03 January 2008

Explanation and identification of "filler"-wear


Picture for a moment that perfectly nice, sorta handsome, sorta smart guy from work who you know even on his best day isn't going to register more than a 4/10 in any mutual compatibility category but whose hopes you knowingly keep high with your overly enthusiastic "don't you look nice today!" declarations and thrice weekly "here you go!" Cosi bread donations.

The Steve Urkel to your Laura Winslow, if you will.

The comfortable, familiar feeling of being in the presence of someone who clearly adores you but, let's be honest, you could take or leave, is exactly how I feel about the middling, mediocre, wear-out-of-default clothing I like to call, "filler"-wear.

Look in your closets.

Look in your drawers.

Look on your shelves.

Aside from Rachel Bilson, my friend Olivia and Katie Holmes' stylist, all of whom, in addition to having limitless funds with which to purchase whatever their little hearts desire also seem to have an incredible eye for instantaneous this-could-go-with-this filtering, my guess is that for most of you, a good 20-50% of the clothing stuffed, shoved and wedged into these places are items you neither particularly like nor dislike and that fit neither particularly well nor poorly. In short, these are the wardrobe components you reach for on the days you just don't want to deal with -or think you're capable of- creating a cute look.

I can already tell most of your faces are in a raised-brow, "Yeah, and?" expression, but wait a minute, let me finish.

The primary reason I started this blog was to address the rumor those in serious jobs oft like to spread that time and money spent on developing and honing a sense style is more a superficial indulgence than it is, for example, a mechanism for increased confidence. Now I could easily rely on any number of obvious examples to drive this point home: cocktail dress vs. sweatpants; good hair day vs. bad hair day; new hip heel vs. old worn-out flat; flawless makeup vs. ruddy, bare face, etc. But frankly, I find it much more satisfying, not to mention more convincing to tackle the less high profile -but nonetheless important- issue of "filler"-wear.

If you wouldn't date mediocrity, why wear it? If you see something better down the road, why settle before you've reached it? If you can channel Sienna and Monica in outfits X and Y, why slip into suburban Mom mode with outfit Z?

My advice? Implement an out-of-sight/out-of-mind assault on your wardrobe and eliminate every last piece of "filler"-wear you can find. Give yourself the joy to every morning choose only from those clothes that in any number of outfit permutations will give you an out-of-control ego. These pieces don't have to be from a pricey boutique in Georgetown -I'm definitely not encouraging you to replace GAP with Saks-Jandel- they just need to be tops, bottoms and shoes you actually like -- or better yet, love.

Laura may not have been able to move away from Urkel, but we sure as hell can replace our boxy twin-set shells and had-'em-for-years tapered black pants with tailored blouses and ass-enhancing, hemmed just right trousers.

10 questions to help you discern between "keeper" clothing and "filler"-wear...

  • Do you look forward to wearing it?
  • When you buy something new, do you envision the new item paired with it?
  • Was it a gift? Are you holding onto it out of guilt/obligation?
  • Have you kept it because you love it or because you don't hate it?
  • Do you feel it accentuates your strengths? Minimizes your flaws?
  • Has it ever elicited a compliment from a stranger?
  • Are you as likely to wear it at home as you are at work/out to dinner?
  • Would you be upset if it were irretrievably lost?
  • Do you ever find yourself saying, "It used to be cute"?
  • Do you give yourself an "it's not awful" look in the full-length before you head out the door?

38 comments:

Anonymous No More said...

Jo, what about first hosting a clothing swap with girlfriends of similar sizes? I did this periodically with my suitemates in college and it was like free shopping. After we decided what was unwearable for all of us, we made a trek to Goodwill.

I think this works best if you have mostly “filler” that would be good on someone else and is not a horrible piece of cloth.

I have lots of items that would look great on someone with bigger boobs, longer legs, shorter torso, etc... Or items that used to look good on me when I [fill in the blank]. If I don’t have a friend or sister it works on, I try Craigslist/e-bay and then donate.

Maybe those types of items don’t qualify as filler under your definition, so could you do a post on hosting a clothing swap soon?

Johanna said...

Anonymous No More-

You and other readers have raised really good ideas on what to do with the fillers once you've siphoned them away from the keepers. I have to admit, this process is not my strong point, so I welcome all of you to bring up and discuss Ebay, Craig's List, Goodwill, etc. at length here in the comments. Once I learn a bit more about the options firsthand, I promise to write a follow-up post.

best,
J

ataraxia said...

printing off this check list and plan on having a bag for Goodwill filled by the end of the night.

Don't forget that even donating can earn some extra cash ... tax deductions anyone?

Anonymous said...

