The 10 item wardrobe

Let's start with the "why???" that you're whispering into your second cup of almond milk chai latte (yes, I heard it).

Why limit your dressing options? Isn't it better to have 16 floral blouses, 2 striped Ts and 3 white shirts, 7 jeans skirts, 5 black skinny jeans (and the sailor pants that used to fit that you're so sure will fit again some day so you're hanging on to them) to choose from?  

Is it possible to live a rich and fulfilled life with a wardrobe of only 10 items? And why should you?

Why indeed?

Let's back up a second, just to explain where I got the number 10 from: The 10 Item Wardrobe by Eden Kaminsky. Go order it if you haven't already read it.

Being obsessed with simplicity, this title instantly made me put down my cup of tea (PG Tips, milk, no sugar) and order it to my Kindle. 

The 10 item wardrobe

Intrigued and delighted, I entertained the thought of limiting my wardrobe to 10 items, and followed Eden Kaminsky's recipe, which is roughly this:

1 jacket (she had me at the jacket, to be honest, since that's how I often start when building a capsule wardrobe)

1 coat

1 pair of black pants and 1 pair of jeans

1 white shirt

1 T-shirt

1 sweater 

1 LBD (Little Black Dress)

Shoes (one pair of heels, a pair of white sneakers and boots). She counts the three pairs of shoes as one item. Fiendishly clever. 

And then, she says to have one set of "leisure clothes", leggings and a top, which she mysteriously counts as one item, but proceeds to combine separately with all the other items to create more casual outfits.

Since I can't leave well enough alone, I proceeded to make my own version of this 10 item wardrobe, so I substituted a handbag for the leisure clothes. Because no wardrobe is complete without a hold-it-all, fabulously yours handbag individualized down to the Mickey Mouse keyring that your daughter gave you that has been clipped to every handbag you have owned since she was seven. 

I then threw in a smaller, dressier handbag. Just because I could. Here it is:

10 item wardrobe

Fun fact: I had all these items in my wardrobe from before, with the exception of the blue jeans and white sneakers. I have yet to own white sneakers. They may be on my next shopping list, because I do see how it might change up and brighten my outfits instead of wearing black shoes all the time.

Here's where it all comes to a screeching halt

Because this wardrobe does not reflect my lifestyle. At all.

They might be perfect for that week I'm spending in London doing Personal Colour Analysis appointments. (Did you know that you can get your colours sorted and know exactly which colours to build a wardrobe from, with me in London, UK? Did you miss that announcement? Well, read this).

But they're not perfect for the life I lead here in this small rural community on the west coast of Norway, where I divide my time between writing, the odd wardrobe therapy session via zoom or in person, some colour analysis (in person at my studio), walking the dog, more writing, drinking tea, and pulling fishing nets with my husband. 

The question is, can I build a 10 item wardrobe that is unique to my lifestyle? Oh, yes. The thing is, I already do. Because while I still have the items pictured above in my wardrobe, let's call them my urban (hello London!) capsule wardrobe, I have approximately 10 items that I wear over and over again, every day, every week. Here, let me show you:

My real life everyday 10 item wardrobe

A panel of the 10 items I wear over and over in cool weather looks something like this:

10 item real life wardrobe

1 jacket - a black, hooded very versatile sleek zippered jacket. Casual enough to walk the dog without looking overdressed and sleek enough to go with a skirt when drinking my iced coffee and chatting while pretending I'm knitting at the local knitting café. 

1 anorak. I do own a really classy coat but this anorak is what I grab when heading out the door and the wind is whipping my hair every way possible. And wearing an anorak with a skirt is totally possible for me, you'll know by now that Practical is pretty much my middle name. 

Black jeans, grey wool skirt. Because I can't imagine a life of not wearing skirts.

Black collarless silk top, long sleeved. I couldn't find an image of that exact one, so the on in the panel is short sleeved.

