Could you wear just six pieces of clothing for a month?

The New York Times article “Shoppers on a ‘Diet’ Tame the Urge to Buy” looks into two fashion diets that encourage folks to creatively exercise restraint in buying new clothes. The first challenge, called Six Items or Less, required a pledge to only wear six items of clothing for an entire month. The second challenge, known as the Great American Apparel Diet, is a one-year agreement to abstain from buying any clothing.

The article spends most of its column inches focusing on the Six Items or Less challenge, and explores a few of the sets of outfits participants chose to wear. My favorite parts of the article aren’t where they discuss the reasons the people decided to take on the challenge — we’ve talked about all the reasons on Unclutterer numerous times before — what is fun for me are the reactions the challengers mention. From the article:

Nearly a month into what amounted to just such a self-inflicted fast of fashion, Stella Brennan, 31, an insurance sales executive from Kenosha, Wis., realized last week that not even her husband, Kelly, a machinist, had yet figured out that she had been wearing the same six items, over and over, since June 21. The sad punch line is that Mr. Brennan is the one who actually does the laundry in the family.

If you’re looking to curb clutter in your clothes closet, I think the reaction that most people don’t pay extremely close attention to what you’re wearing is something to keep at the back of your mind. You don’t have to trim your wardrobe down to just six pieces, but getting rid of the stuff that doesn’t pass the red velvet rope test likely won’t make you the laughing stock of society. You can be chic and clutter free!

Image from The New York Times.

74 Comments for “Could you wear just six pieces of clothing for a month?”

  1. posted by Melinda on

    LOL I work at home and could easy get away with three t-shirts and 3 pairs of shorts with no effort for a month. In fact I probably am doing that already. I’m slowly weeding out the closet. Nothing helps you clean a closet like a teenage girl standing over your shoulder going..”Mom, that is so out of fashion and old”. :)

  2. posted by Ms. Brooklyn on

    I have a self-imposed “uniform” of black pantsuit (I have 3) and white tee-shirt (I buy a handful of inexpensive ones each spring/fall). My friends keep threatening to nominate me for What Not to Wear, but I never have trouble getting dressed and my uniform is appropriate for my job.

  3. posted by mydivabydesign - The Diva's Home on

    I love this article! I feel that this would be a great idea for my entire family. I have been paring down my wardrobe and I don’t miss what’s gone. It would also force my youngest to stop changing clothes every half hour and throwing clean clothes into the laundry hamper. there are five of us and laundry is a b**ch! using accessories to change up the look of six(ten is better!) items. I would buy the better clothes and they would last longer. If people care that much about how many times others are wearing their outfits, they need to get a life.

  4. posted by sherrykay on

    I lived overseas for 5 yrs in a desert country where people socialized a lot (the joke: only 2 things to do there: shop and eat), so I had two separate clothing styles: one for the outside heat in a conservative climate, and another for dressy evening parties. When I returned to the U.S. I realized none of these would work as an academic. The first 2 yrs. I had maybe five outfits, that could mix and match, which I loved and wore to tatters (literally-I wore one sweater so much that after multiple holes I bought the same one again (in a smaller size; no more parties!)on ebay. I was happy-they were ‘me’ and I didn’t have to think about what to wear (esp. in the lovely cold weather!). Now, I have a lot more and …well, it’s not so good. Three different sizes, too many bags, ever more hot weather, travels, etc. It’s too much. I’m game for something. I’ve decided not to buy anything for the rest of the year. But it’s hard when fall comes around…and those sample sales…!

  5. posted by heidenkind on

    I think I already do this-jeans, t-shirt, jeans, t-shirt, repeat ad nauseum.

  6. posted by Katie Alender on

    This is so tempting to me. I think I’d have to go with multiples in the various categories, but it would still massively simplify my getting-dressed process.

    I can imagine putting extras of things into a bin and putting it in storage for a month. It would be interesting to see what (if anything) I missed and what I forgot about.

