The ten item wardrobe.

The ten item wardrobe.

I’ve been toying with the idea of trying a daily uniform, and last week I happened upon a combination that will work great for summer.

While I was still in the process of ordering an extra shirt or two, my friend Crystal posted about the ten-item wardrobe. The concept is from Jennifer L. Scott, borrowed from the French, and laid out in her book Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris and in this great TEDx talk.

When Scott was an exchange student in Paris, she noticed that stylish French women dress differently than their American counterparts. (The tiny closet space was her first clue.) They wore the same high-quality clothes in heavy rotation, and they looked great.

Not only did they look great, but getting ready in the morning was a breeze: the less choice you have, the easier it is to get dressed. A closet full of junk clothes won’t help you decide what to wear in the morning.

Some people might think this topic is superficial, but we all have to get dressed. If you put some thought and organization into this daily task, you can completely change your life.

STEP 1: TAKE OUT ALL THE CLOTHES.
Go through every single piece in your closet and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does this fit me?
  2. Is this age-appropriate?
  3. Is this my true style?
  4. Do I love this?
  5. Do I wear this?

If a piece doesn’t pass the test, get rid of it.

STEP 2: STORE THE CLOTHES THAT AREN’T SEASONALLY APPROPRIATE.
If you can’t wear that wool sweater or sundress this month, it’s visual clutter. Put off-season clothing out of sight.

STEP 3: BEGIN TO BUILD YOUR CORE 10 ITEMS WITH WHAT YOU HAVE LEFT.
Choose versatile, well-made clothes that you can wear in constant rotation.

Scott’s sample women’s wardrobe contains 1 pair of slacks, 2 pairs of jeans, 3 dresses, and 4 blouses.

STEP 4: ADD THE EXTRAS.
Round out your wardrobe with t-shirts, sweaters, outerwear, special occasion wear, and accessories. These items don’t count towards your ten pieces.

STEP 5: KEEP THE CAPSULE WARDROBE MINDSET.
The fashion police won’t arrest you if you have more than 10 core pieces. It’s okay to end up with 15, or 20: your true goal is to get your wardrobe down to a reasonable size. If you push it too far, you’ll lose the benefits of the ten-piece wardrobe.

When your ten-piece wardrobe is in place, you’ll be able to pick out what to wear with what you have. You’ll simplify your mornings and hone in on your true style. You won’t be prone to impulse buys, because you’ll have what you need (and you’ll know you have it).

(This concept is not that different from the capsule wardrobe, but the ten-item wardrobe doesn’t overwhelm me like the mix-and-match possibilities of the capsule wardrobes do. If you’re ready to simplify your wardrobe, pick whichever concept makes sense to you and run with it.)

Books mentioned in this post: 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someonePrint this page

62 comments

  1. I didn’t stick to any specific guidelines, but simplifying my wardrobe this spring and getting rid of a lot of clothes was one of the best things I’ve done this year. I completely agree that having less options, but only options that you love, makes life much easier. Now that we are expecting another baby, I’m simplifying again, this time with my maternity clothes. I had so many clothes that I’ve held on to just because I thought I had to keep them because when you’re pregnant you should just wear what you can. But I understand now that I’m going to feel better about myself and just more happy in general if I’m wearing things for better reasons than just that they fit. Less clothes. More peace.

    • Byrd says:

      I’m pregnant for the first time @21 weeks, and currently have a 10-item wardrobe by necessity rather than choice. It’s hard to find anything that works for me, and so I’m wearing a lot of basics + accessories!!

  2. Ellen says:

    I love this concept and have tried to work with something like it for a while. I have more pieces than that in my closet, but I tend to wear seasonal blocks of 10-15 items.

    My biggest roadblock is the baby-toddler stage. My clothes get abused, especially shirts. I’m all for wearing nice items and tend to choose blousy shirts and skinny jeans, even on stay at home days. But keeping clean and presentable generally means at least one shirt change per day – adding up a lot of shirts per week. Plus nursing weight fluctuations…

    All that to say, this concept is inspiring and I hope to flex with it for years to come. But to moms out there in the little years, give yourself grace and a larger number of items to work with. 🙂

    • Yes, this is a thing. Madame Chic’s kids were all grown when she hosted Jennifer as an exchange student. I daresay her habits and wardrobe had to look different with 5 kids in the house!

