What is classic clothing?

The simplest explanation of classic clothing is:

Classic = understated, functional and well-made.

Identifying a classic item

You can identify a classic item, or an item that has the potential to be a new classic, by these guidelines:

  • Tends to have lean, simple lines, aren’t overly fussy or brightly-coloured, and are sedate.
  • Often neutral-toned, to go with a variety of other items worn with them.
  • Often they seem even a bit boring by themselves!
  • Designed well to be fit for purpose i.e. they do a good job at what they’re supposed to do.
  • Often (but not always) made of natural fibres that tend to look good and last longer, and breathe.
  • Don’t tend to date. Their lines and style are not overly representative of the era they were designed in.
  • Not offensive, gaudy or attention-seeking in any way.
  • Many classics derive from workwear and menswear and have been adapted, over time, to gender-specific forms.
  • Classics can come from high end fashion houses right through to low-cost budget stores. They may cost more, but don’t have to.
  • Classics tend to look good on a variety of human frames, weights and shapes.

Does classic have to mean expensive?

No. However, good quality tends to cost more because more effort has gone into its manufacture.

For example, a heavier weight, double-stitched white t-shirt (a classic) is going to cost more than a cheaper, light-weight t-shirt from a budget store.

If they’re cut well, both can look good, but the heavier weight item will hang better and wear better over time.

Does classic have to mean black?

No, although many classics tend to come in black, because black is serviceable and shows less wear and tear.

Black is currently favoured at all levels of fashion because darker fabrics tend to look more expensive than lighter coloured fabrics at the same price / quality point.

Black also tends to suit people of a Chinese background (“winter” colouring in the Colour Me Beautiful four season system).

Much of our current clothing is being designed and manufactured in China, so the browns, fawns, camels and russets that used to be more commonly found in Western fashion and which do not suit Chinese colouring are disappearing rapidly from mainstream fashion.

Does classic have to mean natural fibres, such as wool, silk, leather and suede?

No, but natural fibres tend to breathe better, meaning they need less washing and don’t get sweaty. Visualise how it feels to wear a leather jacket compared to a PVC jacket and you’ll get the idea!

Natural fibres also tend to look better, and an untrained eye can easily spot the difference in a lot of cases. Natural fibres tend to have status as well as being more comfortable and durable to wear, especially when it comes to shoes (leather), knitwear (merino and other wools) and evening wear and lingerie (silk). And most of the higher-end designers prefer to work with natural fibres.

Although we have developed a lot of incredible man-made fabrics, few of them have the appeal of naturally sourced fibres. Yet.

Is an item “classic” for me no matter what my age and weight?

No. Some things just don’t suit some people. Most things don’t suit all people. I live in jeans, but I have friends who never wear them. Neither of us is wrong, we’re just different.

Choose the items that work well, for you, in your body, here and now.

Likewise, your weight can make a huge difference in how classic items look. For example, larger women often need more volume in dresses below the waist to balance a larger bust and forearms, so sheath dresses (great on leaner women) are hard work for bigger gals to wear well, while swing dresses can look incredibly sexy.

Accept your body in all its uniqueness, and work with what you have.

What items are never going to be classic?

Anything with excess detail, lots of bling, large logos or brand names emblazoned on them, knock-out colours, or a skin-tight fit is a pretty safe bet for dating really quickly.

This suit manages to be both boring and obnoxious at the same time. Truly horrible.

This suit manages to be both boring and obnoxious at the same time. Truly horrible.

Why don’t classic clothes ever date?

They do. See my comments below about Levis 501’s, and business jackets from the 1980s.

However, classic items tend to span a few fashion seasons at least, and some span decades.

Plain black leather ballet flats, if good quality, are a good example. There’s nothing to date. I remember wearing flats in the 1980s, and I had friends wearing them in the 1970s, although they never reached the huge popularity they now have until recently. I’d say they’re a great investment – but time will tell!:)

What classic clothes are the best investments?

