Minimalist Wardrobe: How to Express Yourself With Less
Minimalism: the trendy word that is, ironically, anti-trend.
Minimalism is a trend really insofar as people are getting back to basics and realizing they don’t actually need to follow trends to live happy, stylish lives.
Getting back-to-basics means a lot of things for different people. It can also be applied in many areas of our lives, from art and design to food and fashion.
We’re here to talk about the latter because fast fashion is one trend that has got to go.
Minimalism in fashion, however, doesn’t fall to the industry; the change starts in your own closet with a minimalist wardrobe.
But what is a minimalist wardrobe? Why should we all adopt one and how do we get there?
We’ve answered all those questions and more in this class on creating a minimalist wardrobe 101.
1. WHAT IS A MINIMALIST WARDROBE?
What exactly is a minimalist wardrobe?
Does it have to be a minimalist capsule wardrobe, where you only have between 25 and 50 garments in your closet?
Is it just keeping minimalist wardrobe essentials and never buying new again?
Having a minimalist wardrobe can mean both… or it can mean neither.
Answering the question of how to have a minimalist wardrobe, is completely up to you.
There’s no formula to follow, and while it’s helpful to have a minimalist wardrobe checklist, we all have different needs—so even that can be taken with a grain of salt.
We won’t leave you completely on your own to figure out your minimalist wardrobe, though. We’re constantly thinking of what sustainable and ethical fashion is and we’ve done a complete top-to-bottom examination of dressing for our planet (literally, from sustainable hats to eco friendly socks).
So it’s safe to say we have some thoughts about how to put together a minimalist wardrobe.
But before we get started, let’s cover some of the basics.
The birth of minimalism
Minimalism as an aesthetic, emerged in the early 1960s believing in the adage less is more.
From there, nothing could escape the minimalist movement. Over the next four decades, it began to find itself in art, music, home decor, architectural design, and fashion.
But minimalism’s true boom didn’t occur until the turn of the century. After the Global Financial Crisis in 2007-2008, many people in the United States began to shift their viewpoints about what’s really important in life.
Fast forward several more years (and economic crises) and add an increased awareness that our planet is suffering from overconsumption. Now, many more people are beginning to realize the value of purchasing less and living more.
Minimalism in fashion today
While a minimalist wardrobe is commonly associated with a capsule wardrobe—coined in the 1970s by London boutique owner Susie Faux—having just 33-37 items isn’t practical for everyone.
Thus minimalist fashion has taken on an entirely new and interpretable meaning.
Having a minimalist wardrobe means being aware of all the clothing we have and regularly getting rid of/not buying what we don’t need. This could mean that most of us need to get rid of 90% of the clothes in our wardrobe, but it also could mean just stitching a new button on an old winter coat and calling it a day.
When it comes down to it, the key to a minimalist wardrobe is simple: be honest.
Be honest about just how often you’ll wear that sequined cardigan. Be honest about the fact that you might be working a day and a half for one pair of boots that you’ll only get to wear on certain occasions.
Most importantly, be honest about your contribution to fast fashion.
By honestly realizing that we’ll always contribute to the fast fashion machine every once and a while, we can take conscious steps to minimize how often we do (like supporting the slow fashion movement).
2. WHY ADOPT A MINIMALIST WARDROBE?
It’ll probably come as no surprise that a minimalist wardrobe is a great look for our planet (especially since in the U.S., 85% of textiles are thrown away).
Just think if we had more fashion foresight into not buying clothes that would head straight to a landfill or incinerator…And we’re not even getting into all the waste we could save at the manufacturing stage.
It’s simple supply and demand economics.
If there’s no demand, there will be less supply, which means less agricultural chemicals used to grow things like cotton, less petroleum products mined to create synthetics, less energy used to manufacture, and less CO2 emissions from shipping enormous amounts of textiles to create one line of Forever 21 dresses.
Minimizing what’s in your closet is good for you, too. It’ll help you save money, space, and live a better life.
