What’s So Good About a Minimal Wardrobe?

Maximalism to the max!

04.21.16

For a long time I believed that in order to build — not just have — a wardrobe, the only way to achieve it was by acquiring clothing that is boring to buy. White t-shirts, black jeans, denim jackets, wool pants, solid shirt dresses. Brown shoes.

White sneakers.

And this might still be true. Having basics is helpful. Some mornings you can’t figure out what to wear, or you feel like shit, and there are reliable clothes that let you slip to sidelines and feel comfortable in your elected anonymity. I’m not undermining that but I think at some point between the beginning of Franciso Costa’s tenure at Calvin Klein in 2004 and the end of normcore, I started to depend too much on plain clothes. Instead of adding them to my wardrobe, I sort of made them the centerpiece. I could blame this on the proliferation of the minimalism espoused by Céline, the perpetuation by brands that followed and how “athleisure” fit so seamlessly into that narrative package, but the more important piece here is that lately, I’m identifying with maximalism again and in doing so, definitively rejecting minimalism.

Give me a statement and make it a loud one.

And speaking of statements! In a recent post I wrote defending the statement coat, I mentioned that we often shy away from “the statement piece” because we feel trapped in its oneness. At our best, we intellectualize its and surmise, because of its statement-ness, that we can’t say more than one thing with the garment in question and that it quickly becomes too obvious a representation of who we are. At our worst, ego gets in the way and we feel self-conscious about having people see us wear the same thing over and over and over again. If you can get past this (this meaning yourself) though, what you’ll find is that egos lie. Statement pieces don’t trap us in their oneness. Nothing can actually do that — we are living, breathing people. And if you can bring yourself to get weird enough — to do the most exaggerated version of you, it’ll never come out the same way twice. That’s not how individuals work, which brings me back to this concept of a minimal wardrobe. Is my attempt to take it down just another means to a trend?

Gucci has no doubt facilitated the ushering in of this era, doubling down on the work of Dolce and Gabbana and at times, Valentino; adding gumption to the humor of Moschino and bringing that boisterous Italian woman back to the spotlight. So this shift in interest isn’t random but it does make me wonder how natural, or personal it is. Which then presents the question: am I really lobbying for the emergence of a new style era, one I’m reluctant to say I believe I helped build (I guess I’m saying it anyway), or am I simply feeding a well-oiled machine under the guise of a purported choice when in fact, it is being made for me?

Iris Apfel Photographed by Luis Monteiro for Financial Times. Photographed by Krista Anna Lewis.

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  • Kerrith

    I’m so with you. I love to look at people dressed beautifully utilizing several different patterns, textures and an array of color. It’s as if they say volumes just walking down the street without ever having to open their mouths. I just cannot pull It off! I feel so overdone when I try to maximalize. I think I blame having a bigger bust and curvier body for continually reaching for the norm to tone all of it down, but maybe I’m wrong. It’s a goal for me to integrate more statement makers into my wardrobe.

  • Which is why I won’t mind buying a “statement” leather jacket from Coach this fall (the one with patches). My style is definitely monochrome, and very rarely has a clothing item or two that isn’t black or blue (or striped). But sometimes the whole minimalist look even makes me sleepy.

  • Mallory Harmon

    I also used to think that in order to build a wardrobe, you must stick to the basics; however, basics are boring! I love statement pieces and the amount of confidence I feel when wearing statement pieces. That confidence is definitely something that had to be built over time; the first time I stepped outside of my comfort zone with a statement piece, I felt extremely self-conscious, but the more I wore that piece, the better I felt. I think that is the most important thing about clothing and statement pieces: if it makes you feel great, you have to wear it!

  • Don’t know about myself but I do have this new, curvy neighbor who’s dressing like tomorrow wasn’t even a word and she’s such a pleasure to observe! It’s not just clothes and hair and nails and jewellery, as we all know by now, it is also her ausstrahlung (vibes, charisma, whatever you call it) that does it.
    I did worry she was going to tone down when she started getting those insulting messages 🙁 but she didn’t (I hate the very idea someone should try to scratch on other person’s happiness in such a way – because that’s what it was. Not a case of style critique or anything, it was sheer envy. I hope the person gets back what they sent out. I even offered my boxing skills such as they are :-))

    Whereas I am happy with basics, a few Moose T-shirts aside 🙂

  • Louise

    I absolutely loved this – Italian designers (great ones, like Gucci now) do possess an effortless dance with humor & elegance at once in their clothing. They design for a specific woman; not minimalist or maximalist, simply herself on any given mood, any given day. Maybe all this maximalist thing you’re talking about is really just about honoring the multitudes within us? Normcore is one thing, and one thing only.

