Dress with less

Put your closet on a diet to save money, ease stress


Tammy Strobel, right, and her husband Logan Smith stand in their 400 square foot apartment in Portland, Ore. Strobel, 32, has been doing a “100 Thing Challenge” for two years. That number includes books, shoes, clothes and personal hygiene products. (The Associated Press)

Published: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 8:41 p.m.

Courtney Carver was trying to find ways to simplify her life when she decided to pare down her wardrobe to 33 items to be worn over three months.

Once she launched the concept on her blog and Facebook page in October, she realized she wasn't the only one who wanted to dress with less. She says the challenge has done more than just save her money.

“What we are finding now is that we had to reduce our expenses and our expectations of what made us happy,” she said from her home in Cottonwood Heights, Utah.

Carver, 41, isn't alone.



Virginia Smith, Vogue's fashion market director, said more people are making do with less in their closets. “I do think it is a new thought in fashion that is getting out to the more mainstream,” she said.

But, she said, challenges like Carver's are too severe for most people.

“I think when things turned bad a couple of years ago, I think people had to pare down and really consider their purchases,” Smith said. “Thinking about what you are purchasing is a good thing.”

Carver, who is in sales but is also a writer and photographer, said even a few years ago she would walk into a store to buy a couple things and leave having spent hundreds of dollars.

“I did it out of habit. I did it because I thought I worked hard and deserved it,” she said.

The first phase of her Project 333 ended in December. This month, she'll do it for another three months, replacing whatever is inappropriate for the season. She included accessories like sunglasses and purses on her list of 33.

“It's about using the clothes I have,” Carver said.

She has also pared down other areas of her life and is now debt-free. Her family has canceled cable, swapped phone service and cut down on possessions.

About 440 people on Facebook are participating in her challenge and more than 40 are blogging about the experience, Carver said. She's launching a website early next month and later on will offer seasonal paring-down guides, for a fee, to people who want to follow her clothing diet but need help.

Melissa Leventon, a fashion historian at California College of the Arts, said the idea of having a minimal wardrobe isn't new. About 100 years ago, it wasn't unheard of for a working-class woman to have only three dresses and two pairs of shoes that were worn until they couldn't be mended. But she questions whether people can stick with it now.

“I think it's very, very hard to sustain it over a long period of time because we have such pressure to consume,” she said.

Blogger Tammy Strobel, 32, has been doing a “100 Thing Challenge” for two years. That number includes books, shoes, clothes and even a helmet. She lives in a 400 square foot apartment with her husband and their two cats in Portland, Ore. The couple started giving away their possessions about three years ago.

“We realized, ‘Wow, what are we doing chasing after this dream that might not really suit us?'” she said.

Blogger and author Leo Babuata said he started doing the challenge, too, and got down to 50 things at one point. Babuata and his wife have six children ranging from 4 to 17. They moved to San Francisco in June from Guam and he says he has been paring down his life for years. As far as clothing for his kids, it's only essentials.

“It used to be cutting back was a sign of poverty. It was a sacrifice and now we are turning it around to something positive,” he said.

New York-based stylist Phillip Bloch said others may be looking to uncluttter their wardrobes and cut back on expenses after overspending before the recession. His book, “The Shopping Diet,” offers tips to control spending when shopping.

“I think it's a way to keep your life under control,” he said.

If you're going to go minimalist, Bloch warns, do it with style.

“I don't think you have to go from eating at the buffet to eating only ramen noodles,” he said.

Instead of buying a little black dress, make it chocolate or forest green. Don't just buy a plain T-shirt. Get one with a scoop or boat neck and get it in red or navy.

Designers like Narciso Rodriguez, Jill Sander, Prada and Calvin Klein have minimalist designs, so sparseness doesn't always come cheap. Even celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Connelly and Tilda Swinton seem to love the look of less. But for those who don't have their wallets, Vogue's Smith said alternatives like J. Crew and Ann Taylor are good.

But, she says, putting them together is personal.

“That's such an individual thing. The idea of dictating an idea isn't right,” she said. “I don't think there one standard formula.”

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