Do YOU Think in Outfits or Separates?

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Happy day, reader dear!

If you hadn’t noticed, this month’s posts have been themed around simplicity. We started the month talking about simple style and how simple is deeply personal! One woman’s simple might be another woman’s maximal. It’s simply (pun irresistible) a matter of personality. Some might say a matter of taste, but I shy away from that word as it pertains to style. I would venture to say that taste, particularly good taste, is a tyrant, usually imposed on us by others.

It can be illuminating to take a good hard look at from where our ideas of taste, money, shopping, and oodles of other ideas fashion and style come. It’s a little like therapy; you never know what’s going to be under the rock when you turn it over. It might be a joyful childhood experience, or something hurtful. It’s about uncovering the thoughts and values we don’t even know are driving the bus and deciding whether they serve us or not. As an adult human, you get to decide what works for you!

What does this have to do with simplicity? I’m all about simplifying ( in this case, demystifying) style. And understanding how and why we think and feel the way we do about style, fashion, and how it intersects with out life helps us get out of our own way! When getting to know a client, I often turn over a rock or two. Today’s rock uncovers our way of coming at (thinking) shopping and dressing. Do we think in Outfits or Separates?

Why Do We Think Differently?

There is evidence that this Outfits/Separates difference is wired into the way different personalities think and process information. In this case I mean personality in the Meyers/Briggs sense of the word. And yes, some of our differences do come from how you were raised! Most likely it’s a combination with personality dominant… Your nature tends one way. You can think the other, but it’s more work. So what’s the difference between the two?

Outfit Mentality

Outfit Thinkers/Buyers do just that. They think and buy in outfits. If they like a look on the mannequin, they will often purchase the whole thing. That look in the catalog? They buy from top to bottom. When they shop, they don’t buy one piece, unless it’s a dress. Even then, they may purchase the shoes or topper to go with it. New trousers mean a new shirt. Shopping for shoes often means a matching belt, or coordinating bag. Suits hang together in the closet and are worn together. Outfit thinking is compartmentalized and this creates a different wardrobe balance than Separates thinking.

Outfit Mentality Pros

Outfit buying and dressing is easy. Someone else has put it together. You simply put it on! If Outfit Thinkers store their clothing in outfit form, dressing is a no brainer! Grab and go. That means that jeans X will always be worn with shirt Y. One of my clients works this way… It means less thinking, and she likes it that way. In the less extreme, Shirt Y will always be worn with blue jeans. The jeans might vary, but never would Shirt Y be seen with grey trousers or a skirt! Some Outfitters will take XYZ-ing to the extreme and include accessories in each grouping.

Outfit buyers rarely end up with Wardrobe Orphans. Or maybe I should say they never start out with W/O’s. They end up with them, though, when one item wears out and its partner in crime doesn’t. Some Outfitters easily dispose of the still good pieces, but others keep them in the closet thinking There’s still plenty of life in this. I’ll keep it to wear it with something else. But they rarely do, because they’re fighting their natural tendencies.

Overall, I’ve met more male Outfit Thinkers/Buyers than female.

The Outfit thinker’s says: I never thought about wearing that with that…

Outfit Mentality Cons

As I mentioned above, the Wardrobe Orphans created when part of an outfit is no longer wearable can clog up the closet. The outfit mentality can also be a real drain on the budget. You spill pasta sauce on your sweater and the stain won’t come out, so you get rid of the sweater and the skirt that went with it… (Unless the damaged item is something always available, like a white shirt, or black sweater. Then s/he can regroup.)

Outfitters, with that 1:1 wardrobe balance, need more closet and storage space than the Separates Buyer. The exception? The Outfitter Minimalist with one to two week’s worth of clothing. The Outfitter’s need for more storage space also translates into more luggage when travel packing. Especially if s/he isn’t sure what the itinerary holds. Or his or her mood. That can mean packing 7 outfits for a three or four day trip. Or more if there are events requiring special dress… Travelling light is not the Outfitter’s forte!

When the Outfitter buys a head to toe look, the effect can be costume-y or lacking in personality. Her style personality! She buys a Classic outfit, and a Relaxed outfit, and a Feminine outfit, all because she liked part of each, but none feels really like her. This can leave her buying more and more outfits that she loves less and less. What she needs is an outfit that combines all the parts!

Separates Mentality

In contrast, the Separates Thinker/Buyer purchases a top here and a bottom there. Her Outfitter friend would think her method haphazard. S/he usually shops more often than Ms. Outfitter, but for fewer pieces at a time. If buying multiple pieces, they may or may not coordinate. A good Wardrobe Balance for Ms. Separates is anywhere from 2:1 to 4:1.

The separates thinker’s says: This will go with the XYZ in my closet…

Separates Mentality Pros

One item of a normally worn together duo wearing out is not the end of the world! It’s completely expected, and planned for. n fact, there’s probably already something else in the closet that will work with the leftover piece.

Color continuity and using a palette is much easier for Ms. Separates. She can pick and choose what works for her and leave the rest behind. She doesn’t feel compelled to reject an entire outfit because one piece isn’t her.

Travel packing is far less stressful for Ms. Separates. She might want to pack an outfit for each day, but realizes it’s not necessary. She plans her packing list with mix and match potential. That helps her cover the itinerary and surprises with more ease and less clothing than Ms. Outfits.

Separates Mentality Cons

It is easy for the Separates thinker to nickel and dime her wardrobe budget to death. Her Outfitter friend pays more each time she shops, and likely is more aware of how much she has spent. Our separates woman can spend twice as much without noticing because it’s an inexpensive blouse here. A tee there. And shorts, shorts everywhere. Shopping without a wardrobe plan can get her into trouble!

The Separates shopper often has a lot of Wardrobe Orphans or returns to make. S/he bought that top because it would be great for the black pants hanging in the closet. But the silhouette isn’t right for those pants, so now it waits for the right piece to come along to wear them with… Or the next trip to the store (or post office) to return.

Ms. Separates can also end up with a disjointed closet (from magpie or mindless shopping), but I often see a stale wardrobe full of Building Basics, and lacking in fun because they are easy and she opts for pieces she knows will work with what she already has.

Combination Thinkers/Buyers

These processes and thought patterns are not mutually exclusive! Some people slot one way for work clothing, and the other for casual wear. I have seen more than one Separates Thinker/Buyer who shifts directly into Outfit Mentality when buying special occasion wear. Don’t we often think head to toe when buying for a wedding? I’ve met an outfit thinker who packs like a professional minimalist with a mix and match wardrobe, but doesn’t translate that skill to home.

How About You?

Now, tell me about your mother… Do you recognize yourself anywhere above? Think back to your childhood and your shopping experiences with your parents or caregivers. Was that shopping more Outfit or Separates focused? What about when you began shopping for yourself? Did you shift? Have you carried those habits forward to today? Do they serve you? Or would you be better served by trying the other? Do tell! I love to hear from you…

Stylishly yours,

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