Your Clothing Code: A Guide to Owning Only Your Favorite Clothes

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“I don’t own a lot of clothes now, but all the clothes I do own are my favorite clothes.”

-Joshua Fields Milburn, The Minimalists

This piece is not necessarily about Minimalism, but about simplifying one area of life that most of us think we don’t think about while subconsciously obsessing over and spending too much time and money—clothes

“I don’t have anything to wear.” 

How many times have you peered into your closet—possibly at a metal rod as long as your height, completely covered in clothes…and don’t feel like wearing any of them? 

Wouldn’t it be nice if every single item in your closet was your favorite version of that thing? Just imagine—no more settling for your second, third, fourth, or even fifth favorite version of that item of clothing.

This is totally possible. How? By creating your clothing code. 

In this piece, we’re going to examine 

(a) what the heck is a clothing code

(b) why you should have one

(c) what it should contain

(d) how to make your own, 

and as a bonus, I’ll show you my own clothing code. 

So, let’s get started. 

What is a clothing code? 

A clothing code (more specifically, your clothing code) is a personal guide to only possessing and obtaining clothing items that most consistently conform to your personal preferences and needs. Your clothing code is your personal best practices guide to increasing the likelihood of only wearing your favorite clothes every single day.

Why is a clothing code necessary?

Life is too short to wear anything other than your favorite clothes. Your clothing code is designed to guard your time, money, preferences, closet space, and, yes, your mental health. All items in your wardrobe should abide by your clothing code’s specifications to ensure the highest quality of life possible. Your clothing code is designed to eliminate those “I have nothing to wear” moments and provide a clear guide regarding what item or outfit suits which situations.  

How to Create Your Clothing Code

Determining Your Criteria

To create your clothing code, you must possess a clear understanding of your clothing preferences and needs. To do this, you must carefully analyze your existing favorite clothing items—not to determine which you prefer, but why. Doing so is incredibly simple.

Step 1: Go to your closet, dresser, wardrobe, etc. 

Step 2: Find your very favorite single items of clothing for each seasonal weather condition by temperature (in Fahrenheit, that’s 0-to-30s, the 40s-60s, 70s-90s, etc.) and application (indoor work, outdoor work, casual, dress-casual, formal, exercise, outdoor leisure, etc.). 

Step 3: Write down each item, leaving about a paragraph’s worth of space beneath each item in your physical or digital document. 

Step 4: Document in detail what physical qualities you like the most about these items —things like cut, texture, weight, flexibility, color, style, comfort, etc. 

With this list, you now possess the start of your own personal clothing code. This code will help you to maintain and obtain clothing items that will only be your favorite. 

How to Flesh Out Your Code

Even more than listing out what clothes you should possess or obtain, your clothing code should state which of your favorite qualities each should have and which qualities would be deal-breakers. Specify fabric types, design cuts, social setting applications, or even environmental sustainability. 

A clothing code is not a uniform shopping list for your personal army, but rather your path to only owning clothing that fits your body but also your character. Because tastes change, only mention specifications of the items, not the items themselves. 

Must-Have/Be & Cannot Have/Be

Per each style of item, provide must-haves and cannot-haves. If you’re tired of buttons coming loose from pants, perhaps your pants must have rivet buttons. If you’re an advocate for animal welfare, perhaps items cannot incorporate genuine leathers. If you’re tired of uncomfortable shoes, perhaps all shoes must be of a certain comfort level. All of these criteria should abide by what you like most and least about clothing items. 

Conditions of Replacement, Updating, or Duplicates

Within your clothing code, decide upon and document the conditions for which an item may be replaced, updated, or duplicates are justified. 

  • A hole in the knee or toe of a more formal pair of pants or shoes may necessitate a replacement version. A similar hole may be perfectly tolerable or mendable in a more casual or utilitarian piece of clothing. 
  • Before buying an upgraded version, carefully assess your present version of said item’s function and if this adequately meets your current needs.
  • Before purchasing additional versions of a favorite item, consider how many (if any) duplicate versions are necessary and when. Ten pairs of an undergarment may be justified, but four jackets of the same warmth or protection level may not be.  

Setting these criteria will ensure that you’re not prematurely buying unnecessary replacements, upgrades, or duplicates of still usable items. 

Where to Keep Your Clothing Code

Even if you choose to physically write down your clothing code, it’s not a bad idea to also create a digital, amendable version of it somewhere that is very accessible. Consider keeping your clothing code within a note-taking application on your mobile device for ease of reference. Resist the urge to make any amendments to your clothing code that may adversely impact your willingness to don an item. After all, this code is meant to keep all of your clothes your favorites. 

How to Apply Your Clothing Code

Once you’ve formulated your clothing code, the easiest place to apply it is within your own closet. Pull everything out and pile it on your bed or a clean space on the floor. Armed with your clothing code, take each item in hand and assess if it meets the code. If it doesn’t, this likely means your willingness to wear this item has waned or will wane in the future, making it safe to discard most appropriately. 

How to Handle Clothing Discard Remorse

Getting rid of items that do not meet your personal criteria can be difficult. You may be holding onto certain items simply out of nostalgia, sentimentality, or because it reminds you of a goal you once had (i.e., clothes you hoped to fit into one day). It can feel like a waste to get rid of perfectly good clothes. There are, however, a few ways to manage such emotions. 

