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Out of the Closet: The Essential Minimal Wardrobe, Revisited


Out of the Closet: The Essential Minimal Wardrobe, Revisited

May 27, 2013

A month ago when I cleaned out my closet and vowed to wear only ten pieces of clothing, I had no idea my wardrobe choices were controversial.

But by Day Three, people at work were looking at me suspiciously, like they were clothes-counting. When I showed up at the office in a summer dress, a colleague who will remain nameless looked skeptical. “Are you sure that dress is essential?” Julie asked.

 It turns out that everyone has her own (strong) ideas about what constitutes an essential minimal wardrobe (hereafter: EMW).  When I posted photos of my new, pared down closet online, some readers thought I’d made bad choices. “Yawn, life’s too short to wear beige,” one reader wrote in the comments section. Another said: “Bleurgh! Denim and beige, beige and denim.”

I get the message: my ten essential pieces might not be your ten essential pieces of clothing. So in the name of democracy, I’ve rounded up the Gardenista-Remodelista Editors’ Essential Pieces of Clothing–and I’m also opening up the comments section below so you can send me photos of your EMW too: 

Above: This particular outfit is a favorite of Remodelista’s London Editor, Christine Hanway. Photograph by Christine Chang Hanway.

Christine says her most essential piece of clothing is a MHL Indigo Placket Shirt Dress (currently on sale for £135) by one of her favorite designers, Margaret Howell. Says Christine, “I particularly like her MHL line, which is inspired by vintage workwear and uniform styles – simple, basic and made out of high quality cotton, linens and wools that get better with age – but updated with a modern twist.

“When I tried this dress on in the Marylebone shop, the sales assistant described it as the ‘no-brainer’ dress as it works for almost every season and occasion, depending on what you wear with it,” says Christine, who has since worn it to work, parent/teacher meetings, lunch, dinner, gallery openings, the theater, and concerts.

She wears the dress with everything from blazers, cardigans, tee shirts, tights, boots, brogues and even sandals, depending on the occasion and the climate. “The unique color of the dress goes well with black, brown and navy so shoes, bags, etc. are a dawdle to match,” she says. “Needless to say, it is always the first thing that goes into my suitcase.”

Above: A black knit dress that is technically the 11th essential piece of clothing for me. In summer I can’t live without it. Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

When I cleaned out my closet a month ago, my own pared-down EMW included: jeans (1 pair), black pants (1 pair), khaki pants (1 pair), a knit dress (navy), a pencil skirt, two collared shirts (white), a cardigan, a blazer, and a white tee shirt. 

What I soon realized, however, was that I couldn’t live without my favorite pull-on black knit dress. It’s a perfect weight for summer and can be dressed up or down. On cool nights in Northern California, I add a chunky long sweater; visiting New York City last week on a hot, humid day, I was glad the dress doesn’t wrinkle. A similar James Perse Knit Boatneck Dress is $195.

Above: When it comes to personal style, Gardenista Associate Editor Erin Boyle errs on the side of simple. Photograph by Erin Boyle.

“A solid tee shirt and jeans is honestly what you’ll find me in most days,” says Erin. Her other go-tos, lately, include:

  • An Everlane tee. “Recently, I’ve become a devotee of the SF/LA-based Everlane for classic tees that are simultaneously affordable and well made,” she says.
  • A pair of black jeans. “When I need to dress things up a bit, I swap black jeans in for my usual blues,” she says. “These are made by JBrand and they’re a true investment piece that has been worth every bit of the cost (I’ve been lucky enough to swipe a few pairs from sale racks). “
  • A statement necklace. “A simple tee gets instantly dressed up with the addition of a special necklace,” says Erin. “I bought this one from Portland-based Stone and Honey.”
  • A simple cuff. This bronze bracelet is a cast of a brass bracelet that Erin’s mom wears.  
  • A solid bag. “I’m not really a bag girl, but this jaunty satchel from Shelter is amazing,” says Erin. “It’s beautifully made, and carrying it briefcase-style puts a little pep in my step.” A similar Prickley Mountain Bag is $176 from Shelter.
Above: Erin is a a firm believer that shoes make an outfit. The Erin Oxfords from Frye are my current favorite shoe for pulling an outfit together. And not only because we share a name,” she says. They’re $198 from Frye.
Above: Remodelista contributor Stacey Lindsay lives in Los Angeles and says that “hands down, my Alexander Wang black wool dress is one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.” Photograph by Stacey Lindsay.

“The light, quality wool breathes, keeping me cool in the summer and warm in the winter,” says Stacey. “I’ve worn this to formal dinners, weekend lunches, and cocktail parties. It works with sandals, heels, boots, tights, blazers, jean jackets–you name it.”

Stacey’s other essentials include:

  • A pair of dark rinse ankle length pencil jeans (Imogene + Willie and Big Star are current favorites).
  • “My old jade pendant from my grandmother Tai-Tai (she got it while growing up in Shanghai).”
  • A pair of pink Converse sneakers. A similar pair of Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Low Top Sneakers (available in four colors including pink) is $45 from Urban Outfitters.
  • Emerson Fry leopard heels (they technically match nothing but go with everything).
  • A cashmere crewneck sweater (Everlane and J Crew mens’ are current favorites).
  • An Apolis white tee shirt.
  • “My Lan Jaenicke black waxed linen jacket. This piece, made by a SF-based designer, is as versatile as it gets. It can be worn as a work blazer or outerwear piece and is surprisingly warm for its lightness in weight,” says Stacey. “The structured style is classic, while the cowl neck gives it an edge. I’m coveting its cashmere cousin for winter. 

Each of these pieces can be worn interchangeably: “I’ll pair the wool dress with the cashmere sweater and Converse for day and then lose the sweater and switch to the heels for night,” says Stacey.

Above: Our San Francisco-based contributor Meredith Swinehart says, “My black wool dress from Theory is hands down the best clothing purchase I’ve made.” Photograph by Meredith Swinehart.
“Like most people, I hate shopping when I’m looking for something, and this dress found me when I was not in the market. I didn’t need it at the time so I almost didn’t buy it–but it fit perfectly and somehow, though it’s just a black wool dress, it has a ton of personality,” says Meredith.
The dress is short, and Meredith is tall. “I never would have guessed that’s one of my favorite things about it; with tights or without, it’s a serious dress or a serious party dress,” says Meredith. In the bowl (above) are some of the few accouterments Meredith uses to dress it up: “My Chanel Paris lipstick and bronze antler bracelet from Hudson, NY, jewelry designer Gabriella Kiss.”
What are the most essential pieces in your wardrobe? Tell us (you can also upload thumbnail photos) in the comments section below.
Above: Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.

Denim and beige, deige and denim. Bleurgh? For see more of Michelle’s pared down summer wardrobe, see Closet Cleanout: The Only 10 Pieces You Need.

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Product summary  

Outdoors Shoes & Boots

Erin Oxford

$198.00 USD from The Frye Company

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