Minimalism Made Easy

Or, How to Make Minimalist Style Work With a Non-Minimalist Body
First, mes amis, we all are wise enough now in the Ways of Fashion to realize that most of us will not be wearing these architectural wonders from the runways, much as we ooh and aah over them.  Or at least, une femme will not.  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t borrow the best of what these minimalist looks have to offer and make them our own, provided of course that this is a style that appeals.  A caveat here: while some may define “minimalist” more narrowly, my definition would encompass clean lines, a monochromatic or mostly monochromatic palette, usually neutrals, no prints, simple but interesting structural details, an absence of fussiness.  While many of the runway looks are tailored to within an inch of their lives, I don’t think this is a realistic expectation for most of us for quotidien wear, and don’t expect to duplicate that level of design or fit in my own wardrobe.  I have to be comfortable, and I like a bit of ease and movement in my clothing.
The good news about the new minimalist style is that it’s not married to one particular silhouette, nor does it require strictly matching coordinates or stiff and unforgiving fabrics or cuts.  If you aren’t sure which silhouette works best for you, check out Imogen’s posts on body shapes at Inside Out Style (right sidebar, see “Body Shapes Explained” to find yours).  Regardless of your shape and best silhouette, if you have more curves than angles, I have one word for you: knits.  In Monday’s post, I intentionally included a few images from Eileen Fisher, as her line of primarily knit pieces has some excellent options especially in tops and jackets that fit in perfectly with a minimalist aesthetic.
Long Belted Jacket, $298  Though I generally run screaming from anything with a belt, the placement of this one is optimal: right at the narrowest part of the torso. 
Ponte knit biker jacket, $258. Moto style jackets are everywhere this fall, but I like the dimensions of this one; the collar doesn’t dwarf the rest of the jacket, taking the trendy factor down a few notches and making this more likely to be wearable for multiple seasons.  I find the asymmetric zip to be very flattering for those of us with some ballast up top as well.  The EF longer moto style cardigan that I posted a few weeks ago is still available at Nordstrom, and still fabulous in either charcoal grey or blue.
This long open front cardigan (also available in auburn and black, as well as in Petite sizes) is one of those items that looks better on than in the picture here.  The design is simple, but the diagonal weave of the fabric gives it some subtle interest. 
Long diagonal weave cardigan, $228.  I’m all about the long-over-lean silhouette these days, and have been pleased with the EF pieces I’ve found recently.  No longer dominated by the shapeless and baggy, many of the current styles skim and flatter.  I’ve personally learned to stay away from the more voluminous styles (the word “cascading” is a good tip-off), but they could work well on taller women.  I’ve been singing the praises of the silk jersey tops for a couple of years now, and for this summer-to-fall transitional season, am living in these underneath cardigans or lightweight jackets:
Silk jersey tunic, $138.  Best part, you can wash and hang to dry overnight, so they’re great for travel too.
For those of you who might be hyperventilating at the thought of stepping into an EF store, how about some Helmut Lang?
One word of caution about knits:  you want to stick to fabrics that have some heft and hold a bit of shape.  Those dishrag limp “featherweight” sweaters which look so cute in more Boho ensembles won’t work for this look.
Another designer that does some nice pieces in a more minimalist vein is Vince.  (Yo, Vinnie!)
Cowl neck lambskin jacket, $995. Again with the moto styling, but not-quite-black.
Here’s a sweater that’s simple in style but with diagonal detailing interest:
I’ve shown mostly tops here, as that’s where I focus the interest in my own ensembles, and these days mostly stick to dark wash jeans, black trousers and pencil skirts for the bottom half.  When it comes to jeans, I’m still in giddy, head-over-heels love with these:
My favorite black Jackson lightweight wool trousers from Banana Republic have been discontinued (insert extended raspberry noise aimed in BR’s general direction here) so I’m hanging on to the two pair I still have for dear life.  For the pencil skirt, it’s back to my new BFF Eileen for this ponte knit number.
The good news about a more minimalist wardrobe in a limited palette is that you don’t need a lot of clothes to make it work.  And no, you don’t have to do black.  Navy, charcoal grey, beige, camel or chocolate brown are all workable palettes for a capsule wardrobe. A few well selected pieces that can be mixed and matched, paired with a handful of the right accessories to change up the look can work for just about any occasion.  I certainly understand that the minimalist look doesn’t resonate for everyone, and some may find it drab or boring.  But if this aesthetic speaks to you, there are ways to find those elements that work for your body and lifestyle, and make them your own.
Do you have any favorite minimalist pieces?  Any items you’re on the hunt for right now?  Any strategies to make this look work for your particular shape and lifestyle?
We’ll talk about accessorizing this look to maximim advantage in the next installment.
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  1. August 25, 2010 / 12:17 pm

    Very nice choices! Eileen Fisher as has really stepped up and given us some wonderful wearable clothing. As a sewer the September issue of Burda has 2 fabulous sections of minimalist designs. Finally, something other than frou frou.

