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The Minimalist Luxury Credo, Or, A Little Black Dress

In the beginning I thought minimalism meant pared-down design. Mies Van der Rohe chairs. The opposite of baroque, or ornate.

Or, the current indie frugality trend? Canning peaches, attaching toilet paper rolls to your walls as art*, reusing plastic bags.

But a few weeks ago I bought a very expensive little black dress, and I believe it was the most minimalist action I’ve taken in the last 5 years. Luxury isn’t the antithesis of minimalism, unnecessary is.

Let’s be clear. It wasn’t a virtuous purchase. No self-denial involved. I love my dress. Made from a cashmere wool blend, and therefore not itchy, but even so, lined in the bodice. Sleeves. I no longer have the need or wish to show my upper arms. Knee length, applying similar principles to the legs. Structured, seamed, perfectly fitting. Narciso Rodriguez, for those who care, as I confess I do, about designers’ bodies of work.

But it’s not the aesthetic, the lack of ruffles, lace, sheer panels, nor the usefulness alone that makes me cry minimalism. I present the minimalist luxury credo, for your review.

  1. Be clear why you need what you plan to buy. For what uses? They must be multiple, or critical, i.e. many times, or one time so important it is nigh-historic. I will wear this little black dress, as I have two others in my life, for 5-10 years. With joy. Over and over and over again, each time feeling fantastic and honoring the occasion I celebrate.
  2. Be sure you have no happy way to do without. None. When I am called to dress up, if I feel I have nothing appropriate to wear, my upbringing calls in the ghosts and I become sad, anxious, and resentful. This may not be true for you. You will have your own ghosts and your own non-negotiable needs to either burn from your soul or make peace with. Which brings us to the next point.
  3. Understand the requirements of your heart and your circumstances point by point. Make sure you know what you want and that you have realistically assessed the likelihood that this purchase will answer your needs. I don’t go to Burning Man. I can see, even now, the times and places I will wear my dress and I can feel looming anxiety dissipate.
  4. Do homework to understand price banding. Luxury does not relieve us of the responsibility to assess value. I had looked at J. Crew and found nothing, tried on Barney’s New York private label version to no avail, and vintage clothing gives me the creeps. I am familiar with Rodriguez and his reputation for quality. I also knew, that though his dresses are expensive, I could afford the purchase. Or I would never have walked into the store to begin with. Minimalism means do not stir up undue desires that you cannot fulfill without consequence.
  5. Never make anyone else feel bad for what they can’t have. Because, if you pare away everything unnecessary, courtesy has to make the cut.

(Because Little Black Dresses are as flexible in philosophy and meme as they are on the body. Hence the enduring appeal.)

*Also at kidchamp dot net.

30 Responses

  1. I'm sure it's lovely. Nice seams?
    #5 is the rule of rules. Nothing really matters other than kindness but the right little black dress might just be the window dressing that puts a lilt in your step. Absolutely nuthin' wrong with that~
    Wear in good health, Lisa!

  2. Thank you so much for articulating #5! I've been looking at fashion/style blogs for a while and reading the magazines for a much longer while and this never gets mentioned. Yet it's a principle I keep in mind when I dress (and I'm not especially flush with disposable income, just relatively so in some of the contexts I move about in). Kindness. Courtesy. Manners. Class. Minimalism, as you practise it, can obviously accommodate or reflect all of these. Great post!

  3. Thank you. You help me feel justified in my decision NOT to shell out $60 for a potato ricer.

    And I'm sorry, as creative as that wall decor is, even painted a metallic! gold! it will STILL look like a bunch of flattened toilet paper tubes.

  4. Well put LPC! And I am sure you will turn head in your new find wherever you go, as it is not the dress, but the wearer that has true beauty, for you inside and out I am sure!

  5. I am going to apply these principles to everything on my Christmas wishlist and make cuts accordingly. Thanks!

  6. Jan, you can find a potato ricer at a garage sale for 50 cents. Watch the obituaries and go to an estate sale. :)

    Lisa, I saw a great cartoon years ago. A woman is at a job interview when the male recruiter tells her that oh he'd love to hire her for the finance job but women have no facility with numbers.

