Capsule Wardrobe: The Ultimate Guide
Part I: The Overview
Part II: My Capsule
Part III: Why Should You Have a Capsule? The Pros & Cons.
Part IV: How To Build A Capsule, A Step-By-Step Guide
Part V: Resources & Inspiration
Part I: The Overview
An idea that struck me about a year ago was the capsule wardrobe. I first heard about it through my obsession with all things Parisian. I heard of the Five Piece French Wardrobe, and it has been an obsession of mine ever since.
I love all things minimal and chic, and the five piece French wardrobe is exactly that. So, what is it? Basically, it is a concept that you have a capsule wardrobe of classic, quality basics: plain tees, denim, pants, shirts, dresses, and shoes that are neutral enough to go with many other pieces of clothing. For example, a white tee, black Ponte pants, black leather ankle boots. All versatile, all chic, all basic. So that is your basic capsule wardrobe. Then, you get to add 5 seasonal pieces in fall/winter and spring/summer. For example, a floral shirt or wintry blazer.
So to recap, the 5 Piece French Wardrobe:
BASICS CAPSULE + 5 SEASONAL PIECES
This is the type of capsule wardrobe I can sign up for, because a difficulty that everyone has with sticking to a narrow capsule wardrobe is lack of variability, lack of freshness. It is hard to keep wearing the same things over and over again without buying anything new! However, I feel that the 5PFW is a way to be conscientious and limit your new additions to 5 quality pieces a season.
Now, as for your 5 pieces, you can choose to add 5 every season (fall, winter, summer, spring, or every 3 months), or 5 per fall/winter and spring/summer together (so, every 6 months). This all depends on your budget and how often you prefer to add new things. If you’re a newbie to capsule wardrobes and minimalism, that might be a good way to start out as your try to limit your purchases and change your way of shopping.
Part II: Why Should You Have A Capsule? The Pro’s & Cons
Everyone’s reason for looking into a capsule wardrobe is different. It could be to save money, to save time, to save space. For me, it was all of these things, but also I was passionate about only owning clothing I loved, and not being distracted by pieces I was neutral about or never wore. I hate, hate, hate clutter. However, a capsule wardrobe can have drawbacks. I summarize the pros & cons below.
Save: time, money, space.
Having less clutter in your closet will help you get dressed faster! And committing to a downsized wardrobe can help you save money and save time when shopping.
Define and refine your style.
Only own what you love and what you consistently and regularly wear. Refine your closet so that you only own pieces that fit in with your personal, unique style. Don’t have things you don’t like in your home.
make space for quality.
Having less clothes in your closet lets you have more space and resources for quality pieces. If you buy less, you can buy more high quality pieces that will last year after year.
Be more confident in your clothing.
Only owning high quality pieces that fit you beautifully will lend you more confidence in your every day life. You will feel better in what you wear, because you’ve tried them on and decided beforehand that they fit you well.
Be more ethical.
Consume less and help shop more ethically! Owning and consuming less is a much more ethical way to shop.
It Can feel limiting.
But ONLY if you don’t do it right! No need to get obsessive about having as little as possible or having a specific number. More below…
Less room for unlimited impulse purchases.
Oh, wait, is this a pro?! For those of you (ahem, me…) who get a thrill out of little impulse purchases, the capsule wardrobe doesn’t allow this so much. However, this can be a really amazing thing! It should help you be more conscious about your purchases.
It can have less personality & flair.
But AGAIN, if you don’t do it right! When people think about capsule wardrobes, they think about whites, blacks, greys. But if you do it the way I’ve outlined below, you’ll see there is plenty of room for vivacity and your own personal flair!
Part III: My Capsule
WINTER BASICS CAPSULE
Basics Capsule Total: 31
5 SEASONAL PIECES
Sezane Black Button-Back Silk Blouse
Note: my capsule does NOT contain active wear (leggings, running shoes, workout tees, etc.), but I do keep those limited to one drawer, so I don’t go overboard. I only replace things when they visibly wear out or get ruined. Generally, I like to have 3 leggings, 3 shorts, about 10 tops (short and long sleeve), one jacket, and one pair of running shoes. Total: 18 items. Not a number I obsess about.
Part IV: Steps To Building A Capsule Wardrobe
1.Define Your Style
Now you get to the good stuff: doing it yourself! Before you do anything, however, we need to define your style. Think about your ideal style and think about what you actually wear and try to marry those two together. Try to use just three words. For example, I'd love to be sophisticated chic Parisian, but I’m more modern and basic than that, so I call myself menswear-inspired modern Parisian. To me, this means I like to wear neutral basics, classical pieces with a Parisian inspiration (camel colored coats, Breton stripes, straight jeans, low heels).
