We are conditioned to believe that the more choices we have in life, the better chance we have of finding what we want, acquiring it, and consequently being happy or even happier.
Surprisingly, psychologists tell us that the opposite is true. Having a multitude of choices often leads people to confusion, frustration, and bad decisions.
Based on personal experience and recent observations, I’d say I have to agree with the scientists.
Let’s start with personal experience. As most of you know, I encourage everyone to dress in a fairly traditional, ‘Ivy League’ or ‘Old Money’ style. It’s a strategy that ensures you’ll be most likely be well-dressed for any occasion and save money by investing in your wardrobe over time rather than overspending in the elusive pursuit of fashion trends. You’ll communicate respectability and engender trust without calling too much attention to yourself.
Adopting this style of dress and narrowing your focus automatically reduces the number of vendors you’ll consider, as we discussed in our recent Back To School post on essential wardrobe items for students returning to campus. These vendors have basically formed a ‘usual suspects’ line up for us when we discuss clothing on the blog: Mercer and Sons shirts, Allen Edmonds shoes, Talbots for ladies’ clothing, Brooks Bros, LandsEnd, and Polo for many items.
This single choice–to adopt an enduring style–has a domino effect. It narrows our subsequent choices, which may seem like a bad thing. But it really isn’t. You get to make your choice between a lot of ‘not bad’ options very quickly and with little fanfare.
Contrast this approach with that of a young man living here in Paris. As we sat in a cafe recently, he decided to investigate his online options as he considered purchasing a pair of black blue jeans. Simple enough, I thought, as I leaned in over his shoulder, looking at his laptop screen. We’d go to a website, see two or three options–baggy or slim fit, straight leg or…bell bottoms? Were bell bottoms even back in fashion? I had not a clue about this retail landscape.
Nevertheless, when we landed on the Levi’s jeans portal, I was dumbfounded. I think I saw fifty different styles and colors of quote-unquote ‘black jeans’. Stone-washed, distressed, faded, shiny-finished, stretch, skinny jeans (?), original fit, low rise, all these combined with the Levi’s numbered styles of 501, 511, 513, and who knows how many more…I don’t quite remember and to be honest I don’t want to remember. It was all too much. There were too many choices.
And soon, even my young friend gave up. He closed his laptop and returned to his coffee. “I’ll just walk into a store and pull a pair off the shelf,” he said, suddenly fatigued. Probably a better idea, even though there would be fewer choices at the brick and mortar location. He just wanted a pair of black jeans. He didn’t want every possible option in the history of denim. (Paired with the tailored white dress shirt, fitted black jeans seem to be part of almost every man’s casual ‘uniform’ here in Paris, and it’s a good look for this city.)
Under the ‘personal observation’ category, let me share this insight (again) after living for a few years in the Mecca of Fashion. The ‘secret’ to Parisians’ legendary style is just that: limiting their choices to classic, well-made pieces in a narrow range of colors. It may justifiably be accused of lacking imagination, but the restrained, timeless style that this city’s residents are so famous for finds its starting point with, again, limited choices. (I’m not the first writer to make note of this and I’m sure I won’t be the last.)
So as we strive to make better decisions, we should first reflect, remembering to avoid retailers’ constant siren call of more and more choices, a bigger variety of products, new and improved this and that, and the next big thing.
We do this by first adopting our philosophy of life and adhering to it. Then we can more easily filter options–from clothing choices to moral choices– that fall within the guidelines that philosophy.
Yes, we instantly create limitations, but ironically, we may find ourselves more fulfilled and, strangely, more free.