Could you wear just six pieces of clothing for a month?

The New York Times article “Shoppers on a ‘Diet’ Tame the Urge to Buy” looks into two fashion diets that encourage folks to creatively exercise restraint in buying new clothes. The first challenge, called Six Items or Less, required a pledge to only wear six items of clothing for an entire month. The second challenge, known as the Great American Apparel Diet, is a one-year agreement to abstain from buying any clothing.

The article spends most of its column inches focusing on the Six Items or Less challenge, and explores a few of the sets of outfits participants chose to wear. My favorite parts of the article aren’t where they discuss the reasons the people decided to take on the challenge — we’ve talked about all the reasons on Unclutterer numerous times before — what is fun for me are the reactions the challengers mention. From the article:

Nearly a month into what amounted to just such a self-inflicted fast of fashion, Stella Brennan, 31, an insurance sales executive from Kenosha, Wis., realized last week that not even her husband, Kelly, a machinist, had yet figured out that she had been wearing the same six items, over and over, since June 21. The sad punch line is that Mr. Brennan is the one who actually does the laundry in the family.

If you’re looking to curb clutter in your clothes closet, I think the reaction that most people don’t pay extremely close attention to what you’re wearing is something to keep at the back of your mind. You don’t have to trim your wardrobe down to just six pieces, but getting rid of the stuff that doesn’t pass the red velvet rope test likely won’t make you the laughing stock of society. You can be chic and clutter free!

Image from The New York Times.

74 Comments for “Could you wear just six pieces of clothing for a month?”

  1. posted by Jen on

    I read this article the other day and really liked the idea, although I kind of thought that, to make it more accessible to most people, it might be better to add in a few more items – like maybe 10 items of clothing for one month, since you can make exponentially more outfits with just 4 more pieces. But it’s a good reminder for the rest of us that the 80/20 rule usually applies to our wardrobes too (you’ll wear 80% of your clothes 20% of the time).

    Keeping that in mind would probably make it easier to get rid of some items…I bet keeping a log of exactly what you wore for, say, a month, would really help in that regard as well.

  2. posted by Mrs. G on

    I would love to try this. I actually wish I could wear my favorite clothes over and over again. It’s good to know that most people don’t really notice.

  3. posted by Harrken on

    I have 2 jackets, 4 pairs of pants and 6 shirts that, except for underwear and socks, has been my entire wardrobe for the past 5 years.

  4. posted by Awurrlu on

    Like Mrs. G, I love this idea. Unfortunately, I know my husband and colleagues would notice, and I live in a climate that has very changeable weather, making a selection of clothes that narrow pretty much impossible.

    That said, I get by on about 16 items of clothing a month, and have under 40 overall, not counting underwear, socks, shoes, and pajamas.

  5. posted by Cat's Meow on

    I have been pretty much doing this the whole summer! It’s been very hot here, and I’ve worn a couple of dresses, leggings and two jumpsuits almost exclusively. (Jumpsuits are the ultimate in minimalist fashion hehe :) )
    I think I’m going to reduce my already slim wardrobe even more. Most of my clothes are suitable for a cooler weather, since the summers in Finland are so short and you can’t guarantee on it being very hot or even warm! But if I can dress this simply in the summer, there is no reason I can’t do it in the winter as well.

  6. posted by Jude on

    This is definitely one thing I don’t want to bother worrying about. In 5th grade, my mother made me three dresses I loved, and I alternated wearing the same three dresses for a year. It was boring. I don’t have lots of clothes, but I’m not going to bother counting how many I have and limiting myself in this area. I don’t like fashion–I buy for utility and comfort.

  7. posted by Tom Kat on

    I love the idea but it neglects a few things.

    1. For those in uptight workspaces, this is an issue. I’ve been written up before for a shirt with wrinkles by HR. In that type of workspace, they’d notice. In a heartbeat. The same few pieces. Our corporate image doesn’t mesh with minimalism, apparently.

    2. The environmental aspect. The same six pieces (assuming, of course…undie-things aren’t a part of that mixture) requires more laundry to be done, which means more natural resources at use. Instead of doing laundry once every three weeks, one would be doing it at least once a week (at minimum).

  8. posted by Christine on

    I do. Though it’s mostly due to circumstance rather than an “active” choice. I stay at home with the kids and I always tell myself I’ll buy good clothes when I lose weight first so I don’t invest too much in clothes right now.

    A few weeks ago, I finally got rid of clothes in my closet that were “backups” for when my standard rotation were dirty/messed up etc. I realized that I only felt comfortable in my standard rotation so what was the point of keeping those other clothes that I would never wear.

  9. posted by Ginger on

    Wearing the same clothes everyday would make them wear out that much faster and for me, that is a big problem because I don’t find the replacements everyday. I keep backups in my closet and multiples of shirts I really love and keep them rotated. I have such a hard time finding tops that fit correctly that when I DO find them I want to make it last as long as possible without the stress of needing to find more anytime soon.

  10. posted by Caroline on

    Nope – I only go for minimalism in clothing when traveling. I don’t have a gigantic closet or anything like that, but I wear what I’ve got, and I like variety in that part of my life. I’ve happily let go of most of my other things, including a once beloved collection of books and many, many mementos. But I “use” clothes everyday and I DO notice when people wear the same stuff, especially if it’s ugly. If you only have a few items of clothing, they better look damn good.

  11. posted by Ren on

    I love this article. I realized when I had to trim my wardrobe out of space necessity 5 years that much of what was in my closet was never/rarely worn.

