The Minimalist Wardrobe: Choose a Base Color

Once upon a time, the clothes in my closet ran the gamut of colors—I had warm hues, cool hues, neutrals, pastels, jewel tones, etc. What’s more, I had a variety of accessories to “match” this rainbow of apparel.

No more. In my quest for a minimalist closet, I found the secret to a well-edited wardrobe: choosing a base color.

Ideally, your base color should be a neutral like black, brown, navy, or khaki. I chose black—mainly because it’s flattering on me, travels well, and hides stains (if I splash something on myself at lunch, I can still make it through the day without looking a mess!).

This strategy has transformed my look, my closet, and my shopping habits. For the most part, I stick to black for bottoms (like pants and skirts) and add color with tops. Almost anything goes with black, but my wardrobe consists mainly of grays, burgundies, purples, and blues. I also have gray pants, and a gray skirt, that I can wear with either black or colored tops.

Furthermore, I’ve been able to significantly pare down my accessories. I no longer have the need for footwear or handbags in varying shades of brown or navy. A black purse, or pair of shoes, goes with everything in my closet—which means I can get by (and still look put-together) with far fewer purses and pairs of shoes.

The surprising part: although my wardrobe is a fraction of the size it used to be, I never feel I have “nothing to wear.” In fact, I find that I look (and feel) more well-dressed than when I had two closets full of clothes. Building a wardrobe around a base color ensures that everything goes with everything else—even if I dressed in pitch darkness (or by pulling out pieces at random), I’d end up with a matching ensemble. It doesn’t get any better than that!

41 comments to The Minimalist Wardrobe: Choose a Base Color

  • Brenz

    I second your method. I did this a number of years ago with black, red, camel and creme. The getting dressed part was a breeze. And even when shopping, if you keep your colors in mind you can pass up whole racks of clothes. Or if looking at mixed items (such as clearance racks) you can easily spy your colors. Saves time shopping.

  • miss minimalist

    Brenz, that’s a great point about how this method simplifies shopping–I too tend to “scan” the racks for my colors. Now if only there was a search engine that showed retailers’ offerings by color…

  • Mia

    Love your blog! Keep up the great work!

  • miss minimalist

    Thanks, Mia!

  • Heather

    I wear white, black, red and camel/khacki..classic yet it gives me a lot of flexibility. I do have to maintain a business professional wardrobe but I can mix and match to my hearts content and still have half a side of the closet empty. Love your blog and inspiration!!! : )

  • miss minimalist

    Thanks, Heather–oh, the joys of a half-empty closet! :-)

  • C-Note

    I have another approach: bright primary colours. I’m a guy so I think I can more easily get away with (guys are allowed to have no sense of what colours “go” together) wearing a yellow t-shirt under a green snap button shirt, blue jeans and red sneakers with an orange jacket over top. Basically, everything goes with everything else because nothing matches anyways.

  • miss minimalist

    Ha, C-Note, I like that! You’re right, though–only a guy can get away with it. ;-)

  • Amanda

    I’m currently trying to edit down my wardrobe, and I like your concept very much. For example, I have five different white linen shirts, which is absurd. I’m a complete packrat so getting rid of things is very difficult for me, but I am trying. If I could get my wardrobe down to one closet and two tubs of seasonal stuff, that would be an improvement. I’ll never be a minimalist, but it’s good to strive for the goal, even if you don’t quite get there.

    • miss minimalist

      Hi Amanda! Recognizing that you have “enough” is a HUGE step in the right direction. Limiting your wardrobe to one closet is a great idea; just think, you’ll end up with only your *best* pieces, and always look (and feel) like a million bucks. :-)

  • Tradd

    I do black bottoms and then tops in shades of pink, purple, blue. All shoes are black (and I don’t have many), aside from my sneakers. I own a small black purse and then a larger one. My tops style is also similar. I much prefer twin sets (since I can take the cardigan off if I get hot, which is often the case). I have nice cotton sweater ones from Land’s End and “t-shirt twin sets” from LL Bean, the latter are great for the summer. Basically I wear the same thing – I have a uniform of my own – but I look neat and no-fuss.

