How to build a minimalist wardrobe

One of the biggest headaches I can think about is purposely going out for clothes shopping.

I really hate it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love buying new clothes but it usually happens when I see something that I like and then I’ll go out and get it. Not a desperate search for something I’m not sure even exists.

One way that I’ve managed to cut out the stress of shopping is by organizing my closet at home into a set of clothes that I really adore.

It’s not bare minimum, but it’s near enough for the average clothes hoarder like me!

I’ve been hooked into creating my own version of a minimalist wardrobe.

The benefits of doing this have been more than I could’ve hoped for so I’ll let you in on how my life is so much better – just from a wardrobe change. I’m serious!

The benefits of a minimalist wardrobe

I find it much easier to pick what to wear the next day for starters (you wouldn’t believe the anguish I’d go through with the whole ‘I don’t know what to wear’ dilemma).

I also love all the clothes in my closet now.

There’s nothing hidden in the back that I forgot I had, and now it’s all moth-bitten and fusty, so I’m gonna have to throw it out even though it was my favourite dress.

Worst part? I never had the chance to wear it. You get the picture.

It also means that I know everything in my wardrobe fits me well and the cost to replace these items if they no longer fit me, either due to weight gain or loss, isn’t going to be much of a problem because I’ve got such a minimalist wardrobe.

Packing for weekends away and holidays is infinitely less stressful and I’m travelling much lighter as a result!

I’m saving tonnes of money that would originally be spent, were I still in my old habits, on impulse ‘want/need/love’ clothes.

Usually a few months down the line you don’t really want/need/love these items and they were a waste of money and now a waste of closet space.

You would be surprised how the same base outfit, like a pair of blue jeans and plain white tee, with a change in jacket or sweater can look so different that no-one notices the repetition.

Laundry day is so easy now!!

Are you convinced yet? That last one would have me hooked on it’s own!

clothes set hung on wall - minimalist wardrobe

What items do I need to create a minimalist wardrobe?

Okay, let’s dive straight in with how to get started with your own minimalist wardrobe.

The absolute basics are up to you, I mean socks and underwear here.

You can either have enough to last a week without needing to do laundry or you could have two weeks worth. Despite the tiny nature of the rest of the wardrobe, the essentials are something that even I’ve not skimped on.

I’m not saying to ‘buy all the socks!’ but you don’t need to be extremely mindful about these items because A, only you see them regularly and B, you know how often you wash your clothes so make sure you get enough of these items to wear throughout this period without needing to wear a pair of undies again to get you through.

One thing I will clamp down on though is bras.

Ladies, you do not need 12 bras. 6 at absolute maximum. 3 is ideal.

A bra doesn’t need to be changed every single day, it’s better to wear a few in rotation across the week as wearing the same one two days or more in a row can cause the elastic to stretch out quicker.

A good way to go is one white, one black and one nude or a cute colour!

The bulk of the minimalist wardrobe can be simplified down to these basic – but good quality! – items….

mens minimalist wardrobe

Men’s Minimalist Wardrobe

  • 4-8 plain tee’s – ones that fit your body well in a variety of colours and lengths, you could have a plain white tee, a few colours and then a long sleeved Henley that goes with everything.
  • 2 pairs of smart trousers – for work (if you’re in an office setting) or smart events. Think a pair of black and a pair of charcoal suit trousers.
  • 2-4 pairs of casual trousers – these can be well fitted jeans in blue and black, chinos in a light and dark colour or maybe even cargo pants or shorts.
  • 2-4 lounge-wear items – these are your indoor wear items, whether they’re jogging bottoms or pyjama pants these should be the comfiest trousers you own.
  • 4-8 button down shirts – to cover both casual and formal, especially if your job requires you wear smart shirts, you may need to hit the top limit of this item. But to create a clean, classic range think about a plain, tailored white shirt (and then any other colours that fit your work attire), a chambray shirt and something more casual like plaid.
  • 2-4 items of knitwear – sweaters and cardigans can make or break an outfit so make these items ones that go with everything else you own; a navy cardigan and a black v neck jumper for example.
  • 2 outdoor jackets – one for winter, one for summer. Simple.
  • 2-3 pairs of shoes – smart black brogues, brown leather pumps and running trainers (if you do regular sports).

