works becomes clearer to me. If I don’t have loads of clothes, I don’t get confused about what’s going on. The garments that aren’t working stand out very quickly.  If I have loads of clothes and none of them are all that great, I don’t easily notice what doesn’t work because I don’t feel all that good in any of them.

And other questions begin to emerge. For example, I keep one skirt (that I don’t especially like but it’s the best quality/style/weight/fit/length I could find) to wear on formal occasions when a skirt is expected. But I now find myself asking, why is it expected? Do I even want to be at occasions where dressing in skirts is more important than being the person I am? Do I really want to spend time at events where style outweighs substance? Where what I can offer is outweighed by what I’m wearing? Probably not.

But I don’t think those questions would ever have come up for me if I hadn’t been aiming for a minimalist wardrobe – I’d just have a pile of skirts and trousers and dresses and not stopped to ask myself, ‘why have I got this garment at all?’

And the thing is, once the minimalism has helped me identify the styles and fabrics and colours I really want to wear, then the simplicity comes into its own – because at that point I need make fewer and fewer purchases. I’m happy with what I have.


Ganeida said...

Comfort before style for me every time. I have a minimalist wardrobe simply because I hate shopping that much ~ & am that fussy. Nothing that itches, scratches, constricts, or requires the body of a contortionist to get into. It's the dressy occasions that are difficult. For some reason dressy & uncomfortable got married. They need to divorce.

Pen Wilcock said...


Amen to that!

Jen Liminal Luminous said...

ha ha ha! I'm the same, I can only really tell if I like something or not after I've worn it a few times.

I tend to only stick to the same brands because I know they will fit

I think I too have come to the conclusion that I will never wear skirts or dresses again, so away with leggings and tights. Hah, I don't know why I haven't had the confidence to do this before, but there you go.

When you have a small wardrobe it becomes very apparent which clothes do not work for you. which makes it damn hard to have a wardrobe that isn't always in the wash, which of course means they wear quicker.

I CANNOT wear clothes that I fidget with - it is just not an option.

I wear jeans and shirts outside of the house and climbing trousers and t-shirts at home. Then I have two complete sets of dog walking clothes because we always end up filthy and this way we can keep wearing dirty trousers until the mud is falling off of them and then wash them, this is an excellent way to extend the life of clothes.

I have a smart pair of jeans which only get washed infrequently because they only get worn to meetings or events. This means they last longer. I have the exact same pair not saved for best and after six months they are wearing because they are worn A LOT.

wow, long comment. Sorry

Pen Wilcock said...

That brings out another aspect of simplicity - not washing clothes so often. Good for the environment, extends the lives of the clothes.
Another thing that's been important to me is finding the right colours. After long years of many expensive mistakes, I have finally come to accept that though I *like* and *am attracted to* bright colours (orangey reds, purple, lime green, mid-blue, teal), and they do suit me, when it comes to it I don't wear those clothes, because I feel too conspicuous in them. My clothes are all now black, navy, grey and burgundy - and I feel comfortable and peaceful all the time. The lightbulb moment came when it dawned on me that it doesn't matter how much something suits you if you won't actually wear it . . .
And I do tend to spill food, due to my refusal to 'sit up nicely at the table'. Black is your friend when you are a food-spiller.

Pen Wilcock said...

And Jen - I was wondering if you might like to join the conversation with Anekha in the comment thread on this post ?

gretchen said...

my husband and i attended a wedding this weekend for which i had scoured thrift shops for a skirt and top that were nice but not too dressy. finally found something acceptable, wore them to the wedding, hated the entire experience, came home swore to NEVER wear a skirt again and am now emboldened to toss loathed items from closet. thanks for the pep talk!

Pen Wilcock said...


L said...

Long lightweight cardigan, knit pencil skirt, shoe with slight wedge heel.

This is my basic theme with seasonal variations, for church. (Except in deepest winter I will do a knit stretch slim pant with boots.)

Too casual for your needs?

Pen Wilcock said...

Casual? Ooh, no! I wear jersey-knit black trousers and long-sleeved tees (burgundy, navy or black). In autumn cotton roll-necks displace the t-shirts; in winter I wear both. The smart jacket is crucial to tart up the ensemble for preaching and public speaking.
Something I notice is how English weather variability impacts my wardrobe. So I have several alternatives to go on top of the t-shirts or cotton roll-necks. I have a cardigan (long, like yours); I have a warm high-neck sweater; I have a couple of fleece blazer/cardigan garments. Today it's cold, so I'm wearing knit trousers and a t-shirt, but have added my wooly jumper because of the breeze from the sea.
My aim is to have just clothes to live in - essentially very casual - but, being black fabric, able to look formal with the right jacket added on top. I think it works, but then I do live in Hastings which has to be the scruffiest place on God's earth.

