How to Build Your Capsule Wardrobe

Over the last few months, I’ve become really interested in the idea of intentional living. If you missed my post from June, intentional living just means your actions align with your beliefs and larger goals. One of the ways this has shaped my daily life is through my clothes. Taking a simple approach to your wardrobe doesn’t mean reducing it to five black tops and some jeans (although if that’s your style, I’m not here to judge!). Today I’m going to show you guys how you can start to put together a basic, unique capsule wardrobe.

I’ve always wanted to take a simpler approach to my wardrobe, but also would always procrastinate. However, once I decided I was leaving New York, moving halfway across the world was as good as an excuse as any to donate clothes.

Through some trial and error, and a lot of do I even wear this?, I now have my capsule wardrobe reduced down to 40 pieces of clothing and 5 pairs of shoes.

It’s not necessarily winning any fashion awards, but these outfits usually receive a compliment or two, and are both simple, yet true to my own personal style.

How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe

WHAT THE HECK IS A CAPSULE WARDROBE?

Capsule wardrobes have gained popularity over the last few years, and are incredibly easy to put together once you know what your personal style is. A capsule wardrobe is made up of a few essential pieces - pants, dresses, skirts and shirts - that you can then pair with some seasonal items and accessories.

While the definition of how many pieces are a capsule wardrobe, you should aim for 50 pieces or less for a “true” capsule wardrobe. To help show what that actually looks like, we’re going to divide up the wardrobe into the following categories:

  • 15 tops

  • 10 pants and/or skirts

  • 5 dresses

  • 5 cardigans and/or blazers

  • 5 pairs of shoes

Some non-negotiable items within these categories are:

  • 1 nice, formal dress. You may not wear this item all the time if your work is more casual, but as a young professional, work related events and networking opportunities will always come.

  • 2-3 solid color shirts. White and black are the obvious choices, but feel free to add any other colors.

  • Dressier, everyday shoes. These are the perfect solution to dress up something casual, like a jumpsuit, until an after work date or other social occasion. My go-to is Steve Madden saddle shoes.

Obviously any one of these categories are subject to your own personal preferences and your work attire. Feel free to mix and match the numbers within each category, depending on what type of clothes you typically wear.

Jumping for Joy in Jumpsuits.  Jumpsuits have become my type of outfit to wear, because you can dress them up or down - making them a nice verstile addition to a capsule wardrobe.

Jumping for Joy in Jumpsuits. Jumpsuits have become my type of outfit to wear, because you can dress them up or down - making them a nice verstile addition to a capsule wardrobe.

For example, I prefer skirts over pants, but also have a pair of blue and black slacks for a more business look.

If you live in a climate that has variable weather, all you need to do is replace seasonal items, like shirts and tank tops, with sweaters and other appropriate outerwear.

Depending on who you’re talking to, some people will also buy 8-10 staple pieces for each season. However, I personally think that defeats the purpose. At that point, you end up with a wardrobe that's over 100+ items by the time the year is over! What’s simple about that?

A capsule wardrobe is supposed to remove the frustration and clutter of a traditional wardrobe, as well as help you save money.

I’m not saying you can’t ever buy new pieces with a capsule wardrobe, but try to be very judicious and ask yourself why you need to buy new clothes. If it’s for something practical, like you realized you prefer shorts, or you need a specific type of outfit for a special event - go for it! Just don’t make it a habit.

How to Create Capsule Wardrobe

SO, HOW DO YOU MAKE A CAPSULE WARDROBE?

Now that we have a basic starting point for what should be in your capsule wardrobe, start by looking at what you already have, and either make a mental note or keep a physical list of all the items you have.

Depending on how many clothes you have, this could take anywhere from half an hour to an entire day.

It’s also helpful to start sorting your clothes into things you definitely want to keep (for now) and items you want to donate.

After you’ve organized everything into keep or donate piles, look and see if there are any emerging color palettes. When I did this exercise a few weeks ago, I realized that most of my clothes were a mix of yellow and blue, with a few darker reds and oranges thrown in there.

Having a color palette is super important to the success of your capsule wardrobe. You want to pick and choose pieces that can easily be paired with other items to make a complete outfit.

A good rule of thumb is that for every one shirt you have, it should reasonably go with at least half of your bottoms. Remember, these items will be the only thing in your closet (besides a few pajamas and underwear), so they need to be versatile.

I love this red wine skirt I bought from American Apparel (RIP!) a few years ago, because I can literally wear it with just about anything.