  • Thought 1. Try to recall the last time you wore this item. It was likely quite a while ago, or else it would have met the criteria of your clothing code. 
  • Thought 2. Consider the people who would enthusiastically don the item the very next day. It would serve them more than this item has likely served you.
  • Thought 3. Remember that this item is probably diluting your wardrobe and keeping you that much further away from only possessing your very favorite clothes.
  • Thought 4. Discarding gifts can be fraught with emotional hardship. However, remember that discarding or donating a gift does not mean you do not value the thought process and effort behind the giver’s intent. Simply treat the gift with the same emotion as though you were given the wrong size. If the item does not meet your clothing code’s criteria, it isn’t the right “size” for you in other ways but does not subtract from the giver’s generosity. 

Isn’t this a little obsessive? 

Some of you may be thinking that the idea of constructing a clothing code may be a little weird or too detail-oriented. In all honesty, it’s not very common and downright bizarre. However, I feel it is quite necessary. Why? Because I only want to possess my very favorite clothing items. This seems simple enough, but because I live in the United States — a country whose fashion industry spends over $20 billion a year on advertising apparel to us, most of which none of us need or end up liking in the long run — I feel that guarding my attention while preserving my closet is important. And if that means spending 20-30 minutes putting together a clothing code in order to do that, I feel like that is a small price to pay.  

Bonus: My Own Clothing Code

The following is my own clothing code. It is not to be duplicated unless, for some odd reason, you were tasked with portraying my appearance at a costume party or something as equally bizarre. 

Ken Lane’s Clothing Code

Overview

For the gist of my clothing code, the majority of my clothes fit the following attributes: 

  • Practical: All clothing items must be of practical use that can suit a very wide variety of social, formal, and weather implications. 
  • Timeless: All clothing items must, for the most part, not reflect time-sensitive fashions. The designs of the shirts, pants, shoes, hats, and the like should aim to exist in virtually every decade and, at the same time, no decade.
  • Comfortable: Most every item of clothing should remain on a level of comfort deemed “nappable” — that is, capable of achieving comfortable sleep without having to remove any item, outside of temperature variation. This means that they should allow for a full range of motion, ventilation, and be of a texture that is soft to the touch. This commonly means a preference for bamboo or cotton fibers. Also, no item of clothing should constrain the body, such as overly tight items or belts. Suspenders should always be substituted for belts for this reason.
  • Sturdy: Button-down shirts and pants should favor an industrial or outdoors level of sturdiness. This means a preference for work shirts/pants or outdoors shirts/pants over dress shirts/pants while maintaining comfort. 
  • Vegan: Though not a vegan in my diet, I do not believe any animal should be harmed for my clothing or accessories — especially not when polyurethane (PU) leather has become on par with genuine leather in terms of quality and realism
  • Replaceable: The model/product numbers of preferred clothing items should be saved on a log sheet so that replacement versions can be ordered in the event of unmendable wear
  • Exceptions to all the above

Formalwear is the sole exception to clothing code policies in the rest of this document. Formalwear allows for various levels of discomfort but is typically allocated to one black suit or any required formal clothing  (i.e. tuxedo, etc.)

Pants

  • No jeans
  • Work pants or lightweight straight-leg twill pants 
  • Must have steel clasps or rivet buttons
  • Belt loops should be positioned at around 2, 5, 7, and 10 o’clock to support suspender clasps 
  • Black or grey in color
  • Held up by belt-loop-hooking X-style suspenders

Shirts

  • Darker long-sleeve button-down workshirt for cooler climates
  • Vented lightweight and light-colored hiking/fishing shirt for warmer climates
  • T-shirts —preferably soft with few to no graphics
  • Dress shirts — Standard dress shirts with soft, wrinkle-resistant material, white, off-white, or grey

Shoes

  • With the exception of inclement weather boots, all shoes must be barefoot-style in construction (zero-drop heel, wide toe box, no cushioning, rollable sole)
  • One pair for formal and dress-casual occasions (black vegan leather)
  • One pair for leisure and exercise (no color constraints)
  • Older retired exercise pair for yard work
  • One pair for aquatic activities
  • House slippers and sandals optional

Formalwear

  • For weddings, funerals, religious services, and job interviews, you have one black suit, belt, white shirt, and black tie
  • Will eventually incorporate suspenders into suit pants

Undergarments

  • All undergarments must be majority bamboo fiber
  • Black or dark color

Headwear

  • Daily-use casual hats should be correctly sized and of a timeless fashion — preferably a canvas button-top gatsby cap
  • Exercise or outdoor caps should follow their specific function (shade, breathability, warmth, etc.)

Coats & Jackets

  • Large coat for extended periods in freezing temperatures
  • Insulated jacket for temperatures from freezing to 50s (F)
  • Uninsulated jacket for temperatures from the 40s to low 60s (F) 
  • 2-3 hooded sweatshirts for outdoor exercises in temperatures from freezing to 50s (F)

Exercise wear

  • 4 polyester, moisture-wicking t-shirts (no color specifications)
  • 4 pairs of athletic shorts

Conditions for Replacing, Upgrading, or Duplicates

  • Of all damaged, worn, or stained pants or shirts, the best two may be kept for messier work or lengthy outdoor activities — all others damaged outerwear is to be discarded
  • Athletic/leisure shoes may only be replaced when the intended function is compromised
  • Any damaged or visually worn formalwear that cannot be mended may be replaced
  • Upgrades are only justified when multiple replacements have failed or worn in specific places fortified within upgraded versions (i.e. for work pants that wear in a specific pocket, an upgraded model may be sought)
  • Approved duplications to maintain wardrobe: 6 pairs of pants, 6 longsleeved shirts, 6 t-shirts, 10 pairs of underwear, 10 pairs of socks — only to be replaced upon unmendable wear