Craving a Uniform

The liberation that is a simple wardrobe.

Madelynn Furlong of Wide Eyed Legless
Photos by Wing Ta of Canary Grey

I recently read an article about the habits of super successful people. One of them was a businessman who said he wears the same thing every day. Not literally—but his closet is filled with multiples of the same shirt and same suit so getting dressed is as quick and mindless as brushing his teeth.

It’s so much easier for men to be minimalists. Still, the article got me thinking about the novels I could have written in the time I’ve spent staring into my closet and trying on my own clothes, only to put them all back and go shopping. Again.

I’m tired of the loose ends—the tops I love that go with nothing else I own, the skirts that don’t work with any of my shoes, the shoes made only for sitting. I want a uniform.

I used to think it was ironic that fashion designer Carolina Herrera would show a luxurious collection and then take a bow in the same crisp white top and belted black trousers she wore last season, and the one before that. Now, as I’m burdened by an unedited closet, her fashion uniform makes total sense: Stick with what works, so you can focus on everything else that matters.

I wish I’d had that epiphany in my 20s. Today’s proliferation of fast fashion is actually triggering a turnaround for women at a younger age—an age when you wouldn’t expect someone barely out of school to be able to afford Isabel Marant shirts and Acne Studios booties. When you buy less, you can afford more.

0414-Uniform_S01.jpgDesigner/stylist/blogger Madelynn Furlong makes a disciplined wardrobe look so appealing.

Madelynn Furlong, 24, is a shining example of the millennial minimalist movement. Target designer by day, style blogger at Wide Eyed Legless by night, her ongoing series on the “perfect wardrobe” has catapulted her blog to 150,000 readers per month.

Furlong, a St. Paul resident, initiated her closet cleanse while living in New York and feeling like she “never looked good enough.” She purged everything—piles of Urban Outfitters sweaters and Gap T-shirts—and started over with the French essentials: black cigarette pants, a white shirt, a black silk blouse, a black dress—10 pieces in all. Without the clutter, she started finding her true style. “I lean more toward Nordic and Japanese design. I like solids and texture; I don’t really like pattern.”

She limits herself to five new wardrobe items per season. Because she’s no longer dropping $20 here, $50 there (it took two years to cure herself of that impulse, she says, so cut yourself some slack), she can afford to buy higher-quality pieces. She doesn’t shop less, but she does shop smarter—taking time to review collections online, comb eBay for designer deals, study fashion images on Pinterest, and make sure what she buys complements what she owns.

“I change up necklaces, but I look pretty much the same every day,” Furlong says. “When you truly find what you feel flatters you and your body, it doesn’t really matter.”

She’s right. I’m going to clean my closet. I’m not going to worry about being seen in the same thing twice. I’m going to think about the whole puzzle before adding another piece. But after previewing what’s in store for spring, I have to be honest with myself: I may need three or four uniforms.