Insight (and shoe inspiration) in an uncluttered wardrobe

In an effort to unclutter my wardrobe, I made the decision a few years ago to streamline everything and stop buying printed clothing. Three years later, and except for five pieces, I’ve achieved this goal. My pants, tops, coats, dresses, suits, and skirts are now solid colors and are also in a very limited color scheme: navy blue, white, gray, black, brown, red, and teal.

Shopping is certainly easier — in fact, all of my casual tops are one of two styles of basic t-shirts (this one and this one), just in different colors. When one of the t-shirts is damaged or worn, I hop online and order the exact shirt to replace it. My dresses all come from two designers (this one and this one) who have outlet stores near my home and almost exclusively design in solid colors. Three of the dresses I own are even the same dress in black, gray, and white. Since these items fit me exactly how I prefer, it’s nice to have the color variety (and getting them at discount at the outlet stores is nice, too).

The idea of having a classic, basic, streamlined wardrobe seems boring or lacking in creativity to a lot of people, but the way I see it is my clothing is like a canvas. My shoes and accessories are where I let my personality speak. A headband and coordinating pair of shoes stand out when they’re not also competing for visual attention with a shirt and skirt. I’ve also found shoes and accessories are significantly less expensive than well constructed, quality clothing. As trends change, replacing a scarf is easier than replacing an entire wardrobe. And, until I point it out to people, no one ever notices I have a basic wardrobe of solid colors in a limited color range.

Recently, I came upon a design concept that is so in line with my uncluttered wardrobe system I was saddened to learn the concept isn’t in production. I’m mentioning it, though, because it’s where I would like to see fashion trend. I’d like to see more uncluttered ideas become mainstream.

Israeli industrial designer Daniela Bekerman started with a basic flat shoe and then created accessories for the shoe that dramatically alter its simple appearance. The Ze O Ze shoe:

I see my clothing as the basic flat shoe that is enhanced with the heel accessories, or, in my case, simply accessories.

Keeping clutter out of your wardrobe can be difficult, and how you choose to do it will reflect your style and personality. In my case, a streamlined wardrobe of solid color, well constructed pieces in classic designs and a limited color palette work best for me. This system works because all of the pieces fit me well and are complimented nicely by my fun, trendy shoes and accessories. There are obviously different ways, but this is how I achieve an uncluttered wardrobe.

Shoe design found via Design-Milk.

34 Comments for “Insight (and shoe inspiration) in an uncluttered wardrobe”

  1. posted by Marta on

    I would love to see actual pictures of the pieces in your wardrobe. I love the concept, but would need to actually *see* it to be able to replicate it myself. You would not actually have to be in the clothes. ๐Ÿ™‚ Just pictures of them, and some of your favorite combinations would be great. Thanks! Marta

  2. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Marta — I’ll add links … give me a few minutes … done.

  3. posted by Ruth on

    You are thinking just like the President! Just this morning, NPR had a story from writer Michael Lewis documenting Mr. Obama’s day to day life. It included the following about his wardrobe choices:

    “He had very self-consciously sought to eliminate all trivial decision-making from his life, such as what he wears to work,” Lewis tells NPR’s Renee Montagne about his interviews with the president for his piece in the October issue of Vanity Fair. “So, he says, ‘I got rid of all the clothes I have except for gray suits and blue suits, so I don’t even have to think about what I put on.'”

    Why? The president “started talking about research that showed the mere act of making a decision, however trivial it was, degraded your ability to make a subsequent decision,” Lewis says. “A lot of … the trivial decisions in life โ€” what he wears, what he eats โ€” [are] essentially made for him.”

    Read or listen to the full story at

  4. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Ruth — That is awesome! Thank you for the link. And this just exemplifies why I believe Unclutterer has the best community on the web — commenters who IMPROVE articles. Both your and Marta’s comments improve our content. Love it!

  5. posted by Ruth on

    I also think I remember an interview somewhere with Angelina Jolie, who said something to the effect that she intentionally wears only one or just a few colors. From paparazzi photos, it looks like black and gray are key in her repertoire. It seems to help her run after six kids, travel the world on humanitarian missions, make movies and everything else she does.

  6. posted by Roxanne on

    I am part of the way there – I have only black or grey dress pants and cardigans for work and only black shoes. I only buy pants from Talbots because they wear well, fit me well and have good internet sales. I buy only tops that go with these items but I have those in a variety of colors. On the other hand I have many pairs of earrings and many necklaces to liven things up. I pick my clothes out the night before but wear them mostly on a rotating basis. My biggest descision is which pair of earrings and I put them out with my clothes for the morning.

