growing a minimalist wardrobe: step 1

September 18, 2014

The words growing and minimalist might seem like strange bedfellows, but hear me out: I like to think of a minimalist wardrobe as being akin to a garden. You’ve got to pull out the mess and the weeds that are strangling the showstoppers and fill it back in with bits that will form a beautiful base and make your garden shine. As far as I’m concerned, figuring out what to weed is the easy part. Figuring out what will flourish and make your garden beautiful and easy to maintain—that’s the hard part. 

Over the next few weeks I’ll dole out the best advice I have on how to grow a minimalist wardrobe. I’m thinking of it as a mini-series; a step-by-step approach to figuring out what to put back into your closet once you’ve stripped it clean. Here goes:

Step One: Choose a Color Palette
wardrobe The most successful gardens start with a color palette. Maybe it’s all silvery grasses and blues or rich burgundies and deep greens, but find a beautiful garden and you’ll also find a color palette. For me, the same goes for growing a minimalist wardrobe.

My palette is all blues and grays and whites with a few blacks and browns thrown in for good measure. Mostly these are colors that might be described as neutrals. For me, this has been the easiest way to have less, but this is not to say it’s the only route to take. Maybe your color palette is red and yellow and blue with a smattering of green. Do what you gotta do. Regardless of the specifics, if you’re hoping to pare down your wardrobe, the easiest way I’ve found to do this is to find a collection of colors that you love and to commit to that palette.

I’ve found tricky territory when I scoop up a multi-colored blouse on sale and come home to find that I don’t own a pair of pants to go with it. Not to mention a pair of shoes. And what if I get cold? Do I begin a hunt for the perfect canteloupe-colored cardigan to warm up with? I have friends who are geniuses at this. And if you love shopping, then this might be your route. But, it’s not been, in my experience, the way to having less.

Choosing clothes in a similar palette means that I can mix and match and know that one thing that I pull out of my drawer is bound to match the next thing. I like to think of my entire wardrobe in the way that I think of packing for a trip. Into my suitcase closet go clothes that I know will get me the most possible mix-and-match traction.

This doesn’t mean that you might not have a few fabulous outliers. I happen to think I look fetching in a certain shade of hard-to-find red, and if I ever find the perfect sweater in that hue, I’ll be snatching it up. But the trick for me is to have a strong enough base to welcome the oddballs.

wardrobe
For the curious, this stack, bottom to top: A cozy cardigan (a gift, last year), many-season-ago overalls (similar here), a proper button-up (also a gift), a crisp white sleeveless, my go-to jeans (on sale), my favorite many-season-ago sweater/shirt with a hole (somewhat similar here), an old favorite dress to wear again post-nursing (similar here), two basic tank tops.

If you’re still in the purging stage, head HERE.

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44 Comments

  • Reply Hannah Sheflyand September 18, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    Love this post as I am going through the same issue with our tiny apartment. I started writing a little about our life in a small apartment on my little blog if you would like to take a look. I will keep following to see the rest of your posts on minimalist wardrobe tips.

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:26 am

      Terrific! Glad you're writing about your space!

  • Reply Ju September 18, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Hi Erin I've been following your blog for a few months now and absolutely love the minimalist approach you have to life. I find it so inspiring please keep it up! Can not wait to purge all my clothes in a few months after my baby has arrived!

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:26 am

      Thanks so much, Ju! So glad to hear it! (Happy purging!)

  • Reply Rachel September 18, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I really love this post. The past year I've been minimizing things in my apartment left and I recently started on my wardrobe. So I found this post extremely helpful!

    xo
    Rachel

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:26 am

      Glad to hear it!

  • Reply Penny Milou September 18, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    Really enjoyed this post! Having a good stock of basic coloured clothes makes mixing and matching so much easier, especially in the mornings when time is the only thing I don't have 🙂
    Xx
    PeMi
    PennyMilou.blogspot.com

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:27 am

      Works that way for me, too!