Because the opposite of minimalism (materialism) is associated with loneliness, depression, and stress. Which may come across as counterintuitive in the world of consumerism.
But think about the time you won’t have to spend digging through your drawers to find that one pair of ethical leggings that matches your yoga top perfectly.
If you think those are pretty lofty claims, don’t take our word for it… try it out for yourself!
3. HOW TO CREATE A MINIMALIST WARDROBE
Start with what you have and need.
Clear your schedule, put on your favorite pump-up music, and dive into that closet of yours.
Think of your wardrobe like food.
One of the best ways to minimize and preserve food at home is by looking at what’s in the refrigerator before we head to the grocery store with a grumbling belly.
The same goes for your closet. You won’t know what to buy or get rid of if you don’t know what’s there in the first place.
Maybe an old treasure could replace that new purchase you’ve had your eye on. But you won’t know until you look.
To think of “closet shopping” as a step-by-step process, consider the following:
1. Take everything out.
Empty those dresser drawers, sort through that full laundry basket, and take out all of the clothes in your closet. You want to see every single garment that you own, no article should escape your scrutiny here.
2. What are the clothes you need?
Start by thinking about the sorts of things you actually can’t purge, like work clothes.
To create a minimalist work wardrobe, ask yourself: What are my essentials for the office, and what are the things I don’t really need? Or, if you’re working from home, what pairs of eco friendly yoga pants can I absolutely not live without?
Then move on to the rest of your clothes. We realize that “need” is often subjective, but try to give yourself some tough love here.
Do you really need 8 pairs of jeans? Do you really need that sweater you wore on your first date with your ex-boyfriend three years ago (or will the memory suffice)? Do you need enough t-shirts to wear a different one every day for two and a half months?
Think clutter-free. Think simple. Think less time planning what to wear, and more time just living.
3. What are the clothes you actually wear?
Start with the easy questions: Is there a dress you haven’t worn in six months? A year? Does it even fit or is it one of those “one day it’ll fit/I’ll have something to wear it for” situations?
Again, remember our best friend here: honesty.
Take advantage of items like these because they’re easier to say goodbye to than a garment that fits (but is maybe just redundant in your wardrobe).
For the remaining things, run yourself through a typical week.
How many different outfits do you wear?
Do you need 6 ethical activewear outfits if you’re only going to the gym once a week? Do you have four very similar black turtlenecks, but you definitely have a favorite that you wear most often?
This is the most difficult stage, and you’re sure to second guess your best intentions. But try to be realistic and try to end up with a closet filled with only the limited items that you truly LOVE.
Believe it or not, before the days of fast fashion and never-ending seasonal style changes, we did have a deep love and appreciation for all the items in our closets and dresser drawers, not just some of them.
One of the best things we can do when building a minimalist wardrobe is revisiting the simpler times when clothing was appreciated for what it is: something made with valuable resources (human and planetary) that should be cherished for years to come.
4. What are the essentials in a minimalist summer wardrobe?
Don’t forget to think seasonally, because seasons play a role in how often you wear something.
Just because winter feels like it lasts so much longer doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hold on to summer stuff. You’ll regret only keeping one pair of shorts when the temps hit triple digits!
Here are a few top summer wardrobe essentials to get you thinking about what you need in your minimalist wardrobe:
- Comfy sustainable t shirts
- a light jacket
- a pair of ethical sandals
- a skirt
- sustainable jeans
- a dress shirt
- lightweight pants
- a sustainable swimsuit
- a pair of eco friendly sunglasses
- a few tank tops
- a jumpsuit and
- a lightweight cardigan.
If you travel frequently, you might also want to plan for that summer vacay by thinking of the needs for a minimalist travel wardrobe, too.
5. What are the essentials in a minimalist winter wardrobe?
Use the same rationale for your minimalist winter wardrobe. The key is to pare down on what you have and stick with what you’ll need.