Classic items that you like, will wear and enjoy, and that suit you and your lifestyle are the best investment. That sounds obvious, but there’s no point in buying great suits if you are a stay-at-home mum who needs great casual wear!

I’ll talk about some of the best and worst “classic” clothing in a follow-up post.

What if I don’t suit a classic look?

Not everyone suits a “classic” look, especially those of us who look better in more relaxed, easy-going clothing, but I believe everyone needs staple items in their wardrobe that make up the backbone of their wardrobe and that they can turn to again and again.

In my case, my staples are jeans, shirts, jackets and boots. They’re classics and won’t date quickly, but my look is casual and easy-going.

“Classic” can mean anything you want to, in how you look overall, but it should always mean good quality, good value (cheap isn’t necessarily good value!), a good fit, and comfort.

Do classic clothes ever date?

Yes. More often with women’s clothing than with men’s. Women’s clothing, as a rule, dates more quickly and follows greater extremes of fashion.

A good example of this is the womens business jackets of the 1980s, which were sold at the time as “classic items” yet now look incredibly dated. Women’s jackets have since become far more tailored, shorter, and less boxy, and the shoulder pads have all but disappeared.

1980s fashion

A business suit from the 1980s, now very dated. Since then, women’s jackets have become shorter, far more fitted, and the shoulder pads have all but disappeared.

Do classics cycle in and out of fashion? Should I keep an old classic in case it comes back in again?

Yes – and no. Classics come in and out of fashion, it is true. But rarely exactly the same way. Saving “classics” from a previous cycle can risk you looking very dated, unless you’re clever with a sewing machine, or don’t care about looking “vintage”.

As an example: Levis 501s jeans are back in fashion again, yet they were incredibly “out” during the late 1990s and early 2000s, after being a “can’t live without” item in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The current 501’s have been altered in fit slightly around the bottom, and the legs are more tapered than the 501s from the 1980’s version.

So even though 501’s are meant to be a “classic”, they’re not exactly the same, and a pair of 1980s 501’s would look dated if worn today, and distinct from the modern version.

What about “fake classics” and “must-have” classics lists?

Magazines and clothing stores are full of ads for the next “must-have” classic that you absolutely must buy – from them of course!😉

Don’t believe it!

Fake classics tend to include anything: overly tapered, fitted, brightly coloured, emblazoned with a logo / logos, from a trendy or up-and-coming fashion house or designer, anything very of-the-moment (including a particular colour or theme), anything that must be a particular brand (Rolex watches and Gucci handbags are often no better than similar-looking items or knock-offs).

Classics are workable, comfortable, good quality clothes you’ll get the best value from, that can mix and match with a wardrobe from any era. To build a wardrobe of classic items that work well takes time, and shouldn’t be a rushed project.

Above all, don’t ever feel like you must have any particular item simply because someone tells you so!

What classic items do you have in your wardrobe, and what items can you not live without?

My minimalist wardrobe: Capsuling through three years

I’ve been doing The Project 333 – a capsule wardrobe programme – for three years now.

It has been a huge learning experience, and you can follow my capsuling trials – and errors! – in the “Capsule wardrobe” tabs in the menu of this blog.

When I first started The Project, I did as suggested and dragged all the clothes I owned out on to the bedroom floor and counted them. I was stunned to find I owned over 200 items of clothing! Most of it I hadn’t worn in ages, a lot of it didn’t fit me, and some of it even had labels still attached.

It was a mess. It reflected my haphazard approach to shopping, my need to self-medicate by buying stuff, and my general dissatisfaction with my body, plus a whole stack of other issues I’ve been dealing with across the years.

They say a cluttered home is a reflection of a cluttered mind. A cluttered wardrobe is no exception.

These days, now I’m entering my third year doing The Project, my wardrobe is sleek and small, and I wear everything I own. When I make a buying mistake – because I still make buying mistakes – I send them back to the shop or sell them as soon as I can, so they don’t become clutter.