Jenna Caruthers said...

My HSPness is the reason I sew my clothing and why I don't have that many things. Linen is my friend in apparel and I'm slowing learning the tricks to sewing it well after a few abject failures (which were then recycled to assuage my guilt and shame). I have one black shift that's becoming my wardrobe workhorse.

In 2005-06, Alex Martin did a "fashion experiment": She made and wore the same "little brown dress" for a year. She blogged about it--I wish that were still available. What I remember most was her realization that nobody noticed what she wore. When she thought she was dressing to impress, for an occasion, or dressing for how others perceived her, such was not the case in reality. Nobody cared what she wore. :) That's VERY freeing.

L said...

I see what you mean. Even preachers need to tart things up now and then. (To an American that sounds funny. What would we say? "Jazz" it up?)

I find that dressing takes a lot of effort, but that it can be a meditation. I "think clothes" often to stave off the monkey mind. I don't shop much, but go to my own closet, think about what is lacking, and go to ebay with exact specifications. Something always turns up!

Dressing is not easy. The change of seasons along with the fluctuations of my body make wardrobe building and shedding an ongoing process. I never just arrive at perfect ease.

But I've learned, too, to accept that fact, and to carve out space and time for the process. The less time I spend on screens, the more time I have to devote to my own life. The way we dress is not frivolous by any means. Dressing must serve our needs.

Pen Wilcock said...

Jenna ~ I think it's here:
I *love* linen - but not so much the ironing . . .

L ~ "The way we dress is not frivolous by any means." I so agree with you. I dressed Plain for a while, and still think of myself as doing so, if a different interpretation of Plain. Observant Dress. And how you refresh your wardrobe is exactly what I do, too!

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah no - Alex Martin is here

Jenna Caruthers said...

That's a summation of her project--yes. I had the entire blog in a file at one point but, alas, it has since vaporized along with the computer brains it was in. :/ Maybe I had spent too much time sewing and not enough on digital means. :)

Pen Wilcock said...


Anonymous said...

I wish I could say that no one is interested in what I wear but it doesnt always seem to be the case. I had one "friend" who was always trying to get me to dress according to her ideas. Another asked why I didnt wear more bright colours, fashion items etc. I asked if that meant she thought I dressed boringly, and she said "yes"! I find the idea that people are observing me and what I wear very annoying. I dont suppose that many do (I am a Quaker for heaven's sake, we tend to be a scruffy ("casual") bunch on the whole) but it makes me self conscious. Still, I shall carry on wearing what I want to wear - trousers, navy, black, white and blue and I shall be comfortable! Frances.

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh! I am imagining a Quaker called Frances, quietly and simply dressed in her trousers, in calm unobtrusive colours of navy, black, white and blue, and it makes my soul smile. Proceed, friend! They can mind their own business. I dress boringly too. Makes me an excellent novelist; nobody notices me, nobody remembers me, but I watch and I listen. x

Anonymous said...

Hi Penelope,

I have a bulky body, I'm 5'2," tong-torsoed, and have short arms that need extra upper arm room. I have found that Duluth Trading is the one company I turn to for clothes that are durable, well made, fit well and allow me to move in them with things like under arm gussets, and back gathers and no gap button plackets. I purchased my favorite jacket ever from their catalog. I think I'd say they specialize in work wear as in outdoor/gardening physical types of work, but they do occasionally offer things I can wear to work as a therapist. I do have to turn the cuffs up as sleeves are longer so that might work better for you. They offer different lengths on the pants (I think you'd say trousers but if you have the American version of the catalog online it would call them pants, and they call undies short for underwear what I think you might call pants).

Pen Wilcock said...

"Under arm gussets", "back gathers" - oh, music to my soul! I am no sylph, but the main reason I need such things is hyper-mobility - my skin and joints just don't fight back. Resistant garments simply make me tired.
I'll have a look at Duluth Trading, DMW. I have a soft spot for Duluth in any case, because my friend Julie lives there. Thanks for the tip! x