For the past 39 days and until the end of June, I am participating in Project 333. What, you may ask, does that mean? Project 333 is a minimalist fashion challenge to wear a capsule wardrobe of 33 items or less for a period of 3 months.
I have never before tried out a capsule wardrobe, nor am I the type to participate in fashion challenges. To be honest, five years ago my wardrobe situation was much different than its current-day state. Five years ago I owned 15 pairs of jeans and didn’t wear half of them. I had over 40 different types of sweatshirts and at least as many t-shirts. I filled a walk-in closet plus a 5-drawer dresser all by myself. These spaces were packed with clothes I didn’t wear or didn’t like.
In the past I would buy clothes semi-regularly, many of which I wouldn’t wind up wearing because I would later decide I didn’t like how they fit. Others I had grown out of but still held sentimental value. Still others I would forget that I owned until I discovered them deep in the depths of my closet. I would try to force myself to wear clothes I didn’t like because I had paid for them and felt like not wearing them would be wasting money. I often changed outfits several times in the morning because I didn’t like the clothes I owned.
Why did I keep items I didn’t like? It was because I felt obligated.
In time, I realized I had paid enough for the clothes I didn’t like. I let them go.
I eventually delved deeply into the environmentally-friendly movement and simplified my life significantly, whittling down my wardrobe to a more reasonable size. I gave myself permission to donate clothes I didn’t like, regardless of how many times I had worn them. They would not be holding me down – emotionally or physically – any longer.
Yet despite my years of minimizing, I was never quite able to bring myself to create a capsule wardrobe. Too restrictive, I would think. I came close a few times, twice hearing the creator of Project 333, Courtney Carver of Be More With Less, speak at live events. Courtney is an amazing woman who came up with the Project 333 minimalist fashion challenge in 2010 and has been dressing with less for the past 10 years.
So how does this fashion challenge really work? Only 33 items? I’ve outlined some of Courtney’s guidance below, but I’ve also taken liberties to change some of the rules to better meet my lifestyle. The experience is meant to be liberating and not restrictive, while also challenging. There’s plenty of room for flexibility in what meets your needs and what does not.
- Your 33 items do not include:
- Inner wear – socks, underwear, bras, etc.
- Exercise wear – so long as it’s actually being used to exercise
- Lounge wear – as long as it’s only being worn to lounge. Bring on all the pandemic sweatpants!
- Sleep wear
- What have I modified for my own needs?
- Jewelry – generally, you get a free pass on one item of sentimental jewelry you always wear, such as a wedding ring. I’ve tried to stick to wearing my favorite pair of hoop earrings every day, but since I’ve curated my jewelry collection down to the few pieces I actually love, I do allow myself some freedom to wear other pieces of jewelry.
- Utility items – While some people view certain accessories as a way to express their fashion style, I tend to view these items from a more utilitarian standpoint. I don’t match my watch to my outfit, nor do I match my wallet to my purse. Therefore I’ve removed objects such as sunglasses, purse, winter scarf/gloves/hat from my 33-item count.
The Project 333 challenge officially runs every three months: January to March, April to June, July to September, and October to December. This past March 31, I audited my closet to pick out 33 items or less that I would be wearing until the end of spring.
Why did I start now? I’m not sure why I finally bit the bullet and jumped in. Perhaps the recent pandemic social distancing orders allowed for some mindfulness and enough free time in my life that had previously been absent. Perhaps seeing others struggle through financial difficulties allowed me to more accurately assess what is important in life, an excess amount of clothes not being one of those things. Regardless of the ultimate reason, I’m in it ’til June.
Reflections on the past month
Now that I’m more than a third of the way into the challenge I’ve taken some time to reflect on how I’ve felt about the past month of dressing with less. To be honest, I’ve kind of loved it. When I first downsized my wardrobe five years ago by donating a dozen or more 13-gallon-sized trash bags worth of clothes, I was amazed to find myself waking up each morning to a closet full of clothes I actually liked. It made getting dressed each morning a much quicker and significantly more pleasurable experience. Further reducing my selection down to 33 items has had a similar effect; contrary to what I thought about capsule wardrobes being restrictive, I’ve actually found the experience of choosing from 33 items to be quite liberating. With less choices comes less indecision and less decision fatigue – and don’t we all deserve a bit less fatigue in our lives these days?
One thing I have noticed regarding my choices is that I wish I had included less business casual clothes. When I first planned my capsule wardrobe at the end of March Washington, DC had been under a state of social distancing for a couple of weeks, but I didn’t foresee that I would be working from home 75% of the time until what is now forecasted to be the end of May or June.
Perfect Capsule Wardrobe Template
There’s a certain draw to having a “perfect capsule wardrobe,” but that is very much a misnomer. While I’ve outlined below the items I’ve selected for my first Project 333, this serves only as an example of what works for me; everyone’s personal wardrobe will look different as there’s no exact formula.
- Blue denim jeans
- Corduroy – type tan pants
- Black synthetic-fiber “jeans”
- Gray dress pants
- Turquoise capris
- Blue denim button-up
- 2 cotton button-up long-sleeve dress shirts (one denim-colored, the other blue and white striped)
- Linen button-up long-sleeve shirt (mint green)
- 2 3/4-length dressy shirts (evergreen & seafoam green)
- Lavender long-sleeve shirt
- Purple long-sleeved & hooded shirt
- Purple merino wool long-sleeve shirt
- Black cotton long-sleeve shirt
- Dark blue cotton long-sleeve shirt
- Blue plaid button-up long-sleeve casual shirt
- Blue plaid button-up short-sleeve casual shirt
- Green sleeveless ruffle dress shirt
- 2 V-neck t-shirts
- Scoop-neck t-shirt
- Long black cardigan
- Magenta Northface rainproof jacket
- Black Northface fleece
- Green BCBGeneration down jacket
- Brown booties
- Chaco sandals
- Straw hat
You’ll notice that my wardrobe is composed of less than 33 items. As I approached the upper bounds of my capsule wardrobe I had some difficulty finding more items about which I was excited. However, I don’t think anyone should beat themselves up if their wardrobe totals 34 or 35 items. The whole point of Project 333 is that it is a challenge – a challenge to think about not letting what you wear define you.
Capsule wardrobe tips
I recognize I only have 39 days of wearing a capsule wardrobe “under my belt” (get it? it’s so punny), so I am not what you might call a sage guide into the odyssey of capsule wardrobes. But hey, I’ve learned a bit in the past 39 days.
One of the best tips I received regarding capsule wardrobes was that if you’re finding balancing work and casual clothes a struggle, to try dressing down your work clothes while simultaneously dressing up your casual clothes.
The other tip I’ll mention is that there’s no rule saying you cannot start your capsule wardrobe at any time of the year – there’s no need to wait until July 1. In fact, I think that, given the circumstances we’re facing with the current pandemic, this is a perfect time to start a capsule wardrobe. Most people I know are isolating with their families and only leaving their homes for essential services, so no one would even notice you wearing the same clothes over and over again except your loved ones (and I promise you, post-pandemic 9.99/10 people won’t notice, either). Plus, there’s the case for the financial benefits of a capsule wardrobe – with unemployment rates at their worst in more than 80 years and many struggling financially, buying new clothes is a luxury most cannot afford. Why not get creative with the wardrobe you already have?*
* Side note: If it was not clear, allow me to clarify that the point of Project 333 is not to purchase new clothes “essentials” to create your capsule wardrobe. Use what you have.
I’ll leave you with this: what’s stopping you from creating your perfect capsule wardrobe? Leave your capsule wardrobe concerns and questions in the comments section below!