simple rules for a small and stylish wardrobe


I’ll be running some decluttering tips the next few weeks for all of you that have made 2012 the year of less stuff. Today: your wardrobe.

To clarify: I’m not a style maven. And at this juncture in my life my top priority is to feel good in my clothes. They have to be comfortable and flattering. Since getting rid of 80% of my wardrobe I am slowly learning more about what looks good on me and suits my lifestyle

Find your uniform. If you gravitate towards a wardrobe of dresses or constantly buy tailored pants in earth tones and cream cardigans don’t feel bad about it. You know what you like and what looks good on you. Leave the experimenting (and sometimes wasted money and closet space) for those that haven’t found what suits them. It’s okay to have a look and keep wearing it. It doesn’t make you boring. It shows that you know yourself, you’re comfortable in your clothes and confident. And there’s nothing boring about that. My winter uniform: dark jeans, boots (wellies or my Fryes), t-shirts in cotton/nylon blends in shades of blue/gray/purple and a dark cardigan.

If you can’t walk a half a mile in your shoes, get rid of them. Limping isn’t sexy. I know. I’ve been that woman with the painful (but oh so pretty!) shoes on. No one notices how fabulous your heels are when you can barely stand in them. I cut way down on shoes when I did my big declutter in the fall of 2010. I now own just one pair of winter heels (Clarks, microsuede, Mary Jane style with a 2 inch heel) that are quite comfortable for a night out. When it was time to buy boots last winter I spent more to get stylish boots that would last and that I could walk everywhere in. Another upside: no more crippling back pain or bloody feet from a night in painful shoes.

Wash your clothing less. Take a wet rag to marks and gently dab them out as soon as they happen. Hang your clothing at night, near an open window if possible, and let the air freshen them up. If I had to wash all of my clothes (and Henry’s) after every wear we would need double our current wardrobes. Also, washing less makes clothing last longer and delays fading.

If you’re in transition keep your favourites. Postpartum, up ten pounds, in career change, whatever the reason you have for having two (or four) different sized or styled wardrobes, just keep your best items. I have a good suit and my best maternity clothing stashed away. Should I get an office job or get pregnant I’m can easily transition a few pieces from my current wardrobe for either situation.

Two bras. One black and one nude. Get fitted for them at a true bra store from the lady that has been fitting women for 20+ years. Invest a bit more for support + fashion. Wash them by hand and hang to dry (they’ll last longer). I like microfibre because I find clothes hang better on it and it isn’t as noticeable under t-shirts. If you wear strapless or backless clothing often (how exciting!) get the nude bra in a convertible style. Note: these are on my to buy list this year. I have been wearing hand-me-downs from my sister since I stopped breastfeeding.

Dress for your life today. That dress that looks beautiful on the hangar, the one with a bit of dust on the shoulders and the price tag still attached, let it go. If it didn’t work for you when you bought it time isn’t going to change anything. Keep what you wear and what you feel good in. Nothing more.

Those are my tips for a wardrobe that can fit in a suitcase. What are yours?

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  • I made it one whole year without buying any clothes. Well, I did,(socks and underware and a new pair of workout shoes) but that was planned before I started my year of no buying clothes. I reallly didn’t need to and will attempt this again this year. However, there are a few thing I absolutely need. One being a new pair or jeans. Mine have holes in both knees and while I do plan on repairing these to wear around the house/yard, I need a pair that I can wear out.
    I also need new bra’s and panties. But, gosh it is so difficult to find a store to fit bra’s around here.
    My uniform: jeans, t-shirt, hoodie/sweatshirt/sweater, gym shoes or boots (depending upon the amount of snow we have).
    It sure is freeing not buying clothes, not to mention the smaller amount of clothes that must be washed and the increased closet space.

  • This has inspired me to let even more clothes go. I’m slowly choosing quality over quantity, with everything matching jeans and black. My winter uniform is jeans and turtlenecks (with long johns underneath). I agree – my clothes and shoes have to be comfortable and flattering.

