Sunday, August 12, 2007

10 Essential Items For A Minimalist Wardrobe

p 10 items:-
  1. A perfectly fitting set of underwear
  2. A smart dress suitable for day or evening wear
  3. A smart suit (trousers or skirt)
  4. A pair of 'feel-good' jeans
  5. A smart shirt or blouse
  6. A fine-knit, v-necked sweater
  7. A fitted t-shirt
  8. A pair of smart, comfortable shoes that will go with trousers or skirts
  9. A stylish overcoat, such as a trench coat
  10. A mid-sized handbag with a classical style
My Ongoing Quest To Assemble A Simple, Cost-Effective, Functional ‘Capsule Wardrobe’
I used to have hundreds of items of clothing, but over the years have gradually slimmed down my wardrobe (if not my figure) to a core of essential outfits so that I am never stuck for something to wear.

I have worked in quite a few environments over the years – offices, shops, a museum/art gallery, a cafĂ©, at craft fairs - and now I’m working from home. I have always had some items of clothing that have been worn over and over again, and others that haven’t seen the light of day. I’m getting better at eliminating that annoying 80% that sit there gathering moths and dust, taking up room in my wardrobe, confusing me when I’m trying to pick out a quick outfit or pack for a weekend away.

My theory is that if I can narrow my wardrobe down to that elusive ‘capsule’ of useful clothing, I will save time every day deciding what to wear, and save money – no more buying useless ‘bargains’ that go with nothing else.

Here’s how I go about this never-ending (but rather enjoyable) task. I realise that it won’t suit everyone, but I hope that some of you will find it useful.

The Big Clear Out

· Open your wardrobe and stand back!
· Pull out anything that is dirty or needs repair and either clean it, repair it or chuck it.
· Next comes anything that doesn’t fit. Sell it, give it away or donate it to charity.
· If you haven’t worn something for years because it is out of fashion or you never liked it in the first place, now is the time to get rid of it.
· Non-seasonal clothes and shoes can be cleaned and stored elsewhere if you need more room.
· The remaining clothes should all be clean, in good repair and should fit well. To find out what I’m wearing most often, I put all (cleaned) clothing that I’ve just worn back on the right hand side of the wardrobe. If you try this for a month or two, you will see what you are wearing most often and what never gets worn. This may give you a clue as to some more items to send to the charity shop.
· Next, make a list of everything under headings by type (ie, underwear, dresses, suits, trousers, shirts/blouses/tops, sweaters/cardigans, t-shirts, skirts, shorts, footwear, coats/jackets, night clothes, swimwear, accessories). I make a note next to each item about which season I wear it and whether it is casual, smart or eveningwear.
· I then compare this list to my capsule wardrobe list and see which items I already have and identify and make a list of any missing items.
· A trying-on session can be useful, to try out new combinations from existing items. It may help to write down good combinations under headings such as:- work, casual, days out, eveningwear, exercise, pastimes. Sometimes I get into a rut and it’s nice to rediscover an outfit I’d forgotten about, or a new combination that I hadn’t thought of wearing together before.
· Now you know where the gaps are, take your list, include colours you’re looking for and head for the shops … after reading the next section…

Considerations Before You Begin:-

· If You Are On A Tight Budget (try second hand, clothes swap evenings with friends, Ebay, discount stores, sales, supermarket clothes ranges, alterations/repairs to your current clothing, recombining your existing outfits or sewing your own.)
· Colours That Suit You, and Ones That You Love (Do you always receive compliments when wearing a particular colour? Do you love a particular outfit because of the colour? Colour consultants will go by your hair and skin colouring to suggest your ‘best’ colours. Basically, decide whether your colouring is warm or cool, bright or pale, clear toned or muted and choose colours with those characteristics. Colour Me Beautiful is one company offering this service. Or, ignore all that and just choose colours that you love and that make you feel good!)
· Climate (Which season you are buying for? Some items will be suitable for more than one if you layer them with other items. Increase the number of layers you wear in colder months, eg a top, jacket/trousers with thick socks/tights, long boots and an overcoat for cold winters – perhaps just the top with trousers and sandals for summer.)
· Lifestyle (Occupation/Pastimes – write out a list of all the types of activity you normally undertake, eg gardening, office work, walking the dog, swimming, etc What will you need for each activity? Can some items of clothing be worn in various categories? It may be better to hire or borrow clothing for special/unusual events – eg formal dress ball, skiing holiday – rather than have them clogging up your wardrobe.)
· Your Body Shape/Proportions (Learn which styles suit your figure and which shops stock clothing that fits your body type particularly well. Enhance your best features and disguise or minimise any bits you don’t like. Pale or bright colours/vivid patterns and added details (such as a coursage or brooch) will draw attention. Darker, plain colours, subtle layering, skimming rather than clinging fabrics, all help to hide any ‘flaws’. Choose clothes that fit well, but are not too tight, or, eg, gaping at the neck lines etc. Trinny and Susannah's first book "What Not To Wear" is very good on this subject. When you are buying one good suit, it is worth trying on 20 or more in different shops to get the perfect fit, so take all the time you need. You can always look again another day.)
· Your Likes/Dislikes and Personality (Aim to buy clothes that are not only well-fitting and comfortable, but those that make you feel ‘This is just what I was looking for. I love this outfit!’ Think about the part of your personality you want to project – fun, arty, elegant, sexy, professional, sporty, trendy, eco-friendly, cool, eccentric etc. Do you prefer to wear natural fabrics or artificial ones? Do you want to buy organic or fair trade or animal-free items? These will all influence the styles you choose and the places you buy from.)
· Is It Washable, or Must It Be Dry Cleaned? (On a practical note, light colours will usually need more frequent cleaning and, if you are anything like me, may soon be ruined by a stain – less important for cheaper items – but could be an expensive mistake for a winter coat. Dry cleaning will obviously cost more than machine or hand washing, but will probably be unavoidable for some items, such as winter coats. Some fabrics don’t need ironing, which can save time.)
· Mix And Match (What can this item be worn with in your existing wardrobe? Aim for maximum value from each new item. Go for colours that will blend or contrast nicely with your main pieces, such as your suit).


