As a child and teen, I had far fewer clothing items than 40 pieces for three important reasons:

  • wore a school uniform 5 days a week for 12 years
  • lived in hot and mild weather most of the time - no need for lots of toppers or shoes
  • was in equestrian gear to ride horses most of the weekend

When I started Varsity and then moved to Fashion Tech, I remember thinking OH MY WORD, I have three outfits to wear! Lots and lots of outfits on repeat. Our goddaughter who starts Varsity in a month is having the same challenge. Needs regular clothes after 12 years of uniform and weekend sport.

I've been in the fashion industry for 30 years, live in a 4 season climate, live in the city, love clothes and shopping, and enjoy variety! It's my line of work, hobby, and daily therapy. A 40 item wardrobe today - at age 52 - where I keep on thinking "if not now - when?" - would make me very unhappy.

That said, we live in a loft with VERY tight storage areas and am I highly sensitive to overflow and clutter. So there is zero risk of me having a large wardrobe. I simply cannot store it! We don't even have a linen closet. I stick to my 150 pieces. No holding zone, and no swapping out seasons.

Could I do it? Of course. Would it be optimal? Absolutely not. First I workout every day and I have 7 outfits - 7 leggings, 7 sports bras, 7 tops and one jacket. So that just blew my numbers. I actually have about 40 blazers, I wear a jacket every day to work and usually most weekends. So as not to repeat more than every two weeks I could reduce to about 20 because some are deep winter and some are high summer. I have a true 4 season climate. Do I have work stuff dressy enough for most occasions, yes, but those pieces would not be as pristine and if I kept them for good I've just contracted my work capsule. For weekend I could live in a couple pair of jeans, but it would be super tight. When I was a child I have 4 outfits for 5 days of school and my mother never heard of mix and match. Not good. No dressy clothing. One pair of shoes and one pair of sneakers. No real gear and have to use what I had. I still can remember how inappropriate I felt in so many situations. So the fact that I cover as many contingency situations in my wardrobe is a direct reaction of the days of not enough. I do think there's a perfect balance for all of us, but stripping down for numbers sake is not something that would make me happy or my life easier.

I have been experimenting with the 40 piece limit - but it is season specific for four seasons - and I do like it a lot. However, I see the benefits in what's implied in Angie's 150 pieces - that this the total number, regardless of season. In what would be my spring season swap out, I may shift to 150 and try that for a 12 month run...

After tracking wears for 2 years I believe I can be happy with 100 pieces (excluding shoes, bags, scarfs, sleepwear, underwear, etc). 4 season climate here. I am retired so no need for office wear or formal wear. I am in the process of trimming.

My wardrobe would be about 10 pieces for each season. . I would try f or one dark neutral ( probably navy)and one light neutral, (probably white.). Two accent colors coral and cobalt across all seasons plus something green for St PAts Day and a bit of fall color. One dressy pair of black pants plus a black long sleeved tee, a swim suit and shirt or dress cover-up, Gold hoop earrings, a long puffer coat in dark navy. Shoes would be metallic gold loafers. A navy bag, a jean jacket, white or black snow boots. A good travel coat with a hood and pockets. Transition seasons will be hardest, going from hot to very cold. Toppers will be important Age and medical reasons have already pared back my wardrobe numbers. I suspect that will continue. No shorts or sandals, no heels or traditional jean cuts with a waist. More dresses. In the sixties l lived out of a small carry on suitcase for three months and 7pieces of clothing, including a trench coat which was also a bathrobe.I had to replace my shoes. It can be done. Dresses and tops would be sleeveless and the jean jacket or a blazer can provide warmth.

The observation about dresses versus separates is so interesting! Had not occurred to me. I guess I think of dresses, outside of those worn in summer with bare legs, as being somewhat more high-maintenance/high-cost than pants-plus-shirt because tights/hosiery wear through so much faster than any sort of pants do. I guess pantyhose don't count as a "garment" but they're one step away from being disposable!

I wonder if we are going through another shift when it comes to expectations around dress and social roles. There are a lot more people working entirely or almost entirely from home and dress almost entirely for themselves rather than for the expectations of their employer. I suspect a lot of people entering the workforce as digital workers aren't going through the same process of building up a "work wardrobe" the way previous generations did. If I worked a remote desk job and enjoyed going to a gym or other indoor venue for exercise (pool, yoga/dance studio), I could almost certainly do 40 pieces, especially in a milder climate. But that lifestyle--sedentary work, spending time off indoors--would make me miserable long before the lack of wardrobe variety would.

