Simply Inspired

Have you ever stood in front of your closet and felt overwhelmed by choices and the sheer amount of Stuff? Have you scrambled on a busy morning, changing your clothes multiple times before getting out the door? Do you ever stumble across articles of clothing you’d forgotten you own, and find tags still attached?

I’ve known for a long time that when it comes to style, I’m a minimalist at heart, in regard to both quantity of items and clean visual effect. But I’ve struggled with achieving the kind of well-edited wardrobe that would allow for space between hangers and the kind of simple chic I associate with French style and my own style icons.

My own history and (often) fear-based habits have been stumbling blocks to achieving my ideally minimalist style. First, during college years and for a little over a decade afterward, my wardrobe consisted of maybe 6-10 pieces total at any given time, due to low-paying jobs that left little for anything after rent and food. I lived in constant fear that one or more would fall apart or somehow become unwearable and I wouldn’t have the budget to replace them. (This was before the days of cheap, fast fashion and a thrift store on every corner.) Finding clothing that fits me well has always been challenging, so even now when I do find pieces that I love and that fit well, my tendency is to want to buy multiples and hoard in case of future shortage. (I make no claims that this is rational.) There’s also a part of me that loves and craves novelty. I’ll admit I get a little high contemplating wearing a new piece for the first time.

But I’m also drawn by the simplicity and ease of a minimalist wardrobe, and am finding that having a selection of really good, versatile pieces that play well together quiets the More Monster™ like nothing else. There are certainly global reasons to cut back and pare down, not the least of which is the impact on the environment of ever-increasing consumption. But I think there’s also a toll on the individual psyche: that sense of being overwhelmed by (and owned by) Too Much Stuff.

So when I run across minimalist inspiration, I study, I let it wash over me like a cool, clear stream. The video at the top of this post is one example (perhaps not for the exact pieces, but rather the idea). Some of my fellow bloggers have also provided the kind of inspiration that keeps me on the path toward my “fewer, but better” wardrobe. One is Stephanie Hoff Clayton at Odyssey Home, who has really distilled her style down to a very pure expression. While her style is more edgy than my own, I’m inspired by how she selects some very unique pieces but makes everything work beautifully together.  You’ll see her wear some items repeatedly, but in different arrangements and combinations.

Finnish blogger Mette at the blog Metscan has applied her minimalist aesthetic to her wardrobe and home decor. She maintains a steely discipline when it comes to editing her wardrobe and accessories, but she has any situation covered and everything beautifully expresses her individual style.

Blogger hostess of the humble bungalow has also cultivated a distinctive aesthetic that includes mostly black, white, and grey simple separates, pearls and scarves. Her focused approach to style has also inspired me.

A minimalist wardrobe doesn’t have to be all black, or even all solid neutrals (though that does help), but it does have to be cohesive, which is often the hardest aspect to get right. Angie Cox of YouLookFab selects bright and printed pieces that remix well with other items in her wardrobe. Though some may not think of her look as “minimalist” (I do) she gravitates toward clean lines, one or two focal points in the outfit, and very sparse use of accessories. I think if you’re attracted by the idea of minimalism but are also a confirmed color junkie, she provides some great examples of how to happily marry the two.

In fact, Angie penned a great post last week about opposites and creating wardrobe cohesion. As someone who is drawn to different elements of very divergent styles (e.g. modern classic, softer/artsy, urban/edgy) I find it very reassuring to know that I don’t have to choose just one persona in order to have a cohesive wardrobe. I agree with her that the simpler and cleaner the designs, the easier it is to blend styles. When incorporating color, stick to a color family. For Angie above, it’s what she refers to as “warm sour brights,” while I find my most workable color accents are softer autumnal tones. I also find that keeping to a long-over-lean silhouette, at least for the majority of separates, greatly aids cohesion. My lifestyle right now doesn’t support an “Express Lane” wardrobe (12 Items Or Fewer) but after a recent closet edit, there was light at the end of the tunnel, or at least a little space between the hangers.

Not everyone is into minimalist style. Some of my favorite style bloggers have a very exuberant, pattern-mixing, wild and OTT kind of style. I admire their eye and ability to pull disparate elements together to create a unified whole. And everyone’s definition of “minimalism” may be a little different; for some it may incorporate the visual effect but not the number of items in a wardrobe, and for others the reverse may be true.

Does a minimalist wardrobe or style appeal to you? If so, how do you define “minimalist”?

