Whenever I’m asked about my clothes, I joke that I wear basically the same thing every day. But it turns out that even after years of saying that (and sharing that I had just one bra for many years on the blog), a whole bunch of people freaked out when they saw the hanging bar in my closet on Instagram recently. I got FLOODED with DMs about my sparse mostly black wardrobe. One person even said that seeing my closet was, and I quote: “the wildest thing they’ve seen on the internet in 2018.” That’s quite the statement considering 2018 also gave us Gritty.
To clarify I don’t actually wear the same items of clothing every day on repeat – I just have a fairly small number of clothes that I love and wear all the time – all of which are pretty similar in color/style/silhouette – which I lovingly call “my uniform.” Think Steve Jobs or Michael Kors… except with fewer turtlenecks and less of that billionaire vibe.
I’m not doing laundry any more frequently than anyone else (we do it once a week around here, which I think is pretty average), so it’s just about having enough outfits that you love to get you from laundry day to laundry day (whether they need to be warm, or dressy, or whatever works for your life) without having a ton of extra stuff that’s in the way of the things that you actually wear.
So if you’re tired of drawers and closets that are overflowing, or you love the idea of a more minimal wardrobe full of things you love – and less money spent on clothing excess – then this post is for you. There are definitely people with even fewer clothes, and folks who have other methods for paring down, but I’m just gonna lay out what works for me. And if you’re a wardrobe maximalist who loves having tons of clothes and a bunch of different looks and you ADORE your extensive wardrobe, then this post is not for you (do whatever works for you, boo! I’m ALL FOR THAT!).
Ok, so my plan is just to take you through my closet and all of my drawers, talk you through my process/formula for keeping my wardrobe minimal, and show you how I can create a bunch of outfits (from casual to dressy and from warm weather to cold weather) from a pretty pared down number of tops and bottoms that I lovingly refer to as: “my uniform.”
And it bears mentioning that even if you have a completely different dress code for your profession, or if you hate the way I dress and the colors/styles/silhouettes that I wear, this is a formula. So you can plug in your favorite silhouettes and colors and everything else that YOU love to make this work for you!
Closet Video Tour
Let’s kick this puppy off with a video tour. I know you have questions (I vividly remember all those DMs I got on Instagram), but pictures are worth 1,000 words, and a video is worth 1,000 pictures. So I’m walking you through my closet and opening all of my drawers (and John’s – haha!) to show you exactly what I have and how I store it along with sharing a little bit more about why/how it works for me. Note: if you can’t see the video below and are reading this post in a feed reader, you might have to click through to the original post to see it. We also uploaded it here on YouTube.
Update: Got a few questions about where my painting clothes are since you saw John’s in the video, but I have a very *strange* method that we’ve actually shared in the archives. I paint with my PJs on inside out. You can see my tags sticking out in all their glory in this old post from 2011. Never said I was normal, guys!
Ok, so now that you’ve seen where everything is, and heard me talk a little bit about my uniform, let’s dive a little deeper. I’m just gonna answer things Q&A style for you below.
How Does A “Uniform” Work?
I’m not talking about a school uniform where your closet is filled with dozens of identical skirts and polos here, but it is almost like finding your own personal “dress code” – meaning the cuts, colors, and styles that you love the most and feel great in. Because if you find something that works, it makes sense that it’s going to be the thing that you’ll reach for and wear a whole lot more than everything else. So why not take a second to figure out why it works and why you love it so much so you can love every last item in your closet that much?! Sounds good, right?
That’s the core idea behind my “uniform” – just figuring out what you love and stopping the vicious cycle of buying other things to stay “on trend” or for the sake of “variety” or to “look different” and then realizing months later that you never wear them because they don’t make you feel as good or you don’t like the cut or the color nearly as much as your tried and true favorites. And the amazing thing is that once you truly understand why you like what you like, you can stand in a store or the dressing room and eliminate clothing that doesn’t fit within that criteria without much effort or thought! You can literally stop the cycle of buying yet another thing that you won’t really love AND you can keep your closet and drawers from filling up with unnecessary extras. Plus you get to keep a little more cash in your wallet.
