Today’s question comes from Rob:

“Peter, I have way too many clothes. How can I put together a minimal wardrobe that’s versatile for a bunch of situations? What’s the least amount of clothes I can get away with?”

Great question. But before I answer it, let’s address why you can have a hard time finding something to wear even if you have a closet packed with clothes.

Head’s up! I put together a FREE bonus for this post:
A minimalist wardrobe shopping list showing you EXACTLY what I bought for my own wardrobe, complete with links. Just click below to download it. 

HOW MOST MEN’S WARDROBES END UP A MESS

packedcloset750px

Does this sound familiar?

You wake up and need to get ready for work. You jump in the shower, then head to your bedroom and open your closet.

It’s full of clothes. You got wire, wooden and felt hangers tangled together. Shirts are mixed in-between jackets. Pants are on the floor.

“Fuck, I have nothing to wear.”

You pull out a bunch of outfits. Everything sucks. You try on a shirt. You hate it, so you take it off and try another one on.

Clothes are piling on your bed and now you’re running late. So you just put on the last thing you tried on and head to work.

“I just need new clothes.” you tell yourself.

After work, you head to the mall.

You’re stuck in a store for what seems to be hours, you decide on a couple of shirts so you can get out of there.

The next day, you wake up to the same cramped closet of clothes you hate.

You’re Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Stuck in your own personal hell of shitty clothes.

MORE CLOTHES ISN’T THE SOLUTION TO BAD STYLE

panicmodeshopping

Two things are happening here:

  1. There’s a good reason why you can stare at your closet full of clothes and not find anything to wear. It’s called the paradox of choice. That is, the more options you have, the less likely you are to make a choice. Have you ever gone to a restaurant with a huge menu and it took you FOREVER to decide what to eat? That’s the paradox of choice working against you
  2. Shopping for clothes out of frustration is a huge mistake. I see it so often that I’ve even given it a name. I call it “Panic Mode Shopping”. When you shop out of frustration, you’re going to make some poor choices. When you’re starving and have nothing to eat at home, what do you do? Are you heading over to Whole Foods and buying some lean chicken breasts and kale? Hell no, you’re pulling up to that McDonald’s drive thru and getting that Big Mac meal. (And a McChicken too, please)

In fact, buying more bad clothes is just going to make the Paradox of Choice problem WORSE.

WHY GREAT STYLE ALWAYS STARTS WITH FEWER  CLOTHES, NOT MORE

When I work with my 1-on-1 clients, the first thing I always do is purge their closets in order to rebuild it.

It’s like a nutritionist going through your fridge and cupboards and tossing out all the junk food.

We want to make room for the RIGHT stuff. And just like proper nutrition, there are certain guidelines a great minimalist wardrobe needs to adhere to:

  • Versatility Pieces will need to do double or triple duty. We can’t have special use items (like a tuxedo) in a minimalist wardrobe.
  • Solid, neutral colors As I mentioned previously, the foundation of an amazing wardrobe are solid neutral colors like black, navy, white, and khaki. No graphics, no logos, no unique patterns. It’s easier to get away with wearing similar outfits if people think you have 5 solid white t-shirts. Even if you decide to buy 5 of the same graphic t-shirt, people are going to start wondering if you shower.
  • Appropriateness Minimalist wardrobes still need to be appropriate for your lifestyle. You can’t decide to be a minimalist and only wear a white t-shirt and shorts if your job requires a blazer.
  • Quality When you build a minimalist wardrobe, it pays to invest more in higher quality clothes, especially items that you’ll be wearing back-to-back like jackets and shoes.

With these rules in mind, here’s an example of a solid minimalist wardrobe:

THE MINIMALIST WARDROBE

 

minimalist wardrobe

The secret to planning your minimalist wardrobe isn’t how many pieces you’ll have, it’s how often you’d like to do laundry.

I’ve designed wardrobes that could fit in a backpack for my clients who are digital nomads. This requires them to wash their clothes every 1-2 days. While this is ideal for someone hopping from city to city every week, it’s not realistic for most guys who find themselves planted in one location.

Assuming you do laundry once a week, here’s what I recommend for a starting minimalist wardrobe:

14 pieces (not counting the socks and underwear)

  • 2 Jackets (1 blazer, 1 casual)
  • 8 tops (a mixture of t-shirts, polos, button-ups and henleys)
  • 2 pants (1 pair of chinos, 1 pair of dark wash denim)
  • 8 pairs of underwear
  • 8 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of boots
  • 1 pair of classic white sneakers

Here’s a breakdown of the wardrobe:

  • We want multiples of items we shouldn’t wear twice in a row You know, the stuff that gets funky fast, like shirts, underwear, and socks. 1 for each day, plus a buffer.
  • Plan for our laziness In a perfect world, we do laundry every 7 days on schedule. But some weeks I get lazy, and I’m sure I’m not alone. That’s why instead of 7 days worth of clothes (6 days + what you wear on laundry day), we’re stocking 8 days as a “laziness buffer”.
  • Not counting accessories Accessories, like bags, pocket squares, and sunglasses, are purely optional but offer an easy way to add an interesting element to your outfit without taking a lot of closet space.

