Thursday, February 5, 2015

More Thoughts on Clothes: How "Less is More" is Everywhere



Wait!  Another post on clothing from someone whose last purchase was gold linen trousers she hasn't worn yet?

Sadly, yes.

Because right after I wrote yesterday's post, I cam across this article at NYmag.com.  I'd like to say I was cool enough to be tracking all of this, but no; Facebook or my Facebook friends are cool enough for the both of us...

Anyhow, the article profiled an up and coming company called Cuyana, whose manifesto is that their clients should trim their closets down to the essentials or things they love, hopefully some of which will come from the very limited, but of excellent quality, inventory they sell.    To quote the article:

The theory is limiting the selection of items helps women to think about their wardrobes in terms of the long game, hopefully eschewing fast-fashion whim purchases for these items that are made to last.

Like Everlane, Cuyana uses a direct-to-consumer model that allows them to price their luxury, quality, goods at a lower price.

You will find a lot of Alpaca on their website (scratch, scratch just thinking of that), along with cashmere, silk and and a lot of leather goods that reminded me quite of a lot of Everlane's leather goods.


In the interview, the founders discuss the current craze amongst some (myself included to a very small degree, since if you looked at my closet it would probably still seem like a lot) around the Lean Closet Movement and even cites Marie Kondo of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (see this blog post for more on my preliminary experiences) as being an inspiration.  They want us to buy with intention and say "if Americans could just slow down and be a little bit more thoughtful, they'll make better purchases."  Hmmm, that's a risky marketing strategy, I think, and could be perceived by some as a tad condescending, although I think they are very sincere in their intent.

Their philosophy:

"FEWER, BETTER"
Fewer, Better is the foundation of everything we do. Product-wise, we design essential pieces for the modern woman with the most premium materials and finest craftsmanship. Lifestyle-wise, we strive to create a content destination on intentional living and elegant simplicity across all categories.


But I get them.  I mean, we all should be buying less, because buying less means we are putting money away from our retirement, or our kids or whatever and mainly because we are being a lot less taxing on our planet, and yet....





Somehow I am not finding this new technique for taking my dollar not any more satisfying than the old technique that told me if I buy X, Y or Z I will be prettier, more stylish, part of the "in crowd".  This approach makes me feel bad if I don't want to one plain black tote to "do me out".   There is also a fetishism of clothing in this approach that makes me nervous - purses and shoes and the like have become things of worship with their own spotlights in our closets.

The clothes are very plain, like Everlane's.  I have to say that is interesting to me that they want us to "invest" in their pieces.  I'm not going to lie - an investment piece to me is something that I would have to save a long time to get and which I would pray to God will last: a pair of Laboutins or Charlotte Olympias or Valentinos and if I ever sell a book I just may go there, not a green alpaca sweater.  It's all in the definition I guess.

Of course, everyone's idea of an investment piece is different and it depends on family income and age.  I don't want rich people telling me what I "ought" to buy any more than I want people who are on retainer from retailers telling me what I "ought" to buy this season.I think if I was going for simple clothes, ethically made and good quality that weren't particularly thrilling, the lower priced Everlane might be more my cup of tea.  

But I also am more uncomfortable with fast fashion now and am ignoring (mostly) the constant roll-out of CLOTHES! CLOTHES! CLOTHES! that the big brands are shoving down our throat and making us think we need.  I look in my closet and it is very clear I need nothing.





Even the fast fashion criticism around quality can't be applied neatly across the board - remember my Joe Fresh cords from yesterday - washed tons and looking spectacular!  I've had very expensive clothes not do so well.  Still - would I prefer to buy my cords from a Made in the USA or Canada company, if they were as stylish and were not prohibitively expensive?  Yes.

So where is the middle ground?  Well here I actually like Jennifer L. Scott's concept of the Ten Item Wardrobe (which isn't ten items at all, just ten core items) - I realized today that I have basically been wearing ten core items all fall and winter, 3 or 4 pairs of pants, a couple of tops, a blazer and then just changing out the shoes or the Ts or the sweater.  In her last post on The Daily Connoisseur, she discusses how the core of this season's core pieces were all from mid-range places.   Remember - I work for home - it's easier for me.

What I like about Jennifer's approach is that it doesn't assume that a) everyone has the money to purchase more expensive items or b) everyone would want to only buy one new item a season if they could only afford one high cost item.

While that may be a European thing (and frankly I think that is a bit of a myth too) it is not a North American thing and may require moving towards that approach slowly, especially as one's style is evolving.  My 22 year old daughter might pay more for a purse, but not for clothing - she doesn't even know what career she's moving into.

