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Capsule Wardrobes 101: Why They Are Taking Over Fashion & How to Start One

The latest fashion trend isn’t a trend at all, it’s a here-to-stay way to look and feel your best all year long, the capsule wardrobe.

Woman standing in front of disorganized wardrobe in need of a capsule wardrobe

What Is a Capsule Wardrobe?

We’ve all done it. Been captivated by a trendy new fashion and rushed to the mall to grab up the latest looks–velvet Juicy Couture tracksuits, jelly sandals, leg warmers, low-rise jeans – are you cringing yet? And although everyone should have one or two fun, trendy items in their wardrobe, and it’s really easy to get seduced by styles worn by glamorous celebrities and social media influencers, fads fade and at some point you end up with an overfilled closet of clothes that are no longer relevant.

As a personal stylist, I have worked with so many clients that are looking to build their wardrobe but are obsessed with finding outfits to match occasions or locations and to please or impress others. It’s been my mission to steer them away from worrying about where they’re going and to focus more on how they want to look. I ask questions like; how do you envision yourself? What clothes make you feel good and happy? When you look in the mirror, what do you want to see? This is where the capsule wardrobe comes in – simply put, the capsule wardrobe is a small selection of timeless items that can be worn for varying occasions, no matter where you are going. Items that can be dressed up or down and are perfect for work, play or just hanging out. Pieces that never go out of style! Although it is different for everyone, capsule wardrobes can be 14 pieces or 37, or whatever works for you, it just depends on your lifestyle. When people ask what is a capsule wardrobe, I tell them to think about the items they already own and love to wear–because this is the foundation and where to start. It’s your favorite tops, sweaters, jeans, slacks – basic clothing items that suit your lifestyle and new items that you add in each season.

Definition of a capsule wardrobe
Definition of a capsule wardrobe

Why are They Taking Over Fashion?

Every single one of us, at one time or another (some of us everyday!) has stood in front of our closet full of clothes and thought, I have nothing to wear. In fact, figuring out what to wear on a daily basis can be overwhelming and just plain frustrating. This is why so many people are discovering the answer to what is a capsule wardrobe and what are its benefits. Imagine not having to stress over what to wear and feeling and looking great every time you walk out the door! The capsule wardrobe is one trend that is not only taking over fashion, it’s here to stay.

Here are some of the top benefits of having a capsule wardrobe:

  1. You’ll Save Money! Think about some of the impulse purchases you’ve made in the past. Frivolous items that enticed and excited you that you thought you’d wear or use, but once you got them home they just sat in your closet or were tucked away in a drawer. All of us can relate to having various items hanging in the closet that still have their price tags. A capsule wardrobe eliminates those types of emotional purchases because you start with the items you already love and wear and build on from there on a seasonal basis. And because you only have let’s say, 15-40 pieces, you won’t be filling your closet or stuffing your drawers full of clothing that will sit and gather dust. Then, you can take all that money you save and spend it on adventures and experiences where you can show off your great taste in fashion!
Clothes that are not part of the capsule wardrobe can be donated
  1. You’ll Be Helping the Environment! Reduce, reuse, recycle–the catch phrase that sums up the world-wide effort to save our planet is also a great way of explaining how a capsule wardrobe can positively impact the environment. When you reduce the amount of clothes you have and you purchase less, you’re also helping to reduce the amount of items that are being manufactured. And, because you aren’t buying loads of lower quality, fad pieces that are designed to fade, tear and fall apart, you’re reducing the amount of clothing and fabric waste that ultimately ends up in landfills (research shows the average person sends 82 pounds of clothing and fabric waste to landfills annually).

Donating your unwanted items to thrift stores, clothing drives or other charitable efforts, you’re also helping supply others with wardrobe pieces–it’s a win for you, others and the earth!

  1. You’ll Have Less Clutter! There’s a reason that shows and books about organizing and tidying are so popular – we all have too much stuff cluttering up our lives! Imagine the tranquility and feeling of relief you’ll experience when you look into a closet that is clear of unneeded, unwanted items which made it next to impossible to sort through. Your capsule wardrobe, which consists of basics like skirts, jeans, trousers and tops, for example, is all you’ll see when you open your closet door – a dramatic difference from the packed-in, plastic-hanger-hung, unwanted clothes wasteland.
List of reasons why people love capsule wardrobes
List of reasons why people love capsule wardrobes

Steps to Start a Capsule Wardrobe

Ready to get your capsule wardrobe started? The good news is that you are closer than you think to minimizing your wardrobe and ridding yourself of the stress and aggravation of the “I have nothing to wear” days! One thing I like to suggest is to create a mood board. This is a collection of looks or pieces that you are drawn to and can picture yourself wearing.

Woman holding stack of clothing for her capsule wardrobe

Whether you do it old school cutting pics out of magazines or go online and save images of outfits or styles that you like, a mood board is a great step to creating your capsule wardrobe.

  1. Clear Out Your Closet. Grab a friend, or if you can hire a personal stylist, and get started by going through your closet with them. Start a pile of the absolute throw-aways. These are the items you haven’t worn and you know you never will. Try stuff on that you’re unsure of and depend on your friend or your stylist to tell you the real deal – even if they tell you that something you like doesn’t cut it.

Next, choose your base items and colors. Black, grey, white, cream and camel brown pieces are generally the best because they’re neutral and can be paired with other colors to make multiple different outfits. The most important thing to keep in mind is fit. If you still have that oversized jacket from twenty years ago – the one that has not been in style for at least a decade and doesn’t fit, it has to go. Those items that don’t fit and don’t make you feel happy when you wear them shouldn’t be a part of your capsule wardrobe. Bag or box them up and make a plan to donate.

