I Wish I Only Owned 15 Garments, So Why Can’t I Get There?

According to my byline on Man Repeller, I have been dancing around the idea that I want to own less clothing for at least a year. Last October I wrote about wardrobe nirvana (or the allure of a capsule wardrobe) under the guise of a piece about closet cleaning. In December, I confronted the grisly consumerist within for a piece called “Why Does Shopping Make Me Feel So Good?” (It’s a crutch like any other substance to which you can become addicted.)

And then in February, I reported learnings from a month of not shopping.

In April, I was interviewed for a closet tour video powered by British Vogue wherein I explained that my ideal wardrobe would contain no more than 15 pieces. This is ironic given that the setting for the video was an office-turned-closet in my apartment, which got me thinking about why the hell I keep talking about how badly I want to own less stuff and furthermore, why I don’t just, you know, own less stuff?

Seeing as this is an extremely high-level problem that is not actually a problem at all, I’ve hesitated to write about it. But the longer I let it simmer, the more I realize that this problem is a tangible extension of a transition defined by a question of which I’m very much in the weeds: who the fuck am I? Through this lens, I think my obsession with achieving a capsule closet is worth exploring.

Some days I wake up and literally have no clue what I am doing here. This is probably because in the former part of my twenties, I did a great job believing that I knew exactly who I was, like I had cracked the code on existence. There I was, a woman who refused to be bogged down by the tangible boundaries of identity, using fashion to slip in and out of different personalities at leisure. I called clothes “temporary tattoos” because they let me say whatever I wanted without words, then take those comments back. “No decision is irrevocable,” I would preach. I marveled in the opportunity to be anyone I wanted to be whenever I wanted to be her. And this, I thought, was my purpose. The crux of my identity. But here’s the thing about such a broad stroke defining what you are: where does it leave you? When you are so frequently playing different roles, you never really get to settle into any single one. Then the end of your twenties sneak up on you, ask you to pick a lane and as you’re zigzagging along on the expressway, you stop and ask: Now what? Who am I?

If it sounds dramatic, that’s because it is. But I can’t help myself! My thoughts are never so one-note that they don’t send me down a rabbit hole of existential confusion. And if I feel like an insecure shell of myself, but am presented with so much choice in the form of racks of clothes that say a million things, how do I choose what to say long term?

I know I ended up with a lot of stuff because I chose to own all of it; when I first started making my own money, I shopped to prove a point that I could have what I want. (To whom? Good question! My mom? Myself? Who knows!) Recently, I am learning that just because I could have it does not mean I should have it, nor do I need to have it, but I still swim among the relics of a younger mentality. So how should I do this? Write out a list? The no-brainer garments I always come back to are:

+Double breasted blazers, straight leg jeans, men’s button down shirts (light blue striped, navy, white), black and white graphic t-shirts, boho-style mini skirts and shorts (see: Isabel Marant), masculine loafers, very feminine sandals and lately, ankle-length dresses.

These items seem to say nothing. If I’m really searching for meaning, perhaps they say that I can be polished and uptight, or free-spirited and malleable all the same. But maybe the fluidity and flexibility is why I’m so attracted to them — if I don’t let my clothes dictate exactly who I am, if I don’t use them as a crutch to do the kind of introspective work that can feel like climbing through peanut butter, I have no choice but to rely on myself to figure it out.

Sometimes that gets too mentally onerous though, which is precisely when the contents of my crowded closet — the bombastic clothes and superfluous shoes and rollicking jewelry — sweep in to save me.

Tbd on what to do next.

Photos by Edith Young.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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