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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. This was my experiment to see how much I could 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 knew what clothing I really like and why I like it, and also what was missing and why I missed it (hint: not much, and mostly due to performance requirements). It’s now more than a decade later… and TBH I haven’t changed much except to get higher and higher quality stuff, which lasts so much longer it’s usually well worth the money and performs radically much better.

9 black t-shirts;

Outlier. I tried shirts from American Apparel, Uniqlo, H&M, Paragon, street vendors in Queens, and more. These fit the best, felt the best, look the best, and have the added benefit of being made of the most amazing wool blend that never smells, dries fast, and regulates temp like a champ. Expensive as hell and worth every single penny.


9 black boxers;

Ex Officio. I sampled Calvin Klein, 2(x)ist, the Gap, Banana Republic, H&M, and a few others. Theseare the most comfortable, durable, breathable, odor resistant, and they dry in a couple hours if you dry them in a sink at a hotel.


9 pairs of black socks;

Outlier, again. Interestingly enough, these socks have held up better than the high-end boutique socks I’ve ended up buying at airport shops, and as they’re wool don’t smell.


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.


Asics Nimbus. I ran in barefoot shoes (Terra Planas) for a while, but once I started doing longer runs my feet started to ache. I only use them for street running, but for that purpose they work great.


1 sweater:

Light black down; Patagonia’s down sweaters are *amazingly* light and warm. Great under a soft-shell in snow or as an outlier for cold weather biking. Yes, expensive. Yes, worth it.


2 jackets;

Patagonia Torrent Hard Shell; their stuff seems to withstand anything and breathes better then many name-brand hiking jackets I’ve ever tried. Plus, it’s super lightweight and has got tons of useful pockets.


Canada Goose; because really cold weather makes the price/quality equation totally worth it. If I’m only buying two jackets a decade I don’t feel so bad about the expense when I know they’ll last and make me comfortable when I need it.


2 pairs of pants:

Outlier OGs. These pants have taken me over glaciers, through boardrooms, down sewers, and across stages worldwide. They look great, breath well, shed stains and dirt like teflon, and last forever. Again expensive and again worth every penny.


Jeans by Loren Cronk. These are a total indulgence, and serve no practical purpose beyond making me feel like I look good when I slide into a super comfy pair of jeans. May not be true, but feels like it is.


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.