And so, quietly as it came, another year has gone by. I’ve digested the Christmas dinner, made the fresh to-do lists, bid well wishes for the new year – and it’s finally time for me to publish my annual style reflections. As usual, I’ve kept up with my outfit catalogue, tallying up the number of wears each item of clothing saw in 2021, and tracked the (litany of) new purchases I made, manually coding them into my unsophisticated system of files. Going through the data and scattered notes I’ve made throughout the year, it appears that 2021 has been an eventful one in the land of my wardrobe. Seismic activity is happening, bringing with it some style evolution. There have been some pretty significant shifts in my life and mindset, which have undoubtedly trickled down to my closet and the way I dress. Here are the insights and lessons I’d like to share with you.
What I wore in 2021
When I pore over the array of my outfit entries, the first thing I notice is that there are way fewer empty boxes than last year. Even though I continued to work from home, I made a conscious effort to properly get dressed each morning, trading in my stained old sweatshirt and no pants look for ensembles that were still comfortable, but a little less depressing. When I look at this visual spread, I see more outfit variation, more creativity, and more style range. I see a mostly neutral palette, enlivened by dashes of colour and pattern; a natural rhythm of darker shades in the fall and winter, brightened by lighter tones in the spring and summer; and primarily outfits that comprise of separates, for more opportunities to layer, mix, and match. With nowhere to go and a calendar void of events to dress for, I really practiced (and mostly succeeded at) dressing for myself.
Most and Least Worn
Because I set the intention to make better use of my wardrobe in 2021, the number of wears across my clothing items are fairly well distributed, especially among summer tops due to more frequent need for laundering. The above image shows a selection of some of my most worn items. I’m glad to see that these are some of my favourite pieces, ones that reflect my style sensibilities and are items I see myself holding onto long-term. The only piece I’m not that enthused about is the black jeans, which aren’t particularly special, but have proven to be very useful (I’ve counted 139 wears so far). I’m in no hurry to banish them, but somewhere down the line I would like to replace them with a pair of washed black pants that score a little higher on the brings-me-joy scale. There’s also a mix of older pieces that have long been staples in my closet, with a few new fresh faces joining the ranks: two purchased in 2020 and two more recent finds from 2021. At a glance, these pieces appear to pretty basic, in neutral, easy-to-wear colours. But upon deeper inspection, there are a variety of shapes, materials, textures, subtle patterns represented in the mix. My go-to items are often simple ones with a touch of personality that mesh well with the rest of my wardrobe.
Now, I’ll briefly touch on the least worn in my closet. Excluding the slurry of late-in-the-year purchases I made (we’ll get there soon), the pieces I seldom reached for were:
- My dresses. This one is both surprising and unsurprising. As expected, my more formal dresses spent another year collecting dust and cat hair in the closet, but my casual dresses didn’t get much love either. While dresses were a big part of my style repertoire in the past, I’m coming to accept that at present I find separates more practical and enjoyable to wear.
- My black linen pants. These got 0 wears because of the staying-at-home and being smothered by cats 24/7 situation. But the next summer trip I take (fingers crossed), you bet they’ll be on the packing list.
- My brown wool skirt and beige silk skirt. The former used to be at the top of the roster for pre-COVID date winter nights, but is admittedly a bit too tight around the waist (I always regretted wearing it after the dinner portion of the date). The latter I’m also unsure about keeping, but I recently removed some stubborn stains from it so I feel like it deserves another chance come spring.
What I acquired in 2021
This is the update I’ve been dreading. I’m a bit ashamed to recall the blackout shopping spree that was the latter half of my year. It happened gradually, “like a mouse moving house”, as my aunt would say. One or two pieces here and there really do tally up.
As lockdown lifted around the middle of the year and I found myself settling in a new neighbourhood (with new secondhand shops), I more than compensated for my restrained approach to shopping in 2020. Stress also played into it. I was promoted at work which came with added pressures that drained my energy for writing and other creative outlets by the end of the day. I love my job, but I found myself looking towards my 5:00 p.m. walk to the local thrift store more and more; I convinced myself it was “self-care”.
On the other end, I also got carried away with style exploration. For a while, I’d been feeling slightly stagnant in my style and was looking for a bit of a refresh in 2021. But instead of taking the “inside out” approach, where I start with what I already have in my wardrobe, I got sucked into the alluring means of the “outside in”. At times, I felt attempted to buy a whole new wardrobe – which is completely antithetical to what I stand for. Browsing regularly made me remember why I used to shop so much: I’m really good at it. At the destinations of my “walks” I was finding all these gems, which I took to be serendipity, and it was hard to refuse these treasures I found myself holding onto, like magical keys in a video game. I brought home clothes more so for the sake of collecting them than wanting to wear them, storing these objects that brought me so much initial delight in the closet, like trophies, until the accumulated content inevitably began to overwhelm and stress me out. It’s a slippery slope, how the desire to have more fun with my wardrobe and take chances led to me seeing potential in everything and harbouring a reluctance to leave things behind for fear of missing out. The familiar circle ends with me, emerging from the fog, realizing that I don’t need so much stuff and wanting to once again pare down.
