Simple Living vs Calvin Klein: Defining the Minimalist Approach


Minimalism! This post has been on my list for ages - after all I do have the magical m-word in my tagline!

I noticed that there are quite a few different conceptions floating around the blogosphere and various forums of what ‘being a minimalist’ entails. Since I often talk about using a ‘minimalist approach’ to build your wardrobe and refine your personal style, I just wanted to explain once more what exactly I mean by it.

In general, when people mention minimalism or minimalist XYZ, they have one of these two meanings in mind:

  1. minimalism in art, design and fashion
  2. minimalism as an umbrella term for various degrees of minimalist living

Both meanings are based on the same core principle i.e. striving to remove non-essential elements and focusing solely on the essence of a concept, whether that concept is a visual one or some form of lifestyle design; but they also differ in several aspects that may not seem so obvious at first. And: Although minimalist design, minimalist living and curating/wardrobe building make use of the same root argument, they are in effect quite separate and subscribing to one does not mean you need to subscribe to the other two.

My main point is this:

You do not need to have a minimalist (fashion) style, nor adopt a minimalist lifestyle to curate your wardrobe and work towards developing a refined personal style.

Let me explain...

Minimalist design and fashion

Minimalism in art and design describes any visual concept that is stripped down to its most essential elements, both functional and aesthetic. Besides playing a major role in 20th century architecture, minimalist design principles also made their way into the fashion world through fashion houses like Calvin Klein, Balenciaga and Jil Sander. Minimalist fashion is characterised by clean, simple silhouettes, muted colours and few embellishments, and just like many other distinct trends/styles in fashion (e.g. a dropped waist: 1920s flapper style,) a minimalist style can be clearly identified by those elements.

Minimalist lifestyle

In contrast to minimalism as a visual concept, minimalism as a way of living is more open for interpretation. Perhaps as a reaction to consumerism and the increasing complexity of, well... everything, a minimalist lifestyle (or ‘simple living’) has become pretty popular in recent years. Blogs like Zen Habits and The Minimalists employ basic minimalist ideas like ‘focusing on the essentials’ to show how to simplify everything from our daily routine and work habits to relationships, finances and - a favourite: our stuff. A minimalist lifestyle is always a means to an end, the end being a more positive outlook on life, less stress and just in general being happy and content. On forums you’ll sometimes come across the odd “A true minimalist would...” but since ‘being a minimalist’ in itself is not the goal state, there really is no one true minimalist lifestyle. We all have different values and things that make us happy, therefore it only makes sense to view minimalist living not as one predefined way to live but rather as a school of thought that we can incorporate into our own lifestyle to whatever degree we want.

Curating and the minimalist approach to personal style

Curating your wardrobe is essentially just another way to use the same minimalist root principle that originated as a design concept within a lifestyle sphere. It is about clearly identifying what you like and don’t like (aesthetics), what you need and don’t need (function), getting rid of superfluous items, aiming for a wardrobe that only contains pieces that support your style AND lifestyle and generally just approaching the entire topic in a more conscious, self-directed way. In my opinion this ‘strategy’ fits the basic idea of minimalism quite well, which is why I use the term minimalist to explain my overall approach towards personal style and wardrobe building.

The goal of curating your wardrobe is not to become a minimalist style-wise or even to adopt minimalist principles in other areas of your life, although you can do both of course if you want to :) Instead, the idea is to use the minimalist approach like a technique in order to end up with a wardrobe that is ultimately better (read: more in-tune with you, your unique style and lifestyle) than it would be if you just bought items on an go-by basis without giving it too much thought. For those of us who use their style as a means of self-expression, wardrobe building is also just a fun way to be creative and improve how well our personal style reflects our aesthetic preferences.

To what degree do you use minimalist ideas in your daily life? How minimalist is your wardrobe and how minimalist is your style (visually)?

*image via