The White Plate Rule: A New Approach to Getting Dressed

the white plate rule

This is an essay about a very small way I’m trying to simplify my life. Maybe you’ll be able to relate to it.

I cleaned out my closet recently for the first time in a really, really long time. And when I say “cleaned out” I mean cleaned out. Those random sweaters I’ve been holding onto for years “just in case”? Gone. Blouses that still fit and are on trend, but that I can’t envision myself ever wearing again? Kaput. After paring down my closet, I not only had a sizable donation pile (getting people to come take your donations in NY is another matter), but my closet also had something it hadn’t seen in a very long while: space. I could literally push clothes around and take things out without getting into a wrestling match with the hangers. It felt luxurious.

But what I really wanted to talk about was what led to this purge. I think after a few years of working from home, and then moving to New York, my style changed a little. Maybe it was just getting older too, I don’t know. In any case, my reality became this: I just can’t fuss with it anymore. I want pieces that are easy, breezy, comfortable, can transition seamlessly between day and night, home and travel, and that I will still want to wear in another 5 years. A couple years ago, I started wearing more silk shirts, and perhaps that’s what started all this. The silk shirt became an unofficial uniform; it fit all parameters above. I can buy it in sleeveless or long sleeve form; with buttons and a collar or without either; solid, printed, and in every cut imaginable. They’re amazing with shorts and maxis in the summer, and perfect layered under a coat in the winter.

Okay, okay, peek in my closet right now, and you can still find t shirts for hanging out during the day and the random peplum blouse here and there for when I want something feminine and fun. But honestly, I can see a lot of the trendier items being phased out too. I’ve just learned what works for me, what I like, and sometimes it’s hard to imagine myself wearing some of this stuff unless the mood really, really struck me. Historically? It rarely does.

I was thinking about all this recently while watching a Barefoot Contessa episode (because closet purging + cooking + entertaining = natural match, obviously). Ina was talking about a rule that anyone who has ever entertained, or worked in a restaurant or professional kitchen probably knows about: food always looks better when presented on a white plate. It just does. The white backdrop allows the colors and textures to pop. And beyond the aesthetics, I’m here to tell you that whiteware is a gift to the perpetually clumsy. Break one white plate or serving dish, you can buy another one from basically anywhere. Break a dish that has a beautiful multi-color floral pattern on it? Well…that’s a lot harder.

The White Plate Rule, I realized, is totally applicable to how I want to dress. If I already know I like the look and feel of silk pieces mixed and matched with various bottoms, it takes a lot of the thinking out of getting dressed everyday — just put on your “white plate” and go. Knowing the type of fabric I’m looking for as well as the shapes that look good on me also allows me to immediately gravitate towards those pieces when shopping. Like white plates in a restaurant, maybe this is my way of imposing a uniform on myself…but at least it’s a classic uniform that’ll never get old and always works for me.  For some people, getting dressed everyday is fun and a huge source of pleasure. Sometimes it’s like that for me. Most days I just want to put on some clothes and get on with my day, while also looking put together enough so that if the doorbell rang, the UPS guy wouldn’t wonder who the ragamuffin accepting packages was.

This isn’t to say that I won’t get tempted by the beautifully decorated “plates” and fashion trends. I certainly have a few non-white ceramic dishes sitting in my kitchen, and I definitely will buy things outside my “uniform”. But it’s just a new approach to getting dressed that has really got me thinking. Sometimes it feels like life is already complicated enough, so eliminating the anxiety of what to wear makes all the difference. Grab a white plate, and tuck in.

Images: All outfits photographed above are from Zara. Beige blouse / Dark blue blouse / Light blue blouse

Leave a Comment


  1. 4.15.14
    Rachelle said:

    This is so awesome you posted about this today because I am kinda on the same boat. I did a Spring cleaning while on a shopping ban for Lent. And I decided to start french wardrobe challenge today which is about focusing on your basics and allowing yourself to buy 5 stand out items for spring/summer and fall/winter. This has helped me get rid of all of the stuff that hardly ever wear.