  2. August 25, 2010 / 12:23 pm

    Oh a fabulous post “Une” – LOVE IT! Lots to feast my eyes on to digest and enjoy – just the kind of dressing I love. Thank you.x

  3. August 25, 2010 / 12:26 pm

    Nice selection of clothes – some lovely knits, very wearable. I have a couple of Vince tops, the quality is lovely, though they can be a bit pricey and I always quite like the Eileen Fisher ads

  4. August 25, 2010 / 12:52 pm

    I stay away from belts too, I’m a size bigger round my middle, I dream of having a sexy hourglass figure.

  5. August 25, 2010 / 2:13 pm

    Such good advice. Fashionable, yet rational.

  6. August 25, 2010 / 2:58 pm

    These are my kind of clothes!
    I too need the clutterless simplicity of form and these are all fabulous examples!

  7. August 25, 2010 / 3:08 pm

    I love ponte knit!

    I’ve got to check out Eileen Fisher. Those cardigans! Although it’s 104 degrees in LA today, autumn is just around the corner.

    I think Tabitha is my soul-mate – I also dream of a waist! I’m shaped like a fireplug.

    Anything to keep the line long and lean.

    I have some separates in black by Exclusively Missook. I don’t like her stripey things, but the black skirts, pants, and cardigans are great. They’re expensive, but I buy them on ebay when I find them.

  8. Jill Ann
    August 25, 2010 / 8:31 pm

    I may have to give Eileen Fisher another look….just walking by the section in the depsrtment store, I always thought it was TOO loose and baggy, aka “fat women’s clothes.”

    Which is kind of the problem I have with Chico’s, except I tend to think of that as “fat women’s clothes with a lot of sparkles.”

    I will say, though, that Chico’s has some good pieces if you look past the sparkles. Right now I am wearing a royal blue t-shirt, which is a nice substantial knit, has a v-neck, and ELBOW sleeves, very important for those of us with upper arm issues (and who live in hot climates.) I have this same top in navy and white. An excellent staple piece.

  9. Sal
    August 25, 2010 / 1:34 pm

    Nobody does modern, sleek, WEARABLE minimalist quite like Eileen. That Asymmetrical merino cardigan is just glorious.

  10. August 26, 2010 / 12:08 am

    I like Eileen Fisher, but they don’t make pants in more than one length and the pants are too short for me. Grr.

    I am also in the apple-shaped sisterhood. Thanks a lot, Mom and Mom’s mom.

  11. August 26, 2010 / 12:10 am

    You made minimalist wearable for me. Great job!

  12. Frugal Scholar
    August 25, 2010 / 7:02 pm

    I bought some skinny ponte jeans at Chico’s last year (ugh, I know, but they are the only thing I’ve bought at full-price in a long while, and very worth it). I am really trying to shop my closet this year. I am looking at how EF, Chicos (ponte pieces), Talbots (animal prints) are styled–honestly, I can do it from what I have. Long top or sweater over skinny pants, with a nice jacket…most of us own this stuff already. I’m sure I’ll buy some things, but I am forcing myself to wait. It’s still in the 90s here…so not too hard.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on the Chicos ponte pieces. Also, on their styling of pieces in their commercial–you can see it on the website.

  13. laurieann
    August 26, 2010 / 3:38 am

    Minimalist to me is a breath of fresh air, and while I will never fit into the clothing made by Pheobe Philo, Stella McCartney or Helmut Lang, I follow their shows to learn about current styles, cuts and colors. Then I go about hunting for inspired pieces everywhere from Eileen Fisher to Eddie Bauer. This fall I will be mixing charcoal grey pieces with camel. Black with chocolate brown and navy. White and ivory with everything. I also just received the best minimalist boots from J.Crew; solid black, no adornment and a 2.5″ heel. Not to high and very versatile.

    The thing I love about the new minimalism is that it’s instant Paris, or just about anywhere that doesn’t live year round in brights. I can then be chic at home and on the road. A bonus for sure.