      • Janett Reed says:

        HaHAHA! I’m a homeschool mama to a 4,7,and 8 year old! I understand the shirt changes. I still have too much stuffed in my closet but only grab the first 10-15 hangers. Plan is to have a date night with my husband and open a craft beer and decide what to keep or throw or donate. (his side is just as stuffed as mine with kiddos and weight changes)
        Another note on the toddler/preschool and glitter glue stages of parenthood, I band white. Yes a white tee or cream blouse are lovely staples but if it can’t disguise a small coffee spill out of my travel mug and other small splatters the come with kiddos it doesn’t live at my house.

    • Yup…5 kids. Most of my shirts are in shreds from wash and wear. The kids all think it’s hysterical that elbows and sides are complete thread-bare and whole-y.

      My biggest struggle is finding pieces that are flattering for my body, comfortable to me, and don’t bust my budget.

  3. There’s something in the air, obviously. I just wrote about this on my blog yesterday, sharing my own “closet guidelines” and encouraging a more minimalistic approach. Must be “spring cleaning” season. 🙂 I’m less into a certain number of items, and more into being a good steward of what I have, only keeping what I love and wear, and being picky about what is added in, but the idea is still the same – don’t allow your closet (or your home) to be overwhelmed by STUFF. Happy Thursday, Anne! 🙂

  4. Jessica says:

    Love this idea! When I found out I was pregnant with my second baby, I started having flashbacks to my first pregnancy and feeling like I was always buying clothes, but never had anything to wear! I pulled out all of my maternity clothes, sorted, purged and then made a list of pieces I needed to fill in the gaps with what was left and started shopping. With some time and thought, I was able to find the things I wanted, seek out great deals, and avoid buying those things that look so tempting but end up being a waste! Now, I have a wardrobe that fits nicely in the closet (in a spot carved out among the other clutter, ha!), and so far I’ve been able to easily pull out an outfit that I like and that fits for every occasion! I was worried about getting bored with so few things, but the freedom of actually liking all of my clothing and not having an insane amount of choices every day has taken care of that! I’m very excited to apply the simple wardrobe concept with my regular size clothes soon!

  5. I recently read Jennifer’s book and loved this and other ideas. I need to work on the “quality” part. Inspired by the book, I went out and bought myself some cute PJs.

  6. Sara K. says:

    I really want to do this! I’ve been trying to build a core wardrobe for a while now. But my question is where do you buy classic, well-made clothes anymore?? Most things I find on the market these days are made from very thin, see-through cloth. How do I find affordable, high quality clothing?

    LL Bean and Lands End come to mind, but I would like to find another source that’s a little more dressy for work.

    • liz n. says:

      J. Crew, Talbot’s, Ann Taylor/LOFT, Jones New York, Coldwater Creek, even Van Heusen. If you join their emailing lists, you also benefit from extra sales, discounts, and offers in addition to the usual sales going on in-store. LOFT, JNY, and Coldwater Creek also give you first crack at their outlet sales.

      • Pam says:

        Coldwater Creek is out of business. 🙁 I have 2 pairs of dress slacks, a pair of jeans and a blazer from there that I love. I wish they were still around.

    • Kelty says:

      I’ve wondered the same. It’s especially hard on the plus size end of the spectrum. Things seem to be overwhelmingly cheap and ill-fitting.

      • Kelly – Talbot’s now offers a really nice selection of clothes for plus size women, something I just discovered while shopping for my sister. I’ve found a few of their items at my local store (returns), but everything’s available online, and they offer a flat rate of $8 shipping. Hope that helps!

    • Jenna Pirrie says:

      I’ve started being able to collect some nicer, quality pieces on my miniscule budgetby using Twice for perfect condition, second hand pieces from quality brands. liketwice.com/181DX (That’s my referal link, FYI, but if Anne has one you shoud absolutely use hers instead since it’s her blog!)

      My cost-per-wear on some of those items has been abolsutely fantastic.

  7. Julie says:

    Another great source for inspiration on putting core pieces together is a blog called The Vivienne Files. By subscribing and looking at her photos daily, I am slowly absorbing the concept of how to make an variety of different outfits with a minimal set of clothes.

  8. Aya Amurjuev says:

    I love your posts about your thoughts on style! Your comments about not liking the mixing and matching aspect of capsule wardrobes really resonate with me. I like complete outfits, worn only in one way, forever and ever LOL. Your ideas here help me to reframe that thinking in a practical way. Thank you!

  9. beth says:

    A minimalist wardrobe definitely works for me. I much less dress heavy than Jennifer but I have found what works for my life and I go with that.

