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In Defense Of Maximalism

By Leandra Medine

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Maximalism is on my mind. The most common way to define it is by considering what is widely held as its antithesis: minimalism. And if the latter is governed by the principle “less is more,” the former is ruled by excess, exuberance, surplus, more as simply…not enough. But to accept this interpretation literally—that is, to assume that to be maximalist you must also subscribe to a lifestyle that facilitates gluttony or waste—might miss the point of what is, I am certain, a compelling way to be.

Let me explain.

Underneath the implications of embodying the spirit of maximalism is a primal and relentless pursuit of open-mindedness. Of joy! To be a maximalist is to be curious. To be willing to try thoughts, ideals, opinions on for size and retain what fits but discard without judgment and in jest what does not. It is to continually chase more of what you deem good, well-knowing that some of what’s bad creeps in as part of the process. In fashion and particularly in how you style yourself, to be maximalist does not have to mean wearing so many layers, so many garments, so many accessories that you suffocate yourself. Instead, I recommend viewing it as a state of mind that celebrates the vicissitudes of the most delightful parts of the human spirit—the interest to explore yourself as a means to better understand others; to find the bright side; to not take yourself too seriously.

It is not a call to silence. It’s a cry for glee. We don’t think about maximalism in this way enough. Why don’t we think about it this way? Henceforth and onward but particularly today, I shall make a case for this newfangled maximalism. Please join through the following three outfits, styled with pieces from, of course, Madewell’s new collection.

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EXHIBIT A: MAXIMALISM AS PATTERN NONPARTISAN

One good thing about prints as they pertain to maximalism is that if you can’t shake the idea that to be maximalist is to wear a lot, I invite you to marry some prints to each other instead. I chose a plaid blouse to marry a floral skirt and invited a striped sweater to officiate the betrothal (and moonlight as belt). In doing so, I’ve successfully remained minimalist by accounts pertaining to garment count but embodied the spirit of what is maximalist by eliciting passerby curiosity.

Here’s hoping said passerby asks a question. Here’s hoping I answer thoughtfully. Here’s hoping we become the best of friends. Ah, human connection!

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EXHIBIT 2: MAXIMALISM AS AN UNCONVENTIONAL WAY TO CONSIDER YOUR CLOTHES

By now you have probably picked up on how much I love socks. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with maximalism, but damn it feels good not to have blisters. In this look, I have styled a red striped bodysuit under a denim pinafore dress left unbuttoned mostly to be reimagined as a cloak that covers a corduroy mini skirt, and serves as a foil for the jean jacket, reflected brightly off socks that sparkle and shoes that glisten. There’s a difference. In any case, this one challenges the assumption of a garment’s purpose. Is a dress really a dress, or can you wear it as a feckless layer? Must a jacket keep you warm, or can it serve as a prop to make your feckless dress more interesting? By the rules of maximalism, there are no rules! So why not?

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EXHIBIT III: MAXIMALISM IN THE DETAILS

What ilk of outfit can be deemed more minimalist than jeans and a button-down lest you add Birkenstocks? These are ingredients that have made quiet dressing famous, which is why it is especially important to plug into a case for maximalism. As you can see through the inclusion of camp socks, sunglasses, a handbag and head scarf (red lipstick notwithstanding either, actually), ample character shines through, thus facilitating the formulation of a mysterious profile type. What else is up her sleeve?, a passerby might wonder, to which I hope I can answer, A zebra! Today it’s just a shoulder bag I have inconveniently fashioned into a clutch, thus immobilizing use of one arm—but that’s the other thing about maximalists, you see: We care not about function as it pertains to comfort so long as it looks and therefore feels good. Isn’t that, after all, the greatest comfort of all?

Feeling inspired to mix and match like a pro? Check out some seriously maximalist-worthy options here.

Photos by Edith Young