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!)

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47 thoughts on “A Simple Guide to A Simple Wardrobe”

  1. Great article. I have a very minimal wardrobe and after replacing some worn out items, realised that I’m a little short of cooler weather clothes (I’m trying a capsule wardrobe). I really love the look of harem pants but your article highlighted to me that my silhouette is full up top and slim on the bottom; there is nothing I own that would suit harem pants. What a waste that would’ve been! Thanks, that realisation of “silhouette” has given me more focus on what suits me.

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  2. oh my goodness. I just happened upon your site and reading your story I felt like I was reading my own. I haven’t finished looking at your entire site but I’m really happy to come across it and to hopefully use it to really clean my closet and move into the minimalist lifestyle I have been wanting to. Your behind the scenes video is helpful, for sure.

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  3. I know exactly what I wear every day and what is a waste if space, just have not been able to force myself to get rid of the things that I don’t need. (Probably the emotional attachment deal you spoke of) I believe that this article may be just the jump start I needed. Thanks!

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  4. This was such a helpful article, I can’t say thank you enough! I totally get overwhelmed by what’s in my closet and more often than not I end up just giving up, so thank you for giving me a very easy way to approach minimalism!

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  5. This is a very balanced, practical and down to earth approach, so much more workable than some of those other ‘minimalist wardrobe’ methods. I love the “know your style” approach, because jeans and T-shirts aren’t for everyone. I love a colorful, sheath sleeveless dress, preferably made out of stretch material, with sandals of course. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f6add2b0ddd38c81b1a2b88271831cdb113e935580660593a134043c59fd0d04.jpg I live in Singapore and it’s hot and humid every.single.day. Jeans DO NOT work here.

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  6. One thing that has helped me is what I call “clothes quotas”. I have 3 kids and we live fairly small. I think through what types of things/outfits each person needs and how many of different items each person needs. I think about this when I am no where near our clothes. Then I fill in with the clothes that each person has and either pare down from there or purchase what is needed. It helps me to think about what types of things each person needs to wear to do all the things they need to do and look nice/be comfortable doing it.

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  7. I am a 25 year old that’s wants more Out of life. My first step is making my wardrope simpler. Today I plan on cleaning out my closet keeping your tips in mind. I’ve always had a lot of stuff and I’ve been raised in a house where having stuff = success. I don’t see life that way anymore and I’m looking for changes. Today I’m starting that change.

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  8. This post is such a timely find for me and such a good read! I’m launching on a capsule wardrobe project for the next 3 months – for scientific purposes! – and your comment about loving a style but appreciating it looks better in the magazine or on other people is so true. While researching examples, they all looked really nice, but wouldn’t have worked for me. I tried to find ‘my style’ for years, but now just go with what I am comfortable in and what I feel looks good on me.

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    • Hi Paula! I’m so sorry for my very delayed response but I wanted to say thank you for reading and I hope your capsule wardrobe project went well! And your last line sums up everything I know about capsule wardrobes—the “style” that works best will always be the one you feel most comfortable wearing. Thanks for sharing! xx

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  9. Your story at the beginning is something I’ve done about a half dozen times! I am now doing a slower version of pretty much what you suggest. I’ve decided to stop shopping and just wear what I have for a while. My plan is that over the course of a year (maybe two!), I’ll gradually remove things I don’t wear or that don’t suit me, and replace some of those things with items that make sense for me, so that ultimately I have a better and smaller wardrobe. I would love to do this in a day, but I’ve come to accept that I can’t make that many decisions at once! Besides, I figure that my closet didn’t get into its current state in an afternoon, so it’s reasonable that it should take a while to make a significant change. Thanks for the added inspiration!

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    • Hi Lauren! I’m so sorry about my slow response to your comment. I love your plan to take things slow, I think it’s especially important when replacing items. (I spent almost a year researching a pair of boots but it paid off because they are six years old now and I still adore them!) I hope you’re doing well and thank you so much for taking the time to comment. xx

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  10. Love this post – so many practical tips. I had a big clean out when my boyfriend moved in last year, but my wardrobe is still so jam packed that things get lost and come out wrinkled from being squished in there so tight. I have so many ‘going out’ dresses that I love but realistically my regular ‘going out’ days are behind me and my standards for comfortable dress length have definitely changed! Plus those tips on ditching the experimental pieces and admiring styles without wearing them – spot on! Those items will all be better off in the charity shop, can’t wait to get into another clean out this weekend!

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  11. I have recently found this amazing website and am so encouraged by all the tips, etc and am inspired to change my life. I have hung-on to too many things which drag me down. The biggie with me at the moment is the closet clear-out. I am in the process of shedding pounds and have a few really lovely items I long to get back into. It depresses me to have them hanging in the closet knowing I can’t wear them so I’ve given myself a cut off date. If I’m not back in them by the end of this summer, they are being donated. I have also had half the contents that do currently fit me, on a bed in my son’s old bedroom for the past 6 months. My original idea was if I hadn’t looked for an item during the time it’s been in there, I actually don’t miss it… I must get on with getting them bagged up and donated. It is actually one of those jobs which takes a bit of time but is really making me stressed – so I’d shut the door on it. Your post has inspired me to get on with getting it done – and yes, I have the same old few things I like to wear and feel good in, so your comments have made me feel okay about what I do wear day in, day out. Thanks Jennifer!