    Once I got my wardrobe down to a workable size where every item is used, if anything new comes in, something has to go out. That’s my personal rule for clothes & shoes. I spend a lot less now.

  12. posted by lola on

    Tom Kat makes some great points, esp regarding the laundry, but if one has access to the newer washers that use less water, I still think one would use less resources washing a small load of clothes once a week rather than many larger loads every two or three weeks.

    And with all due respect, I don’t think your workplace was “uptight” for insisting that its employees not come to work wearing wrinkled clothes; that’s just plain unprofessional and reflects poorly on the business. As this article so aptly demonstrated, most people don’t even notice what others wear from day to day — even those closest to you. Unless someone purposefully wears scruffy-looking or dirty clothes, I certainly never notice, and I love fashion.

    Caroline, you’re so right: I think to make this work, a person would have to invest in quality clothing that looks damn good (those cut-off denim shorts in the article, for example, were a poor choice imho): each piece should be well-made and preferably tailored to fit the person’s body. The problem with most of today’s clothing is that they’re cheaply constructed and not made to last. This encourages over-consumption.

  13. posted by lola on

    And this from the article jumped out at me:

    “Ms. Brennan did sound ripe for some kind of fashion intervention. In a recent interview, she spoke of a rack of clothes in the back of her closet that still had the tags on them, and clothes that she has not worn in 15 years but that she cannot stand to part with, and her 72 pairs of “active” shoes (meaning those that she actively wears, not the ones still in the boxes), and a closet full of clothes for her 3-year-old daughter, and, lest she forget, a wardrobe of clothes for her dog.”

    I’m sorry, but this lady has issues. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that since taking on this challenge, she’s simply transferred her obsession into some other aspect of her life.

  14. Profile photo of

    posted by ValH on

    While I like the idea it would never work for me. I teach at a the high school level and trust me they would notice (I still remember everyone talking about the student teacher when I was in 8th grade that just had two pairs of pants, shirts and so forth. We noticed and thought it was odd).

    I think I do get by with a reasonable amount for work, I have 5 short sleeve shirts and 5 long (the temperature varies enough that I need both options) and about 5 pairs of pants. This lets me pair up things differently so that I am not repeating the same look too often.

  15. posted by Margaret on

    In all of the articles about this on the internet, in all of the comments, I’m not seeing anyone saying, “I don’t care if people notice that I wear the same clothes all the time. I don’t care if they think bad things about me because of it.”

  16. posted by Bailey on

    In my opinion, being able to wear only six items of clothing indicates a boring life. I wear different types of clothing for different activities: grocery shopping, swing dancing, attending church, cleaning the house, etc. Six items of clothing would indicate to me that the wearer does the same thing day in and day out.

  17. posted by Handy Man, Crafty Woman on

    Interesting. I tend to wear the same outfits over and over, but I don’t think I could do this with just 6 pieces. I’m not “into” fashion but I even I would get bored with it. Although, as an at-home mother in the summer, I have been wearing the same few shorts/tshirts over and over, I’ve noticed. But I can get away with that for now.

  18. posted by Mrs. O on

    I’d like to compromise and cut way down on the closet clothing, however, not to six items. (Wow, that seems impractical and boring. I like variety.)

    Living in a hot, sweaty climate, has me changing outfits more than once a day. And getting rid of the closet full of “skinny clothes” would make me feel like I’ve given up on losing weight. However, I’ll try cutting it to at least half.

    Not buying clothes for a year is a necessity thanks to the economical situation!

  19. posted by Jan on

    Speaking to the laundry/wear issue: I believe the original experiment allowed you to have multiples of (nearly) identical items (black blazer or pants, say); the focus was on reducing your choice of styles (and the attendant anxiety), not your supply of clean garments.

  20. posted by MsD on

    Tom Kat hit the nail almost completely on the head about the inefficiency of having such a small wardrobe. Even newer washing machines that automatically adjust the water level use the same amount of electricity for a small load as a large one, and the water amounts do not decline proportinately (a half size load of laundry uses LESS water than a full size load, but not HALF as much). And with how many more clothes fit in the machine, the loads should be even bigger (2-3x the size of a standard top-loader load). Not to mention the extra time to do all those extra loads. I have enough dark and light clothes such that I can have a full load of each before I have to do laundry again, which ends up working out to one load of laundry every week and a half or so.

    That said, people really do typically have too many clothes. Unless you’re doing something really messy/sweaty, there’s no reason you can’t wear a pair of jeans or nice dress pants or even a suit coat 2 or 3 times before laundring. Many of the professional men I know only own 2-3 suits, and that carries them for 5-7 days. While women’s clothes are often more distinctive, we have more flexibility in a professional wardrobe. For example, I own one suit with a black pencil skirt and a jacket with detailing. I wear the suit one day, the skirt with a sweater set or just a button-down another day, and the jacket with a different skirt or pants another day. No one notices. But I guess I end up owning more clothes than most because I need three wardrobes. My professional business wardrobe is my primary wardrobe. Then, I have a business casual wardrobe because I travel and sometimes end up in places or conditions where business professional would be inappropriate. I also have a casual wardrobe because I would feel ridiculous grocery shopping in a suit…when I wear business casual I don’t feel the need to change, yet I’m not going to iron the business casual stuff to wear it after work. Plus, I live in a climate where the summers are hot hot hot and the winters pretty darn cold. I try to cut down a little on the seasonality by layering and owning a really good coat, so instead of having a whole different wardrobe, I have about 10 additional pieces like sweaters and 10 additional pieces like tank tops. In the end, though, I have half a closet and one dresser full of clothes, and I think that’s much more reasonable than most people (I can’t count the number of overflowing walk-in closets I’ve seen).