row of clothes on hangers - minimalist wardrobe

Women’s Minimalist Wardrobe

  • 4-8 plain tee’s and camisoles – items like a plain white strappy cami will go with everything and is really handy for layering in the chillier months, so consider a few in different colours. Then some plain tee’s and long sleeves for other outfits. Maybe a slouch cut, charcoal tee, a black long sleeve scoop neck and a fitted, powder pink crew neck.
  • 2 smart ‘bottoms’ – this could be a pair of tailored wide leg black trousers for the office and a grey pencil skirt. Think formal occasions if you don’t have an office-wear requirement at your job.
  • 1-2 pairs of casual trousers – a pair of navy linen trousers can go with almost anything and are perfect for spring/summer. Swap them out for a pair of more fitted chinos in autumn/winter and you’re sorted!
  • 2-4 skirts – in varying lengths and cuts. A floaty summery A-line, a black maxi and a jersey pencil skirt could see you through so many occasions.
  • 3-5 dresses – in different fits and lengths. A colourful summer dress, a plain jersey dress and a formal evening dress will get you by. But you may want more choice.
  • 2-4 lounge-wear items – just as with the men’s, these items should be the comfiest that you own. They can be pyjama bottoms, leggings or joggers.
  • 4-8 blouses or shirts – one of these must be a plain white button down, it will go with absolutely everything you own in some way or another. The others can be anything from a sheer sleeveless pussy-bow blouse to flannels. Just remember – versatility is the key here. Don’t jump at patterns and colours that only go with one pair of trousers you have unless you can guarantee you’ll wear it constantly.
  • 2-4 items of knitwear – jumpers and cardigans are easily my kryptonite. If I see a cardigan I love, I’ll want it in all the other colours they do. You need to be strict with these things, though it is good to use your knitwear and accessories to add a pop of colour so be mindful that minimalist doesn’t need to mean ‘plain’.
  • 2 outdoor jackets – one summer, one winters. A thin stone trench and a black wool coat will be timeless and go with everything.
  • 4-6 pairs of shoes – I know, it feels cruel. But I’m boiling down to this for the maximum, sandals, casual flats, formal flats, a pair of heels, a pair of boots and trainers (should you use them regularly).

There are also other items to consider like belts, scarves, hats, ties, sunglasses, jewellery and all those other small accessories, but you can figure out for yourself how often you wear these items to determine how many of each you’d need.

And the same goes for the items above – this is just a guide! – you are not a ‘bad minimalist’ if you actually need more shoes than what is listed above due to your lifestyle. Only you know what is right for you, so tailor it accordingly when sorting through or purchasing new items.

And when you do go to purchase more – please, please, please make sure that they aren’t want/need/love items and that you thoroughly think through the purchase.

This is how I do it – if I see an item I want/need/love I’ll take a photo of it in store, or I’ll save the web page in my bookmarks.

Then I’ll go away and see if it fits with the other items in my wardrobe. If the item can only be worn with one other outfit and goes with nothing else it’s time to say goodbye.

Are the outfits that it does go with ones that you wear regularly? Hopefully they all should be now that you’ve narrowed it down to your ‘just the essentials’ minimalist wardrobe.

If it suits a few different outfits in my wardrobe, I’ll hold on for two weeks. Yep, that’s right – two whole weeks.

If you’ve forgotten about it then it wasn’t meant to be. If you’re still thinking about it after two whole weeks and it goes with other things in your wardrobe then go ahead!

This doesn’t just apply to the accessories, this goes for replacing or adding to your clothing items in your closet. Maybe to bulk out a bit for winter, or you need some extras for a holiday.

lots of shoes - minimalist wardrobe

How to get started with a minimalist wardrobe

The very first thing you’re going to need to do is also the hardest – but it’s probably best to get it out the way, like ripping off a band-aid.

You need to have a serious cull of your current wardrobe.

I create three piles;

  1. charity shop
  2. sell
  3. throw.

Go through your entire wardrobe, shoes and accessories as well and determine a pile for each item. If it’s something you don’t want to lose then it goes back in the closet or the drawer that it came from. Or you can give it a separate pile if you like.

If you’re struggling then here is something to consider with each item.

I read this very easy sorting system in Marie Kondo’s book ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’. It’s pretty simple. Pick up an item and ask yourself “does it make me happy?” Or in Kondo’s words, “does it ‘spark joy?'”

If not, bin it. Sell it. Or take it to a charity shop. Too easy, no?

It’s actually really hard when you’re not ruthless, like me. I get very attached to things and can umm and err over stuff for days.

But for your minimalist wardrobe to work, you can’t ‘kinda’ like something. You need to love it.

So now you’ve finished culling – and you have a much smaller pile of clothes that are your keepers.

2. Does it fit into multiple outfits?

Now I need you to go through those keepers and figure out if they fit into multiple outfits with clothes from the same pile.

Because if you’re really struggling to pair it with something else, then you need to consider if it’s really worthy of the pile?

If all it needs is a plain item – say a pair of black skinny jeans – to look good and you don’t own those yet. Would buying those skinny jeans make a better alternative?

Are they likely to open up more outfit choices? If so, consider purchasing a good pair of skinnies rather than throwing out your favourite shirt. Or whatever the obstacle was you encountered.

3. Organize your minimalist wardrobe using a color scheme

Another great way to organise a versatile minimalist wardrobe is to stick to a colour scheme. You can’t go wrong with monochrome but it can sometimes get boring to be in black, white and occasionally grey all the time.

You can either choose your favourite colours and tailor the tee’s, shirts, trousers and skirts to follow that colour scheme, or, you could keep the basics fairly neutral (think white, grey, navy, beige) and add colour through your knitwear and accessories.

If you’re stumped for colours, you could always try to figure out which colours most complement your skin tone and hair colour.

It can be grouped into ‘warm’ colours and ‘cool’ colours.

Warm and cool colours

Warm colours have red undertones, think fall leaves, jewel tones and burnt, rusty colours.

Cool colours have blue undertones, think crisp, fresh pastel colours, sky blue and vivid hues.

The general rule goes like this, but there can certainly be exceptions.

If you’re brown skinned and you have a ‘golden’ glow; or you’re white skinned but have freckles or can tan easily – you’re likely to suit warm colours.

If you’re brown skinned but the tones are duller; or if you’re white skinned with no freckles and you burn in the sun – you most probably suit cool colours.

A good way to figure this out is to get a white tee and a cream tee, which one gives your face more energy and vibrancy. One of them will make your skin seem brighter, your eyes seem warmer and your hair look healthier. Somehow this works.

I suit a cream tee, which means I suit warm colours. A white tee would lean you towards cool colours.

Your hair can also have a say in this or can make it easier for you to suit multiple colours from each category, especially if it’s no longer your natural colour.

Platinum blonde to mousey brown to black suit cool colours – particularly when the hair is a ‘dirty’ version of the colour.

Sandy blonde to auburn to chocolate brown will suit warm colours – the hair often has a reddish tint in it when the sun hits it.

I have pale skin, I don’t tan but I have freckles. My natural hair colour is mousey brown. This means I suit cool colours but because my skin has freckles I do have a certain ‘warmth’ that means I can pull off some warm colours.

My hair is also dyed now, it’s a deep auburn which means that my chances of pulling off warm colours has been greatly enhanced. I could wear most colours.

David on the other hand has golden brown skin, dark brown eyes and black hair. He will suit all warm colours. And most cool colours completely wash out his face which makes him look tired. David could wear all warm colours and a very select few cool colours.

So go ahead! Figure out what your perfect colour scheme would be whether using warm tones or cool tones.

Cull that wardrobe down to just a few well loved, versatile items using our lists above and work your way towards having a new and improved minimalist wardrobe.

I hope it takes a load off your mind and your laundry pile!

Let us know how you get on and above all – enjoy the freedom of a less cluttered home.