Many thanks to both Stephanie Hoff Clayton and Angie Cox who gave permission to use their photos.
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42 Comments

  1. August 13, 2012 / 10:14 am

    Love all those ladies and their style.

    No way in hell am I a minimalist!!! But I’d like less choices sometimes xxx

  2. August 13, 2012 / 11:14 am

    I’m just trying to rebuild my wardrobe after buying very little for a few years, and also, I’m now taking into account that I’m nearing 50 which is making me rethink certain items in my wardrobe.

  3. August 13, 2012 / 12:00 pm

    Am working towards not a minimalist wardrobe (yet — although I’ve learned traveling for a month with a 22 inch suitcase my closets at home have way to many choices). Now, working on cultivation — weeding out what doesn’t work and carefully considering what fits in. Janice, over at the Vivienne Files blog spot is the Grande Mistress of this. Love your soft autumnal tones! Lots of inspiration for me.

  4. August 13, 2012 / 12:48 pm

    I’m a natural-born minimalist, but I’ve also lived with clothing shortages so I have my share of fear-based habits. I’ve also got guilt-based habits. (I grew up thinking it was selfish or wasteful to spend money on clothes.)

    Minimalism, as it works in my life, is never about shortages. It is about making sure that everything I own is something I love and appreciate having. The “wrong” type of stuff is just as stressful to me as “too much” stuff.

    I agree that cohesion is what makes things work. This is what I’m working on now– learning to let go of pieces that aren’t quite my current style, even though they are perfectly good pieces.

  5. August 13, 2012 / 12:56 pm

    One of the problems with minimalism is that it seems to involve MORE shopping, as in, ok, that’s it, I’m only going to buy perfect things from now on. Just very few. Starting now.

    Also true minimalism can be stressful, at least to me. What if you spill something on your perfect garment?

    However, I was perfectly happy with my 12 item wardrobe over 6 weeks in France.

    I really like the approach of Janice/Vivienne in the viviennefiles: she did a shopping fast and found plenty in her own closet (and did quite a bit of decluttering too).

    Let me say again–I think you look just great in your skinny jeans with EF sweater uniform.

    • Anonymous
      August 14, 2012 / 2:23 am

      Yep! Paradoxically it involves more shopping and more patience! Nothing seems good enough!

  6. August 13, 2012 / 1:33 pm

    I love this idea. My biggest problem is that, while my body looks good in black and white, or all neutral, it totally washes me out. I am prematurely white- haired with fair skin and very light blue eyes….and i live in FL. I look best in vibrant colors. We really dont have much of a season change here so ‘resort wear’ is more my style.

  7. August 13, 2012 / 1:45 pm

    I define minimalism as pure and calming to the eye. So that’s a big tent. I never want to wear clothing with more impact than I can sustain, if that makes sense. And I completely agree with you – one persona only would be no fun at all.

    • August 13, 2012 / 8:01 pm

      Yes, that makes absolute, perfect sense, and that’s what I’m going for as well.

  8. Anonymous
    August 13, 2012 / 2:07 pm

    Must give credit where credit is due: Donna Karan came up with “seven easy pieces” in the mid 1980’s as a way for
    women to look pulled together in a minimal way. She was so right for the time then, and now.

  9. August 13, 2012 / 2:32 pm

    I’m working toward minimalism as well. Higher quality is so much more enjoyable to wear but sometimes I struggle to snap that tag and actually use it for the first time. The temptation to buy lots for less is a tough habit to break. Great post!

  10. August 13, 2012 / 2:58 pm

    Oh yes, I can’t stand clutter. Always love Stephanie’s looks.

  11. August 13, 2012 / 3:31 pm

    I will probably never get to the minimalist stage, but paring down is an ongoing activity. I have trouble parting with things, even when I am not in love, guilty about wasting money on something that didn’t work. So the item just sits there. This summer I decided to consign items and, while the return is minimal, at least it’s something. And I am shopping my closet regularly. The Vivienne Files are my inspiration.

  12. August 13, 2012 / 3:35 pm

    I’m honored to be part of this post, thanks again!

    Great topic and discussion. I define minimalism as less visual effect and less items. After years of having several closets of clothing, shoes, accessories, I couldn’t take it anymore. Something always needed cleaning or repairing, or a new top to go with it. And I realized that as a petite woman, all those patterns, wild prints, embellishments, etc., weren’t doing me many favors.

