book review: The Curated Closet

 

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Anuschka Rees, The Curated Closet
Ten Speed Press, 2016 (U.S. edition)

I tend to read with rapt attention everything I can find about wardrobe planning. If you are undertaking the Wardrobe Architect challenge, I will likely wait for every post as if it were a new episode of a hit TV series. But my passion for reading about wardrobe planning is matched by my strong resistance to commit to any wardrobe planning program fully and faithfully. I refuse to be diligent and orthodox in favor of gradual changes.

So I’m not going to tell you that I’ve conscientiously worked through every step from The Curated Closet. But I am going to tell you that I’ve read the book with great pleasure, paused, took notes, tried out a few things, and am definitely returning to the book.

Anuschka Rees is throughtful and sensible in her approach to wardrobe planning and — perhaps more importantly — in her approach to giving advice on this loaded subject. Now, if The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has indeed changed your life, you might want to skip to the section of my review below the next photo, because you might not like what I’m going to say. While I’m all for keeping a good cleaning and de-cluttering routine, the tyranny of “sparking joy” that’s spread over the Internet thanks to Kondo’s book has really worried me. The Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh observed long before Kondo’s book came out that Westerners appeared to him “enjoyment-challenged,” and in teaching Western students to meditate, he focused on helping them find joy in the practice. For the students that meant finding out what joy is through mindfulness.

Maybe if Kondo’s book took a detour into Eastern thought before sending readers on a purge of epic proportions, I’d have ended up less worried about its impact. But without this more philosophical training prior to throwing out everything that’s not immediately running away from you, we got a lot of talk online about joy, a lot of yard sales happened, and then, inevitably, a lot of shopping. I wrote this earlier in a comment thread elsewhere, but I hope you won’t mind me repeating myself: I bet a lot of toilet brushes got thrown out and then, quietly, bought. I don’t know of anyone who’d describe them as “sparking joy” but a house is miserable without them.

I don’t want to use that book as a punching bag. I genuinely believe a lot got lost in translation and in the deep forest of substitutes for joy that capitalism has readily provided for us. One of such substitutes is the illusion of control that comes with these epic purges. It’s an illusion that disappears as soon as we stock up anew.

There’s nothing easier these days than getting rid of your old wardrobe and completely replacing it in a very short period of time… And that’s part of the larger problem.

What I really appreciate about The Curated Closet, beyond the practical tips and the clarity of their presentation, is that Anuschka Rees is not afraid to spend time on describing the substitutes for joy offered by fast fashion.

I’ve found the section on analyzing the connection between your lifestyle and your wardrobe particularly helpful for understanding why clothes shopping has typically been an exasperating experience for me.

Take a look at this pie chart:

rees-idealwardrobe
Source: The Curated Closet

It’s witty — and how often do we think of pie charts in those terms? — and it makes me think of what happens when I go shopping for clothes. Unless I’m at a thrift store, I feel like I’m walking into a story about an aspirational life, which is also decidedly not my life. “Here’s the kind of top you should be wearing to work this season”; “pair it with these pants, or these skirts, and just the tights in those specific colors,” the racks and shelves call out. The design details are very specific, and there’s often quite a bit of embellishment to contend with. Every section of the store corresponds to an area of such a lifestyle pie chart — it seems to be set up for particular (and often idealized) life situations. It’s easy to leave the store equipped for this unlived, surreal life.

That’s where the minimalist argument from the book comes in. Our real lives are both simpler and more complicated. The embellishments and details can’t be too uniform or overwhelming if we are to transition between areas on our real pie charts. At the same time, our tasks and life situations will be more real and concrete than the drinks at the rooftop restaurant scenario some clothing brand has aspirationally planned for us.

Not wanting the readers to lose our minds over this conundrum, Rees gives us some real pie charts to look at (and make ourselves):

IMG_20170509_152009~2
Reality check courtesy of The Curated Closet.

The pie chart exercise has helped me think about the discrepancy between “want to sew” and “need to wear” that inevitably sneaks into my sewing plans. I’m not trying to weed out all spontaneity from my sewing choices, rest assured. But I really like the idea of not letting an imagined life gleaned from different sources overshadow the real life, and the real need for nice clothes for the non-glamorous moments.

