Curating Closets: Buying the Funky, Old, and Unloved

I have always been a proponent of finding beauty in the unwanted. To a fault. It goes hand-in-hand with my tendency to be a voice for the unheard, a lover of the unloved, et cetera. With this comes a weakness for all things old, musty-smelling, faded, and used. If you’d like to glam the imagery up some, you could call it ‘vintage’. The list includes books with yellowing pages, wooden furniture with chips and nicks, and thick, woolly sweaters amidst retro clothing racks. So this past weekend, when one of my favorite coffee spots, Daydream Surfshop, announced a 40% off Sale on all items, with part of the proceeds being donated to Planned Parenthood (see last post), I knew I was going with the intention to support, and, well, purchase.

Reconciling with Stepping Outside the System

So how does one who keeps a minimalist closet allow for a vintage item? I will admit that these pieces don’t neatly fall into the SYSTEM typically established by a ‘minimalist’ (referring to black and white color schemes and streamlined shapes), but there is still an intentionality about them. Let me remind that first and foremost, minimalism is defined by the owner, and the term does not equate to having as few items as possible. It boils down to being mindful of what you allow to take space in your life. That being said, I find that a few unique pieces that fall outside of your system add character and, dare I say, F-U-N, to one’s clothing line. Sure, too many such pieces could cause a disconnect with your outfits, and would impede the wearability of said piece which may limit its use, but a handful of funk never hurt anyone. Plus, if you love it, you love it. There are minimalists whose closets are filled with articles of clothing in every color of the rainbow, yet daily use of said pieces make it a successfully curated closet. The goal of any clothing curator is this: let no piece go forgotten, or unworn, for a long period of time. In other words, let no piece be left unloved.

Buying Something Broken

The thing about buying vintage, or just plain used, is the fact that someone else loved that item before you. Which means, it probably suffered from daily wear (or at least, that’s the hope). When I was perusing through the clothing racks, I was drawn towards a few items, including chunky cable-knit sweaters (it WAS a rainy day in May, after all), Levi’s denim, and white linens with the occasional crochet. All of which happened to have a defect — a stain on some white sweater, a rip in the jeans, a snag in the wool or fine lace. Every item had a mark that seemed to scream to the world, “I’ve been around since the ’80s!”

At first, I was hesitant to purchase. As a frugalist, where I spend my money really matters, and buying broken things seemed very anti-frugalist, yes? But as a person, I also believe that our purchasing power is a statement, a vote cast towards the future we want to see, and choosing to buy used and broken meant preventing yet one more thing to enter the land-fill, meant loving something that most people don’t, and meant being just a tad less focused on vanity. I went through a number of items with strong consideration for each, and rationalized the purchase of ONE piece with the help of Mr. Debtist. ONE because I am still curating, after all! I ended up choosing a thick wool sweater that made me want to isolate myself in a wood cabin in the middle of winter, with a mug of coffee, a bread oven, and a book. Mayhaps I’m not as ready for the summer as I once thought… This particular sweater had a hole near the bottom where I could stick two thumbs through. Due to its knitted nature, I knew it would be irreparable and that gentle care would forever be granted. The purchase was made to support a rad local coffee shop, to stand as a vote for an individual’s right to have a say about how to treat their own bodies, to be an effort to create a closed loop system when it comes to fashion, and to remind myself that a snag in a sweater, and any consequent judgement caused by it, is irrelevant to its worth. 

Standing Up for the Unloved

I walked out of the shop wearing my new (old) thick, cable-knit sweater on my back, and headed to my parents house for the rest of the one day off. When we arrived, my mom commented on the “nice” sweater as she went in for her customary hug hello. I proceeded to tell her that I had just gotten it that day from a vintage store, and as she pulled away, she asked me aghast, “You mean it’s USED?! EW!” Instead of being offended (long gone are the days when anything my mom says would offend me), I used it as an opportunity to talk about the importance (to me) of trying to create a more sustainable fashion industry. I started to show her the hole, wherein she interrupted and reprimanded me for foolishly buying something so ‘unfixable’. To which I suggested, perhaps, it does not need fixing.

