Minimum Viable Wardrobe
April 10, 2017 1:27 PM   Subscribe

So cartoon characters have been wearing literally the same thing every day since time immemorial. Lately, it seems to have become a trend among a particular set of wealthy techies. If, hypothetically, one were to decide to do this, what would be the absolute minimum set of clothing required, if you didn't want to be gross but also didn't want to do laundry every day? And non-hypothetically, how weird would it be do this if you aren't a wealthy trendsetter?

Just to have a baseline, let's go with the most basic, versatile possible outfit: a pair of pants that aren't jeans, a t-shirt, standard underwear for your gender, socks, shoes, and maybe a light piece of outerwear.

The factors involved, as far as I can tell:
-How many wears a particular item could go without washing
-How many wears and washes a single item can survive (obviously dependent on quality and if you're taking care of it, but roughly)
-How often you want to do laundry
-Am I missing anything else?

I'm particularly hazy on the first two. I typically wear something just once before washing (that's how I was brought up), but I've heard that's overkill and in some cases actively harmful when it comes to things like pants. What's "normal"?

The reason why I'm thinking of doing this is less because of any silliness about decision fatigue or whatever but because I'm the lethal combination of "picky + hates shopping + limited budget" and the idea of just needing to find one pair of affordable pants I like and then buying [x] amount of them is really appealing. But I also don't want to give off a negative impression! I'd probably vary from the strict "one single outfit" rule, but just slightly: 2 pants instead of one, the same t-shirt but in a variety of colors, etc.

(I've looked into "capsule wardrobes" but they tend to emphasize not repeating outfits, which sort of misses the point here.)
posted by perplexion to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (42 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: For pants washing, my general rule is "wear them three or at most four times unless they smell or I spilled something on them." Operating on this rule you could have three pairs of pants if you did laundry once a week and be pretty safe.

As for the shirts - I wouldn't really worry about knowing exactly how long until they wear out. Personally I would want no fewer than eight to ten if I were attempting this, just in case I ruined one or two of them and didn't have time to go buy more, or had to skip laundry one weekend; or you could have more than that and just wash each one fewer times. Seems to me it'll shake out the same in the end - more shirts, less wear, and vice versa.

For socks and underwear, the same thing - eight to ten if you do laundry once a week.

I wouldn't consider this all that weird, although if I were personally attempting it I would have a couple of different styles of t-shirt in my rotation and a couple different shades of the same cut of pants, which I think would make it less immediately obvious. Then it will be less "literal cartoon character" and more "has found a look and sticks to it."

(I've looked into "capsule wardrobes" but they tend to emphasize not repeating outfits, which sort of misses the point here.)

This is definitely true, but they also talk a lot about picking a 'silhouette' that works for you and then sticking with it, and also limiting yourself to a small number of colors that coordinate and look good on you. I've embraced this and am slowly replacing my wardrobe with mostly slim-cut pants, button-down shirts, and oversized sweaters. It makes it MUCH easier to shop because your options are slashed down to about a tenth of the total selection or less.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:43 PM on April 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

Best answer: For things like pants worn in an office, I would aim to wash them every ~3 wears. Jeans, maybe even less frequently. Same for sweaters worn on top of something else, except for wool sweaters that get washed as infrequently as possible. But it's possible I'm a slob. Everything else gets washed every time.

Another thing to consider is that for shoes, at least, there is an argument that you shouldn't wear them every day because then they don't dry out completely between wears. I could imagine the same being true for pants, in that alternating 2 pairs would make them wear out slower than 2x the same pair worn every day.

FWIW my impression of capsule wardrobes wasn't so much that you could make the maximum number of outfits, but that everything goes with everything already so you don't need to think about whether it does.
posted by quaking fajita at 1:44 PM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

One may also need to account for temperature variation and the need for layering. To reduce wear in particular items, like shoes, it actually is handy to have duplicates, or, as I've done it, rotate between black and brown.

For work, I've been wearing four or five pairs of slacks with around ten polo shirts for the last year, along with two pairs of shoes that are work only. I am liberal with my socks.
posted by cobaltnine at 1:46 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

One light pair of pants, one dark pair of pants, and a basic shirt that fits well in multiple colors would work nicely as you said.

