One Less Thing: Fashion Trends

It’s hard to believe now, but back in my early twenties, I was something of a fashionista. I had two closets full of clothes, and regularly browsed a number of fashion magazines (each fall, I eagerly awaited Vogue’s phonebook-size September issue). I spent far too much time, money, and effort dressing for some imaginary spotlight—embarrassing to admit, but true.

Fortunately, somewhere along the line I tired of the excess—the stuffed closets, the barely-worn clothes, the pieces that were “out” just months after I bought them. The whole endeavor seemed an exercise in futility and waste. So I called it quits on my fashion habit, and unloaded the vast majority of my wardrobe in a no-holds-barred eBay extravaganza.

It wasn’t easy emptying my closet of the designer pieces and vintage “finds” I’d so delighted in acquiring. I sold pieces I’d worn just once or twice for a fraction of what I’d paid for them. As I shipped out each item, I felt an incredible amount of guilt and anguish over the money I’d wasted; yet at the same time, I felt a flood of relief over ridding myself of the evidence.

Around the same time, I also became aware of the environmental impacts and human rights violations of the fashion industry—which effectively put the brakes on new purchases, particularly those of the trendy variety. To be honest, it was a relief to step off the fashion treadmill: I no longer knew, or cared, whether chunky knits were “in” for fall or peasant skirts were de rigeur for spring. Instead, I became interested in building a small wardrobe of quality, classic pieces that would stay in style and last as long as possible.

Want to join me in eliminating fashion trends from your minimalist life? Here’s what works for me:

1. Develop your personal style. Despite my lack of interest in fashion trends, I’m still too girly for jeans and a sweatshirt. My wardrobe consists mainly of dresses—I love the idea of a one-piece outfit, and can dress them up with hose and heels, or down with tights or leggings. In the summer, I live in simple shift dresses and ballet flats; in the winter, sweater dresses and boots. Season to season, I have no idea what’s in or out; I simply wear what flatters me and fits my lifestyle.

2. Don’t chase trends. Chasing trends does little more than part you from your money. In just a few months, that of-the-moment item will be yesterday’s news (and clutter in your closet). Even when such “fast fashion” is low-priced, it often comes with a high cost—namely, environmental degradation and sweatshop labor.

3. Don’t read fashion magazines. In this case, ignorance is bliss. Ads and fashion spreads are meant to make us feel deprived of the latest and greatest, and instill in us a fear we’ll be “left behind.” But when you have no clue what the “it” bag or shoe is this season, you feel no compulsion to acquire it. And guess what? The world doesn’t stop turning, and hardly anyone blinks an eye.

4. Realize you’re not in the spotlight. Unless you’re a celebrity or media figure, it’s doubtful anyone cares whether you’re wearing the latest designer outfit. And for those who have nothing better to do than judge you on your apparel—well, they’re probably not worth impressing.

5. Be aware of the impact. For me, guilt is an incredibly effective way to curb consumption. If buying a new outfit (that I don’t need) causes environmental harm, or involves someone suffering workplace abuse or dangerous conditions, I’d much rather go without. To the best of your ability, educate yourself on which brands use sweatshop labor or questionable ecological practices.

6. Think timeless. Stick to simple, classic pieces that always stay in style: a shift dress, black skirt, khaki trouser, white shirt, or wool coat can serve as a wardrobe staple for years (I’ve had some in my closet for a decade!). You’ll save cash, streamline your wardrobe, and never look dated.

7. Shop your closet. Despite your decluttering, your closet probably still holds some relics from years past. The bright side? When long skirts or animal prints come back into fashion, you may very well have an old favorite to pull out and wear.

I’m not against looking nice, and I certainly understand the desire to express one’s personality and creativity with clothing. However, I think that building a small collection of well-edited apparel is far more stylish than running out each season to purchase the pieces du jour.

What do you think? Do you have a passion for fashion, or are you blissfully unaware of the latest trends?

