If you read my last Clean Closet post – A Brief History of My Experience Building A Minimal Wardrobe: Part 2, you should be familiar with the concept of a Wardrobe Master List. I’m pretty sure I used the term about 45 times in the last couple of paragraphs. But for good reason: creating a Master List of items I want in my closest has given me so much direction in this minimal wardrobe journey.
I love lists. I LOVE them. I make sense of the world around me with lists. I understand myself through lists. I am only productive if I have a list. Not everyone functions this way, and that’s perfectly ok. There are plenty of other ways to organize your life and create order, but I’m probably not the person to talk about those other methods because, and you may not know this, I love lists.
After going through a couple of capsule wardrobe cycles and realizing what did and didn’t work for me, and after making a commitment to focus on buying high-quality, ethically-made pieces, I sat down and wrote out every item of clothing I would like to own. That sounds like it could be a very long list, but I gave myself some guidelines. I started with trying to define what my basics would be. And then a step beyond that, to what classic pieces I would like to invest in that will never go out of style, but that will also fit within my personal style. In order to answer these questions, I had to do a little bit of research on myself. Don’t worry, it’s fun!
Step One: Pin without Judgment
If you are a writer, or if you remember much from your English classes, you maybe familiar with the concept of “stream of consciousness” writing. Essentially, it’s where you write anything that comes to mind without judgment. It’s like brainstorming, where the important thing is to let the ideas flow without interruption or critique until you have a wealth of ideas or material. Only after you have this ball of raw ideas do you start to refine and edit. In my exercise, I didn’t write, I pinned.
I have a few style boards on Pinterest – one for warm seasons, one for cool seasons, one for year-round style, one for wardrobe staples, one for professional attire, on and on and on. At this point, it seems, most people are on Pinterest. It’s a wonderful, multi-functional tool that can be used for everything from finding inspiration, to collecting recipes, to creating a visual list or mood board. But my favorite thing about Pinterest is how valuable it can be to understand yourself. I made a goal to pin like mad. I stream-of-conscious pinned probably hundreds of style pins, and only after I had substantially filled a board, did I allow myself to look at the results. The important thing to remember is not to put too many restrictions on yourself. Don’t judge your pins at this point. Pin what appeals to you.
Step Two: Analyze the Results
After adding pin after pin, I opened up the entire pinboard and examined my collection. It’s so fascinating to see the trends that became apparent. Looking at the overall colors of my pins, I found that I like neutrals: black, white, grey, olive, navy, oatmeal, charcoal, cognac, indigo – with some muted or earthy tones: blush, burgundy, terracotta, goldenrod, hunter green, dusty blues, – and the tiniest pops of bold colors: hot pink, coral, citron. When it comes to metallic, I like brass and copper and rose gold. If you wanna talk about patterns, I like grids, tartan, plaid, some polka-dots, STRIPES, and basically all time-tested, classic patterns, but only in small portions. You can throw in a small, whimsical print here and there. Solids, heathers, and marleds make up the bulk of my pins.
As far as style goes, I’m a Francophile. If a chic, tousled French girl is wearing it, I probably like it. I like classic, but with a little bit of edge. I like minimal pieces with a bit of detail so that my wardrobe will look fresh and updated. My style isn’t girly. If I wear something fem, it must be balanced with structure and/or something androgynous. I could not be accused of being preppy. Please keep your monograms to yourself, thanks.
Once I teased out what colors and styles I gravitate towards based on my pin-a-thon, I started to notice trends emerge in terms the actual pieces I pin. The same few items appeared again and again. I like 70’s inspired clogs and Audrey Hepburn ankle-length pants. If I could own a Breton stripe in every color and variety, I would be happy. I like loose-fitting tees with blazers. I like boyfriend jeans and dark-wash, multi-functional skinnies. I heart trench coats and chelsea boots (let’s face it, I’m also an Anglophile). Chambray, classic oxford button-downs, and oxford shoes are a theme in my pins. When it comes to dresses, I like simple, swing, and shirt-dress varieties. You get the idea.
On top of finding trends in my own pins, I also turned to a few bloggers (Coline, Erin Boyle, Natalie Jean) and style icons (Alexa Chung, Clemence Posey, Kirsten Dunst) whose taste I admire, and searched out lists of classic wardrobe staples (whatever that means to you) to get some ideas.
Step Three: List It Up
After all that research, I sat down and put pen to paper. Literally. I made my first draft on paper, because then I could map it out and make it look all A Beautiful Mind-ish, and then I transcribed it so I could have constant access to it. It’s a living document, meaning that I can switch it up and rearrange as needed. But it serves as a guide for all of my future clothing purchases. If you’re used to capsule numbers, this list can seem extensive. You might look at it with a critical eye and say, do you really NEED three silk blouses? Or you could cut down on the number of dresses. Or dude, cool it with the jackets (I love jackets. Give me that third layer, baby). But keep these things in mind: 1) I don’t think there will ever be a point where I actually own everything on this list. It’s a long game of hunting for THE quality, stylish, ethically made version of what’s on this list. Plus, some things may wear out in the process. 2) This list is for my entire wardrobe, not one particular season. In practice, I’ll still pack away things that are impractical for the season, but most things are pretty transitional.
Without further ado, here’s (the current version of) my Wardrobe Master List.
(A quick note on the symbols: * means that I own the item currently. ~ means that I own a version of that item that is close to the end of its life and will need to be replaced or removed from the list. In some instances, ~ indicates a piece I’m holding onto for now, but that I’d like to replace with an upgrade in the future.)
Guidelines + Questions
- Only buy things I LOVE.
