Wardrobe 101

3 Ways the French 5 Wardrobe Improved My Life

Happy day, reader dear!

How are you? Are things looking up in your corner of the world? My circumstances aren’t much different, but my attitude is brighter, which makes ALL the difference. Attitude plus longer days and sunshine are a powerful combination! (As are crisp fall evenings and the smell of woodsmoke.)

I’ve been thinking a LOT about simplicity and simplifying this month. I suppose that’s natural during a month when I pull together a new season’s capsule and clean, put up, and yes, purge items from last season. There is always a piece or two to which it is just time to say Farewell! As we say Farewell, we are often saying Hello! to a replacement piece. I prefer to say Bonjour, Buongiorno or Buenos Días! because I love me some European lifestyle. Lifestyle may be why I fell in love with the French 5 Wardrobe.

Note: This attitude is not to be only attributed to the French. I saw it lived out by many women during our years living and traveling in Europe.

What is the French 5?

Let’s start with the French 5 Wardrobe; what it is, and what it isn’t. If you Google French 5 Wardrobe, you will find variations, but all of them agree that it isn’t a wardrobe made of 5 Pieces! French 5 Wardrobe is a misnomer. Which is why I have come to think of it as my French 5 Shopping Plan. The French 5 is/was supposedly based on the buying habits of French women. Because, the French do everything food and fashion properly. Snark aside, their food and style habits reflect a different mindset than exhibited on this side of the pond. An investment mindset. Rather than jumping at the fast fashion trends as they hit the stores, buying and discarding, the French 5 mindset is #buybetterbuyless.

Note 2: I’m sure many Frenchwomen have fallen into the fast fashion whirlpool. It has a fierce pull. That’s human nature.

My take on the French 5 Wardrobe/Shopping Plan means buying 5 fashion items for each of the two style seasons, Spring/Summer, and Fall/Winter. How do you count? What doesn’t count toward the 5? Or asked another way What isn’t a fashion item? Underwear and PT gear are not fashion items. (If you wear them as clothing, out and about, then they do!) Replacing basics doesn’t count either. Welcome to the slippery slope; it gets a little dicey and open to interpretation. It’s not always safe to leave me to my own devices; I can justify almost anything. Some basics are easy to name. Jeans. White shirt. Grey tee or sweater. Others? Not so simple. It depends on your lifestyle, your personality, and your coloring. For me, a white dress is a basic that needs regular replacement. Red shoes, too. And so we slide…

Fashion Item?

What’s a fashion item? For me, a fashion item is often a piece in a new-to-my-wardrobe color, or is printed or patterned. A fashion item might be a silhouette that I don’t typically wear. They might be accessories, if on the pricey side. Most of my Wardrobe Wonders have been French 5 buys, and many of my Style Staples have been, as well! Anything which you already have enough of probably counts as a fashion item. For me, that would be handbags and scarves. Yours might be cashmere turtlenecks! Or cowboy boots. I love The Vivienne Files Janice Riggs’ explanation of the five as: Punctuation Pieces.

I’ll be the first to admit, I am not always successful at sticking to my plan! Some years, my colors flood the stores, and I purchase more because I know I will be out of luck in a season or two. Last year, my Style Resolution to shop-preloved-first threw a complete wrench in my French 5 Plan. The vagaries of shopping Ebay and other on-line preloved sites was frustrating, and tempting all at the same time. But I’ve learned a LOT! Now, when I buy something outside of my regular timing window, I cut and paste a pic of it onto a board to keep me accountable to the number of purchases I’ve made.

In spite of the mental wrestling, I aspire to work within the framework, because I have found the benefits to FAR outweigh the drawbacks!

So far, the French 5 Wardrobe/Shopping Plan has given me:

Permission to Stop Consuming

Have you ever done a fast? It might be a shopping fast, or the give-up-chocolate-for-Lent kind of fast. I’ve done more than one shopping fast; the first was for Lent. I vowed not to buy any clothes or accessories for the 40+ days of Lent. Yes, more than one promotional email made me wish I’d not made that choice. (I unsubscribed from them all as they came in. Who needs more temptation?) Rather than the horrible gap I thought I would face, I found freedom. The fast gave me permission to stop consuming. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Who needs permission to stop buying? Apparently I did. There’s a reason our lifestyle is called consumer culture! Which means we might need permission to stop. If you need permission, you have it. I give you permission to get off the 52 week buying merry-go-round. You’re welcome.

The French 5 does the same for me now. Maybe you could call the F5 the sartorial equivalent of Intermittent Fasting? Keeping my focus on the weeks I will be shopping (more on that later) lets me say Nope, I don’t have to deal with that now… to the constant barrage of advertisements and sales. The Five has also helped me get past a great deal of FOMO. If something feels so AMAZING that I need to break my rules, I can, but the F5 has raised the bar of my AMAZING. A great example is my green pleated skirt purchase. Was is originally on my plan? No. Did it come out of nowhere? Kind of… Did it blow me away? Yes. Have I gotten a ton of wear from it? YES! Does it make me feel fabulous every time I put it on? YES! (And I’ve styled it oodles of ways!) That was a good investment. Speaking of investments…

Investment Mindset

Some people might call me picky. I prefer the term selective! Working within the French 5 parameters I’ve set for myself has made me more selective. I’m buying less, so I’m taking more care with my purchases. Call it intentionality. Or a piece of the mindful shopping equation. Why not buy what appeals? When it appeals? The statistics are startling. They vary… But the data averages out to (somewhere around) 65 new clothing items purchased per year by American adults. (Not including what we buy for/on behalf of others. Like parents buying for their children.) That’s more than one item each week! The funny thing about that? Years ago, I read a blog post by someone who was limiting her buying to one item per week for a year!

