LESS IS BET­TER

Self-pro­claimed min­i­mal­ist Kate Car­raway taps into our cul­tural obess­sion with the stylishly sparse French wardrobe

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I’m a su­per-min­i­mal­ist: My hus­band de­scribes my de­sign aes­thetic as “a green ap­ple in a bowl on the floor of an oth­er­wise empty room.” Even though I love fash­ion, makeup and de­sign, my years spent as a broke free­lancer, mov­ing be­tween in­fi­nite sub­lets, taught me slowly to buy with in­ten­tion— and dis­card and do­nate of­ten—in or­der to main­tain a slim in­ven­tory of clothes and things so that I’m free from the ad­min­is­tra­tive drag of con­sid­er­ing, clean­ing and car­ing for pieces I don’t even like.

Nowhere is the In­sta-spi­ra­tional proverb “less, but bet­ter” more rel­e­vant or re­sisted than in fash­ion: buy­ing, own­ing, want­ing, and need­ing less stuff—but bet­ter stuff—has chal­lenged the cheap, ex­haust­ing abun­dance of the fast-fash­ion era, dove­tailed with en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism and the well­ness move­ment, and be­come a le­git­i­mate trend of “up­scale min­i­mal­ism” among women primed for a new ob­ses­sion. A con­sid­ered, nar­rowed wardrobe of care­fully researched, tai­lored and just-right in­vest­ment pieces is re­plac­ing the cir­cus-y Cher Horowitz Closet as the ideal, con­nect­ing style with self-care at pre­cisely the mo­ment when the col­lec­tive cul­ture is breath­ing anger and anx­i­ety like fire.

Like most trends, the ideal of “or­ga­ni­za­tion as moral im­per­a­tive” ex­isted be­fore it got new, pret­tily ap­peal­ing pack­ag­ing. In short: It didn’t be­gin when the quirky Ja­panese de­clut­ter­ing guru Marie Kondo pub­lished her best­seller, The Life-Chang­ing

Magic of Tidy­ing Up, in 2014. But the nar­ra­tive cer­tainly took off. Kondo’s phi­los­o­phy of thank­ing and then toss­ing any­thing that doesn’t “spark joy” has made its way into a New Yorker pro­file, the man­sion of old-money ma­tri­arch Emily in Net­flix’s

Gil­more Girls re­vival, and an (ironic!) over­abun­dance of par­ody, in­clud­ing a book called The

Life-Chang­ing Magic of Not Giv­ing a F*ck (as­ter­isk

def­i­nitely not mine). In fact, few life­style punch­lines have been as cul­tur­ally per­va­sive as the Kondo method—ri­valled maybe only by juice cleans­ing and “con­scious un­cou­pling” in re­cent years— which sug­gests that women are look­ing for some­thing real and use­ful in min­i­mal­ism.

The all-in way to have less, but get more is by wear­ing a self-styled “uni­form,” which ba­si­cally just means that you de­cide to wear the same out­fit ev­ery day, like Matilda Kahl, the cool cre­ative man­ager at Sony Mu­sic who, in 2015, fash­ion­fa­mously blogged about her col­lec­tion of iden­ti­cal white silk shirts, worn with or with­out a black blazer, black pants, a black tie. Ac­cord­ing to her In­sta­gram, she’s still “wear­ing the same thing to work ev­ery day” more than two years later.

A slightly more for­giv­ing op­tion is the “five­piece French wardrobe,” which is usu­ally in­ter­preted by style blog­gers as sym­bolic essen­tials to build on. It’s dreamy, if the­o­ret­i­cal— and it’s catch­ing on. Gwyneth Pal­trow’s Goop con­cern, for ex­am­ple, moved into “cap­sule” col­lec­tions, which are ba­si­cally just highly mar­ketable, risk-mit­i­gat­ing lim­ited edi­tion fash­ion lines that of­fer monthly re­leases of sup­pos­edly el­e­vated ba­sics (Are cu­lottes ba­sics? Is a blazer with a mas­sive bow?).

Since we have ac­cess to ba­si­cally ev­ery­thing via so­cial me­dia, on­line shop­ping and dis­pos­able fash­ion, hard lim­its come as a re­lief. In the same way that “free-range kids” and “in­tu­itive eat­ing” give so­cial cred­i­bil­ity to “re­lax­ing” for women who feel like they are both con­stantly un­der surveil­lance and fail­ing, “less, but bet­ter” style solves two prob­lems at once. Kondo’s di­rec­tive to throw things away, the French idea of chic­ness as de­fined by “less” and, of course, rich, pa­tri­cian Pal­trow’s en­dorse­ment of own­ing only the essen­tials are the an­swer to our de­sire to hap­pily re­lease the over­whelm­ing parts of get­ting dressed (shop­ping, spend­ing, clean­ing, choos­ing)—and still cap­ture an of-the-mo­ment look and mood.

Like any­thing pre­scrip­tive, though, even some­thing as light as “less, but bet­ter” can feel like a self-help man­date that’s self-de­feat­ing. Men love to opine about liv­ing with less. Au­thor and en­tre­pre­neur James Al­tucher has oft de­scribed his post-purge wardrobe of three pairs of pants, three shirts and one pair of shoes. But most women in typ­i­cal jobs aren’t able to pull off self-cre­ated “uni­forms” like Al­tucher, who can do mostly what­ever he wants, or like Matilda Kahl, whose youth, cre­ative gig and hot­ness makes her uni­form an ap­peal­ing quirk in­stead of an ec­cen­tric­ity.

Women, who still earn less than men and do more un­paid work, tend to have less time and fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal to make well-researched in­vest­ments in just-right things. My su­per-min­i­mal­ist wardrobe of “bet­ter” costs less time and money over­all, but drop­ping hun­dreds on a sin­gle piece still stings.

And, re­al­is­ti­cally, life is too big to ac­com­mo­date a wardrobe that’s as small as the one I want, which would be a 10- piece, one-rack cap­sule of Max Mara, Cé­line and 1990s Calvin Klein. While my hus­band has maybe four strata of his sar­to­rial life— an­cient gym shit, J.Crew sweats for “stomps” with the dog, heavy sweaters I buy for him (and then steal back) and jeans for ca­sual nights out, and Canali for work and wed­dings—I have maybe 16, which cor­re­spond to the sub­tleties and sub-lev­els of the roles and iden­ti­ties that I’m in­tended to put on and take off. I need streetwear for brunch and shop­ping with fash­ion-y friends who can talk Vete­ments; pol­ished, preppy ba­sics to as­sert my re­spectabil­ity in meet­ings when re­quired; floaty-soft­ies for PMS; win­ter cock­tail; sum­mer beach; hol­i­day for­mal; lin­gerie; it goes on.

If do­ing less could in­clude fewer de­mands made of women, so we didn’t have to wait for a fash­ion trend to em­power us to trust our own judg­ment,

that would ac­tu­ally be bet­ter.

“My hus­band de­scribes my de­sign aes­thetic as ‘a green ap­ple in a bowl on the floor of an oth­er­wise empty room.’”

Photo: Getty Images.

Model and muse Caro­line de Mai­gret, the epit­ome of Parisi­enne cool.

Clock­wise from top left: Mar­ion Cotil­lard, Carla Bruni, Caro­line de Mai­gret, Léa Sey­doux, Clé­mence Poésy and Ines de la Fres­sange.

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