I like to have at least one set of light and one set of dark neutrals each season. That way almost any statement piece I find has a way of being worn. The problem is still to figure out how many essential pieces and colors I need to keep from getting bored.

This is really interesting!
My definition of statement needs to be items $100 and over- this way the 'churn' is slowed by budgetary constraints.

Very interesting and useful/helpful post, Suz. My closet doesn't churn as much as it "bulges" because this summer and fall season it just kept getting bigger. t'd actually like to take some time and evaluate what I already have and what I recently purchased, and put the items into the "basic" and "statement" categories.

How many basics and how many statements do I actually need? Wow, that's a hard question for me to answer. Less than what I have, because I simply can't wear everything that is in my closet, unless I want to change outfits two or three times a day.

It would be useful to do a spreadsheet for this, as well as, as you mentioned, tracking wears and happiness factor. Do you remember the forum member Mo? She used to do spreadsheets all the time (she has her own blog over at MOderatewardrobe).

Defining those sub-categories will be difficult. I always thought of basics as undergarments and things like that. If I'm expanding that category, would I consider my pencil skirts a "basic" because I need them for dressy wear for work? And what about blazers? More of a "statement" because I wear them for work and outside of work? These are questions for me to ponder on. This is where it gets tricky for me.

I will definitely give this a lot more thought over the weekend. Thanks for starting and continuing the conversation.

Very interesting thread. I am nowhere near ready to implement something like this, I need to take stock and track wears and happiness factor first.
I do want to be mindful of waste.
I love Shevia's pre-churned items!

This is a interesting post. My wardrobe is essentials. I look to accessories for statements. I didn't plan it that way but I have always been drawn to the look of simple outfits with interesting accessories. Think Jennifer Aniston. If I buy a statement sweater then it sits neglected in my wardrobe.
I would like to add a gorgeous scarf to my collection. A Burberry or something like that. I am thinking paisley though because I tend to wear paisleys and other patterns get neglected.
Didn't Jenn do something like this?

I could be happy with a dark bottom (black, navy) and a white top for the rest of my life. I am sure why that is, but I always feel so "safe" in this combination. I type this wearing dark denim and a crisp white blouse. I do feel safe (and well dressed).

Perhaps my statement pieces would be less statement and more "best quality I can afford" that would not be subject to wardrobe churn because they are well made and sufficiently trend-less to last for years.

@Sterling you said you buy 95% of your stuff online, do you ever just want to get out and go shopping? just to look and see whats there

I am the other side of that coin, I never buy any clothing that I can't look at first

Interesting post, Suz. It made me realize that I think of basics in terms of plain pieces, unadorned, that require accessories to finish off the look. Statement pieces to me are those that have trim or other embellishment and are therefore "self-accessorized", even though that doesn't mean accessories couldn't be added.

I sense that I am moving in a more statement-y, art-y direction in my sewing (within the bounds of my fairly classic style, of course, no Lagenlook here). I am at the very beginning stage of this so the top I made this week (see pic) has much more trim than I usually put on my things and yet it feels like it needs something more. I'm going to make a black brooch with white detailing for it today.

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Hi Chadya -- That is a good question. Yes. There are times when I very much desire to go to the mall .... just to walk around and see what is out there. I love window shopping. I love the energy of the mall. I love being able to touch all the fabrics. I love Starbucks.

There is a major mall half way between my home and work. I stop by at least once a week just to walk around and check out sales and new merchandise. And I love seeing how the stores put outfits together.

The thing is I don't tend to buy at the mall. I prefer to try things on in the comfort of my home. So whether I buy at the mall or online, I still try it on at home.

If I find something online that I love and want to duplicate, I'll run to the mall to buy it because I already know it works for me. But I likely bought the first one online.

Great post, fascinating thread.

I think different approaches work for different people. I don't care for churn either, but I never got my head around the 5 piece concept and I like having a large wardrobe with lots of variety. I love wearing new stuff, but I'm just as happy pulling an old favourite out of the closet and finding a new way to style it.

I decided a while ago that for me, the only sane thing to do was not to worry too much about trends and invest in quality pieces that made my heart sing, rather than just buy things because I thought I wanted this or that trending item. At the same time, I was trying to put together a more business-appropriate wardrobe for meeting with clients, which meant I had to find a few nice blazers and some good shoes, for which I applied the same reasoning.

