I read a half-dozen or so wardrobe planning books last year when I was gearing up to do a lot of shopping and sewing in a short space of time. I wanted to be smart about the process and craft a wardrobe of things I can really wear. You know how it goes — a closet full of clothes, and nothing to wear? I thought I had the opportunity to avoid that problem. For the most part, I’ve done okay. No real misses, though one or two purchases were okay rather than great.
But when, for example, you own zero coats in Chicago, you might find yourself buying the warmest one you can find on the first really cold and snowy day in November. Think peacock blue with big gold buttons — a great color, sturdy melton, but the buttons were all wrong, and it was double-breasted, too, a tragic cut on a body like mine. I’d show you this beast, but I’ve already donated it to the Goodwill. I’ll find something better before next winter. In any case, that coat was definitely okay rather than great, and that’s if I’m being generous. I just couldn’t find something better last November in my mad rush to find anything at all. Didn’t help that I had reached the point where I was sick to death of shopping, disgusted by the amount of time and money spent at the mall, and unwilling to dredge every big box retailer until I found the perfect one. That’s never a good mindset for shopping, is it?
Anyway. In one of the books I read, written by a guy named George B. Style who is apparently a regular on one of those morning chatter shows, he talks about the importance of getting the one really perfect thing instead of the one mostly good but not really perfect thing. He says everything in the closet should be a perfect ten on a scale of one to ten. This seemed a little extreme at first — who in the world can manage perfect tens on every single item? But I find myself thinking about this concept over and over, and it explains so much of my wardrobe behavior.
Take, for example, what I have come to think of as “that one red sweater.” I have a couple of red sweaters — I love red, and it mixes easily with pretty much everything I own. But that one red sweater, every time I wear it, never feels like my best option. It’s cabled, and I like the cable detailing quite a lot. It’s wool, and it’s tunic-length, so it’s quite warm on a cold winter day. The fit is good. The silhouette works on my figure. It should be something I get excited about wearing, and yet it’s usually the thing I wear when everything else needs laundering.
And I know exactly why. The red is a touch on the yellow side for my tastes. I like a nice blue-toned red. Take a look at this color chart of red nail polish shades.
My sweater is close to the shades in the one, two, and three o’clock positions, My natural preference is for the shades in the eight o’clock to midnight range. The sweater looked like a good blue-red under the shopping mall’s terrible lights, but when I got it home, I realized right away that it was just a whiff too orange. And you know that the difference between a good red and a bad red is probably more dramatic than with any other color on the wheel. Just think about what we go through when we need a new red lipstick. ::shudder:: The right shade is sophisticated, but slip just the merest bit in the wrong direction, and it’s more like street-walker than sophisticate.
So. Yeah. That one red sweater is not a perfect ten, and neither was the blue coat. The sweater might be an 8 or a 9, so I’ll hang onto it for a little while longer. But the coat? Maybe a 6. It was warm and serviceable, but I can do better than a 6. Out it went.
This brings me to one of my recent projects. One of the few areas of my closet never to be purged last year was the big plastic bin of hats, scarves, mittens, and gloves, most of which I’ve knit. If you knit, you know that little things like this are the crack of knitting — instant projects that score high on the satisfaction and addiction scale. Knitters tend to accumulate these articles because there are just so many cute patterns to try, and they cost almost nothing in yarn and time. Much as I prefer sweater knitting, I’m not crack-proof. And I have a bin stuffed full of random accessories to prove it.
Or rather, I did have. Now I have a much more manageable bin, and the Goodwill has a bunch of new donations.
But for some of the articles, I thought I might try a bit of a dye job. My dye pot seems to have sprouted legs and walked away, so I thought I might try the washing machine method. It’s not nearly as good as a dye pot, but I think I can live with the before and after.
Before: the dull blue balaclava, maybe a 7
After: A deeper blue, almost plum, probably a 9
This is a balaclava I knit from some gifted alpaca. It’s so warm and soft and lovely to wear — we had a string of something like 9 days in a row where it was around minus 15F every morning, and believe me, the balaclava was a perfect ten on those mornings, regardless of color. I never really did like that color, though. It was too light and bright to be a denim blue, and too dull and faded to look okay by my face. I do better with deep or vivid colors. So into the dye bath it went, and the black dye turned it a richer, darker color. I like it much better now.
Before: the damn tam in shades that are a bit too yellow, a 4 or 5
After: the damn tam becomes more autumnal, now probably an 8
This beret is something my knitting group all knit together, a windmill brioche stitch pattern that nearly turned us all into heavy drinkers. This pattern gave everyone, from beginners to lifetime knitters, massive headaches. I don’t know how many times I ripped mine back. Maybe about three hundred thousand, four hundred seventeen times? Give or take a handful. Anyway, among my group, it became known as the damn tam. Everyone called it that, even the knitters who rarely cuss. It was made with a skein of Noro and about a half skein of Cascade 220, and you know how those Noro skeins can be. They look one way on the outside, but knit through a few color changes, and it’s like an entirely different yarn. I was never entirely happy with the way the Noro color changes played with the 220, and the entire effect was too warm — I need coolor tones. So into the dye bath it went, and though I’d never rate it a perfect ten now, it’s definitely an improvement.
I do have a good string of perfect tens in my closet, a few cashmere sweaters in excellent shades, shoes that I love more than words can tell. But overall, my closet probably rates an 8 or 9 on average, and that’s only because I was so careful and deliberate with most of my shopping last year. I still have a long way to go.
What would you rate your closet? Do you think a closet full of perfect tens is achievable?
who managed to sew three whole days in a row this week — gasp!