This is an essay about a very small way I’m trying to simplify my life. Maybe you’ll be able to relate to it.
I cleaned out my closet recently for the first time in a really, really long time. And when I say “cleaned out” I mean cleaned out. Those random sweaters I’ve been holding onto for years “just in case”? Gone. Blouses that still fit and are on trend, but that I can’t envision myself ever wearing again? Kaput. After paring down my closet, I not only had a sizable donation pile (getting people to come take your donations in NY is another matter), but my closet also had something it hadn’t seen in a very long while: space. I could literally push clothes around and take things out without getting into a wrestling match with the hangers. It felt luxurious.
But what I really wanted to talk about was what led to this purge. I think after a few years of working from home, and then moving to New York, my style changed a little. Maybe it was just getting older too, I don’t know. In any case, my reality became this: I just can’t fuss with it anymore. I want pieces that are easy, breezy, comfortable, can transition seamlessly between day and night, home and travel, and that I will still want to wear in another 5 years. A couple years ago, I started wearing more silk shirts, and perhaps that’s what started all this. The silk shirt became an unofficial uniform; it fit all parameters above. I can buy it in sleeveless or long sleeve form; with buttons and a collar or without either; solid, printed, and in every cut imaginable. They’re amazing with shorts and maxis in the summer, and perfect layered under a coat in the winter.
Okay, okay, peek in my closet right now, and you can still find t shirts for hanging out during the day and the random peplum blouse here and there for when I want something feminine and fun. But honestly, I can see a lot of the trendier items being phased out too. I’ve just learned what works for me, what I like, and sometimes it’s hard to imagine myself wearing some of this stuff unless the mood really, really struck me. Historically? It rarely does.
I was thinking about all this recently while watching a Barefoot Contessa episode (because closet purging + cooking + entertaining = natural match, obviously). Ina was talking about a rule that anyone who has ever entertained, or worked in a restaurant or professional kitchen probably knows about: food always looks better when presented on a white plate. It just does. The white backdrop allows the colors and textures to pop. And beyond the aesthetics, I’m here to tell you that whiteware is a gift to the perpetually clumsy. Break one white plate or serving dish, you can buy another one from basically anywhere. Break a dish that has a beautiful multi-color floral pattern on it? Well…that’s a lot harder.
The White Plate Rule, I realized, is totally applicable to how I want to dress. If I already know I like the look and feel of silk pieces mixed and matched with various bottoms, it takes a lot of the thinking out of getting dressed everyday — just put on your “white plate” and go. Knowing the type of fabric I’m looking for as well as the shapes that look good on me also allows me to immediately gravitate towards those pieces when shopping. Like white plates in a restaurant, maybe this is my way of imposing a uniform on myself…but at least it’s a classic uniform that’ll never get old and always works for me. For some people, getting dressed everyday is fun and a huge source of pleasure. Sometimes it’s like that for me. Most days I just want to put on some clothes and get on with my day, while also looking put together enough so that if the doorbell rang, the UPS guy wouldn’t wonder who the ragamuffin accepting packages was.
This isn’t to say that I won’t get tempted by the beautifully decorated “plates” and fashion trends. I certainly have a few non-white ceramic dishes sitting in my kitchen, and I definitely will buy things outside my “uniform”. But it’s just a new approach to getting dressed that has really got me thinking. Sometimes it feels like life is already complicated enough, so eliminating the anxiety of what to wear makes all the difference. Grab a white plate, and tuck in.