{If you’d like to learn more about minimalist living, please consider reading my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

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91 comments to One Less Thing: Fashion Trends

  • Gypsy

    I feel the need to add another comment. I don’t agree with the idea that you need fashion to express who you are – that is just a message we are bombarded with by the media. I mean, if we were all naked I don’t think we would have trouble telking each other apart. We are all so individual and unique without anything outside of ourselves. I think people would still figure out the type of people we are :) Who you are is expressed far better through your actions than some layer you put on the outside. That is only added to IMPRESS others. I know that I very rarely notice others clothes. What I remember is a kindness or a smile – or someone being a jerk. All the great spiritual leaders rarely mentioned clothing except for practicalities. It is their actions that are remembered. When I pass away I personally would much rather hear: “she was a kind, loving person who changed so many lives for the better” than “well, she always dressed well”. I also believe that it is SO much easier to focus on our outside than really look at who we are on the inside and work on that. On the other hand, I also believe we all have the right to truly enjoy life and the things we love and if it TRULY makes YOU happy than I say go for it! I just think for most people it comes down to trying to impress other people.

    • Tara

      “Who you are is expressed far better through your actions than some layer you put on the outside.”

      This is a good point. I wonder if people are putting more emphasis on fashion because it is so much easier to judge a person on outer appearances than it is to actually get to know the person. Clothes, like other status symbols, make it easy to classify people into categories without the troublesome burden of talking to them.

      I am reminded of a yoga clinic near me that offered classes at affordable prices. It was replaced by a high end clothing boutique that sold yoga pants for $100 and more. Clients would rather wear the symbols of exercise than actually doing it. Likewise, people use fashion to represent prestige, confidence, self-worth and self-expression, but I wonder, when they leave the mall and get the bills and see their overstuffed closets, do they actually feel any of those things?

    • Cindy

      Gypsy – you hit the nail on the head. I have a two closets full of clothes (one winter, one summer)that for each and every piece I bought, thought about how great I would look in that particular item and how others would view me. Total EGO! I have thousands of $$ in my closets for mere impression purposes!

      I am purging my closet now, and my real personality is simply jeans and Doc Martens or Converse gym shoes. The occasional heel. A couple pairs of boots. And lots of black. No one notices, and even if they did, so what? Do people say I dress well? Yes, they do. I’m known for it. But I would much rather, as you say, be known and remembered for my funky spirit and smile than for my funky ensembles and “she dressed well”.

      Thanks for really hitting it home and putting it perspective for me!

      Cindy

  • I don’t know…I agree with your points, yet I also agree with the “Devil” of “The Devil Wore (Wears?) Prada”–we are influenced by fashion trends in spite of ourselves. Shift dresses, ballet flats, leggings–all in fashion! Will you still be wearing these in 15 years? Only time will tell…and they be still be current then.

  • Gypsy

    I just don’t think I want to be the person who looks a little disfigured girl in the face and be the one to tell her that she is not good enough because her outsides don’t match her insides. And in fashion it is ALL about the outsides.Fashion only effects our lives because we allow it to. Everything we do effects how children grow up and think about themselves. It effects how other people think about themselves. Make sure your message is the one you want to send and the one you will be proud to think of one day when your outsides don’t match your insides. I for one want those around me to feel they are worth it if they don’t look (or can’t afford) to LOOK a certain way.

  • Caroline

    Yeah, the best we can do is look good in our clothes. Wear things that fit and suit our bodies. I definitely feel better when I look good, even if I’m wearing similar things a lot. Looking good is important to me because we all notice how we all look and it affects our interactions, whether we admit it or not!

  • I’ve made some rules for myself, when shopping for clothes (and deciding what to donate/take to the thrift store). It has to be one of “my colors.” (I’ve picked a limited palette so that everything goes together.) It has to support my evolving “capsule” wardrobe. It can’t require ironing or dry-cleaning. It has to fit me (this me right here, not some fictional me that has lost weight) perfectly, or be an easy fix. It has to suit my face and frame.

    This year, I bought some t-shirts and a summer shift dress. Oh, and some underwear. ;)

  • AnneDK

    Yes, there’s an environmental impact made by all the cheap clothes we buy and throw away.

    But there are also jobs for people to produce it, so how would they earn a living without that job?

    But even so, I am still trying to cut down on purchasing more clothes.

    • Mel

      I’m not an economics expert by an means, but my impression is that higher quality clothing takes more man-hours to produce. This extends all the way from growing better cotton to more careful finishing. So fewer clothes does not necessarily mean less labor, or even less money – just fewer natural resources used up in the process of getting there.

