I used to own a lot of clothes.
Most of them I never wore and many more I didn’t feel great in. There were a few impulse purchases that hung in my wardrobe, tags still attached, and many more I had completely forgotten about. Typically I wore about 20% of my clothes 80% of the time and found getting dressed stressful because nothing ever fit or, despite my overflowing cupboards, I had nothing to wear.
Then, as part of my first big decluttering effort, I got rid of at least half of my clothes. I’ve since readjusted and continued to cull items, but until last week I’ve never actually counted what I own and I’ve certainly never taken the time to lay out my clothes and photograph them.
As the idea of minimalist or capsule wardrobes gains popularity I’ve been asked a lot about the clothes I wear so last week I removed every item from my wardrobe, hung it on the wall and photographed it. Honestly, as someone who really doesn’t put a lot of importance on stuff, it felt weird and self-involved. But it was also really instructive.
It turns out I have fewer clothes than I thought, and there are items I’m sure I don’t need. The photo below shows almost all of my winter clothes. There are a few pieces not pictured (because laundry) but with the additions listed below, here is a look inside my minimalist wardrobe:
As you can see, I have a fondness for grey, plaid shirts, Chuck Taylors and denim. I’m a teen of the 90s, what can I say?
- grey hoodie
- black rainjacket
- black trenchcoat
- 2 pairs black tights
- socks (2 sports, 1 woollen, 2 black everyday socks)
- year-round exercise clothes (full-length running tights, 3/4 length yoga pants, running shorts, 3 tshirts/tanks, 1 zippered rain-proof fleece)
Before I go in to the details any further, there’s some things to keep in mind about my personal situation and how it may differ to yours:
1. I live in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, Australia. It does get cool in winter (but never really cold) and very warm in summer, and I’m fortunate that my wardrobe doesn’t need to extend into the negative degrees very often. Much of what I wear is transitional, and all of the tshirts, tanks, and most shirts pictured above stay in my wardrobe year-round. Winter mostly means packing away the shorts, sandals and singlets, while pulling out the jackets, scarves and boots. It’s a pretty easy climate to have a small wardrobe.
That being said, we spent a month in the Canadian Rockies over Christmas, where it does get very cold (it got down to -32C while we were there) and my wardrobe extended to that weather too, with a few additions.
Aside from our snowboarding gear I took my normal clothes plus:
- down jacket
- 2 pairs thermal pants
- 2 thermal undershirts
- 2 long tanks
- 2 woollen hats
- heavy duty snow boots
- 4 pairs woollen socks
It really was a matter of layering, rather than having an entirely different wardrobe. And I never once felt cold.
(Yes, I do realise that holidaying for one month is different to having to live and work in that climate. I tell you this mostly to show that even when you live in an area with four very distinct seasons, much of what you wear can work across a wide range of temperatures.)
2. I work from home and have two young kids. I don’t go to a lot of events (but when I do, this collection of clothes works 95% of the time, which I’ll explain below). I spend most of my days in jeans and tshirts because that’s what works, particularly when I’m cleaning, playing, gardening, working, cooking, running errands etc.
My style is casual and my lifestyle allows me to embrace that. If I worked in a corporate environment or retail, my wardrobe would look a little different.
3. I’m not a fashionista. Obviously. And while I love saying “on fleek”, I’m not really interested in being it.
But if you can forgive me for being a little shallow for a moment, I like looking put together, I like having my own style and I’m always drawn to looks that aren’t about trends. Classic, interesting, quirky? Yes. But fashion magazine trends? Nothankyouverymuch.
I like what I like and I love that trends play very little role in that any more. Most of the clothes pictured are at least 3 years old and I very rarely have a problem wearing the same things over and over. In fact, I like it. I like the non-decisions involved in getting dressed most mornings, I love knowing what suits me and I don’t really care much what others think about it anymore. (Basically, I love being in my 30s.)
For example, my black Chucks are 12+ years old, my denim jacket is a 90s original that I’ve owned since I was 15, the black wool pencil skirt is 6+ years old and the mustard miniskirt is an ebay special from the 1970s. Trendy I am not.
So, how did I get here?
It’s hard to break down a process that took years to gradually work through, and I’d caution against the whole “toss everything and rebuild a wardrobe from scratch” approach, unless you have a significant budget and, frankly, a whole lot of time.
