The first time I “dressed up”
It was the homecoming dance in my freshman year of high school. There, I learned that dressing nicely would beget compliments; a simple conclusion, that would shape my purchases going forward.
Before that dance, I was a t-shirt, hoodie, and jeans guy. Afterwards, almost overnight, I embraced layers and logos. I lobbied my parents to pay for Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, Gap, and anything that my high school brain felt was “cool.” The bills stacked up… for them.
Increasingly, I loved bold colors and designs – embracing pinks and purples despite social stigmas. The compliments flowed from nearly everyone around me. Many of the opposite sex encouraged me, and noted my changed wardrobe.
The “dapper” dresser
It’s now about 12 years from that fateful moment. As I aged, my tastes changed and I discovered H&M, Express, and Macy’s. And yet, for years, I was on this prescribed rat race to look better, fresher, and wealthier.
The latter was a powerful realization over the years. Quite simply, our culture aligns clothing style and brand with power, money, and achievement – regardless of reality. The better I dressed, the more others noticed.
Imagine being in a bar or club and seeing someone in a ragged t-shirt, overgrown beard, and faint body odor smell. You’d assume that individual is from a low-income level. Trim the scruff, polish the shoes, and button up that shirt, and that same person becomes a successful businessman.
Minimizing my closet and loving it
Over the last two years, my clothing purchases have slowed. And nowadays, I don’t have a clothing budget. I rarely buy anything. I’d rather put my hard earned money in future savings and investments.
Since my frugal journey started, I’ve sold clothes, donated, and taken great care of what I currently have. The clothing that I currently have is important to me; not because I’m worried about it getting damaged, but because I don’t need anything more. My wardrobe is “complete.”
Generally, my day-to-day wardrobe consists of casual-formal clothing that’s appropriate for a work environment. The important part is that it needs to be flexible and comfortable, as I run in the clothes from school to work and back. My wardrobe does just that.
A wardrobe worth repeating
Through laziness and busyness, I was pushed to simplify my workday wardrobe. In these colder winter months, I’ve opted for more sweaters and colored jean/slacks. Still, I tried to vary what I was wearing… until recently.
These days I’m opting for a more efficient wardrobe: grabbing yesterday’s clothing. It’s not like I do this every day, but I’ve grown more accepting of uniformity in my outfits. The creative, “dapper” dressing is more frequently reserved for weekends.
After reading this article, some might be inclined to suggest that I’ve let myself go. Maybe, but I’m learning something in the process. As I’ve shifted to this repetitive wardrobe, I expected people to notice, complain, and/or question my decision. Last week I wore the same pants 4 days in a row and a sweater 3 days during the week. Nobody noticed (or mentioned it). Nobody!
Expanding the experiment to one year
There’s a sexist double-standard about clothing: men can wear nearly anything and women are carefully criticized. If a woman were to wear the same group of clothes or article repeatedly, they’d be questioned. Largely, men are overlooked and free to wear abominable outfits.
One world where women are constantly criticized is television. The on-air anchors and talent can be harangued for wearing the wrong designer, looking unfashionable, etc. Meanwhile, men are free to wear whatever, again and again and again – without critique.
Karl Stefanovic did just that. This broadcaster from Australia decided he would wear the same suit every day for a year in solidarity with his fellow female co-host. Nobody noticed.
Benefits of embracing a minimal, repetitive wardrobe
My high school and college days were fraught with an insecurity that prompted me to spend. I was desperate to fit in enough, and stand out with my wardrobe. I wanted people to notice me; to be unique enough, but not alone. My wallet suffered over the last 12 years.
Now, as I’ve slowed my purchases and become more minimalistic, I’ve learned some important takeaways.
1. Buy what you love, sparingly
Fundamentally, I’m buying less than ever. I don’t peruse catalogs, storefronts, or websites for the “latest” trends, designs, and brands. By avoiding these outlets that subtly market their latest styles, I don’t have the same urge to buy.
When I do find something, another item must be ready to depart. I’m no longer interested in amassing clothing. Everything must be functional, practical, affordable, and regularly worn. Otherwise, it’s just a waste of space.
I’m not advocating for people to embrace naturism or 1984-like uniformity. Buy what you love, but do it minimally. When you do decide to pull the trigger, make sure it’s something that will stand the test of time (from trend and wear).
2. Sexism, classism, and other cultural norms
I was chatting with a graduate student about his job. He mentioned that he has to wear a suit and tie once a week for business meetings. If I wore a suit and tie to my work, I’d be laughed out of the homeless shelter and/or never receive clients. Dress reflects a microcosm of culture, and portrays an intention. This aspect isn’t — by itself — a bad thing.
Although, clothing choices often become a point of criticism. What we wear can sometimes contribute and perpetuate a classist and sexist society that expects men and women to look certain ways.
Let’s buck these cultural norms that become expectations, prejudicial boxes, and prevent acceptance. Diversity should be embraced.
3. The efficiency chosen by experts
This last week I felt a freeing sensation that comes with efficiency. We are regularly flooded with choices throughout our day. What should I pack for lunch? Should I cut my toe nails? Which shirt and pants should I wear? Heck, look at the toothpaste and shampoo aisles! Try to find your one favorite.
The fewer extraneous choices made, the more we can focus on what’s important. I felt that by wearing the same thing. Just look at two terrific examples: Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.
Steve Jobs would constantly wear a “uniform” of sorts. He wore a black turtleneck, blue jeans, and some sort of tennis shoe. He drank SmartWater on stage — nearly every time. His life worked through routines; yet, it allowed for creativity where it mattered.
Mark Zuckerberg isn’t as repetitive as Jobs was, but he does tend to embrace a more casual style of t-shirts and hoodies. As one of the richest people in the world, he can do whatever he wants. He can set his own wardrobe expectations.
With both men, they minimize the time and cost of more fanciful clothing. It’s clear that focusing on what’s comfortable made them more capable. Additionally, that they could save time every morning throwing on what they know.