Stylist’s Moya Crockett once felt paralysed by the thought of getting dressed. Then she started making a list.
There are few virtual spaces more intimate than the iPhone Notes app. Like most people, my Notes are a mishmash of the utterly mundane and the painfully revealing: one contains the door code to my office building, while another is a list of things I want to discuss when I finally get round to going to therapy. For me, the app operates as part-Post-It, part-journal.
One of the most useful Notes in my phone is titled SHOPPING LIST, and it is both very personal – as evidenced by the fact that everyone who learns of its existence immediately asks to see it – and quite dull. It’s not a reminder of what groceries to buy (although I do also have plenty of Notes that say nothing more than “peppermint tea bags. Tabasco. Onions”). Instead, it’s a rundown of the clothes I want or need to add to my wardrobe, organised according to priority.
The list is extensive, specific and coded with symbols: £ for items I suspect I can find on the high street; ££ for staple pieces worth investing in; and V (ie ‘vintage’) for things I know from experience I can probably find secondhand. As a general rule, I do not buy anything if it is not on my list, only deviating from it if I stumble unexpectedly across something that makes me feel like the absolute best version of myself. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it has transformed the way I shop.
I began compiling the list earlier this year, after I suddenly found myself incapable of getting dressed. This happened in late May, almost June, a time I always find sartorially tricky: a turtleneck-wearer at my core, I’ve never really figured out how to dress in warm weather.
But this summer felt different. I wasn’t just stumped about what to wear; I felt literally paralysed at the prospect of having to choose what to put on my body. Trying to pick out a top and trousers and shoes that not only a) went together but b) were weather-appropriate and c) didn’t make my skin prickle with anxiety felt like an insurmountable task, an unsolvable riddle. More than once, I bailed on social plans – including the birthday barbeque of one of my oldest friends – because I was standing in my bedroom in my underwear, staring blankly at my clothes rail and feeling panic rising inside me like floodwater.
I knew this wasn’t normal. I also knew I wasn’t simply being a brat: I’m not someone who generally frets about their appearance, but I’ve certainly whinged about having nothing to wear before, and this was different. In retrospect, I can see that my inability to get dressed was a symptom of stress. It was anxiety that I’d pushed down in other areas of my life, splurging out somewhere it had never occurred to me to seal off.
I couldn’t snap my fingers and make myself less stressed. But fairly quickly, once the worst of the anxiety fog had started to clear from my mind, I realised that my wardrobe (actually an Ikea rail and two open shelves) wasn’t doing me any favours. I owned too many things I hadn’t worn for years, pieces that no longer fitted, and clothes I loved on the hanger but not on myself. At a time when I already felt like there was far too much stuff in my head, having to push past all this surplus fabric just to find something to wear was overwhelming.
Anxiety also has a tendency to make me feel both porous, like the borders of my body and brain are not as solid as they should be, and nebulous, as though I’m at risk of dissolving into thin air. A wardrobe full of clothes that no longer felt like ‘me’ was not helping me cling onto my already-shaky sense of self.
So I dedicated a weekend to a ruthless clear-out, trundling between my flat and my local charity shop laden with bin bags. After I’d got rid of everything I no longer wanted or needed, I made a list of everything that was left, organising it into categories: jackets, coats, tops, trousers, skirts, dresses, jumpers. The dull, methodical nature of the task put the brakes on my panic, and suddenly I was able to see clearly where the gaps and gluts in my wardrobe were.
I had lots of blazers and jumpers, but no lightweight trousers for hot days. I had two pairs of silver high heels, but my only flat sandals were a pair of scuffed and slightly broken slides that I’d panic-bought before a festival in 2017. I owned a few thin summery blouses that I loved, but not a single bra I could wear underneath them. These, I realised, were the cracks I was falling through when trying to get dressed.
And thus my shopping list was born. I noted down all the things my wardrobe was lacking, and promised myself I’d only purchase items from the list from that moment on. So far, I’ve pretty much stuck to it. Inevitably, the list has evolved over time: as the weather cooled, I’ve relegated summery things to the bottom, while other items have been added to the top.
Neither is my list purely practical, devoid of frivolity. It currently features items like a cream beret, a pair of heavy silver hoop earrings and a long-sleeved black Going Out Top. I don’t need any of these things; I just know that once I find them, they’ll bring me genuine joy.
But having a simple document to refer to has drastically changed my relationship to clothes, and helped me shop in a more mindful, sustainable way. For the first time in years, my wardrobe feels like it’s working as a cohesive unit, because the list has pushed me to invest in the boring basics that tie everything else together: a black silk camisole, a smart pair of dark trousers, sturdy boots.
It’s also made me much less susceptible to the urge to buy things I don’t need, a compulsion that is purposefully fostered by fashion brands and global shopping events such as Black Friday and the January sales. I don’t run to Oxford Street before a big event anymore, because I know perfectly well that I own plenty of party dresses. And I’m much less susceptible to fast fashion impulse buys, because I know exactly what I’m really looking for. It sounds constrictive, but it’s actually remarkably freeing.
So go on – make yourself a list. It might shift how you shop forever. And at the very least, it will make your Notes app an (even more) interesting place to be.
Images: Getty Images