How to start a minimalist wardrobe


If you want to simplify your life, you’ll find plenty of reasons to back your decision. You’ll save time and money, enjoy life more, be less confused, have less anxiety, have greater mental capacity…it’s a long, long list.

On our blog, we’ve covered the what, why and how of minimalism. Luckily, this practice focuses on your possessions, so it’s easy to quantify your goals and see tangible results fast. However, one topic that we’ve recently been requested to cover is minimalist clothing.

Downsizing your wardrobe can be hard, but the reward is minimalism. With capsule wardrobes – which we’ll talk about later – mastering this insurmountable challenge is easy. Why have thirty pairs of clothes which you need to carefully mix and match, when you can look chic all the time with just six instead? Yes, it’s possible – and we’ll show you how in this article!

Minimalist clothing: How much is too much?

First off, let’s define the limits involved. Would twenty pairs of clothes be minimalistic? What about twenty pairs of clothes in a really minimalistic cupboard? Or twenty-one pairs that are all 100% sparkling white?

No, no and no. Minimalism is about stripping down to the core basics. Don’t take that too literally – you don’t have to wear just your underwear to be a minimalist. What it actually means is that you need to downsize as far as you can. We cannot realistically own just one pair of clothes or walk around in a burlap sack, but we don’t need ten sets either.

How do you determine how many clothes you need? Consider your career and lifestyle. If you work in the fashion or glamour industry, for example, you’d need to keep up with the trends and so own more pairs of clothes. Someone who works from home and doesn’t go out often, on the other hand, could own 5-6 pairs and be fine. Also consider your budget. You’d need to make some purchases, so the fewer items you need, the better.

Usually, 5-10 pairs of clothes are enough for the minimalist wardrobe. With accessories such as belts, jewelry and shoes included, you shouldn’t exceed 30 items.

How to discard extra clothes

Space is precious. Clothes that don’t fit, don’t look good anymore, aren’t of great quality, or which you haven’t worn in years are simply not worth the space they occupy. And since you’re downsizing, you’ll have to sacrifice some items that don’t match any of those criteria as well. Bear in mind the number you need to work towards. Keep the very best, the ones you use and can be for years, and put aside everything else.

Some tips for downsizing:

– Write down the number of items you need to get to, and assign a space (a single shelf, a small drawer in a chest) in which these would all fit snugly. Now you have a number as well as a visual cue to help guide you.

– If you really cherish some clothes which aren’t ideal for your capsule wardrobe, take a picture of them to keep the memory alive.

– If you’re struggling to choose between a couple dresses/shoes/others, remember that you don’t have to go cold turkey just yet. Cut down from 10 dresses to 5, and give yourself time to decide which ones you use (and like) the most out of these.

Now, what do you do with discarded clothes? The best course of action would be to sell them. You’ll probably end up with a lot of extra clothes and accessories, so while donating and giving away are kind, you need to be practical. You spent money on those clothes, and if they’re still wearable you need to recoup costs.

We’d strongly advise against swapping, because swapping means you’ll exchange the clothes for something else, and thwart the goal of minimalism – which is to have fewer possessions.

An introduction to the capsule wardrobe

Now, let’s talk about capsule wardrobe. What is it, exactly? The term ‘capsule wardrobe’ was coined by a boutique owner in London, and soon gained popularity due to its interesting rules. Capsule wardrobes require you to own few clothes that you mix and match and wear for years. After all, there’s more to style than having a large wardrobe. Since its rules are closely aligned with the principles of minimalism, we’ll be going through what it entails, and how you can turn your wardrobe into a capsule wardrobe.

This practice will help you in your journey towards owning minimalist clothing. Its rules are, in brief:

– Choose your color scheme

Select a base color that matches with most others (black or white), and a highlight color. You’ll need staples such as trousers, skirts, shoes, a coat, and a handbag in your base color, and t-shirts, dresses and jewelry in the highlight color. Choosing a color scheme simplifies things a lot, and this way your wardrobe will reflect your personality.

– Consider your body and complexion

Since you want to own few items that look perfect and will last a while, make the purchases (or eliminate items) keeping your body type, size and complexion in mind. Choose a highlight color that suits your skin tone, and cuts and dresses that comfortably fit (and complement) your current body. Keep it realistic.

– Go classic

Think evergreen, think classics. Don’t go for trends like booty shorts, flared trousers, leotards, etc. You want items that will stand the test of time and always look great – and on all occasions. With each item you shortlist, think back to 10 and 20 years ago. Would the item work in that era, or would it look ridiculous? If it’s the latter, discard.

We’ve adapted the practice a little, so here are some additional rules keeping minimalism in mind:

– Stick with simple patterns and prints

That serves the principles of both capsule wardrobes and minimalism, since simple prints are minimalistic, and they’re less likely to go out of vogue. That quirky owl print top might get you funny looks 12 years from now when you’re 38!

– Accessories are key

Rather than owning three different skirts and eight tops, try to have one skirt and three tops. You can then use scarves, belts and other accessories to change up your look. They’ll provide greater flexibility and take up less space.

– A shoe stampede

Most of us ladies horde shoes like no tomorrow. You need to let them go. Have one pair of ballet flats in black, and one pair of heeled shoes in your highlight color for special occasions. If you’re likelier to go out jogging than to a party, a pair of Nikes might be a better choice than heels.

A guide to creating a minimalist clothing wardrobe

If you don’t get the hang of the capsule wardrobe or don’t like its rules, you can stick with plain old minimalism instead. Here are some pointers which will help you along:

– Visualize the result

This is a great tool for motivation. If you’re ever feeling unmotivated or overwhelmed, visualize the end result. Imagine a small, tidy wardrobe. No time wasted picking a dress for a party. No more shopping for $12 Fashion Nova dresses that don’t fit. No more overstuffed closets.

– Create a plan

Write down your end goal (e.g., “downsize to 30 items in the wardrobe”), and then divide this into short-term and long-term goals. Further divide these into weekly, monthly and quarterly goals. Change doesn’t come overnight, so be prepared to review, analyze, and amend. Don’t go full throttle and throw everything out on your first day. Set items aside for review later.

– Buy mindfully

Set aside a reasonable, one-time budget for any items you need to buy. You aren’t splurging, you’re investing in something that will last you years. So don’t go overboard. You’re not shopping for pleasure or to make up for a horrible week; you’re purchasing items to reduce unnecessary expense and make your life simpler.

These were some general tips to help you get started. If you practice minimalism, however, you already know what you need to do. Go with your gut. If you want to learn more about minimalism, go through our blog archives.

Minimalist clothing brands

If you find that you own way too many trendy pieces and not enough classics (which is quite often the case), you’ll need to make some purchases. However, be careful about which brands you buy from, since not all products are minimalistic. Here we’ve listed 14 minimalist fashion brands which we think are great in this regard:

  •         Frank & Oak
  •         Lunya
  •         A.P.C.
  •         Nordstrom
  •         Farfetch
  •         Magali Pascal
  •         Bergdorf Goodman
  •         Everlane
  •         ADAY
  •         Helmut Lang
  •         FRAME
  •         Alternative Apparel
  •         Echo + Air
  •         Mijeong Park

These are all fairly affordable minimalist clothing brands. Of course, affordability is subjective, but considering these are evergreen classics of good quality, I think the prices these brands charge are perfectly reasonable.

So this was a quick guide on how to optimize your wardrobe to reflect your minimalist lifestyle. If you have any questions or want to see us write on a particular topic, feel free to comment below or to send us an email. The Core Basics is your weekly digest for everything to do with minimalism, simple living and more!

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