Shop this look! White Crop Jeans (These jeans are stain resistant! Who doesn’t love that?) Long Line Denim Jacket (I really love this jacket, it goes with absolutely everything!) and Linen Striped Shirt (This is going to be perfect when it gets hot! Plus it’s no iron!!!)
There has been a lot of talk in recent years, about capsule wardrobes, how to create a capsule wardrobe plan and all manner of details regarding the “right” way to build a wardrobe.
First, capsule wardrobes are not by any stretch a new concept. When I first started building a wardrobe for myself way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, after a few mistakes, I gravitated to purchasing clothing in color groups that flattered my skin tone. I purchased anchor pieces, suits, dresses, trousers and skirts that all went well together, then added colorful tops and accessories. I’d had my colors done and had a general idea of what looked good on me. This helped me make better choices for my wardrobe, save money and have the ability to create many outfits with fewer clothing pieces. I was able to purchase higher quality items that lasted for years.
In the “old days” this was called a “mix and match” wardrobe. Often retailers would create “mix and match” displays to encourage women to purchase a group of pieces that were specifically designed to go together. Today’s fashionistas look to Pinterest and YouTube for guidance on how to build a capsule wardrobe, the “rules” and essential pieces one needs to build a versatile wardrobe.
How to start a capsule wardrobe:
To start a capsule wardrobe, you need to identify anchor pieces in your wardrobe. Anchor pieces are clothing you wear frequently. For most people, jeans would be an anchor piece. Suits, jackets, coats, cardigans, skirts and trousers are all considered anchor pieces. Tops, such as shirts, vests, and sweaters are complimentary pieces. Dresses and jump suits are considered stand alone pieces, though they can be styled with jackets and sweaters to create different looks. Accessories such as shoes, boots, handbags, belts, and necklaces add interest. Once you have established your anchor pieces, you can move to choosing your anchor color. Most contemporary capsule wardrobes have black, navy, charcoal or dark brown as anchor colors. These serve as the foundation on which you will build the rest of your wardrobe.
When starting a capsule wardrobe, it’s best to choose solid colors for anchor pieces so they can be mixed and matched over patterned complimentary pieces.
Start by taking an inventory of your activities to determine what type of clothing you actually need in your wardrobe, go through your existing wardrobe and identify the pieces you are keeping, determine what clothing items you need to add to your wardrobe, and which colors look best on you so you can begin to collect pieces that complement your coloring, are congruent with your life style and go with the clothing you already have.
(I once read a book on building a business wardrobe that called for twelve dresses and two suits. I found this advice impractical. Where I worked dresses were rarely worn. Thus, I advise taking a look at how you actually spend your time and what you wear or will need to wear, before choosing which pieces you wear frequently.)
If you are working in a corporation, you may want to build your wardrobe around pant outfits. If your life is more casual, you may want to build around jeans.
It is important to note that you DO NOT have to get rid of your existing wardrobe. I see many “minimalists” insisting that one should only have a certain number of pieces in their wardrobe, otherwise it’s not a “true” capsule wardrobe. This is completely bunk and encourages a huge amount of waste (I watch people throw away perfectly good clothing because it exceeds the clothing count) and often results in a very dull generic looking wardrobe.
Start with what you already have:
Yes, I am suggesting you go through your wardrobe and take note of the clothing you wear most often, the pieces you love, the colors and patterns you are most drawn to. Take the time to do this before jumping in and buying a whole bunch of items you will never wear from a Pinterest collage. This exercise will give you valuable you clues to which styles, colors and clothing items work best for you. Once you know what you have, and what you love, you can start to identify items you need to expand outfit options, or things you need more of.
For example, we recently started walking more. I found I needed to add basic easy wash and wear shorts and t-shirts to my wardrobe. We walk up to seven days a week, so I needed seven pair of shorts and seven tops. Since I already had a few tops and two pair of shorts, I determined I needed five pair of shorts and three tops. I also discovered that cotton tank tops worked better than a classic t shirt, because I rarely reached for my t-shirts for walks because it was just plain too hot.
Building a capsule around color:
I purchased a navy suit (jacket, pants and skirt) which served as the foundation for my work wardrobe. I then chose cream to be my secondary color, and purchased cream trousers, blouses and accessories. The cream and navy looked good together, and the foundation of my capsule wardrobe was established.
From that base, I could add another complementary or contrasting color way, patterns and florals, and play with texture. I could also add unique pieces such as a vintage broach, scarves, an interesting handbag or hat. I built a wardrobe that worked not only because the clothing could be mixed and matched, but it was also unique to me, my coloring, lifestyle and aesthetic.
How to build a capsule wardrobe from a favorite pattern:
Pick a print you really love. Pull out colors from the print to form your wardrobe. For example, let’s say a floral blouse was chosen with cream, yellow and dove gray. You might purchase a grey suit, and perhaps yellow trousers or skirt. By pulling colors that work with the floral, you have numerous clothing options.
Mix and match wardrobes were very popular because all the pieces of clothing worked well together and could be worn in different variations. The owner could add a new color or pattern and further expand his or her outfit options. You don’t need a huge number of pieces, nor to spend lots of money and best of all, the outfits always work together. Some retailers and designers create collections, so people can purchase the whole set and have a ready made wardrobe.
The purpose of any wardrobe is to provide clothing that suits the wearer, fits their lifestyle and budget. However, today’s capsule wardrobe devotees adhere to a variety of rules such as the exact number of pieces one should have, and the color scheme (typically black and gray). Any variation is not considered a true “capsule wardrobe”.
