Minimalist Fashion: A Beginner’s Guide

All the buzzwords explained.

There are a lot of buzzwords surrounding minimalist fashion. In this guide, we will break down what these terms mean.

So What is Minimalist Fashion Anyway?

There are a couple of ways to look at it.

Minimalism from a design standpoint usually consists of clean lines and monochrome colors. Look up minimalist fashion and you’ll be sure to find images of long silhouettes, neutral palettes, and very little pattern.

Over the years, with the minimalist movement, there is now also an overall feel and aesthetic. The base of that aesthetic (besides a white background) is to simply own fewer items.

A true minimalist closet will boast a handful of versatile basics and a level of organization that would make Marie Kondo herself a little jealous.

A minimalist wardrobe can have a cap on a number of items. It can be a formula where everything mixed and matched. Or maybe it is only purchasing a few high quality items.

So there are no rules, per say, as it can be interpreted in many ways. But it’s safe to say that living with less is the overall vibe.

What is a Capsule Wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe is the quick way to minimize a wardrobe. You’ll start by cleaning out your closet and ridding yourself of items that no longer serve you.

You can box up items that are out of season. Then buy a few new items to fill any gaps in your wardrobe. Once you’ve narrowed it down to roughly 30-40 items, you have a capsule wardrobe!

The idea of working with a capsule wardrobe each season is to practice a few concepts:

  1. Living with less
  2. Mixing and matching your clothes in new ways
  3. Seeing what garments you really gravitate toward

The long-term goal would be to find your personal style and cut down on your seasonal consumption of clothing overall.

There are lots of tutorials and worksheets available to help build a capsule wardrobe. I think most people start by trying methods from Project 333, the Un-fancy blog, or StyleBee.

You can always adjust the rules to make the capsule wardrobe work for you.

What is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion is basically cheap clothing produced quickly. It follows trends and uses the catwalk as inspiration.

Unfortunately, it also has a really bad reputation. Gnarly working conditions, unfair pay for workers, and environmental carelessness are a few of the issues.

Fast fashion brands crank out so many clothes in a short period of time, that they’ve become the new face of wasteful living… not to mention human rights violations.

The violations are not limited to cheap fast fashion brands. Sadly, they’re not limited to clothing made overseas either. You may be surprised by high street stores that incorporate similar practices. They make few apologies or efforts to correct conditions.

Because the clothing is cheap, we tend to care less about what happens to it in the long run. This creates more garbage for the landfills and more wasteful spending for ourselves.

I personally learned a lot about fast fashion after watching the documentary The True Cost on Netflix. It completely changed the way that I view clothing and branding.

Understanding fast fashion is an important step in becoming more conscious of where we are putting our dollars.

What is Slow Fashion?

Quite the opposite of fast fashion, slow fashion is all about being more deliberate. The goal is to take time to research brands before making decisions. Avoid impulse purchases as much as possible.

Just as there are fast fashion brands, there are slow fashion brands. These brands typically forego mass production, and they don’t necessarily stick to a standard release schedule.

I personally appreciate that they focus on using quality materials, do as little environmental damage as possible, and employ people at a fair wage.

Slow fashion is an idea that conjures up images and dreams of simple living — through our wardrobes.

What is Sustainable/Eco -Fashion?

Sustainable fashion is when garments are produced keeping the environment in mind. There are SO MANY factors that go into sustainable fashion.

  1. What materials are being used
  2. How are those materials produced
  3. What type of waste is created when constructing the clothes
  4. Are water and natural resources being wasted
  5. Do any components of the garment come from recycled materials

The list goes on and on.

For some people, having a sustainable wardrobe is as simple as buying secondhand. This way, you can keep old garments out of the landfills.

For others, it means using the items you have for as long as you can. Make repairs, wash less often, and reuse old items in new ways. These steps will extend the life of a garment.

Then there are those that build a sustainable wardrobe by purchasing clothes made from natural fibers, recycled water bottles, or organic resources.

The reason sustainability in fashion is such a hot topic is because the fashion industry is a huge polluter.

At the rate that we produce/consume garments, the system will fall apart at some point. We have to be more conscious of how we are contributing to the well-being of our planet.

What is Ethical Fashion?

Ethical fashion does not mean the same thing to all people, since personal morals dictate your own code of ethics.

Simply stated, an “ethically made” item indicates fair wages and safe working conditions. This can apply to suppliers, factory workers, farmers, seamstresses.

A truly ethical label will think about all the people involved in the process and how the trickle down will impact those people and their communities. Granted, this is not an easy thing to accomplish. But it explains why ethical fashion is so expensive.

Another layer to ethical fashion is the treatment of animals in the industry. Some people don’t believe fashion can be truly ethical if they use animals, period. But again, that really depends on your own personal moral compass and opinions can run the gamut here.

So why aren’t there more rules to protect workers and make all fashion “ethical”? The rules exist but sadly, they are very vague and can be bent and broken easily.

It’s extremely hard to prove that a company is truly ethical. Transparency about their supply chain is really what we are looking for. But a brand can say just about anything to make themselves sound good.

That’s not to say that the situation is hopeless or that there’s nothing we can do as consumers. It’s important to keep asking questions and be mindful of our decision making processes.

Hold companies to a higher standard. Slow your roll when shopping. Small efforts can go a long way.

And just as we hope for a positive trickle-down effect for workers and their communities, you may have the same positive affect on the people around you.

Little ol’ you can influence a positive change in the fashion industry!

What Do I Look For When Trying to Build a Minimalist Wardrobe?

There are so many factors to consider when buying new clothes; I thought a little cheat sheet that you can save to your phone will help you check off any criteria that are important to you!

It’s solely up to your discretion how many of the criteria need to be checked off before you purchase an item.

Putting in the extra thought and consideration is a good first step.

While all of this information may sound overwhelming at first, I think you will find with practice and a determined mindset, it can quickly become second nature to be more thoughtful about where our clothing is coming from.

It feels really good to wear garments that are not only high quality, but also give you peace of mind, knowing that they do little harm to people and the environment.


Have any questions about minimalist fashion? Fire away in the comments!

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