    I decided to streamline, slowly selling things that didn’t work for me, or were simply unnecessary. As for color – I wear bright lipsticks. Also my profession allows me to use color with abandon if desired. I thought I may miss wearing colored clothing, but so far, that hasn’t happened. (I probably overdosed on color from years of Caribbean living!)

    It is quite liberating to open my closet and not think too much about what to wear. Now there is time (and money) for other things.

  13. August 13, 2012 / 3:42 pm

    I must clarify: I define minimalism as *greater* visual effect achieved through absence of unnecessary embellishment; and of course less items.

  14. Anonymous
    August 13, 2012 / 3:50 pm

    I struggle with this. I think it’s because i fixate on what the perfect number of clothes is, and then i over-cull, which makes my life more complicated, since i suddenly have nothing appropriate for some required activity in my life.
    I’m trying to be more realistic about what i need for work, home etc. And save the culling for things that don’t flatter or are never worn.

  15. Anonymous
    August 13, 2012 / 4:19 pm

    I consider myself a minimalist, and would love to work the Eileen Fisher wardrobe. However, after years of stepping into Eileen Fisher to try on clothing, I always leave thinking that her clothes don’t work for my relatively slim pear shape. I think it looks great on a tall slim shape, or a rounder apple shape. Oh well, the search continues…

  16. August 13, 2012 / 4:26 pm

    I’m not, by personality, any kind of a minimalist — you could tell this at a moment by peeking at my bookshelves, looking into my office.
    But I do believe in the concept that was much touted in the 70s — voluntary life simplicity. And I’ve really noticed this summer that I’m wearing a very few favourite staples. Back at the podium, when classes start again in a few weeks, I feel the need to switch up my look more often so my students don’t roll their eyes in boredom (at least, not over my outfits!)
    I like your different interpretations of minimalism — thanks!

  17. August 13, 2012 / 5:34 pm

    The idea of a minimalist wardrobe appeals to me very much. I’m often drawn to neutral garments with interesting textures, and the occasional print. I share Frugal Scholar’s anxiety about spilling something on “the perfect garment.” I think that the “internal” key to making minimalism work is the belief that there will always be enough. A tall order in our “too much is not enough” society.

  18. August 13, 2012 / 6:56 pm

    Oh gosh, I love the dancing EF clothes in that video – and of course, the clean aesthetic. I am a minimalist wanna-be, always trying, it seems, to do with less and less, but seduced by something NEW. I’ve loved Angie’s and Stephanie’s looks for a long time too – very different from each other, but very intentional and clean.

  19. August 13, 2012 / 8:08 pm

    I love this post – and these are marvelous examples of women who have found their style, and it’s anything but dull. I love that their individualism still shows through, though what they’re doing is editing and intermixing in ways that are smart smart smart.

    Like you, being small (but curvy), finding clothes that fit has been a lifelong challenge. It’s easier now (fewer dictates as to professional “uniforms”), but I still struggle with the editing you speak of, even though I truly know my optimal style.

  20. Carolyn from Oregon
    August 13, 2012 / 8:22 pm

    I’m a lifelong seeker of minimalism but have never succeeded very well. I do it pretty well in my home but not in my closet. I have way too many needless bargains. I welcome the inspiration in this blog. I’m now trying to limit myself to the purchase to one item a month, not to economize, but to buy one special thing that really makes a difference.

    The capsule wardrobes shown are interesting but not right for my lifestyle or body type. I’d love to see a country style version of a capsule.

  21. Chicatanyage
    August 13, 2012 / 2:34 pm

    Great video. I am working on minimalism by sticking to black, navy & grey as neutrals and adding one accent colour per season. I know it is tempting to want to buy new items I am trying to resist unless I either really adore the piece or it is going to be extremely useful.

  22. August 13, 2012 / 9:51 pm

    Glorified outfit minimalist, AND colour junkie here 🙂

    Thanks so much for the shout out and kind words. I am humbled to be part of your minimalist inspiration, Susan.

    I do not wear jewelry at all, apart from my wedding ring. Very occasionally I’ll wear my late Mum’s gold medallion or one of my pearl necklaces. I also do not like to wear clothes with lots of design detailing, or outfits with lots of deliberate visual layers. I DO like to pattern mix, but also do so in a minimal way. Minimalist looks are disciplined, yet interesting. I hope that makes sense.

    Thanks, again!

