new clothes

March 4, 2017

A story of the relationship of me and clothes and age and appearance at different points in my life


When I was younger I thought I should have a piece of clothing in every color. That helped me make decisions when buying clothing–I would choose the item that offered a unique color to my wardrobe. I remember having one of those shirts where there’s the attached longsleeves under the t-shirt, and mine was purple with pink sleeves and embroidery across the front. It was one of my favorite shirts in the upper elementary grades. I remember getting a tie-dyed circle shirt and sequin-trimmed capri leggings from Justice in middle school, ruffled mini skorts and mini leggings to go underneath, I remember wearing all sorts of color combinations in my clothing and in the barrettes in my hair. In tenth grade I stopped wearing five barrettes in my hair at the same time. I opted instead for a single black bobby pin instead to keep the troublesome side of the wisps down, perhaps after reading an article on how French women don’t wear crazy hair accessories, perhaps after realizing that rainbow barrette combinations make me look like a middle schooler.


At the beginning of tenth grade I made a resolution to stop buying clothes if I didn’t know where they came from, unless they were secondhand. For a long time afterwards I didn’t add new clothes to my wardrobe because I couldn’t find “ethical” options that fit. My rationale was that the negative environmental impact, perpetuation of murky supply chains, unsafe working conditions, and destructive cycle of fast fashion were not worth new clothing. I did not want to ask my parents to put their money into such irresponsibility. I also tried working towards a capsule wardrobe in an effort to have minimalist consumption habits and to work towards the sophisticated outfits I wanted but was always feeling like my clothes just weren’t that great.


I gave up on my capsule wardrobe a while ago because I didn’t actually have enough clothes. I didn’t realize before reading the blog post on Anushka’s blog (called Into Mind at the time) about whether you should make a capsule wardrobe that you can’t have a capsule wardrobe if you don’t have enough clothes. I didn’t realize that could be a problem. What I had read was about people having too many clothes and not wanting to be too strict with limiting the number of clothing items.


Material possessions aren’t supposed to take up your life. Supposedly material possessions can’t bring you happiness. Supposedly material possessions are supposed to make you happy.


Through much of high school, I was wearing the same clothes that I liked four years ago, wearing the kind of clothes I wore in middle school every day. Nobody cares what I wear–until I start taking up space and making statements with my clothing, until I start speaking loud and clear through what I wear–but I care.


There goes my dreams of having the perfectly ethical wardrobe with a heavy me-made section, I thought. I went to NYC with my parents, I bought some clothes. At a business with a reputation for being not ethical. Not ethical at all. And with fibers that aren’t sustainable. A few months later I went to NYC again and did the same thing. The t-shirts I bought were 100% cotton but not organic cotton, the shorts I bought had blended fibers so that they can’t be recycled or composted with currently available technology.


I stopped the whole don’t buy clothes unless it’s ethical and don’t buy new thing because there are certain realities that need to be accounted for. Like how I’m not in middle school anymore. Like how I can’t keep wearing my middle school clothes which still fit and make me feel like a sticky baby if I want to feel okay about myself. Like how people keep mistaking me for younger than I am. Like how I was 15 and was asked if I was 12, like how I was 17 and was told that I looked 15. Like how I was offered a children’s menu (for people 12 and under) at the age of 16. Like how I was told that I can’t really know what I think because I’m just a kid. Like how I feel younger and younger, relative to my chronological age, the more time goes on. Like how I’m 18 and so different from when I turned 17, so different from when I turned 16, 15, 14…Like how I dress impacts how I feel. Like how I feel impacts how I act.


I used to think it was superficial to care what I look like, but clothing impacts how a person is perceived. I needed to grow up in other peoples eyes. I was already growing up but felt weirdly out of place with respect to my age. I wanted to look the part so I could start feeling it. Now, I still am on too many days wearing the same clothes, not looking quite sophisticated or edgy or unique or any of the other things I want to be. For a month after I turned 17, I nearly forgot that I was 17 and I felt at once old and young, mostly too young to be good enough at pretending to know what I’m doing.