Having an item limit makes me think a LOT harder about what I’m choosing to add to my wardrobe. I’ve written before about the benefits of keeping a Wish List. The French 5 helps me take that list and gives me a new filter to look through, one that makes me take a closer look and ask Is this just a flash in the pan? Or Does this express my style personality? Is it an ingredient in my style cocktail? Transparency Warning: Not having clear answers to these questions can result in a boring wardrobe. If you are unsure about your style, it can be easy to default to the most basic of pieces for fear of making a mistake.

In France, investment shopping is a way of life.

Fanny Moizant: Vestiaire Collective Founder

More Free Time

I don’t think I realized how much time I spent shopping until I stopped! I don’t mean wandering the mall; most of us haven’t been doing much of that this past year anyway! I mean surf shopping and clicking on all those sale emails that come my way. As part of my French 5 Plan, I do most of my shopping in the last half of February and the last half of August. Yes, I may find pieces here and there during the year, or discover something that needs replacing, but focusing my attention on the next two seasons for that short time clears the rest of the calendar for other things that enrich my life! All of a sudden, I found time I didn’t know I had.

The Best Part

How can I choose which of these three gifts is best? They all feed on and create space for each other. Let’s drop that oh, so 2020’s word, synergy. If I had to choose only one, I’d say it is the Permission piece. That grace to jump off the consumer roller coaster was the first domino that set off the rest. It spilled over from my wardrobe into other areas of my life. Permission to declutter. Permission to say No. Permission to make choices that are right for me. Permission to dream new dreams. Permission and time to start my own business!

How About You?

What’s your wardrobe mindset? Quality? Quantity? Something in-between? Do you love what’s in your wardrobe and look forward to dressing in the morning? Do you have any idea how many items of clothing you purchase per year? Last year might not count… What would you like more of? Do you need permission to get off the consumer train? Do you want to adopt an investment mindset? Would more free time make you a happier person? Do tell! Love to hear from you… There’s plenty of room in the comments!

Americans dress, make up, exercise, and present themselves to look as if nothing has yet happened.

The French hunt out, hold back, weigh up, take strange potions to keep themselves in shape, get advice, and then drop as many hints as they can to the rich, dramatic personal lives the are having. We want to be new; they want to be old. It’s our optimism, and their civilization.

Vogue, July 1989

I like that idea… Civilization.

Stylishly yours,

PS: If you feel like hearing me ramble a bit about what you just read, check out my YouTube video on the same subject! While you’re there, please Like and Subscribe! Thx! And bless you!

An item limit is ONE kind of budget…

8 Comments

  • Carol Karl

    This is an interesting concept. I have a very limited budget for clothing but I do believe in investment. Buying 10 itmes per year to me seems extravagant. I probably do buy 10 items a year but they are mostly basics or replacements. I live for investment pieces which I can style with accessories to make many different outfits. There was a time when I wasn’t quite so restrained – when I was young I used to sew several new garments a week! These should have served me for a good while but then I left work to have a baby and we got burgled and all my clothes were stolen. At that time, I decided that this ever consuming lifestyle wasn’t good for me so I changed my attitude and have since stayed on a much more restrained path. Although I still do sometimes fall into that more is more trap when there’s that perfect piece that I just must have.

    • Liz K

      When I look back over my “fives” many of them are replacements, or often “upgrades”. The only caveat I would throw out there, that a replacement isn’t a replacement unless it replaces! I talk to people all the time who buy the replacement, but never get rid of the piece it was replacing…

      • Sally in St Paul

        Hello, have we met? Because I think you are talking about me! 🙂 The number of supposed replacements I have purchased…that turned out themselves to be *not quite right*…that I’ve kept along the with the original items they were going to replace…it’s a lot. I have not adopted the French 5 approach, but I can see how it has value. Something for me to think about.

        • Liz K

          Thank you for visiting, Sally! We may have met? I used to live in Mpls! Long, long ago… The only reason I know that replacement loophole? Lived it. And learned from it! I’d love to hear if you decide to try the French 5… Keep me posted!

  • NATALIE K

    Liz, Loved this article! Simplifying is my word of the year! I buy basics because that is what I was taught to do from my grandmother and mother, I know my personality ! Which is a guiding light when buying clothing and accessories! Only buying twice a year doesn’t do it for me. But, I would be interested in once each season. I’ll never be the woman with only a 30 piece wardrobe. I need more choices! I need to concentrate on buying just my personality pieces. Yes, I do love Janice at Vivianfiles as well. I find her Capsules Wardrobes well done but too casual for me! Your Capsule Wardrobes have a great deal of personality which I love!!!

    • Liz K

      You do you, Natalie! 30-ish is the magic number for me. Enough for (literally) hundreds of choices, but with plenty of breathing room in my closet. But I still have plenty of pieces in my out of season boxes! Personality-free, “safe” capsules and wardrobes make me sad…

  • NATALIE K

    Liz, Didn’t see a post from you today. I thought you we’re posting on Mon, Wed, and Fri. this week. I’m praying everything is alright!!

    • Liz K

      Everyone is well, here, thank you! Trying to shift to posting Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. It’s an experiment for the month of April!

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