I began retirement in January. I really thought I’d wear pretty much the same thing I wore to work, mostly dresses and jackets. After a few weeks I realized I needed to rethink my wardrobe. Making soup stock while wearing a silk dress sounds so sophisticated. It isn’t funny when, even while wearing an apron, you find grease spots on the dress. What I really needed was my weekend wardrobe expanded.
I don’t know about you, winter dressing seems a lot harder than summer dressing. I wrote a piece on my summer capsule in August (Tiny Wardrobe Magic: 40 outfits from 10 pieces) and thought I had this figured out. Then I found myself doing a lot of buying this fall. Granted, some of that shopping had to do wanting to make some bigger purchases while the money held. Some (maybe a lot) of it had to do with turning 60 in November and contemplating retirement. Most of it was feeling uncomfortable in my clothes.
I have an idea that with our short winters, I could theoretically have (at least) a three-season wardrobe. The office I worked in was always warm so I wore short sleeve tops or dresses under a jacket or cardigan year around.
The first full week at home I thought I was going to freeze. That set off my search in earnest for a new look. I confess I also convinced myself some new long sleeve purchases were really winter ‘underwear’ pieces that didn’t count. Also, that I’d wear them on their own in spring and summer. We’ll see about that. It explains another part of my shopping spree.
My next goal was more about dynamic moving. I don’t want to live in movement restricting jeans. Now I need to make more of an effort for activity. Curling up with a book is pretty tempting when it is pouring outside. But I’m not a t-shirt and leggings woman. I could have gone with skirts over the leggings but I got rid most I owned. I decided dresses were more versatile than skirts. I’ve settled on a compromise – tunic tops. They look good with skinny jeans, or with a dress or skirt underneath. They are acceptable enough (for me) to wear with leggings so that I don’t feel under dressed for a quick errand or an afternoon walk.
A dynamic wardrobe can also being about acknowledging change. I want to keep pace with who I am now. Recently I read about changing your name, or your clothes, to mark majour life passages. Retirement certainly qualifies. It invites a certain sense of authenticity and keeping pace.
To put these ideas firmly into practice I decided to do a winter capsule retirement challenge. I also wanted to stop myself from more searching and buying. In short, my goal is to to decide on a style and feel more comfortable in my skin.
Doing a 10 x 10 challenge (where you only wear 10 items for 10 days) is a chore but also an effective visual tool. It helps me focus on what I feel good in. I always come out seeing just how much leverage I can get with a small selection that is carefully curated. I didn’t take any great pains on the photographs, which should be evident. Until you try this you don’t realize how much works goes into those gorgeous shots on some blogs. ‘In focus and not too obviously posed’ was my main goal. Publishing the posts on Facebook was mostly to keep me honest and attentive.
I’ve done a few 10×10 ‘challenges’, but I got too caught up with rules on this one. I actually ended up with eight garments and two pairs of boots, but my goal is to have 2 capsules of (roughly) 20 items. Outerwear (shoes, boots, coats, bags, etc., is another 10-15 items. I’ve been following Project 333 for a few years (read about it here and here). The items I chose themselves were not ideal either, but what you learn from doing this is valuable. Here is what I chose and how I wore them. (2 jackets, 4 tops, 2 pants, 2 boots).
Even with two of the items being boots, there are more than 10 outfits here. I won’t claim it is as versatile as my summer wardrobe (of 40 outfits with 10 items) but it is something to work on. There are some pieces here that I love the look and feel of.
1. I love the white jean jacket. It is like a denim jacket but very soft twill, wonderful for layering. It is not too bulky under my outwear, often a trench coat, and makes a change from a blazer.
2. The chambray shirt is similarly very soft and fluid. I felt like it needed to be tailored a bit but I think the jeans I choose were just too low to allow graceful tucking in. I can confirm that after washing it no longer needs to be tailored.
