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cleaning out your closet the "lean wardrobe" capsule for 5 piece french wardrobe nomads

You remember that time when you decided to launch a style blog and slaved over perfectionist business cards to hand out at the many conferences you'd be attending as part of the new career you couldn't even afford to have? Well, the fashion industry world is like that at every turn, in every spectrum, from the tiny worms who spin our silk to the godly designers who make Swarovski crystal face masks with deer antlers we don't need. It's all a facade. A show. An immensely bipolar vacuum of delight, and wonder, and pretend, and living beyond means like no one's business. A 5 piece french wardrobe is the butt of all jokes in that world. So this got me to thinking. Hard. If I can launch a lean startup (my fashion tech company that you can follow in the fashion ceo series every week) which is based on the lean startup method of creating businesses with very little mulah, then why can't I also apply that to my shopping habits, anti-consumerism minimalist philosophies, and wardrobe building?

I mean let's be real, I am no Rick Owens-cum-Acne loving girl from Scandinavia. I loved the 5 piece french wardrobe approach for its simplicity but it lacks the focus on budgeting. Then there's capsule this and classics that, but whose to say I give a damn about what my colleagues demand I buy every week based on a list they pulled out of their ass. Breton stripe tees and trench coats and wrap skirts need not find their way into my closet any time soon. I much prefer to blend all these orchestrated attempts at instructing us what to do or what life to lead and instead create a new method that inspires a universal approach to curating an ideal personal collection of quality clothing for work and play that is attainable, sustainable and affordable. Don't you agree? Well, let's take a step back and see what the rules of the game were originally:

5 Piece French Wardrobe

For all intents and purposes, this has by far been my most beloved source of guidance for rebuilding my sense of personal style from scratch. Even fashion stylists can look like frumpy hot messes, and I've left the house far too many times almost resembling Carrot Top. The life of a hustling working girl leaves little room for playing dress up, especially when all my creativity goes into clients or the pages of magazines. When I put my foot down on this unacceptable behavior (in terms of my own evaluated self-confidence, not because I bend to peer pressure and have two faces like so many fashion bloggers unfortunately) and decided to completely cull my wardrobe in hopes of devising a signature look and discovering trusted ethical fashion brands, I knew the 5 piece minimalist capsule wardrobe was for me. It was buzzed about and I came upon it by chance. Here is the general DNA for the method:

Each season you can purchase 5 pieces to add to your wardrobe
  • Fabric and quality is more important than quantity. 
  • Basics don’t count but basic tees etc. are always allowed 
  • Accessories don’t count, except if they cost a lot more than usual
  • Socks and underwear don’t count, the rest does
  • Shoes do count

With that, you also need to follow the principle of classics and have a capsule wardrobe
  • Tops: Black, grey and white tees and/or tanks. White or cream blouses.Black dress. Black blazer. Black Cardigan or sweater.
  • Bottoms: Black pants. One pair of good jeans. Black skirt. 
  • Outerwear: Leather jacket. Trench coat and winter coat. A complete black suit 
  • Shoes: Black pumps. Ankle Boots. Ballerina flats. Sneakers. 
  • Accessories: Gold or silver watch. Black leather bag.

This method appealed to me because at the time I was so disgusted with fast fashion, especially after the Bangladesh crisis that killed (I prefer murdered, but let's not be melodramatic today) dozens of sweatshop workers employed by addictive brands like Zara, and it allowed me to hone in on ethically produced domestic items, organic fashion, quality over quantity, and silencing trends for a while. I'm also an unabashedly professed hedonist who prays on aesthetics even whilst sleeping, so I was giddy to explore the very best jeans or tee shirts or anything, so long as my basics weren't in fact basic, it seemed like an experiment well lived. However, while I wholeheartedly agree on the aspect of this method that attested to wardrobes that hold up season to season not trend to trend, and item lifespan or cost per wear ratio, it still left me completely derailed and demotivated when I owned up to the fact that it would be years before I could afford Acne jeans, Burberry coats and Celine bags. So what's a fashionista to do when she rather lay down on subway tracks than dilute her high fashion nature? Create a new method y'all.

The Lean Wardrobe

You know me by now, and I've already been in your ear about "classics" being a bit of propagated bullshit since a classic is subjective not objective. I don't follow the rules of what every woman should have which explains why you won't find any LBD or tweed jackets in my closet. Living the life of magazine articles led me down a deadly path because when you have no time to cultivate your own style, you unhappily play the role of a hanger to someone else's. So instead of rushing to create a capsule wardrobe of classic basics, I instead based the Lean Wardrobe method on defining your signature look uniform. What is the one outfit you could wear all day everyday for the rest of your life? For me boyfriend jeans, a sexy white tee, stilettos and a bold blazer with a statement necklace has been a fave, second only to a little white dress with wedges and stud earrings. From there you can begin the LW method. It's based on these fundamental and non-negotiable values:

  • ethical, sustainable, and local trump fast, cheap, and convenient
  • spontaneity is the ying to planning's yang because opportunistic purchases are not necessarily regretful impulse purchases
  • fit is not a deal breaker because a tailor is non-negotiable
  • being a label whore is not shameful in the realm of vintage and thrifting
  • there is no set number of pieces to add per season but less is more and 5 is indeed a good threshold 

have you found an ideal method to help you curate your wardrobe?


  1. I think a person's wardrobe should suit them. I'm certainly a 'bright colour' person so I'm not sure the 5 Piece French Wardrobe would work for me either. I do like your lean wardrobe however, although I'm not sure I'd be very good at the 'lean' bit!! This has been an interesting read

    1. Lorna, yeah that's the strange thing is that the french 5 piece has so many varied reputations, including that of being neutral in color palette when in fact you don't have to stick to black and white to follow it. But either way, its one reason I wanted to start a new method. Now to see if even I can keep up with the "lean" bit as well :)

  2. I'm still working on it! Into Mind is another blog that focuses on fashion "curating" while considering minimalism and ethics. What has been most helpful is having a couple of signature looks/uniforms in mind when I'm out and about to rein me in from less considered purchases.

    1. Teresa, I am in love with Into Mind as well, Anu's blog is brilliant. Glad to see you taking up one concept I pointed out here which is starting with signature looks and "uniforms" which really helps.

    2. I hadn't heard of Into Mind before! Loved the lean wardrobe as an alternative to the 5 piece method. Great post.

    3. Cristina, into mind is such a fantastic blog! Give it a read and let me know what you think. Thanks for liking the post ;)


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Letitia Elizabeth is the author of EUROPE NOMAD, the travel blog for daydreaming fellow travelers who love cheap countries in Europe, beautiful countrysides, and magical quality of life. Here you'll receive packing lists + guides, Europe travel tips, digital nomad working life advice & living in Europe as an American stories. Welcome!