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    • Hi Sandra! I’m so glad you found this post helpful and I know clearing out your closet can be a HUGE challenge. I think you’ve done well by setting yourself some limits and I’m sure once you clear the stuff from the bed you’ll feel so much better. Good luck with everything and YES – don’t feel bad about wearing what you love all the time! xx

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      • I ended up with three black bags for charity; a large bag with coats/jackets for the ‘Room of Requirement’ at the local university; two black bags for the consignment store and just three items going back in the closet…! It was a long day but so worth it – I feel so much better 🙂

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  12. Great article! My biggest issue would be that I flip flop in sizes so I need to keep more depending on my size of the week. It’s sad, really. But maybe if I can be more mindful of my eating habits, I won’t have that issue and can truly purge my wardrobe. 🙂

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  13. Thank you so much for posting this Jennifer! I’ve been working on curating my wardrobe to include the essentials as well as things I love, and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve done it over and over and over again a whole bunch of times in the last few months! I find it really helpful to go through all my belongings (including clothes) several times, each time with a more decisive, practical, and intentional attitude. Thank you for your excellent suggestions and encouragement!

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    • Hi Brianna, thanks so much for your feedback! It definitely took me a long time to curate my wardrobe as well, but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. It might sound silly but my closet (making decisions about what to wear, what to buy, etc) used to take up such a huge part of my life and it’s such a relief now that is stress is gone 🙂

      Good luck with your own closet and thank you again for stopping by! x Jen

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  14. I have been trying to sort through my hoard of clothing on and off for about a year and have read pretty much every article giving advice on how to do it successfully. I made a bit of progress but still had too much stuff. I though the Marie Kondo method would work for me, but it left me feeling more overwhelmed because I couldn’t even distinguish between ‘joy’ and ‘donate’ items by this point! Your website, and in particular, the post on creating a simple wardrobe, has been like a lightbulb moment. I was in despair for so long and your writing has truly changed my life. Thank you!

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  15. I absolutely loved this article. Good point on style you can admire without needing to wear it! I’ve figured out what I love, and I actually enjoy wearing the same thing over and over again.

    I used to be overwhelmed by clothes (kids + mine). I want to teach my girls that we don’t need celebrity sized walk in closets to dress well. I’m starting them young on capsule wardrobes. 🙂

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    • HI Kelly! Oh – I love that you’re teaching your girls this early 🙂 I think the hardest part is figuring out your style and then sticking to it – but if they get this sorted from a young age it will save them so much time, money and effort down the road!! Thanks for commenting x

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  16. This was a great post and very helpful to look at downsizing from the stand point of picking out what you love first. I have been trying to downsize and make mindful decisions about future purchases. I think you made some excellent points about analyzing the things that I love and noticing patterns of items that fit me best. I think what was missing before and why I have failed at building a minimalist wardrobe is because I didn’t truly understand my style. Thanks for the great advice!

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  17. You look so stylish! My signature look is tracksuit pants and an old hoodie 🙂 I loved the tips though. I’ve done part of my decutter as I moved out of my house, but still have a heap of clothes that I just shoved in a bag as I ran out of time. This is going to help heaps, and makes me feel less bad about always buying boyfriend or wide leg jeans.

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    • Hey Kristy! Nice to hear from you ☺️ I don’t know if I’m really stylish but I appreciate the sweet comment. Good luck with your decluttering and definitely don’t feel bad about buying the same things all the time – it’s actually so freeing! x

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  18. This is really great post full of useful tips, thanks so much! I’m moving into a much smaller space soon, and I’m going to have to confront all the clothes that are taking up room in my closet that I never wear. It seemed really daunting, but now I realize I was going about it the wrong way! Thanks for the tips 🙂

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  19. I loved this post Jennifer! I wish I found it sooner before I finally got down my capsule wardrobe, these tips are so helpful. I think assembling your capsule wardrobe and minimizing it takes prep and some self evaluation, which I didn’t do the first time around. This time I’ve found a capsule wardrobe I’m really happy with, I just want to add one more pair of comfy boyfriend jeans 😉 definitely recommending this post to anyone wanting to start a capsule wardrobe.

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  20. Thank you for sharing these great tips! I´ve been decluttering my flat and also my life and it feels so freeing! For my wardrobe I am observing some change in style preference going on and last time I wanted to buy something light for warmer days I was kinda confused by all the styles at the shop… with your tips on finding your style standard I feel like I can better keep in mind what suits my body and what I actually like to wear!

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    • Hi Julia! Thanks so much for your comment – I love so much that there is someone else out there using a style standard haha! ? But in all seriousness I totally understand. I’m definitely the type who gets distracted by pretty things, and in the shops they make everything look so gorgeous … which is why for so long I had a closet full of things I loved but never wore! I really hope this helps you with your shopping – let me know how it goes! x

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    • Aww, thank you Daisy! Also – I completely know what you mean about how important having a simple wardrobe is. It’s actually mind-blowing how much time, energy (and not to mention money) I used to invest in my wardrobe. Imagine if I had used those resources on something else? But better late than never 🙂

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  21. Jennifer, this is awesome! I’m happy you found a way that works for you. I’ve always been very sure of my style myself (or lack of it? lol) so that might be why the throw everything on the bed method works for me. Thanks for sharing!

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  22. How many times have I been in the position of my clothes creating a mutiny? ACK. Too many! I really love the way you describe figuring out your style. This is one of my goals this summer now!

    Question for you though: when you do have a giant pile of clothes to get rid of…where do you go from there? Rather, where did you go personally? I’m debating trying to sell some stuff but that seems overwhelming. Donating is a great option too, but (maybe I’m selfish!) I’m not opposed to getting some money for some of it instead. Any tips/blog posts?

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