Principles of a Practical and Functional Minimalist Wardrobe
As requested, I have been asked to do a less stylish version of a minimalist’s wardrobe!
I had originally posted about creating a minimalist wardrobe for men and women here but received an email from Michelle saying the following:
I’ve only posted relevant excerpts:
I need some help with figuring out my wardrobe. I know you have a post on minimalist wardrobe for women before, but it’s not that applicable to me because I don’t dress up that much, so I don’t need that many pairs of shoes.
So… instead I followed the men’s version of minimalist wardrobe (because it’s much simpler to wear) and wear the female version of it.
Can you do a post on a practical minimalist wardrobe?
If you know what I mean… by practical, I mean putting function over fashion first… but with a splash of fashion if possible?
This is where I interjected and asked what her lifestyle was like, she replied:
I normally just wear whatever I want because my company doesn’t have a dress code.
I work in the science field, not business, so they are always lenient about it. Once in a while, I would have to dress up for interviews or formal events, but that’s like 1-2 times out of the whole year.
I was just thinking about reducing my wardrobe as much as possible.
I’m not too picky about looking FABULOUS, but I would like to look put together like the French. So simple and effortless, which is my inspiration:
- I don’t want to think much about putting something on.
- I also like to have multitasking and practical pieces.
- I take care of my things, but I don’t want my things to own me. So I look into something that’s more durable, but don’t look so crappy.
Big task ahead for me, no?!
I’m up for it.
Here’s what I am suggesting for a practical, functional French-inspired, simple, effortless minimalist wardrobe for women like Michelle.
BIG FAT ASSUMPTIONS:
- Covering all 4 seasons and all-purpose weather to a reasonable extent*
- Not covering basics like underwear and bras
- Not covering footwear; this is a personal for everyone. I don’t really like wearing trainers / sneakers for instance.
- Not covering gym or specialty wear because not everyone goes to the gym (*raises hand*)
*By reasonable I mean that I have at least 2 winter coats in a minimalist wardrobe if you live in Canada but I will only list one in the wardrobe and let you decide how nasty the weather is there.
One really nice medium-weight wool one to wear during Autumn and light Winter, and a puffy goose down parka for those super cold chilly Winter days.
If I were suggesting a wardrobe for Seattle or Vancouver, I’d suggest adding a raincoat as a mandatory item.
Or if you lived somewhere super warm ALL THE TIME I’d forgo all coats and concentrate on pieces for hot weather.
SHORT NOTES ON COLOURS
Some items look best in certain colours
For instance, I’d never suggest buying a burgundy or blood red leather jacket if that is the only leather jacket you will buy.
I’d steer you towards black, grey or even navy blue just to be sure that you will buy something versatile for your wardrobe.
Please DO NOT pick the same colour for all your items
It might be tempting and easy to end up with an all-black ensemble so that everything “matches”, but contrast in colour is also important.
Mix up black with navy, add a pop of white or a deep cobalt blue in other pieces that are less expensive like t-shirts or blouses (versus winter coats), and try to have a neutral colour palette that is cohesive and makes sense but isn’t too monotone or too varied so that nothing ever goes together or matches.
1. ONE (1) AUTUMN / WINTER COAT
Oh the possibilities!
Being in Canada, I have … a ton of coats.
I love coats because Autumn and Winter are kind of my favourite seasons to bust out coats to stay warm and I do it as often as possible. I have a heavy-duty parka for super cold days and wool coats in varying thicknesses and styles (from light to medium-weight).
For the perfect coat (assuming you do not live somewhere very chilly), I’d suggest a light-to-medium weight wool coat. If you can swing cashmere & wool or camel hair & wool, even better. Those are lightweight coats that still pack a punch in keeping you warm.
Here are a few winter coat styles (and the reason why I have so many coats):
- Belted wrap coat
- Double-breasted trench
- Simple button-up coat (with or without buttons showing)
- Unconventional — Poncho or ones with faux fur collars
Basically you have the whole pick of the pack depending on personal taste. If you really just want an all-purpose Autumn/Winter coat, I have a penchant for coats that go to at least the knee, with double-breasted buttons and a belt.
The reason for this is because coats to the knee keep your butt warm, and with a buttoned / belted coat, you can either choose to just wrap it around yourself and belt it, or button it up and remove the belt, or do both.
Colours you might want to pick for this wonderfully universal coat:
- Navy or a deep dark blue
- Khaki / Army Green
- Any shade of camel or tan
- A Tweed of some sort
- Any shade of grey
- Black… if you must. I am not really a fan of black coats because EVERYONE wears black but I understand this
- White / Ivory if you’re really looking for something cool and chic, drive a car or take cabs all the time & are a neat person who loves to visit the dry cleaners and pay dry cleaning bills
2. ONE – TWO (1-2) SPRING AND SUMMER COATS
Personally as I consider that I might need a formal and a casual coat, I’d probably make this two, but to be truly minimalist, I’d concede to at least one.
