What's the deal with capsule wardrobes?

Ah, yes. The capsule wardrobe.

What is it? Why should one consider it? How does one start?

I’m excited to talk about capsule wardrobes because it was basically the catalyst that catapulted me into the “minimalish” (I swear, I’m coining this term) lifestyle I’ve found so rewarding. And hey, if I can spread that joy on to anyone else, even just one person, then my job here is done! Of course, like everything else under the sun, a capsule wardrobe isn’t necessarily a good fit for everyone, so if it doesn’t resonate with you, that’s fine, too! But if something here strikes a chord, consider giving it a shot, even for just a little while, to see what you think.

What is a capsule wardrobe?

If you are new to the concept, it might sound really boring and stuffy. Or maybe that was just me: So what’s the deal? I have to get rid of all my clothes, only have 20 items, everything has to be bland so it will work together, and I’ll have to wear the same thing every day until I die?

“A well-used minimum suffices for everything.” ― Jules Verne

“A well-used minimum suffices for everything.” ― Jules Verne

In reality, it’s nothing like that. Unless, of course, you’re into that sort of thing (not judging!).

Really, some people do intentionally repeat the same clothing combinations over and over to create a uniform-like effect. Think Steve Jobs and his black-turtleneck-and-dad-jeans combo that is forever seared into our collective memory. There’s really only one word for that, and it’s iconic. Not stuffy or boring. Other successful people use this technique as well, and here are 8 reasons why.

But anyway!

A capsule wardrobe is a minimal, interchangeable wardrobe of a finite number, yes, but the kicker is that you chose that number and it’s made of clothes you actually love to wear. And it evolves with you! As an item wears out or no longer fits or suits you, you can retire it (toss, sell, or donate) and select a new piece you love. While what’s considered “minimal” is different for every person, and there’s no one magic number to be confined to, note that the original description of a capsule wardrobe is meant to connote an emphasis on fewer items and less consumerism, as shown below in a excerpt from an article from Fashion Magazine:

“Credit for coining the term “capsule wardrobe” goes to London boutique owner Susie Faux in the 1970s... At the time, a capsule wardrobe was defined as a compact wardrobe made up of staple pieces in coordinating colours–usually in the realm of 30 items or fewer, including shoes and sometimes even accessories. Faux suggested fewer than a dozen items for an ideal capsule wardrobe. One might update the wardrobe with a couple of new trendy or seasonal items two or three times a year, but that was it. The goal was to have a streamlined wardrobe of high-quality pieces that could be worn often and interchangeably, thereby saving money, closet space, and time.”

Minimal for you might be 10 pieces or 100 pieces or somewhere in between. For me, my first capsule wardrobe that I used was for fall and winter, and it had 42 items (including footwear and my coat), and amazingly I never once felt constricted or bored with my outfits. In fact, I feel like I got even more creative, mixing and matching pieces. Additionally, after making the capsule out of only items that I love, I found I began regularly wearing these amazing pieces I had been saving for “special occasions” that never presented themselves, making getting dressed feel like an exciting event.  

“The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don't.” ― Joshua Becker

“The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don't.” ― Joshua Becker

Why should one consider it?

A capsule wardrobe offers some amazing benefits I never expected. Getting dressed is easier, less stressful, and takes less time, and I’m more excited about what I’m wearing because it’s all items I love. My mind feels less scattered, and my spaces are tidier. I’m not tossing money to the wind buying items I don’t love and won’t wear. I had such a positive experience with downsizing and “curating” my closet that I wanted to apply the same ideas to other areas of my life. Basically, trying out a capsule wardrobe lead me down an entirely new path and spawned my whole new “minimalish” lifestyle. I guess less really is more!

Now when I shop (if I shop), I’m able to shop with a specific goal in mind, such as replacing an item that has worn out. I definitely have been able to regain control of my shopping habits, which is a big deal as I come from a long line of illustrious shop-’til-you-droppers. Freedom from the guilt of overspending is another bonus, as is the freedom from the perpetual hunt for new items. Unnecessary clothing items no longer spontaneously accumulate in my home from goalless, habitual shopping. No more overflowing drawers. And no more buyer’s remorse! I don’t think anyone’s wardrobe, capsule or otherwise, is ever “complete”, but since I know I already have what I need I can easily ignore the siren call of the mall or my old online shopping haunts.

Using this approach also let’s me focus on what matters to me, the big picture. For me, I want to know that the items I buy now are made ethically and responsibly, and I consciously want to reduce my eco footprint. When I’m shopping with a specific goal and intention, and not just out of boredom or for pleasure, I am better able to take this into account when considering an item to purchase. Additionally, these kinds of items are usually pricier (and for good reason), so it makes buying the one or two items I occasionally need affordable. Quality over quantity! Additionally, I can put the extra money I’m not spending on “fast fashion” in the bank, or towards important things like paying down my student loans or our mortgage.

Sounds good, right? But how do you put it all together?

“The problem: we put more value on our stuff than on our space” ― Francine Jay

“The problem: we put more value on our stuff than on our space” ― Francine Jay

How does one start?

