new year new plan · style matters

The Outfit Project

I was looking for one of my purses in the back of my closet the other day, and to get to it, I had to dig through the pile of Clothes I Have Been Meaning To Iron. I’m embarrassed to say that pile has sat there for about a year. A year! And in that pile I discovered pants I had forgotten I ever owned. Nice pants! 

It’s not really that I have a surfeit of clothes, an obscene Paris Hilton style “dressing room” that’s a third bedroom turned into a closet with couches. I don’t. I have a converted linen closet in the upstairs hallway. It ain’t that big. It’s just that I tend to fall into a rut where I wear the same three things all the time.
This is an especially easy trap to fall into in the summer, especially this summer, so ungodly hot that I just picked the very smallest/thinnest/lightest thing to wear and gave up on makeup, accessories, hair dryers. Fashion is not forwarded by a months-long heatwave in which wearing bracelets makes your wrists unbearably sweaty. No.
But it’s temperate now. And the Ironing Pile has moved out of the closet and into (of course) the dining room.
It’s time. Time to start … the outfit project.
The outfit project works like this. Don’t wear the same outfit to work twice, for as long as you can manage it.
That’s “outfit” not “clothes”: obviously, there are some pants / skirts / boots / glasses I’m going to rewear, but it’s the way to combine them that has to be different. I’m not going to lie to you: I’m wearing my new dark wash straight-leg jeans (the mature woman’s skinny jean, I call it) very often, nearly all my non-teaching days. And I’ve got an adorable pair of grey Camper ankle boots in heavy rotation with said jeans. But it’s all different blouses and sweaters and t-shirts and cardigans and shells and necklaces and earrings. Different sunglasses, different purses.
For me, the mental energy I’m (minimally) expending just to not always wear the brown wool pants with the black turtleneck and the orange purse does not, actually feel like the One More Goddamn Thing That’s Gonna Push Me Over The Edge. It feels more like something totally different than worrying about remembering my key to the media cabinet or whether I should bring extra syllabi to class or what happened to the coursepack at the bookstore or whether I sent the right permission form to school with my daughter. It feels a little frivolous and selfish in a good way.
Besides, I was feeling bad that this whole chunk of my wardrobe sat untended and unnoticed on the floor of my closet for an entire year. And it gives me a little lift to feel like, at the minimum, I don’t look like a hobo.
Do you have a version of the outfit project? Would you do it? I’m kinda having fun with it, and it’s nice to focus on something other than My Giant Brain And All The Things It’s Not Quite Managing.

8 thoughts on “The Outfit Project

  1. So funny you would write this today, as I took off an outfit I've worn before (to work, and on Saturdays) and put on something I haven't. And as I checked out this new outfit in the mirror (the dress needs to be altered, but when's that going to happen?) I thought how much easier it is to dress for work when you're not teaching. When you're teaching, you have to think about Does it ride up at the back? Do the shoulders have enough give that I can write on the board? Can I really stand in these shoes for three hours? As for ironing: I would rather scour the tub, clip my cat's nails, and grade 100 first-year essays than iron a shirt.


  2. We must be on some kind of H&E wavelength–I've been thinking about the outfit too. I have a kind of uniform (skirt, top, black fluevog ankle boots) but the components change regularly. I also have a normal-sized wardrobe and keep things interested (for me and only me) by finding cheap interesting tights etc.

    I also think A TON about what I wear to teach. What will make me feel good/confident/in control? But also: Is this too much? (where much might mean too tight, too short, too old, too much potential for sweating down to my hips etc.)

    And you know what? I too enjoy thinking about this. It takes a fraction of my time, is (usually) fun and yes, give my full-not-quite-managing-brain a diversion.


  3. To be honest, on my non-teaching days I wear yoga pants and a sloppy t-shirt, covered up by an ancient polar fleece jacket bought from MEC an eon ago. I just want to be comfortable and cozy. And I have a habit of writing at my kitchen or dining room table, and I like to sit cross-legged on the chair as I write. So streeeeeetch is essential.

    But on teaching days I try to dress up a bit, wearing more skirts and dresses with funky shoes. That is, when the weather is warm or temperate. This time of year is tricky because it's too cold to go bare-legged but too warm to wear opaque tights. Are stockings–you know, nylons–really all that bad? I wore them in Croatia because all the women in Croatia wore them. But here? They scream middle-aged frump. Maybe that's what I am. Anyway, I've been looking for the perfect Fall/Winter jersey wrap dress. Something Diana von Furstenberg-like. Because that just seems to be perfect lady professor wear.

    Come winter it will be pants and Blundstones. I sort of give up because at my workplace we have too far to walk to our classes, which are inevitably scheduled in buildings way the heck across campus. Pants and solid boots are just plain necessary.