Number of times between washes depends on fit and fabric. I have some dresses in a slinky material that seem to rarely need washing but my cotton clothing doesn't wear well on repeat.

I usually do not wash work pants unless they have staining, are visibly "lived in" or something to that effect. But that is pure laziness on my part as I hate ironing.

I think that 8-10 shirts and three pairs of pants would do what you are asking.
posted by crunchy potato at 1:48 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

The uses-per-wash will depend a lot on your personal biochemistry - my wife gets away with quite a few, whereas if it touches my armpits, it goes in the hamper. 3 wears for pants sounds about right, too.

I basically do this, with minimal variation - I have jeans, three pairs of identical brown work pants, a stack of mostly-solid t-shirts (short-sleeve and long) in a couple of colors, and that's it. Cold-weather clothes have more variation just because I haven't found the perfect solution yet. The only reason I don't have just one outfit is temperature variation, really.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:48 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I do this. I own about 20 or so tee shirts in varying colours, and 8 or 9 pairs of jersey narrow leg trousers which are very comfortable and also look fine. I do laundry about every 2-3 weeks. I hate shopping and I'm not interested in fashion. Every so often if things seem to be getting shapeless or worn out, I order more of the same online.
posted by Samarium at 1:50 PM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

There is no "normal", you will have to figure out yourself when something is too dirty/wrinkled based on your situation.

Like, I have dogs, and *if* I take my pants off as soon as I get home and hang them up either in the bathroom or closet, I can easily get 4 wears before they get a little rumply, dog-hairy, and maybe sweaty in the waistband. If I've eaten out on any of those 4 days, there's a 50/50 chance I will spill something that won't perfectly wipe off.

Most of my blousy shirts are similar, they tend to be rayon-y type fabrics that don't wrinkle so as long as I don't spill or pit them out real bad, I could probably wear them indefinitely except in the hottest part of the year.

If you are a person wearing typical no-iron "man clothing" fabrics, it seems to crease too badly to go more than 2-3. My husband is transitioning from a lot of tees to entirely Guy Shirts, like the untucked camp/work shirt or golf shirt aesthetic, and I have tipped him off to the poly blends, microfibers, and rayony fabrics that are my go-to for women's clothes, and as long as he hangs them up and changes to home clothes as soon as he gets in, as I do, his shirts will go 2-4 wears and plain slacks 2ish. Jeans and bermuda-type shorts seem to go forever before they need any attention, but again really hot weather might be an exception.

So, if you wanted one workweek of careful wears without too much duplication, I'd say minimum 4 tops and 3 bottoms for traditionally men's clothing, and 4/3 or 5/4 to account for some seasonality in traditionally women's clothing.

If you have really extreme seasons, you might need extra sets of clothing for the very hot/cold parts of the year, or make all your options layerable.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:51 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

This woman did this with a dressier non-machine-washable outfit - she started out with 15 of the same silk white top as well as six pairs of black pants so she wouldn’t continually have to do laundry.

A follow up a year later revealed she "still owns five pairs of the black pants, three black blazers, and ten of the silk white shirts — down from her original 15 — that she dry-cleans after wearing twice."

Key concern for her seems to be with the clothes wearing out, which necessitates having many of a thing if you want this one singular outfit / look to have some actual longevity of several years.
posted by sestaaak at 1:52 PM on April 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I have t-shirts that are older than me that I wear and wash all the time with my regular clothing, and t-shirts I acquired through my childhood that I wear and wash all the time with my regular clothing. For the most part, my clothes hold up pretty well to washing.

I use:
-woolite dark
-wash in cold water only
-hang everything dry (never use an electric dryer)

It's dumb shit running into sharp things and chub rub and roughhousing with my dog that destroy my clothes. Careful laundry attention is the easy part to manage.
posted by phunniemee at 1:52 PM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is more inspiration than a practical how-to, but check out The Uniform Project, which featured a woman wearing the same dress daily for a year.
posted by veery at 1:54 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Years ago, back when Punk Planet was still a thing, I remember reading an article by one of the editors/writers who did pretty much this. After getting a semi-corporate job, he went out and bought five sets of the same outfit, so he was basically wearing the same outfit every day. I think over time he may have added on to this, but at first it was just a clean version of the same outfit, every day of the week. That way he could do laundry on the weekends and have clean work clothes for the rest of the week.