I am totally wearing a filler outfit today. Uh-oh, looks like I need to launch that assault ASAP.

Anonymous said...

i have a major problem getting rid of things with sentimental value...that is my downfall. it is less ugly work clothes and more my college football team/concert t-shirts that clutter my dresser.

Anonymous said...

Ataraxia, you're that helpless? It's sad that you can't purge your closet without the aid of a basic list printed from a blog.

Anonymous said...

anon 1:18 - I hear ya on the college shirts. I just use those for my workout wear. I don't really care about what I look like when I work out, especially since it's in my basement!

Another option is Plato's closet. I know, you have to travel to Fredricksburg, but I made some serious cash dropping off some old "mall" named brand stuff I never wear anymore - like Limited and Express crap from college. I swear they take anything with a tag on and allll jeans too. And, they have a Sonic there if you need some enticing!

Bridal Bird said...

Everything with a Style&Co. and Old Navy label in my closet just shrieked and ran to the back in horror.

Loyal Reader said...

Last week I did this and it's so lovely to look at a closet full of clothing I adore! It's even more satifying if you buy all matching hangars and turn the closet into an organized wonder

Keeping a few sentimental pieces - stashed apart from your closet - seems like an acceptable solution. I kept the pill-covered going-to-college sweater from mom and the wore-it-when-first-meeting-my-husband transition tee, but stored far away from the "real clothes" and along with other sentimental items.

intern in the city said...

I think the first question is the most key. I only look forward to wearing two maybe three things in my closet.

That's something I wouldn't have thought to ask myself, actually, so thank you!

Ballerina K said...

EXCELLENT questions to ask oneself going through the closet!!!! i will be doing this ASAP.

Brooke said...

I love selling clothes on ebay, but you basically have to get to the point where you would take next to nothing for it and if it sells for more than a few dollars it is a bonus. It is hard to sell used clothing (and if it isn't a known brand than forget it) for anything near what you paid for it. You usually have to start the bid very low to atrract interest. If you have a bunch of stuff by the same label or similar labels you can sell a bunch all together and that might be a better bet.

Teek (who is either Jo, or unemployed, apparently) said...

*sigh* Let us never share information and ideas. Let us never find better ways of phrasing the things we already know. Why have a blogosphere at all?

I've always just summed up Jo's advice as "get rid of anything that makes me go *bleh*".

Again, I recommend consignment for all the pieces that are good quality but not your style or size. Even those boxy twin-sets and khakis are some soccer mom's treasure. I make a few hundred bucks a year consigning stuff I don't wear anymore, and you'd make tons more if your stuff is higher-end than my Ann Taylors. Oh, plus, I get to find Stuart Weitzmans and Escadas from those of you with larger original budgets. I am a huge consignment fan. Like eBay with dressing rooms.

lila m. said...

There is no better feeling than having a complete stranger coming up to you and saying how much she likes something you're wearing. I need more clothes that give me that daily boost!

Anonymous said...

any other good consignment shops closer to or actually in the city?

Dave said...

I don't have a lot of clothes but I totally do this. I donated a sweater that cost me $100 a few years ago to Goodwill because I never wore it. I was keeping some shirts that were Ralph Lauren even though I was tired of them. They're gone. I'm a guy and I don't claim to even know guy's fashion but I decided last year that if I pass over it in the drawer or push it to the back of the closet someone else should have it.

Oh yeah. I did this with towels too. I had like four sets, but kept them because they were still good. Two of the old sets are gone.

Allie said...

I loved this post; it was a great reminder for the new year.

Personally, I did a blog to sell stuff last year when i lost weight, I occasionally give to friends, but the rest goes to Goodwill because I don't have the time or patience for eBay. Back in college I went to Mustard Seed in Bethesda each season and gave them all my old Express and Limited pieces for some beer money.

ataraxia said...

anon 1:32 -- you're right, i am pretty pathetic! :)

passerby said...

a shirt is a shirt IS A SHIRT.

come on, people.

Anonymous said...

I second the question on consignment stores you can get to without a car

DC Govt Lawyer said...

My New Year's resolution is to organize my closet (and keep it that way!!!) so this post is right on time. Every 6 months or so I do a big purge of "stuff". There are some things I just don't want to let go of although (1) I can't and probably never again will fit my a** into it; (2) it needs major work by a seamstress that is never going to get done; or (3) I haven't worn it since I moved into my house five years ago. I have no problem trashing the Gaps, Old Navys, and Limiteds but cannot bring myself to get rid of the more expensive pieces or the gifts from my mom who is always buying me clothes (she is a bargain addict and is always picking up bargains that she would wear but can find only in my size). This post encourages and inspires me to toss it.

