Why the 10-item Wardrobe is So Liberating

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We chat to the woman who pioneered the concept.

Of all the obstacles to career success, your wardrobe is unlikely to cop much heat. But if you’ve ever stared into your overflowing closet and declared, “I have nothing to wear!”, you’ll know that deliberating over what to throw on each day chews up vital energy and decision-making power. As Arianna Huffington points out, “Men slap on the same thing every day, but women are expected to spend hours and hours getting ready.”

One (drastic) solution? Cull your closet and replace it with just 10 coordinating items. Less choice, say converts, equals more mental space.

We asked Jennifer L Scott, who pioneered the 10-item wardrobe concept in her book Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris, to walk us through it.

How did you develop the idea for the 10-item wardrobe?

I discovered the 10-item wardrobe while studying abroad in Paris. I arrived for my six-month stay with two large, over-stuffed suitcases. The small wardrobe in my Parisian bedroom only had 10 hangers inside. I wondered how I would possibly store my clothes for the semester! Then I noticed that Parisian women had small capsule wardrobes. They wore the same high-quality clothes over and over again. I coined this capsule wardrobe the “10-item wardrobe” after the number of hangers hanging in my Parisian wardrobe.

Can you walk us through the concept? Ten items sounds like nothing!

Sure! The “10” refers to your core items. Think of these items as the main course in your wardrobe: dresses, skirts, blouses, trousers, shorts and jeans. Don’t worry, you won’t only have 10 pieces in your entire wardrobe because you round out the core items with “extras”. Think of the extras as the side dishes to complement the main course. Extras can include T-shirts, cardigans (or other sweaters), outerwear, shoes, scarves, jewellery, cocktail dresses and special occasion sportswear (such as bathing suits). You tailor your 10-item wardrobe and extras to your life circumstances.

Why is it so liberating to have less choice?

When you take on the 10-item wardrobe your entire lifestyle changes. You are no longer a slave to shopping. You only go shopping for a specific item that you actually need, rather than just perusing the shops. In the long run, you end up saving money this way. Mornings also become more pleasurable because you don’t have to wade through outfit after outfit wondering what to wear. If everything is chosen with care, all of your clothes will complement each other. Choosing what to wear each day will be a breeze. You will also look presentable always, and not just revert to yoga pants out of frustration. You will no longer declare, “I have nothing to wear!” These are only a few of the liberating benefits to having a 10-item wardrobe.

We tend to see a wardrobe full of clothes as one of creative and colourful options – does a 10-item wardrobe still allow for personal style and creativity?

You can easily have a wardrobe full of colourful, patterned core items, if that strikes your fancy. Many women like to have neutrals as their core items and then creatively style them with their extras. You can wear a simple dress so many different ways by wearing it with a scarf or a cardigan, sandals or wedges, statement jewellery or subtle jewellery. The opportunity for creativity in dressing is abundant!

Arianna Huffington has launched a ‘power dressing’ campaign to normalise repeat outfits. Do you believe a high-rotation wardrobe can be powerful for women?

I do believe that a high-rotating wardrobe is powerful. It says that you are dressing for respect (by choosing to look presentable) but you aren’t trying to impress people by always wearing the newest thing. In other words, you are doing it for the right reasons, not to show off. Dressing well – even if no-one is going to see you – displays self-care, self-respect and poise.

What are the advantages of an edited wardrobe that we tend to miss in our efforts to look on-trend?

The advantages to having a 10-item wardrobe is that you are able to purchase higher quality clothing (especially for certain “big-ticket” items like a winter coat or a handbag), yet at the same time you don’t waste money because you’re not constantly shopping. Honing in on your true style is another wonderful side effect. Once the wardrobe clutter is cleared, you can focus on expressing your true style with what you have left.

Can you share some tips for getting started on creating a 10-item wardrobe?

Start by clearing the clutter from your wardrobe. You must go through every single piece and decide whether it will stay or go. The majority of it will probably end up going! Then you must take into consideration your life circumstance. Dress for the life you have. If you are a stay-at-home mum, find beautifully stylish clothes that fit your lifestyle. Find washable, wearable pieces that you can move in and you don’t mind getting dirty. Embrace the life stage that you are in.

You’ve spoken about curating your wardrobe like an art exhibit…

This just means that you are thoughtful about every piece you bring into your wardrobe. If you were curating an art exhibit, each piece displayed will have been thoughtfully chosen to go with the other pieces. It is wise to do this with your limited 10 items because then they will all go together in harmony.

Can the 10-item wardrobe concept apply to other areas of life?

Yes! The 10-item wardrobe mindset is truly a minimalist mindset. You will find yourself de-cluttering everything from your possessions to managing how you spend your time. It truly is amazing.

Watch Jennifer’s TEDx talk on the 10-item wardrobe here, or sign up to her Ten-Item Wardrobe eCourse at the-daily-connoisseur.teachable.com/.

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