I haven’t been told that I look younger than I am for a while now, I think. One of my teachers said that I look young at the end of last year. I wonder if it’s my body or if it’s my clothes or if it’s my behavior or if it’s societal expectations for what it means to be a certain age. I think about the people I know who supposedly look younger than they are. Today there was a girl who said she gets told she looks 12 all the time even though she’s a high school senior. There is a girl in my school who I would think looks her age or even older, and she said she gets mistaken for both an 8th grader and a teacher. I haven’t been meeting a lot of new people much, and maybe people have gotten used to me and figured out that I’m not as young as they think I am.


It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The you hate me, I become hateable type thing? But instead it’s you think I’m young, I act young thing. This is how I felt, like vomit, like a messy savage in rag clothes.


Occasionally I put together outfits intentionally, in an experimentation of sorts, violating all sorts of fashion rules, I bet, but becoming something that I mean to make. And who decides fashion? Who decides what is acceptable? On what grounds? (And who decides what is “age appropriate”?)


It’s a bit weird. Now that I’m 18 and a legal adult, and I’m almost entering my 20s. For a few years now I have liked 20-30 year olds’ clothing better than the teenager store stuff, but didn’t necessarily have the money or resources to buy all the clothing at once or even find it all in my size. So now I’ve missed my opportunity to show off my sophisticated years ahead of my age styling skills that maybe I don’t have. I have been afraid that I will grow out of this, that my style will change so much so fast, or that I would go on a year abroad trip and come back wearing completely different clothing–the styles that I haven’t liked now. That I would go to become all layery again or be a minimalist or maximalist in style. And I have long since figured out that there is no perfectly ethical clothing, that it’s all complicated and confusing like life, that nobody really knows what they are doing in some way, that a lot of people are just good at acting the part, that really the best I can try to do is be a minimalist in consumption habits, because I do not and should not have the right to just use up whatever I want on this planet.


reflections: capsule wardrobe (or lack thereof?)

IMG_2990Last fall, I tried (and failed) to use a capsule wardrobe. I tried to implement the concepts and ideas I picked up from Into Mind. I also used the wardrobe planner that Caroline shared at Un-Fancy. There’s a section to take notes on lessons I learn and other ideas I pick up during the season. I’ve synthesized my loose thoughts and will share them here.

Style Shift

When I was younger, I wanted to be able to wear every color. In middle school, my clothing was very colorful, but the colors were usually blue, green, pink, or purple. Apparently, I wore so much purple that some of my fellow orchestra members teased me about it, and once, someone accidentally called me “Purple” instead of Pearl. After analyzing my style boards and what I actually wear, I’ve decided that this is my ideal color palette (this is based on Anushka’s system):

main: black, burgundy, olive green

accent: purple, blue

neutral: gray, navy, off-white

It doesn’t seem like the colors represented here are that different from those that I wore in middle school. In reality, I have pink clothing that isn’t burgundy, because I haven’t gotten rid of it from middle school. The main difference is now, black is one of my main “colors,” and I wear a lot more neutrals. Two years ago, I wore an outfit that was all colorful–blue and green clips in my hair, a blue and green tie-dyed shirt, green jeans. My sneakers were gray, but the laces and logo were blue.

When I first started pinning to my style board, I realized how much I liked the look of gray. And stripes. And polka-dots. While I still like the patterns, my obsession with anything polka-dotted or striped has worn off, and I prefer solid colors. Unless black isn’t a color.

When did I start liking black more? I don’t really know. When I started out, I knew that my style would probably change, and I was afraid that I would stock my wardrobe, just to find out that it wouldn’t actually work out. And I did find that my style changed–from my middle school idea of style (colorful and influenced by trends) to a more classic and simple look (it is possible I’ve been looking at Everlane too much).

