How Project 333 and The Vivienne Files Unleashed My Inner Shopper

 How Project 333 and The Vivienne Files Unleashed My Inner Shopper
Last winter, three things conspired together to form a perfect storm in my mind — a significant portion of my wardrobe no longer fit (this was a good thing),  I stumbled across a blog called Project 333, and I came across another blog called The Vivienne Files. I’ll wait while you go exploring at these sites. I warn you — you could be gone awhile.

Drums fingers…

Anyway, I became captivated by the idea of a small, curated wardrobe of quality garments in colors, silhouettes, and fabrics I love the most. Actually my interest in things wardrobe-related goes back further than that. Since I read Overdressed: the shockingly high cost of cheap fashion over a year ago, I have become a much pickier fashion consumer. I am tired of cheap fabrics and  shoddy workmanship. I want properly-fitting garments that are a pleasure to wear and last longer than a year or two. Project 333 provided a framework and The Vivienne Files showed me how to select items that work well together.

I began my first Project 333 in the middle of the winter season, using clothes I already owned. Like many people, I worried I would not have enough clothes, or I would have the wrong clothes, or I would get bored with my clothes, but instead I found it a freeing and delightful experience to step into my closet and select what I wanted to wear each day. I was eager to set up my Spring, 2014 Project 333 collection for April-June. I identified a few holes in my wardrobe and filled those easily enough. When I put together my Summer, 2014 collection, I found I had many more holes. Almost everything was worn out or didn’t fit.

During these months I found myself adding other fashion advice blogs to my breakfast feedly-reading session. I got brand recommendations and style tips, and when Boden had a good sale with free shipping and free returns in early summer, I was ready to order a bunch of items to try. I was nervous to be ordering so much, knowing most or all of it would be going back. I even phoned the company to make sure they did not mind. They reassured me that they understood I would have to try a variety of styles and sizes. (They have no stores in the US.) I called it research, and it was. It occurred to me that while I was at it I should get some things from some other companies so I could compare. LL Bean always has free shipping and offers free returns to its LL Bean credit card customers. I got their credit card just for that perk and ordered from them, too. I also tried several things from Lands’ End (you can simply return unwanted merchandise to any Sears for no cost), but their quality has diminished considerably over the last few years, and I was disappointed with most of what I received from them.

After trying on all of the possibilities, making lots of notes about what worked and what did not, and analyzing my actual needs, my new-found choosiness and our budget made it relatively easy to ship nearly everything back to the companies. I believe I kept only five out of about 50 items. I felt amazed at myself for ordering so much, for spending the time to figure everything out, and for successfully getting it all sent back to the right places!

It was fun to shop, really fun, but it was over.

Except it wasn’t over. I stayed in the groove of reading fashion blogs, perusing online stores, and adding items to “my” wish lists and shopping bags. I did not spend any money, but I spent plenty of time thinking about my wardrobe. By late August, I was thinking of what I would be wearing in Autumn, 2014 and Winter, 2015. Over the last several months I had decided I wanted to stop using black as my go-to neutral and switch to navy and grey. It is the perfect time to make the change because I still need new pants and some other basics, and this is the year for both of those colors so there are lots of possibilities in the market.

How Project 333 and The Vivienne Files Unleashed My Inner Shopper

Planners gonna plan — Project 333 done the hard way!

I waited for the Autumn Boden and LL Bean sales and restarted my research, plus I branched out into J. Jill, Nordstrom, Ebay, and thrift stores. This time I have been shopping with xmas money “in hand.” My family is very practical about presents and I know I can spend a certain amount and get my gifts early and according to my desires. If I want to I can ask Mom to wrap some of it and then in late December “I’ll be so surprised!” when I open them — a thing we say about gifts we choose ourselves or already know about — but I think I’m old enough by now to just enjoy them all through Autumn and be pleased for all the good they’ve already done for me when others are opening gifts. As you read, I am just waiting for a couple of straggler shipments — alternate sizes, mostly — to arrive, and then I’ll make my final selections. I have already been wearing a few items I know are absolute keepers; right now I am sitting here in my living room wearing an ebay-find pair of terrific shoes.

How Project 333 and The Vivienne Files Unleashed My Inner Shopper

My Autumn, 2014 Project 333 Wardrobe

I have gone about this process in the way I go about any new project — with lots of musing, tables in Word (They’d be in Excel if I knew how to design them — must learn that soon!), and certainly too much of my time. Where most women find Project 333 to be a simplification tool, I have managed to take it from simple to complex. If you are looking for guilt and repentance from me, though, I am not sure I have any to offer. I do feel some chagrin, but I also know I have enjoyed delving into an area of my life that usually doesn’t get too much attention. I have learned a lot, and while I’m not certain anybody besides my daughter and my mom will notice any real difference in my appearance, I am walking with a new bounce in my step that I think comes from more than my new-old shoes.

