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What’s the deal with minimalists and comfy clothes?

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What we wear says a lot about who we are. School and work uniforms define your occupation. Your wardrobe reflects the environment from which you come. The brands you choose demonstrate your commitment to ethical or environmental practices. The colors and shapes show off your classic, artsy, alternative, glamorous, laid-back, athletic, or eclectic persona. The clothes don’t make the man, as they say, but they are the most visible aspect of your lifestyle and personality.

With that in mind, why is it that so many minimalists seem to be obsessed with relaxed shapes, neutral colors, and flat shoes? What’s the connection between minimalism and a personal style that focuses on being comfortable? Seriously—take a look at Unfancy, Reading My Tea Leaves, Becoming Minimalist, Zen Habits, The Minimalists…none of them are rocking a suit and tie or Louboutins on the daily. You’re much more likely to see crew-neck t-shirts, athletic shorts, pullover sweaters, and jeans on these folks.

Even I have migrated over to comfort—I who used to wear dresses and boots every day. Maybe part of it is just that I’m getting older and wiser (having just turned the ripe old age of 24, after all) and have realized that ain’t no one got time for sore feet and scratchy fabrics. But I don’t think that accounts for all the conscious and unconscious changes I’ve made to my style in the last two years.

Note: To be clear, I totally love when someone’s personal style is uber-glam or elegant. I am not suggesting that minimalism and fancy clothes are incompatible (think Parisian chic), nor am I suggesting that minimalists are slobs. Show yourself off the way you like to! But having done some thinking about it, here are a few reasons I believe many minimalists choose—and celebrate—comfortable clothing:

Minimalism relieves us of the need to impress others.

The point of expensive brand names and to-the-nines styling is, at its core, to impress people. (For some people, it’s also a way to make others jealous—which isn’t a great way to build relationships.) On your minimalist journey, your focus is internal contentment and releasing the idea that your material goods define your worth. Trends come and go, but it doesn’t matter: Self-confidence is always in style—and it impresses people more than fancy clothes. No matter what your personal style is, the clothes that make you feel happy and confident are the ones you should wear.

Minimalism allows us to give up our fantasy selves and live as the people we truly are.

In a time that is characterized by overflowing schedules and curated social media portrayals of stylized, idealized lives (Pinterest, anyone?), it’s tempting to try trend after trend to become someone new and better. Whether that means trying to pick up a half-dozen virtuous hobbies or trying to master “effortless” fall layering, trying to copy a fantasy ideal almost always leads to feelings of frustration and inferiority. Do you have a dozen hats sitting guiltily in your closet because you thought you’d become a hat person? Scarves, pocket squares, colorful watches that is just too fussy for everyday use? If those over-the-knee boots or layered accessories just aren’t you, it’s okay to declutter those things and save yourself the trouble. No one notices that I don’t wear jewelry or makeup or silk scarves to work, and no one cares.

Minimalism is strongly connected to a more active life.

Whether they live in the middle of New York City or out on a rural homestead, a big impetus toward becoming a minimalist is that people are seeking connection to the outside world. Spending time outside can manifest as gardening, family walks in the woods, globetrotting, running a marathon, mission trips, attending formal events…How wonderful it is to pursue a lifestyle that allows you to prioritize healthy activities like that! And when you’re traveling a lot, or walking more instead of driving, or making time to exercise, you may find yourself naturally gravitating toward flat shoes and easy, weatherproof layers. No one likes sore backs and restrictive fabrics when the idea is to get out and move!

Minimalism allows us to follow our professional passions.

Another hallmark of the more famous minimalists is that most of them don’t have a traditional office job. Thanks to buying less, reducing debt, and reframing their ideas of what success and wealth look like, many minimalists are able to pursue their passions through self-employment. Photography, writing, freelance programming, professional speaking—all of these are professions that allow you to set your own hours and only work as many hours as you need to sustain your lifestyle. For many people who have that opportunity, it’s thanks to minimalism. How is this related to clothing? Without an office job, you can wear whatever you want—no need to own a suit or dress shoes if you don’t have someplace you’re required to wear them. Those of you with office jobs: Wouldn’t it be nice to work in jeans or sweats all day?

Minimalism encourages us to seek out versatile, high-quality possessions.

When you don’t own many clothes, finding one piece to suit multiple purposes is key. You definitely don’t want to waste precious closet space—or dollars—on something that can only be used in one context. Sure, those white suede stiletto booties are gorgeous…but are they really practical when you live in rainy Seattle and walk to work? And do they go with multiple outfits? A pair of smart ballet flats or loafers would probably be a better investment. Indeed, investment is an important word in that sentence; one of the joys of minimalism is that since you’re choosing to buy fewer things, you can focus on higher-quality purchases. That means softer, more durable fabrics, a better fit, and overall better materials. Even high heels and blazers can be comfortable if they’re made well. Comfortable clothing doesn’t have to be sweatpants and ratty tees!

Minimalism emboldens us to seek and appreciate comfort in all aspects of life.

We live in a society full of people who love to martyr themselves at the god of busyness. No one likes feeling stressed, but many people mistake stress for productivity, or think that their ability to (more or less) balance a bursting schedule will impress other people. One of the most important lessons that minimalism teaches is that it’s okay to be comfortable. It’s okay to slow down. It’s okay to not do X just because you’re “supposed” to do X. Sartorially speaking, that means you don’t have to own a little black dress or crisp white button-down. You can be just as dressed-up in flats and pants as you can in a dress and heels. Cotton sweaters look just as dashing as dress shirts or blazers. When you let yourself see that comfort doesn’t preclude productivity, respect, or success, you open a door to contentment—in and out of your wardrobe.

How would you describe your personal style? What did you think of this article? Let’s talk about it on Twitter!

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