  • I finally started buying clothes that actually fit. New. From a store other than salvation army. I still probably have too many clothes, but I sincerely do love and wear and everything I have. I have never been a big shoe person, so that is easy for me to keep under control. I live in Florida, where you wear flip flops year round, but I have only two pairs: a pair for the beach, and a pair for everything else. My everything else pair are Chacos and are going to last me forever! Also, this year I am not buying anything for myself or the house (with a few exceptions, like new running shoes and a wall calendar). I am hoping that a year of saying “no” to new things retrains me!

  • One of my projects for January is to go through my clothes and keep only the ones I truly love. I have a few pieces I held on to because my mom or my sister gave them to me as they decluttered their wardrobe, but I don’t need to hold on to them.

    • Oooh, I didn’t even touch on my workout wardrobe. I have three sports bras. One is great, the other two really need to be replaced. I workout 3-5 x week and with our laundry situation I need enough sports bras to last me the week.
      I’ll have to post about workout clothing soon. Once upon a time I did 18 workouts a week so I used to have a massive workout wardrobe. Most of it has been tossed since I retired from sport 7 years ago. Spandex gets really stinky.

  • I had a big wardrobe clearout this year. I invested in a few key pieces that all work together – for winter they are a jersey dress, denim skirt, jeans and leggings, with various tops that go with all of them. I have cut down on my shoes and only have a few pairs now, all comfortable as I walk everywhere! In November I decided that I would not buy any clothes for at least one year, it actually makes things easier as when I get offers sent to me I can bin them straight away, whereas in the past I would think I should maybe use the discount even if I didn’t need to. The only exception I will make is that if something from my core collection wears out or becomes very grotty I will replace it with a similar item, as I only want to wear smart clothes. When we were in Portugal last year I noticed how everyone there makes an effort with their clothes, even if they are wearing jeans they are smart jeans. Here in the UK many people wear really worn-out, ill-fitting clothes and I don’t think it looks good.

  • This past year I’ve managed to define my own uniform and subsequently shrunk my closet size from over 150 things to a little over 30 articles of clothing for year round wear. My challenge for this year will be applying this same principle to my kids’ closet – I have no idea why I find it so tempting to shop ahead for my kids, but I’m going cold turkey on shopping for my kids and won’t be buying them a thing in 2012.

    My favourite tip for simplifying my wardrobe is to own and wear a scarf. I find that wearing a pashmina-style scarf with a t-shirt and jeans give it a whole new look, and can dress up even the simplest outfit. I have a handful of colourful scarves that I like to use to jazz up my simple wardrobe (read: one that includes more than a couple of items in black :) )

    Happy New Year to you and your family!

  • When I recently had to fill in my wardrobe for winter I really thought carefully about the way I wanted to go about it. I finally settled on a few rules to make it a bit easier on myself:
    1) Pick five colors: I recommend at least two of these colors be neutrals. My colors ended up being green, navy, cream, black and brown.
    2) Follow the three piece rule: tee/ jeans/ sweater or blouse/ skirt/ necklace or tee/ skirt/ scarf (you get the idea)
    3) Make it all work double duty: I recently went on a trip for four days and only took four items. My black sweater dress, a long sleeved, green print shirt, a pair of jeans and a green tee. Everything was wore twice (the jeans three times) but paired with different items to create a different look.
    4) Ignore the experts: I have no use for a white top, but all the experts say to have one. I have small children who love to use me as a napkin and white washes me out. I skip the “rules” that don’t work for me.

  • I just tucked my kids into bed, hauled a huge pile of clothing into my living room and sat down for five minutes of inspiration before starting the big cull. Clearly, you have been reading my mind. Thanks so very much for a terrific, well-timed post!

