We have all stood hopelessly in front of our closets thinking to ourselves “I have nothing to wear” yet our shelves are filled to the brim with colored patterns and materials we cannot even name; a sea of clothes we do not remember why we bought in the first place.
Many of us have felt the same way staring blankly at our screens, attempting to fill in boxes as simple as ‘chosen major’ or ‘field of work.’ We have been told repeatedly that we can do anything we want in life, but still feel like we may never have a confident answer to fill those boxes with.
After being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, Courtney Carver was driven to re-evaluate how she made her everyday life decisions. She realized that she had always been seeking more. More money, more work, more things would surely make her happier and healthier, but those pursuits never made the cut.
So, she opted for a simpler life, ridding herself of all her superfluous material possessions to give herself more time and space to see the happiness within. She saw her health and her financials improve as a result, and her signature “be more with less” philosophy inspire many others to follow suit.
Among Carver’s simplicity-seeking endeavours, she is most well-known for her minimalist fashion challenge “Project 333” where participants are meant to reduce their full wardrobe to 33 items, for three months. Courtney Carver’s ode to the capsule wardrobe was so convincing, she went on to publish a book dedicated to the subject in March 2020.
In line with home improvement trends, and names like Marie Kondo seamlessly earning pop culture status, the capsule wardrobe has risen in popularity over recent years. But it is certainly not a novel idea. Fashion publications have been using the term as early as the 1940s to characterize a group of clothes that could be worn together interchangeably.
It was fashion designer Donna Karen who first revolutionized the concept with her 1985 “Seven Easy Pieces” line which sparked a long-overdue conversation about women’s need to quickly put together an outfit that could be worn to work, as well as out on the town. Consisting of a bodysuit, a tailored jacket, a cashmere sweater, a dress, a leather jacket, a white shirt, and a skirt, Dona Karen’s seven-item collection would stand the test of time with its sleek design and black-and-white colour palette. Women were starting to see the value in dressing simply then, even if it meant committing the ultimate faux pas of repeating the same outfit twice.
Twenty years later, in the Harper’s Bazaar opinion piece “Why I Wear The Exact Same Thing To Work Every Day,” art director Matilda Kahl wrote, “To state the obvious, a work uniform is not an original idea. There’s a group of people that have embraced this way of dressing for years—they call it a suit.” And yet, the idea of a woman wearing the same thing to work every day is still seen as either revolutionary, or a little odd.
More importantly, Kahl and Carver both talk about how their clothes were tied to so many emotions and expectations. The practice of choosing what to wear every morning would leave them feeling depleted for the rest of the day. And as it turns out, those feelings can be explained scientifically.
Psychologist Barry Shwartz is known for critiquing what he calls “the official dogma” in Western societies: the erroneous idea that more choices maximize individual freedoms which maximize welfare. In his book “The Paradox of Choice: Why Less Is More” he draws on various studies to argue that “choice overload” is in fact detrimental to our wellbeing for a number of reasons.
From overstocked aisles at the supermarket, to major life decisions around marriage and careers, everything is a matter of choice. We are in constant negotiation about who we are, having decided that even identity is no longer inherited, but invented. Not only does this lead to a depletion of energy, but this tremendous amount of choice seems to leave us more paralyzed than liberated.
And once we do finally choose, studies show that we are less satisfied. When you are faced with countless options and permutations to choose from, there are countless reference points to compare your final decision to. In a world where we have more options in everything, whether it is in our wardrobes or on our dating apps, it can be very difficult to feel satisfied with an end result that, despite our level of scrutiny, will never be perfect.
While more choice is better than no choice, Schwartz believes that affluent and modern Western societies have surpassed the point where these additional choices do good. He suggests that it is perhaps time we refuse a surplus in choice, in favour of transferring that choice to the societies that need it.
After doing the work of triaging your garments, giving to charity is always the best way to rid yourself of unwanted items. But it is also important to acknowledge how the production of your clothes may have already impacted the environment. As Courtney Carver writes, “chances are that [they] will end up in a landfill sooner or later.” According to her, the first step in reducing wasteful consumption, is to make use of the things you already own, for as long as you possibly can.
When the time comes to purchase new, long-lasting items that can be re-worn for decades, only then should you consider the provenance of those clothes and buy those items that may seem out of budget at first but will save you an unimaginable amount of time and money in the long run. Capsule wardrobes like Milo & Dexter’s already take into consideration minimalism, functionality, longevity, and sustainability. If you so wish, the only question you ever need to ask yourself about clothing could be, “What items direly need replacing in my wardrobe?”
Catch yourself the next time you come across a piece of clothing that you don’t need but imagine may magically get you closer to achieving your life goals, like the perfect blazer for the job interview you desperately hoped you would get, or the perfect dress for the date you eagerly hoped would call. No matter how hard it may be to accept that your clothes do not define you, catch yourself in those moments and be kind to yourself: you are enough.
Photos: Joseph Dahdah
Writer: Dana Cheaib
Art Direction: Milo & Dexter