Growing up, I've always wanted to be a world traveler. You know, one of those people that can casually drop something like: "I bought this shawl from an old lady on the souk in Marrakesh, and used it as a blanket on my trip to Amazonian jungles". Okay, let’s just admit - I desperately wanted to be cool and mysterious.
Now, after living in different countries, travelling around and having quite a few adventures, I feel like a giant dork, when people ask me where I bought, for example, my gray scarf. Because yes, technically I bought it in the mountains of Northern Thailand after negotiating the price via a calculator for a while. And yes, I used it as a blanket in a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap, because they are always overly air-conditioned. But all this seemingly charming ambiance doesn't change the fact that I could've bought the same factory-made scarf in a mall in Kyiv.
So this post is not about the romantic flair of travelling and finding gems in jungles. I would love it to be about rationality and sustainability, about choosing the right amount of trusty functional things that can serve you throughout many years, places and moves.
In my opinion nothing tests the quality of clothes better than traveling or moving into a different country with it. When you are living at home, you most probably have quite a stash of clothes and your own washing machine, that doesn’t tear the holes in the fabric. But living out of a suitcase means wearing and washing everything you own three, four, five, ten times more often than before, and not many pieces will survive this.
When I moved to Thailand, I had a very, VERY limited wardrobe of 20 items (not including shoes) that occupied not more than 1/3 of my suitcase. You can see the amount of clothes I had back then if you will follow the link, but I can only describe that “WEARdrobe” as “two of each” – two pairs of shorts, two t-shirts, two skirts, two dressy tops (never worn any of them)…
When I was moving to Italy for the first time, I was already more experienced in living out of a suitcase. But at the same time I was facing a new task. I needed to bring clothes for 9 months and every occasion – for summer and winter, for office and free time, for hiking and going to the beach. (spoiler alert – I managed!)
This time I landed on Sicily with the same trusty backpack and a standard plastic suitcase, and this time my task was even more interesting – I was packing for at least three years. And as I was unpacking in my tiny dorm room in Palermo, I realized one thing – there are items that were with me through all of these moves, came with me to Sicily for the second time and still didn’t let me down.
I counted 9 wardrobe pieces that were with me in Thailand, during my volunteering in Palermo and are still with me now, when I started my PhD experiences. So it’s time to meet my trusty friends:
- Topshop T-shirt. Bought this tee in a Kyiv thrift store at least 5 years ago and it still is in perfect condition. It’s quite basic, but has enough of interesting details to be a real staple in my “weardrobe”. It’s made out of thick durable cotton and after countless washes in countless washing machines still manages to hold its shape beautifully.
- Floral skirt. During the time in Asia I used to call it “the date skirt” just because I only had two and this one was much prettier than the other one. It was and still is one of the trustiest items of clothing I’ve ever owned. I still love it as much as when I just got it (also from a thrift store, as most of my other clothes) and every time I wear it I feel pretty and pulled together, exactly as I felt in Asia when it was the dressiest thing I owned.
Chiang Mai, 2013
- Parka H&M L.O.G.G. Also a thrift find, and one of the items I can’t live without. I honestly wear it with everything – it makes any outfit a bit more casual and, at the same time, a bit more trendy, and I absolutely love it with striped tops, skirts and ballet flats. I also love to put it over a dressier top for going out – it looks great and I don’t feel like I’m trying too hard.
- Aztec scarf. I bought on Pratunam market in Bangkok and ever since then it’s doing a great job of adding a pop of color to any outfit. I didn’t expect to get such a great quality for just 2 euro, but it’s holding really well.
- Grey scarf. Yes, the famous scarf bought in Pai for about 3 euro. Yes, the quality is really not great and recently it started to show some signs of wear. But when it will completely fall apart, I will for sure buy another wide grey scarf, just because it’s an item that I want to have in my wardrobe forever. The size, the color, the texture – everything about this piece is so versatile that it goes with literally everything. Just maybe the next time I will invest in a better quality item.
- Sunglasses. A perfect shape for me, that again makes any outfit more interesting. One of my friends is calling them “grandpa’s sunnies”, but I don’t really care – I’m absolutely in love with the shape and would love to have them also in black (I’m still thinking on what to invest in – a black version of this model or in Ray Ban Jackie Oh’s, also in black)
- Studded backpack. I bought it from Asos at least 4 years ago with my birthday discount and sometimes can’t believe it is still in such a great condition. It’s been with me everywhere, under rain and sun, during tracking, bicycle trips and by the sea, and even if it lost some color, I really can’t see it. Recently I noticed that lining started to fall apart a bit, but I know that the backpack still has a lot of wear in it. And I still get a lot of compliments on it.
- Leather bag made in India. Also a thrifted item. It’s a genuine leather bag made in India, and I would’ve never bought it if I saw it new (for ethical reason I’m trying not to buy new leather items and not to create demand). But I saw it in a thrift store and I knew it was a good buy. It survived every challenge I imposed on it and it still looks great. After the first day of Songkran in Chiang Mai (when I got soaking wet at least 4 times in 2 hours) the leather of the bag became really stiff and I was prepared to retire it. But after some time it was like new again – a true miracle I can’t explain (but also am not complaining about!). I’m still getting lots of compliments on it – many people say that they also love the distressed look of it and the versatile color.(seen on the photo of the skirt)
- Sheep tote. I bought it in Vilnius in 2012 and can't part with it ever since. I have at least 10 totes back at home, but only this one, with a cute sheep print, travels with me everywhere. It turned out to be surprisingly sturdy - I used it to carry bottles from water machine in Thailand, as a carry on for numerous flights, as a laptop bag to go to library, and it managed every time.
So here are my 9 trusty friends. Traveling and moving taught me to be more chilled about retiring clothes – nothing can serve you forever, and in the end you just need to thank your favorite bag/skirt/jeans/pair boots and let then rest. But I also know that each and every of this things will be eventually replaced by another item in the same style, because they are my wardrobe staples and I love having them in my life.
So yes, eventually I will have to buy a new tightly-weaved grey tee, or one more used leather cross-body bag, or another little backpack (I’m thinking about moss-green/red Kanken) or a new simple floral skirt or to update my khaki jacket. But I’m okay with this, because these items already had a great life and many adventures. And they already helped me realize the base of my capsule wardrobe, that can support me through half a year in Asia or one year of volunteering on Sicily, and for sure will also help me out through my PhD studies in the next 3 years.
Hope this post was interesting for you! Stay tuned, because I’m planning a whole series about rethinking a wardrobe and finding personal style!