    Actually, you say it best: “If you can get past this (this meaning yourself) though, what you’ll find is that egos lie. Statement pieces don’t trap us in their oneness. Nothing can actually do that — we are living, breathing people. And if you can bring yourself to get weird enough — to do the most exaggerated version of you, it’ll never come out the same way twice.”

    Great article, thank you!

  • ee_by_cc

    Ugh, story of my life. I constantly waffle between wanting to be minimally chic because #EmmanuelleAltGoals and totally throwing caution to the wind and flaunting my statement pieces with abandon. I actually had a friend put me on a “print diet” once because I had a disproportionate number of super distinct pieces. Then, because I’m an extremist, I found myself a few months later with nary a bright color or pattern in sight. I need to learn balance, clearly.

    http://www.enduringethereal.com

  • I’m into having a minimal number of pieces in my wardrobe, but the style of those pieces is not necessarily minimal. The compulsion to have an entire wardrobe composed of black, white, and camel is all too real at times, but it’s still too impersonal for those of us who truly do enjoy styling ourselves as a hobby.

    I think the trend pendulum isn’t completely rooted in an individual’s or brand’s choice of the Next Big Thing, it’s more of a combination between the two. I think we all get kinda tired of seeing the same thing over and over again so we react in a similarly opposite way. Each reaction produces a new permutation within the set, but it’s still essentially a binary opposition.

  • I never fully embraced the minimalism trend. I’ve always thought why get a plain top if I can get one with a cool print? But I have learned to embrace basics and how they complement statement pieces. It all depends on what you feel good wearing. I know some people that love and look great wearing all minimal clothes.

  • Victoria Nieto

    Something I’ve always loved about you, is that you make wearing all these patterns and colours together WORK! But it’s so scary! Makes me think, what if I just end up looking like Joey when he wears all of Chandler’s clothes!?

  • Allie Reese

    I get this, and love maximalism on others! For me personally it doesn’t work. Plain clothes are often the things that I love and work for me, and so I have a few uniforms to choose from (my big one these days being a blue pullover, black jeans, layered over a sentimental tee, red purse, bensimon flats – is that normcore?? I don’t know if it’s annoying to ask, but I don’t identify with it at all).

    I like having a minimal uniform for several reasons: I’m often paralyzed with indecision and having too many options does not help, I run warm so I don’t like to wear a lot at once (even though I <3 layers), and I can never remember to put jewelry on but if I DO then I never take it off.

    I hope this doesn't mean I've been deluding myself and actually have 0 sense of style. Occasionally I still can be creative from mixing-and-matching pieces that I wouldn't think to do normally. Otherwise I'm not unhappy when I inevitably repeat an outfit.

  • xtyb

    Preach, Sister!!! Almost every day someone says to me, “Oh, you’re the only one who could wear that,” and I always reply, “no, I’m just the only one who does.” Come on, people! Make a statement it’s so much more fun! I tried the whole ‘capsule wardrobe’ bs while they are remodeling my bedroom and it is soooo depressing! And I included ‘basics’ like this Celine coat even. To be honest it’s kind of basic for me since it’s black and white.
    I am bummed for everyone who doesn’t want to let their freak flag fly every time they come out of their closet but after reading this I feel even better about getting dressed to make myself and everyone else happy-which is why I do it.

    Leandra and all your MR’s, keep being you!!!!

    • xtyb

      PS I will be wearing all purple for the next several days or weeks. Thank goodness I have plenty in my wardrobe RIP Prince

  • Bellateer

    You are trying too hard.

  • THANKS FOR THIS ARTICLE AND ARGUMENT! NEEDED TO BE SAID!!

  • Lauren

    It’s the latter.

  • Alexandra Greco

    Leandra – thanks for the great article! I’ve long been a proponent of the capsule wardrobe and my wardrobe today is now primarily reflective of that goal – think all monochromatic colors, white sneakers, black flats. However – the addition of an ombré red fuzzy cocoon coat from French Connection’s line last year helped put some risk back into my risk-adverse wardrobe. While that coat seemed less risky on the streets of London, it now stands out (and quite rightly) in my new town of Athens, GA. So what originally was a light step into the void of maximalism (as you reference) has now become quite a big leap in a Southern town populated with monograms and oversized sorority t-shirts.

  • Jessica Williams

    Where can we shop we11done??

  • Not Playin Witchu Piggy

    Fuck minimalism. A lot of times its just a way to make being a basic bitch, for lack of a better phrase, seem cool and hep. I will statement dress to the point of absurdity and feel quite comfy in it. Btw this is Mimi of thatssomimi.blogspot.com