  • Reply Sofia H. September 18, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Great post! Although I love clothes (and shopping), I'm moving past the idea of quantity and hopefully heading towards quality. I have to purge my closet several times a year because I find that I hold on to certain pieces for sentimental reasons. But sticking to a color palette should make it a lot easier!

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:27 am

      Yes! And limiting yourself to quality over quantity, too! (More on that to come!)

  • Reply Margaret September 18, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Love your blog and love this tip! I have been trying to find a time to empty my closet and drawers — this will definitely help decide what stays and what goes. And help with shopping decisions in the future. Can't wait to see more of your posts!

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:28 am

      Thanks, Margaret!

  • Reply Katharine Swanson September 18, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    This is great and has been my approach to maternity/post baby pieces this time around. (Last time i had no purpose behind my purchases and man it shows). The great part of having a more neutral color palette is you can do fun colored jackets or sweaters and know they will match everything else you own!

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:28 am

      I did a little bit of maternity panic shopping myself!

  • Reply Jill September 18, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Great tip! I really need to revamp my wardrobe since I've really not been into shopping for the last couple years other than picking up a random item here or there. As I start to build up a new wardrobe I'll keep this in mind! Now to think of my colour palette….

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:29 am

      The fun part!

  • Reply molly yeh September 18, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    ooh this is perfect! i am all about the minimalist wardrobes!

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:29 am

      Thank you, friend!

  • Reply Fey September 18, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    I have the same color palette as you, but I get bored with it at times hence giving in to shopping for something different. You are wise to stick with your color palette no matter what. I should do that!

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:29 am

      It's definitely a choose your adventure kind of thing! Gotta find what works for you and run with it!

  • Reply Lauren September 18, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Two fabulous resources that helped me curate a capsule wardrobe: http://theviviennefiles.com (great for exploring color pallettes, even if the clothes aren't particularly your style), and http://theproject333.com for ideas and inspiration, plus a challenge and e-course if you need more help or motivation!

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:30 am

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Toril September 18, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Gonna love this series! Tip: into-mind.com for extensive, somewhat anal, but beautiful wardrobe planning!

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:30 am

      OMG. Thorough!

    • Reply Toril September 19, 2014 at 1:45 pm

      Into mind is somewhat extreme when it comes to planning out everything, but the site has some helpful tips to pair down and find a core that you love. I really like your palette/textures (I would call it "interesting simplicity"), looking forward to reading your upcoming posts!

      Another tip, a fellow Norwegian that has cult status in the minimalist wardrobe circles, haha: http://grayzine.no/deadfleurette/category/wardrobe/

  • Reply karinalane September 18, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    The Colletterie Wardrobe Architect series (http://www.coletterie.com/category/wardrobe-architect) is another great resource for rebuilding a clothes garden! There is a lot of focus on making your own clothes, but most of the sections can apply to everyone.

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:30 am

      Sounds great—thanks!

  • Reply iris September 19, 2014 at 12:09 am

    I don't normally have a minimalist wardrobe, but I had to live in Japan for 3 months and constructed one for myself: http://byov.blogspot.com/2013/02/clothing.html I determined doing this kind of packing is far easier when you're not packing for winter!

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:31 am

      Awesome!

  • Reply Lyndal September 19, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Lovely – I too have been purging and moving towards minimalism. I am not at the stage where I can embrace a dedicated plain uniform a la Leo Babauta, and on me I find all blue/grey too drab. At the moment I have a completely random set of rules to avoid feeling blah about my clothes but also cut back hugely: summer tops must be white/cream; winter tops: must have sparkles of some kind; pants denim or floral; dresses: single colour. It might sound weird but really how many white tops can you own and having this list of rules immediately excludes about 98% of anything in most shops so I'm rarely tempted.

    • Reply Erin September 19, 2014 at 12:31 am

      I feel you. I think it's mostly about creating boundaries and stipulations and trying to follow them—whatever they are that work for you!

