A Word on Capsule Wardrobes

If you've so much as peeked at a fashion blog lately, chances are likely you've run across the term capsule wardrobe. The popularity of this minimally-minded, carefully-tended collection continues to snowball, particularly with eco-conscious fashion gaining more momentum.

As detailed in my Style Journey series, I've been on-the-verge obsessed with wardrobe structure and personal style for a little over a decade now, and I've worked my way through almost two years' worth of capsules since my first examination of the subject. Only a few months ago did I really start to grasp what works best for my lifestyle, my budget, and my creative impulse. I preface with these points to affirm my commitment to a movement which, unfortunately, many are using as an excuse to shop more often.

Whether you're an OG capsuler or you've merely toyed with the concept, I wanted to offer some insight beyond the generic how-to guide; to dig deeper into the hows and whys of the capsuling process.

What a Capsule Wardrobe Should Do:

Simplify the daily dressing process --though not so much that it becomes boring!

Ideally, a capsule wardrobe is widely intermixable, with a style and color concept enabling this. This means that, in theory, you could go to your closet and pull two things at random with a good chance of them "going" together.

Showcase your personality in a lifestyle-appropriate way

The right capsule wardrobe will accurately reflect your "you-ness" while still adhering to the constraints of your lifestyle. This means if you love disco dresses but you work five days a week in a conservative library, you're going to have to make a few concessions. Still, your cardigans ought to have some shiny buttons or something.

Keep your budget in balance and your shopping in check

There's a strange conundrum in life: the less we have, the less we seem to crave. More logically, the less we crave, the less money we spend. This presupposes that the things we have include the things we actually need. Most of us don't need to a new outfit for every day of the year. That myth should have ended with Sex and the City.

What a Capsule Wardrobe Should Not Do:


Necessitate a mammoth purging of your pre-owned pieces.

Assuming you're capsuling for the purpose of simplifying, and assuming you give two shits about our planet Earth, whittling your current closet down to some fashionista's list of must-have items kind of undermines the greater principle. Better to wear out the jeans you already own than throw them out in favor of an on-trend style. Kind of like making an effort to actually eat the groceries you purchased before ordering take-out.


Confine you to a minimalist aesthetic.

Minimalism -- stylistically speaking, rather than lifestyle-wise -- is definitely having a moment right now. You don't need to go far in this city to find a pair of artistically-ripped black jeans, flanked by a white button-down and Adidas. Since most bloggers are interested in what is trendy (and also what photographs well) it makes sense that their own capsules reflect this aesthetic. That doesn't mean yours needs to as well. In fact, for purely selfish/snobbish reasons, I implore you to dig deeper than black and white and striped -- there are more animals in the kingdom than zebras, after all!


Foster mindless consumerism. 

Part of the logic behind establishing a set list or number of items is to avoid unnecessary, impulsive shopping trips. Few of us can make wise decisions on the fly, and if impulse shopping is your joi de vivre, chances are there's a darker impulse driving it. Capsuling should help you face these issues head on, rather than enabling them. Don't bend the rules for bad habits' sake!

Common Problems & FAQs


I already have a ton of clothes... how do I weed out the bad seeds?

The first time I created a capsule, I stored a bunch of stuff for "seasonal" consideration. The second time, I expanded the number of items in my collection so I could include everything. I justified these amendments as being necessary for my individual lifestyle. Truthfully, I just didn't want to get rid of anything. Whether it was sentiment, guilt, or fear of boredom, I was a prisoner in my own closet.

Here's how you Shawshank your way out:
  1.  Choose someone you want to look like. (Pro tip: This is called a style icon.)
  2.  Research their outfits, until you have a good handle on their essential style. (This is called a style concept.)
  3.  Go through your closet, piece by piece, asking yourself if your chosen icon would wear this item or not. Give yourself some flexibility here; if your style icon is Prince and you're short one glitter-encrusted purple coat, trust that a well-tailored piece in black velvet would still fit the bill.
  4.  Donate or sell what doesn't fit your style concept. Construct your wardrobe off the rest.

I don't have a "style concept," and I don't know where to get one.

Many people mistake having style for being trendy or wearing what's currently "in." While that can factor into it, being stylish is more about a confidence with who you are and how you choose to outwardly express that. If you believe yourself to be frumpy, dated, or above-it-all (and if you aren't interested in changing that), then by all means continue wearing what reflects those adjectives. If you'd like to communicate otherwise, however, but you're not sure where to begin, here are some gentle approaches:

  • Was there a point in life when you felt most confident with your style? If so, try to pinpoint exactly what it was about the clothes from that period that you liked.
  •  Buy some fashion magazines or blogs. Bookmark the pages that speak to you, without questioning their practicality in your own life.
  •  Sit at a cafe and people-watch. When you see a look you like, make note of it. 

and finally a not-so-gentle approach, for the polar plungers among us:

  •  Go to a thrift store. Set a small budget for yourself. Buy the first three items that speak to you, with no judgment or concern about how they'll jive with your closet. Take these pieces home and hang them where you can see them. Study them. Better yet, wear them out in the world. If the items match your personality, chances are you'll receive comments from others that give you hints as to why they're "just your style."


My work wardrobe is very different from what I wear otherwise.

Make two capsules! I'm surprised this hasn't been more widely discussed or exemplified in the blogging world... I suppose it's because most bloggers have the benefit of working out of their home, though. For the first time this season, I'm separating my work wardrobe from my "play" clothes. It's a relief to know everything in the former section is boss-appropriate -- and also that my favorite silk dress will never be tempted into the reach of jam hands. (I nanny.)


I have more than (10, 20, 37...) items.

While setting limits for yourself can be very helpful, proscribing to someone else's standard likely won't get you anywhere. A better approach is starting with the maximum items you think you'll need (maybe two laundry period's worth) and reducing from there.


What if I get bored with the clothes I choose?

This is something I was particularly worried about as I started my first capsule, but which decreased as my personal style solidified. At first, having fewer clothes to choose from seemed limiting, but eventually I started to value quality over quantity. I didn't mind wearing my absolute favorite dress to every date night, simply because it was my absolute favorite! If the purpose of a date is to look smashing, having three almost-right dresses won't do you much good. Eventually, the dress will wear and you can find something new. Enjoy it fully now, though. :)

A final note, regarding author bias:
I'm Type A to a t, and I enjoy creating lists, charts, and spreadsheets -- taking wardrobe inventory, creating outfits, and all that. If allowed, I could probably spend days doing exclusively this. As such, I feel like some of this advice might be biased toward people of a similar disposition.
That aside, I'm confident that by playing within your own guidelines -- yet keeping the simple aim of the capsule process close to heart -- you can find an approach that works for you.

Happy Capsuling!

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