    I love talking about clothes and shoes and being feminist professors. Can we also talk about hair, and in particular hair dye? Cheers girls.


  4. @Heather: I'm kind of … a vigorous teacher. The other day I did my patented Mary Catherine Gallagher “Superstar” lunge on the podium, and I saw at least one (female) student flash a surprised look down to my legs, because a wrap dress and a deep lunge == holy leg surprise. So there's that.

    @Erin: I can't wear ankle boots with skirts. Legs much too short, and they make me stumpy mcstumpington, but it's just so adorable and other people … sigh.

    @ladyprof: Hilariously, as I type this I am wearing: fuzzy slipper socks, grey Old Navy yoga pants (won't show the cat hair, and nicely baggy), my “sleeping bra”, a nasty t-shirt and my hugely comfy lululemon hoodie. Because I've been writing all morning, draped all over the furniture and the floor, and with the cat all over me. So we look the same, only I have more mascara rings under my eyes that you, I'd bet. Also, last year, I bought those awesome knee-high suede wedge snow-boots, to deal with the class-walk problem …


  5. I think about this a lot, mostly because I'm still a TA and therefore have to struggle for students to see me as authoritative in terms of age and rank as well as gender. I've got a uniform–pencil skirt, embellished tee/tank, cardigan, funky tights, scarf, red glasses, flats/boots–but all of the components are pretty mix-and-match, and I do make an effort not to wear the same outfit to teach two weeks in a row. I don't know if they care, but I do.

    I almost never wear pants, and I find wearing a skirt actually makes me feel more authoritative/powerful. Probably because I just don't feel like myself in pants–too masculine, too warm, too constricted, too casual. I think of my uniform as a bit like armour–it signals to the world that I'm serious and expect to be taken seriously (and I wear it every day, not just teaching days), and to my students that I'm not their buddy or their classmate, but someone in authority. Wearing a put-together outfit seems to signal to my students that they're not welcome to cross that line, and I seem to have fewer issues with that than some of my more casually-dressed colleagues. Makeup is the same, and I would never be on campus without it.


  6. I'm engaged in exactly the same project; school is five weeks old and I have worn a different outfit each time I've taught. Seeing as how I teach five days a week, it's no small feat. I have quite a few nice dresses that I enjoy wearing, particularly before the weather turns cold, the semester drags on, and all I want to wear are sweats (don't worry, I don't, but you get the feeling).

    I have a pair of knee-high flat leather books that have lasted me almost ten years now. Once the weather turns, I wear them with EVERYTHING. I also used scarves to change up an outfit. Today, I am feeling under the weather, so I'm wearing a pair of black jeans, a black tee, but with a brightly-colored floral print scarf. But while it's still relatively warm, I have flats of all colors (I would wear heels, but I have bad knees and a weird back, so I can't).

    Before anyone wonders how I could possibly afford this, know that I hung on to A LOT of my clothes that I wore pre-pregnancy, which I can now finally fit back into. My favorite clothes that I bought post-pregnancy/pre-weight loss I had taken in. Let me tell you, a good tailor can be your best friend.

    I also used to live in SoCal, 15 minutes from an outlet mall. Now, I'm all about the “private” online shopping sites that have crazy discounts.

    PS If I didn't already admire you enough, Aimée, I now am envious of your closet set-up.


  7. I tend to dress from the shoes up. Love my El Naturalista pumps but not that comfortable to wear all the livelong day. I have two pairs of the same gorgeous roman sandals, but some mornings lately it has been a bit cool for those. Boots, which I could live in permanently, don't always go with skinny leg pants. I do wear a lot of jeans to teach in, but usually with a jacket or some quite nice top.


  8. A bit late to this party and since I'm not in the academy any more and running my own biz from home things have changed a LOT. Very little ironing happens in this house. Unless I'm sewing.

    I decided I can spend more money on pyjamas since I often stay in them until noon.

    My “uniform” is jeans and some kind of t-shirt, long sleeves now. As it gets colder, that'll be a sweater. My stash of good handknits for the purpose is getting bigger.

    I never wear skirts any more and the phrase “women in sensible shoes” was invented for me. Haven't worn make-up in years either. I do occasionally dye my hair. Purple.

    Since moving to a rural area, I now shop at Marks Work Warehouse, which is owned by Canadian Tire and probably tells you how far from even knowing what is fashionable I am.

    I do have a couple of pairs of dressier pants for when I go speak on campuses and whatnot. A wool pair for winter. Linen for summer. I bought a blouse a year or so ago but it feels weird to wear it though it looks good with a handknit vest over it.


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