Shopping was a method of intergenerational bonding and socializing in my family. I was fortunate and privileged to grow up with more clothes than could fit in a single bedroom (wall-to-wall closet, two full-size dressers, and an armoire included). Every year, as winter was becoming spring, my grandma would help me haul all of my summer clothes out of storage, and we’d spend an entire weekend sorting through them and replacing my winter sweaters with t-shirts.
As I’ve grown older, particularly post-college, a lot of things have changed about my mentality that have caused me to downsize my wardrobe. But nothing has made as big of an impact on my shopping as my shift towards a lifestyle of frequent traveling. (Read more on how I travel internationally every year for less than $1,000 here.)
Here’s how my wardrobe has changed since I’ve made travel a significant part of my life and budget:
Once upon a time, I didn’t believe in plain shirts. Every tee was a graphic tee…or a patterned tee, or an embroidered tee. My wardrobe was a kaleidoscope. However, even at a super young age, I was strictly committed to color coordination. Back then, this meant having shoes and purses in every conceivable color to go with every single clothing article I owned.
Nowadays, color coordination means embracing neutrality. For most trips, I try to keep everything in my suitcase to a specific color scheme. Anyone who knows me now is aware that black and white stripes are my favorite motif, and I can’t get enough of some light wash denim. There are both things that pair easily with most colors, as well as with each other. My general formula is:
2 neutral colors (most tops and bottoms, jacket, etc.) + 1 bright/bold color (1-2 articles of clothing, lipstick, purse)
On my last trip, I didn’t even bother planning my particular outfits too much, because all the pieces could be mixed and matched however I wanted on any given day.
I make each accessory count.
When I was in high school, I was an absolute accessory addict. Every outfit required earrings, a necklace, bracelets on both wrists (sometimes multiple per wrist), not to mention a matching purse. I often showed up in a weird headband-scrunchie-barrette combo because I had so many hair accessories I couldn’t decide which one to wear. (Seriously, I couldn’t leave the house without at least one brightly colored object on my head.) All of my accessories were bold, colorful, and usually plastic. While they tended to work well with very particular outfits, they were far from versatile.
Now that I’m solidly in my twenties, I’ve almost entirely moved away from the desire to wear flashy accessories. Putting aside the evolution of my personal tastes, this decision happened when I was preparing for my first international trip. Packing a bunch of accessories for every outfit on a 3-month trip is exhausting to the point of impossible. So I gave it up.
When traveling, I tend to stick to simple and lighter pieces that will go with every outfit in my suitcase. A pair of earrings, a dainty necklace, a bracelet. All either silver or gold. Don’t get me wrong — I still love a little embellishment here and there. But because my wardrobe is much more neutral these days, it can accommodate the occasional large earrings or chunky necklace far better. Now that every part of my outfit isn’t screaming, statement pieces draw attention in a much more sophisticated and intentional way.
I buy products with a purpose.
Whenever I’m packing for a trip, every item of clothing serves a specific purpose. A nice dress for an event, a jacket with a hood for inclement weather, comfortable shoes for walking long distances, etc. Similarly, before I buy something new, I ask myself the question: “Why will I wear this?” I used to ask myself “when” rather than “why,” which prompted me to imagine a vast array of unlikely scenarios to justify unnecessary purchases. (I’ve purchased items for many fancy dinners that never happened.)
Why will I wear these shoes? Because I’ll be walking a lot and they are the most comfortable.
Why will I wear this t-shirt? Because the weather is hot and I don’t want my arms covered.
If I can’t think of a need the new item will be fulfilling or a common scenario in which I’ll use it, I put it back. For years, I had pieces in my wardrobe that still had tags because, although I loved the way they looked, I had literally no occasion to wear them. Thankfully, those days are gone.
There are many non-obvious benefits of traveling.
Becoming a traveler has taught me a lot of things that, if I’m honest, I kind of expected to learn through the process skipping from one continent to the next. But how to be a better, more pragmatic shopper was definitely not one of them. Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the knowledge.
Casira is an avid traveler who is always saving up for her next trip. When she’s not writing, she’s working on her goal of becoming a polyglot. Follow her on Instagram @cejayce.
Image via Unsplash