But I make far fewer mistakes than I did three years ago. I shop less. I save money. I dress better. Capsuling works.

So here’s my wardrobe these days:

minimalist wardrobe

I got rid of about 30 hangers, but I still have too many spare hangers in my wardrobe – you can see them hanging in the wardrobe here. So more decluttering still needs to be done. It’s an ongoing process for most people. It certainly has been for me.

And my shoes:

I own four pairs of shoes in my capsule. Probably too many. There's also a pair of uggs (slippers don't count) and crocs for gardening (loungewear / gardening wear doesn't count).

I own four pairs of shoes in my capsule. Probably too many. There’s also a pair of uggs (slippers don’t count) and crocs for gardening (loungewear / gardening wear doesn’t count).

Apart from what you see I have one drawer of t-shirts and jeans I own two pair of jeans and four t-shirts), another drawer for my sportswear capsule (I’ll do a second post on sub-capsules), and a drawer for my underwear. Plus some crocs for gardening and a pair of ugg boots for homewear (neither counts in the capsule, according to The Rules of Project 333).

Lessons I’ve learned from three years of capsuling

There’s still room for improvement. That’s just life! I’m still paring down and still learning. But here are some of the things I’ve learned over the last three years I’d like to share:

Quality counts. Good quality costs more, but it wears better, feels better and last longer. I spend more money on items like jeans, jackets, shoes and belts, and it is worth every cent. Especially with shoes!

Fit counts. These days I don’t worry about the size on the label so much. If the size on the label feels too big, I snip it out!:) Instead, I pay attention to how an item fits when I put it on, and especially check leg and sleeve length. If it doesn’t fit properly it is never worth keeping.

Life is too short for broken clothes. If you can afford to not wear broken clothes, don’t wear them! Or get them mended. Don’t ever put up with missing buttons, gaping shirts that are too small, stains on shirts, pilled jumpers, shoes that pinch and frayed collars. Don’t look shabby. If money is an issue, you’d be surprised what is available in secondhand shops and charity stores – especially for men. My partner has bought excellent business shirts in as-new condition for very little (NZD$4 each) by buying secondhand. This world is awash in great secondhand clothing in excellent condition – all you have to do is look.

Accept the body you have. Here and now. Face reality, and be your best self today. This is a tough one. I’ve spent most of my life being unhappy with my body in one way or another. It’s something a lot of people are familiar with. But I know this: wearing a size that is too small, or hiding in shapeless clothes while waiting for that magical day when you’re suddenly “the right size” is a waste of who you are, here and now. Make peace with your body, and wear clothes that make the best of your real, current physical self.

Just because you bought it doesn’t mean you have to keep it. I’ve bought lots of “mistakes” in my life – clothes I liked in the store but when I got them home I didn’t like them or didn’t wear them for some reason. If you can, return them. If not, sell or give them away. Everyone makes mistakes but that doesn’t mean you have to house them in your wardrobe forever!

Nobody notices when you wear the same item more than once. They really, really don’t. Think about it: can you honestly describe what your friends were wearing last time you saw them? Or your co-workers? Most people can’t even recall what they had for dinner last night! (I can’t.) While most people will remember a particuarly beautiful dress or a striking top it’s true, they won’t realise how small your wardrobe is when you capsule. They’ll only remember how good you look (or how bad). So take advantage of that fact and…

Own a small number of beautiful, good-quality, comfortable items you love to wear. Don’t waste your time with a huge wardrobe of meaningless clothing. Choose wisely and well. These days I spend my money on a mix of beautiful dresses and ultra-comfy clothing for casual wear. Everything fits. I wear – and like – everything I own.

Happy capsuling!

Minimalist makeup: Five products. All done.