  21. posted by Nancy on

    While this idea would reduce ‘clutter’ in my closet, it would INCREASE it in my laundry room. Or at least I’d be IN my laundry room a lot more. Currently, I do laundry about every three weeks. I have enough underthings and clothing to go about that long. It also takes about that long for a full load to be generated for all color groupings. Although I NEVER have a full load for red….

    By having more ITEMS of clothing, I use far less water, detergent and time doing laundry.

    And all my clothes have a home. A bit crowded perhaps, but a home nonetheless.

  22. posted by Imogene on

    Henry David Thoreau said: “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” Pretty good advice, if you ask me. In my opinion, limiting your clothes choice doesn’t hinder your creativity, it just gives more time and energy to focus your creativity on more important things. Look at Steve Jobs — he wears the same black turtleneck and jeans day in and day out. Does that make him boring and uncreative? Hardly. The writer Fran Leibowitz has a closetful of the same outfit: jeans, white shirt, navy blazer. She chooses to focus on her writing, not what she wears. And I’ll bet neither one of them cares a whit about what any one else thinks about what they wear.

  23. posted by chacha1 on

    I will happily admit that I have too many clothes – far more than I need – even taking into account all my different activities.

    I will also cop to caring how I look to others. I believe that as long as a person is tidy and neat, and dressed appropriately for the venue (work, swing dancing, church) no-one is really entitled to be critical of the actual fashion of the clothes. But for me, clothes are also a way to convey a message – in my case, that I am creative, adventurous, and well-qualified for the activity in which I’m collaborating.

    Clothes are also a way to have some fun and add some variety to a daily routine that, for me, does not vary much. I can’t change my workspace but I can wear a funky top with my Lucy everyday pants. :-)

  24. posted by infmom on

    I could do it. Two pairs of jeans, three t-shirts and a nice shirt that buttons up and I’m good.

    That’s what being retired is all about. :)

  25. posted by nicole 86 on

    It is possible, but only if you do not mind doing the laundry every two days ! and then I am not sure it is good for the ozone layer and for one’s mood. So I wll use the items which are in my closet without bothering counting them.

  26. posted by Jean at The Delightful Repast on

    I definitely could do it if I wanted to. I have no trouble keeping my wardrobe down to what fits comfortably in my small closet. Being a cook and a food writer, I have a harder time resisting new kitchen gadgetry than clothes. Now I’ve decided I need an ice cream maker and I don’t know where I’m going to put it. Hmmm … maybe the garage …

  27. posted by Pamela on

    Most people really already do. Or close to it. They just don’t realize it. Since really no one remembers what you wore yesterday. A guy friend wore the same outfit every day just to prove it. And he works with lawyers. Who didn’t even notice. lol.

  28. posted by momofthree on

    Back in my everyday going to work days, I had, at minimum, 15-18 different sets of outfits, tops & bottoms, that I would rotate over a three-ish week cycle. I would buy two pair of pants and two tops at one time, that could be mix and matched and rotated in with what I already had. I stayed in the Navy and Black range. Did branch out to other colors, but would buy only one top/bottom and would break the n-b mod.

    I have always been on the chubby side, and prefer pants over dresses/skirts. Thought it was very sexist when my next to the last boss asked my why I never wore dresses/skirts. Asked him point blank if it really mattered what I wore when I made up his expense check or paid the electric bill for the building…..Told him we should go skirt shopping together, that way he too, could wear something different besides his suit and tie. Never brought up the issue again, but he was surprised, when at a couple of weddings within the company, I show up wearing dresses. (which then i only wore to church since I would be wearing it for the ride there, the hour long service and the ride home)

  29. Profile photo of

    posted by Another Deb on

    My junior high students notice…. Last year I was wearing the same pair of shoes due to orthodics. That meant slacks only due to the clunky shoes. I was wearing several sets of black pants and a few different shirts all year. Boring!

  30. posted by bevb on

    Margaret said “In all of the articles about this on the internet, in all of the comments, I’m not seeing anyone saying, “I don’t care if people notice that I wear the same clothes all the time. I don’t care if they think bad things about me because of it.””

    Well, Margaret, now you see it – I don’t care if people notice that I wear the same clothes all the time. I don’t care if they think bad things about me because of it. I have 8 outfits, one for each day of the week ans one to wear on laundry day. I keep the two best outfits to wear on the two days I work.

    It works for me.

  31. posted by jbeany on

    Nope, couldn’t do it. Last fall, after surgical complications, I spent 2 weeks in the hospital doing physical therapy. I couldn’t do the exercises in a hospital gown, so I had regular clothes. I had only 4 outfits, all stretchy track suits. I was sooooo sick of them all by the time I was sent home.

    I don’t even wear the same earrings twice a week.

    I am good about sorting clothes and making sure everything in the closet is in good shape, flattering, and comfortable. I purge anything that isn’t used often. But I have more choices because I want them, not because I think others might notice if I don’t have them.

  32. posted by Waterbishop on

    I already do this in cold weather. I have a few pairs of dark wash jeans and several black shirts. This is my uniform all winter. I add colorful scarves and necklaces to jazz it up. I don’t have ac and I do alot of outdoor exercise. My activewear is drenched in sweat, so I need a decent rotation. I already have to do laundry every day as it is with my activities, my husbands exercising, and baby sputup.

