The Black T-Shirt Project


Many people are familiar with the legend that Einstein had a closet full of matching suits. The legend persists because it neatly illustrates the concept of reduced cognitive load – by limiting the thought required for daily tasks you give yourself more time and attention to attend to other things.

It’s also appealing because it sounds totally crazy – and, to some small part of most people – damned convenient. Who wouldn’t like to be able to open their closet and pull out any set of clothes and know they’ll look and feel good that day?

We’ve all heard of the 80/20 rule – 20% of your clothes (or whatever) are used 80% of the time. I’m going to try an experiment to see how much I can limit my clothing while still looking and feeling good. This last bit is important – there’s no sense in not thinking about what you’re wearing if you spend the rest of the day feeling like an idiot.

Moreover, I want as few items as possible. I’m not interested in maintaining a catalogue of clothing that I can mix or match to produce nuanced statements for every situation. Sure, if it’s a special occasion I think it’s important to have the appropriate clothes on hand to look good and respect the context, but for day to day I’m more interested in reliability, appropriateness, and comfort. So I decided to try keeping only what I wore regularly (in enough quantity that I wouldn’t run out of clean clothes).

After a month I hope to know what clothing I really like and why I like it, and also to know what I’m missing and why I miss it. Along the way I’m going to experiment with some of the new fabrics out there (like Uniqlo’s hollow-thread thermal t-shirts, the new milk- and corn-based fabrics, Exofficio’s fast-drying travel cloth, etc.) to see how they compare to the usual cotton. Beside being more sustainable there’s a good chance these new materials will be more water- and stain-resistant as well as potentially more comfortable.

In one month’s time I may be completely sick of my black t-shirts, but I’m also likely to know exactly what I do and don’t want in my closet. If I’m able to make good choices based on what I learn I’ll be able to limit my clothes to exactly what I enjoy wearing – and it’ll be that much less to think about.

9 black t-shirts;

    American Apparel. I tried shirts from American Apparel, Uniqlo, H&M, Paragon, street vendors in Queens, and more. These fit the best, felt the best, and had the added benefit of being made by fair labor.

9 black boxers;

    Uniqlo. I sampled Calvin Klein, 2(x)ist, the Gap, Banana Republic, H&M, and a few others. Uniqlo’s are the most comfortable, durable, and breathable. Plus they’re the cheapest by a wide margin.

9 pairs of black socks;

    Uniqlo. Interestingly enough, these socks have held up better than the high-end boutique socks I’ve ended up buying at airport shops.

3 pairs of shoes:

    Blundstone Boots – sturdy enough for hiking but with enough shine to wear them in the office. Waterproof, warm, easy to take on and off at the airport, and they never wear out.
    Terra Plana – These work for all but the most formal events and are equally good BBQing in the backyard. Plus, they completely solved my back pain.
    Black Wingtips; Sometimes nothing else will do. Given how infrequently I use them I expect them to last a long time.

3 sweaters:

    Light black down; North Face’s Summit Series down sweaters are *amazingly* light and warm. Great under a soft-shell in snow or as an outlier for cold weather biking.
    Light black fleece; Cintamani’s is a good compromise for heavy AC or chilly fall/spring days. Layers nicely.
    Light black wool; Icebreakers underlayer; breathes extremely well, great in all conditions (except hot), won’t hold an odor, and dries fast.

2 jackets;

    Triple Aught; their stuff seems to withstand anything and breathes better then any of the name-brand hiking stuff I’ve ever tried. Plus, it’s super lightweight and has got tons of useful pockets.
    Wool Long Coat; it’s more formal than what I’d usually wear, but in NYC it’s easy to pull off and lets you faux-formal up whatever you wear it over.

2 pairs of pants:

    Pair of jeans; Rogan, because they’re actually making a difference in turning fashion into something eco-sustainable. Plus, they’re comfortable as hell. 🙂
    Pair of tailored black slacks; I dislike businesswear enough to pay to make it comfortable, but YMMV

Wool gloves, cap, and scarf;

    Army-Navy surplus. these things never die, keep me warm even when wet, and the green color matches pretty much everything.

 


 

Update; It’s been a few years and I keep buying black t-shirts to replace the ones I’ve worn out. I’ve updated a few things (such as underwear and sweaters), but overall it seems to be working!