On using the term ‘minimalist’

(via onesleeplessnight)

Thanks to Phoebe Philo, Jil Sander and the rest of the band of minimalist designers, the sudden torrent of minimalism in the world of fashion has indeed taken the style enthusiasts by storm to such an extent that the expression “minimalist” has become quite misleading.

What strikes me most about this craze is the women who are in possession of 20 Chanel jackets and nonetheless call themselves a minimalist when throwing on a stark Jil Sander suit or a futuristic dress. Isn’t that insulting to people such as Leo Babauta of mnmlist.com, who is genuinely a minimalist and practices the philosophy of minimalism in every aspect of life and not only in half a dozen outfits? To put it in a different context: If Webern were to proclaim himself a minimalist only because some of his pointillistic works may be arrayed in a minimalist attire, it would be very insulting to Philip Glass, don’t you think?

I can acknowledge with 100% sincereness that I find it rather hard to call someone with exaggerated shopping habits and a wardrobe jam-packed with a nearly four-digit number of clothes a minimalist. I also find it difficult to comprehend what’s minimalistic in said instance apart from maybe an understated Stella McCartney-esque attire. Often, I see that fashion magazines and certain blogs misuse this term profoundly, and to be frank; I am fed up with this fallacy. Sure, there are probably people who might assert that having this much can be tantamount to being a minimalist by their standards as long as their outfit is a Céline or Jil Sander lookalike. And sure, there’s an interminable discussion of whether minimalism is about both aesthetics and philosophy/method, or merely the latter. But after all, minimalism is fundamentally all about paring down something to its bare essentials, not only regarding how one assembles an outfit, but also in terms of wardrobe. Well, I suppose it’s an incongruity to talk of fashion and minimalism together. As quoted in this post, this is, in my estimation, the most fitting and precise definition of minimalism:

“Minimalism is not a style, it is an attitude, a way of being. It’s a fundamental reaction against noise, visual noise, disorder, vulgarity. Minimalism is the pursuit of the essence of things, not the appearance.”

By all means, people are entitled to label themselves and their style whatever they desire, but I just wish that people could at least google and look up the term “minimalism” so as to get a better grasp on its meaning before rashly becoming a quasi minimalist. However, how can someone who owns 15 trousers from Jil Sander and 25 Chanel bags be a minimalist?

(The accompanying photo is just a faint example of having perhaps too much clothes, not someone who is labeling herself a minimalist.)
(PS: I’m not claiming that I’m anywhere near a minimalist (yet).. it’s a process that requires baby steps.)

45 thoughts on “On using the term ‘minimalist’

  1. Its a bit of an oxymoron really to talk of fashion and minimalism together. Fashion's purpose is largely to put an artificial expiry limit to a product not defined by its utility, but an abstract sense of aesthetic. I belong to the other end of the spectrum to the one talked about here. I recently wrote about why I stick to a few things and repair and upgrade my clothes, accessories and almost everything, instead of continuously buying new things. Would love to know what you think of it. Here's my argument, http://thejinxedone.blogspot.com/2011/02/why-i-repair-my-shoe.html

  2. - Ajinkya: You're right about it being oxymoron (if I understood you), that's why I've become more and more fed up with the talk of fashion + minimalism.. most of the talk doesn't even make sense. Great blog by the way, loved your post on FB!

  3. Utrolig bra skrevet, Fleurette! Jeg er også enig i det Ajinkya skriver om motsetningen mellom mote og minimalisme (som filosofi/livsstil). Jeg er ingen sann minimalist (og har vel ikke noe ønske om å bli det heller), men jeg begynner etterhvert å få øynene opp for en livsstil der eiendeler, "ting", klær osv. er begrenset til stort sett det man trenger, og ikke så mye mer, kanskje med et unntak av kunst, bøker eller annet som virkelig betyr noe for en. Som en person som virkelig ikke er glad i husarbeid, ser jeg jo en praktisk nytteverdi i dette også:) I tillegg kommer den økonomiske fordelen i det at man kjøper færre ting av bedre kvalitet som varer lenger. Da kan man jo velge å investere i bedre kvalitet når man til slutt må bytte ut noe, eller man kan prioritere bruke pengene på f.eks. opplevelser, reiser og liknende type ting, for eksempel. Jeg må bare si det igjen, du har en fantastisk blogg og en filosofi som mange kan lære av, og det er deilig å lese en stilblogg som handler om noe helt annet enn å kjøpe mest mulig. Og jeg ser alltid fram til ditt neste innlegg. Ha en flott dag og "keep up the good work"!