  • So pleased to find I am following all the rules – well almost – I have just two bras but one white, one black…
    I hardly bought any clothing last year apart from jeans which I now wear out. Well you do when you own one pair! I had been owning two pairs but went down to one easily. The only problem I found was when the pair went into holes I hadn’t another pair to wear so have gone back to two, one older pair and one newer in the hope they will wear at different speeds.
    I am about to make a purchase however. The image above kinda sums it up. I’ve decided to buy a blazer. This means I can continue to wear my jeans ALL the time, but can couple with a blazer to smarten it slightly. It’s highly versatile in that I can wear a t-shirt under for lunch dates and a shirt for a more evening look…not that we ever go out :-)

    • ps – workout wardrobe – I have just running apparel and wear for every type of workout. One summer and one winter version. I do have to wash it quite a bit though! One downside of lack of choice with potentially stinky clothing!

    • Found the same thing. One pair of jeans means they get a lot of mileage on them.
      Like the ensemble in the photo so I am, of course, very supportive of the blazer purchase. :)

  • great post. I started getting minimal in my wardrobe about 2 years ago. I wouldn’t say I am as minimal as you, but my method was thus;
    inspiration was ‘less but better quality’ and ‘everything has to go together’ I chose my colours – basically black through to prussian blue and any tone in between those two (so some french blue grey is cool) neutrals – which are natural leather, some dark browns and natural linen type colours and PINK. I have a seriously BRIGHT pink scarf and a softer pink coat and a lovely linen top. I can now put an outfit together seriously easily as I never buy stuff that doesn’t go with everything else i have. I also got some DYLON and dyed all my teeshirts either prussian blue or black. I also find that black clothes can be made to look like new with a fresh round of dyeing (in the machine its very easy) I try, that if I buy something new, something old has to go. I now find I have everything I need and there is very little I actually lust after anymore. I also got good wooden hangers which makes my new roomy wardrobe look nice. I get quite a lot of my clothes from swish parties (though I no longer have anything to give away really) and have stopped hanging on to things which are torn and tatty (I have one set of painting clothes and the rest are chopped up into rags) and I have to agree on the Frye Boots. top banana.

    • Totally agree with getting nice wooden hangers! Takes care of clothes so well and consistency throughout. Work out how many hangers fit your wardrobe and don’t buy any additional clothes!

  • I am challenged in the fashion department, so I subscribe to She all about keeping it minimal and dressing for your body type. You’ll own the basics, but mix and match to make multiple outfits and learn how to use accessories.

    From her site: At you’ll save time and money by not shopping for clothes that end up only hanging in your closet. Now, you will have a wardrobe plan, improved style and the confidence of a well-dressed woman.

    Her blogs are very helpful! ()

  • Great advice, especially the last one! I joined the Project 333 recently and I realized that I always wear the same. Why I kept buying things that only take up space I don’t know. 😀 They’re all nice and I like them, but the day will never come when I will actually wear them. So out they go. I will try to sell some and if it doesn’t work, I know who would love to get them.
    My heart weeps, but I think some of my 20+ pairs of high heels will go, too.

  • Fantastic article. You’re a wonderful human being. Funny how I found your site. I don’t believe in coincidence. I googled how to create an outfit for a pair of mary janes I wanted to buy. I’m a late bloomer :) And lo and behold I discovered your site on something more profound. I didn’t read your profile till weeks later and realized your lifestyle parallels my changing mineset. Almost. You have an adorable child and I’m happily single. I am finally learning to let go of what others think of me and wasting money on “appearing” to being happy and connecting to a more inner and prosperous attitude. I didn’t realize that I only have two pairs of jeans right now and do have a simple style I stick to. And I’m focusing on paying off my debt. Thank you for being awesome and putting your experiences online for others to learn from. I wish you lots of success, abundance and prosperity!

  • This article hit home for me. Sadly, a little to close. I have never been that really fashionable mom, but wanted to be. What I buy depends on who I am shopping with. If I am alone, I will buy what I typically wear. Sadly, that is jeans and T’s and sometimes sweats. If I am with my sister I buy heels, dressier shirts and skirts. They sit in my closet and only come out for special occasions. I have always been somewhat ashamed by my comfort in jeans and t’s. My life is nothing fancy, but amazing and that is the wardrobe that suites it. I think I need to really focus on what I enjoy wearing and get rid of the rest.