I do something similar. I have eight identical black t-shirts, and four pair of khaki-colored khaki pants, two pair of green-colored khaki pants, and two pair of grey-colored khaki pants (I consider "khaki pants" more of a style than a color, I guess). I'm bad to get something on my shirts, so I have enough to go through at least one a day, but with the pants I wear them two or three times before washing. Socks and underwear get changed every day.

It helps that I don't have to play corporate dress-up games, but even then I'd just buy several sets of the exact same outfit and wear pretty much the same thing every single day. The less I have to think about what I'm wearing, the better.
posted by ralan at 1:54 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Are you a man? Based on the lack of dresses/skirts in your question, my answer is going to assume so. I'm also assuming you're doing laundry once/week

Unless you're in a creative industry, I doubt anyone will notice if you wear the same (type of) pants to work every day. Assuming a 5 day work week, I'd have 2 pair, and - this is crucial - take them off and hang them up when you get home. There is no reason you can't wear the same pair of pants for 3-4 days unless you stain them or you sweat a lot.

Button-up work shirts: I'd say 3 minimum. Again, you can re-wear them if you hang them up at the end of your day. Have them dry-cleaned instead of running them through a washing machine for longevity.

V-neck sweater for cold climates: two. I go weeks without washing sweaters because I have a shirt on underneath that's going to absorb any sweat (if I'm wearing a sweater, it's probably cold, thus unlikely to sweat). Well-made wool sweaters will last a really long time if cared for properly.

Work socks - 6 pair (change every day, extra pair in case something weird happens to one)

Undershirts - 6 (see above)

Underwear - 8 pair

Work shoes - 2 pair, rotated by day

Casual shoes - 2 pair

Jeans - 2 pair. You almost never need to wash jeans unless they are stained/stinky.

T-shirts - well, this depends on whether you're wearing them after work + weekends, or what. I'd say 7. I always wash these after every wear over 8 hours, or they get stained/stinky.

Shorts, depending on climate - 2 pair (gym + suitable for outings). I wash these after every wear because they tend to be worn for activities in which I'm sweating.

Swim trunks - 1 - washed every wear

Sandals/flip flops, etc - 1

Boots - depends on climate/activity. Hiking boots? Snow boots? Motorcycle? Cowboy?

If you really want to know the minimum amount of clothing you can subsist on, live in a small RV.
posted by AFABulous at 2:04 PM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you don't like washing clothes, raw jeans may be for you:
Sweden’s Nudie Jeans offer this: “Compared to a new pair of dry jeans, the smell of a well-worn pair just before wash is a completely different matter. It’s a smell that could most probably raise the dead. But it’s most definitely the smell of a winner.

FEELING DIRTY? Rub with a damp cloth if you need to remove stains.

If you need to get rid of a smell, hang your jeans outside a sunny and windy day. Additionally, you can turn them inside out, shaking them well.

STILL FEELING DIRTY? Then it might be about time to wash your jeans.”

Or how about these instructions stamped on the inside pocket of a pair from San Francisco enthusiasts Tellason: “We did not wash these jeans and neither should you. If you must, turn them inside out, wash with very little soap in cold water and hang to dry.”
But raw denim jeans aren't cheap. [A beginner's guide to raw denim.]
posted by filthy light thief at 2:06 PM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Oh, important note, possibly TMI: I live alone and usually spend my time at home in my underwear and maybe a t-shirt. It wasn't purposeful but it does reduce the amount of laundry I need to do.
posted by AFABulous at 2:10 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Quick clarification: I am a woman who dislikes dresses, skirts, and other typically feminine clothing, although I'm not a fan of tomboyish clothing either.

The answers have been great so far, thank you!
posted by perplexion at 2:11 PM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

You'll probably like the pants I got when I was waitressing: black Danskin Now semi-fitted "woman's activewear" pants with a drawstring waist. They're sturdy as hell, comfy enough to do yoga in, very breathable, probably nice enough for a casual office job, and you can find them at Walmart.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 2:24 PM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

From reading articles about people who minimalize their wardrobes, the main thing I took away from it was that their coworkers basically didn't notice, and if they did notice, didn't care. It was very reassuring, and even though I'm not making hte leap toward the simple wardrobe, it was a nice thought that nobody but me really cared what I wore.

