The Opportunity Cost of Getting Dressed

early attempts to determine what makes the cut.

early attempts to determine what makes the cut.

Ah yes, just in time for Casual Friday!

I have been slowly whittling down my closet to the essentials for years. One day I realized I just wear the same 5 things over and over and decided to start getting rid of the rest. If you must know, I dream of one day figuring out what the absolute super essentials are and then just hiring someone to make me a simple, classic bespoke wardrobe, save the patterns, and just keep making whatever pieces wear out over and over again till one of us is dead. But until that glorious moment...

I’ve been following things like The Uniform Project and the trajectory of the recent Harper’s Bazaar article about the art director who wears the same thing to work every day, and I have to say I'm pretty excited about the awareness these projects are bringing to the possibility of simplifying the what-do-I-wear? area of your life. 

A brief exploration of why this is even a thing:

Why do we wear clothes?

Well, mostly because the majority of us don’t live in a nudist colony and most other people we interact with wear clothes. But also because clothing allows us to:

  • express ourselves

  • communicate status

  • feel confident

But all this delightful functionality comes at a price, something I like to call:

The Opportunity Cost of Getting Dressed

What do we sacrifice to dress ourselves and what do we gain from making these sacrifices?

The most obvious costs are those of acquisition & care. Time spent finding the "right" clothes, going out to try them on (or ordering like 10 different sizes online and then sending 9 of them back, as we have to do with women's clothes because the sizing is oh so consistent :/ ) and cleaning them. Also time spent putting clothes on and putting together something we want to wear.

The most obvious benefits are fitting in and feeling confident. Matching the visual expectations and status of  the group you're working or meeting with, and the confidence that follows from having achieved that.

science graph.

science graph.

More subtle is the analysis of where the pursuit of dressing yourself maximizes the rewards while minimizing the time taken away from other things. Because as we all know, if you're doing or thinking about one thing, you're not doing or thinking about something else.

Time for another question:


Or do you? If not it might be time for the nudist colony or a work-at-home situation. 
Some people find joy in the process of putting together an outfit that expresses their personality and aesthetic sensibility. Others
 love to seek out new trends and be the first to try them. Some folks just like to upstage others as they parade around (don't lie--you know there's one of these people in your life). Yet others just delight in getting dressed to a minimum presentable level and out the door with minimal effort. My personal pleasure is in my clothes enabling me to present myself in a way i want to be seen.

How do I want to be seen exactly? As someone stylish but also cranially competent. And I want to have the braintime and brainspace to think about actual things beyond what I'm wearing, all while getting dressed and out the door in a reasonable amount of time.

I call my personal metric:

The Bicycle Test

Can I ride a bicycle in it? If the answer is no, then it has no place in my wardrobe.

Why? My ability to think is inextricably linked to my ability to move; if my body is constrained my thoughts are as well. I would also argue this holds true for most people but many have yet to realize it. 

if i can't move freely i can't think freely!

If it passes The Bicycle Test then it also means the following are true: I can bend over, sit cross-legged, jump and run around. Which means I can explore all kinds of thoughts and ideas while performing these actions. I waste no extra brainpower adjusting my clothes or thinking about whether or not everything is in place. My clothes are supposed to work for me—not the other way around.  

my wardrobe if I were a paper doll.

my wardrobe if I were a paper doll.

So what does it look like? Lots of black, gray, navy and neutrals, some with patterns. Simple, functional (but not unstylish!) shapes. Rompers, because they're one piece and definitely bike-friendly. It's all punctuated by some bright scarves and fun shoes and minimal but sentimental jewelry. I get dressed in 10 minutes and it rules.

Fellow clothes-wearing friends, I urge you to take The Bicycle Test. 
Or perhaps more generally, ask yourself: 

Do my clothes permit or constrain my movement?
(And by extension) Do they enable or constrain my life?