  4. Hiya, remember me? :PLove your new blog and your new, what shall I say, outlook on life?Thanks for the mnmlist-link, a real eye-openerNot saying that I'm anywhere near a minimalist, or that I will ever be one, but just been through the whole moving-process and really cleared out everything that didn't have any value. So at least something in between, where you can rid yourself of, as you say, the noise and just surround yourself with what you really want/need. Uch, sorry for the poor phrasing, sunday head-fog ;) have a nice day!

  5. I am so glad you brought this up. I completely agree. It's b-s to call yourself a minimalist when you need a whole room for your clothes, shoes and so on. I am not a minimalist, and may never get there, but it's a process to me. Part of my journey growing older has been to acquire less and less. And give away what I have, bit by bit.

  6. - MyFavouriteThings: Du er altfor snill! Tusen takk for de fine ordene, og jeg er helt enig med alt du sier. Jeg har ingenting i mot å bruke penger eller få glede av materielle nytelser, det er ingenting galt i det, men som du sier så er det begrenset hvor mye man trenger. Ha en god søndag, du og!- Electric Alyce: Of course I remember you, I remember everyone who has ever commented on my blog(s) and I'm happy to see that you're still here :) And why thank you, you're far too kind! I kind of look forward to moving because then I can bring only the essentials.. I wonder what they are! Do comment on my blog again soon! Have a nice day you too!- Ammu: I agree with you comment too. I too may not ever get there, but becoming a semi-minimalist is better than letting stuff accumulate. Haha, and b-s.. I had to use urbandictionary so as to understand this abbreviation.

  7. Herregud! Hvis jeg hadde hatt så mye ting hadde jeg nok vært mer flau enn stolt av det… Damen har jo en sykdom og trenger behandling. Bildet minner meg om SATC-sitatet: "I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes"…

  8. Hi girl..I found you through My FavoriteThings.And I thought what you wrote was really profound, and well written. I will therefor now read everything, and have another coffee…Have a great day from Oslo:)

  9. I wish I could be a minimalist! I save up for nice things instead of buying 10, but after 6 years that is still quite a lot of clothes/accesories!But it seems like recently there seems to be a trend that people tend to save up for one expensive item instead of 10. 5 years ago everybody called me crazy when I saved up 6 months to buy one bag, now it seems more accepted. I wonder if H&M and Zara notice it in their sale numbers? I think not….

  10. I totally agree on the minimalistic lifestyle! I think minimal is really 'in fashion' now due of the recession and the trend to live life with less stuff. Who says you need to have 10 jackets or twenty something sweaters. I think you have far more style when you can cut it shorter and make a statement with a minimal approach to style. Saddly the minimalistic lifestyle is often confused with minimal style of fashion…

  11. Yes I think the term in a fashion sense is referring to the clothing. I am definitely not a minimalist nor do I aspire to be to be honest. Though I try to make sure the things I acquire have purpose. But there is only so much I can do when I live with hoarders.

  12. I think having a clean minimalist style versus being a minimalist are two completely different things. Just because I like clean cut clothes that are pared down to the essential features of the garment does not necessarily mean that I don't like having a lot of them.You are overextending the usage of minimalism from clothing design to lifestyle, hence why so many do not fit your narrow profile of what is minimalist.

  13. I don't think the fashion industry–Jil Sander and friends included–wants its consumers to lead a minimalist lifestyle! To be honest, I don't see a lot of clothes on the racks that can last more than 5 years of extended wear. Most clothes are simply not constructed or meant to be worn for that long these days. The fashion industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on excessive consumption, constant replacement, and mass hunger for 'cool.' Our need to buy is not just driven by advertisements…the need is sewn into the seams themselves. The industry wants people to keep buying–otherwise, how would the fashion industry ever make any money?As a result, I can't really see the industry or an industry player ever promote lifestyle minimalism. Jil Sander wants us all to buy a lot of her clothes. Calvin Klein wants us all to buy a lot of his clothes. They will make you look like a minimalist, which is cool. But, of course, they would never want us to actually be minimalists! So I think the term 'minimalism' used by any industry player can only be taken from an aesthetic and not a philosophical perspective. It would be detrimental to the industry and, of course, whoever wrote the article for Vogue or Elle would be fired for promoting minimalism among the consumers!As for why minimalism is such a hit: I think most of it comes from the 90s resurgence. Minimalism was a huge part of 90s fashion (as well as grunge, which was more teen friendly), and 90s fashion is a huge part of recent fashion trends. Soon the 90s will be vintage and I guess we'll all think back and think of stonewash jeans with nostalgia haha!