Re: number of washes, I go more like 5 wears on my pants, but I usually have 2-4 pairs in rotation, i.e. I don't wear the black jeans every day for a week then swap to the brown jeans, I might wear the black ones on Tuesday and Friday, the brown ones on Monday and Wednesday, and the grey ones on Thursday. Then my household does laundry on the weekend, and I might or might not throw any pants into that cycle, I probably average every other weekend for the washing.

I bought 3 pairs of the same black jeans that fit well. One is any-day wear, currently fading towards dark charcoal; one is the "nice pair" that I wear for a meeting every 4-6 weeks or so (yes, my business-casual office says black jeans are fine for meetings); and one is still tags-on unworn in reserve.
posted by aimedwander at 2:26 PM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

The last time I went on a bike tour, I had four sets of baselayer and three sets of, uh, social layer. You know, things like a wrinkle-free dress shirt from Patagonia, stuff that looks like Responsible Adult but that is made of technical fibers for mountaineering types. So I looked like I just popped out the office, but was actually on week two of Oregon coastal trek. I did some handwashing every few days, and b/c it was all tech wear it was easy to wash and all air-dried almost immediately.

Parenthood has kinda taken a toll on my tech-wear inventory, as toddlers are way harder on my clothing than bike tour - and toddlers go on for way longer than Oregon coastal trek. But still, I strongly suggest you look at some of that high-end tech fabric for your wardrobe minimization.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 2:28 PM on April 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

I know a guy who has worn only jeans and black tee shirts for years. He actually changed to charcoal shirts a few weeks ago because the black shirts fade in a way that led to fairly frequent replacing. He has told me how many he has of pants/shirts/etc and I think the number is 10 but it might be 8. He does laundry every weekend and washes everything together. He keeps other clothing in storage and recently sorted through that stash for fit, but it didn't sound like he's planning to add it into the rotation.

He just got a raise at work, so this isn't hindering his career. However, he is a dude, so, he's got that going for him. He also just bought a nice pair of pants for dates, but hasn't yet found shirts to go with them.
posted by bilabial at 2:31 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm going to approach this from a different angle: How much can you fit in one washer load? I mean, if you don't mind wasting a lot of water and electricity, you could just buy two of everything, and wash the one while you're wearing the other. But I wouldn't want to spend that much time doing laundry. But I'm limited in the other direction by how much I can fit in one load, because I don't want to spend all that time doing laundry all on the same day than I do doing it on multiple days. So one full load. Empirically, that gets me 3-4 days. I wash my pants every time I wear them (I'm a sweaty guy, and also not great with food), and I wear undershirts. So for me, I'd say four shirts, four pants, four undershirts, four pairs of boxers, and four pairs of socks, plus a jacket. If you don't want to wash the pants as much, you can decrease the number of pants and increase the number of shirts/underwear accordingly.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:32 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a woman and I basically do this. I have uniforms for winter and summer, which amount to 9 or 10 of the 12 months where I live.

I have two types of pants I wear every season but summer (with backup copies stored away for some time in the future when these wear out) in grey, black, green/olive drab. (I don't wear any white or beige clothes -- I'm just too messy.) They both convert to capris and one style converts to shorts too. I have one style of skort that I wear in summer, in brown and black. I wear my pants/skorts usually for 5 days before washing them, unless I need to wash them before that. But it's rare that I do.

In winter, for tops, I wear a long-sleeved plain T shirt (in black) under a fleece top. I wash the undershirt almost every day, so I have 5 or 6 of them (from eBay -- which is where 80% of my clothes came from). I have 5 or 6 fleece tops, all the same style, mainly for colour variety (black, purple, maroon, blue, turquoise). I also have a light grey cashmere sweater I can pair with the pants for something like a funeral.

In summer, for tops, I have a small selection of sleeveless tops with collars (fuschia, several black, navy) and some without collars (black, navy, brown, olive drab). I wear each until it smells, generally after 2-3 days.

For the couple of months when it's in between, I have a few short-sleeve shirts and lightweight long-sleeved shirts, all basically the same style as each other and similar colours to the others. I can wear each for 3 days or so.