What about you? Do you like to shop? Do you research before you buy? Do you wish to simplify your wardrobe? Does Project 333 appeal to you?


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  1. Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I LOVE your purchases – I’m so delighted that my work helped inspire you to create such a beautiful ensemble. The photograph at the top looks like something from a magazine…
    warmest regards,

    • Posted October 3, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Thank you, Janice. Your blog has been a delightful breakfast companion — I am learning so much and just enjoy what you come up with. I think I have been gradually soaking up an education in what I like and what I don’t — I suppose you are training my eye. I owe you a debt.

  2. Heather B.
    Posted October 3, 2014 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    I have a lot of wardrobe angst. I have worn 5 sizes within the past year. This whole cycle of swelling and shrinking and having babies makes for a lot of closet craziness. I managed to find a few things that fit well from ThredUp and I have been fairly happy with the experience. One day, I won’t be worried about buying clothes that will withstand the daily onslaught of oatmeal, spit up, mud, and peanut buttery fingers. And then I will make a spreadsheet. 🙂

    • Posted October 6, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

      Changing sizes is so challenging. I *think* my weight has stabilized, but who really knows? And, yes, you are at a time when everything needs to be washable. I imagine you wear an apron? I can’t cook at all without one — I’m such a messy cook.
      Lori recently posted..Parenting for Lazy People: The Napping House, Part IIMy Profile

  3. Posted October 6, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Ooooh, I like this. Since having Evangelene, I’ve been really rethinking my wardrobe. Your post from awhile back about the cost of cheap fashion really struck a chord with me, and this process you’ve been going through really reminds me of what I’ve been doing. Based on that post you wrote, and on the needs of new clothes after losing my baby weight, I wanted a new strategy. I decided to come up with a “style statement” and I wanted to only own clothes that fit that statement. The goal was, as you said, a more curated wardrobe of fewer quality items, rather than just lots of random cheap stuff I didn’t like anyway. The statement I’ve come up with is “vintage sophistication with an urban/indie edge”. I went through my wardrobe, got rid of everything that didn’t fit my body, didn’t fit my statement, or was just too worn out. I made an excel spreadsheet (called my “Panache Masterplanner” 😉 ) with my statement, the clothes I still owned after pairing down (broken down by category), and was able to identify some holes, which I have been working on filling in … often with, which I love. I identified which items were worth a little more hunting and investment (a classic trench coat I wear ALL the time) as opposed to items to buy only at low cost (though still good brands), such as long-sleeve layering t-shirts. I’ve also been focusing on having pieces that can have different roles in different seasons, rather than completely different wardrobes for different times of year – things that can be layered, and fabrics that aren’t season-exclusive – which saves space and money. Building my wardrobe took a little time and a little money, but less of either than I might have expected, and overall has really made life smoother in a lot of ways, because I have a reasonable amount of clothes that can actually fit in my drawers (always good), and I don’t have as many panicky I-have-nothing-to-wear moments, while sifting through giant mounds of baggy worn-out clothes (which is always bad). I’m feeling like I’m in a good place now, and that for the most part, these are clothes that will last me a long time. So thanks for your post on that a while back – it definitely helped me out! And I’m enjoying seeing the continued process here in your new post. I recently saw something about, which seemed to target this exact need. I’m not wanting to spend more money right now, so I haven’t done it, but I found the idea intriguing. Do you have any experience with them?

    • Posted October 6, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      Sometime when we see one another in person, I want to see your Panache Masterplanner — with a name like that I might be motivated to learn to do spreadsheets!!! I signed up with ThredUp and did one delivery. I kept one item and ended up donating it after about a year. I felt like the items were way overprice for the quality. I know you’re going to have to pay a mark-up for the styling service, but I think I could have done just as well for myself by going to a TJ Maxx-type place and open-mindedly forcing myself to try on a bunch of items I wouldn’t normally choose. Also, despite my repeated statements on the style query that I value modesty above all other considerations, they sent me TWO (out of four items total and one was jewelry) tunic-style dresses that barely came to mid-thigh. I think you have a strong enough style sense to do better for yourself than SF would.
      Lori recently posted..Is September Your Real New Year?My Profile

      • Posted October 8, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

        Ahh, gotcha. You mentioned that that was ThredUp, but I take it you’re probably actually talking about StitchFix? I tend to try on lots of various stuff anyway, so I probably won’t go for StitchFix then. Thanks for the info – saved me some money! 🙂

        (Speaking of short tunic dresses … I’ve taken to buying those to wear as shirts. I mean, I know I’m tall, but that’s ridiculous that dresses are short enough to wear as shirts. But, hey, at least now I don’t have to worry about finding shirts that are long enough – I just buy them in the dresses section!)

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