What goes with what

What’s better, minimalism or maximalism?

What’s better, minimalism or maximalism?

There are two types of people in this world (or so we’re told), and in style-speak they are the minimalists and the maximalists. On one side is your neutrals lover, Marie Kondo-ing his wardrobe into soothing sparsity. On the other, the man who believes more is more, for whom no outfit is complete without a clashing pattern or extra accessory.

Both have their champions in the design world. Both have their sartorial merits. Both have their proponents within the Thread office. So we asked two of our stylists with opposing views to fight for their favourite.

Toby Standing: I stand very much on the side of maximalism. I think it's the much more accessible side of the fence. With minimalism, there's a load of rules in place that you have to follow and it doesn't work for everyone. Maximalism can work for everybody, and it allows a bit more character to come through.

Luke McDonald: I disagree, I think minimalism is paring things back to the essentials. It's about simplicity and order and for a lot of guys, it's a really nice way of organising things. Looking put-together with minimalism is easy. You can get up and dress in most combinations of your existing wardrobe, knowing that when you walk out of the door, everything just works.

Toby: But you can go far too into minimalism and have it end up being a box, as opposed to a tool. I tried to dress in a minimalist way for years and I just found it too restrictive. I got bored with the fact that I was getting up and wearing a variation of the same thing every day. Yes, that can take the stress out of dressing, but I think it takes the fun out as well.

Luke: It takes out the guesswork. Sure, it's a utilitarian approach, but it also means that you're wearing the clothes as opposed to the clothes wearing you. And what's nice about minimalism is that as soon as you add an accent, then you're making a big statement. A pale pink scarf or a bright bag suddenly takes on a lot more meaning. With maximalism you're wearing so many different colours and textures it's very hard for something to break through the noise.

Toby: Well, I'd say there are a couple of ways you can go with maximalism. You can go high-end, designer maximalist where it's all about print, exaggerated silhouettes and colours. Or there is the more subdued version which focuses on playing with textures and layers. I think of it as not boxing yourself into any kind of rules. It's kind of like, go big.

Luke: I think the majority of men would benefit from not going big. When you walk down the street, it's hard to see anyone who wouldn't be improved by a bit of pulling back. People have been given access to every colour and pattern under the sun, but rarely do they look better than when they're just wearing a crisp white shirt and some really well-fitting trousers. Our culture, in general, has mistaken flashiness for quality – but you can't hide that stuff when you're a minimalist.

Toby: I agree with that to an extent. 

Luke: At the end of the day, they both come down to taste. But I think it's much easier to get maximalism wrong. I love to mess with colours, but I'll buy a pair of trousers in a strange colour and be like, ‘Why did I buy this? It's impossible to match with anything.’ I had a pair of A.P.C. cords, and I ended up getting rid of them because they went with so few things. It was infuriating.

I also think you have to walk before you can run. Minimalism is a good beginner's step to fashion, and maximalism may be something that people come to, but unfortunately, people go the other way around. They always want that extra detail on the collar or a contrast cuff. They want ‘interesting’ clothes rather than clothes that will enhance what they have, or that will make them look good. But I agree with you, Toby. Even at its best, you can only look so good as a minimalist. You can look incredible if you get maximalism right, but it’s easier to get it wrong.

Toby: You know, I think the trap guys fall into with minimalism is buying the same things –

Luke: That’s kind of the point.

Toby: But I mean, buying the same black sweater and just wearing that sweater. That's essentialism, which is a different thing.

Luke: Yeah, it's almost like giving up on clothes, or putting that decision aside.

Toby: Steve Jobs did that, so he claims, because he didn't want to think about what to wear.

Luke: But he was in rollnecks that the incredible Japanese designer Issey Miyake made just for him, in a series of 200.

Toby: True. Maybe minimalism is done well when you don't restrict yourself to just buying the same things over and over.

Luke: You still want to be playing with texture. You still want to be playing with contrasts.

Toby: Yeah, I think you can get maximalism right by looking at those things as well. You're almost coming at the middle from the two different ends.