  1. Choose Your Faves and Go-Tos. Next, choose your favorite pieces in these categories
    (This goes for both men and women)
  1. Blazer (an off-the-rack blazer or one that fits you perfectly that you already own)
  2. Sweater (whatever style(s) you like most; v-neck, crew neck, cardigan
  3. Shirts: casual or a little bit dressier button-downs
  4. Casual hoodie
  5. Shoes: loafers, boots, heels
  6. Sneakers
  7. Updated jacket: A jacket that fits and hasn’t been sitting in your closet since the ‘80s (unless it’s come back in style)
  8. Jeans
  9. Basic t-shirt: that comfy, cozy tee that you love to wear
  10. Travel piece: luggage, cross body bag or backpack
  11. Fun, trendy item: this is a splurge item that you’re excited to wear to embellish your basic items
  12. Watch and/or accessories like bracelets and necklaces

Think about what you love to wear everyday, whether it’s for work, for dressing up, hanging at home – which of the items that you currently own do you wear the most? Limit yourself to no more than 40 items to start. For some, 30 items will be enough, for others 17, it all depends on you. Remember to be honest with yourself and realistic, don’t be tempted to keep pieces just because you may wear them someday – especially if you haven’t worn them in a year or more.

  1. Purchase a Few Must-Haves. Every capsule wardrobe needs certain items to be successful, pieces that can be mixed and matched, and built upon to create different looks. For most folks this includes a long-sleeve white button-down shirt, for others it’s a plain white tee. A classic trench coat, a blue or black blazer or a denim jacket are also key items, but again this depends on you and your lifestyle. Where you live factors in here, obviously if you live in Florida you won’t need a trench coat on a regular basis. And your capsule wardrobe is all about what you do daily. Must-haves are tops that go with everything and can be worn with a variety of bottoms, can be dressed up or down and are, most importantly, items you enjoy wearing. Another key thing to remember, quality is key, not quantity. It’s better to have one item that costs a little more that will not only last, but will be worn over and over than cheaper items that will fall apart, rip or fade quickly.
List of steps to starting your capsule wardrobe
List of steps to starting your capsule wardrobe

5 Tips to Maintaining a Capsule Wardrobe

Once you’ve built your capsule wardrobe, it’s important to maintain it properly because if not, you will most likely end up right back where you started, with all the clutter and stress that comes with a closet full of clothes you never wear.

Here are some tips to help you:

    1. Remove and Replace on a Regular Basis. A key way to keep your capsule wardrobe relevant and efficient is to be intentional about removing those items you have stopped wearing. Whether they no longer fit or you’re just not that into them anymore, take them out of your closet or drawers and replace them with something that you want to wear. Use the one-in, one-out rule so you don’t end up with more items than you started with.

 

  1. Do a Scheduled Capsule Wardrobe Check-In. A lot of people commit to not changing their capsule wardrobe for a given amount of time–it could be 3 months, it could be 6, it all depends on you. Once you’ve determined how long you plan to stick with your capsule wardrobe, mark your calendar for a halfway through point. So if it’s 3 months, make a plan to do a check-in at 6 weeks. Then, at the allotted time, go through your wardrobe and assess what’s working and what’s not. If any items are just not as fun to wear as you thought they would be or you are finding yourself wanting something different, go ahead and remove and replace. This not only keeps your capsule wardrobe the right size, but also up-to-date with your life.
Winter coats hanging on a clothing rod as part of a capsule wardrobe
  1. Adjust for Seasonal Changes. One of the easiest ways to adjust for the changes in weather is to simply add in a heavy coat, a jacket, a warm hat or boots–these essential items will still pair well with your slacks, jeans, sweaters and tops, etc. Nowadays, fashion is leaning towards becoming seasonless because most of your base items can be worn all year round and topped off with the right outerwear. If you want to keep your capsule wardrobe at a certain number then you can take out some of the warmer weather items like shorts and keep them in a separate closet or drawer. This way, you’re still working with the minimal amount of items on a daily basis.
    1. Shop Less Often. Think about the reasons that drive you to jump in the car and head to your favorite boutique. In many cases, people shop when they’re bored or feeling stressed about things going on in their lives. Retail therapy is real! But now that you’ve created your amazing capsule wardrobe, maintaining it means you need to reel in that urge to shop just for the fun of it. After all, we’re working on the philosophy that less is more. So instead of hitting the mall every time the whim hits, find a new hobby that will be entertaining and interesting to you–baking, planting a vegetable garden, reading, arts and crafts are just a couple of ideas.

 

  1. Shop More Intentionally. Just like going to the grocery store without a list on an empty stomach, shopping without intention never ends well. So if you do have to go shopping, make a list and stick to it. That way you won’t end up with bags full of impulse buys.
List of tips for maintaining a capsule wardrobe
List of tips for maintaining a capsule wardrobe

At the end of the day, once you’ve built your capsule wardrobe you’ll probably realize that all of the items you’ve chosen are the ones you always wear anyway! So it only makes sense to get rid of the clutter in your closet and drawers and highlight those clothes that you enjoy the most. Having a capsule wardrobe means that you’ll always be in style, have clothes that fit you and that you’ll have much more time on your hands because you won’t be wasting it figuring out what to wear. Say goodbye to frivolous and hello to a whole new, always in fashion, you!