In Pursuit of the Perfect Wardrobe

What is the perfect wardrobe? By nature of the question, the answer will vary drastically between different people. Personally, there are two things that I would require of my ideal wardrobe. The first, and most important, is that I truly love and enjoy every item in it. I don’t want to open my wardrobe and be confronted with a stack of shirts I don’t really like, getting in the way of the three that I actually wear; I don’t want to have that cardigan that I used to love but hardly wear anymore staring at me resentfully every time I open my drawer. Instead, I dream of a curated collection of just those items that truly give me joy to wear.

The second goal is simply for my wardrobe to contain everything I want; so that instead of constantly pining after my next purchase, I can simply be content what I already have. To completely meet this goal is likely impossible, and I’m not even sure if I would really want to – there is a certain unique joy in getting new stuff, and it means I’ll never completely run out of new outfits or ideas. Having said that, I think it’s both possible and desirable to reach a point where I am content with what I have, even if there are more things I’ll buy.

Of course, the two ends complement each other very well – if my wardrobe consists mostly of things that I truly love, I am naturally more content with what I’ve got. The more I love the items I have, the less need I feel to replace them with “upgraded” versions, or acquire more items to wear instead. At least, that’s what I tell myself. We’ll see how true it turns out to be.

In any case, what follows are my experiences in my ongoing pursuit of such a wardrobe.

Purging

When it comes to friendship wardrobe purging, I try to be as cold and brutal as possible. There are three broad categories that I try to place each item in:

  • things that I wear and love.
  • things that I wear but don’t love.
  • things that I don’t wear.
An artist's impression of my "wear and love" pile

An artist’s impression of my “wear and love” pile

The word “wear” is of course relative – My tux is never going to get as much wear as a pair of jeans, and I’m not going to be wearing my mankini in winter, to give a few obvious examples. And just because I wore that T-shirt once two months ago because I hadn’t done laundry since February and all my other clothes were filthy doesn’t give it “wear” status.

Now, among the items I don’t wear, I might give some of them a second chance – if I really like the item itself, and I think it has potential as part of my wardrobe, and I’ve just been forgetting about it or something like that, then it can be kept on for a probationary period until the next purge. But once the next purge comes, if it’s still not being worn then it’s time to say goodbye.

A trap I try to avoid but inevitably succumb to is keeping items that I used to love, or love in isolation, but no longer work as part of my style. As an example, I used to dress in a very preppy, business casual way, and two of my favourite items were a Kent Wang polo and a Ralph Lauren cardigan. Since transitioning to a more casual, streetwear-leaning style, I just can’t find a place for these items in any of the outfits I want to wear. And yet I’ve still managed to hang onto them this far, despite not wearing either in months. Painful though it might be, at some point soon I’m going to have to bite the bullet and get rid of her them.

old-faves

The poor bastards still think they have a chance

Then we have the items that I wear but don’t love. These are the items I wear out of necessity rather than passion: the Timberland boots I wear when it’s too nasty out to risk my nicer shoes; the suit I bought in a hurry before my first job interview, and throw on for formal occasions; the cheap black monkstraps I use in place of the Saint Laurent jodhpurs I can’t afford yet. These items aren’t bad enough for me to hate or not wear, but there’s always something that I wish I could wear instead of them. I keep them out of necessity, but they don’t really have any place in my ultimate perfect wardrobe.

Finally, we’ve got the stuff I really do love. My black jeans that fit perfectly and go with everything; the leather jacket I find an excuse to wear even if, let’s be honest, it’s the middle of summer and I’m gonna be sweating my balls off; my CPs. These are the items that set the standard for how I want to feel about every item in my wardrobe.

Purchasing

A trap that I think many people fall into, including myself occasionally, is to go shopping with no particular goal or direction in mind, and simply buy whatever catches your eye and fits well. The problem with this, for me, is that I end up making impulse purchases on things that don’t necessarily mesh that well with my style, and that inevitably end up in the “don’t wear” pile during my next purge.

