My friends Ryan and Josh from The Minimalists approached me with this article, which I found pretty interesting. It’s on the more extreme end of the Lean Wardrobe philosophy I’ve been exploring, but a great perspective nonetheless.

When I first started reinventing my wardrobe, I didn’t realize I was doing it. All I knew was that I had three closets full of clothing, and I really only wore a handful of those things.

I hate clutter and hanging onto stuff I no longer use, so I set out to get rid of a majority of my clothing. I had also lost a ton of weight and most of the stuff no longer fit me, so this made my decision making easier.

A simple life is a good life. Simplicity frees you and allows you to do the things you want. Having three closets full of barely-used clothing isn’t simple.

It takes work to keep a wardrobe as lean as possible. By the way, I’m far from perfect. I still have shirts (and pants, and jackets, and sweaters) that I don’t wear often enough to justify keeping them, but I look at it as an ongoing process of curation and clearing out.

Check out this article, and I’d love to hear what you think.

Enter Josh…

What does a minimalist wear?

I’m surprised I get this question as often as I do—as if people expect to see me walking around Dayton, Ohio, in a loincloth—but, given the many misconceptions surrounding minimalism, I suppose it’s a valid question.

My answer: a minimalist wears his or her favorite clothes and nothing else.

You might recall I donated over 90% of my clothes this year. Do you know why that’s so exciting? Two reasons:

  1. I was able to contribute to people who were less fortunate than me.
  2. I love all of the clothes I kept, so I get to wear what I love every day.

Thus, a minimalist wears his or her favorite clothes every day. Most days I wear jeans, a teeshirt, and a pair of Toms shoes. Or, when I feel like it, I wear a crisp white button-up shirt (pictured above), jeans, a blazer, colorful socks, and a clean pair of dress shoes. And I avoid logos for several reasons (though I still have a couple items with a small horse logo).

I don’t have many clothes now—and I still go to the Goodwill a few times per month and donate an item or two (if I’m not wearing it anymore, it gets donated)—but I thoroughly enjoy the clothes I do own.

But I don’t give sentimental meaning to my clothes. If all of my clothes burned in a house fire tomorrow, it wouldn’t be a big deal to me. I give meaning to the important things in life—to relationships, to health, to pursuing my passions, to growth, to contribution.

I enjoy my clothes, but I am not my wardrobe. To illustrate this fact (i.e., to practice what I preach), I gave away my favorite jeans, my favorite shirt, and my favorite shoes on my buddy Craig’s Simple Black Coffee website in February. What did that mean to me? Well, the same two things as above: (1) a few people got some nice new attire (plus I made a new online friend in David William, a great guy who got my favorite pair of Allen Edmonds dress shoes); and (2) other garments stepped up and became my new favorites.

Let’s hear what you have to say

How do you deal with your wardrobe? Do you have a bunch of clothes sitting in your closet, unworn (or barely worn), yet you feel bad letting them go? Are you emotionally attached to most of the crap you keep?

Are you interested in owning fewer–but better quality–essentials that you can wear for years, and enjoy it every time you put them on?

Let’s hear it in the comments below.

If you found this article useful, make sure to check out our Lean Wardrobe resources page.


31 Responses

  1. Richard Wilkins on

    I like where Josh was going with his article.  I just recently realized that I have certain things that I hardly ever wear and there will more than likely be put to better use if I take them to a Goodwill or Salvation Army.  I like the concept of a minimalist but I don’t know if I have the style sense to actually pull it off successfully lol.

    I like these articles that you have been recently coming up with Barron and I look forward to reading more of them.  I think I will slowly start to work on a minimalist wardrobe and see how it turn out.  As of right now it seems like I am working with one anyway even though I have a closet full of clothes.

    • Barron on

      Sure you can do it. Constructing a personal uniform of your own is just about taking those classics and putting them together. The perfect outfit, to me, is a dark pair of denim, a white or blue dress shirt, navy blazer, brown leather shoes and belt. And a great pair of socks.

      Find out what items you think will make your perfect outfit or uniform, and get rid of everything else. If needed, buy more of those essential items so you’re not doing laundry every day. Easy 🙂

  2. Andrew Ryne Carlson on

    I recently cleaned out my closet as well. It was actually incredibly liberating. Now if only I could have all the money back that I spent on all those clothes! I got rid of probably 5 entire trash bags of clothes. I donated them of course. 