Socks are where I spend my money! I walk a lot. :-)

My goal isn't really to minimize the number of clothes I have but rather to minimize decision-making about what to wear every day.
posted by mmw at 2:36 PM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I do this (obviously I don't think it's weird). I have 3 "outfits". My day to day, pants and a polo. My at home short/t-shirt and sweats (depending on the season). And dress pants and shirts for church and other occasions.

2 pairs of pants, 4 polo shirts, 2 pairs of shoes, and a bunch of matching socks make up my day to day (Mon-Sat) wear. I do laundry weekly (Sundays), so pants and shoes get 3 days wear a piece, while only 2 shirts are warn twice. I get about 2 years out of shoes, 18 months on pants, and typically a year out of the shirts.

With only weekly use for my dress cloths they last longer. As does the house stuff because I don't mind stains and/or holes.

As long as your clothes are clean most folks won't notice (or care if they do).
posted by zinon at 2:44 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

You want merino wool shirts: you can wear them for several days without getting stinky. Whereas a lot of technical fabrics might wick sweat away, but will get stinky fast. Go for wool.
posted by suelac at 2:50 PM on April 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

how weird would it be do this if you aren't a wealthy trendsetter?

In the liner notes to the "Stop Making Sense" LP, David Byrne advised "If you wear the same thing every day, people will notice you more". It's up to you if that's a good thing or not....
posted by thelonius at 2:53 PM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I love clothes, but I also have certain styles, shapes, and colors that I gravitate to. My typical work outfit is dark skinny jeans or a pencil skirt, a neutral drapey cardigan, some kind of knit top, and neutral flats. I try to keep my work-jeans rotation down to two or three pairs, and I could get by with a similar number of cardigans. Tops are a little more guesswork; I would want at least five but could do three if they were neutral enough. Everything (except undies) goes in the laundry only when it's smelly or stained. Cardigans wear out more quickly than shirts or blouses for me; they get stretched out or pilly or I wear through the elbows because I put my elbows on my desk a lot. Dark heathered colors are best for longevity: they don't get dingy like light colors or noticeably faded like black, and to some extent you can camouflage small grease stains and the like.

One unfortunate thing I've noticed regarding clothing longevity is that if you're larger, there isn't as much nice stuff available. Four years and thirty pounds ago, my regular jeans were a nicer brand that lasted years despite wearing each pair every other day; the jeans that fit me best now are cheap ones that fall apart after six months (and not just in the high-friction areas).
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:03 PM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

What hobbies do you have? Those sometimes require another set of clothes, or at least bits of clothing (e.g. a sportsbra and wicking T-shirt for runners). Sometimes those can also be everyday wear, but often they're more practical if they're made for the activity; softshell pants are great for camping but make a swishing sound that wouldn't be good in an office, your wrestling singlet will raise eyebrows at the grocery store.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:11 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Finding a single pair of pants (or other item) that fits you and buying multiples is perfectly reasonable. Personally I'd go for a range of colors that all go with the same one or 2 pairs of shoes.
posted by bunderful at 4:15 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hi, I'm autistic and chronically ill. This is basically my life.

I wear the same pair of jeans for 2-3 weeks (dark wash, basic boot cut), the same jacket for a week (grey and fits nicely with my body shape, goes with everything), and a t-shirt (I have lots of different t-shirts, but they all go with my dark wash jeans + grey jacket combo and to be honest I really only wear 7 of them unless I forget to do laundry, and those 7 happen to all be bi-color striped shirts that really only differ from each other in color and small design elements... if you see the pattern) which I do change every day 'cause otherwise it gets gross.

I've never had people comment on this. Maybe they think it's weird, but honestly I don't think people pay enough attention. Then again: autistic. I don't pay attention to this stuff.
posted by brook horse at 4:31 PM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I had 5 work polo shirts that I wore every week and washed, hung dry every weekend.

They all wore out in a year.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 4:47 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a friend who has done this since college. I'm not privy to the exact mechanics but I think he has a lot of multiples -- he wears indistinguishable outfits every day, but I don't think he puts on the same clothes every day (or even two days in a row).

I can speak to whether it's weird though.