Minimize your winter wardrobe to just
- an ethical winter coat
- durable eco friendly winter boots
- a fair trade scarf or two
- a beanie
- a few ethical sweaters
- a couple of pair of jeans
- a few layering-ready long sleeve shirts
- a winter dress
- a pair of ethical winter gloves
- some comfy sustainable sweatpants
- a pair of versatile leggings and
- a snuggly eco friendly robe.
Consider a minimalist wardrobe checklist
We know that’s a lot. So let’s summarize with a simple minimalist wardrobe checklist.
For the women’s minimalist wardrobe:
- Essentials like organic underwear, organic bras, and sustainable socks
- A few basic layers like t-shirts, leggings, jeans, and sweaters
- Activewear (ideally that which can also double as loungewear?)
- Eco friendly running shoes (or at least a good pair of ethical sneakers) and just a few pairs of other versatile shoes (perhaps one from a vegan shoe brand?)
- Fair trade pajamas
- Work essentials and uniforms (if applicable to your job)
- A handful of dressier items for special occasions (Don’t go overboard, here. Just a few dresses for different occasions is plenty)
- Seasonal specific items
The men’s minimalist wardrobe is more or less the same, though men’s clothing is usually less varied and thus more suitable for versatile wear by design.
… then get rid of what you don’t need
Now comes the challenging part: saying “goodbye” once and for all to those clothes that didn’t make the cut.
But, you can take solace in the fact that, when done responsibly, your clothes will have a new lease on life by passing them on to someone else.
This can happen in a few ways:
- If you have quality garments that have been gently worn, consider making some extra $$$ by using an online platform to sell your used clothes.
- If you’re ready for all the socialization after a year of social distancing, host a clothes swapping party (AKA the most fun way to “shop” for new-to-you clothes ever). Invite a few friends over, have them bring a bag of their discarded clothes, and then do a bulk donation of the leftovers.
Who said creating a minimalist wardrobe had to be boring?!
- Upcycled clothing is great—even better if you take care of the upcycling yourself. Not sure what upcycling clothing is? It’s clothing made from unwanted landfill bound textiles. Use an old shirt for cleaning, or even as zero waste gift wrap. The options for what to do with old clothes are endless and Mother Earth will thank you.
- Donate the rest to a local or online thrift store.
4. MAINTAINING A MINIMALIST WARDROBE
Speaking of thrift shopping, be prepared to mix up your buying habits to maintain your minimalist wardrobe.
In fact, you should make donating, selling, and recycling a regular part of your fashion routine.
We’d recommend repeating this closet cleanout process once every season, so you can really see what your minimalist style is and what new items you actually need (if any).
But most importantly, don’t use your closet clear-out as an excuse to fill it up again quickly.
Maintaining a minimalist wardrobe is nearly as difficult as it is to establish one in the first place. It will take discipline. It will mean saying “no” to shopping sprees and random, thoughtless purchases. It will make you think.
Regularly ask yourself these questions:
- “Do I love this piece?”
- “Will I wear this outfit again?”
- “Do I absolutely need to buy something new? Can it be repaired?”
- “If I buy a new garment, what is it replacing?”
When you do need to buy something new, and secondhand simply won’t do, consider focusing on quality, versatility, and supporting sustainable clothing brands that align with your values.
More and more companies are beginning to use natural and sustainable fabrics and employ practices that respect workers’ rights and our planet’s health.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON A MINIMALIST WARDROBE
Solutions that help us and our planet are golden.
And that’s exactly what a minimalist wardrobe can provide.
Sure it’s quick and easy to opt for that t-shirt that costs less than a coffee instead of saving for one made of organic cotton, but thoughtfully planning for a purchase will change how you value clothes.
It takes practice (and willpower), but we believe in you.
And you will feel great about your clutter-free closet, more money in your bank account, and more time to live (instead of worrying about what to wear).
So, here’s your homework.
Take a look at all your clothes, responsibly sell/give/dispose of your unwanted ones, then share this article with a friend (at your clothing swap, maybe?) so they can do the same.