  • Reply Jodi September 19, 2014 at 12:55 am

    At the risk of sounding old, I find that I've only now refined my sense of style. Quality over quantity, neutrals over colour, textured fabrics over too many prints (although delicate florals and stripes always get a look in). I'm 16 weeks into my third pregnancy and well aware of the trials of the next few months' dressing as well as the difficulty in finding appropriate, flattering and beautiful breastfeeding clothes. I look forward to this series, Erin. Thanks so much!

  • Reply Kara September 19, 2014 at 2:31 am

    Great tip! I can't wait to read the rest. I am great at purging but not so great at filling back in and then when I do it's all kind of haphazard. I LOVE the idea of picking a palette.

  • Reply ieva September 19, 2014 at 6:30 am

    oh, how i love minimalism! it gave me so much in life and in a way awakened my feelings 🙂
    as for my minimalist closet its: black, dark blue, striped (!!!) and sometimes white. And red lips 🙂

  • Reply Chris Huston September 19, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    I love the idea of simplifying my wardrobe. In fact I was thinking about doing that this weekend. I also love the neutral palette of navy, beige, white and gray. I usual add color with a scarf or my lipstick. Looking forward to the series:)

  • Reply evencleveland September 19, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on quality! I find that construction needs to be checked no matter the price or brand (and that brand and price aren't always a reliable indicator of quality), and that treating things with care makes all the difference.

    I wish the limited palette had worked for me, because it made my closet so beautiful. I tried it for a few years, and had to change tactics. While I am a ruthless closet purger and minimalist re: number of items, I found I needed more variety in the bounds. So I am yet again purging and rebuilding. My closet has fewer items still these days, but having a wider range of color, texture and pattern makes me feel more joyful about getting dressed. So color-loving minimalists, despair not! I think the real secret to a minimalist wardrobe is that we all just need fewer items than we think.

    • Reply Erin September 22, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      Yes, indeed. Lots more to come on the quality front. The biggest hitch, I find. As for the color, I honestly wish I was better at it. The colorful patterns are what really stump me. But regardless of color preferences, all of this always goes back to the original tip: just have less.

  • Reply Emily September 21, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Good tips! I share three feet of closet space and a four drawer dresser with my partner and, while I think I actually have fewer clothes than he does, I still only ever seem to wear half of them!

    I think I need a lesson on accessorizing. I can't seem to get the knack of combining accessories to work together/keep people from realizing I only ever wear the same 5 outfits!

  • Reply Delia September 21, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    Loved this post!
    Your advice is simple and makes complete sense,because personally, when it comes to decluttering (no mattter which part of your life) the easiest advice is often the best one.

    On a side note: I actually love the look of clothes inside the wardrobe when they belong to similar colour families. It looks so harmonic and clean. Clothes that are not related to each other when it comes to colours often look so messy…

  • Reply tors grantham October 7, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    Perfect timing as I'm currently weeding out the old and unused, but had no clue how to start looking for the new! Excellent tips, thank you, look forward to more of the series!

  • Reply Steph October 16, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    This is a really helpful series, thank you!

  • Reply Faith October 23, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    My friend and I are going to a clothing swap tonight, and this series was incredibly fun and helpful! I can't wait to get home from work and tackle my closet. Thank you so much, Erin!

  • Reply Rachel Diane March 14, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    I'm currently in the process of weeding out my "garden," so this is a big help. P.S.: you're a wonderful writer, and I'm so glad I stumbled across your blog. 🙂

  • Reply The Fabulous Mrs. Wing August 5, 2016 at 10:29 am

    This is a rather old post in internet time, but I thought I’d leave a comment in case someone comes around looking through like I did: I also like to embrace a more minimalist wardrobe and while I do wear a LOT of neutrals, I don’t really stick to any particular color palette anymore. Instead I find that I keep my bottoms (pants, skirts, etc.) in neutrals so that I can not worry so much about the color of my tops. All of my bottoms are denim, black, olive green, navy blue and thus any top I buy will go with the majority of the bottoms. I also like to buy my t-shirts in neutral colors thus free myself up for jackets, cardigans, and blazers in a bigger variety of colors. Neutral tee + neutral pants + colored blazer is pretty standard for me.

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