This produced a very eclectic selection of wonderful things I loved but struggled to style, which was where I was a couple of years ago when I started posting here. I was very happy with the clothes themselves, but look was all over the place.

I then started shopping with more of a focus on what I needed, so if I saw something, I'd try to identify what niche it was filling and how I'd wear it. Then I became more practiced at keeping in mind an overview of what I could use, so I'd recognise them when they came up.

I'm now at the point where I feel the whole collection is becoming more pulled together and I know how to shop to keep it up to date. I notice that the things that turn over and get purged tend to be the cheaper mass-produced items, which wear out more quickly that they loose their relevance. I do think there's a place for this kind of wardrobe obsolescence, but I'm far happier having a big selection of timeless statement pieces and personal classics.

Does that make sense?

Liz, that does make sense. I think perhaps for some of the the "5 piece" people, yours is the wardrobe they are working towards. They may have relied overly on fast fashion in the past and their goal is to buy fewer but better items that will stand the test of time. Of course you don't have to limit yourself to 5 to do that, but you might want to, either due to budgetary constraints, or simply because constraints breed creativity.

I don't "worry" about trends so much as I enjoy playing around with them. So part of the wardrobe is trend driven -- even though most of it (like Smittie's) is pretty much hanger after hanger of best-quality-I-can-afford "essentials."

Here's how the 5 piece people (or some of them, anyway) define "basic" -- what Angie would call and "essential."

A basic is something that…

1. I can wear this over and over and over again until it falls apart.
2. Goes with everything I already own.
3. I pretty much can’t live without it.
4. Is the glue that helps me keep the rest of my wardrobe together.
5. Is made of a good material that will last for a very long time.

I'm still trying to define what I mean by "churn." Of course some is inevitable and maybe even desirable. I think an edited closet works so much better than a bloated one (for me at least).

I tend NOT to feel guilty about replacing items that are truly worn out or items that I wore the heck out of to the point that I am simply tired of them. I feel a little more guilty when I get rid of pricier items that I didn't wear much, or tops that are not, strictly speaking, worn out, but "worn" in my own mind, because I have grown bored of the pattern. This happens to me from time to time. Also, with my weakness for footwear, I sometimes have to stop and ask myself, how many booties do you really need???? (However, so far the answer is: An indefinite number.)

Alexandra, that is a very simple classic top but I agree that the framing adds an additional punch to it. It's going to look great on you!

Style Fan -- how about your green wedding guest dress? That looks like a statement to me, no? But then again, in one list I saw, a woman included a statement skirt and lace dress in her list of "essentials" and following these criteria (above) they could fit the category.

Sterling, you love your white tops and dark bottoms! They must love you back. I love a white top and dark bottom, too. Alas, I wouldn't be happy dressing in that uniform every day. I wonder why some of us like a uniform and some do not? I'm happy to repeat outfits, don't get me wrong -- in fact, I regularly repeat many, many times within a season. I just like to repeat different outfits.

Helen, you are wise not to try this while you are building a wardrobe and a style. We need to experiment and play first.

Karie, I laughed at the image of your closet. Maybe it needs shapewear? Or maybe you just need a larger closet. You enjoy variety and playing with new things and I think your style has undergone a slight shift in the past year as well.

Lyn, I think a lot of people who do the 5 piece thing do define statement by cost.

Joy, I think essentials can be more than plain neutrals, although for some that is what they would be. For me, for instance, a cocktail dress of some kind is pretty much an essential. I hardly ever wear it, but boy do I need it when I need it. A red coat might be an essential for me as well -- goodness knows I've owned one for the past 20 years of my life and feel the need of it.

I love this discussion. I am still trying to figure out what I want my look to be, but it makes a lot of sense to think through purchases like this instead of just buying whatever strikes my fancy and then trying to make it work. I'll have to think about what my basics are because I can see how that is definitely different for everyone. I know that I like variety so I don't think 5 statement pieces would be enough but then again, it probably depends on how my basics can be worn. Agh, so much to think about!

I think this strategy would require too much mental churn (for me). I can think of a few times when I have gone on a quest to find the magical rainbow unicorn version of a shirt or dress only to wind up exasperated and thinking about all the time wasted. I could have served at a soup kitchen or planted a tree or taken a friend out to coffee (or all three) in that time!