While I relapsed into some bad habits in 2021, I don’t mean to discount all the style cultivation that took place, either. There are some new purchases I’m proud of, that have allowed me to express my style in new ways: pieces I love whole-heartedly and tick all my boxes. I’m happy with the thin-but-warm knits I added, the new button downs in my collection, and some smart additions in the bottoms department. It’s unfortunate that they feel overshadowed by all the other new pieces I’m still undecided on and a few that I outright regret. I know I made some shopping mistakes last year. Instead of sweeping my miscalculations under the bed and pretending like they don’t exist, however, I’m going to give myself a little grace (it was a hard year) and focus on the lessons I want to carry forward into 2022.
Style Themes and Insights from 2021
- After a 2020 marked by feelings of disorientation and laying low, 2021 called for a much-needed remedy of having fun getting dressed again. In the past year, I played around with layering and new combinations of pieces, while experimenting with some new shapes and materials. As a result, my wardrobe feels more playful and less austere, while still keeping true to my preference for simplicity and harmony. I feel like there’s more depth to my style; I see an overarching narrative, but it’s an organic, amorphous thing, as opposed to an overly controlled and curated image. I’m learning to embrace imperfection and accept that there will always more to my style I’ve yet to discover.
- Even as I continue to fine-tune my personal style, I’m at the point in my life where I feel confident enough in my overall sensibilities that I want to make some choice wardrobe upgrades. This means getting the piece I really want (after careful consideration), rather than settling for a cheap, fast fashion replica as I have so often done in the past. Last year I splurged on some foundational, everyday pieces that have really enhanced my overall wardrobe. Despite my deeply ingrained frugality, I’m finding it easier to invest a bit more money into great pieces that are high quality and make me feel good whenever I put them on. These “upgrades” also don’t have to be the newest or most expensive – I did pop my online secondhand shopping cherry in 2021 and it wasn’t so painful. The key is acquiring less, slower, and more critically.
- …But there are times where you just crave that instant gratification. This year I learned that whatever personal growth I’ve accomplished, I’m never far from old habits of stress shopping and finding temporary solace in material goods. Just because I had one decent year of buying less doesn’t mean I’ve totally escaped the grasp of old patterns. It’s humbling, really. I know that when I’m stressed, I want to browse. Even when I know I have plenty, there’s that gnawing sense of insecurity and lack. Overcoming these habits will take time and patience with the process (and myself).
- My 5-year Wardrobe Plan was an experiment in planning for wardrobe longevity and a motivational vision I hoped would steer me away from making poor choices. Unfortunately, I’m putting a pause to the project as I’ve learned of the pitfalls of a long-term wardrobe view, especially in the context of a young life in flux. It was a noble effort and a good guide at first, but my mistake was laying out my ideal wardrobe as this beautiful static spread, like doll clothes, vs. really thinking through what my life would be like in five years: the activities I would be doing and the outfits I would need to sustain those everyday activities. Since I drew up my plan, there’s been a pandemic, I’ve gone through major life shifts, and I’ve pondered different future scenarios involving relocation, career change, babies, travel, hobbies, and more. Depending on which paths I pursue, my wardrobe could end up looking very different in five years’ time than what I anticipated. However, I do believe the question of “will I still wear this in five years?” is a good one for assessing potential wardrobe additions. I’d still like to consider longevity as a criterion, but without the arrogance that as a young twenty-something I’ve got it all figured out.
- Shifting focus back to the present, a revelatory development I had late in the year was discerning, putting descriptions to, and embracing the (for now) three unique dimensions of my style. It helped me understand the traps I fall into when I try to pursue one area too much for the sake of consistency, while neglecting these other integral facets. For instance, I used to be very proud of my minimalist all-grey winter uniform because the homogeneity appealed strongly to one of those dimensions, but after a couple seasons I got bored with it. Ultimately, it wasn’t a sustainable way of dressing because it starved the other sides of my sartorial desires. I will delve deeper into what I view as these dimensions this in a future post, while I continue to find the right words to describe them.
- Finally, along with the theme of welcoming evolution is the need to let go of old archetypes that no longer fit. Over the course of my style journey, there have been some consistent themes, along with gradual shifts. Some of the styles I liked five years ago I still adore and others I find repulsive. In the past year, due to lifestyle adjustments and evolving ideals, I’ve sensed some changes to my signature style and the kinds of pieces I consider to be staple archetypes in my wardrobe. Dresses are one example. For many years, from my late-teens to early-twenties, dresses were key elements of my uniform; I could wear the same dress for days on end and they made me feel more womanly, sophisticated beyond my years. Yet, nowadays, I feel my love for dresses waning and I’ve shifted towards a preference for wearing separates. While this doesn’t mean that I’ll immediately remove all the dresses from my wardrobe and vow to never wear them again, it does have implications on how I’ll approach building my wardrobe for the future. Further, this “thank you, next” mentality has allowed me to move forward and feel less guilty about the unworn dresses in my closet, without invalidating my past style choices.
If there’s anything I’ve come away with in the last two years, it’s that you can’t always rely on your plans working out. Indeed, there are many other forces that shape your life, beyond your free will, and those in turn will impact how you dress. I see 2022 as another year of transitions, small and large, that will influence my wardrobe in ways anticipated and not, just like they have since the start of my Some Use Some Wear project. I’ve learned a lot from my adventures in chronicling, reflecting upon, and sharing my style on this site so far. Perhaps the thesis of this long-overdue megapost is that I still have a lot more learning and discovery to do.