Jennifer realizes that many (most) people won't/can't buy the DVF dress and doesn't make you feel badly if you buy the jersey knockoff at Loft or Banana Republic.

Even the "love what you have" concept is a difficult thing, I think, for people who really love clothes, because some people really love everything about clothes and if you told them "only buy what you love" it would be open season for them!

And it also doesn't recognize the inherently human trait of wanting something new now and then, especially when you see someone you know with something new.

One thing I did really like on the Cuyana website is their Lean Closet feature, a series of posts to help us move to a less is more approach gradually.

The fatigue of consumerism is a real thing and I think businesses like Cuyana and blogs like Jennifer's are stepping in to address that.

And the amount of clothes I have given away or sold on consignment is embarrassing and makes me feel silly for buying so much in the first place and a little stupid for getting so caught up in clothes.


I would be remiss if I didn't applaud a business that has been started by two smart young women and wish them well.  But I'm still not buying Alpaca.

I am sorry this has been a rambly post!  I am thinking about all of this stuff these days and I would love to know if anyone else has been thinking differently about their clothing and this whole less is more approach.  Do you think it is an effective marketing strategy?


xoxo wendy



66 comments:

  1. I love the Cuyana philosophy but have not bought any of their pieces. They have an open showroom San Francisco and I'd love to visit it-but haven't had the time. I'm all about less is more these days as I look continue to try to buy just what I really like and see myself wearing a lot. I'm the gal who loves clothes and always has. Being mindful is not new to me, it just never ends...
    I love these posts :-)

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    1. I love that quote - being mindful is not new to me, it just never ends!

      I think one of the challenges is that a love of clothing can get out of hand, even if it doesn't put you in debt. I remind myself that just because I love it, doesn't mean I need it. And like you, I want to really wear my clothes - a few party outfits are fine, but I don't live that life regularly, so I would be better to buy comfortable flattering dresses. But it is hard to avoid more is more and I guess the less is more would naturally get traction in a world where we can easily buy way too much!

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  2. I aspire to the leanest workable wardrobe possible...I have not yet arrived at that perfect place. My closet is small but fairly full. I would like to weed a few more garments but am not too sure what I can live without just now!
    Joe Fresh styles are fresh and current but I know what you mean about being made in Canada or the US...I bought a cute grey tee from Forever 21 which I love and it was made in Vietnam.
    Those simple clothes are super versatile...accessories are what one needs to add that personal touch...when I think of restrained fashion I always think of The wife of John Kennedy Jr. was her name Carolyn Bissette? She dressed impeccably and I would guess with only the finest of clothes which no doubt were expensive.
    I am planning to pop back and see what others have to say in awhile....interesting topic.

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    1. Hostess - I hear you, I am a work in progress. I loved Carolyn's style, though is like her height and body!

      One thing that is hard is finding what you really love. The day I bought the dress above I really loved it. Now I realized I loved the idea of it: the comfort, the way it looked in the showroom, the way it looked on me, and I think I was dipping my toe into a style that wasn't mine in the end.

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  3. I like the curated idea but my heart belongs to everlane because of the ts.

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    1. Okay you have sold me - am going to try one!

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  4. Less is more is how I think we grew up here in Australia to some extent. Clothing has always been expensive here… right up until the Internet in the past 5-10 years meant that we suddenly had access to the US and the very cheap prices that they all enjoy there on consumer goods. As a consequence Australia is always the second biggest market for almost all the biggest Internet fashion retailers (which considering we have a population so small - 23 Million or so, says a lot). But it was always about choosing items carefully - even cheap things are relatively pricey here (or were, traditionally). As a consequence I never buy thinking things are going to be for one season only, and find that almost a bizarre concept. I expect my clothes/ footwear to last me for several years at a minimum, and that's in any price point, and if its expensive I expect it to last for 5-10 years at a minimum.
    There does seem to be a trend or fetishising of minimalist wardrobes (lots of blogs abound), which also seems to equal buying super expensive designer things, and a certain aesthetic and wardrobe that revolves around black/ grey/ white. Not sure that's exactly helpful either as an extreme antidote to the closets stuffed to the brim. I think Jennifer over at the Daily Connoisseur has a good balance with her approach incorporating colour and different price points. I'll have to go and check out this brand you mention, sounds a little like COS which has just launched their first store in Australia recently.

