Extreme Minimalism: Wardrobe

Let’s wrap up the Extreme Minimalism series with a topic that’s always popular: clothing!

It’s been over a year since I wrote More Minimalist Wardrobe Musings. In that post, I asked, “So (laundry concerns aside), what if you could have one perfectly-comfortable, perfectly-designed outfit that you could wear everyday — and nobody cared, or ridiculed you for it? I’m not talking scrubs, or military dress, or a UPS uniform, but something you looked fabulous and felt great in. Would you want that?”

For me, the answer is an emphatic yes! Although I haven’t adopted one yet, I’m completely smitten with the idea of a uniform. I’ve given more thought to what would constitute my ideal ultra-minimalist wardrobe (ie. something I could pack in a tiny bag), and it would include the following:

1. Sleeveless or short-sleeve dress for warm weather.

2. Long-sleeve shirt that can layered under or over the dress for warmth.

3. One pair of pants (trousers for my British readers—don’t worry, I don’t plan on running around in my underwear!)

4. Lightweight but warm (and water-resistant) jacket for cooler weather.

For fabric, I like merino wool, as long as it’s ethically-sourced; it’s comfortable in a wide range of temperatures and easy to care for.

Before you call the fashion police on me, please note that I’m doing a thought experiment here on how little I’d need for a nomadic minimalist life–I’m certainly not suggesting that everyone ditch the contents of their closet and go to work in the same thing every day (though in the spirit of full disclosure, I’d be tempted to do so! :) ).

So that’s my clothing Holy Grail: a sort of modern day wandering monk, in merino wool and ballet flats instead of saffron robes and sandals. Pieces that can be layered for different climates, are versatile enough for a variety of activities, and can be laundered in a sink and hung to dry overnight.

What would your ultra-minimalist wardrobe look like?

{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.}

99 comments to Extreme Minimalism: Wardrobe

  • As Miss Minimalist said, ‘I do think such basics can look quite chic when dressed up with a colorful scarf’ Simple black outfits can be changed radically with a splash of colour like this, and really show off a a beautiful handmade corsage or a precious piece of vintage jewellery. Not sure if I’m brave enough to limit myself to three items of clothing with crazy Irish weather though! ;)

  • Laura

    Wow, this is weird, but I have those same icebreakers pics, plus more saved on my computer! I agree completely! I am at this moment building my merino wool wardrobe for the same reasons you listed. Besides those, it will be excellent when living on a boat because wool is one of the only fabric which gets warmer when wet, which doesn’t contribute to the hypothermia issue in cotton. Merino is a wonderful, comfortable and long lasting fabric. I’m really glad to hear I’m not the only one thinking of this!

  • RachelH

    I have never thought about my wardrobe in terms of uniform. I hate the word uniform! But…I live in a place where the weather is pretty chilly for 2/3 of the year and I have noticed, shall we say, my wardrobe “staple outfit.” (Can I please not say uniform? lol) During the chilly season, I usually wear a pair of jeans, tennis shoes, colored stretchy t-shirt (not baggy) and a snug, black zip-up sweater. I am not one bit fashionable, but this outfit is comfortable and makes me feel sleek and not frumpy. If it is warmer, I wear capri jeans and a tee; if it is colder, I add a coat and possibly snow boots. It suits my lifestyle, as a casual mommy of three.

    Since I have kind of decided that I am content with this wardrobe for the foreseeable future (with a few other pieces, obviously, for varied occasions), I am hoping to swap my clothes as they wear out, with higher quality ones that fit me particularly well.

    I agree with the commenter who said it is fine if everyone has a uniform, as long as everyone doesn’t wear the same one! I lived in a college town for far too long and I was so frustrated with everyone wearing the same flowing shirt dress with leggings and those funky tall boots…oh yes, and the exact same black North Face sweater. Ay ay ay! (No offense if you like to wear that outfit–I just can’t imagine that these hundreds of girls REALLY have the exact same taste in clothes.) Okay, I’ll get of my soapbox…

  • Jenifer

    That’s pretty much what my wardrobe does look like. It’s not merino wool, but I’m looking at making that transition.

    Right now, I wear yoga tights, yoga tank, and a dress or skirt/sweater over that. I wear vibrams rather than ballet flats (though I love ballet flats). Then I have jackets (one winter, one three season), scarves (3 pashmina).

    Then two pairs of jeans for weekends.

    Works well for my job — teaching yoga.

    • Jenifer

      It’s likely that you’d need two sets for the sake of cleanliness/smell. Merino is great — you don’t have to wash it often because it doesn’t hold odor *if* you let it air out long enough (usually 24 hrs).

      So, two sets is best.

      For myself, I have 5 “base” sets (tights/tanks), then 4 dresses, 2 skirts, 3 t-shirts (over the tank wearing), one cardigan sweater, two jeans. This basically covers 2 weeks of outfits, so I can definitely streamline it down. I’m thinking taking it down to 3/4 would be a good plan (plus then two jeans).

  • […] Starting with a “uniform”–the sort of uniform Francine speaks of in her article Extreme Minimalism: Wardrobe.  She offers the contents of her dream uniform.  Mine is a tad larger, but in essence, the same […]

  • I do this. White t-shirt and stockings, black skirt, black scarf, done.
    I have duplicates so I don’t have to do laundry every day.
    Sure, it does look dorky, I guess. Some days I hate the staple outfit, but my life has become a lot easier and I’m less tempted of shopping for clothes all the time.
    Doing and sorting the laundry is easier, dressing is faster, storing the clothes is easier.
    My friends are all absent-minded like I am but they are always behind on the laundry, huge stacks of clothing everywhere. This is one area of my life that works. My kitchen is also minimalised. I’m not uncluttered when it comes to hidden areas like office supplies and books yet, though. I think I should try to learn to understand the “modules” stuff better.

