5 Minimalist Wardrobe Realities I Learned This Summer

5 Minimalist Wardrobe Realities
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What I Learned About Capsule Wardrobes This Summer

I spent practically the whole summer 500 miles away from my apartment. Determined to pack light (and with limited space in our car), I brought only a small suitcase, tote bag, and backpack for 2.5 months of work and travel.

With the need for both work-appropriate clothing and casual summer wear, I definitely under-packed. In the end, I took several trips to the thrift store to fill out my wardrobe.

But I was still operating with a limited amount of clothing. You might even call it a capsule wardrobe.

The need for convenience, versatility, and minimal consumption made for an interesting experiment. I started noticing distinct patterns in my choices. And I think I’ll carry these things with me once I’m reunited with my full closet.

1 | Color palettes are everything.

Over time, I noticed my color palette getting more and more limited. And the colors I chose were those that tended to complement my features best.

I began to gravitate toward navy, true blue, rust, mustard, and warm pinks even more than before. These colors look great together, whether I’m going for monochrome or contrast. And they look nice with my red hair and light skin color.

When I went thrift shopping, I would try to stick very closely to this palette to ensure that everything would get some use.

2 | Uncomfortable shoes aren’t worth my time.

Unfortunately, I brought several pairs of shoes that never got worn. I ended up buying two pairs of footbed sandals throughout the summer because my feet kept hurting from lack of support.

As cute as minimalist shoes can be, my whole body feels better when I wear supportive and non-constricting shoes.

3 | A cohesive wardrobe takes time and variety.

In my off hours, I visited practically every Goodwill in the region! I was back in an area where I previously lived and I knew that the thrift shops each have their own character (and frankly, the thrift shops in Virginia are much better than the ones in Connecticut). So it was a great joy to peruse.

Over time, I learned that getting what I want and what suits me takes patience, restraint, and time. There’s simply no way to one-stop-shop for a distinctive, well-fitting wardrobe. Buying one or two items at a time is often the only way to do it.

My tips for thrift shopping without regret

4 | Some conventional purchases are necessary.

I had been looking for a pair of dark wash, straight leg jeans for more than a year. I finally found a pair at Kohl’s. They have no ethical or sustainable credentials that I know of.

But they fit extremely well, unlike the graveyard of jeans I’ve purchased from ethical or secondhand sources. It’s not a bad idea to purchase one thing that suits you if the probable alternative is to purchase 5 “ethical” things that don’t.

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5 | If it feels wrong, it’s not worth it.

On my first few thrift excursions, I made the mistake of buying clothing in materials and styles I don’t like to wear. I did it because they were cute and in style.

But once I got them back to my summer residence, they languished in my temporary closet. They were too constricting in the shoulders, the sleeves were laughably poofy, or the polyester made me sweat. Maybe I’m not willing to be uncomfortable for fashion, but so what?

My Ethical Rule of 3

Plans for My Full Wardrobe

Now that I have practiced these things all summer, I plan to appropriately condense my wardrobe. I am using this advice from Becoming Minimalist:

Rather than asking, “What can I get rid of?” Ask, “What do I need to keep?”


I don’t want to just keep everything that vaguely fits into the boxes of what I’ve learned this summer. I want to continue to have a limited wardrobe that really works. Limiting my wardrobe to the top-tier things – the things I like to wear the most – means I’ll feel less fatigued and confused by the act of getting dressed.

My version of a limited wardrobe is still bigger than many who identify as minimalists. I want at least two weeks of tops, for instance. And I want a work wardrobe that is distinct from my casual school clothes. Limiting too much just creates more consumption over time. At least that’s the case for me.

Striking a balance between functional and aspirational will always present a challenge for me. But knowing in my gut what actually works is a great feeling.

Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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