  33. posted by Pam Munro on

    Efficient perhaps – but BORING! I don’t see any accessories such as scarves or jewelry, either! That’s the sort of outfit I had to wear as a spritz cologne lady in department stores & even then I added a jacket with an interesting PIN. It reminds me of the costume of the vendeuse (Fr. sales lady)& I would think would conjure up some of the same emotional impressions of being servile and down market unless done in the most luxurious fabrics. (I mean, it COULD ALL be CHANEL…)

    As a gimmick and a game it is interesting. But living in Hollywood as an actress I would do it at my own peril. (Not to mention that sheer black & white are still a no-no on camera!)

  34. posted by Lee on

    This would be an interesting “challenge” to see if you could do it (even for a week or two) and then evaluate if your choices worked or should be replaced with a different item and if there are a few more well chosen pieces that would make your life easier. It’s going to be different for each person and professions, multiple roles, and varying climates factor in.

    When my older son attended a Catholic lower and middle school, the uniform required light blue shirts and navy blue pants (or shorts during the hotter months), along with a navy sweater. Each year, he had 5 (total) woven and knit short sleeve shirts, 5 long sleeve shirts, 3 lightweight pants, 3 corduroy pants, 2 shorts, and 2 sweaters. Yes, that’s a lot, but kids get messy and I think a shirt should be fresh each day. Mid year purchases were to replace something worn out or outgrown. As long as I washed those on the weekends (I made those the 2 weekend laundry loads), we were good for another week and not constantly looking for something clean to wear. That was a very peaceful feeling for me. Outgrown pieces could be sold, donated, or sometimes trashed. He had a few light and a few heavy pieces for weekends, as they did get sick of uniforms. Some kids had fewer pieces and looked a little dirty at times, but that was between the administration and their parents.

    Many manufacturers are making “3 season” pieces, good for spring, summer, and fall, or fall, winter, and spring. I appreciate their attitudes. Our temperatures go from -0 to 110 degrees, and we need a wider range than more stable climates. Many women’s lines make pieces to coordinate with past seasons’ pieces. Flax and Eileen Fisher are 2, although I’m more inclined to buy EF at the deepest discount. I will pay full price for something that can go from very casual to very dressy, go with most of my pieces, and I can wear it to death.

    Do you remember Diana Vreeland, a former editor of Vogue, who was always in a white shirt and black skirt and looked fantastic? A positive spin would be “my signature look”. She proved that a look can be worn constantly, although I’m sure she had many variations of each piece.

    I’ve just read that I’ve reached the age where gray will be kinder to me around the face than black. This is calling for a shift, mainly handled with replacements.

    I think this will encourage people to make changes, even if they are of varying degrees. I do think this will help me pack lighter – lighter loads = lower gas consumption?

  35. Profile photo of

    posted by lucy1965 on

    I could do it, but I’m lucky enough to work from home and on days when I’m not expecting a delivery, don’t bother to do more than add a bra to my yoga pants/T-shirt sleep combo. (When dressing up, it’s Eileen Fisher silk pieces from consignment stores/eBay.)

    Since Lee mentioned Diana Vreeland, I thought I’d post a link to my friend Erin McKean’s blog, A Dress A Day, and specifically to her post “You Don’t Have To Be Pretty” http://www.dressaday.com/2006/.....retty.html Erin and I are nearly polar opposites when it comes to fashion, but she’s summed up my attitude towards it brilliantly here:

    “If you are clean, are covered enough to avoid a citation for public indecency, and have bandaged any open wounds, you can wear any color or style you please, if it makes you happy.”

  36. posted by Marc on

    My partner and I went traveling for a year with hardly any cloths:
    http://sybarites.studioscience.....king-list/

    She just had:
    – Quick-dry pants
    – Button-down collared shirt
    – Lightweight long underwear
    – 2 light, cotton t-shirts
    – 2 quick-dry tanktops
    – Quick-dry skirt
    – Bikini
    – Tank top for sleepwear
    – 3 pairs of undergarments
    – 2 pairs of socks
    – Waterproof Jacket
    – Light, zip-up sweater
    – Toque (aka Ski Hat)
    I brought a little more than that.

  37. posted by Karen on

    I have more than six items, but lately I’ve realized it’s just easier for me to have a ‘uniform”. I’m a stay at home, homeschooling mom, and jeans and a t shirt work for me. I find a flattering type of shirt (Target has very affordable ones), and get three new short sleeves for summer, three new long sleeved ones in the fall. One pair of jeans that are “nice” for library trips, et cetera, and one ratty pair for cleaning. Done. I even just get the same color t shirts, to avoid decision making in the morning. I hate to think about clothes, I hate shopping for clothes.

  38. posted by sjwilde on

    I’m going on a one-week European trip next month and this article has inspired me to just take 6 items of clothing on the trip. I tend to overpack and then have too much to lug. A tip from a friend: when going on a trip, take underwear that’s on its last legs and then dispose of it as you go.

    As for the laundry issue:
    1. Wear things 2-3 times before washing.
    2. Separating colors for washing is an old myth. No need to do so with today’s clothing. Just put everything in together, perhaps using cold water. I’ve never had colors run.
    3. In the long run, buying fewer clothes will save more energy than doing laundry a little more often will use up.
    It just seems a little odd to me to try to save the planet by having more clothes!

