Things I wish I knew about clothes

This blog post is a version of a “Bread Talk”/lunch-and-learn session I gave at my workplace last year. This list is certainly not exhaustive, and I’m always learning about clothes as my personal style changes and as my taste and body changes over time, but I still wanted to share some of the more general things I’ve learned that can apply to anyone. I actually intended to include a version that was extremely similar to the talk I gave, but I think it makes a lot of sense to reduce the amount of points that were very specific to me and my taste.

One defining characteristic about me is that I’m a minimalist. If something doesn’t add value to my life or if I don’t use it, I’m likely to part ways with it or avoid purchasing it. It means I’m kind of anti-consumerism, I put value in experiences rather than physical objects, and there is a misconception that people like me sleep on futons and own basically nothing.

Another defining characteristic about me is that I like fashion and clothes. You might find this apparent from the way I dress. I love expressing myself through my clothes, and I have since I was very young. What you might gather from this is that I have hundreds of clothes and a hundred pairs of shoes.

You probably think that being a fashionable minimalist becomes a huge contradiction really quickly. And you’re not wrong.

Over time, a person’s style changes, and mine has changed a couple of times in my life. Some of that change is simply due to personal preference for styles of clothing. But a lot of that change is because of the things I have learned about clothes and fashion over time.

These are the things I wish I knew about clothes.

💃🏻 No one (really) cares about what you wear.

Ah, the age-old problem. I think women cop a lot of shit for their clothes. We feel bad for outfit repeating or wearing the same clothes for fear that someone will make a comment about it or it’s some kind of faux pas. I learned that it doesn’t really matter. All of us shower and wash our clothes, and would not wear an item of clothing that smells, so at the end of the day, if I’m wearing the same skirt I wore yesterday, it’s no big deal.

I’ve never had anyone make a negative comment about me wearing the same thing. In fact, according to Courtney Carver, who founded Project 333 – an experiment where one tries to live with 33 items of clothing for 3 months – more people complimented her when she started wearing outfits from a smaller wardrobe. I can attest to this. It helps you understand your style better and what you enjoy wearing, and when I’ve worn my favourite bright colours often, I get compliments because people become used to seeing me in “my colours”. When my friends notice me in certain colours on a regular basis, they tend to let me know if they see something that reminds them of me and what I wear. It’s a really small thing that lets you know you made a small impression on someone.

🎒 You don’t really need that many clothes (here’s why)

This was a very hard one for me to recognise, coming from a family of hoarders and having a wardrobe “full of clothes, but nothing to wear”. When I first adopted a more minimalistic lifestyle, the more I downsized my wardrobe, the more I feared having to choose something to wear.

One of the major reasons we don’t need that many clothes is because clothes last for a lot longer than we think. These days clothes are made much more cheaply and unfortunately don’t last as long as they did a few decades ago, but even if you wore a shirt every day for a year, it probably wouldn’t even get a hole in it, even though the material might start to wear thin. People mainly get new clothes because they change clothing sizes, but really how often does this happen to the average person?

High quality garments will last even longer; second hand garments that are still in good condition show that something has been worn but is able to go through a second owner, potentially even a third owner, without much damage to the garment.

From a logical point of view, even if you cycled through 5 shirts for a whole year, you wouldn’t even be wearing each shirt a hundred times. If you had one of the five shirts for each working day of the week, you’d only be wearing that shirt about fifty times. But the truth is that many people have more than five shirts and if they looked in their wardrobe, and counted how many times they had worn an item in the past year, it might not even be that many times.

👖 It’s not you, it’s the clothes

For a long time I’ve been trying to find jeans that actually fit that I even made a spreadsheet of every pair of jeans I tried.

I took photos when I tried on jeans in clothing store change rooms. Later, I looked at the jeans I was trying on and I thought, what is wrong with me. Why do I look so shit in jeans. Why do I have to have thick thighs. Why is it giving me cameltoe all the time, and bunching up in my crotch?

I could be wrong, but I assume most women think something is wrong with them when this happens. I can’t say much for what men think. But it took me years to stop feeling like something was wrong with me, and not the clothes that were the problem.

So clothes are made for an average body shape, the average of which doesn’t exist. I know that my legs are bigger than average. I know that I am below average height. So it’s hardly going to be the case that something is going to fit straight off the rack.

I know people don’t like spending money on alterations but it is a fact of life for many. We’re all different shapes and sizes and everyone is going to have different problems with clothing.

Now, moving onto size and fit…

😌 Comfort > how good something looks

I used to wear miniskirts a lot. Yeah, I was young. But after some time I noticed that I was constantly yanking the skirts down whenever I walked.

I also wore low-rise jeans. I found that I was constantly yanking those up.