  14. Tiffany
    August 25, 2010 / 9:55 pm

    Oh, that Helmut Lang … Lovely examples of real world minimalism. We need Duchesse to chime in with her ‘strict’ stuff too!

    We’re at the end of winter here, so I’m trying to work out clean looks for a hot Sydney summer.

  15. Carolyn
    August 26, 2010 / 12:31 am

    Can’t wait for the next installment! You put so much thought into your posts …thanks.

  16. August 26, 2010 / 12:01 pm

    This post, my chere Pseu, is a masterpiece. Pure elegance, great price points, perfect “colors” — you are such a smart femme.

    Must rush out to get my Ben back-to-school calendar because it starts and finishes in September, that way I can write you into Mai 2011. I’m so excited.

  17. August 26, 2010 / 2:17 pm

    Great choices and a really useful guide to interpreting this look. Club Monaco’s long been a great place to find pieces in a neutral palette — I bought a tissue-weight cashmere long taupe cardigan there in the spring and love the calming, yet rich, effect it has on whatever I wear. Picked up a short-sleeved version in charcoal on sale last month. I’d say that the long cardigan in a rich neutral will continue to be a mainstay for me, the linchpin that will let me dabble a bit with the minimalist look, though my minimalism will include layers and some colour.

  18. August 26, 2010 / 5:16 pm

    Nancy K- yes, I think EF has cut more of their pieces in a more contoured way. Frou frou is fine here and there, but there’s been just too much of it lately.

    Semi Expat – thank you!

    That’s Not My Age – Thanks! Vince tends to run a bit too long for me, but I always like what I see on the racks. At least EF offers some petite sizing for we short ones.

    Tabitha – oy, don’t get me started on the vanishing waistline! But I figure that being comfortable in one’s own skin is sexy too…

    Sal – I think that asymmetric cardi is my favorite clothing purchase so far this year. Can hardly wait for cooler weather to wear it!

    LPC – thank you so much!

  19. August 26, 2010 / 5:26 pm

    hostess of the humble bungalow – thank you, so glad you find these appealing!

    Aunt Snow – another fireplug checking in here. That’s why I go for the drape and flow. I’ve seen the Misook pieces at Nordstrom but haven’t tried them. The fabric seems very similar to the Chico’s Travelers.

    Frugal Scholar – I was wondering how those ponte jeans were. I’ll have to try them now. I’ll have a look at their commercial. I used to wear a lot more Chico’s but lately they haven’t been doing anything in “my” colors, so haven’t really been motivated to go there. Guess I’ll have to give them another look.

    Jill Ann – yes, Chico’s can be great for staples like tees, as long as one steers clear of most of the wackadoodle prints. I think Chico’s, Talbots, and EF all get the dis from more fashion conscious women as being “old lady” but I’ve found great pieces in all three places that often get compliments from the younger, stylish gals.

    zenartist – though I certainly admire the style of the women featured in that article, I could never dress that way myself. Well, I could but it wouldn’t feel right.

    Tiffany – yes, I’m hoping Duchesse is back from vacation soon; I’m sure she’ll have some thoughts on this. Imogen has a post up today about staying stylish in the heat, some nice options!

  20. August 26, 2010 / 5:37 pm

    KathyR – I think EF is now offering at least some of their pants in Tall lengths. Might be worth checking out. Chico’s also offers Tall lengths in many of their pants.

    deborah chase – fabulous! I’m glad to have helped.

    Carolyn – thanks so much!

    laurieann – that sounds like a great strategy! I love the combo of grey and rusty brown. Yes, this look can translate VERY well to Paris, and the knits are great for travel too…

    metscan – yes, simple doesn’t have to be plain or boring. That Elm blouse you acquired recently is a great example. And yes, we can pare down the quantity as well as the designs of clothing.

    Tish Jett – mille mercis! I hope to wear some of these in Italy and Paris next year. (We’ve locked down some dates, will e-mail you.)

    materfamilias – thank you! We have a Club Monaco a few miles away in Beverly Hills and I so rarely get there, but upon your recommendation I’m going to schedule some time to really see what they have to offer.

    lauries – I have a few Chico’s pieces that I’ve worn for years and find them quite workable and flattering. Now that you’ve seconded the recommendation for the ponte knit pants, I’m making a point to go try them on soon.

  21. metscan
    August 26, 2010 / 11:33 am

    The asymmetrical and the cocoon sweater please me most of your thorough collection. I like to dress in a simple way, most of the time, but yet want to have something special in my cupboard. For me, minimalism means to minimize the amount of clothes I have as well.