Define your style in a simple phrase. For me: menswear-inspired modern Parisian.
Define what you DO like to wear. For me:
Colors: camel, navy, black, white, cream
Fabrics: cotton, silk, wool, leather, linen, cashmere, some rayon
Silhouettes: straight leg trousers, drapey overcoats, loose shirts with fitted pants
Design elements: collared shirts, button-ups, boatneck and crew neck
Navy and white stripes
Neutral, loose-fitting button-ups
Define what you DON’T like to wear. For me:
Colors: bright, loud, green, bright pink
Fabrics: polyester, synthetic
Silhouettes: super-tight jeans, culottes, full skirts, fit-and-flare
Design elements: distressing on jeans, lettering, overt branding, deep V necks
Graphic tees or clothes with writing
2. Clean Out Your Closet
Ok, now you have defined your style in three words, and you’ve decided what DO and what you DON’T like. Now, we’re going to go through what you already own.
Take everything out of your closet. Everything. Lay it all out on your bedroom floor.
Go through each item piece by piece. Touch each item. Ask yourself these questions:
Does it fit?
Is it in good shape?
Do you LOVE it?
Does it flatter you, right now?
Does it fit with your personal style (the one you described in a simple phrase)?
Is it in what you’ve decided DO like to wear?
If the answer to any of these questions are “no”, then get rid of it! (And by that, I mean donate, sell, or recycle). You need to be brutal. Most people only wear the same small percentage of their closet over and over again (like me!), and so you just don’t need to keep those things that you are wearing on a regular basis. If you haven’t reached for it in the last few months, there’s probably a reason: it doesn’t fit, doesn't flatter, is not comfortable on you, is not your style. So why hang on to it?
Keep only the things that give you joy.
I love using the KonMari method for this one. One great way to help get rid of things is only keeping things that give you joy. If you pick up a piece, and you don’t absolutely feel joy to own and wear it, you should let it go. This gives you space for the things that you truly do love. And just think, imagine that closet that is only full of things that 100% are in love with, that make you joyous and happy!
Separate everything into piles: Keep, Donate, Sell, Recycle, Off-Season Storage.*
*Note: this storage is not for your “maybes” and “I don’t knows”. It’s not for extra clothes you want to hide! It’s strictly for off-season staples and seasonal pieces like tank tops, sandals, summer dress, etc.
Below is a little cheat sheet from Anuschka Rees (author of The Curated Closet) that can help you make decisions:
3. Take Stock of What You Have Left
Count how many tops, bottoms, coats, shoes, and dresses you have left in your Keep pile.
Identify where you are lacking. Only one dress left? You’ll probably need one or two more.
Identify where you have excess. One dress, but ten coats? Do you need that many? Try to whittle down to one in each category: one winter coat, one seasonal, one raincoat, one dressy coat or trench, etc. Be honest and be brutal. But, if in the end you just absolutely cannot part with anything, then don’t! This isn’t meant to be restrictive. It’s meant to challenge you, yes, but not to punish you. Capsule wardrobes are NOT about strict rules (at least, to me).
Identify what you need to replace. See what needs to be upscaled or replaced with something higher quality/more neutral/better fitting.
How many pieces should you have?
As far as numbers, you don’t have to stick with a specific count. In fact, please don’t get obsessed with numbers! Some like to have a specific number, like 37 (as per blogger Unfancy). There is nothing magic about a number, but sometimes people like a certain number to make sure they don’t keep adding and adding without ever taking anything out of their closet. You may wish to say, "I’d like to keep my basics under 40 pieces.” Or 30. Or whatever number is comfortable but not excessive. Try to challenge yourself with a lower number than you think! Don’t have duplicates or anything that is not strictly a basic in your core capsule. However, do not freak out if you have 31 pieces when you said you’d be under 30. Just try to loosely stay to a reasonable, pared down collection. A capsule wardrobe should be fluid and fun and simple, not worrisome and restrictive!
4. Make a Plan
Decide on a budget. How much many are can you spend right now to either upgrade or replace your basics?
Make a wishlist for new pieces. Identify new items you would like to ADD to your basics capsule.
Make a wishlist for replacements. Identify what you would like to replace, and if those pieces are still integral to your wardrobe, then put them back in your closet and put a stick note or piece of ribbon/string around the hanger to flag them for replacement at a later date.