- Only buy things that fit as close to perfect as possible. I’m looking at you, thrift-store gems.
- Stick to natural materials – cotton, linen, leather, silk, wool, cashmere, modal, etc. Not only do they feel amazing against your skin, but counter to what I’ve been taught to think, they look better longer, age better, and are generally a sign of better quality.
- Does it look French? The answer should always be YES.
- Could I wear this to a gallery opening? Weird, maybe, but I feel like this is a good rule of thumb for the particular aesthetic I wish to project.
- Pieces should fit my lifestyle.
- Pieces should play well with others. Even if it’s not a capsule, per se, it’s still minimal, so it’s important that my wardrobe be cohesive.
- White Boxy Tee*
- White V-neck~
- Grey V-neck~
- Black Drop Shoulder Tee*
- Black Slouchy Tee
- Black Boat Neck
- Navy V-neck
- Long Sleeve White on Dark Stripe*
- Long Sleeve Dark on White Stripe~
- Short Sleeve Striped Tee
- Classic Breton Stripe
- French Saying Tee
- Baseball Tee
- White Oxford Button-down
- Light Blue Oxford Button-down
- Navy Checked Oxford Button-down*
- Short Sleeve White Button-down
- Short Sleeve Button-down
- Sleeveless Chambray*
- Long Sleeved Light Chambray*
- Long Sleeve Dark Chambray
- Buffalo Check Button-down*
- Plaid Button-down
- Grid Top –Button-down*
- Marled black Sweater*
- Grey Cashmere Sweater
- Seed-Stitch Sweater
- Hunter Green Oversized Sweater*
- Marled Henley – Burgundy*
- Frenchy Silk Blouse – Black
- Frenchy Silk Blouse – Cream
- Silk Blouse – Blush
- Detailed Short Sleeve Blouse – Blush*
- Patterned Short Sleeve Silk Blouse – Dusty Blue*
- Charcoal Tank~
- Muscle Tank – Light Grey*
- Blush or Taupe Silk Tank
- Olive Sleeveless Top*
- Black Silk Tank
- White Tank
- Lacy-Front Tank – Blush or Black
- High-Waisted Jeans – Dark Blue*
- Perfect Dark Wash Skinnies*
- Ripped Jeans – Black
- Cropped Work Joggers – Black*
- Audrey Slacks
- Distressed Boyfriend Jeans
- Boyfriend/Mom Jean Hybrid*
- Pointe Leggings
- Skinny Olive Cargos/Slacks*
- Rolled Dark Denim Shorts*
- Moto Leather Leggings
- Patterned Pixie Slacks*
- Grey Skinny Denim*
- Dark Khaki Cords*
- Chambray Pull-on Shorts
- Swing Shorts – Black
- Dolphin/Shirt Tail Skirt – Black
- A-Line Tea-Length – Charcoal/Navy
- Mid-Length, Pockets – Olive*
- Olive Field Jacket*
- Cropped Denim Jacket*
- Light-Wash Denim Jacket*
- Boyfriend Blazer – Black*
- Swing or Classic Trench – Tan
- Cropped Moto Leather Cropped Jacket~
- Black Buffalo Check Coat*
- Navy Blazer~
DRESSES + ONE-PIECES
- Chambray Short Sleeve Shirt Dress
- Chambray Long Sleeve Shirt Dress
- Striped Swing/Tee Dress
- Frenchy LBD~
- Grid Dress
- Wildcard/Patterned Dress*
- Soft, Grey Fit & Flare/ Swing Dress~
- Romper/Jumpsuit – Black
- High-heeled Clogs – Natural*
- Low-heeled Clogs – Black
- Felt Clogs – Grey + Nude
- Flat, Minimal Sandals – Taupe
- Flat, Minimal Sandals – Cognac
- Oxfords – Black*
- Walking Sandals – Navy*
- Chelsea Boots – Black
- Moto Boots – Black*
- Minimal Wedge Sandals – Cognac*
- Converse High-Tops – Natural
- Converse Low-Tops – Grey~
- Oxblood Suede Booties*
- Peep Toe Heels –Cognac*
- Vans-style Slip-ons – Black~
- D’orsay Flats~
- Sexy Flats
- Birkenstock Sandals – Black
- Chukkas – Steele/Grey*
- Ballet Flats – Nude/Blush
- Low-Wedge, Ankle-Strap – Taupe~
- Tall Leather Riding Boots*
- Tall Leather Cognac Boots~
- Blanket Scarf – Black & White
- Frenchy/Silky/Detailed Scarves*
- Adventurer Hat*
- Beanie – Grey*
- Beanie – Oxblood*
- Leather Tote – Cognac/Black~
- Leather Crossbody – Navy~
- Canvas Totes*
- Tiny Brass/Rose Gold Jewelry
Step Four: Let the Hunt Begin!
Once I had my road map, aka my master list, I identified some priorities and started seeking out each piece. If I’m browsing online or digging through a thrift store, I use my list for reference. If it’s not on the list, I can’t buy it. Unless, of course, it’s an obvious oversight, and I realize that a piece SHOULD be on the list, and then I make adjustments and bump something else.
Several of the bullets on this list are pieces I already own, and once they wear out, I will likely strike them from the list instead of replacing them. Your existing wardrobe pieces should be on this list. If they aren’t part of your ideal closet, why are you keeping them? Disclaimer: I do have some pieces that are placeholders because money, but the goal is to love and be excited by everything you own.
I’m excited to share the pieces I’ve added so far, what’s on my wishlist, and a few of my go-to ethically-made brands with you in future posts!