  14. i think Roya is mistaken..? do you really think that people who needs a whole room and a big closet to fit their clothes are minimalists? i assume that's what fleurette is talking about.and fleurette, i hear ya… amen for this. Tthere are so many ignorant fashion heads out there who really could have use of reading your posts. you're not a minimalist or have a minimalistic style just because you wore jil sander once or twice. and as you and ajinkya said, yeh talking about fashion and minimalism together is a paradox. fashion is never and will never be minimal. ;)

  15. Haha, Godt valg av bilde! Du skriver så mye interessant, jeg blir helt satt ut!Men hvis du eier 20 Chanelvesker så har du ikke bare god råd, men et (luksus)problem. Og det er vel det folk stort sett har i dag? Kjøper i overflod. Jeg skjønner det ikke, de får jo ikke brukt alt sammen! Det havner jo bare bakerst i skapet, også kjøper en noe nytt. Blir helt kvalm av det.

  16. Babauta needed an easy on the ear ideology to compensate for the lost joys of consumerism, which had lead him into debts in the first place. What he's been doing for the last few years is just (finally) being sane and rational. His site is a wonderful source of inspiration, I agree, but only if you don't get too dogmatic and remember that European mentality and lifestyle is far different from American. I consider his blog a diary of a convalescence after overconsumerism ;) Check the etymology of the word "fashion" – nothing on attitude, just shape and manner, therefore label "minimalism" (or any other) can be added to appearance only. One chooses a style based on his mentality: clean shape follows a clear mind. If one has clutter in his head, he must first bring order to his environment (which is exactly what Babauta is doing); otherwise having clutter in a closet is not a problem. People's needs differ. For example, I own less than 50 pieces of clothing including shoes, bags and lingerie and I'm perfectly happy with that amount. Minimalism in music does not mean you are allowed to use only one instrument or, say, four notes, does it? PS. I absolutelly love your blog, taste in fashion and, as far as I can read between the lines, you attitude twards life. Probably because I found it to be similar to mine ;) Regards,

  17. - The Ladies Almanack: Haha, det minner meg om Shopaholic-bøkene (ja, jeg leste de to første bøkene da jeg gikk på ungdomskolen……).- Girl in Oslo: Thank you kindly!- Toothfairy: Well, it's a good trend then.. better to buy less instead of supporting the fast fashion industry. Yes, after a couple of years a lot of things will cumulate if you buy 10 nice, expensive things every year. I think it's essential to know the limits. Do you really need more bags or jacket now that you have already invested in a great deal?- Pret: I live with hoarders too.. – Roya: You're mistaken, and I do not have a narrow profile.- biblebelt: You're so right about it, and I too think that minimalism is applied to appearances in the fashion context. On the other hand, in this case I'm referring to people who label themselves minimalists when they're clearly aren't.- Jennie: Thanks and yes, I wrote a whole thesis on Webern (and Berg and Schoenberg) two months ago.- Maria: Takk, du er alltid så snill. – fuendetodos: Why have you never commented on my blog before? Like Babauta, my approach is too a convalescence after over-consumption. Europe has for years been quite similar to America as well, lifestyle and mentality-wise. The over-consumerism is quite distinct here. Minimalism in music was a wave of reactions against chaos, complexity, and the abundance of information in the modern world in its present time. Makes sense to me.

  18. I agree with all most everyone above:p Minimalism and fashion are fire and water. And someone with 20 jackets can't be called a minimalist.I don't call myself a minimalist. I have to many clothes to be a minimalist. I don't want to be a minimalist. I love the things I have and almost everything has emotional value to me.

  19. Flott innlegg, Fleurette! Du skriver om så mye bra. Og jeg kjenner flere av minimalistene med maksimalistiske klesskap! Jeg prøver å være minimalist, i alle fall å følge tankesettet – ikke nødvendigvis i denne typiske minimalistiske stilen – men jeg prøver å kjøpe klær som går inn i garderoben min, som kan være med på å utgjøre en rekke antrekk. Handler minst mulig, og ser ikke behovet i hundrevis av smykker og titalls vesker, da jeg synes med er mye mer sjarmerende å være tro mot sine favoritter. Sømmer, stoffkvalitet og snitt sjekkes alltid før plagget kjøpes. Nå er det bare det nødvendige som kjøpes inn, og det er ikke så mye, så da kan jeg heller spare til evige klassikere, framtidige kjøp eller andre investeringer. Og jeg tror deler av dette skyldes påvirkning fra blant annet denne bloggen og andre!Dette ble for selvsentrert(?), men jeg synes virkelig flere burde følge denne filosofien. Jordkloden har godt av det, personene har godt av det osv. Den har endret meg siden jeg startet i fjor høst. Tankene rundt klærne har vokst til å handle mer om livet.