      That said, if the garment industry shrinks, people will find jobs elsewhere. It’s a painful transition, and best done slowly, but I don’t think we’re in any danger of a collapsing garment industry right now.

      Tl;dr: You don’t have to go buy stuff as some patriotic duty to support the economy. No matter how much they’d like to make you think that. :-) If you’re really concerned, send the extra money to a charity that helps the unemployed – it’ll do way more good there than in the hands of a megacorp!

  • Heather

    This is my downfall..clothes. I love them BUT I have learned to shop for style, comfort and durabality vice having 3 of the same shirts that I never wear. I am learning that I like a classic look with lots of bright color from certain stores. This has cut down on buying things I won’t wear. I do have to maintain a business professional wardrobe, as in suits and such things. NO casual wear for me but I am finding myself to be pickier and it’s working out quite nice. I tend to wear pants, a sleeveless floaty shirt underneath and a jacket. It gives me lots of option and I am very comfortable. I do buy the jacket/pants/skirt if that is an option as it tends to stretch my wardrobe even further. As home, it’s jeans, loose t-shirts, tops or tanks, flat or flip flops or boots and a baseball cap. : )

    I also have minimalized my jewelry. I wear the same stud diamond earrings or hoops, in silver and most of my jewelry involves my wedding ring, a big bracelet or bold necklace…only wearing one or the other. Again, this stretches my wardrobe a lot.

  • Ariel

    Thank you for posting again about wardrobe; I can never get enough of these posts! This one inspired me to get rid of even more things, some of which I’ve been keeping and not wearing for a decade, including my prom dress and a shirt of my grandma’s that looks terrible on me but has sentimental value. Now my little box of stored clothes is purely seasonal–no more hangers-on from the past! Feels good.

  • Lolly

    I was never into following trends, even when I look at fashion magazines and being in my early 20s. I guess I saw the clothes more as art than things I need to hang on myself. I haven’t bought any new clothes since February as a challenge and it hasn’t even been difficult and I don’t have any urges. If I don’t have an appropriate item of clothing, I have the advantage of borrowing my sisters’ as well.

    I know you don’t need clothes to express yourself but at the same time, we do judge people without even thinking though.

  • CMarie

    These points govern my mindset on clothing, too, but I find it very difficult to locate good quality items, regardless of whether I’m browsing in Target or Nordstroms. Clearly the industry focuses on producing “fasionable” items for a single season, and therefore don’t bother with good fabrics, strong stitching, and other attributes that distingush between made-to-last items and those that disintegrate after ten laundry cycles. Good for the industry, but terrible for the environment and women like me who are extremely dissatisfied with the lack of choices. I’m not happy about it, as even a minimalist like me needs some clothes :) But I feel like I’m always stuck with either walking out of stores empty handed or selecting the best of the worst.

  • GunB

    Same here, CMarie! It’s so difficult to find good quality, basic clothing, like women’s t-shirts/tops. I’d really like some tips on that!

    • Rebecca

      I love wearing L or XL men’s t-shirts , after cutting off most of the sleeves + round the neck . I also tun them inside-out because I like the texture of the seams to show . It creates a comfy , grungey , baggy off-the-shoulder look , and they match with most outfits .

      They are always a shade of dark blue ( my base colour ! ) + I limit myself to about 4 . I find women’s tops very constricting + I feel self conscious . I rebel against fashion + create my own .

      Love miss minimalist + often come here for decluttering inspiration .

  • holly

    Fashion magazines are by far my greatest weakness when it comes to reducing my consumption so I found this post very relevant. However, I feel that some of the comments take this issue quite seriously. The fashion industry is like any other business, it markets products to make money. I think it rather cheap to blame the industry for victimizing consumers, when it acts as any other business does. Additionally I do believe that fashion is an important form of expression; it has been for centuries. In history, clothing is symbolic, treasured. Yet much as anything in the modern era, the fashion tradition has been compromised by mass production, corporate corruption, and social irresponsibility.
    The clothes we choose carry certain connotations, can represent desired ideas, and project our taste. Indulging in fashion doesn’t mean supporting the industry. I have fun with my clothes by altering old pieces, only buying second-hand, and re-styling my mom’s old wardrobe. The people that spend excessively on clothes don’t have a problem because of their interest in fashion, they have a problem of materialism. As for judging people by their appearance I think we can all accept and get over this human impulse. We’re wired to make judgments from physical impressions (initially to pick a healthy mate)- this is where our notion of “beauty” originates. If we did not inherently value certain characteristics over others we would have no sense of beauty. Superficial, yes; breaking news? no.

