Editor’s Note: It is with great excitement that we post the first of Sarah Cooney’s series Women’s Ivy, which will appear every Wednesday. Sarah’s blog is Fewer And Better, and she can be reached at SarahCooney@Ivy-StyleMediaGroup.com
I had an assignment in college that began as a burden and ended up being one of the most thought-provoking experiences of my life. Studying Anthropology, I was required to take a number of cultural anthropology courses despite a focus in archaeology. One of my professors set us an assignment—to keep track of everything we wore for a month. We had to create a spreadsheet and write how/where we acquired what we wore, how much we spent, where it was made, how often we wore the items, what we were doing when we wore that outfit—and at the end of the month, submit an analysis of our style, our shopping patterns, and what our clothing said about us. I’ve never been able to get dressed the same way again.
This assignment shaped a good deal of my life. Instead of applying anthropological thinking to other cultures, I started thinking about my own life and culture through that lens. Why do we dress the way we do? Why is there such pressure on our culture to constantly be consuming, to be searching for the next thing, to feel like we’re missing out if we don’t have the latest fashions? Why does a sale seem to equal a compulsion to purchase something, because otherwise we’re missing out? (Hint: 99% of the time, we’re not–and that’s why the item is on sale to begin with!)
At the beginning of the pandemic, I started taking stock of my life, as I think most people did. What was important to me? How did I want to spend my time and expend my mental energy? What physical possessions did I really value? I started sorting through my things. I have found it difficult to remove belongings from my possession in the past, so I came up with a set of criteria to do so. At the end of the first round of this process, I felt so much lighter—both physically and metaphorically. I started making choices more deliberately. I noticed patterns in what I kept in my wardrobe and what I donated. A clear theme emerged: timeless, comfortable clothing that can take me anywhere. In short, Ivy style.
To me, Ivy style has always been inclusive. It’s a great uniform and a great leveler. You don’t have to wear expensive handmade shoes or custom shirts; you can pick up something at your church’s opp shop or wear a sweater you inherited from your grandmother. It’s a true mix, with the underlying notes being timelessness, quality, and deliberate choice. It’s a choice to dress well; I’ve always felt that dressing nicely shows respect for yourself and respect for others. That doesn’t have to feel formal or stuffy. The same base outfit (mine being cords, sweater, loafers, OCBD, pearl earrings) can work for church or school drop-off or spending time around the house or an outing with friends. It works. It’s not going to look dated in ten years or twenty or fifty. I have photographs of my grandparents from the 70s and 80s wearing clothes that I’d wear today—and, in a few cases, actually wear.
At the end of this taking-stock process (or at least the first round of it; I have a sense that this will be a lifelong project), it was very clear to me that I care far more for quality over quantity. Three well-made sweaters will last me much longer than twenty fast fashion ones I’ll forget about next season, and they’ll have much more meaning to me, too. I love that I get to wear the Fair Isle sweaters my grandmother and her best friend bought on trips to Bermuda. I love that I get to wear the same shoes my mother did when she was my age, working in the same building where I have my office now. There’s a pleasure and a connection to the people that I loved who are no longer with me; a new sweater, however trendy, can never replace that.
I look forward to sharing my thoughts—and hearing yours!—here on Ivy Style on Wednesdays! Feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com, and you can find me on Instagram @fewerandbetterblog or on my blog.