Don’t get me wrong. I thought I looked great, but it just didn’t occur to me that adjusting my clothes was not ideal. I thought it was just something that, you know, you had to live with. Women have to wear high heels and be in pain all day. Men have to wear dress shirts. Do they? Do we? I’m pretty sure many people here wear t-shirts and jeans because they are comfortable and feel great in them, not necessarily because they look good.

💸 Cost per wear

If you buy a $15 t-shirt, and wear it once, and decide you don’t like it anymore, it cost you $15 to wear it.

If you buy a $60 t-shirt, and wear it 50 times, it cost you $1.20 to wear it each time.

When you think about the cost of a garment in relation to how much you will wear it, it puts things into perspective.

I’m going to hazard a guess that a $15 t-shirt is probably crap quality, the fabric is probably not very soft against the skin, and after you wash it it will lose its shape.

A $60 t-shirt would likely last longer and be made of better quality material.

It’s a good idea to invest in higher quality clothing that will last you a long time and result in a cheaper cost per wear.

If you wear a $15 shirt 15 times then that’s no problem either! But this is something to think about when you want to justify buying something at a higher price. Many people buy vintage leather because it’s cheaper, whereas buying leather new can be extremely expensive. If you buy good quality breathable shoes, they will probably set you back about $200, and you could wear them every day, but cheap synthetically made ones will probably give you grief after several wears.

Fast fashion is bad 😟

This is a whole topic in itself, especially given recent conversations around systems designed to discriminate against people of colour, but:

It still shocks me that a lot of women will buy a dress from a fast fashion retailer only to wear it once and sell it, or even just donate it. For the past couple of years, I’ve been diving into the second hand market, which does have high quality designer goods, but also a lot of cheap, low-quality clothing that doesn’t look like it’s going to last very long.

In the past you used to buy clothes in seasons, and those clothes would last several seasons. You would pay a lot of money for a high quality garment that would go the distance. Vintage clothing is appealing not just because of its looks, but because the quality of garments forty years ago was far higher than the quality clothes are produced at today.

The True Cost is a documentary that looks into the negative effects of fast fashion, and this was one of those documentaries that opened my eyes to something I personally remained somewhat ignorant about. Most people know this, but cheap labour in underdeveloped countries is exploited for fast fashion retailers. Clothing you think that you got a good deal on was made by someone, with their bare hands. The more I became aware of fast fashion, the more I realised two things: 

  1. The first is that someone made my clothes and took a great deal of care to make them. They were probably not paid very much. I felt grateful and I should appreciate that my clothes were made by someone. Thus I feel much better purchasing from clothing retailers who treat their workers with respect.
  2. The second thing I realised is that I should take care of my belongings, including clothes. Washing them properly, storing them properly. Not just throwing them on my desk chair when I get home, or throwing them in the laundry, or even on the floor. They might be “just clothes”, but knowing that they were created for me to stay warm and protected, where them “looking nice and fashionable” is just an added benefit, helped me take care of my clothes better and thus they lasted longer.

I wish I had educated myself on this earlier, because I would have spent less on low-quality cheap clothing that didn’t last long, and I would have also made my existing clothes last longer.

🚨 Donating is bad often ends up in landfill.

We waste so many clothes, and some clothes we donate never actually get reused or recycled, and end up in landfill. 😞

Half a million tonnes tonnes (or 88%) of leather and textiles were sent to landfill in Australia in 2009–2010 according to the ABS.

Don’t get me wrong, I still donate. Shortly after I decided to adopt a more minimalist lifestyle you can imagine that I donated dozens of bags of clothes, thinking that they would be recycled or re-homed. The truth is that we donate so much clothing that second-hand shops have excess. And yet, fast fashion retailers continue to sell unbelievable amounts of clothing.

I learned two things:

  1. I try to donate as a last resort. I try to repurpose clothes if they are worn out, using them for another purpose like cleaning or using the material to create something else. I try to sell clothes or give them to friends and family. 
  2. The thing that can prevent excessive donating in the first place is that I learned to think about purchases extremely carefully. I actually think about whether I will see an item of clothing to the end of its life. If I am going to wear a shirt only ten times, is it just going to go in the trash? Is it quality enough that I will wear it many times for many years? Is it in a style that I will still enjoy wearing over the next few years? Will it have resell value if I don’t like it anymore? Or, is it going to end up polluting the environment? I may not be the greenest person ever, but I believe that every small change we make to our lifestyle to be kinder to the environment does make a difference.

🗒️ The stuff the internet tells you about what to wear is just a guide.

Whether you’re following a guide to a triangular body shape, reading about Kibbe body types, or what colours suit your skin tone, take everything with a grain of salt. There is so, so much out there on the internet to help you get inspiration and experiment with finding your personal style. But I’ve gotten trapped into subscribing to it, believing it all, and really thinking that some clothes didn’t work for me, including the styles of clothes that I really loved and already owned. It’s not a healthy spot to be in.

