If you wanted to own the bare minimum number of shirts that would have you covered for any occasion, how many shirts would you need?
Minimalism may be super trendy right now, but that doesn't mean the philosophy isn't worth exploring, especially for those of us who like to dress well.
Having a minimalist wardrobe and minimal shirt collection is appealing for a few reasons.
First, it takes up less space. Second, it makes deciding what to wear much easier, as you don't have as many options to choose from.
Third, and often overlooked, it allows you to have a sort of personal uniform, as you'll wear more-or-less the same thing everyday.
Of course, the minimalist wardrobe doesn't really work if the individual items don't work well together. For that reason, I recommend buying mostly neutral colors, especially for basics like shirts and pants. You can always add flare and personality with your accessories.
Being a stylish minimalist also requires a bit of thought about your lifestyle. Minimalist or not, a broke college student has a different set of constraints and needs than a corporate lawyer.
But if you do take the time to understand colors and your unique needs, you'll be able to build a sparse collection of clothing and accessories that has you covered for any occasion.
If you prefer reading, read on!
Minimalist Shirt Collection
For the sake of this article, I'm going to assume a few things about you:
- You wear business casual or smart casual outfits 4-5 days of the week
- You wear a suit once a month or less
- You live somewhere that has warmer and cooler seasons
It doesn't matter if you're a student, working professional or retired. The following shirt collection will have you covered for pretty much any season or occasion.
Let's start with casual shirts and work our way up.
4 Casual Shirts
At a minimum, you'll need 3-4 casual shirts. These include t-shirts (crew or v-neck), polo shirts and Henleys.
To maximize versatility, the best colors are medium blue, navy, light grey, dark grey (charcoal), black and white. In my opinion, light grey will always be more versatile than white, and navy or charcoal will always be more versatile than black.
Here's an example of a minimalist casual shirt collection:
- Crew neck t-shirt, navy
- Crew neck t-shirt, light grey
- Polo shirt, navy
- Henley shirt, charcoal
Of course, you can include different colors that are less “neutral” but still versatile, such as olive and burgundy. For example, here's a slightly different take on this collection:
- V-neck t-shirt, olive
- Crew neck t-shirt, navy
- Polo shirt, black
- Henley shirt, grey
Colors like burgundy and dark olive green go well with grey, blue, brown and black, so feel free to work them into your wardrobe.
Less neutral colors like orange, yellow, purple and bright red will be less versatile. If you really want a minimal wardrobe, I recommend avoiding these colors.
3 Smart Casual Shirts
Your “smart casual” shirts can be dressed up or down. The casual button up (or “button down”) is the epitome of a smart casual shirt, and the Oxford Cotton Button Down (OCBD) is probably the most quintessential example of a casual button up shirt.
Again, focus on colors that will look good with any pants or jacket. For example:
- OCBD, white
- OCBD, light blue
- Flannel button up, navy
If you live in a warmer climate, you should swap the flannel button up for linen.
Like the flannel button up, it's just a seasonal alternative to the OCBD.
2 Dress Shirts
Technically, you could get away with just one white dress shirt, but most guys would do well to have at least one non-white option.
“Why can't I just wear my OCBDs as dress shirts?”
Good question. A typical Oxford is much more casual than a good dress shirt. It's shorter in length (so you can wear it untucked), has a button down collar, chest pocket and other casual details (like a straighter hem). It's also made from heavier, more textured fabric.
A dress shirt, on the other hand, is made from fine, crisp fabric like broadcloth or poplin. It typically has a spread collar (no buttons), clean chest, longer length and steeply curved hem (so it stays tucked in).
Even a true minimalist will have one real dress shirt in his closet, even if it's only reserved for special occasions.
The minimal dress shirt collection might look like:
- Plain white
- Light blue
- Grey checks (optional)
If you wanted to expand your collection, you could add more solid colors like pink, yellow, darker blue or light green.
If you're a true minimalist, you could definitely get away with only owning 1-2 plain white dress shirts (assuming you only “dress up” a few times each year).
2 Sweaters / Sweatshirts
Unless you live in a tropical environment and rarely travel, it's a good idea to own a couple of versatile sweaters.
If you live somewhere with true fall and winter seasons, knitwear will be a huge part of your wardrobe.
Here's one version of a minimal sweater collection:
- Wool v-neck, navy
- Cotton crew neck, grey
Of course, you can adjust the colors to match your palette. Some guys will prefer black sweaters over navy or grey. Some will prefer crew necks or quarter zips over v-necks.
Regardless of color or collar style, these sweaters serve the same purpose.
The cotton sweater is more casual and will often be worn over a t-shirt or undershirt with jeans, chinos, boots and sneakers.
The wool sweater is thinner and finer and will often be worn over a button up shirt with chinos, trousers/slacks, loafers and lace ups (dress shoes).
If you plan on wearing your wool sweater over a button up, go for a v-neck or quarter zip. In my opinion, v-necks don't look great without a shirt underneath, unless you're super jacked.
If you'd like, you could add a turtleneck or cardigan to your sweater collection, but neither of these are essential.
“11 Shirts? That's not minimalist!”
Minimalism is subjective. It means different things to different people, and how the philosophy is interpreted (or practiced) depends on the situation.
The suit-and-tie attorney would have a different “minimalist” wardrobe than the college student who's studying abroad on a tight budget.
And that's okay. We don't all have to agree on the definition of minimalism.
I hope we can agree, however, that minimalism isn't a competition. It's not about who can get away with owning the fewest shirts.
To me, applying a minimalist mindset to your wardrobe just means not owning things you don't actually wear. If you have 10 shirts, and you wear them all, that's great! It's also great if you have 3 shirts or 33 shirts, assuming you actually like and wear all of them.
The goal is to trim the fat by getting rid of stuff you don't really like and never actually wear. Be intentional about what you own and about the wardrobe you build, and don't get too hung up on someone else's definition of minimalism.