    She looks at him, then says, "I got these Ferragamo shoes five years ago at a sale at Nordstrom's. They were marked down 60%, from $814 to $486. I have worn them at least once a week since then except when I've been on vacation, so at 50 times a year, that's been 250 wearings, which means they have cost me $X a wearing. I got this suit on sale, 40% off plus another 15% for using my Macy's card. I've worn it twice a month. It's amortized to $Y a wearing, although when you include dry cleaning once a season for $10, the cost goes up to $Z. Of course, I always use the dry-cleaning two for one coupon."

  7. great post– you make so many points that simply make sense. (on another note, and I thought reusing plastic bags was just common sense!) and beautiful dress!

  8. I too, feel those "ghost" come out when I don't feel I have something appropriate to wear.
    Great point. And the one on courtesey? Priceless.

  9. When you have the (one) right (black) dress, you don't need lots of dresses; you are freed, relieved from wanting more. You are also impervious to comments made by people who have no clue about point #5.

  10. I wonder what we'd all look like if we dressed first and foremost so as not to make anyone feel bad? Hmmm. It would be impossible, I suppose, people are so different. But it might be an interesting exercise to try putting that as the first priority for a week. Note to self. Thank you for the kind words. And could the Artsy Cousin go minimalist? Very good question.

  11. LPC, One woman's luxury is another's need. When I was a fifteen year-old trapped in a small town, Vogue was what I had. I couldn't dream of dress that cost thousands, but I could dream. Now I shop on sale at the original and wonderful Neiman Marcus store, and cannot believe where I've landed. Thanks for the lovely post!

  12. What marvelous tips- Your blog looks so wonderful- glad to have found you!

    And thank you for your kind comments on my blog xo

  13. LPC……
    Aye-aye…..for all the right reasons.

    Still wearing the LBD I overspent on in 1989.
    At the time a months rent.
    It was late November, after work, snowy, and Christmas music was playing on the street.
    Gets me everytime.
    The dress, today, is as shiver inducing as it was 20 years ago.

    Wool & cashmere, long sleeved, conservatively pretty neckline (medium-high enough to backdrop the 16' pearls nicely) nipped in at the waist, beautiful fit from waist to hip to knee and all this as a "hello" from the front…..the treat is the back – open demure, scoop from shoulders to mid back with a thick twist crossing of fabric in the open area.
    Must go have a moment alone, now…..!

    If this dress could talk…..(I would let it…….)

  14. #5 is puzzling me. I am still digesting. How does one "make someone feel bad" about not being able to have something?
    We have choices and why would someone "choose to feel bad" ?
    LPC could you please shed some more light on this as I am rather dim at the moment!

  15. The only thing I feel bad about is the Williams and Sonoma Potato Ricer that never gets used. What a waste … I should have put it toward a LBD … or a string of real pearls.

    Great post!

  16. Fabulous post, my dear. Articulated so well–I went through an extremely similar process in purchasing some tall, brown leather riding boots on killer sale on black Friday. Though, as my husband says, %50 off of expensive is still expensive, I will wear these for a long while :)

  17. Brilliant. Endurance, longevity and utility are as good as it can get with a purchase. Knowing that something I am buying will long fill its purpose and lower my anxiety and bring me joy is the best kind of bargain.
    p.s. This is the kind of post that must be printed and put into my fashion manifesto file. Thank you!
    Enjoy your gorgeous dress.

  18. Yay! Love this post, it's how I truly feel about clothes. That black dress of yours sounds divine btw. You should print this out and frame it in your closet {or we all should}. I've always been about a few really really good things, and in general, my whole closet is pared down to this philosophy.

  19. Thank you for this post, I so totally agree! And it's very inspiring for me. I'm just working on my thesis with a topic "Is luxury consumption incompatible with simple living? … or not?" so thank you once again. I'm working my way towards more simple and minimalist living, though only beginning now.

  20. 'When I am called to dress up, if I feel I have nothing appropriate to wear, my upbringing calls in the ghosts and I become sad, anxious, and resentful.'

    Me too.

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