  • Kathryn Fenner

    “Now if only there was a search engine that showed retailers’ offerings by color…”

    shopstyle allows you to search by color and size, as does Amazon, Zappos, Landsend, yoox and my personal favorite, eBay! Shopstyle covers the major department stores and several specialty stores.

    Also, never underestimate Google–just search for whatever the item is (black womens pants, blue womens sweater) and you’ll pull up a lot of options including other search aggregators–which vary in quality, but…

    • miss minimalist

      Ooh, that’s great to know, Kathryn! Sounds like a great alternative to wading through pages and pages of stuff… :-)

  • Kathryn Fenner

    oh, and never underestimate the value of a skin-toned pair of dress pumps–they elongate your leg and go with everything your skin goes with!

    • miss minimalist

      Kathryn, that’s really interesting; I would have never thought of that!

      • Yeah! I come from Germany, Aachen, which is near Belgium. Other as in Belgium most women in Germany wear always black pumps, even my girlfriend. And honestly: I hate it! I love to see women in skin colored pants. And so my first impression of your photograph with your black dress was: nice!

  • Red

    Very inspiring! When I pared down my wardrobe drastically over the last year, I got rid of most of my patterned outfits. Now I buy only solid colored tops. I did buy a couple patterned skirts last week, but I find that I get tired of patterns very quickly. Solid colored shirts never get old! :)

  • touroxin

    Francine,
    Have you read Pattern Recognition by William Gibson?
    As a minimalist I found it very enjoyable!
    I think you may also relate to the main character “Cayce Pollard”.

    BTW, I have never written a comment on a blog before today. I rarely even look at blogs.
    I discovered your blog via a Google link for “Minimalist Travel” Being a minimalist I am always looking for new ways to travel light.
    Thank you for taking the time to do this blog.
    It is now bookmarked and I will be stopping by often!
    Your minimalist friend, touroxin

    • miss minimalist

      Hi touroxin! No, I’ve never read Pattern Recognition — but I just checked out the Amazon reviews and it sounds great. Thanks so much for the recommendation; I’ve been looking for some reading for an upcoming (long) train ride. :-)

      I’m glad you found my blog, and am happy to have you here!

  • I’m a new reader, and this wardrobe advice – actually the whole blog – was so helpful. I took about a week in which I came home and minimalized a room (or a part of a room) at a time. The wardrobe streamlining has been great – I only have 3 colors of pants/skirts (black, grey, white – all black/grey is depressing in spring and summer)), and 4 colors of tops (blue, green, yellow, and red). That makes picking shoes sooo super easy! (I still need variety though because different pumps hit your feet differently) Same with jewelry (I make jewelry, so I have TONS in my personal collection) – I ended up giving away all the extra colors, and my friends and neighbors were very happy :)

    Thanks so much for the great advice, I appreciate it!

    • Deniz

      hi Leah hows that going for you? your system is pretty much exactly what im hoping to do, exact same colours and everything. i wear hijab so that allows me to add an extra pop of colour along with jewellery, too

  • vince

    hi – i really like your website and am excited to get your book. here are my two big non-minimalist areas: books and clothes. for now, my question is about clothes – can you offer me (a man) suggestions about clothes? left to my own devices, i’d wear a t-shirt with holes, a pair of cargo shorts and crocs every day. unfortunately, i work as a college professor and psychotherapist so i need more professional-ish stuff in my closet. i’d really appreciate any input you could give me. thanks in advance and i’m looking forward to reading more.

  • I did this idea recently and, man, do I wish I had done it when I first discovered your blog! I removed an entire tote full from my closet, yet I do not feel as if I have any fewer clothes. Its wonderful. I am not very style savvy, and, honestly, am not that interested in spending a lot of time on clothes. I’m also pretty lazy, and this is a wonderful way to make getting dressed easier! I love that my shoes, purse, coat etc. automatically match my clothes. Thank you so much for your blog and your ideas!

  • Caroline

    I want you to come to my apt and work your magic! Sometimes I try to think of myself as the Count of Monte Cristo, with his understated yet simple, rich look (the female version, anyway)…I need to get this wardrobe overall going.

  • Caroline

    Overhaul..not overall

  • Sandra Becker

    I have the same color palette: black bottoms daily, tops in black, white, shades of red, blue, purple or gray. In winter I wear a button up henley shirt and a wool sweater (accommodates cold winters and hot flashes. In summer I wear black linen pants or shorts with a linen shirt that needn’t be tucked in.