    I love Jennifer, her Madame Chic books and her “Daily Connoissuer” blog/ youtube channel. I love her take on everyday life.

  10. Valerie says:

    I guess I never thought much about my outfits growing up(French born and raised in different parts of France, including overseas departments). I never saw anyone worrying that much about it either.
    The only thing my mom was/is adamant about was no gym attire outside of the gym. ‘You are not going for a run in to ‘the Woods’!'(poor translation) It used to make us giggle a bit as it seemed to be a really bad thing to do according to her.

    Jennifer Scott’s 10 items are very close to what was in my closet, in particular during college years in Paris. I would add a good blazer though. It makes you look instantaneously more polished (spit up T-shirts and all).

    Side question where do you find good quality cotton T-shirts? I am still holding on 15-years-old ‘petit bateau’ and can’t seem to find anything that is not paper thin or does not self destruct after one wash.

    N.B.: I am bit self-conscious about writing here as I know my English is far from perfect and I am commenting on a writer’s blog (gulp).

  11. Beth L says:

    All of these post have made me want to simplify my wardrobe so desperately! However, being halfway through a pregnancy now probably isn’t the ideal time. Lol. I’m taking notes for after baby though!

  12. Kelty says:

    I absolutely love this idea. Like you mentioned, I find the capsule wardrobe idea brilliant but very hard to wrap my mind (and budget) around the larger set of 30+ pieces. BUT 10, that’s much more doable as a start, where you add the other pieces as layers, as needed.

  13. Katia says:

    I love Jennifer Scott’s blog and her books are on my reading list. Although I don’t have a 10-item wardrobe, I do have a fairly minimalist wardrobe. I don’t want to count the number of items I actually have, because I’m not interested in obsessing over the number. However, I ensure that I do wear all the pieces in my closet on a regular basis. At the end of the year, I go through an inventory and figure out which pieces I have not worn that year. The next question is whether I am interested in wearing them again, and if the answer is “No,” I give them away. For every new item I purchase (and I shop infrequently), I give away at least one item. This helps me to keep my closet under control. I’m also incredibly selective when I shop, looking for the best quality. I only purchase a piece of clothing if I truly love it and can see myself wearing it over and over again.

  14. Victoria says:

    I’m planning to do this slowly but surely! The process of getting rid of things begins TODAY and then I’ll add quality items (and get rid of whatever they are replacing) over the next few years. At 25, I feel like this is the perfect time for transition and I’ve been feeling really overwhelmed with the amount of clothes that I’ve accumulated over the last 15 years or so. Yes…I still have clothes from jr high and maybe even one or two items from when I was 10. :/ lol!!!

  15. Jennifer Haddow says:

    I have combined this idea from Crystal’s blog and The Great Summer Purge and Clean from The Homeschool Realm blog (I know I’m not a homeschooler but I can’t help myself from following all the homeschool blogs!). I have recently begun an unorganized purge, mostly in our office room, which I am trying to makeover from a junk room where we keep our computer and desk; and my closet. I have thrown away, recycled and boxed up a lot from the office and filled two garbage bags of clothes and shoes to take to Goodwill. I still have a lot to do and eventually I want to do the kitchen cupboards and pantry. My work wardrobe now consists of 2 pairs of dress pants, one skirt, and a dozen or so tops/sweaters/jackets. My summer non-work wardrobe consists of two pair of shorts, one pair of capri pants, and a half dozen t-shirts. I want to add a dress, but haven’t found one that I think is flattering to my plus size figure. So that’s what I wear, but I am still having some trouble getting rid of all the other clothes in my closet LOL

  16. Nuri says:

    This article came at just the right time and is far from superficial. I’ve been feeling closet claustrophobic lately and just started to wrap my head around doing something about it. My wardrobe is an insidious monster; it has completely taken over the bedroom closet (hubby’s clothes are in the closet in his office), along with two suitcases, a full dresser, several cardboard boxes I’ve never unpacked from our move, and storage boxes under the bed. My big problem is that I have the wardrobe of several different sizes I’ve been in the last 20 years, that I just can’t seem to move on from. I call it the “What if/One Day” wardrobe. Currently I’m a size 14-16. My larger clothes are mostly poor quality and unfaltering; as I was desperate to find something to wear and didn’t feel good about myself at the time. I didn’t want to invest in my appearance. They range in size from 24-20. While my smaller clothes are better quality, most are from my teen years and early 20s (aka the late 90s) and don’t reflect me as a person anymore or my current tastes. Also they range in sized from 6-10. Then there are the actual clothes I’m wearing currently, which I avoid making big investments in because (what if?). I know in my intellectual brain that all of this is just clutter I need to sort out and invest in what I’m wearing now. In my emotional brain, however, they are a safety net. What if I gain that 75 pounds back? I was so upset having to buy new clothes because of weight gain, I don’t want to go through that again, so I don’t get rid of them. Maybe one day I’ll fit into these smaller clothes again, isn’t that supposed to make me feel really good about myself, so I can’t get rid of them either. Its been a challenge for me to live in the present, to be content with the body I have now, and dress it with happiness and joy instead of nostalgia and self criticism. The fact that I have anxiety whenever I think of touching the wardrobe tells me that its something I have to work on. Thank you for these resources. I’m going to use them as a tool to help me get an handle on this.