Think of this: someone you encounter casually doesn't have enough data to even realize you are wearing the same outfit every day. Someone who sees you a lot has a relationship with you, and in that case superficial impressions of weirdness don't matter.

There are exceptions to this pattern but I think it's pretty true.
posted by grobstein at 5:18 PM on April 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

When you find something you like, buy three. Need a sweater, buy three. No need to think about it more than that if you already have enough clothes. People notice but if they like you, they don't care.

Source: been doing this for at least a year
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:25 PM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah I see that you are primarily motivated by a desire to buy clothes rarely, which suggests that you want to wear the same literal clothes a lot (not just copies).

On that point I can say: you can wear the same pants a lot without washing if they don't get stained. Use a smell test every now and then; wash them if they are offensive. Underwear and shirts should be worn approximately 1 day and then washed. But (if you are wearing underwear), your pants generally aren't exposed to a lot of sweat or skin oils, so they don't soil.

Just how long you can go depends on style. Jeans can (and according to some, should) be worn without washing for weeks at least. Lighter colors will show more superficial dirt and need more frequent washes.
posted by grobstein at 5:26 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also if you buy three you'll organically have enough variety for people to not see it as a uniform.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 5:30 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Well, I can give you my anecdotal evidence:

I work in an office where I am required to wear "nice" clothes and a tie (suit not required). I have three nice shirts, two pair of nice pants, and a pair of shoes I wear every weekday. (I have about a dozen normal ties that mix and match, and many more novelty ties I wear on Fridays). I have a dark blue shirt, a light blue shirt and a green shirt, and a pair of black and a pair of gray pants.

I have two pairs of jeans, but I really only wear one. I have three pairs of sweat pants, which I usually wear around the house. I have a half dozen tee shirts, but most of them are lost in the laundry room at the moment, so I mostly alternate between two of them.

I have enough undies and socks to last a week. I wash once a week -- one of the pairs of sweats, one of the t-shirts, all or most of the work clothes, all of the socks and undies.

I haven't had to purchase one new work shirt and no new pants in the last five years (but will probably need to in not too long). I get new t-shirts and sweats every couple of years, new jeans about the same.
posted by lhauser at 7:15 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As far as re-wearing: this is what people did until after WWII. A couple of key habits they had help you get more wear out of clothes.

1. Once you get home, take off work clothes and hang them up to air.
2. Clothes brushing. You don't need to wash pants, suits, jackets as often if you brush them. This removes most odd things that aren't liquid stains: pet hairs, grime, crumbs, etc.
3. Get a steamer, and steam pants/jackets/dresses/suits when they get wrinkly. You can skip a dry cleaning if you get a good steam in.
4. Change the layer close to the skin daily - blouses, underwear, stockings, slips - but you can rewear the outers.
posted by Miko at 7:23 PM on April 10, 2017 [10 favorites]

I have been doing this every day for about fifteen years and can't really imagine myself living any other way. In my case, I basically have three kinds of clothing (slacks, button shirts, and a particular style of jacket) in a variety of colors (nothing vibrant, mostly earth tones). Each day, I wear whichever colors are next on the rack. At the end of the day, they go back in rotation unless I spilled something. I have different numbers of each item (3 jackets, 5 slacks, 7 shirts right now) so that every day is a different color combination and patterns don't repeat.

Wearing undershirts with short sleeves and changing them as often as I change socks and underwear makes a huge difference in how many times I can wear an outer shirt between washings. The undershirt takes the sweat and oils with it into the laundry while the outer shirt remains fresh for a while longer.

When I was really in a routine (and also only had my own clothes in my laundry), I did laundry every three or four weeks when I ran low on socks, underwear and undershirts. I would wash any outer clothes that were visibly dirty at that same time. I never really kept track of what had been washed when, but every few months I would make sure to wash everything at the same time so I knew that it was all cleaned occasionally.

In the past I was lucky and could find replacement clothes at thrift stores. These days I buy online and buy a few at a time when I find something I like.
posted by Lirp at 7:23 PM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I wear black trousers and a V-necked sweater in a solid color at least 3 days a week. I do mix it up a bit with dresses and things but it's nice to have an easy fallback look. If I have time I wear jewelry and stuff; if not I just head out the door in the basics. I have six of the sweaters ($20 at Uniqlo) in different colors. No one at work has ever commented on it.