I don’t think there’s just one magic wardrobe number that works for everyone (someone who goes to the gym every day or lives on a farm or does a team sport may have a need for more laundry/clothing than someone who doesn’t) but I’ll show you my “uniforms” in a second, just to serve as an example. Oh and I say “uniforms” with an S because there can be different ones for different seasons and occasions, like casual weekend uniforms, workout uniforms, work uniforms, etc. And the key is just to figure out how many of those you actually need and not have double or triple that amount all squeezed into your drawers and falling all over the floor of your closet. And did I mention you can save that money? I did? Ok, good. Just making sure.
So don’t tell yourself that just because you work in an office and have to dress up, or because you live in a colder climate that you can’t have a simpler closet. It’s not true!! I dressed myself with this method all the way back in NYC when I had an office job that necessitated me dressing up all the time. And this was in a colder climate where I walked city streets and stood on frigid subway platforms – so I definitely needed all the layering I could get. Why does it still work, even if you have to dress up or add a coat and a scarf and a hat? Because in the end, this is all math, GLORIOUS MATH!
What Exact Items Are In My “Uniform”?
If you’ve followed us for any amount of time, you probably already know my uniform. Black v-neck tops. Jeans. Black scoop neck tanks. Denim shorts. Blazers. Leather or suede jackets. More blazers. And a black dress or two to round things out. It has become kind of a joke, because you guys keep seeing me in a blazer at basically every speaking event or book signing. But here’s the thing: it’s not an accident. Because it’s the way I dress. It has become my uniform for those sorts of things – because I like the way they feel and look on me. And I actually reach for them in my closet and wear them (yesssssss) so I know they don’t sit around wasting space. And therefore I love these items. They work hard for me, make me feel good, and earn their space in my closet.
Six years of living in New York City instilled my love of black, and while I do branch out occasionally (I’ve been known to get wild and throw some navy or olive green in here and there) I’ve learned over the years that when I deviate and buy something in a brighter color, I rarely end up wearing it regularly because – well – I always have other options in my closet that I like better. And guess what? They’re black. It was something I had to realize over time, but ever since I embraced my love of black and stopped trying to make myself wear other colors that I ultimately didn’t wear because I didn’t like them as much (vicious cycle, much?!), two things have happened: 1) I feel GOOD in my clothes. Like all the time. There’s zero clothing drama for me when I get dressed. 2) I’ve stopped wasting money and time buying items I’ll probably just return or donate later. It’s freeing!
top: Old Navy but no longer sold / jeans / heels
I’ve also learned over the years that most of my favorite tops are a little more fitted than the average loose fitting cut, because it helps my 5’2″ body look a little less amorphous – like I’m wearing a potato sack. This realization makes it easy to pass over anything with a drapey look in the store – no matter how glamorous it looks on the mannequin or some long torsoed girl in the fitting room.
Same thing with shorts. I buy short shorts, because I’m petite and when I have tried buying longer shorts, they make me look frumpy, like I’m going golfing or something. And then I’d give those shorts the stink eye for wasting space in my drawer and eventually donate them. But the realization that shorter shorts work better for my body has been freeing. I no longer waste time or money buying longer shorts “just for variety” or to have “something different” because they don’t look as good on me – so duh, of course I won’t wear them as much and they’ll eventually end up in the donate pile!
Same thing with a certain cut of jeans or something. It’s easy to fall for the marketing that says “this bellbottom highwater pant that ends at your shin is the new cool thing!” but I gotta tell ya… it might not be something you actually like or feel good in. So I’m not saying blanketly that you should avoid all trends, but before you go to the store, just look through your clothes and see what you don’t wear – then figure out why. If you pull out one pair of jeans with a different cut that you bought “just to be different” but you never wear them because you don’t like how they look as much as every other pair you have, it’s a whole lot easier to dodge the urge to do that very same thing in the dressing room the next time around.
So let’s say you get to this point and you’re like “uh, but all of your clothes are black. That is so boring. I would die.” Yes, my clothes are mostly black. But this works with all the colors of the rainbow (and all styles and all body types). If you pull out your very favorite outfits from your closet – just the things you actually wear and love – and lay them on the bed, I’m betting they might have some things in common. Even if there are a bunch of different colored items on the bed. I would bet there are still some colors that come up more because you love how you look and feel in them. And you might also notice some trends with cut/silhouette, because chances are if a certain cut of jeans makes you feel your best, it may also be your favorite cut of dress pants. And you might have a few blazers or jackets with similar shapes that hit your body at just the right spot or something. Things are your favorite for a reason, right!?
