Minimalist Wardrobe: The Power of Accessories

I’ve noticed something funny. I can wear an ensemble that someone has seen me in multiple times; yet if I pair it with a scarf, unique necklace, or interesting pair of earrings, they’ll invariably comment on my “new outfit.”

Such is the power of accessories. They freshen up an “old” look in no time flat, and better yet, demand very little storage space. (I’m focusing mainly on scarves and jewelry here, as handbags take up *too much* storage space and merit a post unto themselves.) Guys, I imagine this is how ties function for you, as I’d have a hard time telling if you wore the same suit five days in a row; the tie, however, I would notice.

I hate having an overstuffed closet, and over the years have pared my wardrobe down to the essentials. The pieces are rather classic, and consist mainly of bottoms (pants and skirts) in black and gray, a handful of dresses, and tops in subtle colors (burgundy, slate blue, eggplant, etc.).

However, I’m kind of “girly” and crave a bit of novelty every now and then. Instead of filling my closet with trendy pieces, I’ve been able to satisfy that craving with the occasional accessory purchase. My indulgences are usually handmade jewelry and silk scarves from Etsy. Both take up precious little space, but add an interesting touch to my wardrobe basics.

It’s also a great strategy for packing light. When I travel, I tend to wear the same outfit two or three times. I’ll bring a scarf or two, however, to alter the “look.” They weigh next to nothing, instantly dress up whatever I’m wearing, and are infinitely easier to transport than another change of clothes.

Does anyone else use a similar strategy to stretch a minimal wardrobe?

38 comments to Minimalist Wardrobe: The Power of Accessories

  • I live (almost) every day in a white tee shirt. I’m also a big fan of scarves for this reason, they make my plain ol’ tee look new. I find long necklaces to be equally useful. They’re lightweight, don’t take up much room, and “fancify” me instantly.

    One other wardrobe piece that helps me stay minimal: The Jacket. I always have 2 or 3 dressier jackets – in various seasonal weights – that pull me together. I make sure they have pockets, too, for stashing money/keys.

    I think people sometimes equate minimalism with being unfashionable, but I’ve never been as chic as I am today. Less really can be more.

  • I have a very simple wardrobe as well. I love to use jewelry, scarves and a great coat and shoes to update an outfit.

  • Heather

    My uniform for around the house or out to the grocery store is a white t-shirt and black yoga pants. I can change around my look with my shoes and accessories. Sometimes it’s a string of pearls and ballet type flat shoes or a pink scarf and my funky winter boots. I think accessories let me express my own take on something so simple.

    • miss minimalist

      Absolutely, Heather, I think such accessories help us put a personal stamp on our wardrobes – without needing a closet full of different outfits!

  • Queen Lucia

    I also get comments about my new outfits and have a reputation as a fashionista, although I doubtless have fewer clothes, and shop far less, than most people making the comments! My wardrobe is pretty basic and inexpensive, but I am picky about style and fit, so I tend not to wear things that are sloppy looking, shapeless or look “thrown on” – my basic style is consistent, classic and suited to my body shape which helps a few clothes go a long way.

    My accessory of choice is vintage jewelry, especially large rings. I recently decided that since I don’t collect things and keep my home pretty minimal, it was OK for me to add to my collection a little bit at a time and still be a minimalist! How boring would life be without a few accessories?

    • miss minimalist

      Thanks for your comment, Queen Lucia. Like you, I prefer more tailored, fitted clothes – and I’m also a fan of vintage jewelry!

  • Sara

    My “uniform” is usually Converse Sneakers, a Longchamp bag and a stripy top eg Petit Bateau. I do have a “thing” for handbags and am taking a break from looking at them, buying them and generally drooling over them. I wear the same jewellry, silver baubble earrings and drop pearls. I think I spice things up by changing my makeup colours and rotating my bags and shoes. I am probably not very minimal….. well not YET!