That said, I do practice a similar, but less rigid version. I am a huge fan of essentials as Angie defines them. I have an essentials capsule that I try to keep well-stocked. But I would NEVER be happy only pulling clothes from the essentials capsule. Too neutral! So I also have my statements capsule. I don't limit the number of additions, but when considering a statements I do think about CPW (just casually in my head as I'm contemplating the purchase). Is the item a one season wardrobe refresher and, if so, how many times can I reasonably expect to wear the item? Is the CPW reasonable? This really eliminates a lot of maybes. Then there are statements I love and hope will have some longevity in my closet. I don't care as much about CPW in those a cases. In the end I still have churn. I experiment, I make mistakes, but I can already see how this process has helped me eliminate at least some sub-par or mindless purchases.


interesting to read everyone's approach,
I don't need a thing
sometimes I just like to walk and look, but when I need or want it I don't want to wait for it to come in the mail.

I agree with what Meredith said. As much as I need those essential neutral pieces, I also need the statements or I would not be happy. Right now I need to evaluate those statement pieces. Most are my most expensive items.
Suz, I also agree that those dressy items that don't get worn much are essential because they are there when needed. For those I try for styles that will not date quickly. The higher the happiness factor, the longer I will keep something. I am at the place where adding just 5 carefully chosen pieces a season is doable if I don't change the silhouette too much and also need the supporting pieces.

i've been looking for just the right white cotton shirt for three years. it's a basic when worn under jackets/cardis but also need to be a statement piece when worn alone. these purchases make it hard to use the statement vs basic definition. harder if we use essential as the comparison to statement since my closet clearly functions without it, tho would be improved with it.

As someone predisposed towards analyzing and planning, I'm trying to do less of that these days to keep my (much smaller) wardrobe functional and interesting. Sounds weird, but, for me, it works.

My "aha" moment was realizing trying to categorize items as "essentials", "basics", and "statements" missed the major factor FOR ME which was learning to discern a "want" from a "need"--and, even more important, to be very selective about defining what was a "need".

I now choose to define "need" as that 10-15% of my closet which I'd grab if I knew I had to live solely in those clothes--and only those clothes--for a year. My choices would be based largely on instinct and emotion, with my analytical side showing up as that little, practical voice whispering in my ear "Hey, missy, you better throw in a warm jacket and pair of waterproof boots or you'll freeze!" Everyone's answer to "What would you take out of your closet if you had to fit everything into a couple of suitcases and had to live in ONLY those clothes for a year?" is obviously going to be different. My "needs"--or "essentials"--aren't boring to me; they are at the core of who I am and how I live.

I've given myself permission to want variety and beautiful things--and to buy things that give me pleasure-- as long as I stop thinking of them as "needs". I find calling something as a "want" gives me the mental power and distance to control my impulses. My "needs" receive the highest priority because I know these are the pieces I truly require. I cull unwise wants that make it into my closet as soon as possible by acknowledging my mistake and trying to find new homes for those pieces as soon as possible. A mistake isn't a total loss if I learn something from it. Calling something a "want" lets me choose to have another piece of cake, or to walk away.

Suz you are right about my green special occasion dress. It is a statement. I put my special occasion capsule in its own category. My everyday clothes are different. Until someone points out differently. Like my orange coat!

I went and re-read Angie's wisdom on essentials.

So now, thinking about this honestly, I wear the following a lot:

Crops (narrow)
Apron/mini skirts
Tees (fancy and plain, not graphic)
Faux wrap dresses
Mid calf boots
Coats - puffers, dusters, bombers

But depending, sometimes these are the statement and sometimes they're the backdrop. So... I guess I'm still sticking to the idea of same silhouette and statement/neutral versions of each component.

Now, I guess there's a question of needing more neutrals or more statements in each category...

Gaylene, the suitcase analogy is a very interesting thought experiment. Thing is, I know myself and that subsection of my wardrobe would change from year to year. What I throw in the suitcase this year would be different from last year, and next year I might want something different again. I can't take it all, but neither do I want to replace it when I want a change of style. A sustainable wardrobe for me is a wardrobe I can shop.

Then again, I have no end of admiration for anyone who can dress successfully from a tiny wardrobe. Kudos to you.

