To Build a Simple Wardrobe

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To Build a Simple Wardrobe

Simple Wardrobe

My Philosophy: High Quality, Great Fit, Few Pieces

I have a theory about clothing. I think it should be simple… a no-brainer… something that doesn’t require daily thought and doesn’t suck all the creativity out of an individual before they even start the day. If you are a fashionista, you should quit reading now. This blog is not for you. It’s not for anyone who considers dressing a hobby, a calling, a passion or a past time. This is for those of us who want to obsess less and live more and quit fretting over the little things in life that don’t really matter. I HATE standing in front of the closet pondering what to wear. If that’s your feeling too, you are in the right place.

Today I’m going to explain my 3-Month Experiment, how I’m using Pinterest to organize my simple wardrobe and find inspiration, and 8 reasons why a simple wardrobe makes sense for me, personally.

Clothing should not be a collection (in the way some people collect obnoxious numbers of matchbooks, teapots, thimbles or Civil War era knives). It should not be a status symbol, but a statement of personal style. Clothes do not define the person who wears them. The clothes do not make the man… the person defines the clothes.

Clothes should not be pinchy, scratchy, sloppy, tight, ugly, constantly in need of re-adjustment or worrisome in any other way. You should get dressed in the morning and not have to even think about it again until that evening.

I’ve had this theory for many years, but I sometimes forget the “simple” goal during the turmoil of finding great deals online or unexpected treasures in my favorite thrift shops. I forget that when I want new clothes… a new “look”… those are usually the times when I’m unhappy with other areas of my life that have little to do with what’s in my closet. My closet is usually full when I get this urge. Go figure.

There’s a reason I tend to start any new endeavor, new transformation, new organization or cleaning binge, and any new “take” on my life by attacking my closet. I used to think I did it because it was the smallest room in the house and I needed to see progress quickly. Now, I think it’s a bit deeper than that.

Why Simplify?

Since my little cabin is finally finished, I’m looking around to determine what I need to do to simplify and improve other areas of my life. Everything from:

  • Easier ways to clean house and organization to keep it that way
  • Eating healthy without hours of meal prep
  • Elimination of those daily decision making duties that swallow all my time
  • Making my personal ‘routines’ flow flawlessly and effortlessly, no thinking required
  • Landscaping around the farm in a way that blends with the woods and produces fruits and veggies and flowers
  • Developing a weekly (or monthly) shopping list based on what’s in season (that also meshes with my menus) so I don’t feel at a loss every time I need to go to the store.
  • Finding more time to read and write merely for pleasure
  • Spending more time doing things with people I enjoy and making memories

Over the next few months, I’ll probably be outlining the how and why of each step toward minimalistic living I decide to take. But today, I’m talking about clothing. The wardrobe issue. The threads.

My Journey to a Simple Wardrobe

I want to create (or pare down to) a simple, personal wardrobe. To do that, I need to evaluate and understand my needs, determine what has worked/does work, and what hasn’t ever worked and should be abandoned.

I have always amused myself with making lists. Lists (usually multiple versions) have always been my first step (and sometimes the ONLY step) toward self-renovation projects. Lately, I’ve added the practice of constructing boards over on Pinterest to illustrate my desires, collect ideas and rethink approaches to working out the details.

I hope that chronicling my journey will help you to evaluate your own clothing situation and (if you are so inclined) to determine the perfect “simple” wardrobe for you that will save you morning drama, money, time and effort caring for something that should be keeping you comfortable and covered as you live the rest of your life and do the things that REALLY matter to you.

The Three Month Experiment

About three months ago I sorted the clothes in my closet and tossed those I never wore, those that were in less than ideal condition, and those that were a little too tight or loose or whatever. Although I felt secure that I’d eliminated all the flotsam, I did that little “trick” with the hangers. You know the one.  (I flipped them all around backwards and only “righted” them when hanging up clothes from the washer/dryer after they had been worn.)