  23. Anonymous
    August 13, 2012 / 9:53 pm

    A recent medical crisis has left me a minimalist because nothing much fits, and I am finding that this is okay. I have had to buy a few pieces because belts are not always enough, but I like having fewer choices. Mornings are easier, and I have a clearer picture of myself. I find I am pickier when I do buy something (perhaps also scared the weight might come back).

  24. August 13, 2012 / 10:24 pm

    I don’t think you could say I’m a minimalist, but I’m moving in that direction as I get older. In wardrobe I lean toward a ‘uniform’ in that I put a few outfits together and wear them regularly. And they are fairly simple usually, as a short person I am not into many patterns, ruffles, layers, jewelry etc. As a result of the blogs I’ve become a bit more adventurous but nowhere near as diverse fashonably as many of you.

    However your statement “There’s also a part of me that loves and craves novelty.” really resonated with me. There’s no way I could be like Steve Jobs and wear black top and jeans forever. So I wear an item quite often for a while, then I’m kind of tired of it. Even if it is still in style and in good shape, I don’t want to wear it, I long for the new. I see something such as Materfamilias’ navy cashmere V-neck and think “I want one of those, I’d wear it all the time”. And perhaps I would, for a time.

    At least now I weed out the old and take them to a consignment shop, so my closet isn’t overcrowded anymore.

  25. Effie May
    August 13, 2012 / 10:42 pm

    I was inspired by the capsule wardrobe you put together for your European trip with all of its Eileen Fisher silk tops. And I am very fortunate to have an Eileen Fisher “factory store” a 15-minute drive from my house in the SF Bay Area! I’ve invested in a number of tees and tanks, as well as a few wonderful pants and skirts (mostly in washable crepe). These pieces have become the foundation of my work wardrobe, paired with tailored jackets, scarves, belts etc. to lawyer things up for a law office environment. A tip for maintaining space between hangers in the face of ongoing acquisitions: Real Simple slim hangers that can be hung vertically in multiples.

  26. Jill Ann
    August 13, 2012 / 11:54 pm

    Me? No, not a minimalist. I love color, and find all-neutral wardrobes boring. Maybe because I live in a hot climate (Texas) and I think that requires a more colorful wardrobe. I am trying to be more selective and buy less stuff; I have a definite tendency to snap up a bargain even if it isn’t anything I need, or really love. Still working on that! It’s probably even more important for me to learn to let things go….I have a lot of things that have been in my closet for years that I haven’t worn, but I still can’t let them go. It’s a process…I think I am getting better, but a lot of work to do yet.

  27. Gayle
    August 14, 2012 / 12:34 am

    SPACES BETWEEN THE HANGARS — yes yes that’s what I want!
    And I know, as I stand there pondering what to wear —
    I must have too much if it is THIS hard to decide.
    Wouldn’t it be okay to wear white jeans and a black sweater every day?
    I just need a ‘dress-up’ uniform that I like as much.

  28. mette
    August 13, 2012 / 6:38 pm

    Gosh, I really was surprised about your mention, Susan. I had no idea. I appreciate your writing , thank you so much : )!
    True, I have very little of everything. But this has not always been the situation.
    I believe, that you have to reach your top, just as an alcoholic has to reach his bottom, in order to make a real, lasting change in your behavior -in this case – to be a minimalist ( unless it is something you have grown into ).
    I guess I had it all, but having it all, no longer gave me satisfaction. Something needed to be done.
    The time was ( and is ) right. It is ok now to do with less. I can only wear one pair of pants at a time. I´ve also learned, that having less, I am more careful with my clothes; spilling food on them happens seldom.
    Feng Shui, decluttering, downshifting – these are all SO the things of today.
    And – I really want to live this day, this period.
    My goal is to have and keep only the things I really need in my everyday living.
    However, I do update my stuff and while at it, I get rid of something else. I am not in love with my stuff ( it is only stuff ).
    Right now, these are my thought about the subject.
    One thing has to be definite though. I don´t ever wish to end up to the situation I started on: Too much stuff.

  29. August 14, 2012 / 1:40 am

    Thinking about this a lot lately. Not at all a minimalist. Sometimes I think my goal is to have the maximum number of clothing options while still having space between hangers and getting a reasonable amount of wear out of every purchase.

  30. Gretchen
    August 13, 2012 / 9:12 pm

    This is a tough one. I’d say I’m minimalist in silhouette and color, but not so much on quantity. I have multiples of black and navy pants, A line and pencil skirts, wrap dresses, turtleneck sweaters, and and irrational number of white button down shirts in linen, Oxford, and piqué. Because the seasons in the midAtlantic are so extreme, I need varying fabrics. But the colors all work together. But my shoes? Oy. Stilettos, sensible pumps, mules, loafers, boots…no minimalism there.