    • Melissa D says:

      Keeping your skinny clothes (or your fat clothes) is a form of mental torture that you don’t need. It really is. And it keeps you in the If-Only and What-If part of your head.

      So: *be kind to yourself* …Look at the old clothes you love and figure out what made you feel good in them. That particular shade of blue? The detailing? etc…. And go look for that in what’s on the shelf or online today, in your current size. (Or go thrifting for it. Everyone shifts sizes and needs new/different stuff, and you can find new but inexpensive things on thrift racks.)

      It also helps me to realize that a few specific colors make me feel incredible. So think “color story” as well as what fits you now. 🙂

  17. Amy says:

    Thank you so much for introducing us to Jennifer/Daily Connoisseur! I remember when I studied at Oxford during college and had two suitcases of belongings. I thought I was roughing it until another student saw me doing laundry and thought it was kind that I did laundry for my roommates as well. Nope, just my own clothes—and only a small collection of them. There are places that the European perspective is helpful, and this is certainly one of them. Thankfully, that experience influenced me to raise my three daughters in a thoughtful way with clothes. With three teen girls now, that’s a blessing. I’ve always said we don’t keep deep wardrobes. This post, however, gives me more specifics to define what we’ve been doing. So helpful and encouraging.

    • GoinPubs says:

      Oh.My.Word–let me at my closet! I cannot with to purge with (reasonable) abandon. This is going to give us all an extra 10 minutes in the morning, and THINK of the reduction in laundry. Plus we are saving water. Ha!

  18. I read this post a couple weeks ago and have been slowly weeding through. I’ll go through it and toss a bunch and then wait a day or so and do another sweep. I’m going to keep doing it until it’s fully swept. My life has changed dramatically in the seven years since I first became a mother. My wardrobe should reflect that. Thank you!

  19. Pingback: Less is more
  20. Mary cain says:

    I realize now that I practiced this method when I worked. I traveled continually for (9) nine years, flying every weekend. I had a blue suit, blue shoes, pants; a black suit, pants, shoes; and neutral colors, scarves, belts, vests, sport coats, etc. Then blouses, shirts, sweaters that could be worn with anything. I carried one (1) bag every week with that weeks clothes. IT WORKS!

  21. kathleen says:

    I am so encouraged after reading this post and comments! I had already begun to simplify my “wardrobe” (I use *that* term loosely!). But I have lots of clothes from many years ago, because I’ve found they still fulfill my love of the Bohemian look, or have even come back in style!
    In spite of this, I’ve now filled several large donation bags, and plan that much more will go. My goal is to keep just 10 items ~ whether it’s following Madame Chic’s 10-piece, or the capsule wardrobe ~ and make my life much simpler … !
    Thank you for the inspiration.55

  22. Molly says:

    I have a financial services practice which demands business formal and business semi-formal wear most days of the week.
    And then I have two young kids at home which requires casual but cute wear.
    I’m thinking I probably need a capsule wardrobe for each role?

  23. Jenny says:

    Great post, Anne! I have been enjoying the capsule wardrobe for at least five years now, and I’ll never go back! I am currently doing a personal style challenge where I thrift my capsule wardrobe for 12 months. It has added another level to the “challenge” of the capsule wardrobe, but I am finding it to be super liberating, as well. And actually, I just wrote a post about why I don’t think personal style is superficial, if you care to read it (Stacy London retweeted it!!! :-O): http://www.jenericgeneration.com/style/why-is-personal-style-important/

  24. Beth says:

    Just found this via Pinterest and love the idea. I will say my biggest challenge is to be in the beginning phase- where I clear things out and wait to buy *the* pieces I love. It’s like growing out a bad hair cut…takes time and patience. Would love suggestions on that…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.