Minimalist Challenge Part 3: What I Wear

June 30, 2014

If you think about what you wore as a kid, it probably consisted of whatever you wanted to wear right then. If you wanted to be princess, you wore a tiara all day, or fairy wings, or a fireman’s helmet, or a sports jersey. You didn’t think about trends or fashion rules or about what anyone else thought about your “look.” You were wearing who you were, or who you thought you might be one day.

As adults, we usually can’t take so many sartorial luxuries. Things change about our bodies and our lives that put certain demands on our wardrobes. And yet dressing like mini-you can help you realize your truest and most natural style, and thereby have a more peaceful and enjoyable experience while getting dressed and living in your clothes all day long.


This is a picture of me when I was three years old. Quite the fashionista, no? As ridiculous and blush-worthy as this ensemble is in retrospect (not to mention reeking of the 1980s, including that wood paneling in the living room), uncovering the snapshot has helped me unlock some mysteries about what minimalist dressing might mean for me. Clearly, I was very happy in this outfit–but why?

Like most young women I’d assume, I’ve gone through several different fashion “phases” in my life: the the frumpy phase, the trying-to-be-invisible phase, the leggings-could-be-pants phase, the over-eager/over-professional first job phase. I think I’ve finally settled into an authentic style that shouldn’t surprise you from the photographic evidence above: dresses.

I love dresses and always have. They are by far the easiest article of clothing to wear, and they can be tailored and style for any occasion. My mother likes to tell stories about me as a little girl, refusing to wear anything except a velvet party dress with lace socks and patent-leather Mary Janes (usually with a matching bow or trademark bonnet), even if it was just to play outside in the yard in August. I was not going to an Easter egg hunt or birthday party when I donned this cherry dress–it was just a regular day of playing in the house (though I probably had some chic tea party to go to with my baby dolls and stuffed animals).

Now, my dresses are a little less complicated in part because of the streamlined moment that fashion is currently having. But it’s mainly because what’s suddenly popular now speaks to my personal style. I don’t have to try hard to find the simple, easy dresses I’d buy in bulk on an ideal shopping trip. Regardless of this cooperation from the fashion gods, I’ve realized the key points that will make what I wear minimalist in spirit all the time. Let me illustrate them through my new favorite thing to wear, this simple shift dress.



My new minimalist staple J. Crew, originally $148


Fit: This dress fits me now just as I am, no adjustments required. I literally put it over my head and can walk out the door. It’s funny how backwards we’ve made the relationship between clothes and bodies: clothes are made to fit bodies, not the other way around. So why do we try to reshape ourselves to fit into garments? There are clothes out there that fit you, and you should buy them. Only them. If you say, “This will fit me when I lose 5 pounds,” you’ll torture yourself every time you open you closet and see it hanging there, not fitting you; if you say, “This will fit me if I take this in/let that out, raise/lower the hem, adjust those seams,” you’ll have yet another chore on your to-do list. You could make these changes, but you probably won’t. The same thing applies to body shape, which sometimes doesn’t comply with trends so easily. I think (hope!) that this dress flatters my frame, but it wouldn’t look the same on everyone, so always keep in mind what looks and feels best on every part of you.

Quality: I often preach that one should always choose fewer, more expensive things that are higher quality over more, less expensive things of lower quality. Making this something I practice regularly will be the most challenging part of this minimalist series, but here is a good place to start. Fully lined and machine-washable, this dress is clearly made to last and was worth every penny of its price tag. Every budget can make this concept work: look for things on sale, and wait to buy something you really love rather than settling for things that are in your price range but will wear out quickly.

Texture Pattern Color Shine (TPCS): Keep this acronym in mind when thinking about the “something special” your clothing has. No piece should have more than two; one is even better. My dress is royal blue, so that covers color; if it were blue with stripes, it might not be as versatile; if it were blue with stripes and sequins, it would be an unwearable mess. If you have pieces with just one special thing about them, then they’re easier to combine with each other and with accessories, because you can balance everything else around that feature.

Reaction: I look at this dress and think, “I want to wear this.” You should always have this reaction to your clothes, and only buying things you love will help you achieve it. If you can think of an excuse to not wear something (other than it being grossly inappropriate for the occasion), you will probably have that reaction every time you go to put it on.

Other things to consider:

Accessories: “Minimalist” jewelry is often easily identifiable–simple, clean, delicate pieces. Personally, I love these designs, but you don’t have to to be minimal in your accessories. When adding to an outfit, divide your body in half and give each half one statement: either necklace OR earrings on top, bracelets OR rings on bottom. If you let one of these take the lead, then the others can provide the back-up harmonies.

Minimalist Challenge: What I Wear

A bold belt provides a touch of textural contrast to an otherwise simple LBD and nude sandals.

Beauty: I tend to not adjust my makeup for specific outfits other than with the basic palette (you don’t want your face completely mis-matched with your clothes). As a result, my makeup is very natural-looking to the point of most people not even noticing it’s there. There are great products on the market today that can simplify any beauty routine because they combine several things in one: BB cream is a new favorite of mine. But if you only put on one beauty product, make it sunscreen. Stop complaining. Just do it.


Finding your perfect minimalist style may involve some trial and error, but in the end it all comes down to instincts. You knew when you were small that to be the princess/fairy/firefighter/athlete you’d have to dress the part, so what’s stopping you from dressing the part now?


Minimalist mantra

More in Minimalist Challenge: What I Carry

Where I Work

Related: Finding Your Style Statement Words




Photo: Jennifer Kurdyla; J.Crew; Kelly Ann via Flickr

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Features Editor Jennifer Kurdyla is a New York City girl with Jersey roots and a propensity for getting lost in the urban jungle. An experienced publishing professional, yoga instructor, home chef, sometimes-runner, and writer, she adopted a vegetarian lifestyle in 2008 and became vegan in 2013. She has written for The Harvard Review Online, The Rumpus, and Music & Literature and maintains a wellness-based website, Be Nourished, which features original writing and recipes. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram @jenniferkurdyla, Twitter @jenniferkurdyla, and Pinterest.


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