My husband, who works from home and is much more cold-tolerant than I am, would probably get by just fine with 40; in fact, he probably does (10 merino tees, 5 pairs jeans, 2 sweaters, 2 hoodies, 1 pair hiking pants, 5 pairs shorts, rain jacket, winter jacket, snow pants, running shoes, winter boots, suit/dress shirt/dress shoes = ~35). He has more, but doesn't need or reach for it unless I remind him. He is as intolerant of variety ("How am I supposed to wear this?!") as some of us are of lacking it. When he worked in an office where the expectation was collars on shirts and no jeans/sneakers, he really chafed at the clutter and "mental load" of having a separate wardrobe for work, not to mention feeling uncomfortable and inauthentic in office attire.

It definitely gets easier if footwear isn't counted. I could do 75 items for sure if footwear were not part of the equation. Take out gear, and it would be easier still.

I think you are onto something, LaPed, about changes in our overall approach and attitudes. With WFH, people's needs do change.

Similar to gryffin, workout stuff alone would put me over the top. Running outdoors in a 4-season climate requires very different pieces! If I left out gear I'd still have a hard time. Maybe 40 pieces per season, excluding workout/pajamas/hiking!

I do wonder if special occasion wear wasn't as nuanced in the past? I think about the struggle to interpret dress codes based on season, indoor/outdoor, time of day, creatively worded description of dress code...

This whole business of what counts makes it tricky. I count my wardrobe as having 97 items. Without scarves, hats, and bags, my number goes down to 77. No shoes would drop it by another 13. But also, I don't count basics, gear, or sleepwear, which would certainly pump the number back up again!

I very much agree with those who mentioned the churn that would be involved in having a 40-piece wardrobe today. Even "well-made" pieces today aren't as well-made as garments from the past.

unfrumped, interesting that you immediately went to more casual when I mentioned limiting levels of formality! I think I'd go the other way--I'd much rather be overdressed in almost any situation.

What Jenn and Suz said. What you count and what you don't as part of the 40 is subjective and all over the place! I have 25 bags....

LaPed’s comment about Mr. LP’s wardrobe made me think about my menfolk. DH has more clothes than I do, but the 2 DS’s wear uniforms for work. Not more than 10 items is dedicated to around 40 hrs a week. If their gym/sports specific kit wasn’t so extensive, I’d volunteer that they would be close to the 40 item range.

Is it possible? Absolutely! I could do it, but would be so super bored. Also I’d need to replace due to wear probably everything every year. So… the churn would be quite significant. Frequently washing.
A few pairs of jeans, a heavy wool jumper, a light wool jumper, 3 tees, 2 light summer pants, casual dress, going out dress, a puffer, a wool coat. A skirt. A statement top. A silk button up. There. Done. It does remind me of being a child and having minimal clothes, it sucked a bit to be honest.

I also wonder if there was a greater tolerance for/expectation of some visible wear and mending. Patched elbows on jackets, darning on knitwear, etc. It wasn’t too long ago that most shoes could be resoled. And mothers often made their children’s clothes with hems to be let out as they grew…

I just read a novel set during the 1930s/40s and the characters—seamstresses by trade—would take a plain everyday dress and embellish it with feathers, beads, etc. to have something suitable to wear on special occasions. Talk about two-for-one!

I agree re the wear La Ped.

The wardrobe size/ counting/ gear thing does make a number a bit arbitrary. 5 new pieces a year would be a challenge when I think about wear on some pieces but it’s an incentive to avoid tissue knits or similar.

What I am enjoying at the moment is repeating- wearing the same thing with the same people. Having signature looks and pieces.

Signature looks can be brilliant, Sal. For me, at least, it has taken decades of experimentation to figure out what those might there is also that element.