Let’s take a look at this wardrobe in action. Here’s one week worth of outfits using these 14 pieces:

minimalist outfits

As you can see, it’s not about having a TON of clothes to have great style, it’s about stocking your closet with the few, select, right ones.

A blazer is a great versatile jacket as it can be dressed up with a collared shirt and chinos for business casual environments, and dressed down with a t-shirt and jeans.

If you work in a more casual environment, a leather jacket is a great casual jacket option. Err on the conservative side and go for a café racer style jacket, which is a bit more versatile than something like a double rider.

The rest of the minimal wardrobe is rounded out with neutral colored classics, like a solid blue pair of jeans, white t-shirts, and my favorite button-up shirt of all time, the chambray shirt.

Depending on your lifestyle and needs, your minimalist wardrobe might lean more casual or more formal. Whatever the case, if you follow the basic recommendations for the 14-piece wardrobe above, you’ll have a closet that’s 10x more stylish with 10x fewer clothes.

THE PROS AND CONS OF A MINIMALIST WARDROBE

Before you start getting rid of everything in your closet, it’s important to note that a minimalist wardrobe isn’t without its faults. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of going minimal:

minimal wardrobe pros and cons

GET STARTED TODAY BY PURGING YOUR CLOSET OF CLOTHES YOU NEVER WEAR

closet-purge
Recent Essential Man client’s epic purge

Here’s the amazing thing, there’s a good chance you can create your starter minimalist wardrobe without having to buy a single new piece of clothing. You probably wear the same few outfits and pieces on most occasions without even realizing it.

HERE’S WHAT YOU SHOULD DO NEXT: DOWNLOAD MY FREE BONUS GUIDE “THE MINIMALIST WARDROBE SHOPPING LIST”

I put together a free bonus for this post: A minimalist wardrobe shopping list showing you exactly what I would buy for my own minimalist wardrobe, complete with links.

I’ve not only included the exact pieces I bought for my wardrobe, I also threw in alternatives to fit almost every budget, so you can look amazing and minimize your closet without breaking the bank.

Just click below to download it.

peter@theessentialman.com'
Author

Hi, I'm Peter. I spent 11 years as a menswear designer here in NYC. Now, I help some of the most successful men look really good as a Private Personal Stylist and writer of The Essential Man. You can learn more about what I do by clicking here

  • 3 shirts, 7 pullovers, 1 jacket and 1 suit.

    • Thanks for the post Peter !

    • Peter Nguyen

      7 pullovers! nice edit!

  • Pingback: A stylist explains how to create the perfect minimalist wardrobe — Quartz()

  • HP

    I was looking exactly for an article like this as a starting point. Started over at Style GF and then headed here.

    What’s spurring me to shift to a more minimalist wardrobe is… just bought a house, and in ways my wife and I are downsizing. Shifting from a 2 BR/2 BA apartment rental, to a 2 BR/1 BA home with plans to grow our family means being smarter about everything, including storage space!

    Work is business casual, but I have been known to throw on a tie (or even a bowtie) or a blazer/sportcoat to mix things up. Usual go-to is chinos paired with a button down. I struggle with ties, because a majority of what I own are dressier silk ties that don’t go with chinos.

    I keep a couple different blazers/sportcoats on hand (I have 6: Year round: Navy Blue; Fall/Winter: black/white herringbone, brown/green tweed; Summer: Seersucker type jacket… and two velvet ones I keep around just because (one brown, one black). I also have 3 suits in the closet: Navy, Dark gray, light gray.

    I actually only own two pairs of jeans: one dark wash blue, another gray.

    I own about a million different jackets though … and like 5 different puffer vests…

    Did an initial purge, but me thinks I will have to do another when we actually move. Right now, most of our stuff is packed up for the impending move, and it’s making me realize I don’t *need* all the clothes I have… but I *like* having it…

  • Graeme

    The template could probably do with including pullovers or sweatshirts, so maybe two or three mid layer pieces. I see Alexander added these in his comments.

    I’d also suggest having another pair or two of shoes. They tend to last longer if they aren’t worn a couple of days in a row.

    Even so, you’re probably looking at a twenty item wardrobe, which is still pretty minimal.

  • Craig Drake

    Hey Peter what is your advice on tucked/untucked shirts. For instance on Sunday or Tuesday outfits. Any rules for this?