  39. posted by Availle on

    Essentially that’s what I’m doing – for the stuff I wear at home. I have 3 summer and 3 winter outfits, and I rotate them until the clothes fall apart (I mean that quite literally). Admittedly, I live alone and don’t have many houseguests who could complain… :-)

    My sports outfit is similar, but martial arts do come with a uniform, so the only choice is which (white) tshirt I wear underneath.

    For work and social activities, yes I think I could get by with 6 pieces. I wouldn’t want to, though. Firstly, it’s too boring (I love colorful tops – at some point as a student I had enough tshirts to last 3 months), and secondly I also don’t like to do laundry that often. Right now, I have one load of whites every week, and additionally one load of either black/light/red stuff.

  40. posted by Christine on

    The clothes I mentioned that I wear (see previous comment) are NOT spectacular clothes. However, they are casual clothes that I feel comfortable wearing.

    I’m sure people notice I wear the same clothes and part of me is bothered by that, but that’s where I am right now. I don’t like where I am with my weight so I don’t want to buy more clothes than what I can get away with. (If I was at the point where I was buying a “permanent” wardrobe, I would buy more than 6, but try to keep the rotation limited b/c I don’t need to buy a ton of clothes (which would also require addl matching shoes).

    When I try to go shopping, I have a hard time finding anything I like AND that fits AND that looks okay. If I don’t like it, I don’t see the point in buying it. When I do find something I like, I also try to buy multiples (in different colors/patterns).

    I used to buy cheaper stuff, but I got tired of the stuff falling apart after a wash so I decided I would buy decent stuff since I do wear them so much. Obviously, if I wear something so often, it’s worth it to pay a little more since the price per wear is so low. I had these great pair of pants (bought 2 of course) that lasted for years. I only lost the 1 pair b/c I fell down and tore a large hole in it (I was so sad, btw :)).

    B/c I try to buy quality, it usually withstands the more constant washing.

    As for doing more laundry, I really don’t do much more laundry b/c I have 3 kids and there is always laundry to do. I don’t run less than a full load so it’s no different than if I had more clothes. Actually, it works out better for me, b/c when I had more clothes, I would let the the laundry go longer and then have HUUUUUGE piles of it.

  41. posted by Cynthia Friedlob, The Thoughtful Consumer on

    I’m fond of this quote from the article:
    “…Dean Kakridas, 42, the director of business development at Frog Design, an innovation firm in Austin, Tex., said that he was obsessed with efficiency. ‘I kind of question everything,’ he said, including why he was spending 20 minutes every morning figuring out what to wear. He wanted to identify the clothes that made him happiest and fit his lifestyle.”

    Props also to commentor Imogene who noted that Steve Jobs and Fran Leibowitz wear a basic uniform and certainly neither could be considered boring or uncreative.

    For anyone interested, I have a free downloadable 25 page article entitled “How to Get Dressed without Driving Yourself Crazy” available here: http://bit.ly/8ZhYck You’ll see that I’m a fan of the uniform (I am severely fashion-challenged!), although a bit of accessorizing can help keep things interesting.

  42. posted by Kyla on

    I could never do it. I live in a climate that is hot most months out of the year. Wearing the same pants twice is out of the question, and wearing a jacket is as well, unless you absolutely have to.
    I also think you would run out of options before you could get the clothes washed – and what would you wear while you washed them? nothing?
    I don’t have that many clothes – one non-walk in closet full, and a few sweaters in storage. I use the same rule that many others do – if I bring something in, something else goes to charity.

  43. posted by Bakelite on

    You don’t have to use a machine to wash your clothes. If you only have a few pieces, just wash by hand and air dry.

  44. posted by Heather on

    @ Bailey: While moving several times in the last year, I started to question everything I had to carry. I found that most pieces of clothing had a purpose. Pants, tops, hats, even underwear and socks all fit into dressy, casual, office casual, specific sports, or painting/yard/farm work. I would never wear my running shoes and shorts to mow the lawn, or my quick-dry synthetic hiking clothes to work on the truck. I’m lucky my chosen field has a casual dress code, or I’d need another wardrobe category for work.

    I rarely buy new clothes, mainly because I’m ridiculously hard to fit for everything except socks. Shopping for clothes twice a year is too often. I’ll happily embrace a boring wardrobe if it means I don’t have to waste my weekends driving from mall to mall and coming home empty-handed, or worse, wasting money on items that are barely adequate because I’m desperate. I now wish I had bought several dozen of the t-shirt I fell in love with at Target a few years ago. I had collected about 10 of the same t-shirt, with a perfect cut and multiple colors that flatter my skin tone. It was my daily “uniform,” and nobody ever criticized my wardrobe. When they started to wear out, I returned to the store to find that they discontinued that style. I haven’t found anything else that fits the same way, and now they’re all too worn to wear in public.

    When I find a perfect pair of jeans, I buy every pair the store has in my size (which is usually 2 pairs), but I never expected to have that problem with t-shirts. Even though I’m on a budget and they’re expensive, I’m considering buying multiples of my favorite shoes because I’m afraid they’ll be discontinued like my previous favorite style. It took me several weeks to discover a shoe that didn’t hurt my feet, at an inconvenient time in my life, and I tried the patience of many shoe salespeople at many shops. When my previous favorite shoe was discontinued, I called every known retailer in three states to track down a pair in my size, and failed. I really don’t want to go through that stress again.