  20. Really interesting post fleurette. For me, it's hard to hear the word "minimalism" and not think of the clean lined, stark look of the 90's, since I was a teen then and the look was very prevalent in its day. I hadn't even heard of "minimalist lifestyle" until maybe the past year. I admire the whole concept of it, but I don't think I could ever achieve it in all aspects of my life. Perhaps in some areas though? I hardly have any beauty products at all, and I certainly hope to one day have a minimalist (though not in style) wardrobe :)

  21. Hi! Found your blog through My Favourite Things and I really like what I see! You're a very talented writer and I enjoy all your photos:-) feel relieved that a fashion specialist (that would be you) dare to raise this issue. Fashion adopts terms from every corner of our world and it doesn’t always fit!

  22. I suppose minimalism was first used to describe an aesthetic rather than consumption habits, and more people probably are probably thinking of the former than the latter when they refer to themselves as such. Both to me, are correct usages of the world, though I much prefer the interpretation described in the quote you shared above :) I suppose fashion celebrates minimal design and expression, but not consumption, no matter how minimal their creations are.

  23. I completely agree with lin – minimalism started more as a movement than being anti-consumerist. Vignelli is a designer and I think that his quote was actually referring to design not a lifestyle. Which is why I like the term "simplicity" more than minimalism. I'm profoundly influenced by this idealogy by Richard Gregg: "Voluntary simplicity involves both inner and outer condition. It means singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life. It means an ordering and guiding of our energy and our desires, a partial restraint in some directions in order to secure greater abundance of life in other directions. It involves a deliberate organization of life for a purpose."

  24. @Annette & Fleurette I actually don't think one needs a big closet, I follow Fleurette's blog because I agree with her philosophies of creating a wardrobe. The point which I apparently failed to make is that minimalist aesthetic and minimalism are very different, and quite frankly I don't understand why that is such a crazy concept.

  25. my god this is outrageous. minimalism doesnt mean frugalism.we are living in a capitalist world, not under a communist regime – i though you wanted to be a career woman ? a career woman doesnt live on 5 jackets. you need at least 20.and do you evenknow how much minimalist art costs? you know nothing about anything , just trying to namedrop people to prove how 'educated' you are, it seems.

  26. Anonym: Takk, og jeg er helt enig med deg. Og det er ikke selvsentrert, synes det bare er hyggelig å lese slike kommentarer. Fortsett med det!!S: I agree, some areas in life. I couldn't achieve it every aspect of life either, not that I aspire to do that.Comewhinewithme: Why thank you!lin: Probably in fashion, I assume you meant? Because minimalism in music, for example, started out as a reaction/movement just like every ism, like against chaos, complexity, and the abundance of information in the modern world.Amanda: Thanks for sharing that Gregg-quote.Roya: Ok, I got it now!asha: 5 points, yo. Exactly what I'm trying to indicate.Ammu: Thanks for sharing, I'll read it after my chem class. :)leo/eleonor or 'whoever you are': Wtf.. I really like the condescending and angry tone in all of your comments here, I almost feel sorry for you. :) Do you think every career requires 20 jackets? You're so wrong. Fortunately for me, I'd only need one jacket. Yes, I know how much minimalist art costs, I'm not a moron as you're trying to indicate.. you realize that this post is just some musings, do you expect me to do an academic research for it so as to cover every aspect of this minimalism-s?

  27. hmmm…i think of minimalism as a movement. it's kind of an idea that can be adopted into different creations. i agree that it can be a lifestyle choice, but in fashion, maybe it's just an inspiration. and different designers, and consumers alike, have different inspirations each season. the art of dressing is after all a rather superficial thing. just as so many girls try so hard to look like they are not trying at all, that end result of looking 'effortless' is as questionable as having 20 frocks which all look 'minimalist'.

