Minimalism, Consumerism, and Satisfaction
In 2015 I read a post promoting, at the time, a new-wave minimalist movement, declaring “eight reasons why successful people are choosing to wear the same thing every day” (consequently, the title). The featured image displayed a casual female donned in a beige buttoned jacket and dark pants, with her dark, medium-length hair loosed down on her shoulders, and thick-framed glasses perched on the bridge of her nose. Let’s be real, this basically describes me (see the photographic proof).
Upon seeing myself in the post’s image, I was hooked. Yes. Tell me what successful people who resemble me are choosing for their lives.
What a Minimalist Wardrobe Offers
The article explained why we should save ourselves the time, energy, money, and stress of having too many threads packed into our closets and opt for capsule wardrobes instead. With a capsule wardrobe, or an even more minimal approach — wearing the same ensemble every day like a comic protagonist — we could reduce our decision fatigue and feelings of excess while increasing our confidence and peace of mind.
Citing successful people like Barack Obama and Matilda Kahl, the article told me that I, too, could save my precious resources for more important matters than my clothing.
Initially, my desire for self-improvement enflamed radically at the idea of wearing one iconic look. I want to be a successful woman in a killer outfit like a superhero.
Further reading, consideration, and, ultimately, a decidedly failed test period of six months in one outfit distanced my position from the author’s minimalist enthusiasm. In the article, the writer positioned me, the reader, to see this minimalist decision as the way to success. In real life, though, I made a pretty “minimalist” move because I wasn’t buying it.
The Value of a Normative Modern Wardrobe
For me, clothing is a form of self-expression. Everyday fashion is nonverbal communication at peak performance. As a linguist who nerds out about social semiotics, I think clothing choices in any given person’s social context say a little bit of, well, everything about them in a digestible, visual-aid-type capsule.
Counter to what the post from 2015 suggests, selecting an outfit can be a meditative escape from life. It is a similar experience to driving alone or taking a bath. In a more intimate setting (i.e. me, alone with myself and my closet), with time to ponder and some helpful creative devices (i.e. a bounty of clothing and accessories) my best book ideas spring into my mind and character development emerges from just the image of polka-dot blazer and some fierce dual-color 1940s heels. My closet transforms into a childlike space where I play dress-up and pretend to be anyone, making critical connections between unrelated concepts that help me finish a calculus equation or write a thesis.
It is an intentional exercise that builds mental resilience. Sure, there are definitely bloated, chronic illness days where I don’t put in effort. But there are so many other days where I do. One of my favorite challenges is to see how much form+function I can pack into one outfit out of a myriad of choices. The same choices that could give decision fatigue also strengthens my decision-making “muscles.” I make decisions faster when those mental connections are regularly exercised and ready for a challenge.
When I attempted the single-outfit, or superhero wardrobe, I noticed that wearing the same thing made me feel stuck. I couldn’t be creative and free with the items. I couldn’t cut, sew, band-up, or trade clothes with friends. I already said that our outfits are forms of self-expression. But I think clothes also open a world to dive into, allowing us to create new iterations of characters from within us with each new day. Clothes provide a way for us to be creative-and-funky, or cool-and-minimal, or anything.
A single outfit worn day-after-day may capture the one-dimensional essence of a fictional character or the image of a president or superstar, but I don’t think one outfit does justice to a multifaceted human or their needs. I mean, what would happen when former President Obama decided to play basketball or workout? I think he would have looked and felt a bit ridiculous and uncomfortable in his staple “presidential” suit. Gym clothes give us — even the president – flexibility that a suit simply isn’t designed to.
Further still, clothes get dirty, torn, and degraded in all kinds of ways. I don’t know about you, but I wear my clothes. Like, I really wear them. I wear clothing when I eat and when I work, I wear them when I go to the gym, I wear them rock climbing or while randomly running. Big shock, I even wear clothes when playing with my dog. I live my life, and I live it in the clothes I wear. After worn, those clothes get washed and re-washed. Sometimes my clothes tear and rip: like when I wear stockings and read books at the same time, invariably earning new rips and runs in my tights. During the 6 months I attempted a single-outfit look, I had to repurchase my sturdy (AKA, expensive) staple pieces any time one of them bit the dust, instead of just diving into my closet for new threads — even with the four sets I maintained for convenience.
The Ultimate Goal
All this, and my 30 pairs of shoes acquired after my superhero wardrobe attempt, said… I think that minimal wardrobes serve a great purpose if you feel too busy, overwhelmed, rushed, stressed, or consumer-y. They reduce the noise, free you to focus on what matters to you, and sanctify the wardrobe a bit. However, the minimal wardrobe itself is not the goal.
The goal of a minimalist wardrobe is contentment: appreciating what you have and using your time well. If reducing the clutter enables you to do this, go for it! For me, a full wardrobe enables a creative, mindful, confident approach to every day, and minimalism reminds me to appreciate the gift of fashion. I find that capsule wardrobes are a great happy medium between consuming and minimizing.
As an avid eco-freak, I think I like a lot of the environmental impacts of a minimalist lifestyle — even beyond the closet. I shied away from the 2015 article’s perspectives on a minimalist wardrobe, but I do think we would benefit from reduced consumerism. However, it took awhile for me to find balance in my closet between minimalist worship and consumerist lust. In an act of divine intervention, my partner, David, gave me the book Sustainable Home: Practical projects, tips, and advice for maintaining a more eco-friendly household by Christine Liu. Among many admirable sustainable living methods, Liu suggests a starter capsule wardrobe for women.