  45. posted by panig on

    I use/have 5-6 sets of clothes for each of these environments: home, work, exercise, sleeping and social activities. Paying attention to one’s preferred type/style of clothing helps reduce impulse buying. I try to have most of my clothes in as few a color as possible. This way I can wash them together and frequently.

  46. posted by Geralin Thomas on

    If I did the 4-garments-for-a-month-experiment, I think it would be easier in the winter months.

    Related ideas for those who are interested~

    Alex Martin’s blog from both of her projects! (She wore the same brown dress, everyday, for a year!) http://bit.ly/b0G26t

    Lee Eisenberg’s book, Shoptimism: http://www.shoptimismbook.com/

  47. posted by mac how to on

    Haa) would never think of such an experiment… I think it is possible though.. If you know it is only for a month, and you are motivated ($), Y not? I’d do this!

  48. posted by Connie on

    Hm…I think this is interesting especially since I know I buy far too many clothes. But I find the six item challenge impossible if you live in a hot and humid climate like Washington, D.C. and have to spend more than a few minutes outside each day. I sweat too much in 100 degree wet heat to wear clothes again without washing them.

    Also, in general isn’t it more environmentally harmful to keep washing tiny loads of laundry than to wear a greater variety of your clothing and wash full loads? How about a pledge to wear and buy only clothes that don’t require dry cleaning, a process full of toxic chemicals, instead?

    Finally, I find it interesting that one woman reported feeling moody and sluggish in the morning from the lack of variety in her clothing selections. Colorful and fun clothes I find have a great pick-me-up effect.

  49. posted by ro on

    I could easily do this. Wearing a uniform in grade, high and nursing school was a way of life. Later I moved on to several pairs of black pants, black and grey well cut tees with different necklines and black flats or clogs and a black Coach bag. Cheap street watches and shiny earrings for a change of pace. I love living this look.
    In winter I wear a black hooded coat, so no need for hats or scarf, black snow boots and a good pair of gloves. My coat has a zip out liner and is water resistant. I do have one dressier pants set, my black ballet flats, and a quilted bag work just fine for those rare occasions.

  50. posted by Kevin on

    I actually own 2 pairs of jeans 4 tops 5 t shirts 14 pairs of socks and 7 pants.

    I have not bought any new item of clothing for some 2 years or so.

  51. posted by Melinda on

    LOL I work at home and could easy get away with three t-shirts and 3 pairs of shorts with no effort for a month. In fact I probably am doing that already. I’m slowly weeding out the closet. Nothing helps you clean a closet like a teenage girl standing over your shoulder going..”Mom, that is so out of fashion and old”. :)

  52. posted by Ms. Brooklyn on

    I have a self-imposed “uniform” of black pantsuit (I have 3) and white tee-shirt (I buy a handful of inexpensive ones each spring/fall). My friends keep threatening to nominate me for What Not to Wear, but I never have trouble getting dressed and my uniform is appropriate for my job.

  53. posted by mydivabydesign - The Diva's Home on

    I love this article! I feel that this would be a great idea for my entire family. I have been paring down my wardrobe and I don’t miss what’s gone. It would also force my youngest to stop changing clothes every half hour and throwing clean clothes into the laundry hamper. there are five of us and laundry is a b**ch! using accessories to change up the look of six(ten is better!) items. I would buy the better clothes and they would last longer. If people care that much about how many times others are wearing their outfits, they need to get a life.

  54. posted by sherrykay on

    I lived overseas for 5 yrs in a desert country where people socialized a lot (the joke: only 2 things to do there: shop and eat), so I had two separate clothing styles: one for the outside heat in a conservative climate, and another for dressy evening parties. When I returned to the U.S. I realized none of these would work as an academic. The first 2 yrs. I had maybe five outfits, that could mix and match, which I loved and wore to tatters (literally-I wore one sweater so much that after multiple holes I bought the same one again (in a smaller size; no more parties!)on ebay. I was happy-they were ‘me’ and I didn’t have to think about what to wear (esp. in the lovely cold weather!). Now, I have a lot more and …well, it’s not so good. Three different sizes, too many bags, ever more hot weather, travels, etc. It’s too much. I’m game for something. I’ve decided not to buy anything for the rest of the year. But it’s hard when fall comes around…and those sample sales…!

  55. posted by heidenkind on

    I think I already do this-jeans, t-shirt, jeans, t-shirt, repeat ad nauseum.

  56. posted by Katie Alender on

    This is so tempting to me. I think I’d have to go with multiples in the various categories, but it would still massively simplify my getting-dressed process.

    I can imagine putting extras of things into a bin and putting it in storage for a month. It would be interesting to see what (if anything) I missed and what I forgot about.

    As for teachers, I’m curious as to whether this might be turned into a lesson for the students–enlist them as cheerleaders and helpers. Instead of waiting for them to notice, talk to them about it and let them be part of the experiment.

    I must say, I’m a horrible packer, so the idea of having so few clothes that I could just pack ALL of them is almost irresistible.

  57. posted by klutzgrrl on

    thanks Lee for mentioning Diana Vreeland and using the phrase ‘signature look’ – that sounds so much better than ‘uniform’, so I’m going to use that now instead of uniform to describe my wardrobe.

    After having a lot of stuff go unworn and really preferring to live in jeans and boots, I’ve made jeans and black t-shirts my uniform, I mean, signature look… with a bit of style I hope, nice shirts and not heavy-metal-relic ones. Limiting my colours makes laundry much easier.

