Could You Go On a "Style Diet?" Take the 15:30 Challenge

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Here are two things I'm willing to bet are true about most of you: 1. You wear the same things over and over. 2. You do not wear everything in your closet. Oh, sure, this doesn't apply to everyone, but I suspect that the majority of you are nodding in agreement. I also suspect that at least some of you (dare I say, again, a majority?) feel a little guilty about this, especially about that last part, the part where you don't wear some portion of your wardrobe.

Maybe it's time you did something about that.

Girl (9-11) looking in wardrobe, hands on hips, rear view

Last month, the New York Times ran a story on "shopping diets," which is a bit of a misnomer. According to the Times, the idea behind the shopping diet is "to go an entire month wearing only six items already found in your closet (not counting shoes, underwear or accessories)." While the actual number of pieces can vary, the rules are essentially the same: for some window of time, you wear only a small selection of things you already own -- no shopping, and no digging in the closet for extra pieces.

The idea, of course, behind the shopping diet is twofold: as the Times points out, it encourages participants to get a handle on their shopping by not doing any for a month. At the same time, though, it's a way to think about your closet and what's in it and what you really, truly wear -- and possibly, to realize that you don't actually need all those clothes.

I've done shopping fasts before, where I give up buying for some window of time. I've also tried whittling my closet down to a capsule wardrobe and sticking only to that. And while I think the takeaway from both the shopping fast and the capsule wardrobe can be huge, I'm hesitant to do either right now.

More about that in a moment.

I'm thinking about shopping fasts and capsule wardrobes because I have -- informally -- committed to a closet challenge. The 15:30 Challenge is the brainchild of writer Felicia Sullivan, who is billing it as "The Ultimate Closet Editing Challenge," and describing it thus: "here’s the concept: 15 items worn in 30 days — the ultimate wardrobe remixer. 15:30 is a return to chic minimalism, an embrace of fall’s siren call for refinement." Felicia has posted her 15 pieces; for the entire month of September -- all 30 days -- she will only be wearing these items.

Felicia's not the only one committing to this, though. Pam at Accessory Whore, and Sarah at Water Water Everywhere are both taking the challenge. (You can see Pam's final 15 items here; watch for Sarah's list in the next couple of days.) For Pam, this is a chance to step back from her closet, and from consumerism in general.

We spend a lot of time consuming clothing. Collect, collect and collect some more. I am guilty of this as well. There are clothes in my drawer that do not get worn as well as those that have been worn but are not holding up quality-wise. (I’m looking at you Target t-shirts.) The donation bags every season to Goodwill are ridiculous in amount, yet my consignment shop bundle has severely dwindled in past years.

Wearing only 15 pieces for one month is a simple way to break out of the shopper mentality and remember what it is about beautiful, well-made clothes that makes us love our closets. It is also, if we're being really honest, a means of penance, a way of making up for all the mindless buying we do. A 30 day capsule wardrobe challenge compels you to think about what you really need in your wardrobe by eliminating -- well, pretty much everything else. Choosing 15 items of clothing -- or, in the case of the woman profiled in the Times piece, 6 pieces -- forces you to really think about what you wear and why you wear it and how much it matters that you have that whole closet of clothes at home.

(Answer: Not much. Really.)

I believe that this kind of self-analysis, if you will, is important, for two reasons. We live in a consumer culture, one where consumption is taken for granted and encouraged, regardless of your financial situation. (My husband goes nuts when he sees a Discover card commercial, the ones with the tag line, "You deserve it." He points at the television and says, "Yes but can you afford it?" Point taken.) Most of us do not need more stuff. Most of us also, I would venture, are harboring things in our closet that we not only don't need but wouldn't wear if we were told to. Taking 30 days to step away from your closet is a good reminder of how easy it is to simplify.

Stepping away from the big mess of your unedited closet is also an opportunity to hone your style. If you truly do wear the same things all the time, then what are you doing with all those other things? You may not wear the same exact pieces, but if you always default to the cardigan and hate crew-neck sweaters, then why do you have all those crew neck sweaters? Perhaps it's time to let them go and focus on crafting a distinctive look for yourself, one that is flattering and easy to wear and that makes you feel confident and comfortable. It's easier to do that when your closet isn't attacking you. Promise.

Clearly I am a fan of so-called fashion diets. So let's get back to that part about how I'm not doing this particular challenge. I fully intended to participate, because honestly, I love anything that simplifies and streamlines my life. And then a funny thing happened: the more I tried to decide what my 15 pieces would be, the more stressed out I got. I was waking up at night worrying about my closet -- about what I was going to wear all month, and about what I would do if the temperature (which is now hovering near 100) dropped to something cooler. I worried about dressing for work and baseball and soccer, and about how I would keep up with the laundry (I hand-wash nearly everything). Instead of feeling freed by the 15:30 Challenge, I was more focused on my closet than I ever am on a typical day.

My closet is already pretty minimal -- oh sure, I have more than 15 things, but still, I keep it simple. I currently own two pairs of jeans, for example. That's it! Period. I don't need more than that, honestly. I also wear everything I own, and I reassess my closet regularly (usually seasonally) to be sure I'm wearing everything. So for me, the idea of weeding down my already-small wardrobe to an even smaller collection was overwhelming -- in the way my huge wardrobe used to be. You know, before I got rid of most of it.

But I still like the idea of a month of thoughtful dressing, and so instead of the 15:30 Challenge, I'm going to do a month of remixing: for 30 days, I'm going to try not to repeat an outfit. I tend to rely on the same pieces, in the same combinations, over and over; it's just easier that way. And while I wear everything in my closet, I don't make enough of an effort to think about how I can use what I have. I'm not a big shopper, but I will find myself buying things to fill holes in my wardrobe that aren't really holes, rather than just thinking carefully about how else I could use what I have.

What say you -- could you do a 30-day shopping diet? How many pieces would you need in your capsule wardrobe? And can you commit to the 15:30 Challenge? There's still time!

Susan Wagner writes about pragmatic fashion at The Working Closet and chic suburban living at Friday Playdate. This is her last style post for BlogHer.

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