Thoreau as Fashion Advisor: Simplify, Simplify

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

— Clare Booth Luce

Squishable, packable navy dress from Travelsmith.

Squishable, packable navy dress from Travelsmith.

I hate packing. Hate it, hate it, hate it! It’s probably the stress of having to choose, and the sure knowledge that sometime during the trip an event will arise for which I’ll have nothing appropriate to wear—and the perfect outfit hanging in my closet back at home.

A recent trip to Salt Lake City and then Las Vegas left me completely stumped. I’d need clothing for outdoor walks in cool weather (it actually snowed in April), clothing for promenading on the Vegas Strip, dinners at casual restaurants, fancier evenings out, meeting the parents of my step-son’s lovely girlfriend (and, hopefully, making a good first impression), swimming, the gym…And all that had to fit into one suitcase. I spent the better part of the day before our trip in a hissy-fit of indecision. I just couldn’t put together a few flexible outfits out of the plethora of possibilities in my overstuffed closet. And the number of shoes needed for all these different outfits—jeesh! I ended up filling my carry-on bag with shoes.

A big part of my problem was color. The orange sweater only goes with the olive-green pants, not the black jeans (except for Halloween). The black jeans require black shoes, and the olive-green jeans require brown shoes. The beige jacket only works for half the outfits, ditto the black jacket. You get the idea.

And don’t get me started about how very much I hate shopping for clothes—pawing through racks and racks of duds hoping to find one flattering, classic, wearable item. The result is a tendency to finally blurt-purchase a handful of minimally-acceptable garments just to get it over with. And I don’t care for the cheap-looking (but often expensive), overly embellished stuff on offer in most shops. I don’t want to wear a ruffled, spangled, multi-colored top that flutters when I walk—whatever happened to simple blouses?  And while shopping in outdoorsy stores simplifies things, I don’t want to look like I’m perpetually heading out for a hike, or off to yoga class.

Recent studies have shown how stressful and draining constant decision-making is on our cognitive powers. Michael Useem, Ph.D., author of The Go Point: When It’s Time to Decide, says “Decision-making is just like running a marathon. It is just an exhausting activity.” There you go! While I’m grateful to have plenty of clothing from which to choose, all this choosing is wearying—especially when it’s time to pack for a trip.

So, this overabundance of choices has led me to a decision. From now on, I will only purchase clothing in three color families: blues, greens, and browns. That should result in a smaller wardrobe from which I can quickly assemble outfits by mixing and matching, because everything should more or less go with everything else. And I do feel best in those colors, despite fashion advisers’ urgings to wear autumn colors: olive green, mustard gold, burnt umber. Those colors sometimes flatter my complexion, but I don’t feel snazzy when dressed like a pile of autumn leaves. There’s something calm, crisp, mellow, centered about blues and greens, the colors of summer and sky.

And here’s the thing: I don’t look good in black, white, or gray, the most popular neutral colors, so I just won’t buy any more garments in those colors. Oh, I won’t throw away any good pieces I already have in orange, black, red, purple—but I won’t pack them for trips, and when they wear out, I’ll replace them (or not) with my colors. The brown family offers flattering neutral shades from palest ivory (so much more flattering on me than stark white) to deepest espresso (so much more flattering than black). If I ever find myself craving a shot of, say, orange—well, I have a large scarf collection. Basta!

This should make the shopping ordeal easier, and packing should be a breeze. I also like the idea of bucking trends and making conscious decisions about the look I portray, rather than being a plaything of fashion merchandisers. And being very choosy about color reflects the French approach to fashion, which I so admire: buy fewer items, and save up for the good stuff. Wear your good garments frequently, varying the look with accessories. Find out what suits you and stick to that. C’est une bonne idée.

So, here’s my new navy dress from Travelsmith, the beginning of a simpler wardrobe. Wish me luck. What about you? Do you buy whatever garments tickle your fancy, or do you stick to only certain styles and/or colors?

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