Minimalism and the problem with women's essential wardrobe lists

Minimalism and the problem with “wardrobe essentials” lists

I’ve heard the call for years – from fashion magazines and stylish people – to fill our closets with “high quality essentials” as wardrobe foundations. A quick internet or Pinterest search will bring you hundreds of these lists, compiled by everyone from Tim Gunn and Carolina Herrerra to Lauren Conrad.

Long before I knew what minimalism was, and years before I ever heard whisper of the term “capsule wardrobe” I was drawn to the idea of having a closet filled with beautiful basics that I could mix and match with ease. I even wrote in a journal as a pre-teen that I dreamed of having my dresser filled with things I could “reach in and grab” and have outfits just …work. Clearly there weren’t other pressing matters to discuss with my diary that day, haha.

How to build a perfect wardrobe for women

As I got older and started devouring fashion magazines, I tried to follow their advice – and over and over again I came up feeling discouraged and was left with a closet over-filled with items I never wore. And I’d cram things I half-heartedly bought at stores in the mall or from catalogs (hello, Delia’s!) in there, too.

The years wore on and I continued to search for insight – what should I have in my closet to cut down on my stress about getting dressed in the morning? How can I stock my closet in a way that I can easily put together an outfit and get out the door without leaving with clothes exploded everywhere and somehow still feeling uncomfortable in my outfit choice?

Many of these essentials lists say something like “every woman needs a well-constructed white button-down shirt!” and, alongside the ubiquitous LBD, you absolutely must invest in “a classic trench coat.”

Asking me (petite, larger bust) to find a high-quality white button down that “goes with everything” isn’t an easy task. And when I have miraculously found this elusive piece and it fit my body well (probably because I had it altered/tailored), it still just sat in my closet, collecting dust.

As I’ve pared down (and down, and down) my possessions including those dwelling in my closet, I’ve come to a startling (okay, probably not that startling) realization: a white button-down shirt is NOT an essential for me. Neither is a trench coat at the moment. 

What are the essentials? That’s up to you. This is possibly more difficult than having a fashion superstar dictate what you need, but it’s definitely a more effective way to build a collection of clothing you love and will actually wear with some regularity.

Start by assessing how and where you wear clothes. Then think about what outfits you own that are functional for what you do. Maybe it’s that one top and pants combo you wash specifically so you can bring it on a weekend getaway. Maybe you love a certain sweater or pair of shoes but you know the quality isn’t that great and they are starting to fall apart. Start researching and keeping your eye open for higher quality, longer-lasting versions of those pieces. And by all means, please part with things you don’t wear, or don’t like. This includes things that you might have spent too much money on or were a gift and give you tiny pangs of guilt every time you see them. Give them away, sell them.

If you’re interested in exploring capsule wardrobes and streamlining your closet, check out my favorite resources:

Be More With Less (Project 333)
Into Mind
Susie Faux

I’ll leave you with this last bit of advice:

If you are interested in adding high quality pieces (especially basics that you know you’ll wear a lot) but are intimidated by high price tags, check out consignment stores in person and online. They are also a good option if you’re feeling like your weight or body shape might change in the near or medium future (like you’ve just had a baby, etc.) My favorite online consignment store at the moment is thredUP. Get $20 off your first thredUP order by clicking here. 

8 thoughts on “Minimalism and the problem with “wardrobe essentials” lists

  1. I was the same as you were! I always bought into those lists that said I needed a leather jacket and classic black pumps when that’s not really me. Now, I try to focus on what my favorite items are in my closet, why I like them, and try to buy clothes that fit that particular criteria.

  2. The white button-down problem…you GET it! I love the *idea* of a classic white button-down but for someone (like me) with broad shoulders and a bust *just* big enough to make the buttons pull away from each other (and wearing a cami underneath with the top few unbuttoned just doesn’t look right) …I finally just got rid of the button downs I do have and stopped looking for a perfect one. There is no such thing for me 😦

  3. I had to laugh! I don’t wear blouses due to having worn them forever growing up – my school uniform! I don’t need a trench coat either! I love your blog – just found it today and love it! My fav candy – jellybeans!

  4. Thank you for this. I’ve been working on paring down to a workable minimalist wardrobe, so I look for ideas all the time. Button-downs are not flattering on my body at all! I rarely, if ever, wear black pumps, and leather jackets and trench coats are not my thing either. I shop second-hand all the time looking for quality pieces. 🙂 I take from the suggested outfits and wardrobe capsules what I like, what actually flatters my body and is suited to my lifestyle. I think we need more articles like yours, with maybe even some examples of alternate “classic pieces” for a workable and practical wardrobe capsule 🙂

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