Minimalist fashion. It’s one of the most discussed topics in the sustainable advocacy community. Transitioning from a revolving fast fashion closet to a minimalist wardrobe is a meaningful way to practice conscious living, but it can also be incredibly overwhelming, especially when first starting out.
If you’re embarking on the slow fashion path and want to create a minimalist capsule wardrobe, here’s our advice for how to begin!
1. Clean Out Your Closet
Start building your conscious closet by taking inventory of what you currently have. Sort and organize your apparel, separating items into three distinct piles: Donations, Consignments, and Clothes to Keep.
When deciding what to hang onto, think about how often you wear an item and if it complements the staple clothing you plan to buy. Keep only the garments you love dearly and plan to wear often. Even if they are not made by conscious or ethical brands, if you already own the piece and it is something you love to wear, hang onto it. Remember, sustainable fashion is not only about supporting slow fashion labels, but also about giving new life to existing items and keeping clothing out of landfills.
For the garments you no longer wear that are gently worn, set them aside to sell online. Alternatively, you can resell them at your local consignment store. The money you make from these items is perfect for investing in quality, ethical garments for your minimalist wardrobe.
Your final pile is your donation pile. These are your garments that are well-loved and not up to consignment standards. Drop these clothes off at your local charity. For clothing that is damaged beyond wear, get creative and turn them into rags for cleaning.
One thing to remember: start slow. We don’t recommend clearing out all your clothes at once. Spend the next year slowly swapping out a handful of garments in exchange for one to two quality pieces at a time. This will make the process less overwhelming and also more affordable.
2. Discover Your Style & Create Unique Looks
Arguably the most important tip when creating a minimalist wardrobe: discover a style that is unique to you. Ditch the seasonal trends and style labels. An authentic and timeless wardrobe should reflect your personality and make you feel most like yourself.
Begin by asking reflective questions: What do I want my clothes to say about me? What fabrics and fits do I feel most comfortable wearing? What colors, patterns, and accessories bring out my true self and best complement my personality?
It’s essential to feel confident and comfortable in the clothing we wear. Discover your style and create unique looks you love. Hang a bulletin board in your room and pin photos of the outfits and looks that speak to you. Pinterest is also great for this.
For minimalist style and capsule wardrobe inspiration from women in the ethical fashion space, check out our Week of Outfits Series.
3. Save for Staple Items & Shop Secondhand
It’s probably no surprise that the biggest deterrent to building a minimalist wardrobe is the cost. Quality apparel has a much higher price tag than clothing at fast fashion stores, which makes sense because ethical companies use sustainable, lasting fabrics and pay workers fair benefits and wages. Even still, shopping for these garments can be incredibly overwhelming and even out of reach for many of us. Here are a few beginner tricks:
Shop secondhand. Contrary to popular belief, thrift stores are not only for cheap clothing and worn-out furniture. Some of our favorite and most timeless pieces have been discovered on the racks of unassuming thrift stores or online (here are our favorite secondhand clothing websites). On more than one occasion, we’ve even scored apparel from brands like Everlane and Patagonia at the popular US-thrift store Buffalo Exchange.
You can also save for big ticket items and staple pieces. Don’t feel like you need to go out and replace your wardrobe all at once. Start small and begin saving for those expensive items, such as a winter coat or high-end denim, months in advance. When you’re building a minimalist wardrobe, remember you’re paying for quality rather than quantity. By looking at the big picture and how much money you will save over time, it can begin to seem less daunting. This is especially true when you plan ahead and budget for an expensive item.
Finally, shop deals. Many ethical brands discount seasonal items and offer coupon codes when you sign up for their newsletters. Nisolo has an awesome referral program and Everlane allows you to choose what you pay for overproduced items. Take advantage of these discounts for a more affordable way of building your minimalist wardrobe.
4. Care for Your Garments
With fast fashion brands, clothes are not made to last for more than a few wears, and it can seem silly to invest in the care for a garment when it cost less than $20. With a minimalist wardrobe though, you’ll want to ensure you are properly washing and storing your apparel. This will not only protect your items from accidental damage, but it will allow you to wear your clothing for years to come.
A few tips for care: hand wash delicates, invest in a steamer and wooden hangers, and know what garments you need to take to a dry cleaner. Read tips from a costume designer on how to care for your clothes, and read more here on how to properly clean vintage clothing.
5. Rely on Your Community
A common concern with keeping a minimalist wardrobe is not having clothing for those special occasions or unique seasons in life. Whether it be maternity clothes, wedding attire, or garments for your island vacation, sometimes we need an outfit that is not part of our everyday wardrobe.
Our go-to solution is online rental sites. Perfect for unique and infrequent occasions, rental sites offer an affordable and sustainable option by allowing you to rent clothes.
Alternatively, we also love swapping apparel with friends. This not only saves money, but it is a wonderful way to cultivate community and encourage sustainable living. If you’re curious about how to find like-minded women in your area who are also building minimalist wardrobes, check out our guide on hosting a community clothing swap.
6. Remember: This is a Journey
Growing up, many of us used to overhaul our wardrobes at least once a year. We’d hit the outlet malls and all the major fast fashion stores. At the end of the day we’d have a new wardrobe of clothes for less than $100. These items would last for only a few wears and trips through the wash. Within a few months, we’d find ourselves back at the store searching for new, on-trend items.
Building a minimalist wardrobe is redefining the way we think about shopping for apparel, and we don’t want to gloss over how challenging this can be. When first starting out, it can be difficult to not shop at our once favorite go-to stores. We learn how loyal we were to certain brands. We discover how convenient it is to stop by the mall when needing clothes for an interview or a new pair of jeans. Especially when money is tight or we can’t find the item we’re looking for (but we know which fast fashion stores will have it), it can feel exhausting and frustrating.
Here’s our encouragement: it’s worth it.
Rewiring the way you think about shopping can and will be challenging. But the reward is worthwhile. Knowing who made your clothes, feeling confident and true to yourself in well-made garments, not having a closet bursting with forgotten tees and unravelling sweaters—it makes it all worth it.
Be patient and kind with yourself. Building a conscious, minimalist wardrobe is a journey like anything else in life: it’s full of learning curves and adjustments. Just remember, you are not alone—we get it, and are on the journey too.
Kayti Christian, a staff writer for The Good Trade, is a storyteller, creator, activist, and avid traveler hailing from Colorado, now living in London. With 30+ stamps in her passport, she is passionate about responsible tourism and is always looking for new ways to be a more conscious traveler. She is currently pursuing her MA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at City, University of London.