Speaking of Style: Embracing the Capsule Wardrobe

I’m a reader, but like most well rounded people, books aren’t my only interest. “Speaking Of” is a series of posts that allow me to nerd out over the other things that fill my days, from style to DIY to travel.

I have always been interested in style, but I’ve never really felt like I had “a style.” My closet was an odd hodgepodge of badly-fitting t-shirts from Urban Outfitters and faded stretched-out sweaters bought on sale at H&M. But last fall, I started using Pinterest for outfit inspiration, and I came across a blog that changed the way I approach my wardrobe. Un-Fancy is a style blog chronicling Caroline’s experiences living with a capsule wardrobe. (She actually recently went on hiatus, but the blog is still a great resource.)

A capsule wardrobe is a small seasonal wardrobe built from versatile pieces that you love and can mix and match. For Caroline, this means a 37-piece wardrobe including tops, bottoms, dresses, outerwear, and shoes. (Special occasion clothing, activewear, undergarments, and accessories don’t count toward this number.) Each season, she selects the pieces she will wear that she already owns and buys a few more items to round out her wardrobe. The rest of her clothes either go into storage or onto the donation pile.

I find myself drawn to a basic, classic style: a white v-neck under a chambray shirt, a black tank with a long necklace, a black and white striped top with a soft blue scarf. Dark skinny jeans, midi skirts, comfy shift dresses. I’m all about simple, neutral basics with pops of color in my accessories. Of course, I’ve also been led astray by impulse purchases that I wore a few times and then lost interest in. This is where the capsule wardrobe comes in: It forces me to be more intentional about my purchases. I think more carefully about what I want and need, and I do more shopping around to find just the right piece. No more heading to the mall with vague ideas about buying “new clothes for summer” and leaving with a handful of things that won’t wind up working for me in the long run. And by buying fewer things, I can buy higher quality items that fit better and last longer.

Being between jobs means I haven’t been able to buy many of the things on my list, but editing down the things I already own has felt fantastic. I find that the more items I have in my closet, the more often I look into it and feel utterly uninspired. It’s so refreshing to look inside and only see clothes that I love, are seasonally appropriate, and go together well. It’s also exciting to transition between the seasons — to put away my bulky sweaters and rediscover a favorite summer dress.

I’m not following Caroline’s “rules” about picking a number and sticking with it or only buying clothes during the two weeks preceding her wardrobe switch-over. I like the spirit of keeping a minimal wardrobe, but I think rules like these are unnecessarily restrictive. The number seems arbitrary, and the two-week rule seems counter-productive. I would rather make a list of a few pieces I want to buy and shop around, scoping out sales, to find the perfect items at the right price than make a less-than-ideal purchase just because I’m trying to check a box during a certain time frame. If I’m trying to buy higher-quality clothing, I need to work those sales! I also don’t stick to a rigid four-capsule system. Living in western New York means long transitional seasons, so I tend to pull out and put away a few items at a time. (Ex. I’ll get my short-sleeved dresses out a few weeks before my sleeveless dresses.)

Capsule Wardrobe

A few favorites: Neutral tanks with a casual scarf | Dresses in blues and whites | Stripes and a colorful kimono

How to start your capsule wardrobe:

1. Create a Pinterest style inspiration board.

Find a few pinners whose style you like and follow them. Pin outfits you like and note what you like about them.

(This is mine.)

2. Pull everything out of your closet and go through each item.

If it doesn’t fit or doesn’t make you happy, donate it. If it is damaged beyond repair, toss it. If it fits, you wear it regularly, and you love it, keep it! Put any “keep” items that aren’t seasonally appropriate in storage, as well as any pieces that you don’t wear often but aren’t ready to get rid of. (You can revisit them next season. If a year goes by without a piece making it into your capsule, it’s time to say goodbye.) You should be left with just items that you enjoy wearing and will be comfortable in during this season. Be a little brutal here. You can always pull things out later if you find yourself needing them.

(I leave some wiggle room. I may wind up putting a shirt in storage if I find myself not wearing it, and I may also pull a flannel out of storage for a week at the lake.)

3. Take a look at what is now hanging in your closet.

What trends emerge? What colors and patterns do you gravitate to? What categories are lacking?

(My closet has a lot of black, white, grey, blue, and stripes. I have plenty of tees and tanks, but few sweaters and shirts to layer over them.)