What I prefer to do is maintain a list of those items that I want the most, and write it roughly in order of “priority”. The items on this list vary from vague descriptions (“interesting/statement shirts”), to specific descriptions (“light grey skinny jeans”), to exact items (“black Saint Laurent cropped jodhpurs”). As much as possible I try to make sure each item on the list is neither too specific, nor too broad – for example, once upon a time I had “black chelseas/jodhpurs” on the list. I looked at various ones online, tried a few on, and none completely jumped out at me. As such, it would have been silly to be overly specific and add any one of them to the list. However, once I tried on the aforementioned SLP jodhpurs, I knew that these were the things I wanted, and as such replaced the more general entry with them.

My current list

The list that I definitely had lying around and didn’t write specifically for this post

My strategy when shopping is to always have the list in mind; I look out for sales on the specific items, and keep my eyes open for items that might fulfil the more general entries. Of course, aimlessly browsing stores, both physical and virtual, still has its place. I rarely buy something that I didn’t want going in, but I certainly might add it to the list.

One of the most important things I try to avoid is compromising on the basis of time or price – to limit myself to the best item I can find within a certain budget or period of time. However, that doesn’t mean I always spend months searching for the perfect thing and then buy the most expensive one. I simply won’t settle for anything I’m not totally happy with. If I find the item I want in Zara, great; if it’s SLP I really want and nothing else is quite right, well, I’ve got some saving to do. Similarly with time – if I can’t find the perfect item at first, I’ll wait as long as it takes to find it – but once I do, I’m not going to keep waiting just in case something better crops up.

Most recently for me, the top item on my list was “suede chelsea boots”. I was keeping my options open regarding colour and other details, and as a result considered approximately one metric fuckload of different options, in every colour of the spectrum. At one point I went so far as buying a pair in snuff suede only to return them for a construction fault and change my mind about them. In all honesty I spent too much time agonizing between the various options before finally coming to a decision. But the pair I ended up with – the much-hyped tan Common Projects chelseas  – are absolutely wonderful. I’d actually dismissed them at first as I didn’t like the crepe sole, but on a second thirteenth look I changed my mind and realised they were the perfect ones for me. It might have taken far too long, but I couldn’t be more satisfied with the end result.

IMG_0371

Bae

I mentioned that I keep the list roughly in order of priority – the idea being that I buy the most important things first. Obviously I don’t stick to this slavishly – for example, if I’m still looking around or saving up for the top item and come across a really good deal on an item further down or something, naturally I’ll buy it (for example, I made a number of smaller purchases during the chelsea boot saga). But in general I’ll pay more attention to the items nearest the top of the list. This also means that an item further down, that I’m not quite as sure about, will spend more time on the list before being bought. This gives me more time to think about exactly what I want out of it, so that by the time it makes it to the top I’m both more certain that I want it, and more clear on the specific features/details I’m looking for.

Using such a list might sound overly controlling or analytical, but I have found it incredibly helpful in finding things that I really do love, and avoiding purchases I’ll later regret. Prioritising those things that I want the most, even if they are less immediately attainable, helps me move towards my goal of having everything I want. Insisting on not “settling” to save time or money keeps me on track to own only what I love, without having to resort to excessive purging in the future.

Closing words

The foregoing is, as promised, an account of my experiences in pursuing my idea of a perfect wardrobe. I never claim to be anything more than just another fashion-loving pleb, and as such I don’t intend this post to be taken as a sermon on How to Create the Perfect Wardrobe in Three Easy Steps. Those steps you take would have to take into account your own criteria for what makes an ideal wardrobe, the extent to which you’ve developed a personal style you’re comfortable with, your financial situation, and so on. I’m simply sharing the most effective way I’ve found for myself, in the hope that it might also be helpful to others.

TL;DR: I buy things I love and chuck shit I don’t

If you want to see my outfits and keep up with future posts then follow me on Instagram: @usuallywhatimdressedin