  • GreyQueen

    I spent my youth sharing sewing-room space with student fashion designers; 8-12 hour days, and often on the weekends. I don’t like to speak badly of people but these women (and a few men) were some of the most vicious, judgemental, unpleasant individuals I have encountered in the whole my life – and I’m pushing 50. I was almost driven into a breakdown by the situation. I was cured of any desire to be fashionable by it.

    I haven’t got it down pat yet, but have realised that I tend to be in one of five environments; at my office job (low-level employee, smart-casual dress code) gardening (old trousers and shirts), indoors relaxing (yoga pants and stretchy tops), with friends at their homes (comfy casual) or out on activities (hiking etc so need practical weatherproof clothing).

    Other than this, I have one or two dressy items which are unremarkable enough to keep trotting out on the rare occasions I need to go somewhere “posh”, and that is all I need.

    Most people are not nearly as interested in us, including in our apparel, as we fondly imagine. So long as you are clean and tidy, you can quietly potter about your business and very few people will recall what you wear from one minute to another, never mind that you have been wearing that same garment for years. Once you truly internalise this, it will be a liberation.

    • Brian

      “Most people are not nearly as interested in us, including in our apparel, as we fondly imagine. So long as you are clean and tidy, you can quietly potter about your business and very few people will recall what you wear from one minute to another, never mind that you have been wearing that same garment for years. Once you truly internalise this, it will be a liberation.”

      You are so right, GreyQueen. From a guy’s perspective, a pair of smart jeans and either a plain white t-shirt or plain white long-sleeve shirt are three of the most classic items a guy can own. And, if all are neat, also one of the smartest combos!

  • Kat

    My fantasy self (and boy has life been easier once I realized I had a fantasy self) wants to look artistic/creative and wear floaty, long unstructured clothes. My real self wears tailored blazers/jackets, nice t-shirts, jeans and Converse gym shoes (currently in pink). As a larger curvy women floaty unstructured clothes makes me look like a pregnant elephant. Not a good look. I’ve limited my colors to berries, purples, turquoise and lime greens, no prints, only black and grey, 1 purse. I do need to figure out a *nice* outfit for when jeans won’t do. I can throw something together but never feel comfortable (and I look thrown together). I need to purchase a black or grey suit and a pair of comfortable black shoes. No heels, no pantyhose/tights, no ironing, no dry cleaning, nothing see-through, nothing skimpy/no bra straps showing. Above all it must be comfortable and flattering. I’m in my mid-40’s and haven’t been interested in fashion for years. Possibly because 20 years ago it wasn’t obtainable in larger sizes.

    • Charlotte

      I think we have the same fantasy self! Although I have the opposite problem in that I’m very small and look younger than I am, so these clothes make me look like a child who’s playing dress-up from their mother’s wardrobe. I also find I never seem to actually find shops selling these clothes in my size for reasonable prices that don’t go tooooo arty. Plus, in my real life I spend the week in corporate attire, and most of my free time relaxing, walking or exercising so I need (and have) a wardrobe of classic smart stuff and very simple sporty/casual/practical stuff that can be mixed together without looking like a lunatic. Lovely floaty outfit with trainers and waterproof jacket? Daft. Trainers and waterproof with a suit on the walk home / on the way to yoga class? Fine. With jeans and fleece at weekend? Fine.

  • PAULA

    I love this post! my favorite statement is to realize that we are not in the spotlight indeed! and how if someone really judges you for your apparel, they are def not worth impressing!
    Thanks, Francine!

  • […] post from Miss Minimalist ~ One less thing fashion trends shows the fashion industry in a certain light that some may not have given much thought […]

  • Brian

    Even us guys can fall into the fashion trap, too! (And that is EXACTLY what it is – a ‘trap’, by the fashion industry.)

