Closet Essentials vs. Closet Heroes: What’s the Difference?

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I have probably spent the better part of my 20s trying to figure out my closet essentials. My list of essentials. Not Vogue’s list. Not my favorite bloggers’ lists. Mine. Sadly, it took me the majority of my 20s to finally figure out that these lists could be different, and should be different because we all have different body types, different lifestyles, and different aesthetics.

Currently 28 going on 29 in December, I finally feel like I’m starting to compile my own list of closet essentials. After purging one too many basic white v-neck tees, crisp cotton dress shirts, ballet flats, uncomfortable pumps, and wrap dresses (aka all the classic pieces every women “should” have) over the last decade, I now know that these are not my closet essentials and have no purpose in my wardrobe.

But wait, there’s more! Since starting my journey towards minimalism a little over a year ago, I’ve been hearing the term “closet hero” amongst slow-fashion and minimalist bloggers thrown around as much as the term “closet essentials.” I then started wondering: what is the difference between these two? Is there even a difference? What about closet staples?

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The dictionary defines essential as “a thing that is absolutely necessary” and “the fundamental elements or characteristics of something.” A hero is 1) “a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability,” 2) “an illustrious warrior,” 3) “a person admired for achievements and noble qualities,” 3) “one who shows great courage.” It is also “an object of extreme admiration and devotion.” (Can you tell that I’m a teacher? Ha!)

Now I couldn’t exactly type in “closet essential” and “closet hero” into Merriam Webster, so on Instagram, I then asked the slow-fashion, minimalist community their thoughts. Many people said the same things along the lines that closet essentials are the building blocks of your wardrobe. They’re your basics, your must haves in your everyday life. They’re versatile and can be mixed and matched with each other (and more statement pieces). Closet heroes on the other hand are the pieces that surprise you. They are one step above an essential, and are more of your “power pieces” for when you’re having an off day or have somewhere nice to go. These are the pieces that you tend to invest in and are special, but might not be something you could wear everyday like a closet essential.

There was one response that really resonated with me from @yourstrulyjens who said in a minimalist’s wardrobe, the two can be interchangeable. One of the benefits of having a curated wardrobe is that you filled it with pieces that you love to wear, and so therefore, everything in a curated wardrobe can be an essential and/or a hero.

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Embracing simplicity has been a long journey in itself. I used to be a slave to trends and fast fashion for fear of being seen as “boring,” “plain,” and “un-fashionable” even when all that I really wanted to wear were simpler outfits like jeans and a tee, or a t-shirt dress. Since then, I’ve let go of 70% of my wardrobe. A majority of this 70% included trendy items (off-the-shoulder tops, athleisure wear not practical to work out in, etc.); and classics I thought I was supposed to have (chambray button-downs, flannel shirts, heels, etc.),  I’ve pared down my wardrobe down to what I think are my essentials (you can find my closet inventory here) and what works for my lifestyle.

If you do look at the make up of my wardrobe, the numbers in itself show that I prioritize dresses (15), sweaters (14), t-shirts (12), sneakers (7), and ankle boots (7). With only 85 items total (clothes + shoes), these 5 categories make up 65% of my wardrobe. These are what I have the most of, and these also happen to be what I wear most often. But within this 65%, I have pieces that I love more than others and/or pieces that I wear more often than others (side note: this is why I feel the need to pare down these particular categories further, because honestly who needs 14 black dresses [yes, I only have 1 non-black dress…]?!).

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In the midst of writing this blog post, a thought came to me: Who the hell cares?! Does the label your clothes as “essentials” or “heroes” even matter when you love what you own? Does labeling something as a hero make it more special or lovable than an essential? The answer is NO! But not to leave anyone on a cliff-hanger (though I’m not really sure you’re at the edge of your seat to see what my essentials/heroes are), here are my final thoughts.