Clothing is, at its core, utilitarian. However, it is also a unique expression of the person wearing it, and, for some is a work of art. Today’s capsule wardrobes are not about self expression nor creativity they seem to be more about following strict rules and virtue signaling.
Today’s capsule wardrobe devotees seemed to have missed that memo that fashion can and should be fun, and is an expression of who we are rather than adhering to a strict code. Young women seem to spend a lot of time dumping large fast fashion wardrobes in favor of a sparse capsule wardrobe from collages they find on Pinterest.
Basic and versatile, this type of minimalist capsule wardrobe is a response to closets packed with fast fashion pieces that are worn a couple of times then discarded. Strict adherence to the capsule rules are a virtue and a sign that the wearer is environmentally and socially conscious.
But, what if you don’t like wearing pants or jeans? What if you actually need more than one pair of shorts? What if you don’t look good in grey? What if you want more than three pair of shoes? You would not be following the capsule wardrobe rules.
The benefits of a capsule wardrobe:
Capsule wardrobes are versatile, the items in the wardrobe can be mixed and matched with one another allowing its owner many outfit options. Capsule wardrobes help save money, long term. Fewer higher quality clothing items are purchased and can be worn for longer periods of time. You don’t have to slavishly purchase trends, a capsule wardrobe is made up of classic items that can be worn for many years without going out of style.
I love my version of a capsule wardrobe, I can easily make lots of outfits from clothes I love. Because I have the basics in place, I can now afford beautiful accent pieces.
If you are someone who likes and wants the structure of a basic wardrobe, doesn’t like to shop, isn’t too interested in style, and wants a set number of pants, skirts, shorts and tops; and you want the items to all go together, and you don’t want to spend any more time and energy on your clothes than to wash them and wear them, a basic capsule wardrobe is for you, and you can easily find a clothing list on Pinterest.
If you are more creative, and want more variety in your wardrobe, my version of a capsule wardrobe may be for you.
How to build capsule wardrobe that is unique and interesting:
Start by pulling pieces from your current wardrobe that you love. Take a look to determine what you love about the item–ie it’s super comfortable, I love the color, I always feel great wearing it, I always get compliments when I wear it. See what else you have that goes with your favorite pieces. Remove items from your closet that no longer fit, are damaged or don’t go with anything you are keeping. Discard, donate or sell the pieces that don’t work. Fill in new pieces to build out outfits with your old favorites.
When I worked, building my wardrobe around suits was the perfect approach. When I became a mom, building around athletic wear and jeans worked beautifully and now, as a woman of a certain age, I still like athletic wear, jeans and pretty dresses for date night and lunches with my friends.
We travel some, so I like having nice looking, comfortable outfits for travel, and I spend some time at the swimming pool, so a great swimsuit and coverup would also be on my list. I also add a little black dress to my suitcase, they always come in handy.
Next I look at the colors I enjoy wearing. Each season it varies a little, in general, I build around my favorite colors; or a single base color, making sure that when I purchase a new item, it goes with most of my wardrobe.
Once I know what I am enjoying wearing most, I take a look at whether I need more of anything, for example, when we started walking daily, I purchased five pair of walking shorts. When I used to go to the gym every day, I had five sets of work out clothes. It is important to think about what really works for you.
Add a few fun touches, like an amazing pair of boots, a vintage broach or an interesting hand bag. Don’t be afraid to wear clothing from previous seasons especially if you love them. If I love a detail that was in a few seasons ago, I definitely keep it in rotation, this keeps my outfits unique and a bit unexpected.
How to build a travel wardrobe:
Travel wardrobes are even more fun, I build around a color palette, keeping in mind what we are going to do, the weather and I love looking for pieces that do double duty such as a duster that can be worn as a swim suit cover up, perhaps to elevate jeans and a t-shirt and finally, to throw over my night clothes. You can read more about travel wardrobes here: Beauty Travel Essentials for a Warm Weather Getaway and here: Business to Travel Capsule Wardrobe and here: Cute and Chic Travel Outfits
Whether you are on a budget, just want a simple way to dress or like experimenting and creating different outfits with the clothing you have in your closet, creating capsules around your favorite colors, clothing pieces or just having a mix and match wardrobe, the capsule wardrobe is a great way to build a wardrobe that you will actually wear.
An excellent post Nina, you’ve made it all so succint and personal! Everyone does not need a white shirt, a trench coat and a little black dress!
Don’t I know it! Trust me, I’ve tried some of the conventional wisdom and ended up wasting my money on things I never wore.
Excellent post! I think building capsules is particularly helpful when someone has a lot of difficulty figuring out what they should wear- the planning can become so exhausting. Having it all done and ready for the week may be just what someone needs! I like your idea of building a capsule around a pattern- never really thought of that! (and I create so many for clients!) Thanks so much!
Hi Nina. I need so few clothes at the moment but I cannot wait to get out shopping again. We will have to wait another month at least before shops open. And I am hopeless online. Enjoyed your post.
[…] you are a strict capsule wardrobe devotee, or a casual, buy it on a whim type of girl, every so often our wardrobe needs an update. […]
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[…] outfit variations to wear though out the week, which is actually a good idea. I’ve talked about how to create a capsule wardrobe from scratch here. Plus if you are new here, you can grab my free fashion questions worksheet […]