Like me, you probably never ACTUALLY did this because you already KNEW what you wore and what you didn’t wear, right? Yeah, I thought that too. I was wrong. Since that time, I’ve been amazed to discover how FEW of the “essential” items that I left in my closet were ever worn.

What really shocked me were those really NICE clothes that I would grab and then put back thinking… “Nah, not today.” I started keeping up with how often that was happening and made sure my hangers stayed “backward” for those items — even though I often took them off the hanger and actually put them on before deciding I just couldn’t “face” wearing it today — or that I’d “save” it for another time. Once this happened three times on a single article of clothing, I put it in the donation bag. No exceptions.

Let’s face it… if I reach for something three separate times and all three times decide I just don’t want to wear it THIS time… the chances are great I’ll never want to wear it and I don’t really want to “decorate” the inside of  my closet with pretty things that I never wear. *Ahem* Screw that.

Organizing on Pinterest

During the middle of this experiment, I started pulling together two boards over on One was a board of all the pretty clothes that I admire for their fabric, design, ornamentation, even historical value. These are the clothes I admire, but do not hang in my own closet. They may include some items I’m considering including at some point and even “looks” that appeal to me… but they don’t live in my current closet.

I decided that having a board of these “ornamental” pieces gave me a great deal of visual pleasure and sparked my creative juices without the headaches of actually owning them. Besides, I’d already determined that the clothing that was pretty but wasn’t also flattering, comfortable and a personal favorite, wouldn’t be worn even if it DID hang in my closet. The 3-Month Experiment proved that.

The second board was the start of a visual guide to my simple wardrobe. I’m still working on that. It will be complete when I finish developing (or paring down) my perfect simple wardrobe. It will be a visual guide to illustrate my simple wardrobe.

I also started making a list of the clothes I need. The list was cumbersome. I tucked it away and continued with the hanger experiment. Since that time I’ve continued to “hack” away at the list. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve noticed a few things about myself that will help my quest for wardrobe simplicity.

8 Reasons I Can Rock A Simple Wardrobe

  1. I like black, brown, neutrals and an occasional (usually muted) color. I’m simply not into a closet full of wild, bright colors. My best friend and my mother tell me I need to “add color” to my clothing. I’ve tried to appease them and usually I wear those items once or twice before they become closet decorations.  I have had some success with an occasional red top (I never wear colors on my bottom half). I like the idea of purples and pinks and dance with those occasionally — but they usually hang there all pretty and the colors make me smile, but I seldom put them on my body. I also like taupe and olive green, but I’m told those aren’t “really” colors, so I get no kudos for them from the color-mongers in my life. I hate blue and turquoise, I avoid bright greens and look like death in yellow. Blacks, browns and neutrals are where I’m comfortable. Personally, I think painting the inside of my closet with a bright, unexpected color might be a better way to decorate it. 🙂
  2. I like solids, which means I can wear something without alerting the world that I wore it last week. I don’t do trendy patterns and bold prints. Honestly, most bold, large patterns remind me of old women wearing “cruise ship” clothes. They make me shudder. I also notice that many big women go for big, bold colors and patterns and tacky, blingy accessories. I’m not petite, but I will not drink that Kool-aid. I will NOT.
  3. I like comfort and prefer easy-care clothing. This simplifies my cleaning products and eliminates the dry-cleaning bill. It also avoids unnecessary use of potentially toxic chemicals that I will inhale from the clothing I wear.
  4. I work from home. This REALLY cuts back on the clothing I need. Comfort rules my workday 😉 I confess. In the summer I usually go barefoot when working, or I slip on sandals. In the winter, I wear thick funky socks. Prepare yourself — they are bright colors and patterns and intentionally mismatched (I buy some of them that way from the sock lady.) Yeah, I know, it doesn’t fit into my bland, no frills, clothing philosophy — but I love them and do not deny myself that unexpected splash of wild wantonness.
  5. I have a fantasy that someday I’ll have a completely mobile wardrobe that will fit in one large suitcase. All of it. ALL OF IT. (And I’m working toward making this a reality.) This is probably a result of my mobility passion — in electronics, in living quarters (think Airstream Bambi) and my whole “simple, living small” desires.
  6. I prefer layers in cool/cold weather and avoid a slew of bulky one-season clothing, so most of my clothing pieces span multiple seasons. This prevents a huge “ordeal” every time a season changes. It also means that my out-of-season clothing should fit in a smallish trunk or suitcase and tuck away easily.
  7. I like quality. If I have the choice of five shirts of medium quality, with lots of design variety and one extremely high quality piece in a flattering style in black, I’ll take the single wonderful black piece every time. I’d take the higher quality one even if ALL the options were black 😉
  8. I like classics. The pieces I like best are the ones that look as good today as they will 10 years from now or would have 10 years ago. I don’t like weird/couture/ “look at me” designs in clothing. I think clothing should accentuate the individual, rather than having a design “wear” the person.

