A reader asked a question (I’ll paraphrase):
Love your work! I’m really happy and excited for you about your new book (and I hope it goes well) but what made you decide to write about wardrobe planning when there is already so much “advice” out there?
It’s a good question. Complicated but good, and I’ll try to keep my explanation of why and how I wrote the book simple. (and short)
It starts with my kidney transplant…
I dropped a couple of dress sizes and none of my clothes fit, except for a couple of skirts and a jacket that I loved so much that I had carefully packed them away when I grew out of them. I did my first ever full wardrobe review, and it was frightening. When I piled my clothes on the bed there was a sea of black and my soul cried out for colour. More than half of them had never been worn. I knew I would have to buy new work clothes so I donated my old ones to Fitted For Work, a not-for-profit that helps women get back to work with interview coaching and outfits, and the rest to a general charity.
Around this time, I went out for lunch with Katy (dressed in black from head to toe). We had Japanese (first time I ate ungami) in a restaurant surrounded by other women dressed head to toe in black and I sat across the table from her trying to explain that I was sick of the sight of black and that I wanted bright and vivid colours like red and yellow and blue and green. I’m not sure she got it at the time. She did get that I had got thinner and now that I have put the weight back on likes to remind me how cocky I was back then… Activity trackers notwithstanding.
I went shopping, but it was so frustrating and disappointing. I kept looking at black work clothes instead of coloured not work clothes. And they might have good colour but a nasty shape. Or a nice shape in a nasty fabric. Or be otherwise perfect but badly constructed. I tried on an orange coat which was not the right shape, but I was amazed at how well the colour suited me and I was really tempted to buy it anyway, but thankfully I did not because I would not have worn it because the style was so bad.
So I realised that I really needed to get some advice, and started devouring books and websites and magazines that I hoped would tell me what I needed to know. And I followed that advice and bought a “vintage” Burberry trench coat off eBay for $190 that I never wore because the colour was wrong for me and sold 18 months later at a huge loss. And some polyester blend tunics, one of which I wore once and never any of them again because it made me sweat. And some fashion shoes that were torturous to wear. It became apparent that fashion advice is not given for my (your) benefit, but to benefit advertisers and retailers.
Horrified by the cost of the pre-transplant clothes I disposed of (in combination with the 22 bottles of shower gel, 23 bars of soap and 14 tubes of hand cream I found while I was looking for them), I started tracking my expenditure. I can tell you that in that first year, I spent $7,258.46 in 133 purchases (some multiples). During that time, I wore $1,531.57 (21%) frequently (my go to clothes) and $691.48 (10%) became my favourites. But $2,967.19 (41%) were mistakes (fit, colour, matching), and since then I have disposed of $4,934.74 (68%). Of the disposals, only $539.53 (11% ) were worn to indecency before disposal. Not sure about you, but I think that is quite shocking – and not something I would have considered for even an instant if I had been working.
I don’t mind telling you that I was quite disheartened by this. I wondered what was wrong with me. Other people didn’t seem to have any trouble buying clothes or getting dressed in the morning. Was it just me?
Toseland and I were drinking some wine and talking about clothes and shopping and makeovers. And I mentioned that someone I recently met thought I was French and I wondered why. And Toseland said “You have good taste. You have a great haircut. You also know how to put clothes together, which is why, my dear, people think you’re French”.
I thought he was being kind.
When I sobered up, I started to develop a wardrobe plan. I set a random limit on my spending, and did some more research on what clothes I needed. And because I had taken some notes about the clothes I had discarded I had a better idea about the colours and styles that I wanted. Katy watched this with the same kind of horrified fascination with which she watches spiders crawling up the window. That year I got better: $3,381.50 on clothes ($506/15% go to – $907.14/27% favourites – $326.16/10% mistakes).
But I still wasn’t satisfied – how was I supposed to make clothes shopping and the cultivation of my presence work? How did I make it something that was reflexive and not an ongoing source of angst for the REST OF MY LIFE? Which is when I started looking into what people did during the depression and during the wars when you couldn’t just pop down to the shop and buy stuff. I was particularly fascinated by clothing rationing. And when I talked about what I was finding, Katy started getting interested. And as I told more and more people about it, they got more and more interested. It began to feel like I wasn’t the only one who had difficulty buying clothes and getting dressed in the morning. So when people started saying you should write a book about this, I began to think maybe I should.
Last year I spent $3,645 on clothes, make-up and jewellery ($793.05/22% go to – $923.13/25% favourite – $110.95/3% mistakes).
I’ve spent the last seven months undertaking further (proper) research for the book, just to get a bit of science and some sources behind it. I’ve shared some of it here already; why a plan is important, why you should budget, why you should shop carefully and why not all capsule wardrobes are the same.
It’s been difficult at times, but endlessly fascinating. Somehow, when you see it laid out sequentially, decade by decade, the development of the fashion industry makes sense. Particularly when you throw in the stuff about the connection of electricity and water to homes. And notably, the torturous laundry process of the 1900s which I didn’t cover in the blog, but did mention in Letters From My Library.
But the last couple of weeks have been especially difficult with migraines, power outages, lost internet service, blocked sewers, sick relatives and dogs in surgery all making that last push seem like some kind of torturous uphill truck tyre towing Biggest Loser event. I am jelly leg exhausted. I should feel elated, but I just feel drained. Even though the book is out there, there is still so much to do before I can draw a line across the bottom and say this project is complete.
And already I’m hearing “what are you going to write about next?”
Along the way I had the very great joy of touching a 97-year-old book, compulsorily preserved forever in Australia’s national archive and realising that my book would be too. And hoping that in another hundred years someone would read it and laugh at what I wrote in exactly the same way that I laughed at what I read in that book. It makes my hair stand on end as I think of it even now. I hope that my book reads as fresh and modern to that person as the one I read did to me. (And I hope they feel a little sad that I have died and they can’t tell me how much they enjoyed my book [as I did about my author]).
For the record, this year I calculated my budget and developed a plan according to the process I describe in the book. I am pleased to tell you that I have spent $1,761.15 on clothes, make-up and jewellery. It’s too soon to classify all of it, but so far $216.04/12% are go to, $333.62/19% are favourites – and aside from the counterfeit Birkenstocks, there have been no mistakes). (I’ll show you my calculations later DB).
I don’t mind telling you that I feel quite smug that. It’s really easy to shop by colour and narrow by style. And when I dress to leave the house I am more confident that my clothing reflects who I am, and I am comfortable in what I am wearing in whatever situation I find myself in.