N said...

Consignment shops:

Secondi, Dupont
Annie Creamcheese, Georgetown
Secondhand Rose, Georgetown

Catherine said...

I just stumbled upon this site...I live too in DC and am constantly bemoaning the drabness of the wardrobes. I **love** that you have this blog!

Also re: consignment shops, Inga's, while pricey for thrift stores, has great designer finds sometimes.

fellow writer said...

Johanna, I must ask how long that first sentence took you to write? It's incredible.

Now that I've told you, I can move on to the rest of the post...

Johanna said...

'Passerby,' if I might quote one of my favorite scenes in cinematic history:

"This... stuff? Oh... ok. I see, you think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select out, oh I don't know, that lumpy blue sweater, for instance, because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise, it's not lapis, it's actually cerulean. You're also blindly unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves St. Laurent, wasn't it, who showed cerulean military jackets? And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. Then it filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and so it's sort of comical to me how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room. From a pile of stuff."

kiss,
J

Anonymous said...

LOVE that scene! "Devil" was such an underrated movie in terms of acting and overall message.

Christine said...

Love this! I was just going to do a post about wardrobe refinement to go along with my resolutions, but you've done a wonderful job. My biggest problem is tossing the stuff my mom gave me...she picks out such strange things for me, but with such good intention that I hate to throw it out.

Anonymous said...

I hope you keep that new profile photo up. It's so stunning!

Anonymous said...

now I get why a woman as beautiful and smart as you is still single...your standards for everything are so high! good for you!

59th & Lex said...

You are D.C.'s answer to Tim Gunn's Guide to Style - which by the way, hello? Where did that show go?

Anyway, I love when he said, "She should only keep things that are soul-stirring."

I emailed you about that Hayden / mom thing too, but then I got lost in the holidays and not sure if you got it or if I ended up in your spam.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but what happens when your Steve Urkel becomes a Stefan Urquelle? One luxury with menswear is that I can keep menswear until the perfect shirt, pants, tie, accessory or shoes come along to accent and make a heretofore neglected piece. Ensembles are, after all, usually that, and i find it hard to give up on pieces that might have not reached their full potential for lack of complement.

okemos pal said...

I want everything you're throwing out. Even before she was the fashionable thing she is today, Hannie still had some pretty nice threads.

Hand 'em over, sister.

Marissa said...

Johanna,

I've never commented before, but I am suddenly moved to now because, well, your advice here is over-the-top mundane. I mean, "How to Clean Out Your Closet?" It saddens me to think women in DC don't just know how to do this on their own. I mean, really, I'm baffled.

However, your writing (as always) is excellent, which is what keeps me reading your blog. I understand this is a Fashion 101 for DC's khaki-clad or whatever, but, in my opinion, your writing, and I assume your brain, deserves more creative subjects. I mean that as a compliment, btw.

san fran fan said...

While Jo's advice might seem obvious or mundane to you, it's certainly not to others of us. If you read this post carefully, you'd see she's not really talking about cleaning out a closet but insisting women get rid of those outfits that don't make them feel like a million bucks -that aren't "soul-stirring" to quote 59th/Lex quoting Tim Gunn.

There were layers to this piece, and to simply label it an exercise in how to clean out your closet is insulting to me, and I didn't even write it!

jordan said...

Sometimes we need a reminder to do even the most mundane task. I've known for months and months that I should go through my things and give away stuff I don't wear, but it wasn't until I read J's post today that I actually went through with it. That means I can also blame her when I'm exhausted tomorrow morning at work ;)

The way she couched her argument ("give yourself the joy to every morning choose only from those clothes that in any number of outfit permutations will give you an out-of-control ego") was much more inspiring than thinking about how much more space I'll have or how much better off some charity will be when I drop off my 8 bags. It's not just her grammar that's excellent, it's her persuasiveness as well.

I know I sound like a groupie, but I love everything you write. Keep it up!

Marissa said...

I never disagreed about Johanna's writing. It is clear, creative and, yes, persuasive, I suppose. But I do think certain topics she chooses to write about (and "How to Clean Out Your Closet" is one), are, well, boring. And, quite frankly, it amazes me that so many people find the advice offered in these more mundane posts revelatory. But, like they say, to each her own. Potato - potahto.

Anonymous said...

Also - Clothes Encounters of the Second Kind, Eastern Market

Righteous (re)Style said...

Great post. I second the idea of the clothing swap. I also love the comment about looking in the closet and only seeing the clothes that you love looking back at you. I have SO MANY jeans that I don't wear anymore, but can't bear to throw out "just in case". Blech. Will start the editing tomorrow. I love the idea of a well-edited closet.