Since launching my company, Orchard and Broome, I’ve found myself working insane hours (#girlboss #startuplife), and having an incredibly hard time making decisions of all sorts: clothing, food, scheduling, you name it. As a result, I often find myself staring at my embarrassingly packed closet with “nothing to wear.” Sound familiar?
While you may just simply be tired of your clothing, it’s actually more likely that you’re just tired of exerting the mental energy it takes to pick out a cute outfit first thing in the morning–before you’ve stopped by your favorite organic coffee shop.
That is what neuroscientist and psychologist, Daniel Levitin, refers to as “decision fatigue.” Simply put, it’s when you’re tired of, well, making decisions.
In 2011, the New York Times reported that decision fatigue involves ‘ego depletion’, a term that social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister created. Baumeister conducted a series of studies that found there is a finite amount of mental energy for exerting self-control. As each decision requires mental energy (yes, the brain can get exhausted) trying to make a lot of decisions each day can result in decision fatigue–which worsens throughout the day, naturally, as you make more and more decisions.
The situations he studied ranged from choosing between tempting foods or random household items, to testing self-control by way of watching emotional movies and having participants hold their hands under ice water. But the underlying idea–exhausting mental capabilities through insignificant decision-making–absolutely applies to fashion, as well. “Is my bra showing? It’s cold outside, but this sweater is too bulky to fit under that coat. Is this skirt sexy enough for a date? Too sexy for work? Which shoes look better with these pants? Fuck it, it’s a t-shirt and jeans today. Again.”
Levitin goes on to explain that as a way to avoid such information overload, great minds like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and even Mark Zuckerberg, taking after the former POTUS Barack Obama, have all adopted a uniform. The idea is that if you don’t waste mental energy on deciding which shoes to wear with which blouse, pants, earrings, scarf, and coat, then you will reserve energy for more important decision making, such as how to invest your money, or which applicant to hire for the job.
Looking at it this way, you could even say that the plethora of female fashion choices, far from being freeing, are just another way women are being held back from rising to the top of their fields. And I’m a proponent of being on my A-game. All day. Everyday.
Uniform dressing is not a new concept by any means, but it was rejuvenated and modernized heavily last year by the media (read: Vogue, Harper’s, WSJ, FastCo, and more). Rather than limit such style to private schools uniforms of stiff cotton and itchy wool, the uniform became a dressing formula for the everyday. As far as information overload, it’s hard to argue that it’s not an issue that everyone faces–what with our constant connectivity and river of data we consume. That unending stimulus, over time, exhausts our brains.
So, I’ve embraced some fashion-related rules to mitigate my decision fatigue. The result? I only spend about 10 minutes every morning picking out what to wear. And when I arrive to my office, I’m fresh and ready to tackle the hard work of pitching editors. Here are my rules:
1. Curate a Capsule Wardrobe
The idea of a capsule wardrobe is curating a very minimal amount of items, only necessities, within your closet. Rather than having tons of pairs of jeans and tops of all styles and colors, every piece is purchased consciously, so as to be mix-and-matched–hence why ‘capsules’ are often thought to only feature more muted or neutral tones. And that’s not to say that you have to completely neutralize your closet and avoid color (unless, like me, you just prefer a neutral wardrobe). But rather, you pick two of your favorite colors (red, navy, blush, mustard…) or color themes (jewel tones, primary colors, pastels) so that you could put on a blindfold, pull a random assortment of items from the closet, throw them on, and still look put together in the end.
2. Create Your Uniform
While the notion of a ‘uniform’ seems rigid, one can argue that it actually encourages creativity and the discovery of personal style. In my mind, creating a ‘uniform’ is less specific than Steve Jobs’ black turtleneck, and more along the lines of a ‘style guide’ or styling rules that flatter your body and make you feel good. For me, I’m always satisfied with:
- A monochromatic outfit,
- A combination of denim and stripes (or black, or white),
- A looser fit on top and more fitted on the bottom, or vice versa.
Following these guidelines significantly reduces the amount of time it takes me to get dressed.
3. Avoid Trends and Shop Consciously
Trend items, like ruffled sleeves or “cold shoulder” cut-out tops, are a part of the cycle of fast fashion. As a general rule of thumb, ask yourself when making a new purchase if, realistically, you’ll get multiple wears out of that particular item. Remember Livia Firth’s #30Wear Challenge? This plays off of the idea of ‘quality over quantity’, as well. Shop well- and sustainably-made items that you’re proud to (and can withstand) wear time and again.
4. Create a Virtual Wardrobe
Okay, this might seem excessive–and you might call me crazy–but one day I had just had enough and felt like so much time was being wasted, that I played dress up. And documented it. I’m not a blogger, and it wasn’t meant to be posted to social media, but I sifted through my closet and spent one evening (and a bottle of wine) mixing up different outfits and taking photos of those that ‘worked’. Meaning, it was 100% likely that I’d wear that combination of clothing outside of my apartment and feel comfortable (key), confident (also, key), and completely put together (perception is everything). Honestly, this could be a ton of fun if you rope in some friends! (Note from Alden: There’s an app for that, called Cladwell. I used it to clean out my closet and discover my core wardrobe colors!)
Basically, the moral of the story is that we’re all exhausted.
No, but really. We may live impeccably: eat healthy foods, drink lots of water, sleep full nights, and so on (note from Alden: YOU might, Steph) but society is working against us and our mental capacities. Make things a little easier for yourself, and take some time to mitigate the long-term effects of burnout.