Organize your wishlist into high/medium/low priority. What do you need to replace RIGHT now? What can wait a little? What is to be bought in the future?
5. Add High Priority New Pieces
Peruse your favorite quality brands. Take your time. Do not impulse buy. Weigh your options, read online reviews.
Select high quality basics from your High Priority list. Use what you have in your budget and don’t exceed it! We’re trying to be responsible here.
6. Add New Pieces in order of priority.
Do this as you can afford it. If you sell something and make some money, see what next-priority basic you can get with the money. Don’t go overboard. In my opinion, there is no need to get everything in a super short time period. Of course, I am actually likely to do that, as I can get really carried away with projects. But do what works for you! This is a lifestyle change, not a “diet” or short-term trend.
Things to Keep in Mind About the Capsule Concept…
Be fluid. No need to worry about having a specific number. If you go 1-2 over what you said you’d have, don’t stress too much. Try to stay as true to the concept, but it shouldn’t stress you out.
One-in/one-out. For every item you buy, try to donate/sell something else. Don’t get rid of everything as you’re making your capsule, and then keep adding, adding, adding!
Refine & reassess with each new season. At the end of a season, take note of what you did & didn’t wear. Adjust your capsule as needed. And then look ahead to the next season. What are you missing? What do you have too much of? Adjust as needed.
tips on buying basics
If you are at a loss where to get basics, never fear! I have included links for most things about where I got my basics above (and there are pics of many below). Mostly, they are from Everlane and Vetta. I love these two brands with all my heart. They are ethical and very high quality. Vetta is also a brand that focuses on capsule wardrobes, and all of their pieces are multifunctional. For example, this blazer/dress can be a blazer, dress, vest, or coat! 4 functions for the price of one!
Where to get your pieces:
Tees, Denim, Pants, Trench Coat, Sweaters, Shoes: Everlane, Grana, Modern Citizen, H&M Conscious Collection, Tradlands
Versatile pieces, dresses, jackets: Vetta, A Day
Coats, Blazers, Seasonal Pieces: Your favorite brands! (Try for sustainable where you can) My favorites are: Reformation, Sezane, Rouje
Other good brands: Madewell, Amourt Vert, Nadaam (cashmere), ABLE, Elizabeth Suzann, & Other Stories, Girlfriend Collective
Ok, so now you know the basics for the Capsule Wardrobe. Now, the core of your capsule is the basics, and you want to make sure you choose pieces that can last year and year.
So what makes a good basic?
It is quality, and preferably from a sustainable, ethical brand. Look for cotton, silk, wool, cashmere, leather, and try to stay away from polyester and synthetics unless they are recycled (Everlane just released a new recycled line called ReNew!).
It is neutral. Don’t choose lime green for your basics! Stick to black, grey, navy, white, even blush, but nothing too loud that will be difficult to match. Save your experimenting for your seasonal pieces! You also want to make sure that your basics can work for all seasons as far as color — ie, don’t use floral for a basic cause that probably won’t work too well in the fall/winter, unless that’s your look!
It is classic. Don’t use trendy pieces as your basics. Trends come and go, but for your core pieces you don’t want to use a trendy item when the whole point is that these pieces year after year.
It fits you well, it fits you now. It fits and flatters you and the body you have right now, not the future body you want to have! You can also switch pieces out if you change size.
You wear it regularly, you LOVE it. You can’t live without this piece, and you wear it regularly!
So what makes a good seasonal piece?
Literally anything you want! Try to stick with quality again, but these five pieces are for you! You can go for something more trendy or colorful here to jazz up your wardrobe. I would advise that if you do decide to go for something more trendy, to not spend a lot of money on it, just knowing that you likely won’t wear it next season. Personally, for me, I don’t buy trends anymore! I have defined my style and I stick within that style (see above).
Part V: Resources & Inspiration
Want to learn more about minimal fashion & capsule wardrobes? Here are my main sources of inspiration below!
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo
The Curated Closet, Anuschka Rees
Lessons From Madame Chic, Jennifer L. Scott (check out my review here!)
Buy & sell clothes: Poshmark, Vinted, VarageSale, Mercari, Ebay, Letgo, TheRealReal, Instagram, Tictail
Shoptagr - make lists of clothes you want to buy & get notified when they’re on sale
Shopbop - designer brands at discounted rates
So this is my current guide on the capsule wardrobe! I hope you found some useful tips & resources. I am planning on posting soon about my 2018 Winter Capsule (including pics & brands) in the near future. I will try to update this post as I learn more!
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