Crisp white shirt. The one I own now is cotton, but I'm aspiring to invest in a silk shirt, because that till be easier to layer under the black dress. Which brings me to:

The black dress, merino wool, soft and comfy, with pockets. I'll wear it all the time. And wearing a white shirt under it changes the look and gives another layer of warmth. Did I mention the cold wind around here?

Grey merino wool sweater. See paragraph above about layering.

Shoes: Forget heels. I love them but they make my feet hurt. Loafers and Dr Martens get the most wear in this house.

Bag. Like I said before, it's not on Eden Kaminsky's list, but I include it because it's such a staple, and where else would I keep my notebook, fountain pens and lipstick?

Now, the mysterious leisure outfit that she includes in her book. For me, they are a pair of Norrøna hiking pants and a plain linen ling sleeved top, in ice blue. So why not include them in the items, and call it what it is? OK I see the point. I counted the items in my panel, 11 items of I count the shoes/bag as one, like Eden does. Not nearly as sleek as the 10 items, so never mind.

Why do it?

Yes, why indeed. Well, I can list quite a few reasons why it's actually very liberating to limit the number of items in your wardrobe, up to and not limited to it being kinder on your wallet and on the planet, and that it frees your mind to think about more important things, like how to explain in French that you're looking for the lady at the market, the one with the multi-coloured eggs from her independent, free ranging chickens so that you can let her know that you want 10 eggs, not 6. 

I have been thinking about this. The thought of limiting your clothing options makes you reach for a brown paper bag to breathe in. It's OK. Just breathe. Think about this: You use you favourite clothes over and over, all the time, am I right? The thing is that you crave variety as well. 

So put the paper bag down, let's do this instead:

Change the concept from the 10 item wardrobe to The 10 Favourites Wardrobe. Can you hear how that changes the concept from a limiting straight-jacket (the kind of jacket that is definitely NOT on anybody's list of items, am I right?) to a core wardrobe to love and that you can supplement with other (colourful) items for variety.

The 10 Favourites Wardrobe

Which means you don't HAVE to limit yourself only these items. It means that you are curating and upgrading the backbone of your wardrobe to items that you love, and that it's never a problem to get ready for a night of playing canasta with your besties. You may be worrying about whether Gladys will catch you cheating (again), but not about what to wear.

So go ahead and assemble your 10 Favourite Wardrobe, I'm sure you can do this with clothes that you already have. Put these to the front of your closet, and use them with pleasure. And then you can still keep a number of other items in the back of the closet (or in a shelf somewhere nearby) that you can grab when you feel the need to change things up.

I'll be willing to bet that it will happen fewer times than you think.

So, to reiterate:  The 10 Item Wardrobe by Eden Kaminsky. Go order it if you haven't already read it.

Then see if you can play around with creating a 10 Favourites Wardrobe from your clothes, to suit your lifestyle. 

And then, write me an email or comment here in the blog post if that is easier. Let me know if you climbed the curtains in wild delight at the thought of limiting the items, or write to me describing the vase you broke when you hurled the book across the room in frustration (and what it is that makes you grind your teeth when you open your closet).

I can help. Not with the vase, obviously, but I can help you sort your wardrobe. Talk to me.

How do you feel about the amount of black in this 10 item wardrobe?

And how is your relationship with black anyway? Ah, wait, there's a quiz for that:

About the author, Jorunn Hernes

Jorunn is a Certified Personal Colour Analyst, founder of Nordic Simplicity and Scandinavian Style Academy™, the fresh, simple, Scandinavian approach to getting dressed. Jorunn will avoid social settings with more than three people but can be lured out with snacks and the promise to talk about books.

