a wardrobe for all seasons

I'm pages away from the 2018 section of my planner. The office is much emptier than usual, because a lot of people have taken time off work this week. My email inbox doesn't ping that much. There's a new tin of Christmas cookies every other day. 

It's that time of the year again. Once more, it hits you that yet another year is almost over, and for a moment, everything that's happened in the past 12 months rushes back to you. 

2017 counts as a banner year for me. For the first time since I graduated university 10 years ago, I walked away from full-time employment...and just kept walking. For a little while longer than is usual for me. I've been working part-time since I was 16 to earn my own pocket money, and aside from an eight-week jaunt around Europe after graduation, I've never been without some kind of job on the horizon. 

It felt strange, then it felt liberating, and then I finally accepted what a glorious luxury it was to be able to put myself first, albeit temporarily, and give my mind the space to roam. I've always loved working, and I've had the fortune of loving my work for the past decade, and it took me a long time to realise that taking a break from doing what I love could be good for me too. 

Living without a recurring source of income for a few months forced me to assess my spending habits. The desire for new clothes vanished almost immediately, which says something about the degree to which I bought new clothes simply because I could. I did miss having variety in clothing choices while living out of a backpack in Latin America, but I was also too busy exploring and immersing myself in new places to dwell on it. Dressing became a matter of wearing whatever I managed to launder in time over the sink. 

And then when I got home, I revelled in having choices, but I was also struck by how about 50 per cent of my wardrobe felt irrelevant, as I no longer had to report to work. I'd always worked in a casual environment, but freelancing and lazing around meant I could be even more casual. All the time, money and space devoted to dresses and shirts in my "previous life" suddenly felt a tad foolish. 

And then I realised I gained weight, which meant that a number of things I lived in no longer fit at all, while other items fit differently. 

Meanwhile, an injury in my right hand I picked up on Colombia back in July continued to pain me, and eventually I found out that I had in fact sustained a fracture, and I needed surgery. My choices shrank even further - all I could wear (and it is still the case as my hand recovers) were clothes I could easily pull on and off with one hand. Buttons and side/back zips became the enemy. No belts please. Only shoes easy to slip into. 

I spent many years writing on this blog about style, dressing and how my wardrobe evolves, but I think this was truly the first time the changes in my life outpaced the incremental changes I made over the years to how I dress and shop. 

And it reminded me that as much as I want to plan, rationalise and try to predict what I want to buy for my wardrobe, so much can change and catch you off-guard. What seemed imminently sensible nine months ago could be come a white elephant in less than a year. 

Realising all this has made it easier for me to step back when desire hits. It's helped me revive my ability to admire things from a distance, rather than casually collecting (i.e. accumulating) things that are lovely to have, but also quite easy to let go.

I have in no way given up my love of beautiful material things. But I do enjoy becoming more detached from the excitement of the new, and more attached to what I already have. 

And rightfully so - my wardrobe as it is has been more than apt in meeting my needs, which has changed quite a bit this year. I'd like to think that despite my shopping being on the excessive side on recent years, I did make some good choices in choosing pieces that don't quite date or deteriorate so quickly. 

Even if I have no immediate use for some of them, I feel like they're classic, well-made things that I may find occasion for in future. After all, some things in life are beyond my prediction, as this year as shown. 

I hope everyone has had a good year, or at least, managed to cope with whatever's been thrown their way. Do share your stories!


Pret a Porter P said…
"walked away...and just kept walking." love this. Thank you for sharing your travels, and your sartorial journeys with us over the years. I think I've been reading you for close to a decade now. Also, I really enjoyed your interview @ To The Universe.

It's strange, how my life changes over the years while also simultaneously staying exactly the same. In certain aspects my life has done a 180 from January to now for the better. Similar to you, I took an extended break from the working world, which made so much of my wardrobe irrelevant for the first half of the year. And then I ended up in a work environment which requires a much more casual wardrobe. I'm not getting rid of ALL my "business casual" wardrobe, because who knows and it's not easy to find my size in tailored clothing.

Wishing you a prosperous 2018 with many more adventures! :)
Joy said…
So lovely and working in a client-facing role does give you so many excuses to shop! I am definitely going through lifestyle inflation now due to the increased income but I am keeping an eye out for it and banning any unnecessary purchases.

What is worse is my wine habit now - buy it and drink it, and it's gone.

Thanks for the great post.
Amanda said…
Ah, as I've grown older, I've realized that I need to account for wild fluctuations when it comes to sartorial planning. I've gone from lean to heavy to lean to pregnant to being unable to shed post-baby weight all in the matter of three years. It's made me rethink this whole notion of "investment clothing"; can regular, off-the-rack clothing really be an investment or is it just an illusion we create to justify expensive purchases?