I wasn’t commenting in order to start an argument or to defend my pride. Instead, I like to use these moments to start conversations. Standing up for the unloved is a hard thing to do, especially when your “life decisions” are being judged as questionable, usually by people whose opinions you most value. But I find it very easy to stand rooted in the confidence that every action I take is right by me. That’s all we can ever do. So, although my mom didn’t seem convinced that the sweater rightly belonged anywhere other than the next dumpster, she did hear me and my stance, stopped her berating and moved on to happier things.

Curating Closets: Special Occasions + Up to 40% off Nisolo Shoes

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Curating closets for special occasions can be a bit of a tricky thing. For one practicing minimalism, it is fairly easy to determine which clothes can be used on repeat, day after day, but anything that categorizes into the minimalist camp can fall into something short of, well, special. What of weddings and other such occasions where a basic tee and denim jeans just won’t cut it? The magic is not in the noteworthiness of daily garments , but in the versatility of special occasion attire, shoes included.

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A wedding, in particular, is the one social event that most people partake in. It is probably the best example of a special occasion there is, and the peak of the season is right around the corner, so it is here that we focus our attention. Leading up to the event, everyone from the bride and groom, to the wedding party, to the guests, are concerned about one common thing: what to wear. We are not going to probe into whether our concerns should be focused on other, less vain things, because the truth of the matter is, that’s what people are obsessing about, socially constructed or not. Today, I just want to answer the question: “How would a curated closet hold up to a social occasion?”

When I got married, I wore two pairs of shoes. The first was a pair of very old wedges that I had purchased 5 years prior, where the fake pleather (redundant?) was peeling off of the sole and edges. I decided to wear these for the sole reason that they were 5-inches tall and got me just a tad bit closer to my 6-foot-3-inches soon-to-be-husband. But the practicality of these shoes were close to none, so I also had a plan B, which was to switch into my second pair of shoes once the pictures were over with. My second pair was a pair of Keds sneakers.

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Old, reliable wedges, for photo-taking.
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Sneakers, for dancing.

The point is that both of these shoes had purposes other than looking pretty on my wedding day. One was very old with a well-used past, and one was new but had potential for a well-used future. On the contrary, my mom has her wedding shoes still kept in a box. I am not sure if she wore it any time else other than on her wedding day. I know for some, the sentimentalities of wedding shoes and dresses are strong, but those simply do not line up with a minimalist or practical lifestyle.

I would implement this same thinking when it comes to dressing up the rest of yourself for these events. I have a handful of dresses that I would be equally as willing to wear on a warm summer day or a cool winter evening. Never mind that the material is a bit nicer than cotton and linen. What’s the point of having clothes if you never wear them? No one cares how pretty it looks drooping from a hanger in a neglected section of a dark closet. These practical reasoning are what will guide you towards building an intentional and minimal collection.

Taking it a step further, same goes for jewelry. There are three necklaces I rotate every day. I would feel comfortable wearing those to any occasion. I used to like these over-the-top gaudy bits and baubles, the type where you’re blinded the minute you step out into the sun. Or these heavy chains back when rock-star-metal-meets-delicate-dresses was “in”. If you missed the fad, you didn’t miss a thing. Nowadays, I would rather go without. I’m more comfortable with myself that way anyway, eliminating the constant worry about whether I chose the appropriate accessory or not. I’ll opt for the simpler life that lends to a more peaceful state of mind.

So to answer my question, a curated closet will hold up quite well to special occasions, if it is appropriately curated. It isn’t to say, categorize all the fancy schmancy stuff under “useless”. Rather, verify that the fancy schamncy stuff is not so over-the-top that it fails to be somewhat useful. Also, maybe change perspective about whether a party dress can be worn in the fields on a summer day. Let go a bit of the sentimentality of things, and understand that they are just things, which, if not enjoyed, will lose purpose. Be fond of only attire that makes you comfortable on all occasions. And lastly, sometimes, just do without the special. The word itself implies the singularity of an item, the fact that it can only fall under one occasion. Instead, work with what you’ve got. That’s the advice we told our wedding party. Mismatched? Newsflash: No one on the dance floor even notices.

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On that note, Nisolo releases a Party Collection today, which in actuality is nothing but a curated gathering of their already-existing everyday footwear. Sounds a bit like my routine! If you have a hankering to outfit the entire wedding party with practical wear, up to 40% off their shoes. Women, this way. Men, over here. But honestly, just enjoy the party!

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