How To Build A Minimalist Wardrobe
Transitioning from a revolving fast fashion closet to a capsule wardrobe is a meaningful way to practice sustainable living. But it can also be overwhelming, especially when first starting out. As consumers, we’re conditioned by advertisements (and—let’s be real—capitalism) to buy clothes regularly and update our closets for every season, occasion, or trend.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. With just a few simple and accessible steps, we can all simplify our wardrobes, spending less time and money on filling our closets and more time on wearing what makes us feel our best.
Creating your minimalist aesthetic has never been so easy. Here’s how to get started:
1. Clean Out Your Closet
Start building your minimalist 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.
“Sustainable fashion is ultimately about wearing what you already own and keeping clothes out of landfills. We can often give our clothing new life with just a few simple updates, like hemming.”
When deciding what to keep, think about how often you wear an item and whether it complements the staple pieces you envision purchasing in the future. Keep only the garments you love and plan to wear often.
Also, remember: You do not need to toss something out just because it’s from a fast fashion brand. Sustainable fashion is ultimately about wearing what you already own and keeping clothes out of landfills. We can often give our clothing new life with just a few simple updates, like hemming.
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 garments down the road.
Your third pile is your donation pile. These are your clothes that are well-loved but not up to consignment standards. Drop them off at your local charity. For clothing damaged beyond wear, you can turn them into rags for cleaning or find a textile donation center.
Most importantly, start slow. You don’t have to clear out all of 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 more affordable.
2. Discover Your Style & Create Unique Looks
It’s essential to feel confident and comfortable in the clothing we wear. When creating a minimalist wardrobe, ditch the seasonal trends and think about a style that is unique to you. An authentic, timeless wardrobe will reflect your personality and make you feel most like yourself.
Ask yourself: What do I want my clothes to say about me? Which fabrics and fits do I feel most comfortable wearing? Which colors, patterns, and accessories bring out my true self and best complement my personality?
Try creating a mood board with photos of outfits and looks that speak to you. Or try these tips for finding and curating your personal aesthetic.
“An authentic, timeless wardrobe will reflect your personality and make you feel most like yourself.”
3. Save for Staple Items & Shop Secondhand
No surprise here: One of the biggest deterrents to building a minimalist wardrobe is the cost. Quality apparel from ethical brands is more expensive than fast fashion because of the sustainable, lasting fabrics, and because workers are paid fair benefits and wages (learn more about the cost of sustainable fashion here). Still, these garments can be 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—we’ve even scored preloved apparel from sustainable brands. Check out our guides to thrift shopping successfully in-person as well as online.
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 fine minimalist jewelry, winter coats, 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 seem less daunting. This is especially true when you plan and budget for an expensive item.
Shop the deals. Many of our favorite ethical brands discount seasonal items and offer coupon codes when you sign up for their newsletters. Take advantage of these discounts when 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 that costs less than 20 dollars. With a minimalist wardrobe, though, you’ll want to ensure you are properly caring for your apparel. This will protect your items from accidental damage and allow you to wear pieces 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 clean vintage clothing properly.
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 upcoming vacation, sometimes we need an outfit that is not everyday wear.
One option is online rental sites. They are ideal for unique and infrequent occasions.
We also love swapping apparel with friends—and prefer this method as it’s much more sustainable and has a low carbon footprint. It’s also more fun! If you’re curious about how to find like-minded individuals in your area who are also building minimalist wardrobes, check out our guide on hosting a community clothing swap.
“We also love swapping apparel with friends—and prefer this method as it’s much more sustainable and has a low carbon footprint.”
6. Remember: This is a Journey
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, it can be difficult not to shop at our previous go-to stores. We learn how loyal we were to certain brands. We discover how convenient it was to stop by the mall when needing clothes for an interview or a new pair of jeans. It can feel exhausting and frustrating, 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).
But it’s worth it.
Be patient and kind to yourself. Building a conscious, minimalist wardrobe is a journey like anything else in life, and it’s full of learning curves and adjustments. 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 unraveling sweaters—it’s all worth it. We’re on this journey together.
“Knowing who made your clothes, feeling confident and true to yourself in well-made garments, not having a closet bursting with forgotten tees and unraveling sweaters—it’s all worth it.”
Kayti Christian (she/her) is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for sensitive people.