The ten-item wardrobe

Today, I'm going to be talking to you about the "10-item wardrobe." A few years ago, I wrote a book called "Lessons from Madame Chic." The book explores the top 20 life-changing lessons that I learned while living as a study-abroad student in Paris with a French family. The book covers a wide range of topics: everything from clutter control, to exercise, to how to live life as a formal affair. And depending on where people are in their lives, they tend to gravitate towards certain sections of the book. But there is one section of the book that is universally gravitated toward. And that is the section called: "Liberate yourself with the 10-item wardrobe." The 10-item wardrobe. It's a concept that sparks confusion in a lot of people, I think, and curiosity because we are a society who has become accustomed to having closets that are completely crammed with clothes.


It's true. we go shopping, we go shopping, we fill, we fill, we fill, and very rarely do we check out what's going on inside there. Very rarely do we edit the contents and see if what we have is actually working for us. Well, some people might say, "So, what's the problem with that?" Well, one of the very strange side effects of having too many clothes is that we still have nothing to wear.


How many of you have experienced that before? Yes, so you're getting ready for work or to go meet friends, and you try on an outfit, and it's not quite right, so you take it off, and you try on another one, and then another one and another one and as soon as you know it, you have clothes strewn across the floor, on the bed. Then you're running late, so you just pick anything, then you go throughout your day slightly uncomfortable with the choice you've made.


We are operating under the misconception that the more clothes we have, the easier it is to get ready in the morning when actually the opposite is true: the less clothes you have, the less choice you have, the more thoughts and organization you put behind your wardrobe, the easier it is to get ready in the morning. Other problems that arise from a wardrobe that is too stuffed with clothes are that we're not discerning about what goes into our closets. So we are more prone to impulse buys. You'd be at the sales and you'd see neon lavender lace shorts and they're on sale. So you buy them even though they have nothing to do with your true style or what's going on in the wardrobe. Another problem that arises is that our own sense of style is actually clouded. How many people could actually define their style in one or two words? Not many, because we don't really think about it, do we? And because this is so overwhelming for so many people, I think a lot of people give up and just wear exercise clothes all day even though they don't exercise.


So, I know that's a problem. I'm going to take you back now to Paris in the year 2001 where I started to think about all of this. I went to live with a French family and I call them "Family Chic." That wasn't their real name but that was who they were to me. They were chic, not in a flashy nouveau-riche kind of way, but in an elegant, comfortable- in-their-own-skin kind of way. And the first afternoon when I met my host parents Monsieur and Madame Chic, they sat me down in their living room with a cup of tea so we could get to know each other. I sized them up and my first impression of them was very good. Monsieur Chic was dressed in a nice suit and in dress shoes; Madame Chic was wearing an A-line skirt, a silk blouse, pearls and low heels. And I remember thinking to myself at the time, "That is so sweet! They dressed up for me!" when actually they didn't dress up for me.


That was just how they dressed on a regular basis; they wore their best all the time. After our cup of tea, Madame Chic took me to my bedroom to show me where I'd be sleeping for the next few months and of course I was excited to see this. And the bedroom did not disappoint. It was charming; there was a little tiny twin bed, and floor-to-ceiling windows that had a beautiful view of the courtyard outside, the curtains matched the lampshade on the desk, I mean, it was perfect. And then she showed me where I was going to keep my clothes. And it wasn't a closet like I was used to back in California. No, it was a little armoire. And she opened it up and there were ten hangers hanging inside. Now I panicked because I brought with me to Paris two suitcases that were completely stuffed with clothes! I was thinking, "Where the heck am I going to keep my clothes for the next six months?" I didn't say that of course because that would have been rude.


But the next day I did ask all of my friends on the study abroad program if they had the same unfortunate wardrobe situation that I did. And it turns out they did! Nobody had these closets that were big like we were used to back in California. Everybody had a little tiny armoire that had around 10 to 12 hangers hanging inside. So, I said to myself, "Gosh!" I felt so bad for these French people. How did they cope with such little storage space? I decided to observe them. So I observed Madame Chic of course, I observed the other mothers on the study abroad program, I observed my college professors, the ladies who worked at the local tobacco boulangerie.


And I noticed something about them. They all wore the same, high-quality clothes, over and over and over again in heavy rotation. And they didn't appear to be suffering. (Laughter) Au contraire. No, they actually exuded their own unique individual style beautifully. So I thought, "Well, maybe there is something to this whole 10-item wardrobe business." About the idea of wearing the same clothes over and over again, we have a little bit of a stigma about that over here.


I think a lot of people - and I used to be like this - would not want to be caught dead wearing the same thing twice in one week, especially in front of our co-workers or the other moms at school. And this is very evident, the cultural difference, if you check out French films versus American films. Check out a French film, and the female protagonist, OK? She will wear the same clothes over and over and over again in the film because that's what people do.


But if you check out an American film, typical American film, the female protagonist will rarely wear the same thing twice. Unless the film director wants to make a point that she's depressed, fallen on hard times or is mentally unstable. And this is really evident in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" that was recently released. For the Cate Blanchett character, when she was wealthy and everything was good, she was in a different outfit every scene. When she had to go live with her sister, and she went a little crazy, she had a 10-item wardrobe! She wore the same high-quality clothes over and over again. I thought she was fabulous. So, we really have to get over that stigma about wearing the same clothes all the time. Many of you might be thinking, "Jennifer, did you adopt a 10-item wardrobe as soon as you got back to America?" And the answer to that question is, "No, of course not." I went right back to my old ways of storing my clothes.