  28. I do agree that words should be used carefully. I look up to minimalists and would like to move toward that side of the spectrum (as my I6L challenge would indicate). Terms, however, can be relative instead of absolute.I also believe in toletating certain things, like people can calling themselves what they like, even if the self-given attributes are misinformed. I agree that it's not very healthy (in the broad term) how many opinions are based on ignorance/fallacy. I understand this deeply, that it may fall beyond offensive into the realm of the dangerous to misname oneself/others in this way. However, it is also important to exercise tolerance and teach by example, which is why i read your every post, am very into your blog, and admire your style.Speaking of minimalism and the I6L challenge, here is my attempt at both: the 20th outfit. What do you think?Twenty of 30!XOXO-La Copine

  29. I enjoy your writing very much, Fleurette; and your engaging topics.The subject of minimalism is interesting, as well as provocative, judging by the comments. Obviously the term "minimalism" may be applied to many concepts: design, lifestyle, philosophy, music, etc. I don't have anything further to add to what's already been commented.

  30. I study music too and my professor is so stupid. He always states that Webern is minimalism whether you agree or not. I want to shove a sock into his mouth every time he says that because he's completely wrong. Webern is anything but minimalism. Cool to see a music student's fashion blog. The other music student in my uni don't have style at all!

  31. Fleurette,Me again. :) I wasn't sure you'd see this answer on my blog, so I hope you don't mind my leaving it here:The Theory black capri pants I'm wearing are stretch cotton, finely woven with a slight sheen. Theory adds stretch to most of their fabrics, which are of high quality. The label is a favorite of mine. And by the way, thank you for your comments!

  32. Hi Fleurette,You should just ignore this Leo/Eleonor person altogether. Don't even react to her commentary. She's obviously insanely jealous of you. Why else would someone take the time to re-visit a blog that they 'apparently' dislike and make nasty comments just to get a rise of out you? She obviously reads your blog all the time and gets angry because she's too arrogant and insecure to write her own blog.Remember, leonor scherrer was her example of the quintessential french woman. When I think of french women, funeral couture is not the first thing that comes to mind. Maybe if you were a goth, but I think you said you're kind of over that phase but Miss Leo/Eleonor is obviously not! I loved this entry. I completely agree with most things that are said and the quote you provided on minimalism is wonderful. Enjoy your blog as always.

  33. wow. I found you via My Favourite Things. She was right. I now want to get comfortable and read more. This post is so perfect. I read blogs on minimalism, including Leo's and apply minimalist practices to my life. It's something I've always had a tendency to do but it's never been labelled. I absolutely adore your perspective in this post.

  34. i think its great that you posted this. i have to say, the points presented in this argument are certainly correct when considering minimalism in the true philosophical sense. however, when blogs and fashion are labelling certain fashions and fashion philosophies as "minimalist" it seems evident to me that they are using it as an adjective for a certain look, rather than a life philosophy. coming from an art history background, i understand it as the same thing as when people describe painting as "impressionistic" or "expressionistic." this does not mean the paintings are from the Impressionist or Expressionist movement, it is merely using the terms (with lower case letters) to describe the visual look. same deal here! sometimes looks are minimalist, meaning simple but still substantial theoretically :)

  35. WOW- it's definitely not an oxymoron to talk about fashion and minimalism together. I tend to prefer "style" to "fashion", however.I agree that the fashion industry does not want consumers to adopt a minimalistic lifestyle. Isn't this a great reason to pursue one? I'm a student with debt and very little money- a simple lifestyle is highly appealing to me. My winter coat is five years old (it may need a replacement soon) and half of my tops are even older. I love the concept of buying mainly affordable basics. I can not and will not shell out money for designer pieces, but I plan to build a wardrobe out of simple pieces. I spend more money on shoes and coats, but otherwise I will hunt for chic bargains! Minimalism is more suited to a low cost lifestyle- I've never been a fan of extravagance.randomimagi@gmail.com

  36. I just came across your blog and this post caught my eye.I agree with you and I'm glad there are people who actually do know what the term really means(and are trying to use it in their lives). Thanks for writing about it :)

  37. I've really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this as it's something I've been thinking a lot about too lately. I feel very inspired to focus on downsizing and focusing on quality over quantity & am excited about it! :)

  38. Thank you for exploring this topic. It seems like everything has been already said. An actual minimalism as in lifestyle and minimalism in fashion are two things that just clash. That is why I try to call myself a conscious consumer and minimalism explorer. I have a long way to go to be an actual minimalist, and I may never become completely minimalist, but that is something I definitely strive for. Over-consumption leads to destruction.

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