Working My Way Through The Curated Closet

Well, friends, I’ve tried to write this post something like 7 times and I am just struggling! I don’t know exactly what it is but here’s another go at it and hopefully I can give you all the information I want to share in a clear and approachable way.

I feel like I can’t give the book a proper run down without first talking about my own personal wardrobe. If you would, for a moment, rewind with me as we take things back to two summers ago when Ben and I were heading up to Alaska (for the second time). The move was a total whirlwind, with Ben getting the job offer and us moving all within something like 3 weeks. It was crazy and hectic and we had to do some serious scrambling. We got a trailer, but it wasn’t terribly big and we couldn’t fit all of our stuff in it. As a result, we got rid of a lot. One thing I had to go through was my clothing which was a terrible thing to ask a 4 month postpartum lady to do. In my mind, I’d had my baby long enough ago that my pre-baby clothes should’ve started fitting by then. But they weren’t ergo they would probably never fit again! Into the donation pile they went! Sadly, the only items to make the cut were the things that fit in that moment and anything I figured would be helpful in a cold Alaskan winter.

A year later, we made the opposite move, again ditching whatever we could. This time things were easier since I didn’t have nearly as many clothes to sort through, not to mention the fact that I wasn’t really attached to many of those items anyway!

And then, finally, at the beginning of this year, I was looking at my closet and specifically at the things I had made the previous year to contribute to my wardrobe. And I was surprisingly disappointed. Yes, I’d made some really great things, but I hadn’t really made much of what was in my daily rotation. I had always avoided basics because why would I waste money on a pattern/fabric for basics? My logic was terrible and I made a goal to rectify that and fill my sewing up with clothes I would actually wear on the daily. Not only that, but I really wanted to sew and own garments that I love.

Cue The Curated Closet by Anuschka Rees

And actually, before I jump totally into stuff I learned from this book, I did want to mention that I am aware that caring about what I’m wearing is totally a first world problem. But I think sewing has opened my eyes to the fact that I can make my wardrobe be whatever it is that I want it to be. And it doesn’t just start and end with style. It can cross so many things that might be important to me whether that’s creativity, sustainability, supporting small businesses, shopping local, or any other number of things that might inspire me. Your clothes are a lot more than what you wear. And since I have this luxury to be choosy about what I wear, I want to be mindful, make good decisions and be me.

So when I started hearing about this book, I was interested and I finally picked it up from the library…and I’ve had it in my possession no shorter than 5 months because CoVid (our library is still not open). But I’m not complaining! It’s given me plenty of time to slowly work my way through the book and learn what works for me. Spoiler: I really liked the book and appreciated the majority of what it has to offer. But I really don’t think the book is for everyone. I know some people are totally comfortable with the clothes in their closet and with their shopping habits, and if that’s you, you can skip this book with no regrets. But if you aren’t wearing (or enjoying wearing) the majority of your clothes or if you just feel like you need some guidance when it comes to shopping, this book is probably right up your alley.

There’s a ton of information in here-guidance, projects, ideas-so don’t expect everything to apply to you, but I bet you’ll learn some things, just like I did. And, no, it’s not really related at all to sewing, but I definitely related much of what I learned back to sewing since, you know, I sew clothes.

Anyway…ahem. So. The book.

One theme that is repeated throughout the book is that you should love everything in your closet 100%. Y’all ever read/seen anything by Marie Kondo? I feel like this is just about the exact same sentiment as the Spark Joy rule. In some ways, this rule is a relief because, hey! I get to keep those items I never wear but that have sentimental value because I love them. But in more ways, though, it’s sad because my closet has quite a lot that I don’t totally love-the fit’s not right, I don’t love the color, it’s getting teeny tiny holes right near the belly button (does anyone else have this problem?????).

Another thing Rees sings again and again is that quality is key! This point specifically made me think about why, in the past, I would buy clothes. And, if we were splitting it up into percentages I would say that 60% of my reasoning has been that it’s a good price (meaning, like, really cheap/on sale/at a thrift store) and 40% would be that it’s marginally cute. Even if the percentages are a little off, the main thing I am looking for when I walk into a store to buy clothes is price. Which, I don’t think in and of itself is a bad thing…but I am soon to be a 30 year old woman and I’d like to think that it’d be okay for me to buy something on the basis of me really liking it and, oh I don’t know, it fitting me really well. Ha! What a concept. I will say that, sewing has really opened my eyes regarding quality. And I’ve found that I often have to pass up the cheap stuff I normally would have snagged just because the quality seems to be so lacking. Trying to find good quality fabric is a whole different thing, and it’s a skill I’m still trying to hone.