  22. lauries
    August 26, 2010 / 3:53 pm

    Oh, I love Eileen Fisher! When I win the lottery I’ll buy one of everything. Although Chico’s prices are more in line with my budget, I’ve found that I can combine my carefully-chosen EF pieces (I have the ponte skirt and a lightweight diamond-knit vest from this year’s collection and several from years past – they don’t age) with some of the more generic pieces from Chico’s to good effect. Those skinny ponte pants from Chico’s are excellent quality, as are their basic blouses and tanks. I’m not interested in Chico’s sparkly/spangly things but the building blocks are a great buy.

  23. August 26, 2010 / 11:28 pm

    I’ve been having great luck lately with Elie Tahari trousers. And I LOVE my Elson cut Citizens of Humanity jeans (mid rise straight leg to where they’re lean looking without being so skinny that I look like a lightbulb from the waist down)

  24. August 27, 2010 / 7:18 am

    I love the feel of Vince items v. luxurious xx

  25. SusanPG
    August 28, 2010 / 4:08 am

    I love the jacket in your top photo! Do you know who it is or where it comes from?

  26. hynes
    August 28, 2010 / 12:10 pm

    I agree with Frugal Scholar – this look can be replicated at any price point. Perhaps the quality will suffer, but a clean palette and spare lines often provide the architectural elements of minimalism. Narrow trousers/skirts seem to be the foundation and key to unlocking this look. Besides being chic enough to qualify as strict, this looks disguises a thickening middle as well as provide a perfect backdrop for beautiful accessories.
    Minimalism also doesn’t date rapidly.
    It seems to be current among women of a certain age to denigrate EF and Chicos – almost as proof that one is above the targeted market. Beautiful clothing can be had from almost any retailer at any price point, it is a matter of cultivated selection. There is no need to be shamed for enjoying EF, Chicos, Walmart or a thrift store.

  27. facto
    August 28, 2010 / 12:19 pm

    Deja Pseu I think you’ve found a look that works for your lifestyle, budget and body type! Marvelous!

  28. August 28, 2010 / 2:27 pm

    Mel – thanks for the suggestions! I’ve often seen Elie Tahari jackets too that would fit in nicely with this look.

    Make Do Style – oh yes, they really do seem to pay attention to textures. Vince leather pieces are divine.

    SusanPG – It’s from the Celine Fall 2010 RTW collection. Here’s a link:
    Phoebe Philo rides again!

    Hynes – I do agree that this look can be done at any price point. I’ve learned to look for styles I like and not to worry about the label inside, as long as it’s within my affordability zone.

    facto – thanks! I think I’ve circled back around to my style “home base.”

  29. August 28, 2010 / 11:00 pm

    I absolutely love the long belted jacket. I actually love all these clothes except for the skirt, which is way too long for my liking. They are full of texture and good shaping and “neutrality.” I’m going back for another look 🙂

  30. August 28, 2010 / 11:07 pm

    Rosina – go check out the EF website…LOTS of mini skirts!

  31. Anne @ The Frump Factor
    August 29, 2010 / 3:30 pm

    I’m always intimidated by minimalism because I’m afraid that, if I don’t get it just right — perfect fit, sufficient quality — I’ll just look blah. But those looks are gorgeous, and you definitely have me thinking. How lovely it would be to have the wardrobe perfectly edited down like this!

  32. Luinae
    September 3, 2010 / 3:15 pm

    I’m loving minimalist dressing! Even today, I’m wearing a grey top with buttoned 3/4 length sleeves and simple dark wash jeans. I love your post, as well.

  33. September 4, 2010 / 7:37 am

    What a wonderful post, I absolutely loved this!

  34. September 4, 2010 / 1:23 pm

    Anne – I used to be under the same apprehension, but thanks to today’s knits, I think we can achieve the look without the stiffness.

    Luinae – thank you! You outfit sounds fabulous.

    J – thanks so much. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  35. Anonymous
    October 3, 2010 / 5:58 pm

    so helpful to find a jacket without an overwhelming collar! Tough to wear those well if you’re under 5’8″.

  36. October 14, 2010 / 10:14 am

    Nice selection of clothes.I too need the clutter-less simplicity of form and these are all fabulous examples!
    Admiring the time and effort you put into your blog and detailed information you offer! I will bookmark your blog . Thumbs up!

  37. March 7, 2012 / 9:12 pm

    My kinda style….trés chic! I adore coats and scarves….a fab black duffle coat looks good over most things….and a gorgeous scarf/wrap can add texture/colour/interest. Lovely post as usual. A bientot.

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