I must first confess I do not have a minimal wardrobe. If you saw my wardrobe, in its entirety, you’d take my minimal membership card away. Then you’d stomp on it and cut it up into a million pieces. I literally have shoes in cubbies all the way to the ceiling.
An important distinction for my Minimal Me process is to envision what minimal living means to me in different areas of my life. In the past I have de-cluttered because I was overwhelmed by my possessions, needed space or to remove items I no longer used or liked. The move to a minimal and simple lifestyle is much more driven than merely organizing and removing clutter. It is about visualizing empty space, eliminating excess choices and being satisfied with a handful of pieces.
All women have heard the same standard advice on how to build a wardrobe and organize our closets again and again. Style experts have taught us how to dress for our body shape, given us shopping lists of essential tailored pieces and advised us to add interest with accessories and color. Magazines have encouraged us to keep a journal or fill an app with pics of our favorite outfits for future reference, label our shelves and hang our apparel by color. We’ve even been tempted to take polaroids of all our shoes to be taped on the outside of each shoebox so we don’t forget about the cute ankle booties we bought on sale last year. Advice on how to build a basic wardrobe always seemed to imply that those basics are just the beginning, to be built upon, added to and supplemented with pieces that have more personality.
Throughout my life I’ve gone through many closet clean-outs prompted by weight loss or excessive consumer guilt only to fill the space up again. I’ve been afflicted with multiple style disorder. I don’t know if I’m modern, trendy, classic, coming or going. Rocker pieces, girly bows, bustled maxis, boho batik and Ann Taylor office lady are all looks I’ve embraced.
Quite recently I realized I was reaching for the same pieces again and again, sometimes the same item gets worn more than once in a week. Part of it is the heavier weight I’m currently at but most of it is my change in perspective. I’ve been dressing in natural fabrics in mostly black, grey and simple stripes. My clothes fit me fairly well but I wouldn’t say I look remotely sexy, tailored or fashionable. I just feel comfy, covered up and at ease. Most of it’s jersey with fluid shapes. The only slightly structured pieces being a baggy boyfriend jean or army parka.
I’ve reached a point in my life where I want less choices, not more. I want to walk into my closet, grab a few things and get dressed in five minutes flat. Longer lasting clothes that feel good, are machine washable and fit me on fat or skinny days are what I’m after. Pieces that can be layered together for work, fun, weekdays and weekends. A system of dressing with a handful of interchangeable capsule pieces rather than a series of outfits is my goal. I long for simplicity and don’t want to stand out in a crowd. I just want to get beyond the clothes and move on with real life.
Since New Year’s I’ve been culling the walk-in. I removed items that are a little too small and boxed those up (my weight has started to drop so we’ll deal with those smaller sizes later). I’ve filled bags and boxes with pieces that don’t work with a simple system of dressing, are ill fitting or just too complicated. Most items were donated and some of the more marketable clothing is ready to go find a new home via consignment. I still have way too much stuff but that’s okay, this is a process, not a weekend project.
One thing that did strike me recently as very telling is my jeans shelf. You can still see my labels on the shelf, boot/straight, skinnies and boyfriend. Yet, only two pairs of jeans and a chinos remains. The majority of the shelf is empty. Labels are no longer necessary.
I did buy a few new pieces this season but not much in terms of quantity but at a higher cost. It all started with one dress by Eileen Fisher. In the past, the EF label always struck me as intended for well-heeled seniors who drive Mercedes and live in Kahala, until I bought this dress. It was pricey but it fits me so well with a fitted top, lantern shaped skirt and three quarter sleeves. I’ve worn it to work every single week, on the weekend with slippas and to a formal event with a chunky chained necklace and super high heels (I was a little underdressed at the formal event but it didn’t matter. After all, this is Maui and my purpose for attending was to help publicize the event on social media channels). It’s made in the US, is machine washable and dries on a hanger, no iron necessary. If I had five of these dresses, I would have no issue with wearing it every day. So I bought another one when it went on sale. I also picked up the harem pant pictured above and a grey tank dress that works well layered under all my sweaters and quite a few tops. As I read about EF’s history and watched their YouTube channel, I realized their line is all about simple system dressing. While not all of the pieces work for me, the few I picked up are all that I needed to anchor my remaining items. EF is a company that also strives for sustainable practices. A portion of their line is manufactured in the US and they intend to increase their domestic production. They also take great care to use sustainable fabrics and dyes as well as utilizing alternative energy at their offices and warehouses. The EF line is available at Macy’s on Maui but the selection is limited. Eileen Fisher, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom online carry some pieces that are more contemporary in cut like the pants pictured in both images above and also carry some pieces with a slimmer cut.
Eileen Fisher began her company in the mid-80s, one year before Donna Karan made her debut. Fisher was working as an interior and graphic designer and struggled with getting dressed each day. With $350 and no sewing skills, she started her line based on her own desire to have a system of dressing with simple shapes and quality easy feeling fabrics. The Fisher system of dressing starts with a base of starter pieces like jersey dresses, simple stretchy skirts and tanks that serve as high quality underpinnings. These pieces are then topped off with a sweater, top or jacket that has an easy fit but cut with an eye toward proportion and architectural interest. Each season pieces are available in colors but a wide assortment of neutral colors are always offered including white, ash and black. The Company thinks of itself not as a fashion company but a clothing company and each season’s pieces are designed so clients can replace starter pieces as needed and also combine any new purchases with items from seasons past. Her system of dressing came from the mind of an artist who wanted getting dressed in the morning to be easy so the real work can get done.
Another system designer, Donna Karan broke into the fashion world with her own line of system dressing. Karan’s Seven Easy Pieces started with a bodysuit as a base. Jackets, skirts, sweaters, pants and wraps in soft jersey and cashmere could then be layered in endless combinations. The collection was neutral and monochrome in black and was introduced during a flamboyant time in fashion, 1985. Seven Easy Pieces also offered a strong, luxurious and feminine alternative to the masculine inspired suit worn by female managers and executives. Donna Karen’s brand has expanded to all lines of apparel and accessories but you can still see updated versions of her Seven Easy Pieces in the collections and stores of today.
Vera Wang often said in interviews in the early days of her line that she dressed very simply to work. I have no doubt that her closet contains all kinds of fabulousness but it also contains stacks of black leggings and slouchy Ts and sweaters so she can focus on her work.
System dressing goes beyond ensuring each piece you own can be located easily and used in more than one outfit. To me, it means having a minimal amount of pieces in your wardrobe that are completely interchangeable and appropriate for the events in one’s daily life. Sticking to a basic palette and investing in just a few quality pieces that you can move in and wear again and again even during a weight fluctuation so time can be spent living life.
Images via Eileen Fisher.
The Minimalists have a wonderful post on why de-cluttering is not synonymous with minimalism. Their post, Decluttering Doesn’t Work Like That, also discusses why letting go needs to be a mindful process.