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Think back to your last big night out on the town. Or a lunch date with your best friend. Or maybe just this morning before work. Did you stare at your clothes, thinking What the hell am I going to wear?
You’re not alone: Ask any woman and she’ll likely tell you that she too has stood in front of her full closet in a towel feeling overwhelmed by the lack of options. At some point, most of us have come to the realization that what’s hanging in the closet is out of style, out of season, the wrong fit, or downright not cute. Our shelves, drawers, and hangers might be full, but that hasn’t exactly solved the I have nothing to wear problem.
Your first instinct might be to go out and buy more clothes. But that’s what you’ve always done, and it isn’t working. A better solution might be to streamline what you do have.
Enter the capsule wardrobe.
A capsule wardrobe quite literally limits your options, but it also encourages you to only keep items that you truly love. With a smaller, carefully chosen clothing collection, you’ll never again be staring at piles of clothes thinking you have nothing to wear.
Capsule wardrobes don’t just make getting dressed each morning easier. They also cut down on clutter, reduce laundry (who wouldn’t love that?), and can even save you money in the long run.
Here is everything you need to know to build a capsule wardrobe—and why one might change your life.
Capsule Wardrobe 101: Here’s What You’re Getting Into
A capsule wardrobe is one that is built around a small number of essential clothing items—pants, skirts, dresses, and tops—that all coordinate, allowing you to build multiple stylish outfits (without having an excess of clothing items you’ve only worn twice).
“A capsule wardrobe is built with main quality pieces that can be mixed and matched with each other for ultimate use,” says Rayne Parvis, a Los Angeles-based style coach.
The exact number of items in your capsule wardrobe can vary a bit depending on your lifestyle, but to really get the benefits of going capsule wardrobe, Parvis recommends capping your collection at 35 items. If that small number gives you anxiety, remember it doesn’t have to include things like underwear, pajamas, or activewear. Instead, the focus of your capsule should be the clothes that you wear for most of the day, whether you’re an on-the-go office worker or a stay-at-home mom who leaves the house mostly to run errands or hit the gym.
The idea of a capsule wardrobe is nothing new. In fact, it’s been around since at least the 1980s, when West London boutique owner Susie Faux coined the term. At the time, Faux encouraged women to buy fewer items of a higher quality that they would wear more often. That’s a main tenet of modern-day capsule wardrobes.
In recent years the idea of capsule wardrobes has grown even more popular thanks to a cultural interest in minimalism, Parvis says. Blogs like Caroline Rector’s Unfancy and Courtney Carver’s Be More With Less encourage women to work with fewer clothing items and accessories.
Rector runs regular “10×10” challenges, during which she and her readers each create 10 outfits using just 10 items of clothing and wear them for 10 days. In 2010, Carver launched Project 333, which encourages people to create a capsule wardrobe of 33 items or less and to wear only those items for three months.
Although a capsule wardrobe encourages you to cut down on what’s in your closet, it also involves carefully crafting a collection of clothing items that flatter your shape and look great together.
“The goal is to buy less and wear your closet more, therefore saving you time, money, and stress of getting dressed,” Parvis says. So although you’re cutting back on options, the items you’re left with look great and are easy to match.
How to Build Your Capsule Wardrobe
Building a capsule wardrobe isn’t nearly as daunting as you might think, and it doesn’t need to be a complicated process. After all, you’re choosing a capsule wardrobe in order to simplify your life, not add stress.
Here are are three easy steps to get you started:
1. Evaluate what you have and get rid of anything that’s not working.
The first step to streamlining with a capsule wardrobe is to look at the clothes you already have. Completely empty your closet and dresser, and consider each item one by one. Ask yourself whether you like it—do you really like it or do you just want to like it? Do you wear it? No, really, do you wear it regularly? Or have you worn it once and never again?
Lili Morton, co-founder of FirstSeven, a corporate styling firm, says that it’s important to be honest and ruthless when evaluating what to get rid of and what to keep.