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    1. Well I just heard of Cos and am going to check them out when I hit NYC. Where I live, which is a very small province in a country that's huge but has only 10% of the US population, there is only very limited access to clothes - it is all big box retailers and the odd designer piece from one store. I often feel like eventually, they will have us wearing a uniform; it is very hard to find relatively unique pieces at an affordable price point,

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  5. I received a Cuyana infinity scarf last winter as a gift and I have to say the baby alpaca is incredibly soft against the skin.

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  6. As a marketing concept I have to say it will be a niche one bc the business model of selling to a client once a few years doesn't work and Zara makes a fortune for the opposite reason. But I do agree there is a fetishising and reverse snobbery to how little you have now!

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    1. It is funny, I am equally nervous about the person with 5 items in their closet as I am with the ones who are buying 10-12 things a month.

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  7. Hi Wendy, I like the idea of buying Canadian/North American and buying quality. This is a newish concept to me, ever since I started reading so many blogs! My new winter parka is a Canadian brand (not Canada Goose, but a similar brand from Montreal, Quartz Nature), and I bought a new bag from a small company in Toronto, Opelle Creative, that designs and makes their products in situ. And, of course, now that I have visited the Brora Mother Ship (or at least, the Edinburgh store), I can safely buy there at sale time.

    I don't buy a lot of clothes, but that's more a function of my personality rather than a conscious decision - I don't spend money easily and I hate to make a mistake (but, of course, there have been a few). One thing I do know about my style - I don't like a lot of embellishment, in clothing or in accessories, so I guess that fits in with a lot of brands today. And I so agree with hostess - Carolyn Bessette is one of my style idols!

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    1. Patricia, if I struggle I am putting you in charge of my clothing budget! I love Brora on Dani, but sadly isn't me.

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  8. Gold linen trousers- hurrah! I hope you sell loads of books so that you can wear them with a pair of Laboutins. Let there be some joy and not too much angst in the clothes that we choose to wear.
    I've taken a peek at the Cuyana site and found it rather puritan - fine if you've got a body to die for but for lesser mortals I fear we could end up looking frumpy. Heaven forfend!

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    1. I am embroidering that quote: Let there be some joy and not too much angst in the clothes that we choose to wear!

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  9. I'm torn - I like the concept of a simple, sparse wardrobe, but in real life I get bored and a little depressed if I wear the same thing every two days. Also, my job requires a differnt sort of dressing than my home or social life does. I do agree with Coulda upthread that there is a reverse snobbery to this lean wardrobe movement, and that bothers me. I think obsessing about having less is just as bad as obsessing about having more. I'm Tired of feeling guilty and self- conscious about clothes! That said, I've started keeping track of what I wear every day so that when I do decide to get something new, it will be in a category that I actually like to wear often. And a few things that don't get worn may find new homes - but I've resolved not to shoot for an arbitrary number of items!

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    1. Murphy - very sensible indeed!!! I have done that this winter and to be pretty good results. I would love to find a comfy and not fussy dress, but it has not presented itself to me!

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  10. I really don't want clothes that last a life time. For one , it would remind me of any and all weight gain. Secondly, they would be out of style..not all white t shirts are created the same year after year. Which leads to finally, all my tops would have pit stains galore and the pants eventually high water. I could wear the same thing repeatedly but I still want something a bit different now and again.

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    1. Omg - so true - I move up and down and trust me when I tell that getting rid of a really expensive something or other in either direction is painful. So yeas to jewelry and shoes!

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  11. As Heidi says, clothing in NZ and Australia is so expensive - whenever I go home I am reminded I am falling into the American excess: so cheap may as well have all the colorways etc.
    From my research in my articles we wear 20 percent of our wardrobe 80 percent of the time - and I would say for more not working in an office its 1 percent.
    Ps I thought you did wear those gold trou once?
    Much love on a Friday!

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    1. Sadly I opted for another thing at the last minute. I may have chickened out...

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  12. Rampant consumerism makes me crazy but one woman's lean wardrobe is another woman's crammed mess!
    It's really hard to keep my inner "Sybil" under control when I see beautiful clothes that aren't me. Sometimes she wins...and then I have to return them. It stems from admiring the beauty of it, and forgetting who I am and how I live.
    I've pretty much settled into a "uniform" and use accessories to add spice and variety.

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    1. Jennifer - I fall into the Sybil category as well. I actually drug that black dress from the last post out today- it is is comfy and flattering and I will try and glam it up!

