Defining your basic wardrobe

The next step in creating a minimalist wardrobe is to use the information you have collected so far about your signature look to create a refined list of basics. Some capsule wardrobe guides or books on personal style give lists of wardrobe “must-haves” or give you a list of defined wardrobe basics, but not everyone wants or needs a pair of skinny jeans or a black wool coat. So instead of giving you a list of pre-defined, generic basics, the idea of this step is to help you figure out what the basics should be in your unique wardrobe. These will become the specific building blocks of your everyday wardrobe.

1. Analyse each image in your mood board
It pays to be thorough at this stage: systematically take each image on your mood board and note down the components that make up the outfits i.e. Image 1 = black t-shirt + black skinny jeans + black and white sneakers, Image 2 = navy blue t-shirt dress + gold geometric necklace, Image 3 = … etc). Be specific and include any details that are relevant, like whether the jeans are ripped, or the shirt is oversized – this will help you become familiar with the various elements that make up your personal style.

2. Categorise each clothing item featured
Once you’ve broken all the outfits down into their various components, group those components into categories, (e.g. tops, bottoms, dresses, outerwear, shoes, accessories etc.). Go through each outfit you’ve listed and add each of its various components to the relevant category. Keep a tally of any items that are duplicated across multiple outfits, so that you are aware of items you are gravitating towards more often.

3. Refine the list
When you’re finished, you should have a long list of clothing items, sorted into categories. You’re ready to start narrowing down and refining. This is where a little trial and error and creativity is required. The idea is to cut out or merge pieces that are very similar, until you end up with a concise list of basic or core items. These should all represent your personal style and signature look, and you will be able to combine them to make lots of different outfits, like the ones on your mood board.

At this stage it’s important to think about your lifestyle and make sure that you are choosing appropriate outfits. The aim is to build a functional everyday wardrobe of clothes you’ll actually wear. For example, if lots of the images you collected include high heels, and you know that’s going to be impractical on a daily basis, swap them for alternatives with a similar look, which work better with your lifestyle. Maybe you do want to start wearing heels more often; it’s your call. This is all about personal judgment and knowing yourself – the idea is to be realistic about your own lifestyle and preferences.

Also, use your judgment with items that only appeared once when you did the initial image analysis above – do they fit with the general theme? For example, the majority of your outfits might be jeans + top pairings, but you’ve thrown in one dress or your colours are mainly blacks, whites and shades of grey, but one of your outfit images includes a red jumper. At this stage you’re looking for the larger themes that make up your signature, so clothes that don’t fit the pattern (in terms of colour palette and/or proportions) don’t really have a place here. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to forget about them – you might want to add statement pieces to your wardrobe later – but step one is to sort out the basics, the building blocks.

Some questions to ask yourself when refining your list:

  • Is this something I would wear everyday?
  • Would I feel confident wearing this?
  • Would I be physically comfortable wearing this?
  • Is this piece a current trend that will be out of fashion soon? Note: if you’re aiming for longevity with your wardrobe and focusing on investing in quality, you should try to focus on timeless style, as opposed to short-lived trends.
  • Does this piece work with multiple other items to produce more than one outfit combination?
  • And of course, does this fit with my personal signature style (in terms of colour, fit, proportions etc.?)

4. Your list of wardrobe basics
The result is a personalised list of wardrobe basics that reflect your personal style and signature look. They are the fundaments of your wardrobe, so when you first start editing and curating new pieces, this is where you should start. Get these right and you’ll always have something to wear that makes you feel stylish. After that you may want to add trend or statement pieces that work with your basics and complement your overall look.

My basics catalogue:

So you now have a list of components that make up outfits within your signature look; the pieces you’ve identified make up the foundation or “basics” of your wardrobe. You can now approach your current wardrobe with your new signature style in mind: which pieces do you own that already fit with your look? What’s missing? And which of your clothes don’t work as part of your style? The next step is to trim the fat from your wardrobe so that you can start building a strong foundation of good quality, well fitting signature basics.


image via Mango