3. The white patterned top is fun to wear and it made a somewhat sedate (*boring?) collection more exciting. And I just discovered that the linen blazer living on the ‘maybe’ pile because so few colours went with it is almost an exact match for the paisley pattern.
What didn’t Work as Well
Both of the bottoms:
- a) I should have looked at the long term forecast. Part of this capsule experiment was done on a five day trip away from home and the mild weather changed, dramatically. The knickers with short boots (bare legs) happened outdoors only once! The rest of the time whenever I wore the knickers I also had on bicycle shorts, long socks and long boots! I also wore the long boots with my jeans, wading through snow.
b) These jeans (which as I wrote about in my daily Facebook posts) need a good rest between wearings. They stretch out with body heat and get baggy in the knees and bum. The reason these are in such great shape after almost 8 years is air drying but I didn’t have the time to do that with nothing other than knickers to wear. I will plan on at least 2 pair of jeans for winter.
c) A higher waist pants works better for me if I want to tuck something in. These low rise jeans were a limiting factor.
2. I didn’t include a dress. At the last minute I took it out of my case to keep the 10×10 ‘rules’. A dress or skirt gives me more options. A dress can be worn with just leggings and a short boot. Skinny jeans can create another look. Tops can be layered over or under the dress, depending on the sleeve. I find sleeveless ones are the most versatile.
3. I only wore my black cardigan coat with 2 outfits but there are more possibilities there. It would look great with the denim shirt underneath.
What Makes a Dynamic Retirement Capsule?
So, what does this have to do with dynamic retirement, you ask? I don’t want to be age-identified by what I wear. I’ve always loved biker jackets but when I was young I needed to wear long tops to hide my bum. (There was absolutely nothing ‘wrong’ with my derriere, mind you. I just felt exquisitely self conscious if it wasn’t covered.) Now I don’t care about that. It is one part of now or never, and another part not really caring about what someone else might think. I want to feel cool. If it has taken me to age 60 to be brave enough to be cool, bring it on.
Retirement dressing is a matter of self-esteem. No one can tell you how many items of clothing you need, and what they should be. Dressing well, to your standards, is still important in how you feel about yourself. At the same time, retirement also can mean owning fewer things so it is an opportunity to take stock. There is power in letting go of the visible reminders of a life you don’t lead anymore, and it makes room for the life you have now.
Although I don’t miss the work I did, getting dressed and going to the office everyday had an appeal. Dressing as well as I did when I went to an office everyday is important in retirement, especially in a time of transition. What I wore on the weekend is what I’m wearing now — nice jeans or leggings and a nice top. I don’t want to exist in shabby clothes or exercise wear because I’m at home. Nor do I want to fall into the trap of shopping as something to do. So, while putting together capsules takes a bit of time, I consider it a great investment that frees up my energy to enjoy doing other things.
When it comes to living a more minimal life, it is not about always about the physical ‘stuff’. Often the ‘weight’ of buying and owning is emotional, and that can live entirely unseen. Here is what I mean.
You probably have an inner voice that is all about practicality, need and value. Those are good qualities but they are capable of robbing joy from your life. For example when you see something for sale that you like your inner voice says: “you can make that yourself.” Or, “you’ll never wear that/use that.” And how about this one: “don’t buy the first thing you see. Shop around and find the best deal”. Even, even if the “best deal” is not what your heart really desires.
Shopping used to be really painful for me because of my inner voice. It used to take hours for me to make a decision to buy, which was, in itself, emotionally draining. I remember a particular time I wanted to buy something as a reminder of a special weekend.
Turquoise Earrings from Mexico
By the time I found a little shop that sold the type of things I like, it was near closing time and, as usual, my inner voice was in full force so any personal purchase was going to be met with resistance. I often buy a pair of earrings to mark an occasion or trip and on this day my inner voice reminded me that I tend to wear the same two or three pairs of earrings all the time despite having many pairs.
(To silence that voice I can remind myself that even if I do not wear the earrings, I enjoy looking at them because they instantly connect me to the occasion. It reminds me of the people, the place and the feeling, and that is a sweet and tender feeling.) But back to my story.