    In my closet right now is around 10 button downs, 5 sweaters, 6 pairs of pants, 2 suits, a couple blazers, and one pair of dark wash jeans. Oh and probably a thousand ties. I couldn’t bring myself to minimalize my tie collection. I still have a dresser with undershirts, shorts, and gym clothes too.I really love what he said here, “I love all of the clothes I kept, so I get to wear what I love every day.” I feel great walking out the door every day wearing clothes that I love. 

    • Barron on

      I feel the same way; I wish I could get all the money back that I spent on the clothes I’ve gotten rid of. Like I mentioned above, lesson learned. I’m much more conscious nowadays about the money I spend on things. I’d rather spend top dollar on an item I know I’ll love and wear all the time (like say, a great jacket, or a dope pair of leather shoes) than on garbage I’d wear once, or cheap items that fall apart after a year.

      Glad you hung onto the ties. I’d love to get down to your amount of clothing…. one day soon.

  3. Bill on

    I retired in 2003 and went on clothes buying binge that went on far to long. I would have to live to a hundred to give this stulff any real wear. Recently  I have been thinking and this article tipped the scale torwards heading to Goodwill with some pretty nice clothing that I simply don’t wear enough. I will make someone a little less fortunate happy and as the article says stick with my favorites.

    • Barron on

      I started being more conscious of what sits in my closet a few years ago. Since then, I’ve given away garbage bags full of clothing. It’s sad to think that’s just money wasted, but lesson learned, I guess. I’m a lot more careful with purchases I make now, and though my closet still isn’t as minimal as I’d like it to be, it’s getting there, slowly.

  4. Anonymous on

    I’m currently doing the same thing at the moment – I started last week.
    If I used the clothes I am giving away just once as from now, I could easily go through a month without having to do laundry.
    There are so many items that have maybe been worn once or twice that it’s a shame to keep them unused, so I made that extra step to give them away. However, my closet is still full with clothes, with so much still brand new.
    I only wear the clothes I am comfortable in, so it’s really a relief to find a use for the items I seldom use or that I have not used for years.
    I applies to ties, shoes, and socks too. Since last year, I must have got rid of more than a hundred ties, a lot of which had never been used.
    It’s quite surprising to find out that people do actually need those items I keep but consider as ‘extra luggage’
    The next reasonable step is now to stop buying clothes. There’s enough to last until the end of the year, or whenever, before I consider that I truly need some more.
    Thank you for allowing me to share.

    • Barron on

      Yep, once you made the effort and took the time to prune your closet, it takes just as much effort sometimes, to stop yourself from buying more. Nothing wrong with buying a great item now and again, but I’ve really had to stop and think lately if what I’m buying is necessary or if I’ll really make good use out of it. If I question myself, I don’t buy it. Takes practice but eventually it becomes easy to delay that gratification of buying new things for the sake of buying it.

  5. Ryan Ferrier on

    I love the idea of having a minimal wardrobe of only stuff that you *love* to wear. I’m going through a process now of deciding on the number of articles of clothing that I want to own and then keeping to that number. If I want something new, I’ve got to gift something from the current collection. Thanks for the encouragement along this path!

  6. Alex on

    My dad only owned white and blue dress shirts for work. He usually wore a suit but kept it simple. Since I just started a job where suit and tie is the standard I went out and bought a variety of dress shirts. I now regret that decision because I feel like I have to keep track of what shirts I have worn and if I would have stayed simple I would not have to spend time on a daily decision that does no matter. I cannot afford to go get all new dress shirts but my plan is to replace my current ones with white ones as they wear out and I can save up a bit more.

    • Barron on

      When I was younger, I went to a private school and hated that I couldn’t wear whatever I wanted, because we had a uniform. My mom used to say that having a uniform was a good thing, but I never understood her.

      Now that I’m older, I’ve been trying to re-establish some sort of uniform in my life… thus all the posts re: personal uniforms, buying quality over quantity, getting rid of the crap in my closet, etc.