    • miss minimalist

      Hi Sara! Taking a break from buying handbags is certainly a step in the minimalist direction. :-) Rotating makeup, bags, and shoes is a great way to spice things up without buying more clothes!

  • Hmmm . . .in my case, I manage to combine simplicity with unfashionable–but even if I tried to complicate things, I’d probably remain unfashionable anyway. I think keeping it simple is probably better for the fashion challenged. Luckily, I don’t, and never have had to, dress professionally. I basically have pants in neutral tones (denim, green, gray, brown, black) I make sure that any time I get a new shirt or sweater it will match at least 2-3 pairs of my pants–the more the better. I do have three scarves. . .mostly to keep my neck warm. Having three means I can wear a scarf that will ‘go’ with whatever else I happen to be wearing. And all my clothes ‘go’ with the same few ultra-comfortable pairs of shoes. I actually wear the exact same outfit several days in a row–in France, you can get away with this more easily than in the States.

  • Michelle

    Wow, I really need to take this post to heart! I think I broke the runner (if that’s what they’re called?) on one of the drawers in my wardrobe over the weekend, trying to cram more stuff in (and I can’t reach the stuff at the back, so who knows what’s in there!?). Argh.

  • I completely agree with this article. As a student, I can’t afford to go buying new things all the time but feel bad going into class all the time in the same old outfits. I have several scarves, bags and cardigans I use to shake up some outfits that I have been wearing for several years and people still seem to be commenting on my ‘new clothes’.

  • JMK

    For the office at least 3 or 4 days a week I wear my favourite black pants and depending on the season a black cap sleeve T, 3/4 sleeve T or turtle neck. If it’s cold or for a change I sometimes add a cardigan, jacket of wrap. I have about 8 wraps in everything from sensible grey to shocking fusia apple green. Add some bold silver earings, a funky watch and I’m good to go. Even my hair is minimalist. I wear it short and spiky. If I have to get out a blowdryer I know it’s time for a haircut. I usually let it dry while I dress then add the gel to spike and I’m done.

    Outside the office my uniform is a white button down collar shirt, jeans, black belt and boots.

    Because everything goes together I take very little when I travel and haven’t checked a bag in 15yrs. We took the kids to Europe (Italy, Greece Germany) for a month last summer and we each took one carry on bag. We did laundry at the end of each week and I think we still took too much. We even hauled dress clothes along as 12 of the 30 days were on a cruise and there were 2 formal nights. DH also had to work for 4 days in Munich so he managed to pack a jacket, 2 ties, 2 shirts and dress pants plus his regular vacation clothes.

    • miss minimalist

      Hi JMK! Ooh, love the wrap idea… :-) Great to hear from a fellow light packer; I’m with you, carry-on is the best way to travel!

  • […] Minimalist Wardrobe: The Power of Accessories […]

  • kat

    I don’t own many scarves, and only wear a few pieces of jewelery that are gifts from my family, so I have a different way of spicing things up:

    I own a small stack of black tees and longsleeves (my base colour), some jeans (black and blue) and and a small stack of very carefully picked tanks and camis in different colours or bold patterns (eight in number, I just counted). If I want to look memorable I usually wear one of these, either alone, over or under a wide cut tshirt or long sleeve. Also I have shoes in similar colours to match the tops.

    My “colours” are green, blue and old-pink. Limiting stuff to these three colours helps against accumulating more and more stuff to have color matching outfits. I also do the one-in one-out philosophy.

  • […] Minimalist Wardrobe: The Power of Accessories: I’ve noticed something funny. I can wear an ensemble that someone has seen me in multiple times; yet if I pair it with a scarf, unique necklace, or interesting pair of earrings, they’ll invariably comment on my “new outfit.” Such is the power of accessories. They freshen up an “old” look in no time flat, and better yet, demand very little storage space…{read more} […]

  • Since October I’ve been doing a version of the 6-piece wardrobe, trying to focus on a few pieces in constant rotation. I actually started with 15, and what I found was that I was neither bored, nor did anyone comment on my wearing the same things all the time, and I could do a lot with accessories. I have been an accessory hound all my life: scarves, wraps, shoes, and jewelry. Using black and navy as basics, all the colors I use mix and match well with both. Since October I have given away 1/3 of my wardrobe, since I now know which pieces I don’t wear or need. The experiment enabled me to lighten my closet as well as my dressing routine.