Bless you lucky souls who have a cultivated and defined style, but this was probably THE main area where I felt I needed help, and Rees offers plenty of ideas to get yourself acquainted with the style that most speaks to you. Here’s one of her crazy, new age ideas: make yourself a style Pinterest board. Wild, right? Okay, sarcasm aside, I legitimately have never done this. But I’ve always been pretty good about doing my homework, so I started pinning like someone was paying me. One of Rees’ tips was to delete images as you go. This ended up being incredibly helpful because I started off pinning outfits that I liked in a general sense, but after a few weeks I was pinning stuff that I was going heart eye emoji over. Here’s an example:

Some of the images from when I very first started my Pinterest style board
Some of the images more recently pinned from my Pinterest style board

You can see that my pins have similar themes (i.e. oversized tops), but my tastes started skewing toward much more colorful clothing and bold prints. I have always loved color and (I believe) I used to dress much more colorfully. However, pregnancy and having kids definitely made my weight fluctuate and I think I didn’t want to draw any attention to that fact so I started sticking to more neutral colors. My current closet has a lot of gray and navy. But I definitely want to embrace more color.

I also was surprised to see how drawn I was to abstract prints. I really like funky, artsy, chunky, colorful prints. The problem is that I have no idea how to find fabric that fits this category, that’s not too outrageously priced. I see stuff all the time from people I follow on Instagram who live in Australia but if you know of anywhere that sales this type of fabric in the USA, please let me know! But I may just resort to making an overseas purchase…Here are a few fabrics I found that fit the bill pretty well for me:

various fabrics I found from stylemakerfabrics

I’ve always had the idea that I really love floral patterns but another surprise for me was that I’m not as attracted to them as I had thought. There are certainly some that I drool over (I’m thinking Rifle Paper Co. here), but for the most part, I realized it’s not my favorite for myself. I will always and forever love floral…just maybe not on my clothing for the most part?

The next step would be to detox your closet. I did this to my closet, although I will admit that I didn’t follow the rules exactly because if I got rid of everything I didn’t 100% love, I would literally not have enough clothes to even get me through a week. So I took some liberties, but I did get rid of a handful of stuff. I also took the time to move stuff I don’t wear to a different shelf, so it’s not something I have to sort through when I’m trying to get dressed. Some of the garments that were moved were out of season (i.e. sweaters) and some of them were those items I mentioned above that I love even though I don’t wear them (i.e. like that cardigan I made that was totally outside my skill level). A tip that I really appreciated was to do a trial separation if you’re feeling a little bit uncertain about whether a garment should stay or go. I put quite a few things into a garbage bag that is intended to go to a thrift store, but have just let the bag sit at the bottom of my closet for a few months. I have not once reached for anything in the bag so I guess parting is appropriate.

Partly detox and partly diving into the next step is determining where the holes are in your wardrobe. Okay this was probably my favorite thing that I learned from the book so I hope I can explain it well!

Ta-da! I made you guys a pie chart, to help explain this. And technically you should have 2 pie charts…so you’ll just have to use your imagination. So this pie chart represents what my days consist of/what kinds of outfits I need to cover the activities I participate in. I admit that my pie chart is kind of lame and one might think that all my categories are the same. Haha I live the glamorous life of a stay at home mom, so this is what you get. Your categories might include much more exciting activities/wardrobe needs like business casual, business professional, black tie, date night…I don’t know, maybe Sunday morning brunch. You might also want to include categories that are appropriate for where you live: beachwear, coats, rain gear. Make sure your pie chart is split up according to how much time you spend on each activity. THEN you are supposed to make a pie chart according to what your actual wardrobe looks like right now. Some of you might find that 15% of your wardrobe is black tie, even though you only attend one black tie event a year. Or maybe you amass coats even though you live in Miami. You’re bound to find places of excess or places where you need a bit more padding (or both).

So, a little about me, I’m super stingy frugal and since I don’t much like shopping anyway, I tend to have like 2 pairs of jeans that I rotate between until they are totally beyond repair. I feel like seeing a wardrobe in a chart like this, it made me realize the value of having enough. It’s like, yeah, I pretty much wear jeans every day. It’s okay to have more than 2 pairs of jeans. The same could be said in pretty much any category for me: it’s okay to have more than 1 pair of sweatpants. It’s okay to have more than 5 shirts that I love. Etc., etc., etc.