Once you have a clear idea of what you already have and what types of colors you want to wear, now it’s time for the fun part.

SETTING UP YOUR CAPSULE WARDROBE

Remember that list of clothing categories we made a few paragraphs ago? You’ll want to get that out.

The list is a guide, but it’s not set in stone, so if you work at a job that requires a bit more business-wear, it’s totally fine to throw in an extra pair of pants or more dressier blouses.

Look back at everything in the original “keep” pile, and see how everything matches with whatever color palette and number of items in each clothing category you decided on.

Sometimes it’s hard to let go over certain pieces of clothing, especially if it has sentimental value - even if we never wear them any more.

If you’re torn about what you should donate, try putting them in a box or bag in your closet for a month and seeing if you end up wearing it. Most of the time it’ll just end up collecting dust.

As you’re making this list and you realize you don’t have some things, that’s okay.

The great thing about capsule wardrobes is that they don’t have to happen immediately. The Capsule Police aren’t going to come banging on your door if you start with 60 pieces as you figure out what works and what your personal style is.

Organizing this list also makes it easier to not to give into temptation when you do have to go shopping, because you already know exactly what you’re looking for and what color (within reason) it needs to be.

I made sure I saved some money before going out to buy the last few items on my capsule list, because I knew I wanted to invest in higher-quality items that I wouldn’t be able to find (or want to buy) at a fast-fashion store.

In general, I would try to stay away from big fast fashion chains.

Great outfits don't always have to be expensive.  This outfit is a combination of a skirt I got from J. Crew and a much cheaper, dressier blouse from a thrift store.

Great outfits don't always have to be expensive. This outfit is a combination of a skirt I got from J. Crew and a much cheaper, dressier blouse from a thrift store.

While the price tag looks great, these clothes are notoriously not the best quality. Since you’ll be wearing these items more often, they will be more likely to wear down quickly.

This doesn’t mean you’re spending an arm and a leg on couture brands, though. I started with a base wardrobe from places like Loft, but plan on donating a few pieces as I hit some savings goals to buy clothing that is more fair trade and ethical.

If money is a bit tight for you to buy things directly from the brand, thrift stores are a great way to invest in higher quality items at a heavy discount.

Another helpful tip is to make sure each piece complements something else in your wardrobe. It sounds a little obvious at first, but if your color of choice is blue and red, throwing a pair of green shorts - even if they are really cute - probably won’t coordinate as well as a pair of black shorts.

That also goes with prints. I definitely don’t think a limited wardrobe is an excuse not to incorporate your own personal style, but again - make sure that comfy pair of batik pants goes with at least a few other tops.

PROS AND CONS OF A CAPSULE WARDROBE

Capsule Wardrobe

When I was packing earlier last week to travel to Panama, I was able to fit all of my clothes for the next several months into one carry-on. I’ve never felt lighter while traveling!

Setting up my capsule wardrobe has changed how I think about fashion, how much I spend on clothing, and what my own personal style is. It’s pretty clear there are some benefits:

  • You already know, within reason, what you’re going to wear each day because you’re not sorting through an avalanche of clothes.

  • It’s a great way to cut down on spending, since you know exactly what you need to purchase at the store when you’re starting your capsule wardrobe, and there’s enough versatility to have a variety of different outfits.

  • You’re investing in higher-quality pieces, which means they’re not going to wear down as quickly as items from fast fashion retailers, like H&M or Forever 21.

This isn’t to say a capsule wardrobe is for everyone though. A limited wardrobe may not be for you for a few reasons:

  • If you work in a more professional setting where business suits are the norm, having a smaller wardrobe may limit your casual wear options. However, this doesn't mean you still can't have a capsule wardrobe, but your weekend wear may be a bit more streamlined.

  • You don’t believe in what you’re doing. The quickest way to break a capsule wardrobe is if you start buying bagfuls of clothes at the first sale you find. Creating a capsule wardrobe is a commitment, so if you’re not in it for the right reasons, it can be pretty easy to fall off the wagon.

  • You like having more variety and choices of clothing - and you actually wear most of the clothes in your closet on a consistent basis.

How to Create Capsule Wardrobe

Now that you guys know the basics of creating your own capsule wardrobe, are you ready to start purging your closet?

Even if you don’t end up starting a capsule wardrobe, I still think it’s a good idea to re-evaluate your wardrobe from time to time.

Do you have a capsule wardrobe? Or maybe you’ve tried to make one and you spectacularly failed! I want to hear from you guys!