I’m also a big fan of layering. It’s how I made it work in NYC while working in an agency where I had to get dressed up without even having a dresser in my apartment. That’s right, I had one small and narrow closet and that was it. So I taught myself to layer things. Five shirts that can be layered under five different jackets or blazers = 25 different combinations!!! I mean, how awesome is that math?! And if you add a few different pairs of shoes and some fun jewelry to switch out too, it’s a whole lot of looks without having a whole lot of things. Did I just have five of each thing? No, that would probably feel a little tight – but I probably had under 10 tops that I layered with maybe 7 blazers/jackets/cardigans and then had maybe 5 options for bottoms (jeans if I didn’t have to present that day, and black pants if I did).
The funny thing is that my current “typical uniform” of a black top + denim bottom is that it replicates exactly what I did in NYC when I worked in an office – it’s just a little less dressy. So I can easily transition between summer and winter just by layering – which is exactly what I did back then. When it gets cold I just swap my denim shorts or skirt for skinny jeans, and I throw a jacket right over my black summer tank (maybe a black leather jacket or a crisp blazer or an olive green faux suede jacket). It can even go from casual to somewhat-dressy (like a date night) because I can toss on some cute heels and big earrings and I’m ready to go!
jeans / black tank / green faux suede jacket / leopard heels
How To Pare Down Your Closet
Now I’m not in a position to tell you what YOUR uniform should look like, but one super easy tip for figuring yours out is to do what I touched on a little earlier in this section. Just pull all of your very favorite outfits out – the ones you love and wear all the time – and lay them on your bed. Then count them. You might literally have enough right there to take you from laundry day to laundry day. If so: congrats! That is your uniform! Right there on the bed! The rest is excess and it can be shoved into a big tupperware bin or two and stashed in the attic or garage. Just see if you even need those items at all. This is the training wheels method – if you need something you can take it back out – but if you don’t miss it and this helps to show you that it’s just dead weight in your closet or your drawers, it feels amazing to consign or donate that extra fluff and just have a wardrobe you LOVE and actually wear!
Ok, but say you only have like five outfits on the bed and you need more than that to get you from laundry day to laundry day. The next step would be to try to identify the common threads, because you need more clothes that make you feel this way. Is it a certain color or color family that you notice when you stare at the winning clothes on the bed? Maybe it’s four favorite colors and tones instead of just one like me? Is it a certain cut? Maybe a fitted silhouette in general or a more voluminous skirt if you feel your best in something fun and swingy? Do a bunch of your favorite outfits follow the same “formula” – maybe a wrap dress with a cardigan and a cute colorful flat? Try to boil things down as much as you can so you have as much direction as you can moving forward. Try not to just say “I like boho stuff” or “anything at Anne Taylor!” because that won’t help you as much as a more detailed set of parameters will.
Calculating Your Closet Needs
Again, this isn’t about hitting a certain fixed number or quota in my closet, but I do find that thinking about this in numbers is helpful – especially just in illustrating why a lot of us have too many pieces in our closets and drawers. The basic idea is to have enough items to get you from one laundry day to the next, with a few – but not too many – extras (you know, in case you spill OJ down your shirt or you run a bit behind on washing a load).
We do laundry about once per week in our household, so I have 10 “bottoms” in my wardrobe to cover those 7 days: 4 pairs of jeans, 4 pairs of shorts, 1 skirt, and 1 pair of yoga pants (I also have a few dresses for dressier occasions). And no, I’m not wearing shorts in the winter to get from laundry day to laundry day – I just don’t wash my denim after each wear because I’m a rule follower and it’s not recommended (don’t torture your jeans, guys!). So 4 pairs of jeans or 4 pairs of denim shorts easily last me 7 days if I wear a few of them twice before tossing them into the hamper. Nobody has ever told me that I smell, and children are VERY honest, so I feel good about this.