LaPed, I'm re-reading a bio of Simone de Beauvoir now. Of course during the war, they had almost nothing, no food, no clothes. Her father died during that period and she took his old tweed jackets and trousers and had them made into skirts and a jacket for herself. Then, when the war ended, she got a writing commission in Portugal or someplace and was paid a decent sum -- she immediately went out and had some clothes made and had a shopping spree for blouses, undies, shoes, etc. By today's standards it would hardly be extensive. Yet she felt horribly guilty about it afterwards because so many people were still struggling and so was she, in fact. In the late 40s she had a "new look" dress sewn up. She wore it to the US in 1948, and they had never seen such a thing! She was still wearing it 3 years later. It was her only dress. It was very shabby by this point. Stained. Worn.

Black and white photography disguised a lot!

Then again -- my mother, who came from very straightened financial circumstances, had a lovely trousseau (much of it homemade) in the early 50s. Tweed skirt and jacket (gifted, I think, by a richer friend). Satin dressing gown with smocking (home sewn -- oh, it was so elegant!). Satin wedding dress from The Room (elegant shop within big Canadian department store.) Stockings, undies, slips, gloves, coat, hat. A day dress of some kind and a portrait neckline evening dress. Two pairs of shoes.

Of course, this must have represented a massive outlay for the times -- she worked her butt off to pay for it -- and she would never be kitted out with a complete wardrobe like that at one time again in her life (until I bought her a season of clothing when she was in her 80s.)

Where am I going with this? I don't know, LOL. Just thinking about how clothes were treated almost as a dowry.

When she would tell stories about that trousseau, I always felt a bit envious. I couldn't imagine ever having the money to buy that many clothes at once --a. perfect set of outfits for all occasions. But at the same time, even when my wardrobe was at its tightest, I have more choice than she had, more variety. Clothes carry different meanings across the generations.

I have a recent habit of duplicating favorites as a spare for when the first one wears out. It works reasonably well because my style seems to have solidified into a clear sense of what I’ll wear. I was just thinking this week that my strategic stockpile would be a good way to define a core wardrobe. I’d add in a few singletons (coats, etc, that don’t wear out as fast) too. It would put me over 40 for sure but much smaller than my total wardrobe and I’d be pretty happy with it. Problem is, I don’t always know which purchases will work out so well that I’ll want a replacement later.

Thanks for all the well considered answers everyone. My first thought was (insert swear word here) NO! My second one was I would need to do laundry way too often. Ugh! And I’d need to constantly worry about replacing items because if anything wore out it would cause a major hole. And then, where’s the fun? I imagine my wardrobe would be full of too many bland items.

Riffing off the 'dresses VS separates' point, I think people's personal modesty preferences also affect the total.

I remember packing for a Thailand weekend trip & having a bigger carry-on than others (a soft wheelie backpack hybrid). I berated myself for it at the time but, looking back, I realised now it's physically *impossible* to have as little fabric as them if I'm also trying to cover my midriff/ legs/ arms/ shoulders!

Case in point:
~ A 'going out' look = sleeveless minidress/ romper (or tube top + skirt) for them
VS a long sleeved maxi dress / tank maxi + cardi.
~ Swimwear = a bikini set (bra & pants)
VS that (those same 2 pieces) + outer layers (a swim top, leggings & a swim cap/ turban).

This isn't a judgement on me or them, but just an observation on how people may have different requirements even for the SAME activities - after all, Mr Zae needs even LESS (just his trunks!) for the pool

I’m home tomorrow night, will count my current winter capsule wardrobe. It’s a lot of the same kind of stuff. I did pay attention to a variety of sweater (cardi & pullover) shapes, but still wish I had more variety. Btw, I’m at my parents’ house in Florida right now. They left for Ohio at the start of Covid, now only come down for a couple weeks at a time a couple times a year, so they just have skeleton wardrobes here. For my dad, that’s about 20 pieces. My mom’s “bare bones” no real cold weather wardrobe is about 100 pieces.

I was fascinated by this thread. I've been thinking about how much I wear certain core pieces every season with a sprinkling of others that get many fewer wears. I have no problem repeating outfits, either. Yesterday over coffee I put together a 40 piece wardrobe in finds:

This, like others, excludes loungewear, sleepwear, gear, scarves and accessories, but does include shoes. I live in a temperate 4 season climate - this capsule definitely has only winter and only summer pieces and maybe not enough transition/all year wear?

The laundry bottleneck would be a pain, especially since I line dry my clothes to protect them. But the color variety is good and the shoes are versatile workhorses.

As others have said - I'm glad this is just a thought experiment, not a necessity. While I love my workhorses, I also love the variety and options my closet gives me!