  7. posted by Roxanne on

    And I have trouble spelling “decision”

  8. posted by Anita on

    Very interesting shoe project by Daniela Bekerman! I am intrigued by the construction of the shoes in particular.

    The choices you made in your wardrobe, while they’re not ones I would make (I love my prints and patterns and textures), sound very wise if you’re looking for an uncluttered wardrobe. But I do have a question: a while ago, you had a post on shoes in which you said the majority of your shoes were “basics” – black and brown shoes that will go with everything – and only 2 pairs were trendy colourful shoes:

    I’m wondering if that’s still the case and if so, how much do these mostly black and brown shoes really do to add personality to your wardrobe? Did your shoe collection change/evolve since then, to suit your (newer?) wardrobe choices? I’m just curious, so sorry if I sound nosy ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. posted by Jules on

    One of my friends went to a wardrobe consultant once and one of the things she learned was to do like you did and pick a few colors to build your wardrobe with. About a year ago I decided to only buy black, gray and white for the neutrals and blue, teal and pink for the colors. Everything coordinates so much better now! I’ve been able to streamline my closet way more than it was and shopping is easier too.

  10. posted by Barb on

    I love color too much — in my home and on my body — to be so limited in my choices.

  11. posted by KelKel on

    I don’t think I could adopt this myself, but uncluttering my wardrobe is a priority. Strangely enough, I’ve found that the fewer clothes I have (if I make sure they fit properly, are quality items, and in styles I prefer) the happier I am with my wardrobe. All the excess that was fun for a minute but didn’t suit me long term is out of the way and not blocking me from finding the outfit components I truly enjoy. In the closet, less is more, for me at least.

  12. posted by Bree on

    Iโ€™ve taken a similar approach, with a few tweaks.

    I keep my suits, skirts, capris and pants neutral (black, brown, and medium denim only). I actually stay away from navy and gray, as I find them tricky to color match with shoes. Even brown, I only buy dark chocolate.

    I have wide-width feet that are frustrating and expensive to accommodate, and cold weather is not kind to leather. To make shoes last longer, I have outdoor and indoor shoes. They match all my pants or skirts, and I replace as necessary. Most of my indoor shoes stay at work, under my desk.

    black loafers โ€“ outdoors
    brown loafers โ€“ outdoors
    black boots – outdoors
    snow boots – outdoors
    black heels โ€“ work indoors
    black flats โ€“ work indoors
    brown heels โ€“ work indoors
    black sandals โ€“ outdoors and work
    tan/khaki sandals โ€“ outdoors and work
    Crocs slip ons โ€“ indoor slippers in winter
    Crocs flip flops โ€“ indoor slippers in summer

    One pair of cross trainers for walks and yard work, and silver and black dressy heels that I purchased when I was a bridesmaid make up the rest of my shoe wardrobe. Yes, I only own 14 pairs of shoes.

    To add interest and trendiness, it is my tops and dresses that have the color/texture/prints. However, even there, I stick to a specific range of colors to guarantee they still match shoes and complement my coloring: black, white, teal, dark red, pink and then I may grab one or two tops that are current trends. Occasionally, I will buy a solid top and print skirt to match, but I treat them as a dress and hang them together. I also have two print dresses that can function for work, weddings and other semi-casual parties. These get replaced every two years or so, as I attend several annual events and donโ€™t want to wear the same dress.

    Iโ€™m incredibly picky about the functionality of a purses or bag, so I find one that works and use it until it wears out. Iโ€™m currently a fan of the Tignanello and Vera Bradley cross body styles, so I can add a little color that way, too. I have one silver clutch, and one black beaded formal purse to match the dressy shoes.

    I have two scarves and two shawls that match my color schemes, and I wear the same simple jewelry every day, with a few cherished items with stones for dressy occasions. All my jewelry is white gold so I can swap easily.

    Frankly, I donโ€™t enjoy clothes shopping – it’s stressful and I’m hard to fit, so I find it easier to just replace one or two staples as needed, rather than worrying about a whole wardrobe. And my wardrobe is simple enough I can (almost) reach in and grab a top and bottom and end up with a matching outfit. Iโ€™d rather spend my fun money on the latest gadget or ebook.

  13. posted by ChrisD on

    My approach parallels Erin’s, plain tops, plain shoes and skirt that is boldly patterned as a feature.

