Thursday, August 5, 2010

Building A Small Wardrobe: Color

Oh, this was nice outfit! Comfy, cotton, just two easy pieces, a really fun shape and easy to accessorize. I threw it on because i wanted something simple for the day which we planned to spend packing up for leaving to go camping the next day. Mr. E asked where i was headed - he thought i looked a little fancy bumming about the homestead!

Below you see how i generally feel when i'm taking pictures by this tree - i have to run down a ramp, go down a step, more ramp, step over a wooden border, clamber onto the base of the tree....all in eight seconds. It's a wonder i ever look decently composed in these photos.

I think in this pic you can see the detailing on the tunic for once. I've had a hard time capturing the ruffles and plackets that are a big part of the appeal for me of this garment. Here it seems to come across.

Now, on to the title topic: color in the small wardrobe. For decades now i've been using a method but i can't remember where i learned about it - possibly in the 'four seasons' color theory books. Anyways, it's a simple system but for it to work you have to be very strict, especially in the beginning. To start, choose two colors that you like, flatter you, and can easily be worn together. It is also recommended to choose one dark and one light color. I chose black and beige. Other pair choices could be navy and grey, chocolate brown and teal, indigo and pale yellow, etc. As a rule, neutrals or less outrageous colors are preferable because they are more flexible, but it depends upon your individual situation. If you're a beginning lawyer, coral and sage green may be lovely on you as well as with one another, but might be tricky in your profession. If you're an artist or stay at home spouse, on the other hand, go for it!

From this point every piece of clothing you buy will be one of your two 'base' colors (white/ivory is a wild card you may also purchase as long as it flatters you). Stick with your two base colors until you have put together a 'core' wardrobe sufficient for your needs (maybe 5-12 pieces?). This will vary depending on your needs and the purpose of this part of your wardrobe (business, travel, casual). Staying within certain style parameters is a big bonus to the versatility of this strategy, but you'd be surprised how many seemingly stylistically opposing pieces come together when they are the same color. Also, keep in mind that classically-fitting, simple, well made pieces will last longer and be more versatile for mixing with other pieces. Solid colors are also more versatile for mixing, but prints consisting of primarily your base colors can add a lot of life to your look. Prints are also quicker to 'date' than solids, something to keep in mind if you are buying investment clothing.

Once you've got your 'bases' covered, add in one more color. This color can be dark or light, which ever you prefer and makes more sense (what is the dominant season in your area? do you do a lot of messy activities in this wardrobe?). The third color needs to 'go' with both base colors and, again, be flattering to you. I chose grey. Proceed as above, purchasing only items in one of your three colors until you have enough for your wardrobe's purpose. At this point you may want to concentrate on finding pieces in your third color, but don't pass up anything really great or useful in your two other colors.

As i'm certain you've realized, this scheme can be carried out with as few or as many colors as you can think of as long as they all can be worn together successfully. I started with black and beige, added grey, realized i had a couple of blue pieces and added a few more. I have two orange pieces from years ago and just now have added the predominantly orange 'umbrella skirt'.

This scheme sounds tremendously limiting because it does limit the items you can add to your wardrobe. But if you stick to your plan, once you go to get dressed suddenly everything you own can be worn with everything else, meaning you have literally HUNDREDS or even THOUSANDS of possible outfits. Once i'd seriously committed to this plan i found i started never repeating outfits, though the number of clothing items i had stayed about the same or even a little less. My creativity in creating outfits took a leap forward as well, since i had so many options and possibilities.

I hope this has been helpful to anyone interested in a planning a smaller wardrobe. This concept is also worthwhile when packing for travel, as well as developing 'clothing capsules' for specialized areas of your life (sports, weekends, hobbies, severely hot/cold weather, etc.).

Tunic: Converse for Target
Skirt, Earrings, Necklace: own design
Shoes: Dansko Marcelle
Hat: ???


  1. Interesting, I've never heard of that method of creating a small wardrobe! But then, I've never purposely put together my wardrobe - it's all been happenstance and what I gravitate to. I suppose that one day I will have to give up my big closet or pare down...but until then, I will enjoy your creativity with your lovely wardrobe.

    Good detail shot on the top! I like the ruffles.

  2. i wish i could remember where i found out about it! it's interesting about your wardrobe - you have such a great eye for color and really are pretty strict about sticking to a particular palette (for example, i'd challenge you to find more than one or two 'colors' that you'd ever wear in the Land's End catalogue.)

    it's a little like the palettes they give you in color-typing consultations - the palette is so thoroughly thought-out that all the colors go together, giving you a great amount of freedom to mix as long as you stay within that palette.

    it's strange - the stricter you are about bringing new pieces in, the more freedom you have to mix them afterwards. but i do tend towards the nonsensical and brain-twisting!

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