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  13. well, I've been thinking about this... I don't buy junk jewelry. I'm careful about adding to that collection. And I don't buy cheap shoes, but I also don't buy shoes for lives I don't live or don't live any more. But ever since the time a thoughtless cleaning lady tossed a precious real, i.e., Scottish, cashmere sweater into the wash with the sheets and towels, I'm really cautious about "investment dressing." There are too many expensive catastrophes waiting to happen, and I've had more than my share. It's just as easy to hang a cheap purse next to a slob who can't deal with gravy as it is to put an heirloom at risk, and I'm not ready to be that lady who adds a beautifully tailored and embellished vinyl bib to her ensemble as she sits down to dinner. On the other hand, I'm also not ready to be the lady who has a continual stream of junk arriving, falling apart and being tossed. Tis a puzzlement.

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    1. I think 'tis a puzzlement is bang-on! I would never spend a ton on a purse as I am frankly very hard on mine and it would cause me stress, so I have never looked at a purse over $200 and likely never will. Hmmmm - a vinyl bib...

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    2. I spent about 2/3 less last year, trying to be mindful, practical about my "simple clothes, not particularly thrilling". I managed to part with more professional clothes and keep the ones I liked best. But, I did get a spendy Lotuff bag, made in my area, very suited to me. I could never count my clothes and try to force the number into some formula.

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  14. Wendy this post is so interesting, I read it a couple of days ago and then went over to check out the Alpaca Everlane-type people. What I really think... it's not very interesting, those envelope type bags especially, and it's just a new consumerism to get rid of everything and buy all of this minimalist stuff.
    You're right, an investment piece needs to be special and particular to personality, not some boring minimalist thing...seriously, those clothes and bags would only look interesting with some pretty amazing accessories, don't you think?
    Anyway, I could go on but Pie just got home and he has a terrible cold, needs some loving attention I think. ;)

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    1. I think you are right Dani - I am not sure what my investment "treat" would be, but I know for sure it would be a pair of shoes, which are forgiving of weight!

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  15. CLOTHES ENCOUNTERS The reverse consumerism tactic (regardless of its positive values in certain companies) is hardly new. Years ago there was an A DIAMOND IS FOREVER print campaign that ran: "FEWER, BETTER THINGS. Our lives are full of things. Disposable distractions, stuff you buy but do not cherish, own yet never love..." There are also companies like Tom's and New Balance that shoe those that would have to go without when we buy...As always, I think the challenge is our own personal balance, better choices, some middle ground between rather painful and dull or greedy absolutes of must-have and not. As long as there are places to talk about it, like this post. and tolerance for different views and styles, points on the path it's an interesting quest. Thanks WMM!

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    1. I hear you. I am more and more uncomfortable with random shopping as there is a price to pay somewhere for that...

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  16. I really enjoyed your post. The issues you raised are things that have been on my mind lately. A few months ago I decided to live with only 33 items in my wardrobe. IT has been so freeing! I spend much less time worrying what to wear, or feeling like I need to go out and shop for new things all the time. I've found that trimming things down has helped me to appreciate what I already have. Less is more is so true for me, and allows me to acquire more high quality pieces.

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    1. Bmore! 33 items! I bow down to you! Although if truth be told, that's probably all I wear, except for tshirts. Was it hard to pick? I might try that for summer!

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  17. I am so sorry that I have only had the time to read, admire and mull your fabulous blog posts, with having time to comment. As you know- writing is hard work!
    The one shopping thought that stays in my mind is that no one makes truly "covetable" pieces anymore. The perfectly made tailored coat out of rich material, the well crafted, leather lined handbag, the hand knit (out of quality wool) sweater doesn't exist. There is little in one store that I can't find in another from Target to Tory Burch.( And, does every store on the planet carry Nike?) I don't want to save my money for a labeled "luxury " item. I want to save it for a flattering,wonderful, exquisitely made, singular find.
    The companies that started that way- Sigrid Olsen, Dana Buchman, Ellen Tracy, Lilly Pulitzer, Adrienne Vittadini-to name a few were all bought out and now all of their branded merchandise is indistinguishable or extinct.
    I agree with so much of what you say. And, I also have to admit that if I took better care of myself, and always felt comfortable at my weight, I wouldn't feel the need to keep looking for something new. (Writing does entail a lot of sitting : ))
    And, BTW, if you are planning a NYC area JCA meeting- count me in!

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    1. Oh god, I hear you on the sitting....

      I think you are right on the stores. I really do think the luxury now is homemade and handmade! We are doing coffee in NYC with some folks on Tuesday morning March 3rd - email me offside @ webdymcleodmacknight@gmail.com

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