(Some summers can get pretty cool at night.)
Now you have two options here — either a leather or jersey biker-style jacket or a trench coat would work.
Both of them are very chic, cool and effortless but the only difference between them is one is more rugged / casual (leather jacket) and the other is more formal / polished (trench coat).
The leather jacket of course would not double as easily for rainwear either, so my preference would be to buy a trench coat first so you can wear it outside when it rains AND on any sunny day that comes your way.
(Umm… I am of course speaking of a real trench coat by the way, with waterproof or water-resistant fabric.)
However if you bought something in a cotton or a jersey that looked like a biker-style jacket, it would do fine in rain… with an umbrella.
Styles you might want to consider:
- Trench coats (medium, long, short)
- Safari-style jackets
- Single-breasted coats (single button)
- Double-breasted coats
- Zipped coats
- Bomber jackets
Colours you might want to consider:
- Navy or a deep dark blue
- Khaki / Army Green
- Any shade of camel or tan
- A Tweed of some sort
- Any shade of grey
- Black… if you must
3. ONE (1) BLAZER
Every woman needs this in their wardrobe because it is the easiest way to make an outfit look put together even if you are not.
Throw it on over a blouse, add a fabulous statement necklace, put on some trousers, heels or flats and you’re already in business-casual wear.
Or wear it over a t-shirt with some jeans, sneakers and roll up the sleeves.
The possibilities for this magnificent blazer are endless which is probably why I am so keen to hunt down various styles in neutral colours to make the most of this piece.
Blazer fabrics — the what and why:
Assuming you are anything like me and avoid polyester / rayon blazers because they can look cheap and flimsy and make you sweat, here are some natural fabrics for blazers to consider:
- Linen or Linen Blends — it wrinkles but looks very effortless and keeps you cool especially in summer
- Wool — Kind of too warm to wear for summer but is a good Autumn / Winter substitute for a coat as well
- Ponte Jersey — my favourite fabric pick of all! Okay so it isn’t always 100% cotton but it is easy to wear & wash
As for the blazer style, you can’t go wrong with a single-button or 3-button blazer.
Please avoid double-breasted blazers because I think they look old and dated.. whereas a single-button blazer is so simple, you can’t go wrong with it even after decades of wearing it.
Colours you might want to consider for a blazer:
- Navy or a deep dark blue
- Tweed of some sort
- Any shade of grey
- Black… if you must. Again I am not a fan of black but I understand how important it can be for some people.
- Pinstriped blazers in navy or black — these also look very nice
- White / Ivory if you’re really looking for something cool and chic to brighten up your otherwise dour looking wardrobe of greys, blacks and navy blues — they’re not as high-maintenance as you might think
A blazer also has a little more leeway in terms of styling and flair — it doesn’t have to be boring if you find a blazer with subtle details.
You could always go for a black blazer with a nice white trim (also called “tipped”), or something with a little flare at the bottom, ruffles or something that is different about the coat rather than your standard-issue blazer.
4. 1 (ONE) DARK RINSE BOOTCUT JEANS
Again.. a staple!
My favourite all-purpose jean for all body types is this:
- Mid-rise (at least 8″) — I personally prefer high-rise because I have no real hips to speak of
- Dark rinse
- No weird washes or strange whiskering anywhere
- Medium-sized pockets for the back
5. TWO (2) ALL-PURPOSE BLOUSES
Striped, dressier or not as dressy you need something that isn’t a t-shirt and doesn’t look like one.
I like the idea of a long-sleeved blouse as well as a short or sleeveless one, so that you have at least two options.
Usually a collar on the top helps with this to make it look less t-shirt-y, but really, as long as it isn’t a t-shirt, it’s fine.
You can choose whatever style you like for this.
Any colour, any style, ANYTHING really. As long as it’s something you could wear all the time and not get sick of it.
I’d suggest a striped long-sleeved (3/4 length sleeve) shirt for something more casual if you aren’t the dressy-up type. This can be worn underneath that blazer I mentioned or by itself with some jeans.
At the very least, I’d personally choose something colourful or with a pattern, or in a good bright colour so that it breaks up your otherwise neutral wardrobe.
I’d also pick something that would look good under your current choices for a coats and blazers (some blouses have odd sleeves that bunch up when you stuff your arms into a blazer and it looks horrid), but also something you can wear without a blazer and not feel too naked (no spaghetti straps or low-cut tops in this case!)
You kind of can’t go wrong with a sleeveless blouse of some sort, that way you are sure that it will layer nicely underneath a blazer.
Even if something looks TOO dressy on its own (in your eyes), mentally wear it with some jeans, add sneakers, tie your hair back in a ponytail and watch it change from “this is too fancy” to “this looks put together”. Trust me on this.