· Choose Classic Pieces That Won’t Date – invest more money in your key items and choose styles that won’t date for, eg, suit, coat, handbag, boots, and they could last for years.
· Stick to One or Two Colours For Main Pieces (eg black, brown, grey, navy, beige, camel, burgundy, khaki, plum, red, olive, chocolate. This means that you can mix and match. Different tones of the same colour can look good together.)
· Buy More Tops Than Trousers And Skirts (Different styles of tops can transform one pair of trousers or a skirt. Eg jeans could be worn with a t-shirt for relaxing, with a smart shirt for lunch out, with a snazzy top and heels for a night out. Aim for about 3 tops to one skirt or pair of trousers to add variety.)
· Add Colour, Individuality And Fashionability With Cheaper Items/Accessories (Update the following items as fashion/your whim changes - belts, costume jewellery, scarves, tops, jeans, casual jackets, knitwear, t-shirts, fashion bags, etc. Look out for vintage bargains to add some uniqueness to your look.)
· Try Before You Buy Try on all items before you buy, if possible. If you ordered via mail order – make sure you can return the item for a refund if necessary.
· Take Your Time and try on lots of examples from different shops before you make up your mind.

I’ve come up with two lists. The first is a ‘Minimalist Wardrobe’, which lists my key items of clothing, the second is a slightly expanded ‘Capsule Wardrobe’. The first list assumes that you will wash some items twice per week, the second assumes a weekly washday. You will almost certainly have items specific to your work and pastimes that you will want to add to the lists, and will find some things on my lists that you will never wear. I hope it will provide a useful starting point, in any case. I would love to see other people’s ideal lists!


4 x bras
4 x knicks
4 x pairs of socks/tights/stockings

1 x smart dress suitable for evening or day

1 x smart trouser or skirt suit

1 x jeans or casual skirt/trousers
1 x smart trousers or skirt suitable for day or evening wear (or wear trousers or skirt from suit option)

1 x smart blouse/shirt
3 x casual tops for with jeans, casual trousers etc

1 x fine-knit v-necked sweater
1 x smart cardigan suitable for smart day/evening

3 x fitted t-shirts to wear under shirts/jackets/suit.

1 x trainers or comfortable, casual shoes (jeans/casual skirt)
1 x smart, comfortable shoes (eg court shoes with small heel to wear with smart skirts/trousers/suits)

1 x waterproof (eg mac/trench coat)
1 x smart jacket (for smart trousers/dress/skirt, or wear suit jacket)
1 x winter coat

Night clothes
1 x pjs or nightdress
1 x dressing gown

1 x set of jewellery (eg earrings, necklace, brooch, watch)
1 x smart handbag


8 x bras
8 x knicks
8 x pairs of socks/stockings/tights/pop socks

1 x smart dress
1 x cocktail dress

1 x smart trouser or skirt suit

1 x jeans or casual skirt
1 x casual trousers or skirt
1 x smart casual trousers or skirt
1 x smart trousers or skirt suitable for evening wear

1 x casual shirt
1 x smart blouse/shirt
5 x casual tops

1 x casual, fine-knit v-necked sweater
1 x smart cardigan suitable for smart day/evening

5 x fitted t-shirts to wear under shirts/jackets.

1 x shorts

1 x mules/indoor shoes/slippers
1 x trainers or casual shoes
1 x casual sandals
1 x smart boots
1 x smart, comfortable shoes
1 x evening shoes/sandals

1 x casual jacket (for casual trousers/skirt/jeans)
1 x smart mac/trench
1 x smart jacket (for smart trousers/dress/skirt)
1 x winter coat

Night clothes
1 x pjs or nightdress
1 x dressing gown

1 x swimming costume or bikini
1 x sarong or beach cover-up
1 x sunhat
1 x sunglasses

Variety of belts
1 x pair of winter gloves
1 x winter scarf
1 x winter hat
Various pieces of jewellery
Variety of scarves
Everyday smart handbag
Evening bag (match to jewellery)
Travel/overnight bag

In Summary:-
  1. Clear out your wardrobe first
  2. Reassess what you already own
  3. List any gaps in your own 'ideal capsule wardrobe' list
  4. Buy missing items remembering to only buy well-fitting items, in colours and styles that complement your existing garments.
  5. Concentrate money and effort on buying your 'key' items.
  6. Accessorise to add colour and personality to your basics.
  7. Have fun!
Copyright Julia K Walton 2007


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