  2. 4.15.14


    The Style Storm
    <3, Christina

  3. 4.15.14
    yvonne said:

    i just did this over the weekend and filled up 5 trash bags worth of belongings. it felt SO good. i always find myself wearing black or white or neutrals in general (as you know). that started happening after we moved to dc (before that in sf i wore colorful vintage ALWAYS) and i felt like i had grown up. also, one less decision to make this way. ;) looks like we’re growing up and getting smarter about our accumulations together! can’t wait to spend time soon! xxo

  4. 4.15.14
    Sara said:

    The white plate rule! I love it!

    I also just did a major closet purge (got rid of about half of my clothes). It felt so good that I’ve been super picky since then as to what new pieces will actually make it into my closet. I’ve created a rule that if I’m not completely in love with it, or it’s not a basic, I’m just not gonna get it.

  5. 4.15.14
    Evelyn said:

    Hey there! All of your links send me to bottoms, but when I’m really looking for are blouses :) I like the ones you posted

    Any suggestions?

    • 4.15.14
      Victoria McGinley said:

      Hi Evelyn, Many of the tops featured along with the bottoms can be found by clicking on the “Shirts” menu on the left once you’re on the Zara page.

  6. 4.15.14
    Marisa said:

    I love this post! I think the key to whittling down your wardrobe is only keeping things that make you feel like your best self. Does this feel like me? Nope? Gone!

  7. 4.15.14

    I love this idea! Have you tried for your purge? They send you a clean-out bag with a shipping label (for free), you mail them what you don’t want, they pay you for what they can sell and donate the rest.

  8. 4.15.14
    Amie said:

    I’ve done this recently too, and I do believe it comes with age, a budget, and space! I have a very minimal wardrobe right now but I do like the pieces in it and wear them. However, I find shopping A LOT more frustrating now… even though I have an idea of what I want/like, I’m so picky, especially about the basics! I never know where to go to find quality ones and trial and error gets quite exhausting! My wardrobe still lacks some essentials like an amazing pair of skinny jeans, or the perfect white/black silk blouse. But it’s definitely been a smarter and more economical way to do things! :-)

  9. 4.15.14
    Ali said:

    I loved your essay! I found out this year I had a uniform, and to be honest I’m very ok with it. I also only use white plates, and I’m sure Ina planted that seed in me long ago.

  10. 4.15.14
    Natalie said:

    Totally on the same page as you with this — last weekend I got so frustrated with all the trendy neon pieces that I never touched and just went crazy, filling up trash bag upon trash bag. It does feel so amazing and luxurious to have a spacious, classic wardrobe now (and a some room for some new pieces, too!) My first purchases were of course, silk tops (a few sleeveless as we’re coming up to warm weather!) and I feel amazing about it — so much more organized and clean. Love how you equated it to the white plate rule — knew that about entertaining but never thought to relate it to the way I dress. Thanks for your insight, V!

    • 4.15.14
      Evelyn said:

      Any suggestions for silk tops? I’m looking for some timeless ones that aren’t sheer!

      • 4.15.14
        Victoria McGinley said:

        Hi Evelyn, I’ll let Natalie chime in too, but I really love ordering silk tops from Everlane. They’ve sold variations of long sleeve ones for years, and just released a collection of sleeveless blouses and button ups too. I’ve already purchased some from the new collection and I love them — they’re very similar to Equipment (another great brand for silk tops) but at a fraction of the price!

        • 4.15.14
          Amie said:

          Can anyone from Canada who’s ordered from Everlane chime in!? I’ve been tempted – but haven’t taken the plunge.

          • 4.15.14
            Victoria McGinley said:

            Hi Amie! I’m definitely not from Canada so I couldn’t speak to Everlane’s customer service or shipping up north, but as far as the items themselves go, I’ve been a huge fan for a really, really long time. I own multiple t shirts, tanks, shirts, sweaters, etc from there. Early versions of the Ryan tees didn’t hold up as well, but I bought a few more recently and they completely changed the cut and fabric (and so far, so good as far as washing goes). I’ve ordered shirts for Joe there too and he loves them!