This might mean living with items you don’t really like, getting clothes repaired a few times to stretch their shelf-life, or living with fewer items than is strictly comfortable until you’re able to replace or replenish. Over the years I’ve done all of those things in order to have a small wardrobe I really dig.
Over the past few years I have gradually been able to:
- Remove items from my wardrobe that no longer fit, are stretched, torn, stained or just make me feel a bit crap. (These are often the items you put on in the morning but change out of before leaving the house because you feel bleurgh while wearing them.)
- Establish my personal style. I’ve always loved good quality jeans paired with tshirts and Chucks, collared shirts with a jumper/sweater, chunky boots and tights, a denim jacket over a dress… These are outfits I wear almost every day because I like them. Taking time to work out what your personal style is can take a while, but a big indicator is to look at what you are consistently drawn to. Pare these looks back to the essentials and start there. A pair of jeans, black pants, a black skirt, button-ups, tshirts – these are the foundation to most styles.
- Find good quality brands for the items I wear most often. Over the years I have discovered which brand of jeans, plain tshirts, hoodies, knit jumpers, sneakers and sandals fit me well and last the test of constant wear, and I go back to these time and time again. Sometimes that means I pay more, but when I wear my jeans 5 days a week I don’t mind paying extra. PLUS, knowing the brand, the size, the fit of these basics means I can shop online (when I need something) and find what I’m after either on sale or, my personal favourite, second-hand.
- Learn how to mix and match for maximum effect. Every item I own can be worn in multiple outfits, and that’s by design. I’ve gradually removed everything that doesn’t fit easily with my other items and now, for example, I can make a grey tshirt work for 95% of occasions by pairing it with:
- my black pencil skirt, a tan belt, tan heels, clutch and aqua necklace
- black skinny jeans, black flats, khaki jacket and aqua necklace
- blue patterned skirt, black belt, black tights, denim jacket and black boots
- dark denim skinny jeans, purple and grey heels and clutch
- jeans, black belt, white chucks, aqua necklace and navy blazer
- jeans, grey plaid shirt, chunky scarf, black chucks and parka… (Plus I can replace the grey tshirt with a blouse or a white tshirt and triple the options immediately.)
- Stop caring what other people think about my wardrobe choices. Because, to be perfectly honest with you, they’re probably not thinking about it at all. No-one cares if you wear the same clothes all the time. No-one will notice. And, if you create a small wardrobe that works well, you won’t be wearing the same things all the time anyway.
- Stop buying things on impulse. These were almost always the items that didn’t fit in with the rest of my clothes, were poorly made, didn’t last more than two washes or that made me feel a bit crap when wearing them. Stop buying them and start buying things that work for you and save both money and time.
- Look after the clothes I own. I get my jeans repaired, I don’t wash my clothes unless they’re dirty, I have my shoes resoled, I use laundry bags for all my delicates, I line dry… These changes mean I don’t have to replace clothes as often as I used to, which in turn means that when I do, I can afford to spend slightly more.
How does my wardrobe work?
Most days you will find me wearing a combination of:
- tshirt or button-up shirt
- knitted jumper or hoodie
- black belt
- Chucks or riding boots
- khaki jacket or black parka
If you look at my tshirts, shirts and jumpers, those items alone give me at least 12 different top options. Add in three pairs of jeans, three everyday skirts with tights and boots and three jacket options and that’s pretty much what I wear all the time. Honestly. It’s really simple.
I can live on the edge and wear a dress sometimes (crazy!) and I also have some casual tops (the feather patterned top, black blouse, green cardigan, grey and black sloppy joe) that I wear with jeans or a skirt.
I’ve never sat down and actually worked out how many outfits I can make from this collection of clothes, but at a glance I would say that I could make well over 100 combinations with the clothes I own. That’s not to say I do, because I really don’t care that much, but if I wanted to, I could.
So that’s a look inside my wardrobe.
It feels a little weird spending so much time writing about stuff (particularly in light of last week’s post on This Season’s Must-Haves) but I know the wardrobe is an area that many people struggle to work through.
With that in mind I’ve written a bonus post this week (be sure to check back in tomorrow) where I answer some of the most common questions about creating a minimalist wardrobe, including budget, finding a style, fancy events, laundry and how to get started.
And on Thursday I’m super excited to bring you a podcast episode with Courtney Carver, creator of minimalist wardrobe challenge Project333.
I guess that means it’s the unofficial wardrobe week here on the blog…