  31. kathy peck
    August 13, 2012 / 10:17 pm

    For me minimalist wardrobe has to do with only having things I love in my closet – weeding out all the “guilt” clothing that was never worn, things I “think” I might wear, etc. I’m getting pretty darn close to it. If I have that, I don’t have much trouble figuring out what to wear. Great post.

  32. August 14, 2012 / 12:02 pm

    Yes I’ve always been a minimalist inasmuch as I like clean simple lines, no fuss or embellishment. Can’t stand the look of wearing too much jewellery or clashing prints on clothes. Its not unknown for me to buy a top that I like but if it has sequins on I will painstakingly remove every single one.

    For most of my life I had a very small wardrobe and I wore everything in it but then I lost my way for a few years and I bought too much stuff. This year I culled my wardrobe severely and have now got back on track. The relief I felt was amazing.

    However I am a handbag addict and I have so many handbags its ridiculous. The trouble is they are all quite good ones so to get rid of them is hard. Also I love most of them so to choose which ones to go is making me anxious. It crazy I know but I’m working on it one bag at a time.

  33. August 14, 2012 / 4:07 pm

    Great article, i have a very similar history (fear-based inability to cull, etc.) I’m not much of a minimalist per se, but i am very interested in finding out what is enough and aiming for that. I do my best to cultivate mindfulness about my relationship to ‘stuff’, and am easily overwhelmed by too much.

    A small wardrobe doesn’t have to be all classics in neutral colors. You have presented some excellent examples here! My wardrobe has been described as ‘tiny’ but i have plenty of variety for my taste. Style-wise i focus on classics, rugged/utilitarian pieces, and cobwebby Victoriana. I love the opposites attract of the utilitarian vs. the victorian, and classics are like vanilla – they go with everything 🙂 So i can go all classic, all rugged, all romantic or any combo i want for very different looks. Color-wise, i’m about 70% neutrals, the rest sour warm colors. It helps to know color theory if you’re going small.

    Alison of Artisanry of Acorn Cottage has a very minimalist wardrobe which she largely crafts by hand. Lots of nature inspired color, intense pattern and hand embellishment in jumpers, cardis, little sundresses…..it’s very boho romantic and unconventional, the exact opposite of the stereotypical idea of ‘minimalist’. But it works beautifully!

    http://artisanry.blogspot.com/2011/11/storyboard.html

    http://artisanry.blogspot.com/2010/05/m3-day-4.html

    It does take discipline and planning, though.

    http://artisanry.blogspot.com/2010/11/lovely-autumn-day.html

    The main thing i love about cultivating a minimalist wardrobe is that it really hones your personal style. Thank you for a great article and wonderful comments! steph

  34. August 14, 2012 / 6:00 pm

    I see buying clothes, like buying anything else, as a decision on how much to consume, not just “Do I like this?” and “Can I pay for it?” which was pretty much all I thought about in my youth. We in North America have been indoctrinated tho think more is more- and really, is that so?

    I am intrigued by how much some people buy- kind of like a reformed smoker, I want to say, “What are you thinking?” But i can still work up a good spree if in the right mood. Feel lousy after, though.

  35. RoseAG
    August 14, 2012 / 11:39 am

    No minimalist here.

    That’s not to say that I don’t try to edit my closet to avoid items that never get any use. I’m all for lots of items that get lots of use!

  36. August 14, 2012 / 7:51 pm

    Great examples of minimalist style. And your writing is always so descriptive and clever. This style does appeal to me, but I think I’m all over the map!

  37. August 14, 2012 / 9:50 pm

    Absolutely yes, I am drawn to minimalist styles. Yours and Mette’s are favorites of mine. Also Kathy Peck’s, the way she sometimes describes it in comments. I very much enjoy reading what the three of you say as it helps me better understand why I’m drawn to this approach, and to see how you play at the edges of your styles, making them uniquely your own.

  38. Terri
    August 17, 2012 / 8:38 pm

    Since doing the six items challenge, I’ve definitely been pondering a minimalist style, which is ironically where I was BEFORE I began blogging! I’ve pared down my closet again during my 3 week break…and I’m excited to go visit Angie, who is NEW to me.

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