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I’ve been thinking a lot about perfection lately. The perfect candle, the perfect red lipstick, the perfect pair of ballet flats. It’s no secret that over the last couple of years, my wardrobe has become simple, easy, minimal even. I’ve been shifting my mindset to quality over quantity (although truthfully, to begin with, it was a bit of both…), and for the large part, I was consumed with the idea that everything I bought had to be perfect. The perfect leather trousers, the perfect button up silk blouse, the perfect pair of Chelsea boots. It’s the type of thinking that can only breed dissatisfaction (at least, that was part of my own experience), and I started to wonder, was I really any better off?
Kali of the Nife en L’air and possibly even Dead Fleurette (if memory serves me correctly) touched on this idea of finding garments and accessories which fit our definition of ‘perfect’. The minute specifications which can turn an ordinary white shirt into a seemingly spectacular one; ‘perfect’, even. The length of the sleeve, hidden placket or no, fit through the body, stiffness of the collar. Which when you think about it as a whole, seems completely arbitrary, if all you’re after is a simple, crisp, white cotton shirt.
I’ll admit it, I’m a type A perfectionist. I have high standards, particularly when it comes to my wardrobe, so the bar is already set when it comes to any new additions.
Having spent hours upon hours trawling through online stores, or digging through the racks at a local shopping mall, it started to dawn on me. Will I ever find something which embodies this definition of perfect? And what is that worth to me? Is it really worth the time that I spent searching for it (obsessively)? How about six months on?
What I found was that all this time spent hunting down the ‘perfect’ anything was essentially fruitless. At first, it seemed fulfilling, to find that something which was so attuned to your specific tastes that it felt like it must be fate. Okay, maybe I’m romanticizing it a little – it’s hard not to. The truth of the matter is, tastes change, the seed of a thought or an idea of a thing might not seem so desirable once you’re finally detached from the situation of searching, looking, and finding. Somehow, I’ve managed to reach a point where I’ve truly s-l-o-w-e-d down the influx of clothing into my wardrobe, and the Five Piece French Wardrobe Challenge works to support that and (hopefully) keep me on the straight and narrow. Rather than scrutinize my wardrobe for things I can part with, I look at the ways I can wear what I have.
2014 seems to truly have been a year of accumulating high-quality garments and simple wardrobe basics, which has to a large extent, worked in my favor (well, maybe not so much for my bank account – hah!).
One thing I did do was hugely change my approach towards shopping, focusing on the brands I know and can trust. I’ve stopped thinking in terms of ‘needing something now’, and instead, made do with what I have. There will always be time for new things, and a wardrobe can definitely wait. Truthfully, this was the biggest mindset to change, given that I was so prone to shopping on impulse for fear of missing out.
But back to the brands that I know. I’ve eschewed the practice of shopping around and instead focused on a few brands that I’ve found myself purchasing from again and again. It’s all about knowing what to expect when it comes to the fit, the style and the quality. I can easily pick out a few key pieces a season (we don’t need everything…) and be fairly confident that they’re going to work with what I currently have, in addition to fitting correctly. A lot of the brands are local, like Lover, Karen Walker, Ellery or Ruby, and the others, like 3.1 by Phillip Lim, Charlotte Olympia, J Brand and Everlane are easily within reach via the internet. I know that I can count on these brands, and I’m pretty happy to limit myself in that respect.
When making a new purchase, the questions I tend to ask myself now lean more towards: Do I feel comfortable in this? Does it fit my needs? and Does it blend in seamlessly with my current wardrobe?
If it fits my needs and looks good – perfect. If it’s unflattering, I’ll return it or won’t even hesitate to put the hanger back on the rack. Which… is pretty much what I was doing before, but without all the fuss over the minor details (and I know, I know, a small detail can make a garment!). It’s about finding something that is adequate, that is functional, and that won’t result in overthinking the shopping process – something that the very idea of minimalism should embody, yet in every example I’ve seen, has done quite the opposite.
We are so hard wired to consume, consume, and then consume some more that the mere thought that I was still trapped in this cycle had never occurred to me. Every day we are faced with hundreds, if not thousands of ads, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t give in to temptation every now and then. Through all of my obsessive searches, I’d uncover something new. Perhaps a chic French label I barely knew existed, and all of a sudden I’d be after one of their black skirts because it seemed better, newer, and more ‘perfect’ than the one I already owned. See what I’m talking about? It unnecessarily made me unhappy with what I already had, and just fueled the consumer within me. More so than that, it stopped me from enjoying the things that I already owned – which were lovely to begin with.
Kali describes it perfectly – the shift from perfection to adequacy. A personalization of sorts which tailors the purchases you make to your lifestyle, which has been a somewhat natural progression and describes my situation so succinctly.
If we just quickly get a little serious for a moment, when I was completing my post-grad Marketing studies, one thing that struck me was the comparison of happiness levels between two different types of shoppers: the one which would find something which met their needs (a cerulean blue jumper), and the other which would research and exhaust all options before finally making a decision. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the happier of the two was the person who spent less time focusing on the decision making process, and more time just getting on with it. Too much choice, is far from a blessing in disguise – it’s a hindrance, and of course will cause you to question whether you really did make the right choice in the end. And so, it makes you think, will all the research and active comparisons between four similar pairs of skinny jeans really be worth it?
All of this is not to say that I don’t love fashion, because the simple truth is, that I do, wholeheartedly and unreservedly. Instead, it’s more to do with tackling this idea of attaining perfection – in any area of our lives. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I’m still experimenting, if only a little. One of my (not so) recent purchases, an Ellery 60s style swing dress is a perfect example of this – it’s fun, it’s youthful, and it’s unlike anything that I already own. Truth be told, the thing I like most about the dress is that I came across it almost by chance, and it fit with my desire to add a few more dresses to my wardrobe (which I’m hoping will be work-appropriate). There was no planning, no agonizing over whether a similar style would be better; I liked it, I thought about it overnight, and the next day, I bought it. Simple.
Given that I know I’m not the only one who has been swept up in this trend of minimalism, I would love to know your own experiences; how have you approached finding the perfect ‘…’? Would you stop searching for perfection in place of finding something which is just adequate?