Wardrobe minimalism with a maximalist aesthetic

For me, 2018 has been the year of the downsize. When my partner and I decided to pack in our lives and move to the other side of the world, it was clear I couldn’t take all my clothes with us. I had a full walk-in wardrobe that I barely ever walked into, and a rail heavy with dresses - although at least half of them were too tight for me to wear and breathe deeply, simultaneously.

It was hard going at first, but eventually became rather fun, and over six months I sold, swapped and donated until the vast majority of my wardrobe was gone. I estimate at least 70% of my former clothes now have new owners. Although what’s left isn’t at Marie Kondo levels of minimalism, it’s a whole new world for me to have 30 dresses to choose from instead of the 100-plus I used to face every day.

There are a myriad of guides out there for how to build, maintain and wear a minimalist wardrobe - a huge number of blogs, books and podcasts extol the benefits of uniform dressing and capsule wardrobes. There are certainly plenty of benefits to having fewer clothes, as I’ve learned this year, but what I can’t relate to in most minimalist style guides, is the actual clothes. When I stood back and realised that my wardrobe had finally got to a point I was happy with - small, neat and organised, but lush with bright prints and natural textiles - I was keen for inspiration from others who’d been through a similar process and managed not to lapse into clothing chaos again. But my Googling for fellow lovers of vintage garb who’d successfully curated minimal wardrobes was fruitless. 

As a fiend for colour, who mainly wears vintage and second-hand finds with a few pieces from local designers, my idea of everyday staples is different from most people’s. Capsule wardrobe guides that recommend a prescriptive shopping list including one white button-up shirt, one pair of black jeans, one pair of black ankle boots and one gray cashmere sweater don’t exactly thrill me. And for many women who try to avoid fast fashion where possible, sustainable choices are often more monochromatic than we’d like. However, even if your aesthetic is more maximalist than minimalist, there are principles of capsule dressing that can still apply.

 Find your own ‘basics’

I find that I’ve forged my own definition of what a ‘basic’ is to me, finding ethically-made or second-hand pieces that I roll out time and time again. It’s almost become a joke to my friends how often I wear my Belladonna dresses by New Zealand label Carly Harris - these simple and insanely flattering reversible wrap dresses come in an array of colours and fabrics, and can be layered a million different ways. I splurged on three in bright jewel tones and wear them in ‘backwards’ in summer with a vintage tee on show underneath and ‘forwards’ in winter with merino layers.

 But admit you still need some actual basics

Even if your taste is outlandish and bright, you’ll probably need some actual basics. It can be difficult to find well-made basic pieces to act as a foil to your more flamboyant garments, but slow-fashion tees and tights are out there if you hunt. Made590’s Rizzo top, from their excellent and size-inclusive Every Day range, is a snazzy upgrade from a tee that goes with every skirt I own. I also rely on warm merino wool Columbine tights, which are still made in New Zealand, to winterise my wardrobe of flimsy summer frocks. And when in doubt, check eBay for vintage first - you can stock up on ‘80s silk shirts and ‘60s cashmere cardigans for a few bucks if you hunt around.

 Identify your palette and shapes

A small wardrobe works most efficiently if most pieces go with most other pieces. This is not to say that everything ought to be gray, black and white, but that if you spend some time identifying the patterns in what you wear, you can make sure every purchase has its place. Look at the colour schemes of what you wear most often and opt for shoes and outerwear that fit the palette best.

 Don't be afraid to buy what you love

Contrary to the paragraph above, don’t be too bound by hard-and-fast rules when it comes to getting dressed. Having fewer clothes doesn’t mean paring back your look, but finding the most efficient route to dressing like yourself. Sticking too rigidly to style rules sucks the fun out of clothes and reduces them to utility, rather than self-expression. If those yellow vintage sandals are really speaking to you, just buy them.

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