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How To Build a Minimalist Wardrobe

Why owning less and owning better is a compelling shift for people who want to simplify life.
May 4, 2023
By Oliver Charles

Recommendations To Simplify Your Closet

Minimalism is slightly polarizing. Some people resonate deeply with the idea of owning fewer things with more functional purpose.

Others would feel inauthentic if they shed the sentimentality associated with their belongings.

I'm not here to tell you one way is better than the other. Instead, I'll lay out 5 practical quick recommendations for evaluating your wardrobe, then I'll tell you a bit about my experience scaling down my closet.

When considering a minimalist closet, a few things to keep in mind are sustainability - after all the true cost of a cheap fast fashion item is higher than you might think. 
  • What do you love to wear? This is so simple that it's often overlooked, but think about it. Are there a handful of clothes in your closet that you wear way more than others?
  • Will your go-to clothes last? Again, simple, but if you own a bunch of cheaply made clothes that always need replacement, maybe save yourself the trouble?
  • Are your clothes versatile? How many things in your closet go with only a few outfits or are impractical for most days? Can you think of a few extra styles for your most versatile items?
  • Are your clothes comfortable? Will the materials in your clothes keep you warm on cold days, cool on hot days, and how many wears can you get before it starts smelling?
  • What are your core layers? Break it down. Base-layers go against your skin, mid-layers go over a base, and outer layers are what protects you from more extreme conditions. Your wardrobe only needs a few of each core layer.
While the above steps are just a start, there's a lot more to think about when beginning your journey towards owning less and more importantly owning better.

Below is my story of how our sweaters became my go-to for work and life.
Oliver Charles - Learning About Why I’d Own Less And Own Better

Learning About Why I’d Own Less And Own Better

The first time I thought about building a minimalist wardrobe was when I learned about the concept behind a "personal uniform".

I saw how Apple 🍎 and Facebook's founders scaled down their wardrobe to essentially owning one outfit, which they'd wear all the time to alleviate decision fatigue.

At the time, I thought this was kind of silly. How draining can it really be to pick out comfortable work clothes in the morning?

But curiosity eventually got the best of me, and over the next few months, I started to think about my clothes, wondering what it would take to create a closet filled with timeless clothes that blended a business professional/business casual look.

Later, I found that I was searching for "smart casual" clothing, which can be worn in both formal/informal settings. Read more about this style here.
Oliver Charles - Starting A Minimalist Wardrobe

Starting A Minimalist Wardrobe

I started with my t-shirts, realizing this was an item I wore every day regardless of my style.

Instead of owning a drawer packed with random colors and fits, I reduced it to a few staple colors, in one flattering fit. It was pretty much white, grey, or black t-shirts and blue jeans every day.

It wasn't a huge change, but it made life more simple. Not only did I stop thinking about what to put on, but I also stopped wondering how I'd look and feel.
Oliver Charles - Dressing The Part Without Compromise

Dressing The Part Without Compromise

In the early days of Oliver Charles, we drew upon this experience and re-thought what a personal uniform could be (oh the possibilities!).

Before co-founding Oliver Charles together, we were stereotypical young professionals at a different company in the Bay Area of California.

While thinking back to this time, we clearly remembered something important about how we felt in and around the office.

We remembered that 1) we always wanted to dress professionally without sacrificing comfort and 2) we wished we had something easy that we could wear all the time while always accomplishing our goal 1.

We didn't think a personal uniform had to be so constraining as only wearing one outfit all the time.

Instead, we saw personal uniforms as a collection of favorite styles that could be mixed-and-matched and rotated through within a week. That, in theory, would at least make it a lot easier to figure out this whole modern-day  casual dress-code challenge.
Oliver Charles - Work From Home Clothing Essentials

Work From Home Clothing Essentials

After both Slater and I quit our office jobs and started working on Oliver Charles full time from the comfort of our apartment, we were exposed to a whole new side of business casual fashion a la WFH.

While we traded in the social pressures of an office, we had to adapt to deeper physiological pressures.

What I mean is that our clothes have a significant impact on how we feel.

Don't believe me? Well check it out for yourself.

This connection is called Enclothed Cognition, and for me, it essentially meant finding clothes that inspired myself to feel confident, creative, and ready to take on the day - while business professional attire was clearly too dressy, sweats and hoodies were too casual.
Oliver Charles - Refining Our Own Personal Uniforms

Refining Our Own Personal Uniforms

Over the last couple of months, I cleared out my closet, embracing a modern personal uniform built around my light grey and charcoal crew neck sweaters and a couple of pairs of jeans.

I, of course, kept a few other pieces of clothing handy, but for the most part, it's been simply sweaters and jeans.
Oliver Charles - Benefits Of Owning Less And Owning Better Quality Clothing

Benefits Of Owning Less And Better

In reflection of my experience, I'm extremely happy (shocker)!

I front-loaded the decision of what to wear, and since, I've always woken up and without thinking have had an easy go-to that I looked professional wearing while feeling comfortable and authentic.

To give you an idea of why my Oliver Charles sweater has been key for my personal uniform...

I've worn my sweater on top of light jean, dark jeans, and slacks when I dressed up a bit more.

I've also worn it as a base-layer doing yoga (it's truly the perfect yoga sweater - lightweight and slim fit so it doesn't flip over your head in downward dog!), over a button-down, and even under a sports coat - again, it's an amazing layerable lightweight sweater.

I've also worn it on backpacking trips, nearly every day at my desk, in zoom meeting, to date night... you get the point.
Oliver Charles - Go-To For Modern Professionals

Go-To For Modern Professionals

As you can tell, it's not the traditional personal uniform where you'd wear the same thing every day.

Instead, it's a modern approach where just a few things in my closet can account for nearly everything I wear, no matter how formal/informal the setting.

My new way of thinking about personal uniforms is simple...

I have a formula that goes:

find the outfits I love wearing + upgrade the clothing items to high-quality materials and production methods + wear these outfits all the time = my personal uniform.

For instance, I love wearing sweaters so I upgraded to a sweater that's 3D-knit for durability/comfort and made from a blend of yak wool (AKA "khullu") and merino wool for crazy impressive self-cleaning and odor-resisting properties.

This all means I can wear my sweater all the time while always feeling great and smelling A-OK.
If you believe that every good wardrobe starts with owning less and owning better, consider buying yourself an OLIVER CHARLES sweater.
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