A simple wardrobe by an open window

What is a minimalist wardrobe?

You’ve seen the picture perfect wardrobes on Instagram. There’s often a neat little clothes rack, with only a few items of clothing hanging, perfectly spaced and aligned. Usually, the color scheme is all neutral.

In fact, you can see several examples of it on our own Instagram page, @theminimalistwardrobe. These photos are great for getting people inspired about minimalist wardrobes, but don't always paint a realistic picture.

Sometimes something essential is missing from these wardrobes, such as pants. Other times something like sandals is the only type of shoes to be seen.

Maybe minimalists never wear pants and have an irrational love for sandals—to the point of getting rid of all other footwear. Makes winters hard, but perhaps it’s all worth it for the sake of jumping on board the minimalist movement?

The truth is that the appearance of a wardrobe doesn’t tell if it’s minimalist or not. How a wardrobe looks like, how big it is in absolute numbers, or how neatly it’s organized has nothing to do with the minimalist wardrobe philosophy.

There’s only one rule to qualify a wardrobe as minimalist: no excess clothing.

And what is excess? Clothes that you don't wear—for one reason or another.

Include only what you love and wear

A minimalist wardrobe should only contain clothes you love and wear regularly. It really is that simple.

Some clothes—such as your winter coat—might not get worn as often as others, which is expected. As long as an item has a clear purpose in your life, it can be included in a minimalist wardrobe.

What doesn’t belong there are the slightly broken pair of sweatpants you never wear, because you have two better pairs available. Neither does the band tee you’ve mentally outgrown, nor the chunky sweater you like, but actually never wear since it’s so itchy.

Are you catching on? Include what you wear and enjoy, and get rid of what you don’t.

Keep in mind that your wardrobe should never limit your life. If your active lifestyle requires a large wardrobe in absolute numbers, then so be it. Just be mindful of what you really need.

The usual characteristics of a minimalist wardrobe

Versatile clothes are key to keeping your wardrobe small but functional. You want to start thinking more about complete outfits than single garments. A pair of perfectly fitting chinos doesn’t do you any good if they can’t be worn with any of your shirts or sweaters.

You’d be surprised by how many outfits you can put together from as little as 20 items of clothing if you take the time to think about the combinations.

Being able to mix and match effectively is one reason why many choose to go mostly neutral with their wardrobes. But this is not a rule, and lots of people have colorful minimalist wardrobes. It requires more thought to make outfits work, but is far from impossible.

Stay away from fast fashion trends and focus on a timeless style that feels authentic to you. If you're unsure about your personal style, Style Fundamentals—our online course—helps you find it.

In addition to versatility and timelessness, favor high quality and actively care for your clothes. It allows you to feel better in all your outfits, while saving money in the long run. Essentially you’re maximizing the value of your wardrobe. 

Anyone can have a minimalist wardrobe

Remember the only rule of minimalist wardrobes? That’s right: no excess clothes.

It means that absolutely anyone can have a minimalist wardrobe. A working mom with an active social life probably needs a good amount of clothes. Her wardrobe can still be minimalist, as long as it doesn’t contain unnecessary clothing.

There are no magic numbers to hit, or color schemes to follow. It’s all about finding the wardrobe that allows you to live your best life.

Now, let's talk about the benefits of a minimalist wardrobe.

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