While this capsule allows flexibility, I found that it didn’t stand up to the neurotic Oklahoma weather changes or my personal fashion goals. I needed to customize it to my lifestyle and Christine provided a lot of neat tricks (and grace) to do just that.
Nix the Button-Ups
For starters, I personally hate button-up shirts other than over-sized flannels. I have a larger ribcage and am “well-endowed” as my mom reminds me. I have only ever found 2 button up shirts I feel presentable in, and even then I can only wear them on a “confident” day. So, I replaced some of the suggested button-ups with simple, nice blouses.
The Best Time to Wear ANY SWEATER …
On the flip side, I feel like I cannot live (especially in OKC) without a cardigan in each of my standard colors (tan, grey, black, white, and dark green) because indoor-outdoor temperatures contrast with one another too greatly for my arthritic body to handle with dignity. Plus, the right outfit can be worn five different times with five different cardigans, and that’s pretty minimalist, right … ?
I Am Passionate, Not Obsessed
Okay, that sub-heading is not true. I am shoe obsessed, so I could only reduce my shoe collection down to 1 pair of black and brown leather sandals, an open-toed pair of nude heels, a closed-toed pair of nude heels (for various weather occasions), dark brown vintage heels with a lace (my tallest pair), black tennis shoes, navy suede booties with heels, and black suede casual booties. All of these have excellent arch support to help with my aches, are in prime condition, and will last a few more years at the very least. Still, with seven pairs of shoes, I sometimes feel simultaneous consumerist guilt and expressive limitation in my shoe choice regarding color, style, and utter lack of Converses. (What is the plural of Converse? Just, “Converse?” “Maybe, Conversi?”)
Leggings Are Not Pants
Christine Liu is a zero-waste minimalist, so I would put money on the fact that she does Yoga, but she didn’t once mention leggings. How does a person live without leggings, you ask? Beats me. Leggings may not be pants, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need them pretty much every day of my life. I kept a casual 4 pairs because they take up very little space, work well with long shirts, and keep my legs extra warm under my jeans and dresses.
Two is the New Four
Speaking of dresses, I narrowed down my sizable (literally half of my previous swollen wardrobe) collection of beautiful, unique, expressive dresses to only 4 remaining contenders. Proudly, I weighed my options between the four [if you must know, a flowing, knee-length spaghetti-strapped “little black dress” that I feel sexy in no matter how much I eat; a curvaceous, fitted, short-sleeved, knee-length yellow and white lily printed dress with a navy and white striped background; a knee-length, cloth-belted, olive-white-nude-and-black psychedelic patterned long sleeve dress made of sturdy material with a metal laced low v-neck, and just enough cling to always be appropriate for a work day and a fancy date night; and a navy blue, sleeveless, shin-length, full button-up with large brown buttons, high-necked, cloth-belted Calvin Klein that always makes me feel like an historical school-teacher diva], determined to reduce them to the suggested two. After almost an hour of trying and re-trying them on, imagining tossing any combination of the four, and eventually crying on my bed over clothing (yep, roll those eyes), I kept all 4.
My Redefined Closet and Mindset
In all, I proudly ended up with the following in my closet:
- 1 format jacket
- 1 heavy jacket
- 1 light jacket
- 4 dresses
- 2 pull-over sweaters (one of which I share with the hubs, David)
- 5 cardigans
- 1 pair of harem pants and 1 pair of grey work slacks
- 2 pairs of high-waisted jeans
- 2 skirts and 1 pair of shorts
- 2 button-downs
- 3 casual (work appropriate) shirts
- 3 t-shirts
- 5 thin undershirts
- 1 long-sleeve Seattle shirt (also shared with David)
- 4 pairs of leggings
- 3 sets of PJs
- 2 pairs of workout clothes (one for each weather extreme)
- 2 wool scarves
- 7 glorious pairs of shoes
I still have a large number of possible outfit combinations in my reduced (dare I say, “capsule?”) wardrobe. Thanks to the brilliant advice of enviably minimal Christine Liu, I now only own high-quality threads that I know I look great and feel comfortable in for any occasion or level of illness. I also attempted to stay within the colors I know I love and feel good in for all seasons, so most of my clothing mixes and matches really well. When I get a new piece, I toss an older one, making shopping excursions a challenge full of well-reasoned and intentional choices about the opportunity cost of each purchase.
With a few minimal changes, my chances of getting decision fatigue diminished, my closet space increased, and my self-confidence grew. I always feel put-together and clean. I finally feel like I’m not hypocritically reducing waste while hoarding clothes in my closet. At the same time, I have plenty of choices for creativity and self-expression, a diverse set of characters among my outfit options, and the right clothes for any occasion. And, after implementing a new rule to toss an old piece after buying a new one, shopping excursions are now fun challenges to weigh the opportunity cost of every purchase with intention rather than aggressively grabbing anything in sight that stayed under-budget.
Sweet, Sweet Satisfaction
I think my sweet-spot is somewhere between striving for minimalism and relishing the gloriousness of my clothing. The wardrobe I have now supports my life values and ultimately encourages feelings of contentment and appreciation. Simply put, I am satisfied and that is more than enough.