The Five Piece French Wardrobe

The Five Piece French Wardrobe
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image via Designer Vintage

(A note: I’m not sure why they called this the “five piece” wardrobe because there are actually 33 pieces; maybe “five category” wardrobe would’ve made more sense?)

After more than 30 days of wearing the same pieces on repeat, I fell in love with the concept of a well-edited, pared down wardrobe. It helped me realize how much I don’t need in my closet: sure, it’s lovely to have options, but I think we can also get really overwhelmed by all the clutter.

Last year, Who What Wear broke down the steps of building the “perfect” wardrobe of hard-working quality basics for effortlessly chic style:

The guidelines are fairly simple: First, make sure you have quality basics across all categories of apparel, and eliminate clothing from your wardrobe that you don’t wear, love, and love to wear. Buy new basics to fill any gaps, and remember quality over quantity. Second, limit your new purchases to five nonbasic items per season (once in spring/summer and once in fall/winter) that add a bit of personality and make your wardrobe feel current and fresh.

Everyone’s list will look different, based on personal style, job, climate (I’ll probably never need a wool coat in Florida, chic as they may be) and lifestyle, but the premise is universal: if you shop with all these categories in mind, and focus on quality pieces in mostly neutral colors, you will always have something to wear.

As a florist, my every day basics include skinny and/or boyfriend jeans, denim shirts, t-shirts, shirt dresses, and flats; but when I stocked my closet exclusively with these things, and a business networking event or dinner party with friends popped up on my calendar, I would commence to panic with that age-old crisis: “I HAVE NOTHING TO WEAR!” Then I would run out and buy something last minute that I didn’t really love and would only wear once, and over time, my closet became a mish-mash of too much stuff that didn’t work together, and lather, rinse, repeat. The cycle would’ve continued forever if I hadn’t purged all the excess, approached my style with some intention, and laid down a new set of shopping rules.

Not sure where to start?

Take an inventory of your wardrobe. Consider all those rare-but-inevitable occasions that leave you frustrated and weeping on a pile of clothes on your closet floor. Make a ‘5 Piece French Wardrobe’ category list like this one. Then make a shopping list to fill any gaps, making sure you have versatile pieces that you can dress up or down for any event: a little black dress, the perfect pair of black ankle trousers, classic pumps, a tailored blazer, etc.

When you’re thinking about making a purchase, ask yourself these questions:

1. Can I wear this over and over and over again?
2. Will it go with everything I already own?
3. Can I live without it?
4. Is this a piece that’s currently missing from my wardrobe checklist?
5. Is it well-constructed with a good material that will last for years and years?

Treat yourself to a few [inexpensive] on-trend pieces each season to keep things fresh, but focus on investing in quality basics and you can’t go wrong; remember, ‘fewer, better things‘.

As for its life-changing promises, the five-piece French wardrobe is said to help you cultivate a wardrobe that feels true to your aesthetic and stand the test of passing fads and seasons. The result is less money spent on items you don’t really need, less frustrating time spent trying to figure out what to wear, and a newfound feeling of deep satisfaction with your wardrobe.

And who doesn’t want that?

My Grown-Lady Shopping Rules

My Grown-Lady Shopping Rules

Since the day I learned to dress myself, my style M.O. was to “look cute.” (I’m not saying it was always successful; there was a very unfortunate JNCO jeans phase in my adolescence). Now that I’m getting older, that’s shifted to “look polished/sophisticated/put-together.”

A year ago, I purged my closet of all the bad shopping decisions of my twenties. It was one of many closet cleanouts; I’d spent years in a cycle of buy-wear-toss and couldn’t figure out why I was never satisfied with my stuff.

During that Labor Day 2013 Purge to End All PurgesI got the moment of clarity I so desperately needed: the trick wasn’t filling a wardrobe with a whole bunch of random inexpensive stuff; it was creating a well-edited collection of great stuff.

For so many years, I equated good style with having lots of options and never wearing the same outfit twice. So I bought as much as I could within my [limited] budget: I rummaged through clearance racks, shopped at outlet stores and fast fashion retailers, and gave zero damns about quality or fit. I wasn’t invested in my clothes because I tied their worth to their value; which wasn’t much.

After that last cathartic closet cleanse, I promised myself that going forward I would be much more mindful of what I purchased. And I have been. In the last 12 months I’ve completely changed the way I think about shopping and my style: I have a better grip on what works for my body, I’m not afraid to splurge on quality basics, and I understand the value of keeping things super simple.

Here are the self-imposed rules I’ve followed to create a closet that I really love on the same budget I’ve had for years:

1. Is it on the list? One of the things that’s helped me the most this year is keeping a mental list of the pieces I think are missing from my closet from season to season, and sticking to that list when I’m shopping. The benefits are two-fold: it keeps me from buying a bunch of random crap, and helps me keep an updated inventory of what I have.

2. What’s it made of? When you start to pay attention to garment construction, you can easily spot shoddy pieces that will fall apart after the first wash. Now I check the tags on clothes the same way I check nutrition labels on food. I won’t buy shoes or handbags unless they’re leather (I always have great luck finding both on Hautelook), and I try to find things made from natural and/or durable fabrics that are easy to care for, like cotton, lyocell and rayon.

3. Does it fit? No seriously, does it fitNot to be confused with, “can it zip?” Here’s what I’ve figured out as a 5’3″ hourglass: as much as I love shift dresses, I’m much better off in tailored and wrap styles; curvy-fit jeans that sit higher on the waist are my friend; super tight skinnies and cropped pants of any kind are my worst enemy; I should avoid mini skirts and shorts with less than a 4-inch inseam; and I feel best in tops and sweaters with some breathing room. Once you figure out what’s most flattering for shape, shopping becomes so much easier!

4. What’s the cost-per-wear? Five years ago, if you handed me a $100 gift card, I’d buy as much as I could with it, supermarket sweep style, and end up with a bag full of things I’d probably only wear once or twice. Now, I’d put it toward a staple — a great leather jacket, a pair of black suede pumps, or a little black dress — that I can wear lots of ways for years to come. At the end of the day, it comes down to cost per wear. If I impulse-buy a clearance top for $20 and wear it twice, my CPW is $10. If I splurge on a versatile black romper for $80 and wear it 25 times, my CPW is around $3. So romper, FTW.

It took me a while to get over my obsession with more is more, and realize that it’s better to have a few pieces I really love than a lot of pieces I just kinda like.

5. Will it play well with others? When I’m shopping for clothes, I stick to mostly neutral tones and pick just a few printed statement pieces. I used to do the exact opposite, and I ended up with a closet full of mismatched patterns and colors that didn’t work together. Now I can easily remix my favorite pieces and put outfits together quickly.