Ok, so now forget about me and think about all the different uniforms YOU might need for your lifestyle, whatever that may be – like for work or exercising – and actually add up in your head how many of those outfits you’ll need to get you through to your next laundry day. Keep that number in mind. Next, peek into your closet and drawers and just look at the actual number of things you have. If you count 25 t-shirts and tanks for summer, I’d guess that you probably wear your favorite 10-ish tops on repeat from laundry day to laundry day, and the other 15 items stay shoved wherever they always live, just taking up space because you have so many other items that you like more. If that is the case – just keep your 10 favorites and put the rest into the tupperware bin. You can do this. It’s not permanent. It’s just to see if you really do miss them or need them.
The same logic applies to any part of your uniform. Why own 6 bathing suits if you only rotate between the 2 that you like best?! John recently realized he had 8 running shirts in his drawer but was only wearing 3 each week, washing them, and repeating that. This realization not only helped him get rid of those space-stealing extras (he still kept a couple back-ups) but it reminded him that he doesn’t need to buy any more when he’s standing there in the store staring at them. Win-win.
And for anyone who worries that just having a small number of favorite staples (aka: a uniform) might make you look like you’re wearing the exact same thing every day – it definitely doesn’t have to. Even with my very limited palette, I put together this little visual to show you how easy it is to layer things and change accessories to really switch things up. YAY PERMUTATIONS! I TOLD YOU THIS WAS MATH!
So those are some of the combinations I can make out of a few of my favorite items in my closet. Note that there are 10 different outfits in the image above – and they’re all made from just 4 different tops, 6 bottoms, and 2 dresses (the patterned skirt-looking-thing is a dress that feels too crazy for me, so I layer a tank over it to make it look like a skirt).
I love this demonstration because at first thought you might say… “Ok so if I want to have 10 work outfits and 7 causal outfits to get me from laundry day to laundry day comfortably with some wiggle room, that means I need 17 bottoms and 17 tops.” But wait! That’s bad math! Think about how you rewear your denim and maybe even a blazer if you don’t feel like it got too dirty – and then think about how many combo moves you can make by layering things in different ways! Remember that the 10 outfits above are made from just 12 pieces – not the 20+ you might initially think would be needed if you just assumed you’d need different bottoms and tops every single day.
Am I rewearing those black tanks between washes? Nope! So it does bear mentioning that I love those so much, and I wear them so often, that I have three of them. They’re inexpensive and so versatile and they stay looking crisp and fresh that way. So occasionally purchasing multiples of something that you wear a ton can be an awesome way to keep it looking nice long-term and allow yourself to wear it in a few different ways throughout the week.
A Few Other Reasons We Buy Stuff We Don’t Wear
A big part of my method is just being honest with myself about what I actually wear day in and day out, and then being willing to let go of the rest of the stuff that’s taking up space. I know a lot of us hold onto clothes that we think that we’ll wear for some future hypothetical occasion or circumstance (“aspirational wardrobe” is what I call it – it’s when you buy some item for some imaginary very glamorous event but you never actually wear it because this is real life and not the Sims, so you don’t actually go to those types of events). So sometimes that’s what gets us into this overcrowded closet situation.
It also might be a good deal that tips the scales for you (“ooh these are so cheap, I can’t say no! I’ve gotta have them even though I have 15 shirts I like better BECAUSE THESE ARE TWO DOLLARS!”). Or it could be this idea that buying a certain thing will make you more stylish or pulled together (but then you never actually wear it because it turns out you wear/love super comfy clothes and that item that looks more pulled together is way less comfy than your soft and cozy favorites, so…).
What About That One Super Colorful Thing In Your Closet?
See this colorful dress? I know, it’s kind of hilarious next to everything else in my closet. But it fills a need, and I wear it often enough to warrant it staying. Why do I have it? Well, it’s kind of like my one fake uniform. I like how I look and feel in black, but every few months or so we need to give someone a bio picture or get dressed up for a photoshoot (like for our furniture line for example) and this dress comes with me. All black in a picture can look like a big dark hole amongst an otherwise fun and colorful shot, so I literally bought this dress from J. Crew Outlet a few years ago just for photos. Life is weird, huh?!
But we might all have strange wardrobe guidelines. Mine might be weirder than yours, but I’m sharing this because the instinct might be to tell yourself “hey I have this weird part of my life and I need some outfits for that, so I should probably grab like 10” – but in reality, I don’t need 10 colorful “fake uniforms” – one does the trick. So I have one.