      White and blue dress shirts are a great base. I’d stock a closet full of them. That, and some dark denim, and some blazers, and a few great pairs of shoes. Set for life.

      Thanks for reading, and for your comment.

      • Martin on

        Or you could leave the white/blue combo in the store and go straight to lavendel and mint green. Same basic approach and less lemming attire.

  7. Teresa Baldwin on

    Your timing is brilliant on this. I’m downsizing everything I own to move to a different continent with two suitcases and my skis. It is amazing how many things you don’t actually need and how happy people are when given your “cast-offs”. 
    I think I now own about 1/3 of the clothes that I did a month ago, and 1/5 of everything else (if that). It is a fantastic feeling to give things away and just simply have less.
    Thanks for another fantastic post. 🙂

    • Barron on

      Amen. There’s something satisfying about giving away stuff you own (but probably barely use). It feels like you’re unburdening yourself. I hope to be able to give away most of my clothes (we’ll start there) and keep a handful that I love and love to wear. Glad you were able to do so. Good luck with the move, sounds like an adventure.

  8. Anonymous on

    I’ve been working on transitioning my wardrobe and donated a lot the last few months from clothes that I wore that weren’t the right “fit” so essentially I’m building a personal uniform in the process as well.  

    Anyway I’ve been targeting certain items I want and I won’t make a major purchase unless it falls within that short list (or its a great deal and I wouldn’t mind including), however one thing I just can’t seem to come across that I see posted here all the time on effortless are heather grey v-necks – it seems like the only location to pick some up are at the GAP and I’ve heard mixed reviews on them – any thoughts on other brands/locations? 

    • Barron on

      I have 3 gray v-necks from gap. I really love em, and they’ve held up well after multiple washes. On top of that they’re super soft, so not a bad buy, especially when they have those 2 for $10 or 2 for $15 (can’t remember) deals.

      Old Navy has a surprisingly soft tee, have you tried theirs?

      Urban Outfitters has some as well. I think they’re the BDG brand. Some are DEEP v-necks (which I don’t like personally) but they also have regular ones.

      Try those and hopefully you find one you like.

  9. Geoff on

    I just found this site and I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog, Barron. I too share the vision of a “set” wardrobe, but I wouldn’t call mine minimalistic. Around the office, I keep a more professional profile than I do on the weekends. I generally wear trousers and a button up (maybe a sweater or a sport coat in the winter) with no tie 5 days a week. I upgrade to the tie when I have a client meeting and choose either a sport coat or a suit. On the weekends, I’m generally more casual as I have a 5 month old. When I go out, I’m in denim, a sport shirt and a sport coat.

    I have gone from 192 lbs to 147, so I also used that as a catalyst for change in my style. I have a hard time creating anything without a plan, so I wrote mine down. So I’ll put myself out there – here’s what I designed to create reasonable variety wardrobe for most situations. I should have everything but all of the suits and sports jackets by the end of the year – that’ll take time. I have the rule that if I exceed the number of articles, I need to replace and donate. To some of you, this may seem like big list – and there probably are areas I could trim – but I’m interested in your input. Keep in mind, this is a 4 season wardrobe. I didn’t include sports wear (which i keep simple and primitive), just because this started getting long anyway.
    -15 dress shirts (and 1 set of Wurkin Stiffs) 
    – 5 polo shirts (logoless where possible)
    -13 trousers (3 dedicated to winter, like flannel, and 3 dedicated to summer, like linen – so really 10 at a time)
    – 6 blazers/sports jackets (including 2 casual, 3 all purpose, and 1 navy blazer)
    – 3 Suits (Navy, Charcoal and Light Gray)
    – 15 ties
    – 5 sweaters
    – 8 pairs of leather shoes (probably overkill, but I like em) & belts
    – 1 overcoat
    – 1 peacoat
    – 1 trench coat
    – 1 casual jacket
    – 3 scarfs
    – 2 gloves
    – 8 sport shirts
    – 2 pairs of denim (+1 old pair for housework)
    – 2 pairs of other casual pants (chinos, chords)
    – 4 pairs of casual shoes (Chukka, a red wing, sneakers, and deck shoes) & belts
    – 4 pairs of shorts
    – 5 v neck t-shirts (I like Old Navy)
    – 3 long sleeve henleys
    – 1 sweatshirt
    – 10 undershirts (love my ribbed tees)
    – 10 underwear
    – socks…kinda haven’t given myself a target. feel free to give some input
    Did I miss the mark? Where would you cut back or expand? Thanks for reading!