    I do enjoy fashion but I don’t have the mental energy to devote to clothing, so my fashion indulgences are limited now to nice jackets that I can match with said jeans, and evening wear – when I go out, I dress up. But I like my daily wardrobe to be functional.

    I’ll be needing a corporate wardrobe soon when I start a ‘day job’ so I’m taking this on board – simple and minimal.

    Six actual pieces is a bit too minimal for me, but the basic principle is a very good one.

  58. posted by joolie on

    I am already signed up to try this in September, but I think I might make it 7 or 8 items instead of 6. If you go to the page, they actually advocate making your own rules just as long as you challenge yourself to look at your clothes in a new way.
    I think the key thing to remember here is that this is a social experiment. Even if you think this would never work for you, for your job, for your climate, for your whatever, give it a try.
    Maybe you were right and it made you feel boring, maybe people commented, maybe you found you couldn’t keep up with the laundry.
    But you will never know if you don’t try. It is a challenge, not a permanent change to your life style.
    People who say no without trying might just be afraid (afraid that no one would notice? afraid that it might be almost the same as they do now? afraid that they aren’t creative enough with accessories or shoes to make outfits?)

  59. posted by Anita on

    I’m surprised by how many people would like to do this but are afraid of other people’s reactions. If having fewer things, and wearing the same thing over and over again is what makes you happy and comfortable, who cares what others say?

    For my part, I’d never want do this. My wardrobe is one of my ways of self-expression, and variety is what I want out of it. Beyond common sense and decency, what others think of my style of dress (or quantity of clothing) is immaterial.

  60. posted by JC on

    @ Cat’s Meow: Here in Alaska I have the same climate issues. I need a lot of layers for winter. Summer is fleeting and not guaranteed to be warm- and you still have to have layers. I will often make a summer dress a little large so that I can wear a long sleeve top and thermals under it during the winter.

    I sew, so most of my ready-to-wear purchases are underthings, sweaters, and socks/tights, and shoes- all of which are fairly limited in my area. I will make 3-5 new day dresses every 4-5 months or so, depending on what I’m interested in and how my others are wearing. I rotate the same dresses. When one is getting on from wear, it gets cut down for quilts or to make a child’s play dress.

    I do have a couple really nice things that will last years, like the suit I have to wear in court and my coats.

    Depending on your profession of course, most times people really don’t notice if you wear the same things repeatedly. There was a post about personal uniforms a while back on Unclutterer that touched on this topic. Developing a personal uniform/style can also reduce the clutter in the closets. I am aware of what I actually wear and don’t spend time/resource/closet space buying things I know I will not wear. I would never have more than two pair of jeans. I wear my dresses with muck boots and an old overcoat to do daily chores and the jeans only for major chores like getting in the wood for winter and mucking out the chicken coop, etc.

  61. posted by MutantSupermodel on

    LOL! I have to say that I am completely amused more the comments than the article. It seems some people just don’t want to listen. We swear everyone would notice– they don’t.

    I actually think people who are more style-inclined would gravitate towards this type of challenge. You don’t wear the exact same outfit over and over again, you mix and match. There are many style icons who do this and no one freaks out about. Carolina Herrera is a white blouse fanatic. Michael Kors only wears t-shirts and jeans.

    The argument against inefficiency is completely invalid. Just because you are wait three weeks, you are still washing three weeks worth of clothes. You are also washing MORE pieces. You use up the same, maybe more resources, procastinating on your laundry. Besides, most households offer up more than enough laundry items to support this type of wardrobe. This experiment does not mandate daily laundry. And really, I’m amused by the weather-related comments. I live in the hottest, most humid climate in the US (not including Hawaii) Miami, FL and do not have the aforementioned sweat issues. Lucky i guess LOL

    Also, I’d like to finally remind everyone it is a challenge. That means it’s supposed to be somewhat difficult.

  62. posted by Tara @ Froogaloo on

    That would be quite a challenge for me!

  63. posted by InfoMofo on

    On the plus side, your co-workers will assume you get laid a lot…

  64. posted by Craig on

    Am I the only one that includes underwear as items of clothing? Unless the challenge is to go barefoot and commando for a month most people would add 2*shoes, 2*socks, 1*underpants/whatever and some would add a bra. All of those items would be counted separately if playing strip poker. There’s your 6 items and you’ can bet your coworkers would notice if you wore only them for a month!

  65. posted by Sue on

    What about workout clothes?

    I couldn’t do this, mostly because my job involves office meetings and field work. I can’t think of 6 pieces of clothing that would cover those two extremes, plus workout/casual clothing for when I’m not at work. My suits are not something I want to hang around the house in, and my field clothing needs to go in the wash as soon as I get home.

  66. posted by Alexandra on

    I’m doing a variant of this. I have 10 items of clothing that I have been using and rotating for the last month. We are spending a month away from home visiting family members and only wanted to take one suitcase (we travel by train), so we wash as we go. I have one lightweight jacket, 2 summer dresses, workout pants, a t-shirt, a tank top, a dressy top, a dressy dress, a pair of jeans and a sweater. I have to admit it works – but I get tired of it. But that’s really all I *need* for the whole summer, and I could cut down on a few things if I had to. But I like having about three times this many clothes just for variety’s sake and to not have to bother with laundry as often.