    As for teachers, I’m curious as to whether this might be turned into a lesson for the students–enlist them as cheerleaders and helpers. Instead of waiting for them to notice, talk to them about it and let them be part of the experiment.

    I must say, I’m a horrible packer, so the idea of having so few clothes that I could just pack ALL of them is almost irresistible.

  7. posted by klutzgrrl on

    thanks Lee for mentioning Diana Vreeland and using the phrase ‘signature look’ – that sounds so much better than ‘uniform’, so I’m going to use that now instead of uniform to describe my wardrobe.

    After having a lot of stuff go unworn and really preferring to live in jeans and boots, I’ve made jeans and black t-shirts my uniform, I mean, signature look… with a bit of style I hope, nice shirts and not heavy-metal-relic ones. Limiting my colours makes laundry much easier.

    I do enjoy fashion but I don’t have the mental energy to devote to clothing, so my fashion indulgences are limited now to nice jackets that I can match with said jeans, and evening wear – when I go out, I dress up. But I like my daily wardrobe to be functional.

    I’ll be needing a corporate wardrobe soon when I start a ‘day job’ so I’m taking this on board – simple and minimal.

    Six actual pieces is a bit too minimal for me, but the basic principle is a very good one.

  8. posted by joolie on

    I am already signed up to try this in September, but I think I might make it 7 or 8 items instead of 6. If you go to the page, they actually advocate making your own rules just as long as you challenge yourself to look at your clothes in a new way.
    I think the key thing to remember here is that this is a social experiment. Even if you think this would never work for you, for your job, for your climate, for your whatever, give it a try.
    Maybe you were right and it made you feel boring, maybe people commented, maybe you found you couldn’t keep up with the laundry.
    But you will never know if you don’t try. It is a challenge, not a permanent change to your life style.
    People who say no without trying might just be afraid (afraid that no one would notice? afraid that it might be almost the same as they do now? afraid that they aren’t creative enough with accessories or shoes to make outfits?)

  9. posted by Anita on

    I’m surprised by how many people would like to do this but are afraid of other people’s reactions. If having fewer things, and wearing the same thing over and over again is what makes you happy and comfortable, who cares what others say?

    For my part, I’d never want do this. My wardrobe is one of my ways of self-expression, and variety is what I want out of it. Beyond common sense and decency, what others think of my style of dress (or quantity of clothing) is immaterial.

  10. posted by JC on

    @ Cat’s Meow: Here in Alaska I have the same climate issues. I need a lot of layers for winter. Summer is fleeting and not guaranteed to be warm- and you still have to have layers. I will often make a summer dress a little large so that I can wear a long sleeve top and thermals under it during the winter.

    I sew, so most of my ready-to-wear purchases are underthings, sweaters, and socks/tights, and shoes- all of which are fairly limited in my area. I will make 3-5 new day dresses every 4-5 months or so, depending on what I’m interested in and how my others are wearing. I rotate the same dresses. When one is getting on from wear, it gets cut down for quilts or to make a child’s play dress.

    I do have a couple really nice things that will last years, like the suit I have to wear in court and my coats.

    Depending on your profession of course, most times people really don’t notice if you wear the same things repeatedly. There was a post about personal uniforms a while back on Unclutterer that touched on this topic. Developing a personal uniform/style can also reduce the clutter in the closets. I am aware of what I actually wear and don’t spend time/resource/closet space buying things I know I will not wear. I would never have more than two pair of jeans. I wear my dresses with muck boots and an old overcoat to do daily chores and the jeans only for major chores like getting in the wood for winter and mucking out the chicken coop, etc.

  11. posted by MutantSupermodel on

    LOL! I have to say that I am completely amused more the comments than the article. It seems some people just don’t want to listen. We swear everyone would notice– they don’t.