    For simplifying I would recommend getting your colours done to find which season you are and then sticking with this (No bias! I’m just a happy customer). All colours within one season match each other so everything goes with everything, and, by definition, they all look good on you. This way I could pair a pair of purple shoes with a green top without worrying. For me I pretty much only like my season colours anyway, but a friend who likes the ‘wrong’ colours can then use them away from her face, with a black jumper that DOES suit her. This will also tell you whether your base colour should be black or brown (or navy etc). Also if you are unconfident choosing makeup, their colours will automatically match you, once you know which season you are, thus you can simplify from having several mostly ok but not great items to one or two right items.

  14. posted by Erin Doland on

    @Anita — I currently have two pair of “patterned” dress shoes (an animal print and a plaid), and all the others are solid colors. The solid shoes are either blue, black or gray (I don’t seem to have any brown flats right now). As far as boots are concerned, my wellingtons are bright yellow and my cowboy boots are brown leather. Oh, and I guess my running shoes are white. I think I have 10 or 11 pair of shoes total, including the boots and running shoes. I don’t wear sandals or flip flops. So, it’s mostly still true, except for the addition of the bright yellow wellingtons.

  15. posted by Marrena on

    Funny, I would have said the opposite about the cost of shoes. Accessories are cheap, but my shoes generally cost double what my clothes cost.

    Love your wardrobe choices and I only wish that theory website carried plus sizes!

  16. posted by Mieko on

    I found that I’m too messy for solid color tops, and that all my shirts ended up with dark spots/stains :). I go for patterned tops to hide the stains, and solid color neutral pants.
    Steve Jobs was also famous for having a simple wardrobe, I think all he wore were black turtlenecks and blue jeans.

  17. posted by laura m. on

    ChrisD: I agree about the right color season. I use basic navy (not real dark)greens, browns, beiges, and blues in my best shades and denim shirts over tank tops; t’s and cotton capri’s. I stick to solid colors avoiding prints. Being retired means ditching the work clothes, having several outfits for dress up situations. Jogging shoes are about all I wear unless dressing up rarely.

  18. posted by Malcolm on

    Well here goes – I seem to be the only male contributor to this discussion so far – but I am not going to try to upset anyone. For example, by giggling when Bree boasts of having “only” 14 pairs of shoes! Seriously, this style of simplified wardrobes began with a man, namely Beau Brummel. Until his heyday (late 18th century) both men and women wore extremely flamboyant (and complicated) clothing. Brummel wore what became a uniform for men, eventually developing into the modern suit – he wore trousers, shirt, cravat, and jacket, always in only a range of 4 colours (black, white, blue, and buff (taupe we call it now I guess)). So good luck with the wardrobe simplification, sure enough women are getting to be more like men all the time! Next step: 4 pairs of shoes! (indoor casual, indoor formal, outdoor casual, outdoor formal?)

  19. posted by luxcat on

    Malcom- I would add perhaps 2 more -based at a glance at my very utilitarian husband’s shoe collection- “beach shoes” (flip flops) which double as “slip on to go check the BBQ” shoes and “trainers/sneakers” for the athletic types, although your “outdoor casual” might double for that depending on the person ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. posted by Amber on

    I am with Marrena and even though some of the sites did have XXL sizes, after looking at the super-skinny models I doubt the styles would fit curvy women well.

    I am trying to do something similar to Erin’s concept with bigger sizes – my pants are normally dark denim, navy or brown with colourful shirts in solid colours mostly. The trouble is finding something that fits and is flattering…and then finding it again when you need to replace it (nearly impossible!).

    Frustrating as I know what I want but stores seem to feel the need to change styles every season so as soon as I find something I love, it is discontinued!

  21. posted by EngineerMom on

    Solid basic tops and bottoms – sounds like my wardrobe for pretty much my entire life!

    Having basic pieces that you love definitely makes getting dressed easier. My entire wardrobe fits into one big rolling suitcase and one duffle. I know this since we just moved cross-country and that’s how I got it all here!

    One thing I would love to see here – shoes that are fun, but practical in the sense that they fufill (I cannot spell that word today for the life of me) more than one purpose, like LLBean’s Coastal Rain Skimmers – basically a flat that is also waterproof and can be worn outside in the rain.

  22. posted by snosie on

    so thankful for a work uniform, so that’s 4.5 days a week without thoughts (and sometimes I keep it on for the TV watching til bed!!)

    However since I’ve started decluttering, being on this site and others, my life has condenced and expanded, but… in blues. with touches of green. With my clothes, it’s black, white, blues… some teal. A pink top or two, and a red scarf or two. Easy! Happy, soothing. I’m not anti patterns, esp in a dress, or a great top (and simple skirt/pants). Actually, I realise if I only had solids, I’d feel boring in myself, so the strips/two colour floral helps me feel ‘alive’ again.