  • […] Black, brown, gray and khaki are common choices.  You can read more about the base color on the Miss Minimalist website here.  The reason to choose a base color is that it makes it much easier to choose a wardrobe where […]

  • What a great idea! I just took your suggestion (using brown) and pared my wardrobe down to 22 items and 6 pairs of shoes.i know there’s more I can get rid of but baby steps right? I already feel freer!

  • Karen

    I am so inspired to declutter my closet. Thanks to all!

  • […] wardrobes, one piece of advice is ubiquitous – keep your travel wardrobe to neutral colours. Miss Minimalist goes with black as her base colour, as do many travellers who find black flattering and also […]

  • Lynn

    I’ve just stumbled across this blog – wow! I am a minimalist at heart but hubby is a complete hoarder. Have found new inspiriation from this blog espesially the comments from the guys. Im thinking Daniel is need of a new minimalist wardrobe… Q evil laugh

  • Tina

    I may get a few new tops the end of the summer. My dressy tops are about 10 years old. I’ll see what I find in the stores, it has been so long since I shopped.

  • Tina

    I have 2 black pants and 2 blue pants. Tops are black, grey, and tan. Cardigans in gray, blue, black and red. 8 t shirts. I usually wear a T shirt and a pair of blue pants. Today, I wore a nicer gray top with blue pants and a pair of nice earrings. I like to accessorize with jewelry.

  • Love these tips! I recently took a trip to Europe and realized that the style I’ve always wanted to achieve was everywhere around me in a sea of neutral colors! Little did I know that transitioning my wardrobe to only neutrals – black, beige, white, khaki, olive, grey – would make my life SO much easier! The problem I have is cutting down my pieces a bit since I’m a style blogger. It seems like every time I see a new gorgeously structured pieces in a neutral color I snatch it up! Loving these tips; maybe they’ll help me whittle down my outfit pieces a bit more! ;)

    – Amanda Renee at http://academiquechic.com/

  • Tina

    I never wear any kind of pattern or message–except when I get a free T shirt to sleep in. I am getting rid of some black pants– because I realized they are 12 years old as soon as my favorite store has them on sale again.

  • Tina

    I was going to do project 333 but I only have 35 pieces of clothing anyhow. Today I am wearing a gray shirt that used to be my older son’s with a pair of nice jeans. Yesterday, it was jeans and a brown shirt I plan to give to my DH. My younger son stopped by after work and had on a sweater that was at least 10 years old. His legs are longer than anyone else’s so his jeans get worn out and given to Goodwill so they can recycle the fabric. I have 2 sweaters I plan to pass to my mother if she will let me get rid of her worn out sweaters with holes and spots.

  • Tina

    I gave away a sweatshirt my daughter passed to me. I never wore it. We are going out of town next week and I will take a tiny suitcase because I don’t need many clothes. I will take a pair of nice pants and a couple of nice sweaters and a couple of nice tops. With underwear and pajamas that should be enough. Since everything goes with everything else it is very easy to pack.

  • Sue Dot

    Fantastic tip. Am attempting to try and keep 2 colours for my skirts and stick with black footwear. My tops consist of mainly navy and burgundy for winter. In the warmer months, I wear a blue denim skirt with pink, yellow and jade tops. I do wear beige shoes in summer with either my salmon or blue patterned dresses. Trouble is I love trawling charity or thrift shops, so tend to build up too much stuff over the year. That’s when I have a good old clear out, plus of course it is helping someone in need and I haven’t spent hundreds of my husband’s money anyway. A win win situation don’t you think?

  • laura m.

    I wear navy denim or kaiki capris, navy or gray casual pants or jogging/yoga pants in neutral colors, have a couple skirts and blazers in same color (no dresses), mostly wear active wear in various solid color tops, and some blouses in neutral subdued plaids. most everything works with pants or skirt. This makes getting dressed easy. Tops are in my color palette like teals, blues, greens, tans. Outerwear is in navy, tan, black and gray. Seldom wear jewelry, have very little. Things not worn at end of a season are donated. We have two seasons in the s.e.: warm and cooler

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