    I actually think people who are more style-inclined would gravitate towards this type of challenge. You don’t wear the exact same outfit over and over again, you mix and match. There are many style icons who do this and no one freaks out about. Carolina Herrera is a white blouse fanatic. Michael Kors only wears t-shirts and jeans.

    The argument against inefficiency is completely invalid. Just because you are wait three weeks, you are still washing three weeks worth of clothes. You are also washing MORE pieces. You use up the same, maybe more resources, procastinating on your laundry. Besides, most households offer up more than enough laundry items to support this type of wardrobe. This experiment does not mandate daily laundry. And really, I’m amused by the weather-related comments. I live in the hottest, most humid climate in the US (not including Hawaii) Miami, FL and do not have the aforementioned sweat issues. Lucky i guess LOL

    Also, I’d like to finally remind everyone it is a challenge. That means it’s supposed to be somewhat difficult.

  12. posted by Tara @ Froogaloo on

    That would be quite a challenge for me!

  13. posted by InfoMofo on

    On the plus side, your co-workers will assume you get laid a lot…

  14. posted by Craig on

    Am I the only one that includes underwear as items of clothing? Unless the challenge is to go barefoot and commando for a month most people would add 2*shoes, 2*socks, 1*underpants/whatever and some would add a bra. All of those items would be counted separately if playing strip poker. There’s your 6 items and you’ can bet your coworkers would notice if you wore only them for a month!

  15. posted by Sue on

    What about workout clothes?

    I couldn’t do this, mostly because my job involves office meetings and field work. I can’t think of 6 pieces of clothing that would cover those two extremes, plus workout/casual clothing for when I’m not at work. My suits are not something I want to hang around the house in, and my field clothing needs to go in the wash as soon as I get home.

  16. posted by Alexandra on

    I’m doing a variant of this. I have 10 items of clothing that I have been using and rotating for the last month. We are spending a month away from home visiting family members and only wanted to take one suitcase (we travel by train), so we wash as we go. I have one lightweight jacket, 2 summer dresses, workout pants, a t-shirt, a tank top, a dressy top, a dressy dress, a pair of jeans and a sweater. I have to admit it works – but I get tired of it. But that’s really all I *need* for the whole summer, and I could cut down on a few things if I had to. But I like having about three times this many clothes just for variety’s sake and to not have to bother with laundry as often.

  17. posted by Sue on

    Just read the six things site and it specificially excludes workout clothes, jackets, shoes, underwear and accessories, among other things. With all of that, I just don’t see the point. The person who started it claimed it was to cut back on the “20 minutes to decide what to wear in the morning” problem. First, who takes 20 minutes to choose an outfit? Even on my indecisive days I take 5 minutes at most. Second, if your problem is indecision, I can’t see how this will help. You’ll still spend lots of time picking out the right shoes and accessories if those aren’t limited.

  18. posted by M on

    The key is accessories.. scarves, hats, jewelry, and having everything in your closet work with multiple pieces..

  19. posted by hadashi on

    being a frequent traveler, i probably have been doing a variant on this theme for years, but i got this down to a science on an almost-month trip to Turkey with only a carry-on. it gave me a new appreciation for my closet’s bounty when i got back!
    but to the point. one thing i believe is very important to keep in mind: if you’re going to pare down your wardrobe, remember that every piece of clothing you’re not wearing regularly could be worn by someone else. maybe Erin, you could do a post on what to do After The Closet Is Clean? i know you’ve done lots of other posts on donating unused stuff, but clothing is a big one.
    if you aren’t giving them away to grateful friends, then please take them to your local charity, your local mission, or an organization like Dress For Success. that clutter in your closet could literally make a difference in someone’s life; perhaps a person who simply needs clean clothes or a woman interviewing for her first job who can’t afford that nice pantsuit you don’t wear anymore.
    it’s not just about efficiency or simplicity, it’s also about sharing what you don’t need with those who do.

  20. posted by Patti on

    I could do this. I’ve already given away a lot of clothes, and as of this writing at least half of what’s left is boxed up and waiting for the right recipient. What’s left in my closet, most of it I don’t really care for, even though it “fits” my body, size-wise.