Remember that the resources you read are not the be-all and end-all. Including this blog post. You don’t have to listen to me. It’s just a guide. Your personal style and taste outshines all. 🙏

Many of my readers will know that I’ve worn a lot of orange in my Fashion Friday posts (by the way, I hope to bring that series back super soon!). I’ve been told, and suggested by the internet, that orange does not work with my skin tone, but come on, I’m going to agree. Even if it does look awful, I’m clearly owning it in all of these photos.

A collage of six photos of the same woman at different periods of time, posing in different outfits with a bright orange element in each of the outfits.
A handful of outfits with orange that I’ve worn over the years

💡 Change rooms are often a failure

Online shopping can be dangerous in that you click a button to spend $400 in one hit. However, it sure beats trying clothes on in a change room with shitty lighting and working up a sweat, and realising that the jacket you purchased is a different colour in real life from what you thought it was, based on your experience in a change room. Buying online means you can try things on and see how they go with your other clothes in the comfort of your own home.

If you are in a physical store, you can save time by grabbing everything you want, buying it, trying it on at home and then returning what you don’t want. Of course it helps to check the refund policy!

📏 Know your measurements

It’s just handy to know them. You might not remember them all, but remember them in context of what you like to wear. For example, I like to wear skirts that are at least 45 centimetres long. That’s very specific, but the reason for this is that I have proportionally long femurs compared to the rest of my leg, and I have a backside that is going to need all the coverage when I stand or sit, so anything shorter would be pretty obscene.

Other useful things to know are inseam length of pants for when you buy jeans, how long you like your shirts, waist measurement, and it’s probably good to have an idea of what kind of body shape and size you are. For example, I know I’ve got big thighs, so if I want skinny jeans I’m going to need a size big enough to cover my thighs. I tend not to go by waist measurement since jeans in that size will probably barely even fit over my thighs.

🧵 Know your fabrics

Really understand and get familiar with the types of fabrics in clothes. Cotton, linen, wool and silk are natural fibres that are less harmful to the environment to produce. Acrylic, polyester and nylon, less so. Recycled nylon and recycled “plastic” fibres are more common these days. But beyond sustainability, know what these fabrics feel like, how they will drape on your body, and how they will feel on the skin. You might be sensitive to some of these fabrics. You might find that some of these fabrics are too delicate and high maintenance for your lifestyle.

Pay attention to when you particularly like or dislike something in garment, especially as it wears over time. Some fabrics are more durable than others. I’ve personally found some low quality acrylic sweaters to lose their shape after one wear. 😞

Online shopping is extremely common, and it can be hard to gauge what a garment looks like just by looking at photographs on a model. This is where reading and knowing about the fabric composition can really help you know how a garment might feel.

💫 Your personal style changes and sometimes it takes time to find.

Expect your style to change over time. My style has changed several times over the past five years. Where you are in life can have an impact on what your style is. Some people might argue right now that their style doesn’t matter to them because of the pandemic. When I dyed my hair a bright colour, my wardrobe and my clothes were so much darker and duller than they are now. Colouring your hair can have a drastic effect on how colours of clothing or styles of clothing look on you.

When it comes to accessories, many resources will suggest that accessories make or break an outfit. There are many different types of accessories, like sunglasses, hats, scarves, and even something as seemingly basic as a handbag. But remember that not all of these accessories are things that everyone wears. You might not ever wear a scarf because you live in a hot climate. You might be more into tote bags and not handbags. You might not wear hats but prefer headbands, or you have a hairstyle that is so much more interesting than a hat. Personally, I own very few scarves, my favourite one being a warm wool blend. I love sunglasses but I only own two very good quality pairs. You can purchase good quality sunglasses here. It’s worth investing in quality accessories as much as it is worth investing in quality clothes. Approach accessories with both caution and intention, especially if you are not already regularly wearing them.

Have some patience when you try on clothes. Don’t grab things in a rush and don’t feel guilty for choosing to return something because you didn’t feel 100% on it. If you wore something once and don’t like it anymore, learn from that. Really take note of what works and what doesn’t. It’s OK to make a mistake – I’ve done it many times before. And try to remember that at the end of the day, it’s just clothes. You don’t need to stress. It’s just clothes.

👗 Finally: wear what you want.

In summary, just give points for you to take away.

  • Whatever feels good looks good. 👍
  • Although trends are a trap, they can be fun to experiment with.
  • Comfort is important.
  • If something doesn’t feel right, it’s likely not going to work out.
  • Have fun. ✨

I hope you enjoyed reading some of the little revelations I’ve had about clothes over the years. What are some things you’ve learned about clothes?

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Comments on this post

Very useful guide with stuff to think about with clothes. Never really thought about this stuff much.’

I usually just buy something if I like it. And sometimes buy too much of it if I really like it. XD

By the way, I think you looked great in orange!

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