Monday, September 20, 2010

Not Quite Clear on the "Six or Less" Concept

In July I read an article in the New York Times about the Six Items or Less challenge. It calls for people to choose six articles of clothing and to wear those, and only those, for an entire month (shoes and accessories don't count.) In the Times piece, the people who made it to the end of the thirty days found it strangely liberating, reporting that not only did their clothing repetition go unnoticed by friends, spouses and family, but they felt freed from the tyranny of commercialism.

The article was forwarded and re-forwarded among my friends, none of whom would qualify as raging shopaholics but all of whom, myself included, are finding the Great Recession a welcome nudge back to budgeting basics. "I could do this, no problem," was the general response. 

I knew it would be easy for me, having had a practice run last year. When my family toured New Zealand in a campervan for two weeks I packed the bare minimum, reasoning that since we were literally picking up and moving house every day, no one would ever notice. No one else in my family got the memo, though. That's why in all the photos from that trip, my husband and children look fresh and clean, and I am wearing the same black fleece and black yoga pants, as though I've stopped mid-workout to visit the Southern Hemisphere.

At any rate the first step would be choosing six versatile items of clothing with coordinating colors: I decided on blue, black, and white. Obviously, because I am American, jeans were Item Number One. Levis has recently launched a massive advertising campaign around their new Curve ID jeans for women - with the tagline "all asses are not created equal."  When I was a teenager in the early 1980s and hadn't yet grown hips, we knew that maxim was true, because a teen's popularity (boy or girl) was directly proportional to how good their aforementioned asses looked in their Levis 501s. I've never really let go of that visual metric. The fancy $250 jeans hoopla passed me by; I have just been waiting for Levis to come out with something that fits my mom-hips and doesn't button at my sternum.

I gave the new jeans a try and voila, they fit me perfectly. (In fact, I am actively resisting the urge to put a purple plastic comb in the back pocket that says "Dy-No-Mite!" on it, the better to feather my hair. ) Since the jeans are new to the market, Levis is doing all kinds of crazy discounting. It's a law of nature that if you find a pair of jeans that flatter and are on sale, you should buy them in multiples. So I plunked down for two new pairs, blue and black.

The next item on the Six or Less list would have to be a white cotton t-shirt, but mine was a year old. There is no white cotton t-shirt on the planet that can survive twelve months without looking like a wardrobe leftover from "On The Waterfront," so I hied myself down to H&M to buy a new one. They had just what I wanted for $9, but on the next rack and for only a few dollars more you could buy a set with both a white t-shirt and a navy-blue striped shirt. I happen to have a weakness for navy striped shirts, since without one my husband and I wouldn't have met, but that's a story for another time. I bought the set of two shirts.

Then I left on a family vacation to the steamy northeast and realized that one of my kids had forgotten to pack shorts. (After the cold summer we've had in the Bay Area I think she forgot why shorts were invented.) I jumped into my mom's car and cruised on over to the nearby Kohl's to pick up a pair of gym shorts for her.

Just as I was leaving to check out, a sweater on display caught my eye - a navy blue cardigan with a black fabric corsage that would match everything I'd chosen thus far. It was inexpensive to start with, and I find that when you shop at Kohl's they just keep pelting you with discounts until you emerge into the sunlight with your shopping bag in hand, bewildered,  wondering if you actually just earned money on the transaction. It reminds me of when I was in middle school and my brother was a popular high school football player. I'd stop at the Bagel Shop after school and order a sesame bagel dog, handing over a dollar bill. The counter girls would give me the bagel dog, a dozen bagels, a Diet Coke, and a $5 bill from the register and say "Tell your brother we say hi!"

It would have seemed ungrateful not to buy the sweater, I thought, and besides it was really vacation spending, not clothing spending.

Are you with me so far? To take the Six Items or Less challenge and prove that I didn't need a big wardrobe, I had purchased two pairs of jeans, two t-shirts, and a sweater. For my sixth item, and for the sake of my shredded self-respect, I chose a black linen dress that my mom bought me from Filene's  twenty-five years ago when I was in high school, for $8. Eight dollars! That's, like, 72 cents in current dollars. Ya hear that, Six or Less challengers? In your face!

In the no-holds-barred category of shoes, at least, I wasn't tempted to spend. Since developing old lady foot problems last year, I only ever wear the same black Dansko clogs, resoled and reheeled and extremely practical.

I don't think the Six or Less people were encouraging anyone to buy new accessories during the challenge, but they hadn't met me yet. I can breeze past jewelry stores and jewelry counters, but if it's hand-crafted I'm hooked. I write about craft and upcycling for the San Francisco Chronicle so it's actually a professional obligation to attend craft shows, hit the tiny local boutiques and consignment stores, and tease out the human stories behind the objects. Nine times out of ten, I'm so moved by the story that my payment from the newspaper ends up going straight into the artisan's pocket.

Over the summer I managed to buy a hand-tooled leather belt with a buckle made of typewriter keys; a giant ring constructed from  a picture of the Eiffel Tower and a penny; a bling-y looking vintage silver necklace with a big medallion that says "Ville De Nancy," and two purses created entirely from new-never-used auto seat covers.

Clearly, then, there is nothing left to stop me from conquering the Six or Less challenge. And yet, as I write this, I am wearing none of the six items of clothing described herein, but rather the well-traveled black fleece and yoga pants ensemble.

Maybe if it had been the "Two or Less" clothing challenge I would have stood a chance.


  1. I am so with you - I continually fantasize about what my 6, or maybe 9, items will be. And then Old Navy just throws the perfect grey Henley in front of my face! Someday, I will take the challenge - but will you notice?

  2. OMG, I just giggled out loud the whole time I read this. Reading your writing is better than yoga!

  3. That reminds me, I probably need a new yoga top before I can start this.


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