    • I think if you want to be fashionable, then you just have to find your place of comfort and figure out what looks best on you. You don’t need a super social and fabulous-looking life to be fashionable. I am a stay at home mother, but one of my main personal traits is to be well dressed – even if I stay home all day.

      I do have a minimal closet – even by NYC standards. I buy most of my pieces from J.Crew (at least as of late), and I have about 3 uniforms that I choose from. I usually only buy wool, silk or cotton, or a blend – fabrics that last, drape well and look/feel beautiful (a bit costly, yes, but I do not shop often). I do not own sweat pants or baggy t-shirts so I can not wear them even if I am feeling lazy or sick. For me it has just been about forming HABITS of dressing well and not overwhelming my daily dressing decisions by having too many options to pick from (and therefore resorting to the ‘laziest’ thing I can find).

      If you don’t want to dress ‘fashionable’ and force yourself to buy stuff that are, then that’s one thing, but if you want to dress well and regret that you resort to less ‘fashionable’ clothes, then that is another issue. I could not recommend giving up on your desire to dress better. Personally, it is what gets me through the lonelier days (weird, I know, but it works for me), just to see myself looking my best gets me to sit up straighter and enjoy the moments a little more.

      Naturally, ‘fashionable’ varies for each person, but I think it is the personal effort that counts, the ability to know what works for your body, level of desired formality, and daily routine. I think this forces the person with the average income to become minimalist by definition (the super rich have it a little different).

      Also, I would never confuse ‘fashionable’ with ‘trendiness’. It is not necessary nor recommended to keep up with the latest if it does not work for you or your closet is already well curated.

      • What a wonderful way to put it! I have often skimped on dressing well because I felt that I should save money when deep down I would have loved to look good. Now I’m slowly coming around and letting myself buy expensive good quality things in keeping with my career and lifestyle – things like good quality heels I can run in to catch a cab, and dry fit capris that look cute rather than sweats to run errands in. Chucking out all the filler good-enough clothes and finding that I have a minimalist wardrobe in the making of great quality go-to stuff.

  • I have finally a decluttered active wardrobe. The penny finally dropped, and I worked out that I needed to find a neutral base, and then have colours to go with them.
    For my colouring ( I had my colours done) I chose stone and charcoal grey/black as my neutrals. This means that I have skirts, pants and jeans in these colours, as well as shoes in stone or black and handbags in stone or black.
    Being a “winter” in the colour analysis, I jut choose any of the winter colours on my palette and everything goes with everything else.
    No more expensive shopping mistakes for me anymore, and I want to wear everything in my wardrobe.

  • I am new(ish) to your blog, I’ve been catching up on all your old posts (yes I read all the comments too) and I LOVE it so far! My mom was a pack rat and I can see I have the same tendancies (which is scary) so i have been on a (slow) mission to change the way I think and view my/our stuff! We (hubby and 3yr old and 5 month old and I) moved provinces just over 2 months ago and that was my first push to minimalize what we had… i have a long ways to go to be at what i think will be our ‘sweet spot’ but it is so liberating!

    I Love quality items and am trying to find the balance between having what we need/want and not having things that don’t get used.

    Are Fryes only sold online do you know? I also have larger feet but finally feel ready to invest in a good quality pair that will last (I’m use to cheep crap from wal-mart that i put up with for the season and throw out as they are uncomforable and poor quality)

    thanks and keep up the great work with this blog- I find so much encouragement and insparation here!


    • Fryes: sold in the US and Canada. Not sure about overseas. I think you can find them at Nordstroms in the US. Not sure about chains in Canada. They are great boots and I am thinking about getting a second knee high pair in black for this winter.

      And yeah for simplifying being liberating! I couldn’t agree more. :)

  • I agree with most of your post, but I have to say, the only two bras sounds like a really bad idea. No woman can do with less than 4 bras (+1 sport brra at the very least). We all need a black and a nude bras that fit at all time ; and size change. In the span of a menstrual cycle, most women oscillate between 2 or even 3 size. Anyway, a professional fitting lady should always remind her clients of that.

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