    Really working on the shoes (#, multi function) – but all dull colours, black, silver summer slip ons, and some blue jewelled summer slip ons!

  23. posted by WilliamB on

    @Amber – have you considered buying several of the same item, and stashing away the extra for future need?

    I have variety in my clothes but absolutely stripped down for shoes and socks:

    Shoes: 2 types work shoes, 1 type fancy dress shoes, 1 type running shoes (older pair becomes walking shoes), 1 type sandals. When I find shoes I like, I buy a half dozen pair so I don’t have to go shopping for years.

    Socks: white athletic socks, black trouser socks. All the same so no need to match.

  24. posted by Shannon on

    Funny, I’ve dressed liked this since I was a pre-teen. I only wear black, white, grey, bright blue or red. I wouldn’t say I’m uncluttered but it is simple and everything goes with everything else. I also love any pattern that fits this colour scheme… but it has to be in the ‘right’ red or blue so as they aren’t around this year I’ve been only buying things in black and white patterns. I also ‘only’ have 14 pairs of shoes, boots, sandles and winter boots. As my style is what I like to think of classic with an edge I don’t really have to worry about the current trends, unless they match what I already wear. I wear a lot of 40/50’s style dresses so I can current by them (thanks to Mad Men) as opposed to make them.

  25. posted by Marrena on

    Amber, I hear you! For unchanging always available staples that fit plus-size women, there’s always Lands’ End. Then again my wardrobe is full of basic black staples, so it works for me. I’d like to get more spendy on clothes, but there’s so much discrimination against fat women! Talbot’s is an option for work clothes. Marina Rinaldi is the only designer I know of, and her things are more for the apple-shaped woman, not someone pear-shaped.

    Malcolm, let’s see if I do better on the shoe count:

    2 pairs work shoes (pump heels)
    2 pairs summer work shoes (open-toe pumps)
    1 pair winter boots
    1 pair sneakers
    1 pair waterproof walking shoes
    1 pair flip-flops for beach
    1 pair walking sandals
    1 pair heeled boot-like shoe to wear with slacks
    1 old pair of flip-flops to wear as slippers during the summer

    12 pair of shoes. But, I won’t have to buy shoes as often as a man because I’m not wearing the same pair of shoes every day and wearing them out! Also it’s good to air shoes out; wearing the same pair day in and day out makes them smell funky.

    Also, what does your theoretical Beau Brummel wear on his feet when there is two feet of snow outside, or at the beach?

  26. posted by Amber on

    Malcolm, I would love to buy multiples but usually I can only find one or maybe two of something in the right size and colour. I did recently luck out at The Bay and got three shirts in a similar style for $5 each. I would have bought more if I could have found them!

    I have streamlined my socks – only black or white. I buy a certain copper soled brand from Mark’s as they help keep my feet dry (inherited my Dad’s sweaty feet). I buy ankle style in black and white for summer and taller style in black and white for winter.

    I’ve looked at Lands End catalogue but haven’t tried anything from there yet. What I have figured out is that black and white are not good colours for me, especially near my face, so I’m trying to buy other neutral colours now (navy, gray, brown).

  27. posted by handstand on

    OMG – give me color, give me variety – let me explore different styles- even if it means I have to shop thrift stores to do so. I hope, as an adult, I never have to live with “a uniformed” wardrobe. I had enough of that in k-12.

  28. posted by Anne on

    Somehow I don’t think those shoes would work in real life–flats and heels are built on very different lasts. I do like the idea of only having one pair of flats and one pair of heels, each able to be transformed with a different overlayer. But I don’t think flats transformed into heels would be very supportive or wearable.

    I am in the process of streamlining my wardrobe into a core of neutral colors. I do love print blouses and scarves for color, though. It has made a HUGE difference in how I get dressed every day. A great example of less being more.

  29. posted by chrisbean on

    Love this, and I’m working on similar.

    New clothes coming into my wardrobe must be in a limited palette. My colors are orange, bright yellow, pale blue, and chartreuse-y green: they all work really well together. My neutrals are navy, grey, and caramel, because I’m too pale to pull off black or white.

    I’m way into buying multiples. I have J.Crew’s perfect-fit top in various sleeve lengths and a dozen colors, and their straight-leg corduroys in navy, dark gray, light gray, and tan. (Not shilling for Crew: I’m tall and have an unusual body type; they’re the only place I can buy pants from online). Toss in a slew of cardigans and cute Gilmore Girl-esque blazers, and that’s my winter wardrobe for work or play. My summer wardrobe is dresses, skirts, and sheath tops. Dresses are serious multitaskers in my world.