I left the store without buying. I told the clerk I was having trouble making up my mind and would return the next day. But as it turned out, that was THE shopping opportunity of the trip. The next day was filled and we left early the following morning. I felt a small sense of loss which wasn’t about having the ‘thing’. It was about dampening my child-like delight, joy and enthusiasm.
It happens to me less these days but when it does, It makes me feel sad, and the memory of those times lingers. This is emotional clutter. It is blaming thoughts, continual internal commentary, being judgmental about yourself. It can also be having regrets, not releasing events and holding on to the past. It is the feeling of being emotionally beaten up.
I am sure you will be able to relate to my story: it is very common and I believe we all have similar patterns around our different issues. Personally I learned something I hadn’t quite seen before. Although I have played out this same scenario many times in my life, something clicked this time and I was able to see it clearly as clutter.
Physical clutter might seem to be easier to handle but I find it is the emotional clutter that drags me down.
My solution to this is to decide before setting out on a trip that I will get something for myself and to make time for it. It would not have to be something bought in a store. It could be a photograph I take, a few quiet moments writing in my journal, time spent searching for a special stone or shell. But if shopping is part of the occasion I could plan a budget in advance and have a ‘no questions allowed’ policy.
What will you do to release a pattern of emotional clutter?
The last few times I traveled (both week long trips) I took only a small backpack with me in addition to my purse. The big question my friends asked when I arrived was, “how do you travel so light?”
I have two secrets for packing light but the backpack isn’t one of them. Some people may prefer a weekend bag or a small rolling suitcase. I have tried both and only went with a backpack on my last two trips. This is my backpack by Mountain Equipment Coop (It’s the ‘Cascade’.) I like it because it looks sophisticated and actually holds a lot more than it looks like it will hold.
My two secrets: I use packing cubes and a capsule wardrobe.
Use Packing Cubes
I’m not sure who invented packing cubes but I first heard about them a dozen years ago from a fellow traveler. This is what they look like. I bought my first set in a sale bin at Canadian Tire, and later found some more (again in a sale bin) at an airport. They are so useful and not only for packing!
My Packing Cube
For years I was a two-cube packer which means that I could fit two packed cubes on one side of my suitcase with room on the other side for shoes and accessories. The great thing about the cubes is that they keep your clothing contained in your suitcase and when you get to your destination you can just take the whole cube out and put it in your drawer.
I decided to pare down to a ‘one-cube trip’ partly to see if I could do it and partly because I was getting a ride with someone and was being considerate of the trunk space.
What you Need for a Week Long Trip
This pile of clothes fits into one packing cube.
Well, I can’t tell you exactly what you need because it depends on where you are going and what you’ll be doing.
A really good general rule is to pack for only half of the number of days of your trip. (If you are an adult, do you really need a clean outfit every day?) Plan to wear each item more than once. For your ‘delicates’ also pack for only half your trip and rinse out your socks and underwear in the bathroom sink. You can take a little vial of liquid laundry detergent, but to be honest I use the free shampoo that is almost always available.
For my trip to Maui in December (a yoga retreat) I took 3 pairs of workout pants, 3 workout tops, 3 casual tops, 1 skirt, 1 pair of shorts (the bottom of my swimsuit), my swimsuit top, a dress (also doubled as a swimsuit cover), 2 scarves big enough to cover a swimsuit, a light-weight cardigan, my Sunveil shirt and hat, a dressier straw hat that folds flat, and my Unshoes (flip flop alternatives). And with this, I still over packed.
I wore my yoga pants only once and the 2 pairs of capri leggings almost every day; I didn’t wear one of the tops or the dress at all – not even as a swimsuit coverup. If you are going to a place you’ve never been before it is hard to know exactly what the circumstances will be.