    Over the years I have spent so much money trying to keep up-to-date in the fashion stakes and, like many people, have been guilty of the clothing in the wardrobe that still has the price tag on it, totally unworn! How ludicrous is that?

    Being now very familiar with Francine’s blog and books, I can now honestly say that almost everything I bought was for my “fantasy self”: the silk evening scarf that would be oh-so-smart at those black tie events I would go to; the blazer that would be essential for weekend casual events (despite already owning one very serviceable, timeless, navy blazer), etc. Worse, I would buy things just because they were on sale!!!

    As others have posted, I also felt incredibly guilty when I gave stuff to charity shops (because I had wasted so much money, not because the charity was going to benefit from selling the clothing, of course). We recently acquired a beautiful puppy and we now enjoy nothing more than taking her for walks, playing over the park in mud, or by the beach… all activities that require the most basic and durable of clothing!

    Naturally, I still need to be smart for work, but my two navy suits, five shirts and three ties suffice amply for that. I am still interested in fashion – although I find much of it laughable! – but I am no longer a slave to it.

  • Brenda

    Just read your book and now found your blog. Very freeing to change perspective on “things” that anchor us down. Just wanted to say whenever I read a fashion magazine a part of me always feels slightly gauche and inadequate: obviously exactly how advertisers want us to feel! I am encouraged to just stop “feeding the troll”!!!

  • sea grass

    great post and comments. Long time minimalist, I’ve always kept household items at the least necessary, gone to the library rather that purchase books, happily have no collections; traveling lightly through each day is the best sort of freedom. My aversion to clutter is a well worn joke in my family.
    The only area where I struggled was my clothing choices. Until three months ago, I spent money chasing a “look” (classic, tailored, sometimes stiff) so that I would appear well groomed and competent to other people. I’d come home from work, or dinner with friends – and immediately change into comfortable clothes, exhale and be back to myself.
    Finally figured out I can look just fine in my uniform: jeans, black pants, one knit skirt, and good quality tee shirts.a scarf dresses it up. (have 3–> in indigo, dove grey, and marled beige, white and blue).
    eveything cotton or linen.
    Now I’ve shopped my closet, donated the pastel sheath, the pencil skirt. what remains is my uniform–
    4 tees, 1 linen shirt, 1 jeans, 1 pants, 1 skirt, 2 cardigans = 10 item wardrobe -will only replace from here on.
    It’s done. Black, white. gray, and blue.

  • Tina

    I know this is an old post, but I still wanted to throw my two cents worth in, and hope you might see it! I was a plain dressing Mennonite, and now, due to a move, I’m a plain dressing Quaker. As a Mennonite, it is so wonderful and pretty easy (though my daughter claims I always take to much time picking out which apron and head covering to wear,lol) we do wear a ‘uniform’ so to speak, a cape dress. Women are not allowed to wear anything else. Mennonites are allowed to wear fabric that has small floral prints on it. The Amish also can only wear cape dresses, but they have to wear solid colored fabric and their aprons are either white or black. Though, I only own 1 black, and one white apron. So many mornings I think how nice it is not to have to mess with ‘what to wear today?’. I grab a dress, cotton slip, black socks, hair in a bun that is covered by my cap. No bad hair days either!! so easy, same thing, everyday. To save on money, I buy 3/4 sleeve dresses, and in the winter, I just wear a long sleeve under, or I have a grey sweater that I will wear instead for warmth. I own one black wool coat for cold weather and a grey shawl. I have three dresses.

  • Tina

    I get most of my clothes at rummage sales, thrift shops, and garage sales. Most of my jewelry is second hand beads which I restring. I love it when someone compliments me on something I’m wearing. I’ve been dressing like this for 40 years. When I worked in an office I bought solid colors and mixed and matched. Black, grey and brown go with almost everything. If navy blue is your neutral, fine. Basic shapes stay in style, like A-line skirts, long pants with no cuffs.

  • Tina

    We just came from a brunch and I was watching how some of the women were dressed. Most of the women were over 50 and had on jeans and some type of sweater over a shirt or long sleeved T.
    We sat at a table with a woman who was trying very hard to look like “Gigi”. She had on 2 very long scarves, 2 large imitation flower pins and lots of makeup. Luckily she was a tiny woman. I remember being invited to luncheons and women really dressed up, with dresses, heels and furs. Times have certainly changed.