  • Hi, Ive just found your website, after looking online for a merino dress with pockets. Could you tell me the details of where your merino dress is from please. Thanks Sara

  • As a young shopper, I would ONLY consider purchasing dresses that came with coordinating purses—thank you Jorunn for including them in your wardrobe basics! But you left out hats—I own more hats than pairs of shoes lol

    I don’t just love the idea of a limited wardrobe, I live it every day. I personally prefer a few looks that are amazing than dozens that are less-than. I live in a 4-season climate so I have a favorite 10 (or less) for each season, with hot pink the signature around which each is built; for example, my dressy winter coat is a shocking pink boiled wool swing coat that makes me feel like a sparkling jewel!

    And Jorunn, do go buy those white sneakers 🙂

    • Hello Susan, yes handbags can truly make or break an otherwise excellent outfit, but in my mind, they also have to be super practical. I have a crossover (cross strap?) shoulderbag that I love but it’s just a smidge too bland for my preferred style because the colour is a dull charcoal, not brilliant black as I usually prefer, but I tolerate it like I tolerate that nerdy nephew with the fourteen pens in his shirt pocket because he is always the one who gives me the best reading recommendations. I have solved it by pinning a sparkly crystal heart-shaped brooch onto it. I may get some machine wash dye and dye the bag black one of these years (it can be done because it is a pure cotton canvas bag), but that’s still on my to-do list, like the white sneakers (but yes, I will buy white sneakers!).
      So hats! Tell me more about your hats and how you use them!
      PS Hot pink sounds like a perfectly scrumptious signature colour! How lucky you are that you found a wool swing coat in that colour. It will brighten the most gloomy winter day, for you and the people you encounter.

      • I love how tweak your items to make them more true to you! I often use my bag to add signature color and fun–for example, Marimekko’s Unikko large-scale pink/red is my go-to crossbody.

        Hats: I’ve loved them as long as I’ve loved purses 🙂 But with sensitive skin it’s always function then fashion: fabric ball caps and buckets for athletics and casual, huge-brimmed straw for gardening, crisp boater or derby-style woven for dresses and elevated casual in late spring/summer, wooly cloches and bretons in winter/early spring . . . and by adding a pin, ribbon, or patterned scarf, I make the hat uniquely my own as well as connecting it to my overall look and the level of polish suited to the ocassion.

        Now then, anybody want to talk sunglasses?!?!

          • You know I’m in 🙂 But also, Jorunn, your blog post is genius: I now realize the reason I am able to “live a rich and fulfilled life” (as you put it) with such a small wardrobe is because I transform my looks and levels of polish (casual –> dressy) by infusing everyday functional items with color, pattern, and personality!

  • In theory, I like the idea of a capsule wardrobe, but every time I have tried it I end up frustrated, because I enjoy “dressing up”. I like to juxtapose different items in all sorts of ways, and a capsule wardrobe is too limiting for me. It is just not fun! As I’m retired I rarely have to look business-like, so if I want to dress like a pre-Raphaelite princess one day and a Japanese “forest girl” the next, that is fine. I have my practical clothes for housework, gardening, etc., and then my “fantasy wardrobe”, which I can play around with. I do have a closet clear out twice a year, to get rid of items that just don’t work for me any more, but I end up keeping most of them anyway “just in case”. As a writer and painter, I feel that dressing somewhat differently fuels my creativity, while for my counselling clients I like to look relaxed yet respectful – sort of “business casual”. I have about a hundred items altogether in my closets, including shoes and bags, and it doesn’t feel too much!

    • Hi Elizabeth, thank you for sharing your thoughts! It’s very interesting to read. And it’s totally OK to not need to scale down your wardrobe! It sounds like you are having so much fun with your approach to dressing, that you thrive on variety, and you’re expressing your creativity through your different wardrobes. And that is so cool. A minimalist approach to dressing is not for everyone. I think it’s great that we’re different, and clearly, you have found a style (or should I say a collection of styles) that suit you perfectly! Since your life is filled with such a variety of styles, it sounds like you have several different capsule wardrobes. Are the styles you dress for completely separate, or do you find that some of your items cross over between some of the styles?

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