Something minimalists obsess over — happily, because we can all learn from it — is their wardrobe. You can find any number of minimalist YouTube videos about "how many items in my wardrobe" and "my capsule wardrobe, und so weite.
In the last twenty years I have entirely changed my wardrobe several times, and its most prominent feature has been restlessness. Now, I am not proud of this; it has been neither entertaining nor cheap, and either one of those would have been useful.
I've watched so many videos trying to figure out how to get it right. I hope I'm edging my way there, but the word "finally" does not, in my case, seem to apply.
So this morning in the bath, where I do my thinking, it occurred to me that I need a set of criteria, of principles — not colour, not how many items, not season of the year; something different. The criteria should be very few, otherwise they'd only complicate and deepen the problem.
And these are the criteria I came up with:
To go through them.
Each garment that comes home to me should be suitable. For what?
It has to be suitable for my body as it is now (size, shape, posture, state of health, warmth/coolth and associated layering). It must be suitable for the things I do — being at home, going for walks, attending rare formal occasions, going out (once lockdown ends) on small cheerful excursions (cinema, restaurant, tea with friends etc). It also has to be suitable for my storage arrangements — a good rule of thumb is, once your closet or chest of drawers is full you need to get rid of some stuff. And my clothes must accord well with my own personality. This may sound obvious, but it's surprising how often this works the other way round, with me having to live up to the clothes.
Then there's integration. A minimalist capsule wardrobe (which is always my aim) should include the vital feature that everything goes with everything else. This applies to colours, fabrics, style (the personality of the clothes). The idea is to end up with a situation where you could get dressed in a hurry in the dark and still look presentable. The "Ah, yes, but of course I can't wear that top with these trousers) phenomenon should vanish. Even if you wear all neutral, a cold shade of grey can look awful with a warm beige. Black is either blue-based or brown-based (likewise grey), and one's clothing needs to take one role or the other. Same with fabrics. Natural fabrics and synthetics can be an awkward mix — not always, but you have to be careful on that.
Also, I want integration of use — nothing that hangs in the wardrobe most of the time and only comes out for a rare occasion. I want jackets I can wear every day, indoors or outdoors as temperature requires, that work perfectly well to speak at a formal event as well.
And finally — but this is crucial and it's one I have often got wrong — there's management. I don't want anything in my wardrobe that has to be dry-cleaned. I don't want anything that has to be ironed. I don't want anything that requires any kind of special treatment that makes me alter what I was going to do with my day anyway. No dangling sleeves that add to the chore washing dishes already is. No trailing hems that mean I come in from a dewy early-morning garden with soaking wet clothing. No skirts that stick to my tights and gradually rise up my legs while I'm walking down the street. No flappy skirts that fly up in mid and show my knickers.
In this last round of wardrobe re-invention, made necessary by health problems and connected weight loss, I've changed my colour scheme. Last summer, when I was a lot larger, I had a really lovely set of clothing in gold and green and brown and burnt red. Everything went with everything else. Like many of us in the Covid year I've had extra funerals to go to (some where I was the speaker or officiant), and this has concentrated my mind on colour choices. There are some formal occasions when only black or charcoal grey will do, and that works perfectly well for everyday too, which makes it the obvious choice for a minimalist wardrobe. So in re-stocking my stuff that's what I've gone for. I have some tops and a bag and some hankies in green from last year, and I'm going to dye them black. All new items in have been dark grey, black, beige and ivory. But some of them didn't work out.
So here are the items I'm moving on today, and here's why.
First, a sweater I got on eBay, a recent purchase (second-hand at a minimal price and modest postage).
I was so pleased with this when I got it. It's lovely to look at, it's snuggly and soft and warm, it suits me, it goes with all my clothes, the wide/loose rib means it's very flexible and drape, not stiff and bulky. It was in excellent condition — a lot of people sell their sweaters on eBay because they've washed them inappropriately and shrunk them. They sell them on as "tight knit". Ha! Yes, they are now. But this one was in as-new condition.
However, it proved to be a management fail, on two crucial counts. The first is that, being cream-coloured and having a high roll neck, it a) looked dirty very quickly —especially the cuffs, and b) picked up odours (eg the fried food I had for lunch) onto the collar, fast. So it needed washing more than most of my clothing. Unfortunately this integrated badly with the second problem — it has to be hand washed and takes forever to dry. I just washed it. Two days on the line in the sun and breeze on dry days. Two evenings when I put on the central heating (otherwise unnecessary) so it could drape it on a radiator, a night over the banister rail — and it's still not quite dry. Now, bearing in mind this is a winter sweater, so mostly it'll be for a time of year which is wet and foggy with short hours of light. look, this is no good. I need things that don't show the dirt, fling in the washing machine and dry fast. So it's going.
Then there's this grey top.
I was so pleased with this when I got it (second-hand on eBay) — a really nice Orvis top. I wash all my machine-washable clothes (which this is) on a fifteen-minute cool wash, minimal stress on the fabric. It very slightly shrunk. So, while it remains perfectly wearable it's lost some of its drape and flexibility and now it annoys the hell out of me, so it's going. Somebody will love it, but I no longer do.
Suitability, integration, management; those will be my criteria going forward. I might still need to make changes if I grow or shrink, but the things I've got now are all comfortably stretchy and soft (but not baggy), neutral in colour (unobtrusive and okay for formal settings), and easy to wash and dry. Let's see how it works out. Past experience has dented my optimism, but everything looks positive at the moment.