  • ElizMc

    I have long and short sleeved t-shirts in neutral colors, along with sweater sets. I can always mix and match those. I try to stay in similar color families so there are no odd balls out there. I keep my jewelry rather simple and most of it is in silver or white gold. I’ve taken to doing with my accessories what I do in my closet. If I have a difficult time parting with something, I hang the item backwards in the closet. If the hanger is still backwards in six months, out it goes. With accessories, I put them in a small box and if I haven’t returned them to their natural home in six month, out they go. The exception are family heirloom items.

  • twila

    I enjoy your articles .I am a minimalist by nature but did not discover that until my finances changed after a divorce and retirement.My Mother would make me upset when she gave away clothes that we were not wearing .But now I do the same thing .I have had many compliments on the way that I dress I own 6 pr of black pants ,6 long sleeved sweaters 3 vests ,the vests are a real change to an outfit, 2 short sleeved sweaters that are great for more dress up and 4 skirts. This is my winter wardrobe along with 4 scarves and 3 bags .I also have 1 long coat 1 short and 1 rain/windbreaker .I wear all my clothes fitted .It helps that I am a seamstress,I add pretty vintage buttons,if it fits the sweater.

  • Carol

    Hi, I was wondering how you would store and organize your jewelry? Thank you!

  • Secret Squirrel

    I’m the same as Simple In France, I have several base colours – I couldn’t just have one base colour- I like variety.

    Most of my clothes, shoes and bags ‘go’ with each other, but sometimes I deliberately like parts of my outfit to clash. You can still have lots of colour in a very minimal wardrobe! I have less clothes than my husband. My big thing is scarves- tying them different ways, and also layering clothes for different looks.

  • tammy

    I LOVE YOUR TIPS on DRESSING FOR WHAT YOU LOVE. You dont need tons of shoes, jeans, pants, etc,. You need basics. I Want those things ONLY In my life. I am moving toward the Mad Men Look, which I have longed for SIMPLE and Classic, this plays right with that time of 50-60’s Branches over into living a minimalist life as well for only keeping things you love. That has been the hardest right now.I ASK, BUT WHAT IF I GIVE THIS AWAY AND I NEED IT FOR A GIFT, WHAT IF I NEED THIS LATER and HAVE TO BUY ONE.

    I really could use your tips as I travel with my Career and I need clothes that are CLASSY and I can mix and match and not alot of ironing. I always OVERPACK. I have that fear again. WHAT IF I NEED THIS OR THAT THING? Any help?

  • Kathryn Fenner

    @ tammy–

    You can find suits made of microfiber or other travel-friendly fabrics–Lands End has some in their Commuter line, Jones New York usually has a few–you may need to go on their website, Talbot’s, sometimes J Crew, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic. Frankly, one dark suit with several different scarves, and camis/tanks/t-shirts/blouses underneath can look like a different outfit easily enough–refresh it with a spritz of cheap vodka if need be. If you want more variety, choose two suits in coordinating fabrics, and you get four completely different looks. Add third jacket or bottom–maybe a texture or menswear pattern, and you have six! –If I did the math right ;)

    Most men who dress for conservative jobs I know travel with just clean shirts and a few ties–they wear their dark suit on the trip–their wool suits are just hung on hangers in the bathroom while they shower and look great!

