For new mothers who find themselves in sartorial straits, the ten-item wardrobe concept may be just the thing to set things right. Here I outline my personal history with clothes, why I love the ten-item wardrobe concept, and why I think other mothers, in particular, may also find it especially helpful.

While many women may turn to the ten-item wardrobe concept to unburden themselves from an over-packed closet, I think many young mothers may find it useful for remedying the opposite problem—an empty closet. While the reasons may vary, I think that, more often than not, new mothers find themselves with very few usable items of clothing. It can be overwhelming to figure out how to redefine your style, to organize time for shopping and, often, to budget for clothes, especially if you don’t have time to scour consignment stores or thrift stores or don’t overly enjoy doing so, particularly with babies in tow.

Like most women, my approach to clothing has evolved over the years. In junior high, I wanted to fit in with my friends who wore baggy jeans and Billabong t‑shirts. In high school, I experimented, within my limited means and in a haphazard manner, with a range from preppy to progressively more artsy. After high school, and after I got married at twenty-one, I continued in the expressive, eclectic vein for several years, mixing and matching, thrifting, wearing skirts over jeans and t‑shirts over sweaters, sometimes expanding my creative options by borrowing clothes from my sister-in-law and jewelry from my mother-in-law. Then, after a job change and a move, I decided I wanted to just blend in and be comfortable and I wore Threads for Thought t‑shirts from Whole Foods, where I worked, and jeans from the Gap outlet.

In the years that followed, before my daughters were born, I did maintain a sense of style and put effort into my appearance. I knew what I liked. Yet, I didn’t invest much time in thinking things through before shopping, to keep my wardrobe cohesive. I sometimes made purchases that didn’t make sense for my lifestyle, spending money on things that I ended up not wearing. I’m sure many an American girl can identify!

Now, as the mother of two, I find myself wanting to get myself together and look presentable, while updating my approach to style—to dodge the dreaded phrase, “she’s let herself go”! In a sweet book called I Love My Mom, by Joanna Walsh (it’s very cute—order it from the library!), which features pictures of a plushie-like tiger mom, the narrator tells us, “When we go out, she slips her hand in mine. No other mother looks so fine. No one strolling up the street, so neat, so pretty.” Now, of course, our children don’t and shouldn’t value us primarily because of how we look. Also, as a mother I want to be careful to teach my daughters that cultivating inner beauty is the most important aspect of how we present ourselves to the world. Yet, in the context of the rest of the book, I found these lines to be food for thought. I like the idea of my daughters being comfortable and pleased with the way I present myself. Furthermore, a mother is the first person who has the opportunity to teach a child to present themselves with dignity and respect and they do so largely by example.

During a recent visit, my husband’s grandfather told him that his mother was always beautifully dressed and that this was the first way in which he and his brother knew to respect her. She commanded authority with her stately appearance.

During both of my pregnancies, I ruthlessly purged my closet. I guess I didn’t have a lot I loved and with most of it, I thought, I definitely will not want to wear this a year from now. Most of it, I donated to Goodwill. Then, there were a few dresses I did like, but that wouldn’t be suitable for nursing during the first two years and were too short and wouldn’t be suitable for chasing children around for the next five years, so I sold them at a consignment store. Ruthless! What was left was a mismatched assortment that didn’t serve to create presentable outfits. Certainly, I didn’t have a closet that gave me confidence.

After my second daughter was born, I was introduced to Into-Mind’s capsule wardrobe concepts and then Jennifer L. Scott’s ten-item wardrobe concept. I discovered the refreshing, minimalist fashion blog Unfancy around the same time. All of these have informed my approach to rebuilding my wardrobe, but the ten-item approach is what resonates with me the most.

Jennifer’s ten-item wardrobe concept, in summary, follows these guidelines: You build your wardrobe around ten cohesive core items. This number does not include outerwear, athletic wear, pajamas, underwear, jewelry, or shoes. She also does not count t‑shirts (I differ here—you will find what works for you, based on your budget, climate, and style) or layering items in her ten core items. Still, the idea is that you do not go overboard on any of these things. Jennifer expands on these ideas in her lovely book, Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris.

I love the ten-item wardrobe concept for the following reasons:

  1. The number ten eliminates overwhelm. While capsule wardrobe rules aren’t something I’m moralistic about at all, I appreciate having a concrete limit. Setting this relatively low limit makes rebuilding an empty closet feel doable, for those who are basically starting from scratch. If you find you want more clothing after you have your ten items and you have the budget for it, I say, go for it!
  2. It saves money. I began roughly following the ten-item wardrobe guidelines when I first learned of the concept, a little over a year ago. While you can certainly choose to replace mistake purchases or worn out items, as your budget allows, I’ve found satisfaction in living with my decisions through the season, patiently waiting for a change in weather before re-evaluating what I need to replace. I haven’t spent money on anything sartorial since October 17th (while I posted a pair of boots in an Ephemera post in late-November, the boots were actually purchased on sale in July!), three months ago, and I’m determined to not spend money on clothes again until mid-April, to complete a six-month refrain from clothes shopping.
  3. It saves time and energy. When you have a set budget and a set number of items, you can free your mind from this area of your life. No need to wonder about sales or wander the mall aimlessly, because you are set. More time for going on walks, reading books, and creating!
  4. It completely eliminates the impulse purchase. Giving yourself a succinct limit causes you to plan ahead and think very carefully about what you want to spend your money on. Planning accordingly, you will, without fail, stay within your budget.
  5. When curated thoughtfully and cared for regularly, having ten well-liked items is enough to keep oneself feeling presentable and confident.

Even with the low number of ten, building up to a consistent ten-item wardrobe has been a work in progress for me. When I started, I didn’t have a clothing budget organized beforehand, yet, going forward, I wanted to only buy quality things that I really loved. Therefore, my first three seasons (winter 2014, spring/summer 2014, fall/winter 2015) have remained very minimal indeed, below Jennifer L. Scott’s guidelines which don’t count t‑shirts or outerwear in the ten core items. Also, I find that, doing the manual work of motherhood, my few t‑shirts and jeans do wear out quite quickly, as they must be washed after every wear. There will always be the opportunity to shop to fill holes. This year though, I am developing a detailed plan, mapping out my needs and wants beforehand. In this way, I intend to happily spend my clothing budget without feeling that a penny is wasted. I plan to share a few key purchases in future posts.

What about you? Does your closet hold happiness or dread? Do you enjoy shopping or would you rather limit it? Do you feel you have what you need to feel confident, after having children? Whether or not you have children, I’m interested to know how you approach the topic of clothing. 

P.S. In case you missed it, my ideal Girls’ Ten-Item Wardrobe Autumn & Winter 2015.

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