“If you don’t love it, it needs to go. If you haven’t worn it in a year, you probably don’t love it, so it should go. If it’s dated, worn, or doesn’t fit anymore, it needs to go,” she says.
It can be hard getting rid of pieces you used to wear; physical items can hold a surprising amount of sentimental value. Make like Marie Kondo and literally thank the items for serving their purpose, then sell or donate them so they can have a good life with someone else!
Pro Tip: Getting rid of things can be intimidating, so focus on the end goal of looking great. “It can be hard to let go of pieces, but I always ask my clients, what type of wardrobe do you want? Do you want to build an A+ wardrobe? You can’t build an A+ wardrobe filled with C- pieces,” Morton says.
2. Think about what your capsule wardrobe needs.
As Parvis says, “What’s in your capsule depends on your lifestyle.”
If you work in an office environment, you’re going to need more business clothing than casual options, for example. On the other hand, if you’re home with the kids you probably will need more laid-back, durable clothes like jeans and cotton tops.
Another thing to consider is what you’re most comfortable in. If you know you hate wearing heels, don’t include four pairs of them in your capsule wardrobe. If you feel better in pants than skirts, make sure to include an extra pair or two in the final list.
Finally, think about your shape as it relates to your style. Figure out what “flattering” means to you: Do you want to rock looser clothing à la normcore style, or are you more into the hourglass silhouette? Figure out what looks good on your body (as it relates to your personal style and preferences—not anyone else’s!) and evaluate accordingly.
Pro Tip: Style your capsule wardrobe for the season in order to incorporate the types of clothes that you’re most likely to wear. In the summer you might only have one sweater in the rotation, while in the cooler months you’ll certainly need more than that. Parvis says that tweaking your capsule wardrobe seasonally will keep you from getting bored.
Year-Round Capsule Wardrobe Staples To Get You Started:
“I love to change it up seasonally. You can keep some pieces in the rotation and bring new ones in to keep your style fresh,” she says.
3. Build your capsule wardrobe.
Now comes the fun part: selecting the clothes that will make up your capsule wardrobe.
Begin by looking at what you’ve already got: the items from your closet cleanout that you love and wear often and that will help you meet your style goals.
Next, evaluate how the items will mix and match. It’s a good idea to focus on neutral colors since they look great and are easy to work with.
“Choose simple, quality, basic pieces in suits, pencil skirts, blouses, blazers, dark denims, sweaters, shoes, and accessories,” Parvis says. “Avoid anything that stands out too much like a huge bow, bold stripes, or crazy silhouette.”
That’s not to say you can’t sport colors or patterns in a capsule wardrobe; you just need to make sure they’re versatile enough to go with multiple pieces and that they’re not so eye-catching that people start wondering if it’s the only shirt you own.
The exact breakdown of your wardrobe is up to you. Unfancy recommends a capsule wardrobe of 37 items: nine pairs of shoes, nine bottoms, 15 tops, and four slots left over for dresses and jackets.
If you’re not very interested in shoes, you might like to incorporate scarves, sweaters, handbags or other items instead. In general, you’ll want more tops than bottoms, and a mix of formal and casual wear that fits your lifestyle needs.
If there’s anything you need but don’t already have, create a capsule wardrobe checklist and shop specifically for those items, keeping in mind how they will fit in with the rest of your capsule wardrobe. This is a great opportunity to shop intentionally. Take the time to find quality pieces that really fit your exact requirements to ensure your new purchases are things you’ll be loving for a long time.
Want to see what this looks like in practice? HealthyWay’s video manager, Robin Gillespie, reflects on her experience building and using capsule wardrobes here.
Pro Tip: Although most of your capsule wardrobe will likely consist of neutral pieces, jewelry and accessories are a great way to incorporate colors and patterns that reflect your personal style and current trends.
Our Spring & Summer Accessory Picks:
“I encourage infusing a bit of color into the wardrobe, even if it’s just a bag or piece of jewelry,” Morton says. “They will add an exciting and unexpected element to your wardrobe.”
