My Secrets to Minimalist Fashion

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Is it possible to be a fashionable minimalist? I really don’t know, but I think I look pretty put-together most days, and many of you seem to agree!

So how do I look so “chic” — your words, not mine — without breaking the bank and without collecting too much stuff, especially since I’ve been living out of my SUV (one suitcase and three bins) for almost 2 years while traveling North America?! Let’s get into it.

First, a little back story… from when I sold my house and started this whole nomad journey

August, 2020. It was my last weekend in my house before closing. I was holding a garage sale to get rid of everything that was left. (And there was a lot.)

See, I lived alone in a 3-bedroom house. I had a dresser, a chest, AND an armoire; a walk-in closet stuffed to the brim in the master, and two regular-sized closets in the other rooms. I was 35, and had been collecting clothes for decades: all different sizes, styles, and for every occasion. I mean, I still had my size 2 prom dress from age 17 — definitely never fitting into that again! But let me be clear — I wasn’t a hoarder: I had an average amount of clothes for a professional woman with a vibrant social life who loved buying and wearing new outfits in her 20s.

Maybe… just like you.

So when I decided, rather abruptly, to become nomadic and sell my house, that meant the entire house had to be emptied (and very few items would be kept). I separated my clothing into piles: what I would bring with me, a few things I would store for later, and A LOT to liquidate. After I gave a few items away to friends, and consigned a few others, things, next came the garage sale. 

I made several hundred dollars over two days. I sold furniture, some decor, some kitchen stuff, and some clothing and purses — but it was barely a dent in what I had. The vast majority my unsold things were loaded up and dropped at Goodwill.

The greatest tragedy? Seeing the tens of thousands of dollars worth of clothing I had purchased — closets, dressers, and drawers FULL of dresses, pants, tops, shoes, jackets, and purses… and recouping mere cents on the dollar. It was tragic not because I was sad to see my clothing go, or even that I barely made peanuts… it was because I couldn’t emotionally reconcile the amount of money I had spent: money that could’ve gone to my financial freedom.

And these were items that, over the years, were perhaps barely worn, didn’t fit, didn’t even flatter me, and some that still had the tags. Clothing I bought because I had learned via advertisements: if you have disposable income, you go shopping.

Now, needless to say, seeing so much money go out the door and seeing so little go back into my pocket… I behave completely differently when it comes to my spending

How I balance fashion and minimalism: my shopping process

PRE-SHOPPING: These days, I don’t really shop unless I need something, or if I’ve made a conscious decision: “Yes, I can afford and would like a new outfit right now.” I don’t just “go to the mall” when I’m bored, if I have a few free dollars it doesn’t go to shopping, nor do I reward myself with a shopping spree because I think I’ve “earned it.” (This is pretty big for a former retail therapy addict!) My downsizing experiences have irreparably changed me. 

So instead, I shop with something in mind: to replace a damaged article of clothing, for a specific occasion, of a specific style I’m really digging at the moment, or to better suit the weather… and I go on a mission. I think about what already exists and what to pair with it so my options can go farther.

DURING SHOPPING: I tend to head for the stores or brands I know and love, like Athleta, the Gap, H&M, Zara, Levi’s, and Target, where available. I have also learned what looks good on me and compliments my shape, and I beeline to those items pretty quickly.

I look for styles that flatter me, fabrics that are versatile (IE, ironing and dry clean not necessary), and colors and patterns that can be mixed and matched. For example, right now, I’m really into crop tops that accentuate my natural waist, or tunic shirts that I can either knot at my waist or pair with leggings. Same with dresses — I look for ones that cinch vs. most other styles. Know what works!!

PRE-PURCHASE: Obviously, I try everything on, and review the price. Then I think pretty hard. Do I like this enough to pay XX amount of money? Will I wear this often enough to get value from it? Does it go with more than one pair of pants or top? And am I confident enough to wear this NOW, or am I waiting until sometime in the future (IE, when I lose 5 pounds)? Do I kinda like it, or do I love it? I weigh the purchase much longer and harder than ever before, and if I feel just “ehh” about it, back it goes.

Since I need to stay within my monthly budget for shopping, the purchase needs to be worth it. While I once cared about labels, now, I care only about look, feel, and price.

POST-PURCHASE: This could be the most important step (and definitely pertains to online purchases): I take the item home and test it out for myself. Does it go with all the things I thought it did? How does the fabric feel and is it comfortable? Do I FEEL CONFIDENT and COMFORTABLE in it? If I have any doubts or ambivalence now, I return the item. Even if it requires a trip to the mall or the store or the post office… even if I have to cover return shipping myself… I return it. I know from experience this thing that cost $20, $30, or $40 is just going to sit and waste space, and I don’t want that.

And oftentimes, if I find something I really, really love, I will buy multiples in different colors. For example (I’m linking to ACTUAL products I own here!), I have three Toad & Co maxi-dresses in different patterns, three pairs of city pants from Athleta, two of these tanks from Athleta, a handful of Pleione blouses from Nordstrom Rack, two pairs of Birkenstocks, and three swimsuits from J. Crew.

To wrap it up…

I shop very infrequently these days. It’s pretty crazy — while eyeballing my Instagram, sure, I see outfits repeated, but I also remember when and where I bought each thing — and in most cases, it was a while ago. A surprising number of items are years old, and bought on Amazon or at affordable places like Target and Old Navy… or even Costco. And so, case in point: it’s definitely possible to look stylish while living minimally and nomadically. 🤗

Questions or comments, let me know — and if you liked this blog, please share it with a friend or on social media!

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2 thoughts on “My Secrets to Minimalist Fashion

  1. I’m enjoying following along Julie. Vintage and thrifting are some of my fav forms of both fun and sustainable shopping—esp while traveling. I encourage you to try it before defaulting to fast fashion—don’t get me wrong—I love the same brands you listed. 🙂

    1. Thrift shopping is definitely worth the mention, Kelly! I know there can be great finds there for people with the patience to look — I consigned and donated so much good stuff back in the day, and I’ve definitely been known to pop in vintage stores for a look-see or two 🙂

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