6. TWO (2) SIMPLE T-SHIRTS
No brainer. Everyone needs a simple cotton t-shirt.
White has to definitely be one of the colours in my opinion, and the other, perhaps in a navy blue or burgundy.
Plenty of styles to choose from as well as colours!
I personally prefer the v-neck style. It elongates your body, makes your neck look longer and .. well seems to suit everyone’s body type, even oddly-shaped inverted triangles such as myself.
In this case, I’d opt for a white v-neck t-shirt because you are unlikely to buy white anywhere else in your wardrobe and it will add a nice freshness to your overall look. Plus it’s easy to style.
7. ONE (1) CASHMERE SWEATER
Everyone also needs a sweater if you live in colder climates. This is a nice insulating layer, and I am obviously a big fan of cashmere.
Same as all the others above, although I’d beg of you to pick a colour that is other than black or navy if you have chosen both in the above coat and blazer selections.
- Camel / Tan
- Navy / Dark Blue (or a brighter cobalt blue that is intense but still dark)
- White / Ivory
- Any shade of grey
8. 1 (ONE) PAIR OF TROUSERS
Anything that’s not a jean so that you can wear it to more formal events, or something slightly dressier than a jeans-are-fine event, if that makes sense, maybe meeting the parents for the first time, or something where you feel nervous and need to look a little more than casual.
I like straight-legged or bootcut ponte jersey trousers for this.
They’re easy to wash, wear and travel with.. and look like dress pants without being dress pants (they feel like yoga pants when you wear them but not as tight or revealing).
In a trouser, I like the following colours / patterns:
- Any shade of grey
Stay away from lighter-coloured pants because you are sure to get them dirty unless someone is constantly following you around with a clean towel for you to sit on.
I break this rule by wearing white or ivory pants in summer or winter white wool pants in winter, but this is because I am a slave to style.
9. ONE (1) DRESS FOR ALL OCCASIONS
You really can’t go wrong with a sheath or a wrap dress that is knee-length (and therefore, appropriate for all occasions).
Everyone looks good in one, even oddly-shaped bodies like mine (inverted triangles).
Just watch out for the collar / styling to suit your body type.
For instance, as an inverted triangle I go for v-necks, and anything that is NOT a boat neck (it elongates my shoulders and makes me look even wider up top).
I also look for ruching or some sort of nipped in waist to give me some definition and a slightly flared bottom that isn’t hip hugging so that my shoulders look more balanced.
Colours to choose from:
- Navy Blue
- Black / Black & White * (See note below)
A navy or dark grey dress (wrap dress perhaps) wouldn’t be such a bad idea. They’re easy to wash, wear, pack, and you can wear it to a funeral, a wedding or any occasion in between because it isn’t black.
You can always wear a navy or a dark grey dress to a wedding of any season and make it look appropriate with your jewellery, by adding a nice bright belt, and wearing pretty shoes (bright, fun, colourful) and not as somber.
*If you must choose black because you hate navy AND grey (really?.. both colours?) then think about the style of the dress (not a simple black sheath with NOTHING on it), or a black and white dress in a simple pattern so that you can wear it to both a funeral and a wedding.
I know this is very odd but things happen and you do not want to be caught off guard and have to run to the nearest department store to buy some hideous polyester piece of crap.
10. ONE (1) SUMMER ITEM OF YOUR CHOICE
Shorts, a skirt, summer dress, cropped trousers whatever floats your boat.
I personally hate wearing shorts, so I’d probably opt for a skirt or cropped trousers during the summer.
Pick something you won’t get sick of easily (maybe for you it’s the cut, or the colour.. or both!)
I would personally choose a dress in this case.
A summer dress that I could pull a sweater or a top over and use it as a skirt AND a dress. Double-duty!
MINIMALIST WARDROBE SETS
Now for the good stuff, bringing it all together!
THE CASUAL MINIMALIST WARDROBE SET
Here’s what I can wager would look good for a casual, practical, functional minimalist wardrobe:
TOTAL COMBINATIONS = 91 OUTFITS
(I think I did the math right. I left out wearing the winter coat & any combination with the shorts for instance — that just looks dumb)
HOW THE COMBINATIONS WORK
In case you’re confused, each number in the box means that the box itself contains 2 full outfits.
The arrows, show that if you combine jackets or blazers with said outfits, you add an additional number of full outfits.
WAIT, AREN’T YOU EXAGGERATING A LITTLE?
Okay so maybe it’s cheating a little to pull a winter or spring coat over each outfit and call it a “new ensemble”, but technically it is a new look!! You’re layering.
ONLY A FEW COMBINATIONS ARE TRULY SILLY
The only time I think it would look silly is wearing a winter coat with shorts or a skirt or something equally as odd, so I left out THAT combination.
I mean really?