Shopping Tip: Protect Your Closet GPA
Here’s another way to think about paring down your closet: you want to maintain a high closet GPA (grade point average). This is how I’ve been thinking about my closet for YEARS, and it really helps me avoid impulse purchases. Imagine giving every item of clothing that you already own a grade that’s based on how much you like it AND actually wear it. The things you wear all the time and love are As. Wahoo – working towards that perfect 4.0 average.
But that random yellow sweater you picked up on a whim or because it was on sale, and have only worn once… well that stinker is closer to D or F territory. IT IS BRINGING DOWN YOUR ENTIRE CLOSET’S GPA. You want your closet to be filled with your very favorite and most wearable items – so when you’re out shopping, think to yourself “is this new shirt better than all the other shirts I already have, so it’ll bring up my average – or do I love everything I have more than this shirt? Because if the latter is the case, that bad boy is gonna bring down your GPA – and ain’t nobody got time for that.
I think in general we tend to overcomplicate our clothing needs – and stores are constantly telling us we need something new, different, and trendy in order to look better or live a happier life or whatever story they’re trying to tell you when you see those people dashing across the street and hailing a cab in the commercials. Once I got really really happy with my clothes (they make me feel good! I love everything in my closet!) that’s like armor against all of those temptations to buy the newest and trendiest clothing and accessories.
You Don’t Have To Be Minimal Everywhere
I’m not a minimalist in every stretch of the word, though! So here’s a caveat to help you embrace whatever items you might actually not want to pare down at all. This minimal wardrobe of mine is about making my life easier and making me happy – it’s not about deprivation! AT ALL! So take my earrings for example. I probably have over 20 pairs of big fun earrings along with some classic studs and other jewelry like a few bracelets, a watch, a few necklaces.
That might be a lot to you!! You might not even have one pair of big dangly earrings. But for me, they’re part of my uniform – just like blazers and black tanks. So I embrace the fact that I have this many. I’m totally cool with it, and I don’t beat myself up. Incidentally, I think my love of them grew in NYC when I had no space for lots of clothes but I could always fit a few more earrings in my tiny apartment! Ha!
Does Owning Less Cause More Wear?
I got a lot of questions about how my clothes hold up if I’m wearing and washing each item more often. I see how someone could jump to that conclusion, but… drumroll please… I’m just washing things once a week like everyone else. Everything you wear, you launder it every 7 days or so, on average, right? And you probably wear your favorite 10 or so outfits and then you launder them. Well same for me! I just don’t have that extra stuff hanging between each item or shoved into the back of the drawer.
Since I have fewer items, I’m encouraged to take better care of them. Things aren’t getting shoved or crammed onto a rod or into a drawer, and they’re not sitting crumpled somewhere because I don’t have space. I hesitate to say they’re “precious” (I do most of my shopping at places like Old Navy and Target) but when I have fewer backup items, I’m more inclined to take the time to get stains out, fix missing buttons, or follow the proper care instructions with the things I do own.
In fact, I am SUPER NICE to my stuff because my uniforms work hard for me. I like to wash everything in cold water (helps to lock in colors/black), I wash denim and black things inside out (helps with fading), and I always do a gentle wash and a tumble dry low (nothing too harsh for my babies, I mean clothes). I also always try to put laundry away right after it’s done, so I’m not losing track of piles of clothes and then rewashing them because I’m not sure if they’re clean or dirty – which is definitely something that my friends with more clothes say happens to them.
I have blazers and jackets and tops and jeans that I’ve owned for three or even over five years… so it’s not like I’m rebuying this “minimal wardrobe” every season or even every year. Most of my staples work for at least a few years, although I do buy a few multiples of inexpensive items (like my black tanks) so they stay looking fresher for longer.
How I Combine My Outfits
This is pretty self-explanatory, so I’m not gonna linger on it too much (and your closet favorites might look completely different than mine do), but seeing how I switch out shoes and jewelry and purses or some other thing below might just help the whole “permutations” thing click into place in your head, so here we go…
These are examples of what I might wear on a date night or to a work meeting or something. You can see the “uniform” in total effect here. Both outfits are skinny pants + a fitted tank + a jacket (blazer on the right, leather jacket on the left). I like to play around with shoes and jewelry, so that helps to add a little something extra for me, and I’m good to go.