During my research for a simple, workable clothing “basics” guideline, I did find a few interesting items. The Six Items Or Less project is an interesting concept (the website is no longer maintained, but if you Google it, you will find blogs from many participants). I find it a little TOO spartan, even for my tastes. It does point out the importance of great pieces as you narrow your options and the fact that quality is imperative when you have only a few pieces and wear them often. Like many other things in modern life, most clothes are created with “disposable” in mind. That doesn’t really work for a simple wardrobe.

Simple to Save

I’m aware I’ll be spending more (per piece) for the pieces in my simple wardrobe. That’s ok, I like quality and I’m not that fond of quantity… so it’s all good. It’s also cheaper to have a few classic pieces that are worn often and for years, than to have new items in the closet every few weeks that are disposable and often only last a wear (and wash) or two. I have no problem with “investment” dressing. It will pay off, especially if I’m lucky enough to find what I need in my favorite thrifting haunts.

In the current economy, we should revert to the classic philosophy followed before the era of sweatshops across the globe that enable us to have cheap, poorly made clothing that has become as disposable as everything else in our lives. The philosophy was that a young woman, just getting started with few resources couldn’t afford to buy cheap clothes.

The French and Italian women have it right… they own few pieces, the quality is impeccable and they last season after season. They delineate a woman’s personal style. They are pieces selected for their fit on the woman who owns them, they FEEL good – to wear and to touch. The English have more clothes and they are, as a general rule, of lesser quality as a result. In America, we are literally swimming in articles of clothing. Most of them not worth the effort required to drag them home. We hoard clothing as we do many other things. It’s a nasty, expensive and self-defeating habit, IMHO. And, I plan to stop participating.

Classic clothing never goes out of style if it’s on the body that wears it well. Having a closet full of junk clothing is much more taxing to a personal budget than having a few expensive items that last (and look good) for years and years.

Personal Style and Signature Wardrobes

Coco Chanel brought us the “little black dress” decades ago. It was, and still is, the answer to most “what to wear” panic-attacks. Coco, herself, lived in suits. In an interview in 1969, Coco was wearing a signature suit. When asked what else was in her own closet, she replied, “Two suits I’ve had for three years, a beige one and the one I wore yesterday, with a small pattern, three is good. I have a brand new one, all white, which I’ll wear to the collection.” Coco designed for others to wear, but kept her own closet spartan, high-quality and perfect. When she died at the age of 87, only three complete outfits were found in her own closet.

There have been other notable projects and extremes in this arena. Like the Uniform Project (wearing a single black dress every day for a year, changing it up only with accessories) and Steve Job’s iconic black-turtleneck and jeans uniform. Andy Worhol had his own personal uniform too.

Some call this approach to dressing a “signature style” or a “personal uniform.” I am not as strict as that… at least not yet. But I find it notable that many of the creative icons of our time and throughout history figured out the clothing thing early on and cleared THAT part of their lives and reserved that portion of their creativity to do more important things.