    Inspired by my boyfriend, who only owns black socks, I’ve also begun buying those in multiples. I love cute, crazy socks, so if I see some orange argyle at the Gap, I buy two or three identical pairs–it makes putting away laundry so much easier!

    Everything is modular, works together, and I don’t even think about getting dressed in the morning. For me, building with bright colors counteracts the “boring” of a limited wardrobe, and there’s (almost) nothing in my closet that doesn’t work for me: I always have something to wear that I’m excited about wearing.

  30. posted by Amber on

    My wardrobe is pretty simple, I have:

    Tank tops /cami’s in blue, purple, black polka dot and black
    Button up shirts in white and a blue/green plaid
    Four of the same black v-neck t’s
    Six pairs of jeans all identical except for age
    Two pairs of dress pants
    A few shrugs and sweaters in blue, purple, green and black.
    Work shoes (steel-toe over shoe that can go over any others)
    A pair of black pleather shoes that I wear under the steel-toe for work and without it for casual.
    A beat up pair of grey converse also for casual
    A pair of slippers for home

    Admittedly, I’d have to buy some clothes for an interview as I don’t have an appropriate outfit or shoes on hand right now.

    As pieces wear out, I replace them with whatever I find at the store that I like, so the shapes of my clothes change regularly but the colors tend to be the same. Like the other Amber, I’m in plus sizes and it is quite difficult to find things that fit. As long as it’s purple, blue, green, or neutral, it will match anything else I own.

  31. posted by Nichole on

    I know you have done wardrobe postings in the past, but it is soooo helpful to hear the details of what you own & HOW you figured out that that’s what works for you. I find myself paralyzed by trying to make a list of “staples.” and I find it extremely frustrating to figure out that stuff doesn’t work as well or hold up as long as I would like. Example: I love the concept of buying just tshirts from 1 place, like the gap ones you linked to. But from failed attempts in the past I know that Gap tshirts are too narrow in the shoulders for me & rub uncomfortably. Eddie Bauer are too see through. So I tried Old Navy based on someone’s recommendation & their shirts are disgusting polyester sweat machines. And then I felt discouraged by wasting $$, time, and clothing & haven’t tried another brand yet. and now my drawers are all cluttered up again. how do you combat this vicious cycle?

  32. posted by Celeste on

    Jackie Onassis was famous for not wearing prints. She lived in solids and made only one exception for a patterned dress. Any pattern she wanted to add was in an accessory such as a scarf, belt or purse. I’ve taken this to heart and I really feel like it helps me keep my clothing simplified. I have a work uniform of black pants and a colorful solid top, or solid tank and solid sweater or jacket over that. I add interest with a scarf or jewelry. For shoes, I am difficult to fit so I just stick to plain styles in black for work or brown for jeans. I so agree with everyone who has posted about making the decisions about getting dressed easy. Between this and using huggable hangers to keep my clothes from slipping off, my closet problems have gone away and it’s NICE.

  33. posted by ann on

    check out, a one-shoe product that is being produced! i saw them at our local costco this past week.

  34. posted by chrisbean on

    nichole– I didn’t go to Crew and buy a dozen identical shirts. I went to Gap and tried on shirts, then I went to Banana Republic and tried on shirts, then I went to Macys and I tried on shirts. Over the course of months and dozens of stores. I refused to buy anything that didn’t fit or feel nice. When I got to J Crew, I realized that Oh! THIS is where the shoulder-seam is supposed to sit! And I bought that shirt, realized it was my new favorite shirt, then bought variants in a few more colors a few at a time.

    It’s not about one brand being great for everyone (Erin’s recommendations definitely won’t work for me; gap t-shirts are too tight across my shoulders, too), but finding two or three brands that make clothes that dependably fit you 80% of the time. Then shop there. I’ll try on 40 or 50 bras to find two that fit and consider it really well-spent time.

    Also pay attention to what you DON’T wear: I had a dozen pairs of basic poly-rayon “work pants” from Banana and Ann Taylor that all fit funny and were really uncomfortable. I was wearing skirts in 20 degree weather rather than those expensive office-y pants. So I got rid of all but two or three pairs, and tried to find some pants that would be work-appropriate and flattering and comfy. For me, that’s straight-leg corduroys, or cotton twill trousers with a “jean” shape.

    I wear cardigans 3-4 days a week. I can’t remember the last time I’ve worn a pullover sweater. But I have a drawer full of them that I should probably cull…

    if it helps, make a list of what you wear every day. Find that 20% of your wardrobe you wear 80% of the time. Then you can refocus so you love wearing everything all the time. I’m not there yet, but I think I’m close.

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