I think the area that is most lacking for me is TOPS. I have a handful of t-shirts I really like and that I wear often, but I’d love a few more and more variety! I’ve got some woven shirts cut and ready to be sewn (I’m interested to see if I actually like wearing them since currently I mostly wear knits), and I want to make a couple button ups, come fall. Pants is another need, although less pressing. My first inclination was to think that I had plenty of workout/running gear, but upon closer inspection it was easy to see that, although I have a lot of garments in this category, most of it goes unworn because it no longer fits well/fits my needs. I’ve worked a bit on my lounge wear and I feel like it’s in decent shape, although I know it wouldn’t hurt to add to it. And as far as dresses go, they’re one of my favorite things to make. So I don’t necessarily have a lot of dresses, but what I do have, I love so I don’t think there’s any pressing need for more at the moment.

There was this pretty in depth section all about color palettes. And I thought this was so interesting and I felt really excited about finding a color palette for myself so that I could more easily mix and match clothing. I went rogue and did some seasonal color palette tests that I found in a Google search. I feel like I put some serious foot work in here and I discovered 2 things in this process: 1) My seasonal color palette is classified as a light spring and 2) I don’t really care. Ha! I realized that my goal is to have more color in my wardrobe, period. I didn’t feel like using up the mental capacity it takes to make sure I’m only buying things that fit within my palette was worth it, especially since the palette Rees describes is fairly small. Maybe some day I’ll get my act together and create a wardrobe that is totally cohesive in a beautiful palette that makes me glow…but right now I think I’m okay spending my energy elsewhere.

Rees has this huge, long section for how to successfully shop for all those holes in your wardrobe. At best, I skimmed this section because, as mentioned above, I don’t love spending money or shopping, so I didn’t really feel like I needed training in how to reign it in.

The end of the book had some of my very favorite information, especially as a sewist. Rees gives a point by point run down of things to look for to ensure you are purchasing quality garments. She explains, in detail, what to look for in quality fabric. This was incredibly helpful to me. I’ve gotten better over time, but when I first started sewing, I had no idea what to look for to make sure the fabric I was getting wasn’t going to fall apart after a couple wears. Then she talks about the kinds of finishings you might find on high quality garments. Again, as a sewist this information was invaluable (she lists stuff like higher end seam finishes, pattern matching, and real pockets among many other things).

Along these same lines, Rees talks about altering garments to ensure proper fit. She has a whole diagram where you pinpoint what’s off in your garment and she’ll tell you what’s not fitting correctly and give you suggestions for how to alter the garment to give you a better fit. I know there are other resources that have this information, but I liked that she included it here in her book. It’s pretty thorough and definitely something helpful to have in your arsenal.

So…what now?

I think one of the tricky things about sewing your own clothes is that you rarely know what you’re going to get. I mean, I see stuff on Instagram all the time that look totally amazing on other people, but the question remains as to whether or not that pattern would look amazing on me. On top of that, trying to find fabric that fits within the parameters I’ve built up in my head is so incredibly difficult (maybe imma have to move to Australia…). And even if I find a fabric that I love and that’s colorful and artistic, I don’t know if I will actually love wearing something so loud. Maybe it’ll make me feel so uncomfortable and I’ll want to crawl back into my navy and grays.

With so many things that I’m still uncertain about, and even in a testing phase of, my goal is to slowly work my way toward having a wardrobe that I totally love. It’s going to take some time, people. I really hope that it involves (a lot) more color. I also really hope I can land some of those funky prints somehow. And if it turns out I should have funky prints on my couch cushions instead of on my body, so be it.

This book really had so much more information than I shared with you, so go see if your local library has a copy if any of this piqued your interest. Also, after I read the book, I signed up for the Love to Sew Podcast emails. When you sign up you get their “Create your dream wardrobe worksheet” and I really felt like the worksheet was a great, condensed version of the book. So that’s a great resource if you don’t want to commit to the whole book, although the book offers a lot more guidance and ideas.

I really enjoyed the book and learned a lot from it. I definitely recommend it if you struggle with getting dressed in the morning. I know I’m signing myself up for some major nitpicking, as well as maybe, potentially spending more money on higher quality fabrics…but I really felt like I needed the guidance and it’s been lots of fun trying to plan sewing projects around a new (and improved) set of criteria.

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