  • Lily

    I use the word “uniform” and apply the concept of uniformity all the time ! Not only for my daily wardrobe, including undergarms, but also every aspect of my household. Everything from clothing hangers to home fixtures ie window blinds, ceiling fans, even door knobs. I had been consciously proceeding on a minimalist lifestyle project for years now and it continues to be engaging, successful, satisfying and mentally/physically free-ing. Love you and your blog and will read your book. :)

  • Kit

    My ultimate favourite versatile fabric would probably be bamboo. When in the right weave, it don’t wrinkle too much, is very airy, but able to moderate temperature, and is resistant to bacteria and moulds. I also prefer bamboo clothing for darker colours, because it doesn’t fade nearly as fast as other natural fabrics like cotton or wool.

    Some of my favourite sites (aka the clothing I have been drooling over) are:




    http://www.homewerx.ca used to have clothing, not so much online.

    and of course tenthousandvillages.com …I go there if I really need a gift for someone.

  • Laurie Orr

    This would actually be the perfect work uniform for me. Being an ASL interpreter for the deaf this could actually work out quite well for me. Now I’m starting to wonder. Could I do it? Hmmm?

  • Tina

    I looked at these comments and remembered when someone said a few years ago “How do you have so many clothes?” I have 3 pairs of nice slacks and 3 dark cardigans and 6 plain shirts in grays and tans, I just mix and match and sometimes wear a big necklace or sometimes 2 or 3 bracelets. I look at what stores are showing and bring out my old jewelry in whatever color they show.
    Turquoise and silver is always good for summer, coral and silver is too, as is anything made of shells. For fall, wood tones or cats eye is nice or jade. Winter is always true red, blue, or emerald green. Pearls dress up any outfit.

  • Annie

    Hi Francine!

    Do you know where I could buy some good work clothes? Eco-friendly equivalents of Theory or LOFT perhaps?



    p.s. I live in Los Angeles if that makes a difference in your suggestions!

  • Rhonda

    I love the minimalism path. My wardrobe is all merino, and it is the most comfortable, versatile fabric that I have ever worn. I have 4 slacks, 2 long skirts, one knee length skirt, 5 long sleeve shirts, 2 short sleeve shirts, and one black wrap dress. These clothes all came from IBEX. My underwear and bras are from Icebreaker. My socks are Smartwool. My winter coat is from The Irish Store. These clothes get me anywhere that I need to go. I gently wash the ones that need washing, once per week, and lay them flat or just hang them back in my closet to dry…Done…and in style.

  • Tina

    I have never owned many clothes. I always liked navy or black. When I was in college, roommates tried to get me to go shopping but I hated it like I did as a girl. It is easy for me to have a minimal wardrobe.

  • Tina

    My dressy outfit is nice oxfords, nice dark slacks, a pullover shirt and a cardigan. In summer, the cardigan is cotton, in winter the cardigan is acrylic or a wool and acrylic mix. I wear jewelry which coordinates. I also have a shawl and a few large scarves I sometimes substitute for the cardigan.

  • Linnea

    Over the past year or so I’ve minimized my already small wardrobe to containing only a few pieces. Most days I wear a black dress with black leggings and a grey cardigan (with pockets, that’s very important), and when I dress up a bit I just wear a nicer black dress. I also have a few scarves I mix it up with so I won’t look the same every time I go out. I also have an extra dress, casual trousers, a tank-top and a blouse I wear when I want to mix it up. I’m really happy with having just a few pieces of clothing, and it’s as close to a “uniform” I’ll get :)

  • […] never been one to embrace fashion to begin with; as I’ve written in the past, I love the idea of a uniform. The fact that my entire wardrobe can fit in a suitcase gives me a great deal of joy (strange but […]

  • Tina

    I don’t own many clothes and never followed fashion. I like to be neat and clean and comfortable. I’ve noticed friends wear a lot of jewelry these days, big necklaces and lots of bracelets.

  • hope

    I love it. When I was in the airforce I loved having a uniform. At my last job we had the option to get polo shirts and I wore a polo shirt with dress pants or khakis everyday. Now my closet has about 5 pairs of pants and 10 shirts that can be interchanged for work without having to think about what i am going to wear

  • […] tv-series that always wore the same outfit, maybe mixing it up between seasons, and after reading Miss Minimalist’s post on the uniform the idea got even more compelling and I realized that it might even be doable. And last year I sort […]

  • […] tv-series that always wore the same outfit, maybe mixing it up between seasons, and after reading Miss Minimalist’s post on the uniform the idea got even more compelling and I realized that it might even be doable. And last year I sort […]

  • I help people declutter and organize as a fundraiser. They donate a sum of money to a charity and I help them sort clothes, papers, books, etc. I have noticed many people have far more clothes than they need. Like 20 pairs of sweatpants or 11 pairs of shorts. If you live in Chicago where we have 4 seasons, if you have access to laundry facilities, you don’t need more than 10 of anything, if that many. I just took another bag to Goodwill, because my husband had way too many T shirts. We also had more blankets than we needed.

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