4. Make a list of items in your ideal wardrobe for the season.

What do you have, what do you need to replace, and what would you like to add? Ideally, your capsule should be made up of items that can be easily mixed and matched, giving you a large number of different outfits from a small number of individual pieces. Maybe you’ll want to come up with a number, maybe you won’t. If I were to come up with a formula it would probably look something like this:

  • 10 tops (tees, tanks, pullovers, etc.)
  • 5 layering tops (button-downs that can be worn open, cardigans, etc.)
  • 5 bottoms (jeans, leggings, skirts, shorts)
  • 5 dresses
  • 5 pairs of shoes

(This summer, I replaced a pair of cheapo, badly fitting black sandals and bought two pairs of shorts because I only had two pairs. I would like to replace the grey cardigan my cat chewed holes in and add a black midi dress and a striped tank top to my wardrobe.)

5. Shop around to find the perfect pieces to complete your wardrobe.

Make a list of your favorite retailers and browse them for the items you’re looking for — and try to avoid impulse-buying that linen jumpsuit that is super trendy but probably not really your style (unless it IS totally your style and actually on your list).

(I have a few “secret” Pinboards for keeping track of clothes I would like to buy. It’s my version of putting an item in my cart on a retailer’s website and waiting a few weeks before deciding to buy it. This makes it easy to compare pieces and prices; I currently have four or five different breton striped tops waiting for me to choose between them.)

6. You’re done!

Enjoy living with a small number of versatile pieces that you truly enjoy wearing! Somehow, having fewer items in my closet makes getting dressed in the morning much easier; I don’t get bogged down by clothes that I don’t love, and I realize more than ever that I tend to reach for the same few items every day, anyway. Why have a wardrobe stuffed with clothes when I only wear a small percentage of them on a regular basis?

(I also like to keep a diary of what I wear each day, so that at the end of the season I can look back and see which items I wore a lot and which ones languished mostly unworn. This can help you further crystalize your style and inform future capsules and purchases. Because sometimes the looks you love on Pinterest just don’t wind up working with your lifestyle, climate, or body type. Not that only certain body types can wear certain styles, but for example, I just can’t pull off head wraps, so I should probably not buy any more of them.)

How do you manage your wardrobe?

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10 thoughts on “Speaking of Style: Embracing the Capsule Wardrobe

  1. I love the capsule idea! Aaaaand now I instantly want to over haul my closet. I have a neutral theme going with most of my clothes, but I tend to keep summer and winter all together in my closet and it’s JAMMED, despite only recently parting with BAGS full of unworn, old clothes.

  2. How did you know I was buzzing around on Twitter talking StitchFix and building a wardrobe? 😉

    Anyway, I love the idea of having a few staple pieces that you can then mix and match with other things. I’m finally starting to move in that direction (getting cardigans that would go with multiple dresses/tops, etc.), but I’m ready to pull a full-on Marie Kondo and get rid of some of my more joyless pieces. I’m just afraid I’d be stuck without clothes. 😛 It’s a work in progress!

    • Didn’t I tell you I’m psychic? 😛

      I think you can do it a bit at a time, and slowly replace the things that don’t bring you joy? I can’t decide if I want to read Marie Kondo; I like some of the things she says, but other things are just bonkers.

  3. Great post, Leah! I too have edited down my wardrobe quite a bit (for me it’s been in the past year or so). I don’t abide by a rigid number of items either, and except for obvious things like sweaters or flowered summer dressers, most of my clothing stays in rotation year-round (I wear tanks even in winter, underneath cardigans).

    • I wear tanks under cardigans in the winter, too 🙂 I kind of have seasonal color palettes, so that’s a factor in what gets put away; the burgundy dress and mustard sweater come out for fall but don’t really get worn in the spring, when I’m all about fresh blues.

  4. I recently started Stitch Fix, so put together a Pinterest board and have been thinking about specific pieces I’d like them to include in my box. Now..I need to get to the editing portion of this post. Trouble is that whenever I have some free time I’m like “read or clean out my closet”…and guess which one wins! But, we’re in a rental house so I kind of assume that whenever we move I’ll clean out a bunch of stuff!

    But, I love the general principles of this and agree that the restrictive rules might be a bit too much!

    • Haha, that struggle is real! I’ve actually found moving is a really tough time to weed things out; there’s soooo much to do that it’s easiest to just throw everything in boxes, and it’s hard to take the time to go through everything and do a cull. I’m hoping to move in the next few months, so I’d like to start slowly tackling things beforehand – the basement storage cage one week, the hall closet the next, etc.

  5. I’ve found myself gravitating toward more of this idea. Mostly because I’m picky, and I’ll always gravitate toward the most comfy items in my closet, so having those be the stars with ways to switch them up is a winner for me.

  6. I’ve always wanted to have more pieces in my wardrobe that I could recombine in interesting ways. I also know I’m going to be moving to a smaller apartment soon, so the idea of a smaller wardrobe appeals to me as well. Right now, a capsule wardrobe seems like a great fit for me 🙂

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