I don’t wear a lot of makeup. Not quite ready to go “full hippie”:) and avoid makeup altogether, I’ve still managed to get my makeup products down, over time, to five easy products that do the job well and help me look great with minimal fuss.

I’d like to share them with you. And no, I’m not getting a kick back – these are just great products that work and make life easy.

1. Sunblock. A necessity. Most sunblocks double as moisturizers, did you know? Mine is a cheap supermarket brand suitable for both face and body – Olay’s Complete defence daily UV moisturising lotion SPF 30+. Whatever else you might consider a necessity, sunblock is absolutely on the list. Choose one that is broad-spectrum and affordable enough that you won’t skimp.

2. BB cream. I’m currently using Garnier’s BB cream miracle skin perfector for sensitive skin in “Light”. I’m very happy with this product, it’s affordable (can you tell I like good value products?), excellent quality, and another great supermarket find.

I use BB cream instead of foundation or powder and here’s why: as you age (I’m heading towards 50), heavier formulations will sink into tiny lines and creases and make them more noticeable, while lighter products such as BB (beauty balm) creams have light reflecting ingredients that really do make your skin look better. And if you have dry skin (like mine), powder will emphasize every little dry patch. Ugh!

3. Eyeliner. Mine is friendly to contact lenses, and the soft grey color is suitable all year round. I use Clinique Kohl Shaper for Eyes in “202 Blackened Pewter”. It has a sharpener in the lid section, and goes on nice and soft. Most brands of contact lens-friendly eyeliners are quite good – I just like this one. Grey eyeliner is a softer alternative than black if you have blue eyes (I do) or your eyes are on the small side (yep, that too).

4. All over color. I use Clinique’s Chubby Stick Cheek Color Balm in “01 Amp’d Up Apple” for cheeks and eyes. It’s lovely and soft, and an excellent way to give all over color in one easy step. I find I don’t need anything more, and have even used this as a lip balm on occasion when I don’t want a full lipstick, such as in high summer at the beach. The BodyShop and ELF make similar products if you prefer to avoid the cosmetics counters.

5. Permanent lipstick. I’ve been a fan of L’Oreal’s Infallible 2-step in “312 Incessant Russet” for a couple of years now. It lasts all day, and feels fantastic on. Maybelline and Max Factor also both do permanent lipsticks in identical formulations to this one, so have a look and find a color that works for you. Strongly recommended.

Minimalist makeup. Five products. All done. Too easy!

Minimalist makeup. Five products. All done. Too easy!

No, I don’t wear mascara…

In case you noticed, there’s no mascara on the list.

I don’t wear it because I’m an allergy sufferer with sensitive skin, and I’m also not fond of the “panda eyes” look that mascara invariably gives me after a few hours of wear. I don’t think it’s healthy putting anything that close to my eyes, so I’ve been avoiding it for a while now.

Frankly, nobody has noticed:)

Bring home memories, not clutter

Overseas souvenir shops sell mostly junk. When you buy stuff on holidays, most of it is rubbish that you’d never buy at home.

So don’t.

Do you really need that miniature plastic Eiffel Tower to show you’ve been to Paris, or that pair of mouse ears to prove you’ve done Disney? Who are you trying to impress?

Does clutter – no matter where it’s from – ever really impress anyone?

These days, when I travel overseas, I pack light. Last time I travelled to Europe I brought just one single carry-on suitcase plus a handbag for an entire month. That was all I needed. While away, I bought a couple of fridge magnets as mementos, and a ring when I was in Spain. I didn’t need any more.

Don’t waste your time buying clutter when you travel. Spend your holiday forming lovely memories instead.

You won’t regret it.

In the rose gardens of Madrid, Spain, at high summer.

In the rose gardens of Madrid, Spain, at high summer.

5 simple lessons for the beginner minimalist

1. It’s okay to make mistakes. We all buy things we don’t use, start hobbies we don’t suit, try trends that don’t work for us. That’s part of the human experience. So accept it, and move on.

