How To Get Minimalist Style Right, According To Those Who’ve Mastered The Art
The basics of wearing basics.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: One of your favorite influencers posts a simple but devastatingly chic look on Instagram, pulling together an effortless high-low outfit of pieces similar to those in your own wardrobe (i.e. vintage-looking jeans, easy flats, and a t-shirt). But when you try to replicate the same combination? It comes out underwhelming at best, totally juvenile at worst. Indeed, the minimalist fashion trend has a bit of a Jackson Pollock effect — it seems easy enough to replicate, but getting the subtitles just right requires a skilled level of finesse.
Still, amazing understated style is not impossible to pull off with little to no experience. As a general rule, it’s about “classic staples paired with less expected pieces” and “contrast within the look — a mix of feminine and masculine, fitted and loose, sporty and dressy,” says Fran Miller, founder of skincare brand F. MILLER.
All the minimalist-minded designers, stylists, and social media denizens I spoke to for this piece kept returning to the same over-arching advice: focus on quality and buy well-fitting pieces that you’ll wear for several seasons on end. That said, finding said beautifully made and timeless silhouettes — and, you know, putting them together in a cool and interesting way — is absolutely a skill. Here, I break down the experts’ best tried and true tips on how to hone it.
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Have Just One Piece Be Expensive
You’ve probably heard a version of this idea before: it’s better to splurge on a bag, piece of jewelry, or shoe — a.k.a. an accessory you can mix and match with several different types of looks. “Investing in this type of piece is smarter because you get way more wear out of it than a designer top, for example,” says influencer and product manager Claire Most (whose outfit, above, perfectly showcases this concept: note the all-Gap clothes with pricier Nikes).
Shaina Mote, founder of the eponymous clothing brand, argues that a single, high-quality pair of pants is worth the cost, too. “You’d be surprised how well this pairs with different tops all season round for completely different looks, and how the shape can go from cool to warm weather,” she explains. “I also think nubby, textural knits give added interest and depth to an outfit.”
It goes without saying, but collecting investment pieces requires money and time. To help speed the process along, many minimalists love thrifting expensive basics (secondhand = lower prices) like worn-in denim, tees, and even shirting. However, you must be “committed to the hunt,” says Miller. Most’s number one tip? Don’t hurry the process. “I know someone who found an Issey Miyake shirt at 3 euros in a vintage store,” she says. “So, honestly, make sure you take your time!”
The biggest takeaway here, though, is that a single outfit only needs one focal point. This means you can showcase your splurge item and keep everything else simple and pared down. Plus, a true minimalist usually finds a uniform that works and keeps it in regular rotation — a boon for mornings when you can’t be bothered to come up with something new. “If I'm feeling particularly good in an outfit, I'll wear it on rotation for a few days,” says Miller. So don’t worry that recreating the same basic look is bad — even influencers do it all the time.
Go High-Low In The Right Way
When it comes to sourcing more affordable pieces to complement your focal point, the devil is in the details. Keep the colors neutral: white, black, gray, beige — or even olive according to fashion stylist Emily DeSimone. “A good neutral color can make any brand look elevated,” she insists.
“Keep your layering pieces on the lower end of your budget and then have one or two good [i.e., more expensive] accessories,” she adds, like a bag, sunglasses, or a pair of sneakers. “Also, layer your darker pieces under your lighter layers: black tank and bike shorts with a white button down.” In her look above, DeSimone’s shoes are from Vagabond and her shorts from Zara, with her top and sunglasses as the standout pieces from The Frankie Shop.
Some excellent places to start your shopping: Aritzia, Rumours, Lioness, The Line by K, and Djerf Avenue offer good, less expensive neutrals, according to Most. DeSimone adds Amazon, Abercrombie, and Girlfriend Collective to this list. “Don’t stress if you have Loewe sunglasses on with a tank from Amazon,” says DeSimone.
Play With Shape & Texture
If you are finding that your efforts are still skewing more Saturday-morning-errands than effortlessly chic, it’s probably because you need a little more drama. Rather than leaning into look-at-me colors and patterns, consider an item with an unusual, slightly counterintuitive shape. For Mote, that means reaching for a perfectly slouchy pair of pants.
“For our best-selling trouser, The Boy Trouser, I hoped to distill the essence of the perfect pair of Giorgio Armani ‘90s ‘dad’ trousers into a shape that is fresh, easy, and flattering,” the designer explains. “My team and I did this by adding new proportion and fit, like a much more relaxed rise than your average trouser and a beautiful seamless style back waistband that smooths to the body, versus being clunky and dated.”
Kassia Davis, the founder of KADA, says that another important aspect of exceptional minimalist style is “not so basic basics,” which are core pieces that feel elevated because of less-expected design details. In other words, don’t just fill your closet with the same plain tee in 10 different colors. Opt instead for well-fitting, standout essentials. “[Go for something] that is special enough to play a star role in your outfit and also versatile enough to be a supporting element in your look as well,” suggests Shilpa Shah, who co-founded her label Cuyana on these precise principles of easy and elevated, wear-forever fashion. An oversize denim jacket, black dress, and mules are all foolproof choices here — and, again, don’t necessarily have to be high-end, so long as the shape and fit is good.
Get A Steamer, & Air-Dry Your Clothes
This might sound like a no-brainer, but DeSimone explains that crisp clothes always look more expensive, no matter the cost. In a larger sense, you’ll want to take care of your clothes (including your less expensive staples) to make the most of your entire wardrobe long-term.
Most washes all her (non-dry clean) clothes on delicate and lets them air dry. She also utilizes a steamer because she’s less likely to ruin her clothes: “I have burned a top with an iron once because I misread the setting, so I'm kind of traumatized now,” she tells TZR. And a number of other experts similarly recommend steamers for their portability and ease — it’s packable, and you can quickly plug it in if your outfit just needs a touch up.
If you’re headed somewhere and want to take a photo while you’re there, especially if it’s warm, get the shoot out of the way before you have coffee/wine/dinner, so the clothes look as pristine and sweat-free as possible.
Don’t Overcomplicate It
Once you know what looks good and feels good, it’s just lather-rinse-repeat as you perfect your minimalist uniform. Most makes a plan of what she wants to wear, and if she preps her clothes effectively it takes her all of two minutes to get dressed. But, it can take a lot longer if she doesn’t like what worked in her mind (lest you be worried that two minutes feels like an impossible window to put together an outfit).
Miller prioritizes comfort above all: “You won't see me in super high heels or fussy accessories,” she explains, which was echoed by a lot of the experts in this piece. In fact, Most agrees that “being uncomfortable in my clothes ends up affecting my confidence and my mood.”
Adds Mote, “I need clothing that can perform in a more rugged country setting (think horses, gardening, etc.) but still transition into a city environment in a relevant way. I have leaned more into workwear due to this.” So if your outfit looks polished but feels uncomfortable, chances are you need items that function as well as follow an aesthetic.
Ultimately, the key is to craft a closet that you love to look at every morning and “shop,” again and again — i.e., go hunting among your existing clothes for new combinations that’ll make your style feel fresh without having to buy a ton of new items. Ideally, your fundamental basics won’t change very much, but there’ll be a few pieces that go beyond your boundaries in creative ways. Minimalism can still be fun, explains Shah. “You can still be minimal and celebrate color, great details, and fashion trends.”