  • India

    Okay, so this is an old post, but I felt the need for a semi pro-fashion comment. Fashion can be a beautiful, positive thing. I know when a see a women, especially an older woman, looking well dressed and nice, it makes me smile. It’s heartening to see that no matter what your age or size, you can still carry yourself with grace and beauty. Fashion is a small thing, of course, and not important. But it’s still lovely to see.

  • Tina

    I love to look at people and how they dress. No one I know wears one of a kind anything. I have a lot of earrings, but very few clothes. I wear basically black, navy and gray. I notice some people try very hard with expensive clothes and jewelry and some women wear cheap costume jewelry. My mom, was talking to her roommate in the nursing home about an outfit she wore in 1961. She spent hundreds of dollars on dresses and suits. I’ve never cared.

  • Tina

    I was looking for something red, white and blue to wear for July 4th and realized my T shirt said 2008. So I wore my earrings with the correct colors and got compliments. However, someone said my nails should reflect my social position!!!!I thought since they were clean and filed into ovals I was OK. I don’t like the whole polish thing because all those chemicals can’t be good for the environment, not even the stuff that takes the polish off.

  • Tina

    I’ve gone to a few black- tie weddings. My husband will not wear a tuxedo and I always wear the same black cocktail dress. I admired a purse at one wedding and was told it cost $7000. Some people believe they are walking the runway.

  • Tina

    We went to a fancy luncheon at a big downtown hotel. Most of the men wore shirts and ties and the women wore dressy slacks or dresses. We came in on the commuter train and then took a water taxi. I wore my black slacks, a shirt and a thin black cardigan and fit right in. Some people drove in from the suburbs and paid for parking which had to have cost a small fortune.

  • Dylan

    Black, white, gray, blue jeans, and a cream silk blouse.

    Like you, Francine, I lean towards dresses and skirts. Only because years ago, a guy I dated said I should wear dresses more often because I had great legs! I took him up on it and never looked back.

    And because I’m a sewist, throwing together a shift dress or an LBD takes about two hours tops.

    I was never a fashionista and because I could sew, I could avoid many of the fashion du jour styles that didn’t suit me anyway. I’ve pared down my wardrobe even more and it’s been so freeing. My closet rod is only about half full, and I must have donated about 15 pairs of shoes (why did I think I needed 15 DIFFERENT pairs of black shoes!) and put the four remaining pairs in see-thru shoe boxes.

    I think it was Oscar Wilde ?? who said “Fashion is so ugly it has to be changed every three months.”

    Keep it simple, keep it classic. We can never go wrong with that rule.

  • Tina

    I liked the keep it simple, keep it classic comment.

  • Tina

    My daughter in law is 6 feet tall and weighs maybe 130 lbs. I asked her once if she ever modeled professionally and she said she wore a size 10 and would have to lose 20 pounds to model. I’m 5’3″ tall and ever since she said that when I look at a fashion magazine I realize how unrealistic most fashions are. Most movie actresses are also much thinner than average women. Some of us would never look right in those gowns. I wear only classic styles and rely on accessories.

  • Patty

    Nearing 60 I want clothing, as in a GARMENT. Not fashion. I don’t want gauzy, see-through blouses cut down to there nor do I want to wear sequins on my butt. No, I don’t want to wear your ‘brand name’ emblazoned on my chest to advertise for you. Geeesh – Fashion smashion!!! BAAAAAAAAAAA & BOOOOOO!

    I want quality that can last thru more than 3 washings. Fabric selection must not be taught in design school any longer.

    I want classic cuts that wear for more than 1 season.

    I want solid colors that go with more than 1 thing.

    I am a woman (large bust included) that wants modesty that doesn’t show off all my assets, yet is still feminine. Buttons on tops need to be closer together.

    I want a quality bag and a quality shoe. I don’t want plastic ones that need to be replaced in 2 months of heavy use.

    I have asked myself many times when shopping ‘What would Jackie O wear?” It has stood me in good stead. She was a fashion icon when FASHION meant something more than ‘buy, wear once & toss’.

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