2. People change and grow in our lives. That’s normal, and it’s just fine. That guitar sitting in the corner you never use? It’s part of the dream of who you might be, not the reality of who you are. Sell it, or give it to someone who will actually use and appreciate it. Be the person you are now, not the reflection of someone else.

3. Just because you bought it doesn’t mean you have to keep it. You bought some skis but now they’re sitting gathering dust in the shed because it turned out you didn’t enjoy skiing. If you don’t use them, get rid of them, and free yourself from the burden of owning them.

4. It’s in your home now, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay there. There’s art on your wall but you don’t really like it. Whose home is this anyway? Sell the artwork, and enjoy the lack of clutter.

5. It’s okay to pass gifts and heirlooms along to others. It is not your responsibility to use, accept and take care of gifts for the rest of your life. If they are of no use to you, you don’t like them or you have nowhere to put them, let them go. Your love for your great-aunt is not the least bit diminished by your inability to store and use her full bone china dinnerset!😉


Stuff won’t ever love you back

Have you ever noticed that so many of the things we buy are to impress other people?

Did we really need that new car, that huge addition to our home, that fancy wedding we’re still paying off? Is it possible that we really bought them to tell the world we’re a person worth knowing and respecting?

The truth can be tough. I know for me it was.

When we stop and think about why we buy, it can seem as though our whole lives are lived for others, not for ourselves.

Buying stuff to impress other people makes us happy for such a short while. The joy is short-lived, shallow, and ultimately meaningless. It leads to buyer’s remorse, and an empty ache inside that – if we’re not astute – we strive to fill that emptiness with yet more buying.

Surely if the last load of stuff we bought didn’t make us happy, then maybe we just bought the wrong stuff? Maybe more stuff will help? Maybe stuff from a different shop? Maybe stuff of a different colour or style? Maybe we got the fashion wrong? Heck, maybe the problem was us all along!

Spending money on our image works…at first. But have you noticed how quickly we feel dissatisfied with our new clothes, jewellery, makeup? We worked so hard to look exactly like that model in the magazine (with our own personal twist, of course!)…but inside we know it’s a sham.

We’re still the same naked emperor within, no matter what we do.
We know we’re a fake.
We never feel like we ever truly become the perfect human we’ve set out to be.

You can chase the dream your whole life, wasting years and years of energy. Or you can recognise that impressing others, trying to be something we’re not, spending our lives creating an image…it’s all false, all empty. It won’t make us happy. It won’t give us fulfilment.

It’s a dream, a fantasy. Reach out to touch it, and the vision blurs, moves, changes…

Real happiness comes from within, and from the genuine connections we make with other people throughout our lives. It comes from having a strong moral compass and sense of self, built on challenge and drive and struggle. It comes from real work and dedication, and from giving more than we take.

Happiness – deep, soul-satisfying happiness – won’t ever come from stuff. No matter how much stuff you are given, or buy, or own.

So live for yourself.
Live for the people you love.
Don’t live for stuff.

Because stuff won’t ever love you back.


Don’t let gifts be a burden

I’ve cleared a lot of unused items from my home over the years since becoming a minimalist. Many I’ve donated, and many I’ve given to friends.

I always try to remember to tell my friends, when they receive my cast-offs or gifts, “Don’t feel obliged to keep it should you change your mind.”

Gifts are not supposed to become burdens. When we receive things from people that love us, they’re not intended to weigh us down.

Our loved ones give us stuff to help us out. To be kind. Because they think we might like it or it might be useful to us.

So don’t ever feel obliged to keep anything you’re given.

I know a lot of people feel they must keep gifts. That’s not so. You have no responsibility to keep any items you’re given. Not ever.

If you don’t need or want something, no matter who gave it to you or how valuable it might be, let it go. Donate it, give it to someone else, or sell it.

Don’t let it weigh you down a moment longer. Because nobody ever wanted that.