I also really love the explanation for why it’s worth to resist the urge to do a complete “clean out” and just buy a new wardrobe that the book offers. I’m slowly phasing out some of the more worn RTW items. Many of them never “sparked joy” but I try to appreciate how well they’ve served me and understand the role they’ve really been playing. And to mend whenever possible, which Rees also advises.

In a nutshell, I highly recommend this book both to those who like to be more orthodox in their planning efforts, and those who like to read, take their time, and don’t mind making up the occasional pie chart.

And if you’d like to know more about the author and her approach before investing in the book, you can find her blog here. This post is one of my favorites, and has been one of the most practical aides I’ve found for defining and actually wearing a “style.”

(PS: This isn’t a sponsored post. I bought the book myself, having enjoyed reading the author’s blog, and I’ve offered my genuine opinion above.)

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18 thoughts on “book review: The Curated Closet

  1. Ohh just read that blog post you’re right it’s really good! Your review is tempting me to get the book….I’ve been thinking about my wardrobe a lot lately.

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    1. I like that the book and the blog supplement each other in interesting ways. And I definitely like the “slow down your consumerism” perspective on wardrobe planning that they both embrace 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I bet a lot of toilet brushes got thrown out and then, quietly, bought. LOL.
    This was a great post by the way, that book sounds great, and very thoughtful.

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  3. I loved Marie Kondo, but I’ve read the Spark Joy sequel. This has a heavy emphasis on the fact that some things (like toilet brushes) spark joy through what they help you achieve, not through how they look. I found this to be a very important addendum to the first book.

    I really enjoyed reading your review, I’m firmly in your corner when it comes to reading about wardrobe planning. I love the idea, but I’m not very skilled at following through 🙈

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    1. Hi Hanne! I’m getting a lot of inspiration from your new additions to the Etsy store, so I’d say that the wardrobe planning you do through those garments is really great 🙂 But, yes, all that structured work from wardrobe analysis, color palette building, to committing to specific projects… that’s a lot.

      And I hope I wasn’t unfair to Marie Kondo. I think translating her ideas into the Western context takes additional scaffolding. I’m not surprised that she wrote a sequel in which she explained that the joy she has in mind is closer to the concept of equanimity rather than peak happiness. I think her writing can be useful as long as the readers don’t get too perfectionist about putting the ideas into practice.

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      1. I think you’ve worded that perfectly. Perfection is such a trap. I think the most important thing about Marie Kondo’s story is indeed equanimity (just learned a new word right there, thanks!) instead of ‘the big happy’. I feel like this is true for a lot of ‘new trends’ such as but not limited to: miracle morning, daily yoga routines, cleanses, minimalism or how it is perceived… Balance and progress not perfection are such important things that we neglect or undervalue in pursuit of the perfect happy life!
        Thank you for your kind words about the collection!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Ok, now I really want to read this book. I definitely struggle with the idea of making a wardrobe for the lifestyle I have versus the one I want. Me-Made May has helped a little with this, since I don’t think I’ll have an opportunity to wear any of my cocktail dresses this month (or most months, really). “Nice clothes for the non-glamorous moments” is probably a good place to start!

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    1. Speaking of cocktail dresses… This is one of my favorite posts of all time. I loved all the posts in which Sheryll documented the making of this stunning dress, but those photos of her hanging up laundry in it truly crown the whole series 😀

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  5. I can completely relate to your approach to the wardrobe architect plan. I am exactly the same. It’s in the back of my mind regularly, but I haven’t gone through my closed inspired by divine fury to get rid of everything that is not perfect. I fully stand by William Morris’s quote: “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. It has its limitation but it’s a reasonable rule of thumb that keeps my toilet brush firmly in its place. Also, I very much like your thoughts on the pie chart – as you pointed out it’s easy to over represent in our closet items that relate to the lifestyle we would like to live. I for one am attracted by flimsy house gowns that allow me to imagine myself lounging in style, only to leave them in a closet for the moths to feast upon, opting for warmer, more practical options.I’ve been debating whether to by this book for a while, thanks for the review!!

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    1. Oh, I have the same questions about at-home glamour. I think I might try to “phase” glamour in bit by bit as per Anuschka Rees’ advice in that blog post. And I agree that one should never underestimate usefulness. I’ve come to appreciate some of my admittedly blah wardrobe pieces for all the times they’ve allowed me to put an outfit together (despite their imperfections).

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