My Goal: A Wicked Simple Wardrobe

I want a limited number of options that always look good and that always make me feel good. I don’t need “color” in my wardrobe and endless variety. I need continuity and simplicity and comfort. Whatever you call it, I’m seeking a release from the massive number of decisions I have to make in the course of a day — I’m tired of my life being eaten up with minutia. I have more important things to do… like read a book or write a blog or spend time with the people I love or take a walk in my woods, or contemplate my life … or ANYTHING other than fretting over what to wear.

So, I’m undertaking my own little experiment… to investigate the validity of developing a  “simple wardrobe” of my very own — tailored (if you will pardon the pun) to my life, my needs and my activities. I’m blogging my approaches/attempts and even failures (hopefully not many) along the way to encourage anyone else ready to take the simple wardrobe on their own.


  1. Auna Blessing says:

    I have a problem with the vitriolic things you have to say about how a lot of large women dress. You’re “not drinking that Kool-Aid,” their accessories are tacky, their colors are too bold, and their patterns are big, which all remind you of “old women.” Great, so you are basically casting aspersions on overweight AND elderly women. What, you don’t think they read your blog? It isn’t nice, and you can write without making fun of anyone! Plus, you may think that you are camouflaged in your neutral clothes, but if you are bigger than a small, your size will be visible to whomever sees you. You might as well wear what you want, and not try to hide it. Some people like to dress fancier than others. That’s a simple fact. And it’s okay. Personally, I would hate to wear your wardrobe, because you’ve just got all these boring clothes!

    • Angela Allen says:

      Dear Auna – I’m sorry if my opinion offends you, however, it is my opinion (and I stated it as such in the beginning and throughout this particular blog) and it remains unchanged. Your opinion is also valid — that you find my clothes boring and that I can’t camouflage in neutrals. But making sweeping generalizations about how you think I feel about big women and old women is a bit of a stretch. I am neither young nor petite… but even if I were both of these things (and even when I was much younger and much smaller) I would not wear what I consider to be “loud” clothing designs. I have tried, and recently I bought a bold patterned shirt to wear under jackets and sweaters to try to add a little visual interest. I’ve worn it a few times and feel uncomfortable every single time I have it on (even though it gets compliments) and have decided that it’s not worth the way I feel in it, so am donating it. That is my choice, that is my opinion, that is my personality. Even now when I try on something with “flutter sleeves” — which I love, BTW, and might wear if I were a few decades younger and quite a bit thinner — I still envision reruns of “The Love Boat” and have to take it off. Does this mean I have something against big women? Nope, I am one. Does it mean I’m an ageist? At my age that might be a little problematic! 😉 Does this mean I have an issue with you wearing them? Nope. Have at it. Life is all about finding your own path and what makes you happy. I wish you well and hope you find that path. I’ve found mine 🙂

  2. Victoria L Friel says:

    Love Love Love your blog!!! You are an inspiration to my new downsizing journey I have begun!!! Looking forward to following you!!!

  3. Food Should Be Simple – Diets Should Be Healthy and EASY! | Living Small says:

    […] That was 50 pounds ago. I actually weighed 50 pounds less three years ago when he and I started dating. FIFTY pounds.  5-0. That’s flipping HORRIBLE. I purchased my simple wardrobe about 30 pounds in, but now I’m outgrowing my simple wardrobe. […]

  4. Sandra says:

    I feel the exact same way as you regarding clothes.

  5. Dana says:

    I feel like you were channeling me with this post! My goal is to fit all my clothes into one suitcase! I do like having fun with my clothes and I love color and shine and variety, so it makes this extra challenging, but I am enjoying the journey! I hope you are too!

  6. Mark says:

    Great tips. I have always had a closet problem. I tend to store things I never use in it and never clean it out. When I do clean, I throw out everything I haven’t worn in months. Don’t forget to donate those clothes instead of throwing them away.

  7. Denise Kidd says:

    Hi there! I really felt a connection with this post. I linked over on a post of mine: