A Simple Guide to A Simple Wardrobe

Let’s imagine that today is the day that you’ve decided to downsize your closet and simplify your wardrobe. You’ve been reading a lot about capsule wardrobes (especially all those ‘must-have’ lists) and you’re feeling motivated and excited. It sounds so easy and stylish—what’s not to love?!

With a flourish, you take everything out of your closet and dump it on your bed.

You eagerly start sorting things into the ‘keep, toss, mend piles’ you’ve read about. At first, it’s pretty easy—fave jeans (keep), ex-boyfriend’s t-shirts (toss)—but after a while, you start to slow down …

Somehow your clothes have migrated off your bed and are now decorating every corner of your room. You’re stuck in the middle, surrounded by silk blouses (that have been in the ‘to be dry cleaned’ pile for an embarrassingly long time), expensive flared jeans (they’re so adorable but for some reason, they never ‘work’ for you) and those ridiculously gorgeous 4″ booties.

Your clothes are attempting a mutinystubbornly, nothing wants to go in the ‘toss’ pile.

Feeling overwhelmed, you decide to take another approach. You grab your journal and start making lists; lists of tops, lists of bottoms, lists of outfits … and then a shopping list?

You’re happy with the idea of a small, perfect closetbut that perfect bit? It’s complicated.

You look at the clock and then at your bed. It’s late and your wardrobe looks nothing like the minimalist ’10 Piece French Wardrobe’ of your dreams. You dump everything on the floor and go to bed.

Where did things go so wrong?

A faded collage of images including a woman in black skinny jeans, a black dress, and a tan handbag. The text "A Simple Guide to a Simple Wardrobe" is layered overtop.

WHY THE ‘EMPTY YOUR CLOSET’ APPROACH DIDN’T WORK FOR ME

I swear to you, scout’s honour, that this is exactly what happened to me the first—oh, twenty or so times I tried to downsize my closet. Clearly, it wasn’t working for me.

Here’s why:

I was working backwards.

Imagine this. You’ve just finished a great book and you want something new to read, so you go to the library. What’s the easiest way to find another book that you know you’ll love?

Do you go through every book in the library and sort them into yes or no piles?

Of course not. You might have a little browse, but the easiest way (because we’re all about simple, remember?) is to show the librarian the book you’ve just finished—and loved—and ask for a recommendation.

In other words, you build on what you already know you love.

Going through my entire wardrobe and trying to decide what to keep meant I was starting with all my crap, and then trying to curate a wardrobe of things I really loved.

This wasn’t easy for me for all the reasons I had too many clothes in the first place! I was confused about my style, I was easily distracted by pretty things, and I was emotionally attached to most of my closet. I needed a different way.

RELATED POST: How I Became a Minimalist (Why I Choose to Live with Less)

A faded collage of images including a woman in black skinny jeans, a black dress, and a tan handbag.

INSTEAD, START WITH WHAT YOU LOVE

Apparently, the average woman only wears 20% of what’s in their closet – so that sounds like a good place to start.

Instead of dumping the entire contents of your closet onto your bed, try pulling out your ‘20%’ – your favourite things that you wear all the time.

Only grab what you really love (the things that easily went into the ‘keep’ pile.) Anything you’re unsure about, leave out.

Then you’re done! Yay – donate the rest of your clothes (or store them for a while if you’re not ready to let go.) Just kidding! (Although if that works for you, great!!)

The next thing you’re going to do is take stock of these items. Grab your detective hat out of the ‘toss’ pile and let’s make a few observations.