An expensive piece of clothing that no longer fits is *still* a piece of clothing that has been discarded away. Like you, I find myself shopping much less now because it's a bit of a drag wanting something but then worrying about how it would fit 6 months from now -- I have too much other things to worry about (ah, the misfortunes of being middle-aged)
MC Bontemps said…
It is a real accomplishment to earn yourself the ability to take control of the terms of your engagement with the working world, both in terms of financial resources and a solid professional reputation. Don't neglect to give yourself a pat for this one !

I myself left my last bulge-bracket bank 7 years ago but retained (stored) most of the wardrobe associated with daily suit-wearing business-formal dress code. These were carefully-chosen carefully-maintained hard-working pieces which allow a professional woman to get dressed without bother, travel like crazy if need, attend board meetings, project executive presence etc, and I wanted to see them go to a good home. Unfortunately, fit was a problem for those of my friends and family with a potential need, and the charitable destinations wanted jeans and t-shirts, not Davide Cenci trouser suits.

This year I finally had the satisfaction of handing them off to the right hands, at a charitable jumble sale organised by a young friend. This young lady did a great job of winkling out high-quality giveaways, presenting them beautifully (cleaned, mended, with original boxes, bags and labels where possible), getting the word out on social media and rounding up a diverse crowd of people who might not necessarily buy used clothes. My suits, bags and shoes went like hot cakes, I was told, collectively representing the weekend's biggest donation. Very happy on behalf of both the charitable cause and the continuing useful life of my good clothes.

All the best for the new year !
Ammu said…
You write so beautifully :) I hope you are having a good end to the year -- banner years are amazing things, each time I have had a big year (2015 was one such year, as was this year), it reminds me that the value of life lies in experiences big and small, not in the material possessions one accumulates.
I am hoping for more ease and more depth in 2018 -- the move to Hong Kong was a great teacher as far as limiting my possessions are concerned, the apartments are simply too small. Instead I began to look for space in my daily and weekly rituals -- yoga, meditation, a quiet cup of tea, chocolate and hikes on and off the island. In the end I am realising that it is difficult to change my relationship to my various accoutrements (material and otherwise) without beginning to change on a deeper level -- I think it has opened up more freedom for me and stirred this craving for more ease, more depth, more richness of a kind that cannot be encapsulated in clothes or shoes or paintings.
Here's hoping for a peaceful 2018.
lin said…
Pret a Porter P: Thanks for always taking the time to comment and share what you think too! I hope you're enjoying whatever work you're doing now -- and yep it's too soon to think about selling clothes I no longer wear. I actually really like most of them still and I guess you never know...

Joy: Earning more led me spending loads more - I dined out more frequently at more expensive places, didn't bat an eye at ordering multiple bottles of wine even though wine is so overpriced in restaurants here, sometimes picked up the tab for friends just because I felt like it, shopped because I could afford a bigger shopping budget. So long as I was still saving money and paying all my bills on time I didn't feel like it was a bad thing. On hindsight I wished I socked more money away for really big purchases (like an apartment) because I definitely could have afforded to do so!

Wine - it's hard to regret wine, hahahhaha. I associate it with good times in good company.

Amanda: I've always thought the concept of investment clothing was overrated and I avoided using that term as much as possible -- it's almost always just licence to shop. I'm unable to write it off completely though, because I think taking the time to source for and buy well-made things (at every price point) does pay off in terms of durability.

I'm being vain at this point and telling myself I'll lose the weight and my clothes will fit again. I don't why I think I can achieve this since I'm not moderated my eating habits at all, while my exercise options have become severely limited since I broke my hand. At least I can still enjoy my shoes...

MC Bontemps: "the ability to take control of the terms of your engagement with the working world" - love this line. Thanks for the encouragement!

And I can only hope that I'll be able to find new homes for my old clothes in such a manner.

Ammu: Thanks!

You're spot on about needing to change at a deeper level, and I think I'm only scratching at the surface. Hope to be able to catch up some time, and take care in the meantime.

miss sophie said…
i'm so glad to see that 2017 was a meaningful and revelatory year for you! it's so easy to get caught up in the steady 'flow' of business as usual. we all should be so lucky to be able to get off the train now and then.

in his documentary, Tom Ford said something to the effect that his contentment with his material world stems from his love of beautiful things, but at the same time also realizing that life is just a process of swimming through material things. i try to keep that duality in mind. and as i've gotten older, i've become more instinctive about what is and isn't right for my wardrobe/lifestyle. keeping a sense of humor also definitely helps :)
SA said…
Thank you for writing this! I have a feeling that I will be revisiting this post a few times in 2018. This seems to be the year of a lot of changes (work and personal) for me.
As much as I like a beautiful shoe or dress, it is just not as exciting as before. Though, I never went beyond my means, I am starting to see all my past purchases through the lens of career changes, weight gain, starting a family, saving for a house, moving countries. They seem so reckless and short sighted.

As of today, I have everything I need and might as well just enjoy them rather than getting into the new cycle of culling or streamlining or God forbid! buying more.

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