I don't think that the basics(essentials) have to be neutrals. If you are a colors person than they can be colors. I wear just about all neutrals, both the essentials and the statements. I like the little details in my clothes, so they show up in both essential and statement items. This made trying to figure out what is essential or statement really hard for me. I came up with a working concept that my statements, are mostly upscale or luxe, are a piece I plan to have for many years, and moves my style forward. Last year, I found a short poncho as my version of the trend. It was my fun little experimentation, and I'd have been ok if it would have been a one year wonder. I've worn it this season so it will get at least 2 years. I think trend can show up as either basics or statements. Some trends are so in tune with an individuals personal style that they will remain relevant to the individual far beyond the popularity of the trend. These I'd invest in, like my version of the gilet. Other times there are fun things I'd like to try, like the poncho.
Funny story about statements, I went to a boutique in Cleveland that I do a good portion of my local shopping at. I was wearing all pieces that I had bought as my statement pieces (apparently I need no basics) Vince hoody, TR jeans, and RO Adidas booties. I was in the back with the SA who helps me in the store. The owner came back cause she wanted to see the shoes.

Shedev, what a great story! And thank you for this discussion. I really agree with everything you've said here. I think the definitions have to be personal or they won't work at all.

I'm going to consider mine over the next few days.

suz and shedev, haha, you're right. I'm not ready for the 5-piece concept either. I'm still exploring what my foundation should be first.

I'm looking forward to what you decide, Suz, I'm sure you will find what works for you.

I'm learning a lot from these posts. I've just completed my first year of wardrobe building and started keeping records of what I wear about 6 months ago which has really been informative. I need two totally different wardrobes for our two dominant seasons; hot and mild. We're just finishing up the hot season and I was surprised to see that I did pretty well planning for it. My few bottoms and sandals got lots of wears and my tops not so many wears but I have a lot of them. Next year I'll replace the bottoms and sandals but they will have served me well. I think that's acceptable churn. In 6 months time, I'll see how my mild weather wardrobe works. It's more complicated than the hot season weather because it's more variable. I'll need lightweight, medium weight, and a few warm toppers to cover the temperature span. By tracking wears, I'll be able to see what I need and be able to better plan my purchases next year.

Sorry, I'm so late to respond here (it's crazy-time here from mid-October through mid-December), but I've been doing the 5-piece for the past two seasons (I do s/s and f/w), and I kind of retroactively defined some statements from my wardrobe rebuilding season last fall, as well, for tracking purposes.

My rule is that anything anything over $100 is automatically one of the 5, and basics/essentials need to be neutral building blocks. I wouldn't hesitate to put a high-quality neutral essential into my 5, but I often try to buy my basics on sale so I can get higher quality in under the threshold.

This has worked really well for me. It's made more thoughtful about the things I'm buying while, simultaneously, making me a little more willing to spend $$ on things that are truly special. I also, honestly, find it fun. I really enjoy the shopping and pondering and daydreaming involved in collecting just 5 great pieces each season.

Just for reference and explanation, here are some examples of basics vs. statements from the past couple seasons in my wardrobe.

Basics: black ponte pants, burgundy cropped pants, black wool sweater (bought on sale), white silk blend blouse, olive twill joggers, black cross-front tank

Statements: fur vest, leather sandals (an essential that ran over $100), plaid dress, silk kimono, leather jacket, wool poncho

Jenn, thanks for weighing in and the refresher on your items. I had sort of followed along with you and Shedev but without actually thinking I might try it. Now I'm seriously considering. Although I just made a list and I've already bought 5 statement like items and know I want some more for winter. I might have to break it down more into 3 or 4 seasons, I think. Hmmm. Still pondering.

Now, if I followed you on price, only 3 of these items would be statement items. The booties and jeans were a lot less than $100 each.

Suz, I wouldn't call the jeans in your selection above statements, and I'd be borderline on the culottes depending on how you wear them.

I should clarify that, for me, a price tag under $100 doesn't necessarily make something a basic. Just the opposite is true...over $100 automatically makes it part of the five. $100 is an arbitrary theshold, too. I think the original blog post I based this on had a threshold of $200 or $250.

Denim should be automatically excluded from your 5 statements if it is also your essential.

Yeah...well, I was thinking that these were clear trend items. As in, a pair of slim jeans would be "essential" but a pair of denim culottes is a trend-driven experiment, so a "statement." And yet...it could be that the "jean of the season" is an essential for me. I mean, I can't really get dressed without current denim, so in that sense it for sure qualifies.

Hmmm. Still debating the categories!