  67. posted by Sue on

    Just read the six things site and it specificially excludes workout clothes, jackets, shoes, underwear and accessories, among other things. With all of that, I just don’t see the point. The person who started it claimed it was to cut back on the “20 minutes to decide what to wear in the morning” problem. First, who takes 20 minutes to choose an outfit? Even on my indecisive days I take 5 minutes at most. Second, if your problem is indecision, I can’t see how this will help. You’ll still spend lots of time picking out the right shoes and accessories if those aren’t limited.

  68. posted by M on

    The key is accessories.. scarves, hats, jewelry, and having everything in your closet work with multiple pieces..

  69. posted by hadashi on

    being a frequent traveler, i probably have been doing a variant on this theme for years, but i got this down to a science on an almost-month trip to Turkey with only a carry-on. it gave me a new appreciation for my closet’s bounty when i got back!
    but to the point. one thing i believe is very important to keep in mind: if you’re going to pare down your wardrobe, remember that every piece of clothing you’re not wearing regularly could be worn by someone else. maybe Erin, you could do a post on what to do After The Closet Is Clean? i know you’ve done lots of other posts on donating unused stuff, but clothing is a big one.
    if you aren’t giving them away to grateful friends, then please take them to your local charity, your local mission, or an organization like Dress For Success. that clutter in your closet could literally make a difference in someone’s life; perhaps a person who simply needs clean clothes or a woman interviewing for her first job who can’t afford that nice pantsuit you don’t wear anymore.
    it’s not just about efficiency or simplicity, it’s also about sharing what you don’t need with those who do.

  70. posted by Patti on

    I could do this. I’ve already given away a lot of clothes, and as of this writing at least half of what’s left is boxed up and waiting for the right recipient. What’s left in my closet, most of it I don’t really care for, even though it “fits” my body, size-wise.

    Even so, if I can find the right local charity that isn’t already inundated with plus-size women’s clothing and wouldn’t just toss it in a dumpster, or even a 3rd-world organization that would love to have it and would give it to the women who want/need relatively good condition wash ‘n wear casual clothing, they can have literally the shirts off my back.

    And anyone at my workplace that notices me wearing the same 5 outfits every week, well, they have even less than a life than I do and are to be pitied.

  71. posted by Patti on

    We could solve all the clothing nonsense of the world if everyone just went naked. ;)

  72. posted by Kenneth on

    In the old days before sewing machines when clothing was beautifully made by hand, soldiers were issued with three sets of clothes: dress, undress (for everyday wear) and sometimes stable or fatigue dress. Two pairs of boots or shoes, three shirts, and not much else. Once a year they got a new dress uniform and new pair of boots or shoes. Everything else they kept up themselves. By the end of the year things must have gotten pretty threadbare. But I think about how few things that amounts to all the time and now here’s a thread about it. I couldn’t possibly manage.

    I really have three classes of clothes. One, things I wear to work in an office every day. More than enough to change every day and then some for about two weeks. A second of things that are either for rare dress up times, like a suit, or things that are otherwise too good to wear, for fear you’ll wear them out. You probably know what I mean. Finally, there are the weekend clothes, which are the things I’d rather wear all the time anyway. But I agree with Patti and try to do without anything for as much as possible. But that’s a little too outrageous for most people.

  73. posted by Ange on

    I have the amazing luxury of working from home, and my wardrobe usually changes depending on the season – but I pretty much wear the same outfits weekly during that season. (Jeans and shirt, skirt and shirt, capris and shirt, etc.) So I give you: The Rule of Four.

    The biggest issue – for me, anwyay – is washing. If you wash the same clothing too many times, it gets thin and worn, so I try to get a two-day wear out of each piece, and line-dry everything. You’d be amazed at how much longer your stuff lasts on the line dryer (I use an indoor rack for 2 days, then a quick toss in the dryer to remove wrinkles & make it soft.)

    All of that to say, a minimalist wardrobe can be done. Varying the accessories (say, a red cardigan or light sweater over the black skirt/top combo, a different pair of shoes) really does make a new outfit. I’ve pared my closet down to 4s: 4 blue (pants/skirts), black, brown; and 8 tops that could match (in white, brown, black, blue, purple and red – that latter of which are my favorite colors).

    Past 4, it’s time to decide what you really like in that color and get rid of the rest.

    “Church clothes” (anything I need to wear in a professional/dressy environment) get their own space, and it’s minimal. 4 dress, 4 outfits, changed out by season.

    I fully realize this makes me sound like an uber-organizer, which I totally am not. I do color-code my closet, so I guess that negates the previous sentence…

  74. posted by CAC on

    I really need to do this!

    I’m in the Navy, the branch beside the Coast Guard with the most uniforms, and sorely wish I could purge many of my uniform backups. It is required for me to own:
    4 pair cami pants / 4 pair cami shirts
    2 cami covers (hats)
    2 black n tan pants / 2 black n tan shirts
    1 black n tan cover
    1 dress blue pants / 1 dress blue white shirt
    1 dress blue jacket
    1 peacoat
    2 dress white pants / 2 dress white shirts
    1 unfoldable dress blue/white cover
    2 pair coveralls
    1 pair PT sneakers
    2 pair PT shorts/ 2 pair PT shirts
    1 pair boots
    4 pair cami undershirts
    4 pair white undershirts

    and various accessories like a scarf that doesn’t keep one warm, a ski mask, light gloves and heavy gloves, 2 belts, as well as so much underwear (bras and skivvies) and black (2 types) and white socks.

    I guess I’m going to just have to purge some of my civilian clothes, which I have a few too many of.

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