I tried a minimalist wardrobe and it transformed how I buy clothes.
I’ll tell you what. Using a minimalist wardrobe has absolutely transformed the way I treat and look at clothes. It has really changed the way I BUY clothes. And it isn’t so much about learning to love classics and basics that “go with everything” (which is what I thought when I started). It’s more about learning to use your wardrobe in ways that allow you to always be wearing something you like (or better yet – love).
I hate to admit this, but before I started this journey of simplifying my wardrobe, experimenting with wardrobe capsules, and trying out Project 333, I had a bad habit of buying clothes on impulse. I mean, I was always pretty good about not breaking my monthly budget by splurging on clothes, but I was terrible about just buying things on first sight without a second thought as to whether it was a piece I really would wear and love. And I have to say, in the past year to year-and-a-half, I’ve drastically changed the way I buy clothes.
5 Things a Minimalist Wardrobe Has Taught Me About Buying Clothes
1. Always try things on.
I HATE trying clothes on at the store. So, often what would happen is I would see a cute top or something and I’d just throw it in my cart and tell myself that I’d try it on at home and return it if I didn’t like it. Well, I also hate making random and otherwise unnecessary trips to the store to return clothes.
I would either try it on and decide to return it, but never actually do so, or I would never try it on until an occasion came up to wear it and I’d try it on quickly just to be sure it fit, ignoring comfort, throw it in the wash, and wear it for that one single occasion.
Now I have a rule to never buy something unless I’ve tried it on FIRST. And when I try on clothes in the store, I pay attention to how it feels to move (walk, sit, bend over, reach, sit on the floor – because I’m a mom 😉 ) in that item of clothing. I don’t buy anything that is uncomfortable.
I do make an exception for making online purchases. Because I do like shopping online, but obviously can’t try anything on before buying, I make a commitment to myself to try on the clothes as soon as they arrive and return them immediately if I end up not liking them. I write the ETA date in my calendar and pencil in a time to make a trip to the post office just in case. That way, if I end up not returning the purchase I end up with an unplanned opening in my schedule rather than an unplanned trip to squeeze in somewhere.
This is one of the reasons I really love Stitch Fix for enhancing my wardrobe. I can keep items for 3 days and try them on with clothing I already own before deciding if I want to make the purchase.
2. Only buy clothes that you are comfortable wearing.
I mentioned this already, but it is worth mentioning as a lesson/rule in itself. I can’t begin to count how many things I’ve purged from my wardrobe because I just couldn’t stand wearing them – no matter how cute or stylish they were. Even things that LOOK comfortable, sometimes just aren’t.
As a mom of two (soon to be three) kids 4 and under, I move around a lot. I sit on the floor, I crawl and bend and kneel, I lean over things and reach up for things, I pick people and things up. I can’t be comfortable in anything that restricts movement. So no matter how much I love the look of a nice, structured, button-down shirt, I just won’t ever wear one because they don’t allow me to move the way I need to.
I should clarify that I don’t mean we should all only wear sweats and t-shirts. Back when I worked a corporate job, I WAS comfortable wearing those button-down shirts. They weren’t what I’d call comfortable in the sense that I would wear one to sleep in, but I didn’t feel restricted in them. There isn’t a whole lot of range of motion that comes with sitting at a desk most of the day. And if I still worked a job like that, there would be a place in my wardrobe for different types of clothing that I don’t wear today.
I absolutely LOVE Agnes & Dora clothing because it is super comfortable and very stylish. And as a bonus, there are so many gorgeous styles, prints, and colors that are perfect for mix-and-match wardrobes.
3. Budget for buying one or two new items each season.
Even if your wardrobe is so simplified that you only wear t-shirts and jeans, you will inevitably want or need a new piece of clothing a couple of times throughout the year. Put it in your budget – and STICK TO IT (meaning don’t buy more than you budgeted for – it’s totally ok to buy less).
Clothes get worn out. Even when they don’t, your style changes over time. And if you are coming from a place of always buying the latest fashion, you will probably feel deprived if you don’t allow yourself to buy a new wardrobe piece or two each season.
A minimalist wardrobe isn’t about depriving yourself. It’s about having what you need and will actually wear and no more than that. My advice would be to make a rule that for every new piece of clothing you bring in, you have to let one go. Donate it, sell it, whatever. Just get rid of something. This will help keep your wardrobe under control and prevent an overflowing closet that’s full of clothing you don’t ever wear.
I love ThredUp for getting rid of gently used clothing. You can request a ‘clean out bag’ on their site and send them the items you don’t want. You’ll get a store credit you can use to shop for excellent condition secondhand clothes, or you can redeem for cash.
If you’re working on building your fall wardrobe, check out my 4 tips for building a fall wardrobe from your own closet (using clothing you already own)!
4. Highly trendy items often aren’t worth it.
When you only allow yourself to buy one or two new items each season, you start to think hard before you make that purchase. If something is SO trendy that you will probably only wear it for that one season, you are far less likely to buy it if it is the only thing you’ll buy for the next 3 months. Also, if you force yourself to let go of one clothing item for every one you buy, you’ll think long and hard before letting something in that you’ll only enjoy and use for less than a year.
And guess what? You will not miss it in three months.
If you want to enjoy the latest trend, find a low-cost, low-commitment way to do it. Find this year’s in-color in a scarf or necklace, rather than a pair of pants, for example.
Another great way to indulge in the hottest trends is to rent clothing. I’ve tried Le Tote for renting clothing with the option to buy at 50% off retail, and I had a great experience. This is a good way to keep your closet in check.
5. Higher price does not always equal higher quality.
Yes, there are instances where a higher priced item of clothing is more durable. But often times that is not the case. And when you use a minimalist wardrobe, you really begin to pay attention to quality.
Now, I will say that quality is a subjective term. What ‘quality’ means to me is clothing that is well-made, patterns match up nicely at seams, nice material is used, and the piece is durable enough to be worn frequently. To other people, quality may refer to the fashion design of a piece. In that case, higher price does usually mean better quality. But that’s not the definition I’m using.
My main experience that has taught me this lesson is in buying t-shirts. I bought a higher priced white t-shirt because I figured I would be wearing it a ton and it would be worth the extra cost to buy one that was a higher quality. The t-shirt was very soft and fit nicely. But the material started to become thin after just one season. I could have bought a t-shirt from Target that would have lasted me a couple of years.
(Edited to add: I recently purchased a solid white v-neck t-shirt from Pact and it’s fantastic. Great price, great quality, AND organic cotton! Check out my list of ethical brands for other ethically made and sustainably sourced clothing brands.)
Another experience I’ve had is with boots. I have a pair of boots that I paid $30 for (on sale + coupon) that are real leather, comfortable, and actually fit really well. They’ll last me a long time and I didn’t need to pay $200 for them.
The only caveat to this lesson is that there are hidden costs in inexpensive clothing and accessories. I mean the cost of the conditions in which the people who make them work and live. Also, consider the environmental costs of factories in places that don’t have strict regulations for protecting the environment. This is something I wrestle with personally. I hate the thought of supporting operations that don’t treat the earth and the people on it well. But the first step to making a difference is to reduce how much you consume, and a minimalist wardrobe is the best way to do that!
Have you tried a capsule/minimalist wardrobe yet? What lessons have you learned? Please share in the comments!