Left: jeans / heels / similar top / leather jacket
Right: jeans / shoes / striped tank / blazer / necklace / watch
This is another example of what I might wear if I want to be slightly dressier for a holiday gathering or some sort of dinner out or party or something. Once again it’s skinnies on the bottom, a fitted top, and some big earrings and fun shoes. I like a simple black clutch too (hi, have you met me? I like simple black accessories). One funny thing I didn’t even realize until I took these photos is that I also like nude and leopard in my shoes along with black.
Left: jeans / heels / top / black clutch / earrings
Right: jeans / leopard flats / top / green jacket / similar earrings / black clutch
This is an example of what I might wear in the summer to a super casual something (on the right) and a slightly less casual something else (on the left). Oh and to everyone who asked what I walk in (because I’ve been doing these awesome long walks over lunch or after bedtime) and the answer is: whatever outfit I wear that day + sneakers or even flip flops in the summer. I can’t stress how chill these walks are (there’s no sweatband and sprinting, these are delightful strolls) so as long as I have deodorant on, I’m good.
Left: skirt / similar shoes / striped tank / clutch / earrings
Right: shorts / sandals / tank / similar earrings /similar sunglasses
Here are some more summer casual “uniforms” I wear all the time. It may shock you to learn that my everyday purse is this tan crossbody bag (WHAT, IT’S NOT BLACK?!?!), but the reason I love it is because I’m almost always wearing black, so I like that it adds something interesting with another color and goes with everything.
Left: shorts / sandals / striped tank /similar sunglasses
Right: shorts / sandals / tank / earrings / similar purse /similar sunglasses
If I want to dress up a little for some reason (or no reason – I once wore the long black dress on the right to an ice cream parlor with the kids) these might be what I wear. I mentioned before that the left outfit looks like it’s made up of a patterned skirt and a tank but it’s actually a dress that feels way too crazy to me when it’s worn that way but I LOVE it with a black tank layered over it. Once again I add cute shoes and some big earrings and either of these outfits have me out the door in minutes. Isn’t it funny that they have the same silhouette too? Creature of habit right here ;)
Left: dress / tank / similar shoes / similar earrings
Right: dress / leopard flats / earrings / similar purse / similar sunglasses
Got Any Tips For Minimizing Kids Clothing?
There are lots of tricks for determining what you or your kids actually wear, versus what you think you wear. Like turning all of the hangers in one direction and then turning them around once an item is worn. The theory is that after a couple of weeks or months you can see exactly what didn’t get touched. You can also move everything to one side of your hanging rod and move it back once it has been worn. Any version of that works well for hanging clothes, but lots of us – especially kids – store big chunks of their wardrobe in drawers. BUT I HAVE A SOLUTION!
You just have to do one simple thing each week for a few weeks in a row. Ready for it? Just look in their drawers and at their hanging bar on laundry day. That means the things they love most and have already worn are all in the hamper, so they’ve sort of naturally selected their favorites for you – but instead of putting them on the bed they’re all nicely coralled in the hamper.
So with their favorites pulled out of the fray, go through their drawers and their hanging bar and take note of what’s left. If you do this for a few weeks in a row, you’ll start to notice a theme. Certain items never leave the drawer. A few things might always get shoved in the back of the closet or balled up on the floor. VOILA – there is your excess! Put that in a tupperware bin and see if you ever even need it again! And if you don’t, gleefully donate or consign it. And then remember what those “space wasters” were when you’re standing in the store about to buy another outfit for them – just to be sure you’re not repeating some pattern of thinking they’ll wear some item when in actuality they never do.
Whew. Ok, that’s 5,688 words and I’m feeling ready to call this turkey of a post done. I hope this was helpful in some way if you’re looking for ways to simplify the clothing situation in your house.
Psst – If you’re looking for more on this subject, here’s an old post I wrote about my clothing, here’s an awesome book called Simplicity Parenting that talks about decision fatigue and simplifying our homes in general (it totally changed my life and I’ve read it 3 times), and here’s a podcast we did with an amazing man named Matt who worked on the show Hoarders, and has some pretty enlightening and kind things to say about paring down. Also Katie Bower did a post about her one-rack wardrobe yesterday, which was a fun read too!
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