            Any other Canadians here??

          • 6.15.14
            inVancouver said:

            I ordered a long sleeved T Shirt & short sleeved sweatshirt & it was delivered without any issues & didn’t even have to pay customs & duty, just regular delivery charges from Everlane Great product & service & mfg in N. America

  11. 4.15.14
    smilingischic said:

    I love it!!!!!
    Smilingischic/ Clothes Smiles

  12. 4.15.14
    ame said:

    I am all about “uniforms.” My uniform is boring as shit, but it works for me. I keep trying to swap out the cardi completer piece for a jacket/blazer but I am a tough fit in that department. Either I fit my shoulders and my middle is snug as can be, or I fit my middle and my shoulders are really around my elbows…

    But I am a lace-trim-cami, vneck tshirt, cardi and dark slim bootcut kinda girl. I almost always wear converse lowtops, usually navy, and sometimes get daring with Navy tieks or Navy espadrilles. I have a few random others, like vneck sweaters or henley sweaters or a cashmere hoodie from jcrew that sneak in winter but otherwise, that’s that. I also bought a few nicer tops for under cardis for the days where a cami and vneck isn’t really appropriate.

    • 4.15.14
      ame said:

      But I have been pretty good about keeping my wardrobe relatively pared down to JUST what I will wear. Its the rest of the crap I hoard…

  13. 4.15.14
    Maryn said:

    This is a great philosophy! I’m definitely in the same boat as you – gravitating towards timeless pieces and a closet full of silk blouses. They’re easy to wear and luxurious at the same time.

  14. 4.15.14
    Bekah said:

    I love this! I’ve definitely been moving in this direction as well. It makes life so much easier, and who couldn’t use that?

  15. 4.15.14
    Rebecca said:

    This is completely how I think about dressing!

  16. 4.15.14
    Ashley said:

    I couldn’t agree more (as I sit here reading this in my silk top and black cropped pants)!

  17. 4.15.14

    Such a great post and great reminder.

  18. 4.15.14
    Nnenna said:

    I’ve really been trying to simplify my wardrobe this year and I found the blog really helpful. I like the “white plate” idea of having a uniform because it really does make getting dressed in the mornings easier! I think I need to do another cleanout soon and really evaluate what I have in my closet. I also need to invest in some pretty silk shirts!

  19. 4.15.14
    Anna said:

    This is essential style! This is what made Audrey Hepburn such a classic fashion icon. Figuring out what works for you and not deviating from it. Cheers!


  20. 4.15.14
    Chelsea said:

    I have to admit, I am a sucker for a good silk blouse. I love the idea of adopting a uniform that is so seamless with your life. Right now I love the variety that my closet affords me but hate the clutter. Maybe the first step is a clean out? Either way, you’ve inspired me!

  21. 4.15.14
    Kiki said:

    This post was like a breath of fresh air! I’d love to see a snapshot (maybe on Instagram?) of your items hung together to see how your pieces coordinate with one another.

  22. 4.16.14
    Lily said:

    I love this mindset — silk blouses have become a go-to for me too. Now gotta go stock up on some white plates!

    x Lily

  23. 4.21.14

    I love this post. I really need some motivation to clean out my closet and get rid of things I do not wear! I think we all are aware of what our daily uniform should be- the outfit we throw on and feel great in- and if we just worked on multiplying that outfit, we could really simplify our lives!

  24. 4.22.14
    Rose said:

    Amen! I’ve discovered I’m getting this way, too. It’s easier for me to let go of things, although as someone who loves color I still try to find ways to work that in. I do just want to get dressed in the morning and have it be easy and done! I know what pieces work, and I know what brands I love—Pickwick & Weller is my go-to for tees, and I’m starting to get more silk basics (Otte NY has a great line all made in NYC, too!). It’s easier to bring in the fun & funky if I have a neutral basic layer.