I used to pin ruffles and lace and chiffon and bows, but I’ve since deleted so many of those pins. Overall, the board has become more simple, and tends to the same classic styles. I realized that there were recurring colors, so I started another board for images with colors I liked. Sure enough, with a few exceptions, it’s pretty much all the same colors throughout. I used this knowledge to inform my ideal color palette.

Weather, Seasons, and Practicality

Back in August, I was planning out my autumn and winter capsule wardrobes. When school started, it was summer, and warm enough for my shorts and t-shirts. Air-conditioning made it cooler in the school, but I had included jackets in my wardrobe. I was excited, because I could mix and match my clothing, and come up with so many different outfits. But I didn’t get the chance to wear them all.

It became cold too soon, and I ushered in my fall/winter wardrobe (which would be different from what I wore when it was actually winter and much colder). This wardrobe had quite a few holes that I hadn’t been able to fill. I had been hoping to find black ankle boots and black jeggings and a black sweatshirt (I didn’t have very much black clothing before, and needed to update what I actually had to match my style concept), but I wasn’t able to get any of those. A lot of the clothing I actually had didn’t match my style anymore, but I had to hold onto those.

The blue and green tie-dye shirt was one of those. I still have it, and wear it rather regularly. Even though it’s not really part of my theoretical style, I don’t mind it that much. I’m hesitant about donating it to somewhere where it’s not guaranteed to be appreciated or cared for. Also, if I don’t keep those clothes, I won’t really have anything to wear.

As autumn turned to winter, I gradually stopped caring. I had tried to fill my capsule wardrobe, and with it only partially finished, it was so hard to use. I depended on those pieces that I didn’t own, and so I couldn’t support those outfits. So I ended up just wearing the same thing, and that’s where I am right now. I had to add in clothing for the colder weather, and what I wore was no longer restricted to a capsule wardrobe.

I’ve been working on that. I’ve been looking for the pieces to add to my wardrobe (and I’ll share the additions next week) and I’ve been focusing colder weather clothes, and what I would actually wear during most of the year.

What I Actually Wear

Two of the pieces that I had been looking for, and succeeded in finding were a black open-knit sweater and a pair of black sneakers. Though I don’t know much about where they came from, and how they were produced, I’m pretty sure that it’s not a good story. I wondered about this–it seemed like there was a dichotomy between shopping ethically and shopping for things that matched my style.

At that time, I was shopping mainly for clothing based on whether or not they would fit into my capsule wardrobe. Afterwards, I thought that it wasn’t worth it to get something that would fit, if it wasn’t made in good conditions and the workers weren’t treated well. Satisfying my desires for things I didn’t really need didn’t justify supporting bad practices. However, if I shopped ethically, I had to get clothing that fit my style, because otherwise I wouldn’t even wear them that much.

It would be nice to start fresh in building my capsule wardrobe, but I kind of have to hold onto a lot of clothing that doesn’t fit my style. I feel the responsibility to wear out the clothes I already have. They’ve already been made and bought–that part is done and I can’t do anything about those particular purchases. What I do have control over is the other part of ethical consumption–the consumption part.


Capsule Wardrobe?

Because of the whole weather thing, I haven’t officially been using a capsule wardrobe (I haven’t been keeping track of which pieces I can wear at that time). But I’ve been shopping with a capsule wardrobe mindset. I’ve been thinking about what I actually wear, what pieces are missing, what pieces fit into my style and would expand the outfit options the most, and have been looking for those.

It seems like most of the year here is cold, but most of the clothes I have are for warm weather, because I was drawn to the short sleeves and lighter layers…I guess I have the opposite of what happened to Jaana. Slowly, I’m adding in the winter pieces. Spring is the season for which I have enough clothing for. Maybe I’ll try the capsule wardrobe again then. And maybe next fall/winter, I’ll be ready to give it another try. This isn’t as easy as I would like it to be, but I was informed at the start that it would be a process of learning and paying attention.

Have you tried using a capsule wardrobe? How did it go? What lessons have you learned? How has your style changed over time? And if you aren’t using a capsule wardrobe, what holds you back?