  • What is your ‘go-to‘ silhouette? I believe everyone has a ‘go-to’ silhouette that they feel best in. (Your silhouette is the overall shape of your outfit.) I like a slim silhouette so I wear skinny jeans and avoid full skirts. Other common silhouettes are slim on top, full on the bottom (wide-leg pants, maxi skirts) or hourglass (volume on top and bottom but cinched at the waist).
  • What colours are you wearing? And while you’re at it, what fabrics as well.
  • What is your tolerance for (dis)comfort? Are all your go-to items ultra-comfy (leggings, knitwear), or do you regularly wear pencil skirts and stilettos?
  • Do you have a classic style? Vintage? Quirky? What style do you gravitate to the most?
  • What maintenance is required? Do you wear dry clean only pieces? Things that require ironing?
  • Keep your eye out for any other trends (necklines, hemlines, prints, etc.).
A faded collage of images including a woman in black skinny jeans, a black dress, and a tan handbag.

USE THIS INFO TO CREATE A STANDARD FOR YOUR WARDROBE

In the same way that you use your core values to guide your choices in life, you can use this standard to guide your wardrobe choices (I’ll refer to this as your Style Standard from here on).

Now try the keep/toss method again. Having a defined Style Standard takes the guesswork (and emotion) out of sorting your wardrobe.

Those dry clean only blouses? Toss – I love the gorgeous colours and fabrics, but I’ve realised I never get around to dry cleaning. There is no point in keeping them if I’ll never wash them!

Those expensive flared jeans? Toss – The reason they don’t ‘work’ for me is that I prefer a slim silhouette, which means no volume on the bottom.

And those ridiculously gorgeous booties? Toss – I’m not wearing them because I prefer comfort over style (a side effect of getting older haha!).

BONUS TIP: Be observant and look for patterns in the items you’re tossing. What you don’t wear can say just as much about your Style Standards as what you do wear.

*Note: I’ve used the term ‘toss’ for simplicity, but obviously try to sell, donate, gift, recycle, reuse, etc. first – landfills should be the last option.

RELATED POST: 3 Steps to a Minimal, User-Friendly Closet (tips from a stylist!)

FILL THE GAPS

Now that you’ve used your Style Standards to remove everything that’s not working from your wardrobe, you need to reassess the functionality.

Do you have the appropriate clothes to do everything you need to do in your life?

In other words, do you have enough clothes to go to work, to yoga and to cocktails on Friday nights?

Be honest. (Remember quality over quantity!) Consider trying to make do with what you have for a while and seeing how your new simple wardrobe suits your life. You may find that now that you love everything in your closet, you have more than enough.

However, if that’s not the case, use your new Style Standard to help you decide what to add to your wardrobe.

Using my Style Standard helps me to stay focused on what will actually work in my wardrobe when I’m shopping. (So important, because when you’re in the shops and surrounded by pretty things it’s easy to get distracted!)

A FEW FINAL WORDS OF ADVICE …

Let go of the idea that you need to constantly be experimenting with your wardrobe.

There is nothing wrong with finding a style you love and sticking with it. Consider this—you can wear what you know works for you (and look good 100% of the time) or you can constantly be experimenting … and look good 20% of the time.

Realise that you can admire a style without needing to wear it.

I adore retro dresses (particularly the 40’s and 50’s.) I actually used to have a huge collection … that I almost never wore. You see, as much as I adored the style, it didn’t really work with my life. Now I’ve learned to admire these styles in shops, magazines, and on other women—without needing to own them myself.

Accept it’s not the end of the world to wear the same thing over and over.

From December to February this year I wore one of two variations of the same outfit almost every day. Yes—for three months. (I’m travelling long term with an extremely limited wardrobe!) And how did I feel? Confident. Comfortable. Beautiful. I knew I loved my fave outfit and it was a great feeling to wear what you love every day!

Do you have a simple wardrobe? Or do you want one? What methods have you tried and have you have much success? Let me know in the comments! x

photo credit: all pics by me (or the hubby!)

Author: Jennifer

Hello there! I'm Jennifer and welcome to Simply + Fiercely, a community of people striving to live simpler, more intentional lives. As a former shopaholic and workaholic, I know how it feels to live a life that doesn't feel true to what's in your heart. Fortunately, I've transformed my life and gone from feeling cluttered and confused to living a curated life filled with purpose and joy. Now I'm here to help you do the same. 👉🏻 Click here to get started!