Most women like to shop when they travel and I am no exception. Last summer at my Restorative Exercise Intensive I had to buy an additional long sleeve top because even though it was August it wasn’t warm and the studio had a garage door that was open most of the time. The year before that (also an RE event) it was hot outside but the studio was over-air conditioned. Now when I travel I always include warmer layers even if it is ‘supposed’ to be warm. I shopped in Maui but not because I needed to: I shopped because it was Maui(!) and even though I almost never succumb to souvenir t-shirts and the like, I bought a souvenir Hawaii t-shirt. At least it is subtle enough to wear again and I wore it at least 3 times while I was there!
I did need some specialized clothes for this trip because it was a winter vacation to a hot spot: I wore my heavier clothes on the plane: jeans, a lightweight long sleeve top, a hooded merino wool jacket and a pair of walking sandals (with socks!) and except for the jacket, I wore everything again. It was still cool in the evenings in Hawaii.
Start with a Capsule Wardrobe
Starting out with a capsule wardrobe really helps with packing. A capsule wardrobe is a minimalist approach to getting dressed – so that basically – figuring out what to wear will be a thing of the past. I recently signed up for this micro-course Capsule Wardrobes which is not what you would think it would be (this course is much deeper than finding the season’s pivotal pieces in the right colours.)
It is more about a minimalist approach to dressing. It is a really good course to take if you are feeling overwhelmed by your wardrobe decisions.
I have always thought packing for a trip is very revealing. The old me, before I started paring down, could pull out my 4 or 5 favourite outfits – the ones I always feel good in and have been time tested – and put them in my suitcase. But you could barely notice that I had taken anything out of my closet. I’ve learned that those outfits are my wardrobe staples and that with those 4-5 top, 4-5 sweaters/jackets, and a few different pants/skirts, I have a couple of weeks worth of combinations.
Note: If you find you are over-packing it may mean you have quite a large capsule wardrobe! I have under 50 items (including shoes and accessories) but I have separate capsule wardrobes for summer and winter – with overlap. Depending on where you live you may also need separate spring and fall wardrobes. (I keep my off-season clothes in my spare packing cubes.)
Now when I pack for a trip, my closet is pretty empty. I don’t take everything I own but I choose things that suit the trip and that will give me the maximum mileage. Usually that will mean solid (black, grey or navy) with one or two splashes of colour.
Here are a few additional tips that makes sorting out travel clothing easier:
- I wear merino wool which doesn’t suffer from being in a suitcase, doesn’t absorb odours and dries quickly. If you sweat a lot this will be an life-saver when you are traveling.
- Most of my solo trips are for yoga or restorative exercise workshops and my workout tops have built in bras. Although they are bulkier than a tank top, I find they don’t take up much extra room and I feel more comfortable throughout the day.
- I limit my colour scheme: Usually that will mean a solid colour (black, grey or navy) with one or two splashes of colour.
- I take things that can be worn more than one way:
- My swimming suit consists of board shorts and a bikini top. I can wear the bottoms as shorts.
- I will always take a top and skirt of the same colour that worn together is dressy enough for dinner but can be worn separately for more casual occasions.
- My scarf will be big enough to keep me warm, give me coverage, protect me from the sun and act as a pillow on the plane.
- Be very minimalist when it comes to your wash/cosmetic bag. I assume that except for my personal things and what I need for the plane, everything will be at my destination and if they aren’t they are just a front-desk or a drug store away. I take moisturizer and a hair product (sample or travel sizes) but no shampoo, soap, etc. I always keep my lip balm (etc.) in my purse anyway, so there is no need to add extra to my wash bag.
If your trip requires special clothes like formal wear, you will probably find you will need to pack differently. I am going on a two week trip in May where I will have to dress for dinner every night. I will use the same rules for my casual trips, but I will need to bring a few more things that are not in my daily wardrobe like dresses, shoes, evening bags and jewellery. Actually I think I could probably pull it off with my ‘one-cube’ trip, but there really isn’t a need. This isn’t about depriving yourself but about making life simpler.