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While it seems contradictory to simplicity, developing a Rule of Life has been one of the most freeing decisions I have made. A Rule of Life in the monastic tradition probably isn’t feasible or desirable for the average family. St. Benedict describes his Rule as “a handbook to make the very radical demands of the gospel a practical reality in daily life.” That is a bit scary. A family’s Rule of Life is simply a way of defining our priorities and making a plan to succeed. This can trickle down to everything, including wardrobe.
Psalm 34:14, “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
What I choose to wear, may not seem like a concept governed by right and wrong or a pathway to peace, but it truly has been both for me. My personal journey started with a love of fashion and a shopping addiction. But, at some point, I had to face the fact that fashion – especially women’s fast fashion – is destroying the earth and responsible for a modern form of slavery. I didn’t want this frivolous habit to destroy the lives of others. On a more personal level, before my Rules, I would walk into a closet full of clothes and still have nothing appropriate to wear. It is hard to find inner peace when the basics of your life are chaotic. Life with kids is chaotic enough. This is something I can control.
It has been almost 10 years since I developed my original set of Rules and they took a bit of time to implement, but I now have a very small wardrobe that keeps me appropriately dressed from the office to camping. I can fit my entire wardrobe in my chest of drawers – two small drawers hold pajamas, underthings socks and tights. A drawer for tops, a drawer for bottoms, a drawer for out-of-season, and a drawer for shoes. One cocktail dress hangs on a dress form in hopes I’ll have an opportunity to wear it. If necessary, I can pull clothes out of each drawer in the dark and know whatever I grab will work together — some better than others, but all good enough.
Have you ever tried to work with one of those capsule wardrobes on Pinterest and realized it was just adding to your wardrobe confusion? Rules can be oppressive when imposed by others, but when you develop your own, they can be liberating. I started with a trip to the library and a few weeks of reading and learning about fashion, style, fit, cut and color. By the end I had a pretty good list of Rules. Some have changed. I’ve added new ones and let some go, but for the most part, I stuck with these Rules for a decade now and they have served me well. I challenge you to write your own Rules, but these are mine:
- Everything, except personal items, has to be bought second hand. This is my way, within my budget and time constrains, to avoid supporting sweatshops or adding to the waste stream. My money goes to local businesses and charities and I’m reusing clothes already produced. This Rule also simplifies my own shopping experience. Rather than being overwhelmed by rows and rows of clothes, I have a small selection to sort through. I either find something that fits into my current wardrobe or I don’t and I try again next time. Some day I want to be one of those people who can re-make thrift shop clothes into something fun and unique, but for now I just read these books for inspiration.
- All items must fit within my color palette. I was a teen in the ’80s when color palettes were all the rage. So when I began this journey, determining my season with Color Me Beautiful was my first step. In the beginning I stuck to a small palette of easy-to-remember colors, but have been able to expand my eye for the right colors over time. This is another Rule that can seem restrictive but has been incredibly freeing. I know the photos in this book are outdated and your grandma may have used it, but the advice is still relevant. Color is key to wardrobe simplicity. I don’t have to worry that items will clash. In fact, color is a great litmus test when someone offers me hand-me-downs. If an item doesn’t go with the rest of my wardrobe, I just say, “No, thank you.”
- I don’t buy cheaply made garments. Since I’m buying second hand, I go for high quality. The nice thing about second hand is that you can see how an item is going to stand up to time. I don’t have time to take on other people’s garbage, and that is what buying cheaply made garments amounts to for me. I do make exceptions to this Rule at my own discretion, but these special cases happen less and less often as my core wardrobe has come together. If you are not sure what a quality piece looks like, books on sewing are a good way to learn, but don’t spend too much time on this. Chances are you know more than you think you do.
- I only buy natural fabrics (when realistic). I’m not going to lie. I cheat on this Rule (a lot). It’s hard to find all natural fabrics. However, when I do find something natural, it stays in my wardrobe until it is a rag. I like the way natural fabrics feel and I like knowing that I’m not contributing to micro-plastic pollution every time I do a load of laundry. However, man-made fabrics are out there and it is better that they get used than end up polluting a third-world dump. So this Rule is more of a guideline or wishful thinking.
- I have to try things on at the store. This is my least favorite Rule, but I regret when I ignore it. While I hate trying things, if I don’t, I will end up buying something that make me feel ugly, keeping it anyway because I spent good money on it and cluttering up my wardrobe with a piece I don’t really like. When I first created my Rules, I had used the book below to help me determine my shape and which clothes fit best. Unfortunately, shape changes with pregnancy, age and daily chocolate habits. Someday, I will re-evaluate my shape but for now, I try everything on (or regret it).
- Do Laundry Before Shopping. Nothing guarantees an over-sized wardrobe with too many duplicates, like ignoring this Rule. It is not as fun to do laundry, but it has to get done and its best to do it before heading out shopping. Maybe I don’t even need to shop once I’m done and, if I do, I can go with a list of actual needs.
These are my core wardrobe Rules. Sometimes I add temporary Rules (currently, I’m not allowed to buy any more dresses) and some Rules are just too hard to stick to, so I drop them (the natural fabrics Rule may get dropped). For a good book on putting together a small core wardrobe, I recommend French Chic: How to Dress Like a Frenchwoman by Susan Sommers, if you can find it. The photos will be outdated, but the advice is timeless when it comes to a small but functional wardrobe.
I doubt Saint Benedict was thinking of women’s fashion when he developed his monastic Rules, however they help me focus on my priorities and God’s will for my life while incorporating good stewardship and charity into my daily routine in a simple, achievable manner. That is the whole point of any Rule of Life. The important thing, with any Rule, is to define my goals – personally, socially and spiritually — and then take the time to establish the proper guidelines to achieve those goals.