Minimalism has a variety of definitions. To Chelsey Fagan of The Financial Diet, minimalism is an “incredibly tedious piece of personal performance art,” and to The Minimalists it’s “a tool that can assist you in finding freedom.” Merriam Webster however defines minimalism as “a style or technique that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity.” No matter your opinion on minimalism, there’s no denying that the movement, as it stands today, is rooted in privilege. The all-white, no makeup, stainless steel kind of lifestyle that has become trendy requires resources not everyone has access to: discretionary time, money, and a wealth of choice.
Less is More
A “less is more” mentality is often celebrated within sustainable fashion spaces. With so much clothing already in circulation (and ending up in landfills,) limiting purchases to only quality items seems like a great solution– if you can afford it. Aesthetically pleasing minimalism may look like less, but involves a lot of effort, time, and money. So yes, less is actually more. “[This trend is] all about spending an incredible amount of time and attention to look as if you hadn’t thought about it at all,” the aforementioned journalist Chelsey Fagan wrote a few years ago. When taking into account the longevity of high quality items, creating a wardrobe full of “investment pieces” does have the ability to be financially beneficial. However, this shopping style requires the means to pay a premium price up front. Not many have the luxury of being able to afford these kinds of pieces without prioritizing clothing items over necessities due to a lack of expendable income or a savings account. “Reducing a wardrobe down to a few painfully elegant cashmere-cotton blend tops is only really possible if you can put down at least $1,000 in one go for the creation of your ‘capsule wardrobe,’” Fagan asserted in her scathing article on the subject. While not inherently bad, scaling back on your possessions is a privilege not unattainable for many. “It’s all very well getting rid of all your possessions if you can buy them again any time you want,” journalist and blogger Bethany Rutter told Refinery29. In an ideal world, long-lasting clothing would be financially accessible to all and we’re simply not there yet.
Freedom of Choice
Being wealthy gives you the choice to buy or not, the choice to hoard or restrict, the choice to wear plain clothing, thrift shop for fun, or appear “effortless.” Fagan further explains in The Financial Diet that “the only people who can ‘practice’ minimalism in any meaningful way are people upon whom it isn’t forced by financial or logistical circumstances.” As a wealthy, white woman, I know this lifestyle well– I choose to do what I love for work, I choose to invest in sustainable fashion and high quality items, I choose to abstain from fast fashion, because I can. Many do not have the luxury of choice. “Working class people save up and buy more items that are worth less, and then feel the need to show it all off because they’ve earned it (even if it’s not stylish), [and] the maximalism trend stems from that,” UK-based journalist, Gina Tonic, explained in the same Refinery29 piece. Wealthy individuals’ fascination with less is steeped in privilege. Until the majority of our world distributes wealth fairly, a fixation with having or appearing well-off will prevail. People like me have the option of saying money or material possessions are bad– because we have access to them.
Not to mention the size exclusivity, erasure of culture, and dissipation of personal style which comes with adopting the version of minimalism popular at the moment. Benita Robledo, an ethical blogger who identifies as a mestiza (a woman of mixed race, especially of indigenous and Spanish descent,) told Fashionista last year that letting go of prints and patterns feels depressing, “like a mandate to disappear inside an aesthetic she sees as being dominated by wealthy white women. ‘I don’t know if it’s cultural or what, [but] a lot of them love neutrals. Color and pattern are a part of my blood.’”
Similar to sustainable fashion as a whole, the problem with minimalism isn’t necessarily that sustainable clothing is expensive, it’s that sustainable clothing is expensive and if you don’t buy into it, you’re looked down upon. “There is an elitism within the minimalist movement which assumes that those who do not subscribe to a particular brand of the trend are somehow less intelligent, less concerned with impacts, or less committed to “the (nebulous) cause,’” On Your Terms points out. If minimalism continues to be a concept consumers can buy into, it will not be an illuminating movement, but merely a privileged trend.
Audrey Stanton was born and raised in the Bay Area and currently based in Los Angeles. She works as a freelance content creator and manager. Audrey is incredibly passionate about conscious fashion and hopes to continue to spread awareness of ethical consumption.