I have both black knit trousers (which I wash after every wearing because they stretch out otherwise) and lightweight wool dress trousers (which get dry cleaned after 3-4 wears or when I spill something on them). The sweaters I typically wash every time or every other time I wear them.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:40 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dickies make coveralls that can be worn a few times between washings. I got one to try it out but I think I'll get a few more in different colors.

Coveralls may be extreme for you, but dickies generally makes fashion neutral clothing of high quality that can be the basis of a simple wardrobe consisting of very similar pieces.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:56 AM on April 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

My wardrobe mainly consists of:
4 identical pairs of pants (not jeans),
5 identical tank tops (undershirts),
4 of the same knit shirt,
3 hoodies,
4 cardigans,
2 business-casual dressy tops,
1 cute casual top,
1 fancy dressy top,
1 pair of casual jeans,
1 pair of "nice" jeans,
1 t-shirt,
1 cozy sweater
and absolute piles of socks, undies and bras.

I have a couple dresses,
2 pairs of warm weather jammies,
4 pairs of cold weather jammies
4 pairs leggings
and some miscellaneous workout clothes and nylons & slips for the dresses.

I rotate pants, wear a new shirt daily (usually) and a new tank top & underthings/socks daily. I do laundry once a week. I rotate the cardigans (they're all slightly different). I virtually never think about what I'm going to wear.

Tanks last me about 2 seasons, pants 8 months- 1 year, jeans a couple years, cardigans 2 or 3 years, leggings 1-2 seasons, dresses a couple of years or until they're out of style. Jammies, workout clothes and hoodies are eternal. (Or until they get a spill/shrunk by accident/what have you). Knit shirts seem to last about a year, but some t-shirts are eternal. Nylons, undies and socks are easy come-easy go.

Pants are not thin slacks, but thicker, heavier pull-ons. Thin slacks wear out much too fast.

It never even occurred to me that people might think seeing me in virtually the same outfit daily might be odd, or that it was a "thing". I can't really imagine living differently. Nobody has ever said anything.
posted by windykites at 9:35 AM on April 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

A key insight which I didn't realize until several years into doing this: if Ibuy multiple copies of the same item, I introduce them into my rotation at different times. That way they wear out at different times, and I'm not tempted to delay buying replacements until all of my pants are worn out.

Also, things last much longer if you do minor repairs promptly. My T-shirts often start their decline with a parted seam in the armpit, where the sleeve joins the armscye. I sew that up immediately.
posted by d. z. wang at 2:03 PM on April 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've thought about this a bit for myself...

The first is that the same outfit is not necessarily the same piece of cloth. It's not, for example, 1 shirt worn every day. It's 7 identical shirts worn throughout the week.

I sort of like playing with the way I look, so rather than choose 1 outfit to wear my whole life, about once a year I build 2 or 3 new outfits. At any given time I have about 10 outfits. They don't look alike, but each outfit has it's own shirt and it's own pants (and any other accessories like a vest). Now the thinking is automated AND I look fresh.
posted by jander03 at 2:53 AM on April 12, 2017

I'm a woman who does this, and not even with especially expensive clothes. I'm always on the lookout for pieces that I can insert into this rotation to make sure I don't suddenly find myself lacking an item (if something is ripped or stained, etc.) but the uniform I wear to work is:

-black button down shirt (I got mine from uniqlo, found one I liked, got 5 of them.)
-black skirt, roughly a-line (I have 4 skirts, each one is a little different but they all hit near knee length and are flared to varying degrees)
-black blazer (I have 4 of these as well)
-somewhat heavyweight black tights (I have about 7 pairs of these that I regularly wear, as well as 3-5 more that I don't wear as much)
-black ankle booties

In my case it IS absolutely about decision fatigue and the comfort of routine. Yes, I do dress all in black. Where I live that isn't so much a "goth" thing as it is a "customer service person" thing, and my job does involve customer service, so it fits. I don't think it's weird, though I'll note that my coworkers and clients DID notice. I told them honestly my reasoning and they went "huh, ok" and seemed to forget about it after that. It hasn't resulted in any negative impact that I can tell, and it's made me much more relaxed in the morning.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 9:36 PM on May 28, 2017

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