    Even so, if I can find the right local charity that isn’t already inundated with plus-size women’s clothing and wouldn’t just toss it in a dumpster, or even a 3rd-world organization that would love to have it and would give it to the women who want/need relatively good condition wash ‘n wear casual clothing, they can have literally the shirts off my back.

    And anyone at my workplace that notices me wearing the same 5 outfits every week, well, they have even less than a life than I do and are to be pitied.

  21. posted by Patti on

    We could solve all the clothing nonsense of the world if everyone just went naked. ;)

  22. posted by Kenneth on

    In the old days before sewing machines when clothing was beautifully made by hand, soldiers were issued with three sets of clothes: dress, undress (for everyday wear) and sometimes stable or fatigue dress. Two pairs of boots or shoes, three shirts, and not much else. Once a year they got a new dress uniform and new pair of boots or shoes. Everything else they kept up themselves. By the end of the year things must have gotten pretty threadbare. But I think about how few things that amounts to all the time and now here’s a thread about it. I couldn’t possibly manage.

    I really have three classes of clothes. One, things I wear to work in an office every day. More than enough to change every day and then some for about two weeks. A second of things that are either for rare dress up times, like a suit, or things that are otherwise too good to wear, for fear you’ll wear them out. You probably know what I mean. Finally, there are the weekend clothes, which are the things I’d rather wear all the time anyway. But I agree with Patti and try to do without anything for as much as possible. But that’s a little too outrageous for most people.

  23. posted by Ange on

    I have the amazing luxury of working from home, and my wardrobe usually changes depending on the season – but I pretty much wear the same outfits weekly during that season. (Jeans and shirt, skirt and shirt, capris and shirt, etc.) So I give you: The Rule of Four.

    The biggest issue – for me, anwyay – is washing. If you wash the same clothing too many times, it gets thin and worn, so I try to get a two-day wear out of each piece, and line-dry everything. You’d be amazed at how much longer your stuff lasts on the line dryer (I use an indoor rack for 2 days, then a quick toss in the dryer to remove wrinkles & make it soft.)

    All of that to say, a minimalist wardrobe can be done. Varying the accessories (say, a red cardigan or light sweater over the black skirt/top combo, a different pair of shoes) really does make a new outfit. I’ve pared my closet down to 4s: 4 blue (pants/skirts), black, brown; and 8 tops that could match (in white, brown, black, blue, purple and red – that latter of which are my favorite colors).

    Past 4, it’s time to decide what you really like in that color and get rid of the rest.

    “Church clothes” (anything I need to wear in a professional/dressy environment) get their own space, and it’s minimal. 4 dress, 4 outfits, changed out by season.

    I fully realize this makes me sound like an uber-organizer, which I totally am not. I do color-code my closet, so I guess that negates the previous sentence…

  24. posted by CAC on

    I really need to do this!

    I’m in the Navy, the branch beside the Coast Guard with the most uniforms, and sorely wish I could purge many of my uniform backups. It is required for me to own:
    4 pair cami pants / 4 pair cami shirts
    2 cami covers (hats)
    2 black n tan pants / 2 black n tan shirts
    1 black n tan cover
    1 dress blue pants / 1 dress blue white shirt
    1 dress blue jacket
    1 peacoat
    2 dress white pants / 2 dress white shirts
    1 unfoldable dress blue/white cover
    2 pair coveralls
    1 pair PT sneakers
    2 pair PT shorts/ 2 pair PT shirts
    1 pair boots
    4 pair cami undershirts
    4 pair white undershirts

    and various accessories like a scarf that doesn’t keep one warm, a ski mask, light gloves and heavy gloves, 2 belts, as well as so much underwear (bras and skivvies) and black (2 types) and white socks.

    I guess I’m going to just have to purge some of my civilian clothes, which I have a few too many of.

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