I do agree with @yourstrulyjens that in a minimalist wardrobe, closet essentials and closet heroes can be interchangeable. The INFJ in me though wants to have categories though, so here’s how I broke it down: My closet essentials are things that I would probably pack with me on a long holiday or if I were to go backpacking for a year. They are things that I wear the most often and are fundamentally “me.” When you think of a Jasmine outfit, it’s probably made up of my closet essentials. Where as my closet heroes are the things that if my apartment were on fire, I’d want to save these things because they’d be hard to replace and they are special to my heart. These are the things that never fail to make me feel confident. These are the Jasmine outfits amped up just a tad. Some of my closet heroes are my essentials, but for me and my simple style, that’s a happy coincidence and something I’m more than okay with.

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For those of you who like lists, this is for you. I’ve also included some recommendations. As always, thank you for supporting The Pleb Life with the affiliate links that may be included below.

MY 12 CLOSET ESSENTIALS:

–BLACK BASIC CREW NECK T-SHIRT
(The Air Oversized Crew Tee from Everlane is my current fave.)
BLACK BASIC MUSCLE TANK
(I’ve been living in this one from Lou & Grey this Summer!)
BLACK BASIC T-SHIRT DRESS
(Y’all know I can’t live without my Box-Cut Tee Dress from Everlane. I also love my jersey one from Eileen Fisher.)
–BLACK SKINNY JEANS
(I live in my Levi’s 711 during the work week.)
–BLACK COTTON WIDE-LEG PANTS
(Are you guys sick of seeing my ones from muji after the 10×10?)
–BLACK, GREY, AND NAVY KNIT SWEATERS
(I love my Soft Cotton Square Crew from Everlane. You can read my review here.)
BLACK ANKLE BOOTS
(I plan on living in my Everlane Boss Boots for all of Fall/Winter. You can read my first impressions here.)
–WHITE LOW-TOP SNEAKERS
(I love my Adidas Stan Smiths and Superstars, but the Veja Esplars and Gola Classics Coaster Velcro pair are giving them a run for their money.)
–DENIM JACKET
(For a long while, I liked a darker wash, but I have been loving the contrast of a light wash with my black pieces lately. This doesn’t stop me from wanting a black denim jacket though!)
–A STRIPED TEE
(I’ve definitely toned down my obsession a lot since my early 20s. There were many weeks where I would wear a striped tee more than a solid one. I love the Square Tee from Everlane.)
–A CROPPED GRAPHIC TEE
(I feel like these are always a fun to pull out when you’re feeling a little extra some days. I love the handful from Madewell and my Jenny Strange Hands Off tee.)
–BLACK PAIR OF SANDALS
(I’m currently breaking in the Nisolo Isla Slides, but have gone through countless cheaper, unethical pairs in my lifetime.)

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ESSENTIAL ACCESSORIES

I wasn’t sure to include accessories but these are the things that I wear every single day.

GOLD JEWELRY
(I have some rings that Brandon has given me over the years, my Missoma x Lucy Williams Small Horn Necklace, my Mejuri Zodiac Necklace, and a bracelet from Fossil that was gifted to me as part of my partnership with them. I don’t ever take any of these off.)
–SUNGLASSES
(Even on a rainy day, I wear sunglasses. Enough said. I like the Celine ones and my trusty Raybound round sunglasses)
–Black Crossbody Handbag
(I’ve been between my thrifted Mansur Gavriel Mini Bucket Bag and my APC Half Moon Bag that I got in Paris for the last few years)

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MY 6 CLOSET HEROES

3rd Season Riviera Silk Midi Wrap Dress
Everlane Box Cut Tee Dress
Muji Cotton Wide Leg Pants
–And Other Stories Leather Jacket (old, but similar)
Everlane Boss Boots
–Free People Dress that Brandon bought for me when I spent all my money on supplies for my classroom (you can see it here and here)

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I think the beauty in figuring out what your closet essentials and your closet heroes are is that you ultimately figure out what works for you, your body, your aesthetic, and your lifestyle. That also means that as your life changes and as you change, your closet essentials and heroes may also change. The lists above weren’t always that way, and I’m sure that they won’t always stay that way.  And in the end, lists or no lists, if you love what you wear and are content with your wardrobe, that’s all that matters.

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