THE THING ABOUT SEPARATES IS BEING ABLE TO PAIR IT MULTIPLE TIMES
You can see with the skort (skirt + short), I made it work with 3 tops and 3 blazers, along with throwing a leather jacket over top the black long-sleeved top and cashmere cardigan only (not the white blazer, that looks silly), and making it a warmer outfit for an Autumn or Spring night.
Of course I really hate wearing shorts, even skorts, but this is something that could work.
BOLDER COLOURS HERE AND THERE MAKE SENSE BUT NOT EVERYWHERE
The problem with having bold colours in single pieces is that they have to work in the overall scheme of the wardrobe, or else they became wardrobe orphans or very picky pieces that can’t be worn in multiple outfits.
I could have gone with a black blazer, or a navy pair of Audrey Hepburn-style ankle pants, or a short or skirt that was NOT in a bright cobalt blue but I chose to go with different colours and tones because otherwise the entire wardrobe would end up too drab and neutral.
Having one pop of colour here and there (within reason), makes sense if you consider the other items in the wardrobe being able to be paired with it.
For instance, putting a burgundy t-shirt with that cobalt blue skort and the khaki green ankle pants (my initial pairing) looked really dumb as a colour combination (or really awkward / hard to wear), so I switched out the burgundy t-shirt for a grey one so it would work better:
THE MORE FORMAL PIECES ARE ACTUALLY QUITE CASUAL
As for the pieces like the black and white dress (your all-purpose dress), and the leather jacket, I made them casual in terms of the fabric.
The dress is a jersey and not something like a silk or anything equally as stiff, and it looks nice on its own but also with lots of different jackets over top.
Pairing a white blazer with the dress for instance, makes it look fresh and interesting, and could be worn to a more casual interview if you felt like you needed a jacket. Many people would opt to get a black blazer instead of a white one but a black blazer is (for me) very close to the black leather jacket I had already chosen for the set, so I wanted something different in terms of colour.
Speaking of the leather jacket, the cut is not too casual but the fabric itself (leather) makes it look casual, yet the cut is slightly more formal (no zippers, clean, minimalist straight lines), which pairs well with everything in that wardrobe.
THE SLIGHTLY DRESSIER MINIMALIST WARDROBE SET
I know Michelle requested “not too fancy”, but I can’t make a combination set without showing you something that I’d be more inclined to wear.
TOTAL COMBINATIONS = 76
(At least.. I think I did the math right.)
76 TOTAL OUTFITS
ONE EXTRA, WELL-CHOSEN ITEM IN YOUR WARDROBE CAN MEAN 2-8 NEW OUTFITS
Anyway, the idea of the set above is to show you that by choosing colours that go together (generally), you can add a blouse or a top and immediately multiply what you can wear by a few outfits.
HOW CAN A DRESS HAVE A TOP OVER IT AND BE CONSIDERED NEW OUTFITS?
For the dresses it might seem odd that I added that long-sleeved striped top in there, but if you wear that over any of the two dresses, it looks like a new dress:
You might think that looser bottom looks a bit odd with the tighter fit of the dresses but if you add a nice belt, it hides all of that.
Or add that navy blazer, camel cashmere wrap sweater, or any of the two jackets over that and you have another 4 – 8 more outfits, something like this:
PICK VERSATILE, SIMPLE PIECES THAT CAN DO DOUBLE-DUTY
The key is to pick non-fussy pieces, and by that I mean you can’t pick a really odd looking blouse that requires a certain kind of bottom to go with it to look good, because it limits the multiple-usage of your minimalist wardrobe.
A pair of pants, or a blouse that is really finicky and specific will not be versatile enough to go over your entire wardrobe.
Now you’re probably asking: But .. do you follow all of these rules!?
Yes and no. No if you count items and the variety I have in my wardrobe, and Yes if you consider that I do look at what the piece will bring to my overall wardrobe.
If I see something amazing, but it looks too unique to be worn unless it’s with SPECIFIC pieces (that I may or may not have), I reluctantly put it back.
I like items that are different, but I also like knowing that if I buy a formal silk (vintage) dress, I can throw a sweater over it, turn it into a skirt, add a belt or a leather jacket and make it something casual.
Ultimately the key to a minimalist wardrobe is making sure that EACH and EVERY piece you buy is considered for its inherent value, and then how it will integrate in the rest of your wardrobe.
Consider EVERYTHING you buy with a scrutinizing, sharp eye.
…otherwise you will end up with a mish mash of random but cool pieces that don’t go together AT ALL because you’re totally missing the base of a basic, neutral wardrobe to make the pieces work.
The trick is to have a 90% balance of neutral, classic pieces and 10% interesting or unique pieces that can easily go from one outfit to another.
..and therein lies the work. You have to make a list, come up with a combination that works for you and your lifestyle and stick to it!