The Minimal Wardrobe

Photos by Allison Nguyen
Text by Jillian Meehan

In every direction you look: people quickly whisking around, squeezing through narrow, winding aisles, toting with them bags, hangers, and sometimes small children; racks, stacks, and lopsided piles of rifled-through clothes in every color and style you could possibly want. This is the Boston Primark.

Not unique to Boston, stores like Primark, H&M, and Forever 21 give customers access to thousands of styles at extremely affordable prices all around the world, making it easier than ever to fill up one’s closet to the point of overflowing. While this at first sounds appealing, not everyone is a fan. In our rapidly-growing consumerist society, the philosophy that “less is more” seems especially contradictory, but more and more people have become proponents of a simpler, less materialistic way of living: minimalism.

The minimalism trend gained traction last year following the release of organizing consultant Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which explains her foolproof, “life transforming” method for reducing clutter in the home. Kondo’s proposed process for tidying involves picking up every object you own and asking yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If the answer is anything but a resounding yes, you get rid of it. This particular method is meant to target your entire living space, but the minimalist philosophy is most popular when applied to one’s closet. 

The five-piece French wardrobe, for example, consists of basic pieces from all categories of apparel—tops, bottoms, outerwear, shoes, and accessories—with an additional five non-basic purchases per season to add more personal style. The beauty of this method is that, once equipped with the basics like white button-downs, jeans, leather jackets, and ankle boots, you can only add five new pieces to your wardrobe per season—that includes shoes, jewelry, and other accessories. A minimal wardrobe saves money spent on clothes and time spent on deciding what to wear, but the five-piece wardrobe also allows you to keep your style fresh and personal by adding on to what you already have.

Similar to the five-piece French method, a capsule wardrobe is made up of mostly high-quality basics across each category of apparel. However, unlike the five-piece wardrobe, you aren’t supposed to buy any new clothes during the season. 

Pioneered by Caroline Joy Rector, of the blog Un-Fancy, a capsule is made up of—at the most—37 pieces per season. The idea is to plan out what items you will wear during each upcoming season, only buying new clothes in between capsules. Rector’s blog is a testament to the success of this method. Her latest capsule has 12 tops, 8 bottoms, 1 dress, 3 jackets, and 10 pairs of shoes, and she was able to post 20 different outfits using these items between March 26 and April 24, showing that 37 pieces really does go a long way.

Although the capsule wardrobe may sound limited, Rector claims the method has had great effects on her lifestyle. “We assume that more choices means better options and greater satisfaction, but it actually causes anxiety and limits creativity,” Rector says on her blog. Learning to make due with a certain number of items forces you to be more resourceful with what you have, instead of spending additional time and money acquiring things that will only satisfy you in the short term. 

In considering minimalism as a trend, it is interesting to note how decidedly anti-trend the philosophy is. Filling your wardrobe with basics and vowing not to buy dozens of new items each season, instead relying on classic pieces that will never go out of style, seems in opposition to the fast-paced, materialistic lifestyle that has become the norm. While not everyone may be keen on discarding half of their possessions or limiting themselves to five new purchases per season, everyone would benefit from evaluating their closets from time to time—if you haven't worn that sweater more than once in the past two years, why are you hanging on to it?

Minimalism is more than a trend; it is a lifestyle. All it takes is a little tidying.