How To Build A Work-Friendly Capsule Wardrobe

One of the most common questions surrounding capsule wardrobes is how to construct one that accommodates both your worklife and your everyday / "off" life. Many of us deal with dress codes, uniforms, or other presentational guidelines at work -- and sometimes our personal style just doesn't suit our chosen career path! Whether you work in construction or corporate law, however, there are many ways to design a work-friendly capsule wardrobe without sacrificing your personal style.

Host Wardrobe (F2016)

In my four years since college, I've held five separate jobs alongside my chosen acting career (which, costumes aside, requires its own wardrobe suited to the constant movement and on-your-feet nature of rehearsals.) These five day jobs each called for a markedly different style of dress than what I was used to wearing around campus.

When I worked in real estate, I needed office-appropriate clothes that would also permit movement through apartment tours and meetings with contractors in sawdust-covered renovation sites. My telecommuting jobs -- writing, website management, and bookkeeping -- allowed me to work from home. Still, I've never been the type of person who can do their best while wearing pajamas, and occasional in-person conferences with my employers required presentable daywear regardless. At present, nannying requires a similar wardrobe.

Up until a few weeks ago, I had my capsule system down to a T. One set of clothes included my weekend and audition wear. A second, much smaller collection functioned as my nanny wardrobe. Since adopting a second job as a restaurant hostess, however, I've had to readjust my style -- essentially making room for the kind of chic items that always peppered my New York dreams, but which ultimately proved impractical alongside aggressive and all-too-affectionate jam hands.

I wondered: How could I stylishly reconcile these three very-different arenas of my life?

Enter the three-part capsule wardrobe.

The idea is not radical, if you understand capsule basics: Rather than building one all-encompassing wardrobe with lots of mix-and-match options, I chose to separate my clothes into three activity-based categories and build from there:

1 - weekend activities (friend dates, errands, city-wandering, shopping)
2 - nanny & personal assistant work
3 - auditions & restaurant work

To estimate roughly how many items I would need, I applied the kind of "laundry bottleneck" analysis described by Into-Mind (link.)

Completing these tandem processes quickly revealed existing "holes" in my closet. For one thing, I had too many shoes, only one of which proved properly suited to my new job. Most of my cold-weather gear was worn-out from last season, and I somehow had more lightweight outerwear than I knew what to do with. After dragging everything onto my bed, sorting by color, mixing and matching, and going through a few rounds of "how many oversized sweaters do I need, really?" I finally settled on something that resembled three funtional wardrobes, with a list of just five or so missing elements to thrift.

It's been a couple weeks since finalizing my three capsules, and I couldn't be happier with how they've turned out. I can't wait to get dressed on my days off (a delight which ensures this lazy housecat ventures beyond her living room on Saturday afternoons...) and my work clothes are now simple and streamlined, leaving more time for focused hair styling and second breakfasting.

Nanny Capsule (F2016)

For those of you interested, I've created a step-by-step breakdown of the process, below. I'd love to hear how it goes for you if and when you try it!

Part One: Plan

1) Before opening your closet, take some time with a blank sheet of paper to calculate your personal laundry cycle's worth of outfits. For me, that meant about 10 outfits per week. Divide said outfits into activities. For example:

10 TOTAL outfits = 3 nanny days + 4 hostess days + 3 off days

2) Next, consider what each of these outfits might look like. What kind of clothes do you tend to wear to these activities? If you're stumped, sort through blogs, magazines, or Pinterest for inspiration. Or take a look at what your boss and coworkers are wearing. Again, here's an example from my own notes:

3 nanny outfits:
-wrap dress + boots + parka
-light-knit sweater + flare jeans + sneakers
-t-shirt + skinny jeans+ ankle boots + cardigan

4 hostess outfits:
-blazer + silk blouse + cropped trousers
-a-line dress + heeled booties + overcoat
-silk blouse + black jeans + ankle boots
-button-down + pencil skirt + work heels

3 off-day outfits:
-silk blouse + chunky sweater + skinny jeans + oxfords
-collared blouse + sweater + pencil skirt + heels + wool coat
-knit dress + knee boots + moto jacket

You now have a bare-bones idea of what you need on-hand for one laundry cycle of outfits. If your preferences lean in the minimalist direction, this might be a perfect amount clothes for you. For the sake of variety and/or laundry emergencies, though, most of us prefer to have a few more options. To err on the safe side, you might multiply your results by 2 -- or simply add a few extra days to your laundry cycle before plotting your outfits.

3) Now make a list of your items, as such:

1 dress 
1 sweater
1 t-shirt
2 jeans
1 parka
1 jacket
1 cardigan
1 sneaker
2 boots

Remember to consider which items make multiple appearances on your list, as well as the ones you might wear more than once. For instance, I might don a parka for two chilly days of nannying, but that doesn't mean I need two separate parkas!

Part Two: Compile

1) Here comes the hands-on part. Pull everything out of your closet and onto your bed. If you store clothes seasonally, pull out any in-season garments as well. Be sure to check your laundry -- you want to consider everything.

2) Sort your garments into piles by type (sweaters, pants, skirts, dresses, etc.) It's helpful to group each category by color as well, in order to locate duplicates or preexisting palettes.

3) Using the list you generated in Part One as a guide, begin building your capsule piece by piece. Remember to remain flexible! You may find that the cardigans and skirts you have on hand are in discordant colors, but an available dress fills the same niche. Of course, you can always draft a shopping list to fill in any missing pieces, but try to consider what you already own first.

4) Once you've fulfilled most of your listed items, look over any remainders on the bed. (You may have none, and that's great!) Ask yourself if you'd be comfortable parting with these leftovers. Maybe an item belongs in another season and should be moved into storage. Maybe another no longer suits your style and can be passed on to a friend or donated. Beware clinging to sentimental items; depending on your lifestyle and living situation, some of these may be appropriate to place in (deep) storage, but avoid turning your home into a museum of nostalgia. It's probably best not to let our memories chain themselves to belongings.

Off Wardrobe (F2016)

Feel free to share your experience and questions below! I'm thrilled to be of any assistance on your journey. :)

Happy capsuling!

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