How to Build 256 Spring Outfits With Only 16 Items

Updated 01/31/18

In the spirit of Earth Month, we are turning to every aspect of our lives that could use a little streamlining. Enter the closet. If you're anything like us, yours is probably packed to the brim despite its small size. It's only natural to look at your clothes and think I have nothing to wear, nothing fits, and I need new everything. Meanwhile, you could hardly fit another hanger on the rod. Sound familiar? 

When the temperatures start heating up, it's easy to fall into the trap of going on a mad shopping spree to forget about spending the last six months in a shapeless parka. If you find yourself wanting to hit the shops, we suggest doing this first: Ruthlessly edit, declutter, and organize your closet. Once you've made a little space, you can focus on the pieces you're actually missing for the next season.

Here's the challenge: Could you survive an entire season with only 16 pieces, shoes included? We believe it's possible. The idea is to invest in four separate pieces in each of the following categories: tops, bottoms, footwear, and outerwear—and create as many outfit combinations as possible. 16 items of clothing may not seem like a lot go get through an entire season, but if chosen carefully, they could create up to 256 outfit combinations. How can you make sure these items are versatile enough to mix and match?

We outline our favorite wardrobe minimalist tricks below.

The good news is you probably have a few of these in your closet already—all you need to do is just fill in the gaps.

Power Meeting

The essentials: Let's start with the basics: the closet staples that will suit any occasion. More importantly, they're the items that will also make you feel timeless, elegant, and on top of your game should an important meeting pop up on your calendar: a pair of black trousers, a classic trench, and a crisp white shirt. Add to that a trendy pair of backless slippers to elevate the look.

Mix and match: Swap the flats for heels for an extra-elevated look. Interchange the trench with an oversize blazer. Try the look with a statement-sleeve top and culottes or a midi skirt. The possibilities for a power outfit are endless.

Night Out

The essentials: Everyone needs a few pieces to go from day to night: a pair of statement heels, flattering jeans, and a black moto jacket are a great place to start. Just add a fun top with statement sleeves to complete the look.

Mix and match: Easily bring this look from day to night by starting off in sneakers or flats and slipping into heels when the sun sets. Most of these items will work equally well on a weekday or weekend. The jeans-and-jacket combo is neutral and classic—and can be easily paired with any top or shoes in your collection.

Casual Office Day

The essentials: Kill two birds with one stone by getting a pair of white pants that are also culottes—skinny white jeans can be tricky to pull off. An oversize blazer will dress up any outfit—even one that includes a casual tee (logo optional). Polish off the outfit with a pair of low block heels that will keep your look chic and your feet comfortable.

Mix and match: The trick to easy mixing and matching is to keep most pieces in neutral or muted tones—but that doesn't mean you can't throw in a fun colorful pair of shoes. Swap the casual tee with a blush pink top to instantly elevate the ensemble, or mix the culottes with a navy sweater and pair with black slippers for a more classic look. 

Weekend Wear

The essentials: Weekend looks are easy to pull off with this capsule spring wardrobe—just add white sneakers and a jean jacket. Go monochrome with a navy midi skirt–and–crewneck sweater combo that can easily be worn on a weekday with different shoes and outerwear. 

Mix and match: To mix up the look, add jeans or culottes, or swap the sweater for a classic tee. If you need something a little more elevated, reintroduce your slippers and moto jacket. You'll have all your spring weekend outfits covered in no time—and no one will ever notice you're working with the same 16 pieces.

Mango Elastic Waist Trousers $60
Mango Classic Cotton Trench Coat $120
Jil Sander Cotton Button Down Shirt $459
Gucci Princetown Leather Slipper $595
M.i.h Jeans Mimi Frayed High-Rise Slim-Leg Jeans $295
IRO Ashville Leather Biker Jacket $1200
Mango Flared Sleeves Sweater $70
Topshop Razzmatazz Facet Mules $92 $45
Jesse Kamm Sailor Pant $395
Étoile Isabel Marant Janey Checked Linen Blazer $530
Topshop Femme Forever T-Shirt $28
Mango Heel Leather Shoes $80
Mango Polka-Dot Skirt $60
Helmut Lang Shrunken Denim Jacket $495
J.Crew Tippi Sweater $80
Kenneth Cole Kam Sneaker $120 $90

Next up: A professional organizer overhauled my closet—here's what happened.

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