Interested in trying a capsule wardrobe? Here’s my advice:

  1. Use a guide. Fortunately for us rookies, many have forged the path before and paved the way for us to follow. Check out my favorite capsule wardrobe guide, which has a free wardrobe planner to boot! A few places to learn more about capsule wardrobes are UnFancy, BeMoreWithLess (home of Project 333), and this post by Fashion Magazine. Pinterest also has a ton of great examples of capsule wardobes! If you just want to dip your toes, you can try a 10x10 challenge where you pick only 10 items to mix and match for 10 days. Check out my current 10x10 challenge!

  2. Or use a service. I use Cladwell's capsule app, and I think it’s well worth the $5 per month. Here’s how it works: First, you choose your color palette (neutrals, mains, and accents) and style (Girl Next Door, Eclectic Grunge, Modern Minimalist, etc.). Then Cladwell provides you with a smattering of daily activities, and you choose the ones you actually do. Each activity allows you to edit the times per week you do it, and what you like to wear during the activity. Examples of activities include Work, Date Night, and Social, to name a few. The app also allows you to select the level of variety (total pieces) you want from minimal variety to maximum variety. After you finish, Cladwell’s capsule app generates a capsule wardrobe for you based on your responses. It so nice, and takes all the work out of it. You can also check out Cladwell's Blog for great information on capsules and beyond. Oh, and Cladwell also has a Pinterest where you can follow boards of styles that resonate most with you.

  3. Decide what you want to keep. I suggest going full-on KonMari on your clothes (For real, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up should be required reading). To do so means going through every single item of your clothing in one room at one time. I know it sounds overwhelming, and it can be, but it is so worth it -- especially if one of your reasons for wanting to try a capsule wardrobe is to de-clutter and pare down. When going through your clothes, ask yourself what you want to keep, instead of what you want to get rid of. Just this little shift in thinking can make a huge difference in helping you find the items you truly love. Have one pile for “love it” (those items you actually wear, that fit you, and that fill you with good feelings with you look at or touch them) and another pile for everything else (you can address this pile later).

  4. Choose your core neutrals with care. Pick out your very favorite neutral base items. What colors do you gravitate towards? These core pieces should allow your other items to be mixed and matched with ease; keep this in mind when selecting. Black, grey, olive, khaki, or brown are all very versatile neutrals to build on. Find out more about colors here, or try an interactive color palette.

  5. Shop your closet first. Use pieces from your “love it” pile to complete your capsule wardrobe guide or generated Cladwell capsule. Grab your very favorite pieces that you know are going to be versatile. Fill in the gaps where you need to by finding an acceptable item out of the “other” pile, or by buying the item you need (though really try to find an item you own that fits the bill first).

  6. Discover your true style. Before I tried using a capsule wardrobe, I was guilty of buying items from those “classics for every closet” pins on Pinterest because I felt clueless. I didn’t feel confident in my own style. Actually, I didn’t even think I had my own style until I looked at my “love it” pile and saw obvious patterns. If you are struggling to find your style, do yourself a favor and take stock of your own “love it” pile; then be realistic about your needs and lifestyle and dress accordingly. It could be that you’ll get way more out of a pair of skinny jeans you actually love to wear than that classic pencil skirt you bought but haven’t touched (or vice versa, depending on your style!).

  7. Bonus: Make some money while you’re at it. Now for that “other” pile! When I did my “Closet Cleanout” I noticed that many of the items I was ready to part with were still in great shape and would definitely be sellable. Since I had so much to get rid of (and some time on my hands) I decided to have a yard sale. If you find yourself in the same position and a yard sale isn’t your thing, you could check into listing items on Craigslist or ebay, or try a physical consignment shop like Plato’s Closet or Clothes Mentor. Another option is online consignment shops, like PoshMark, Tradesy, and ThredUP. Additionally, there are always charities that would be overjoyed to receive your discarded clothes!

  8. What to do with the leftovers from your “love it” pile? I found that I had items in my “love it” pile that would be useful in another season; things like sweaters that I wouldn’t wear year-round. I stored what made sense after scrutinizing the pile one more time to make sure I wanted to keep it all. I also initially I didn’t want to rush to get rid of everything completely in case I hated the capsule wardrobe thing -- I didn’t want to be left with nothing! Thankfully I really enjoy using a capsule wardrobe, so that has allowed me to part with much more from this pile, knowing that I love other pieces more and that those pieces suit me better. I think ideally I’d like to stay under 45 pieces for each season, with many of the items overlapping (tee shirts, button-ups, etc.), but I’m still new at this so I’m trying to figure out that sweet spot for myself. My goal now is to live with what I’ve got, and really only shop for a new item when something from my capsule wears out or doesn’t fit or suit me anymore. My style is not really trendy at all, so this should work well for me. For someone else who likes to follow current trends, switching out pieces more frequently may work better.

And that pretty much sums it up!

Did I miss anything? Do you have tips I haven’t included? A different approach to capsule wardrobes? Let me know in the comments!