  • Caroline

    I just did laundry and realized my closet could stand another round of purging! Loading up on accessories rather than clothes would be a much better idea. I think wearing the same outfits over and over really requires excellent fit and quality though. No point in being frumpy, minimalist or not :P

  • jackie s

    im new to your blog, and was wondering where you buy your tops? im looking for high quality essential tops, that will last, but still look chic and simple.

  • I read through everyone’s comments like wild fire! Such great ideas.
    My favorite accessory that’s newer to me is knee high / thigh high socks.
    They are warmer (I’m in Seattle) and add a bit of something.
    My favorite colors are cream with a tan cuff or slouchy gray ones. They do with everything!

  • jeannie

    My base is pair of skinny jeans, the sleeveless little black dress, pair of black jeans, black leotard (long sleeve, scoop neck, classic ballet style), black knee length skirt (very full but on a fitted yoke), dark blue striped tee (long sleeve, bateau neck), short black fitted jacket. I add in white classic men’s V neck underwear shirt (heavy weight and fairly small in fit), a couple of tank/camisoles, tights, socks etc. Black Ariat paddock boots (never go out of style), pair of black ballet flats. I don’t wear much jewelry – a couple of gold bangles and small earring hoops which I wear every day, a few other pieces. I have a pile of silk skarves, mostly floral but also some graphics/vintage, and super colorful, different sizes. They can be belts, neck skarves, headbands, bracelets, a quick halter top, a makeshift shawl – depending on size and need. I have one black purse, although I do keep a small envelope for dress up things. This combination of things can look completely different from one day to the next – everything from boho-chic to urban euro to Amelie-charming – the leotard and the short lace up paddock boots are the essentials, and the flirty knee length skirt. For me, the skirt has to be black because the style of it is so noticeable that otherwise repetition would be very obvious – and I think that’s key. You can have some odd pieces as long as they pull their weight. And yes, I am also “girly” – definitely – and I like to be a little eccentric but without any fuss.

  • Tina

    Loved the comments. Here in Chicago, we need clothing for all seasons. I get a lot of hand-me-downs. And wear everything for years and years.

  • Tina

    I own 2 pairs of black slacks and 2 pairs of nice jeans. 6 short sleeve tops and 4 cardigans. 1 black dress. I save old T shirts to wear under sweatshirts in the winter, or for sleeping. I have a cape and some scarves. Lots of jewelry. Once, years ago, I made a chart and found I could make 15 or 20 different combinations of outfits. I think a lot of people feel they are dressing to walk the runway or for a photo shoot. Most of the time, if you wear one interesting piece of jewelry or one conversation piece accessory that’s all you need.

  • Tina

    I just gave away a bag of clothes and a pile of books. I went through my jewelry and found some heavy bracelets I had never worn. We were on a cruise for 8 days and I took a carryon and never repeated an outfit. I bought some earrings for 50 cents a pair and then used a small pliers so they weren’t so heavy. Large earrings are something I enjoy but not when they drive me crazy.

  • Tina

    It was getting hard for me to find the small fabric purses I like to carry so last time I bought 2 of the same purse in different fabrics. I carried the first one everywhere for about 2 years and it was looking kind of worn so now I am on the second one. Next time I find another purse I like at a good price I will again buy 2. Before this I had carried a camera bag for a while because I couldn’t find a black small purse I liked with a sturdy strap.

  • Tina

    I have always looked office casual. Easy to do when you stick to navy blue and black as your neutrals. A little gray, a little red, some gunmetal blue and you’re set. I never wear patterns, only solid colors.

  • We go on a cruise every year and we each take a carry on bag and a tote bag. We take public transportation and don’t check luggage. We bring 2 pairs of slacks, 4-5 tops, underwear, a cardigan sweater, a sweatshirt, and wear a windbreaker. We each bring 1 pair of dressy shoes. We’ve seen people with huge suitcases for a 10 day cruise. I bring 2 pairs of dressy earrings and 3 beaded necklaces. Nothing expensive. We see people in evening gowns, tuxedoes and other red carpet wear and wonder who they are dressing up for.

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