    • Barron on

      Nice Geoff, good stuff. I love this. This list is a good goal to shoot for. Coincidentally I’m working on a manual right now that deals with this whole process of re-inventing your wardrobe from the ground up, to set yourself up for years. My list is more bare-bones than this, but we’re pretty close.

      This may sound like a lot, but in a regular closet, it won’t look like much. Also, if you consider what most people’s closets look like (stuffed with shit, 75% of which they probably don’t use), this is a good wardrobe.
      It’s definitely a process and I wouldn’t expect you to pick up all of these in the span of a few months. It may take a year, maybe two, but keep at it.

      Great job with the weight loss too. That was a catalyst for myself as well, I went from 241lb at my heaviest down to 165-170 now. Makes a huge difference.

      Keep us updated on your progress!

  10. Jimmy on

    Great article.

    A minimalist wardrobe with clothes that fit well is the best way to be your most attractive, confident self.

    Yes, I learned this the hard way.

    In my 20’s, I thought I needed well-known brands, crazy designs and colors, and trends to impress. I wasted a TON of money only to have clothes I barely wore.

    If I could describe my sense of style back then, the word “douchy” comes to mind.

    Now in my 30’s, I realize that women (including my girlfriend) can be VERY attracted to guy for what he is NOT wearing.

    I wear more classic looks now and I’m missing the schizophrenic, wildly inconsistent, and trying-way-too-hard vibe my 20’s style kicked out. I also get more compliments than ever from women in and out of the office.

    Minimalism = classics, great fit, and the confidence to not care about needing to impress anyone.

    • Barron on

      I feel like most guys go through that phase in their lives, especially when they’re younger and trying to find that sense of style and what best aligns with them. I was the same way. As I got older, I started shedding all that heavily-branded stuff, and learned that what makes luxury special is its intimacy, you know? I began to appreciate a luxury piece for its history and quality, vs. just its name and logo.

      +1 on the “confidence to not care about needing to impress anyone”… that also comes with age and maturity, it seems. 🙂

    • Barron on

      I’ve been getting that question a lot lately. Or something similar, such as if there’s an EG equivalent for women. I haven’t found one yet. Why isn’t there? I’m not sure. If I find one I’ll write about it and announce it to the world, since it seems the ladies out there are looking for something just like this.

      re: lean wardrobe though, the same principles apply, just the details (what a lady considers staple pieces) are different.

      • Rae on

        Thanks in advance, I’m currently trying to make my wardrobe leaner. I’ll remember to update you how it goes. I saw a few guides on the net, one is by “Everyday Minimalist.” But I haven’t found a site dedicated to it.

        Again, thank you.

  11. Ali on

    I’ve come to the realization that I’m a minimalist in every aspect of my life except my wardrobe.
    It’s almost exclusively because of laundry, though. I’d say I enjoy wearing my 10 favorite shirts, 2 jeans, 2 shorts, and a few select button-ups and hoodies, and rarely wear other clothes because they’re uncomfortable/unflattering.

    I guess my question is – with a minimalist wardrobe (take Geoff’s, for example) how do you go about doing laundry? I don’t sweat at all, and my clothes are pretty clean when I take them off. I wear sweaters/button-ups with an undershirt and always wear them twice.

    Any suggestions?

    • Barron on

      My suggestion is to only wash clothes when they’re actually dirty. I don’t sweat much either, and SF has a relatively chilly climate, so I can wear clothes a few times before having to wash them.

  12. Benguyable on

    Hey Barron! Your information ROCKS! Can you tell me is there a difference between shirts that are “Slim Fit”, Fitted or “Athletic fit”? If they are different could you please clarify the differences? Thank you for all the valuable information.

    • Barron on

      Hey man, glad it’s helpful. Re: your question, it really depends on the brand. Lots of times the terms are used interchangeably, so there is no absolute definition of what a slim fit is vs a regular fit. The only way to know is to go to the store you’re thinking of buying a shirt from and comparing the two.