Once, in an interview, I asked shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood about his personal style. Perplexed, he shook his head. “Me? No. I pretty much wear the same thing every day. I don’t want to think about what to wear.”
Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of having a personal “uniform”—a go-to look worn day in and day out. The appeal is undeniable: the lack of what-to-wear stress, the time and money saved, the membership to an exclusive club whose members include some of the world’s most brilliant and fascinating characters like Karl Lagerfeld, Bill Cunningham, and Steve Jobs.
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Still, I’ve never been able to fully adopt it myself. While I appreciate the sartorial minimalism expressed by Kirkwood and his ilk, wearing the same thing every day sounds, well, boring. I like getting dressed.
But then there are times when I don’t. When, suddenly, my overflowing closet is full of clothes I can’t stand. When, paralyzed by the options and staring half-naked in front of my closet, I have found myself late to a meeting because…you guessed it…I feel like I have NOTHING to wear.
Enter: The Micro Wardrobe Challenge
The Micro Wardrobe, or 10-Item Wardrobe, is a concept popularized by Jennifer L. Scott in her 2012 book Lessons From Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Lessons Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris. “The idea is to get your wardrobe down to a capsule, manageable size,” she says in her 2014 TEDx Talk. “When you put thought and organization into getting dressed, you can completely change your life. You hone in on your true style.”
Um, change your life? Yes, please. I decided to give Scott’s idea a shot. Not permanently—that seemed too scary—but for an abbreviated amount of time, sort of like a cleanse.
- I’d choose a selection of items and wear only those for the next two weeks.
- I could mix and match them however I’d like, and wear them with whatever accessories or shoes I wanted.
- Seasonal necessities (like winter coats) and special-occasion wear (like a dress you’d wear to a wedding) wouldn’t count toward the core mix.
1. Club Monaco Striped Turtleneck, $63; shopbop.com
2. Caron Callahan Ellis Pants, $160; needsupply.com
3. AG The Phoebe High Waisted Jeans, $225; shopbop.com
4. Jill Stuart Sliver Saray Blouse, $348; jillstuart.com
5. Autumn Cashmere Bell Sleeve Sweater, $330; shopbop.com
6. Vanessa Seward Denim Skirt, $106; netaporter.com
7. Tibi Bias Cut Slip Dress, $207; modaoperandi.com
8. Rachel Comey Tempe Top, $345; shopbop.com
9. Uniqlo Black Turtleneck, $10; uniqlo.com
If choosing just a handful of items to wear for two whole weeks sounds daunting, well, that’s because it is. How do you choose pieces that won’t get boring? It’s human nature to get tired of something after a while—that’s why fashion moves along at such a breakneck clip, why long-term monogamous relationships are so hard for so many people to sustain. So I turned to the experts.
Scott, in her TED Talk, recommends keeping it simple with “one pair of slacks, two pairs of jeans, three dresses, and four blouses,” while many of the “capsule wardrobe” articles I came across on the web suggested choosing classic items like white button-downs, tailored trousers, and a blazer. Standard wardrobe no-brainers, sure, but ones I rarely wear. I knew those wouldn’t be part of my Micro Wardrobe.
With Scott’s YouTube promise of “honing in on your true style” ringing in my ears, I decided to spend some time really analyzing the types of clothing I usually wear. I gravitate toward pieces that are directional but unfussy and versatile, and I like items I can wear to work and out at night. I like pieces that are easy to mix with other pieces but also interesting on their own. I rarely wear head-to-toe black or bright prints, and I don’t like clothing that is slouchy, sporty, or frilly. Peering into my closet, I noticed that turtlenecks, high-waisted pants, slim dresses, and above-the-knee skirts were the things I tended to reach for most.
It took me about a week, but I finally settled on a nine-piece mix I felt good about, a mix that was fresh but not unfamiliar: a black turtleneck; a striped turtleneck; a semi-sheer, metallic high-necked blouse; a navy cashmere sweater with bell sleeves; a pair of high-waisted medium wash jeans; a dark denim miniskirt; a cream, suplice-back blouse; a checked wool slip dress; and a mustard-colored pair of wide-legged cropped pants.
Total bliss. I loved every single outfit I ended up wearing for the two weeks, and I felt like a better version of myself the whole time. Getting dressed was super fast because I’d already thought about how each piece could go together, and surprisingly, having a limited number of pieces forced me to be more creative, not less. It felt like the ideal compromise between having a “uniform” and having enough clothing to be able to express myself. Heck, maybe I’d even found my true style.
A few key takeaways:
1. Forget about “wardrobe essentials.” Choose pieces you love that you’ll actually wear. At first I worried that my Core 10 had too many turtlenecks, but then I realized that I love wearing turtlenecks, so why not? Choosing what you love is part of honing in on your true style.
2. Color palette and styling are key. Choose colors that will go together, and don’t be afraid to tuck things in, roll the sleeves up, and layer. On a whim I decided to try wearing the ivory blouse backwards over the black turtleneck and it ended up being one of my favorite looks. I don’t think anyone knew the blouse wasn’t “supposed” to be worn that way.
3. Accessories are everything. I never fully appreciated how much accessories or shoes can change a look until I did this challenge.
Would I Do It Again?
After the two weeks, I didn’t continue to wear only those nine items, but I have been much more focused in my clothing decisions: Most of the outfits I wear now are been variations of the ones I put together during the challenge, and I think twice before buying anything that wouldn’t go with my core items.
Best of all, I haven’t even come close to having a what-to-wear panic.