Confronting Your Capsule Wardrobe Fears
Learning about capsule wardrobes, you might be thinking “That sounds great in theory, but what about…?” Here’s what the experts have to say about three of the most common capsule wardrobe fears:
How do I deal with the changing of the seasons?
Most experts recommend creating a capsule wardrobe that will work for three months at a time. This allows you to change your wardrobe to reflect your seasonal needs if you live somewhere with dramatic changes in weather.
How do I make sure I’m not forfeiting my personal style?
You’re ultimately in control of your capsule wardrobe, so you can build it with whatever foundational pieces work for you, even if they’re a tad untraditional.
“For example, I love red,” Morton says. “I could add a red blazer to my wardrobe. Yes, that sounds bold, but I can wear it layered over a black (or white) sheath dress, with a blouse and black pants or pencil skirt and with jeans and a tee. There are four looks with that red blazer.”
Do I have to ignore trends?
For the trend-lovers out there, worry not. The foundations of your capsule wardrobe should be items that will work in the long run, but there’s also plenty of opportunity to incorporate trends.
“If you’re into trends, add them in accent pieces versus the basic pieces,” Parvis says. “For example, polka dots are trending. You can add this fun print in a scarf, camisole, or clutch versus in a full suit or blazer.”
Capsules Wardrobes for the Whole Family
Adults aren’t the only ones who can benefit from capsule wardrobes. In fact, kids’ wardrobes are great places to play around with the idea of limited clothing. Lest you think we’re insane (kids are messy, after all), consider Mindy Wood, a blogger at Purposefully Simple, who built a capsule wardrobe for her two daughters.
Wood created a capsule wardrobe for herself and was so happy with the end result that she wanted to see how it would work for the littles. Her girls had a lot of clothes that were hand-me-downs or consignment purchases, which sometimes left them looking a bit disjointed.
“Their wardrobes started to look pretty strange, so I wanted to try and streamline it,” Wood says. “I don’t really care if they have mismatched clothes at times but at some point it’s too much to have so many things that don’t go together.”
She took a fairly laid-back approach to building a capsule wardrobe for her girls, but still saw the benefits.
“A kid’s capsule wardrobe isn’t going to look like an adult’s. They definitely need more clothes for spills, accidents, et cetera, but that’s okay,” Wood says. “The point of creating the capsule wardrobe, for me, was to put some order to their wardrobe and make it easier for them to dress themselves if they wanted.”
Now the girls, ages 3 and 6, have an easier time dressing themselves, and Wood deals with less laundry and mess.
“It makes life easier because the kids can dress themselves without my help and can still look somewhat put together,” she says.
She recommends that other parents try a capsule wardrobe for their kids, too. “There are no rules really: Just do what works for you, your kids, and your lifestyle.”
Mix & Match Girls’ Pieces:
Mix & Match Boys’ Pieces:
Getting on the Capsule Wardrobe Bandwagon for Good
Looking at a closet full of clothes and not seeing anything you want to wear is super frustrating. Creating a capsule wardrobe fixes that problem.
“I feel like I actually have more items, not less, which is both weird and wonderful,” Brennan says. “It’s probably because I only see the clothes I really love and I find that is enough.”
She says that since she began using a capsule wardrobe she is more fashionable and more open to experimenting with her clothes. “Building a capsule wardrobe helped me hone my fashion sense and focus on items and a few looks I really, truly love and feel comfortable and confident in,” she says. “When it comes time to replace an item, I may choose to go in a different direction or try a shape or color that I might have veered away from in the past.”
Morton says she sees that often. “When you have a capsule wardrobe and start wearing items that make you feel amazing and you start creating your own looks using these items, your confidence will build. You’ll feel good in what you’re wearing and that will shine through in your daily routine and interactions with colleagues and clients,” she tells us. “This newfound confidence often gives my clients that little push they needed to try new things.”