I had a closet full of junk clothes. At this point, I graduated college, I had entered the workforce, and at one point, I did have three jobs at the same time. So getting ready in the morning was crucial for me. I was experiencing that same frustration of getting ready, picking my clothes, not knowing my true style, none of the clothes that I had, they weren't sophisticated; they weren't how I wanted to express myself. So, finally I had enough, and I decided to get rid of over 70% of the clothes in my wardrobe. And I tell you what, I have never looked back. Some people might think that this topic is superficial. But I believe that when you take something that we all have to do every day and we all have to get dressed, and you put thought and organization and a game plan behind it, you can completely change your life.


So, how can you get a 10-item wardrobe or how can you share this with someone you know who needs it like the roommate or a spouse? The first thing you have to do is take out all of the clothes in your closet. Maybe not all at once if you have hundreds of clothes, but take out sections at a time. And you must go through every single piece and ask yourself the following questions: Does this fit me? Is this age appropriate? Is this my true style? Do I love this? Do I wear this? The clothes have to pass the test, and if they don't, you've got to get rid of them. Donate them to somebody who will appreciate them more than you. Then with what you have left, you must take out the clothes that are not pertinent to the season that you're in.


So, we are entering fall, although you never know it today; In New York, it's very hot outside. But you're not going to need your seersucker shorts and your spaghetti straps, sundress. Take those clothes out and store them away, either put them in space bags or in a guest closet, or if you don't have that space, put them to one side and the closet that you do have. Now with everything you have left, you can begin to build your 10 core items and that is what the "10" refers to.


The core items - the items that you wear on a daily basis. And for women this can be things like blouses, dresses, skirts, jeans, slacks. Men, you have less choice; it's easier for you. You basically have shirts, trousers, and shorts, right? So a sample 10-item wardrobe for a woman for fall, for example, might be: one pair of slacks, two pairs of jeans, three dresses, four blouses. For men, you could have seven shirts, three trousers, OK? I could see all of your eyes and you're panicking right now. You're thinking, "There's no way!", right? You don't have to do 10 if that doesn't work for you. You could do 15 or even 20, but the idea is to get your wardrobe down to a capsule, manageable size. Now, I also don't want you to panick because you also have what I call "extras" and extras help round out the wardrobe.


So extras can be things like t-shirts, sweaters, obviously, if you live in a cold climate, you'll need lots of layering sweaters. Outerwear: things like trench coats, blazers and jackets, special occasion wear - the type of thing you'd wear to the Opera - we had a beautiful opera singer here earlier today - or to holiday parties, to church, to the special places that you wouldn't wear them every single day. Once you build your extras, you have to keep the capsule wardrobe mindset.


Don't keep 10 core items and go crazy on the extras because that doesn't count. It's a lifestyle change. So, what are the benefits of a 10-item wardrobe? When you wake up in the morning, you are going to be able to pick out what to wear wear with ease. If you plan it right, you can literally pick two things and they'll go together. You're going to hone in on your true style when you do this. You're going to be more discerning. You're not going to be prone to impulse buys anymore. And perhaps my favorite benefit of the 10-item wardrobe is that you will be inspired to look presentable always. I have a final story for you about Paris. The first night I was there, I was really nervous because I didn't speak French very well, at all actually. And my French family didn't speak English so I didn't eat much at dinner time. After I thought they all went to bed, I thought I'd sneak in my pyjamas to the kitchen to go grab a snack. Madame Chic stopped me on the way and she asked what I was doing.


I got the impression that these people didn't snack, so I didn't say that I wanted to snack, so I just said I wanted a glass of water, please. She said she'd get one for me. Before she gave it to me, she gave a really funny look to my pyjamas which I didn't think much about. She confronted me about the pyjamas a week later. To preface this, my pyjamas were very comfortable pair of white sweatpants; "comfortable" being the emphasis word there. They were a bit baggy too. I wore those with the college t-shirt. Well, she pointed to the hole in the knee of my pyjamas. Oh yes, I forgot to mention there was a hole in the knee. And she said, "Jennifer, did I do that in the laundry?" I was really eager to ease her mind and I said, "No, no, these have had a hole in the knee for ages!" Her look turned from one of concern to one of confusion.


And she said, "Why would you keep them if they had a hole in the knee?" At that moment, all was illuminated for me. I don't know why I kept a pair of ratty, old, holey sweat pants that I think used to be my sister's gym pants, and bring them from California to Paris to wear as sleepwear in somebody else's home. Where was my discernment? I was horrified. So, the next day, I threw out those old sweatpants. And I went to Etam and I purchased two pairs of pyjamas. They weren't expensive, but they were the nicest pyjamas I'd ever owned as an adult because they were actually meant to be worn as pyjamas.


I'll never forget that night, lying in my little Parisian bed; I felt amazing in my cream-colored button-down pyjamas. It was one of the first times I realized I could respect myself enough to present myself beautifully at all times, not just Monday through Friday 9 to 5 when I'm trying to impress other people. No, I could live this way. And truly that is one of the greatest benefits of the 10-item wardrobe. It infuses style into every aspect of your life and really helps you think about how you present yourself. And that is my wish for you if you do try out the 10-item wardrobe. If you have any questions, I have a blog, I have a Youtube channel, the Daily Connoisseur, and of course, the books on Madame Chic. So, thank you, that's it for today.

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