How To Create a Capsule Wardrobe

capsule wardrobe

What if I told you that owning less clothing would end your nothing-to-wear syndrome? That’s the theory behind a capsule wardrobe — a small collection of largely seasonless, versatile basics. Having an extremely flexible wardrobe reduces the number of items you sift through each day, while also giving you more options.

Here’s how to make your own.

Do More With Less

Do More With Less

What if I told you that owning less clothing would end your nothing-to-wear syndrome? That’s the theory behind a capsule wardrobe — a small collection of largely seasonless, versatile basics. Having an extremely flexible wardrobe reduces the number of items you sift through each day, while also giving you more options.

Here’s how to make your own.

First, Purge

First, Purge

We love to hang on to pieces that have sentimental value or that were a bit of a splurge, but eliminating items you don’t wear can be a liberating, therapeutic process.

Sort your clothes into three categories:

  • What you love and will keep
  • Items to be discarded
  • Clothing you can’t part with, but don’t wear

Put that third category in a separate closet and keep the pieces for one to three months. If you haven’t missed them after the season, it’s time to eliminate them.

What You Need

What You Need

Your capsule can contain as few as 35 items (excluding workout clothes, undergarments, and pajamas), but don’t beat yourself up if that exact number doesn’t serve you. To get started, here’s a sample capsule wardrobe, which you can adjust according to your workplace and lifestyle:

  • 2-3 work pants (fewer if you work in a creative office and wear jeans)
  • 2-3 dresses
  • 2-3 tanks
  • 2 pairs of jeans (dark; white or a lighter color)
  • 1-2 skirts
  • 3 blouses (short-sleeved, long-sleeved, sleeveless — depending on climate, body, preference)
  • 2-3 T-shirts
  • 2-3 blazers
  • 3-5 sweaters with variation in weight and warmth
  • 5-10 pairs of shoes (include boots, sneakers, flats, heels, sandals)
  • 3 jackets (winter, spring/fall, raincoat)
  • 3 handbags (year-round, summer, evening)
  • 2-3 scarves (one heavy, one light)
  • 4-10 pieces of signature jewelry

Most capsule wardrobes will be rooted in neutral colors and classic pieces, but it’s nice to have a few standout pieces with creative details and edge. Those items can still operate as some of your signature staples, despite the fact that they aren’t neutral. Remember: Neutral is relative — for some it may mean stripes, while others will interpret it as black or tan.

Fill in the Blanks

Fill in the Blanks

What key pieces are missing from your collection? Refer back to the capsule wardrobe list and check off what you already own, noting condition and fit. If a piece is on its way out, add it to your upcoming list of items you want to target and replace. If it’s questionable because of fit, make a pile for items that need to be taken to the tailor — then actually commit to taking them to the tailor!

Shop Consciously

Shop Consciously

There’s no room for impulse purchases in capsule wardrobes, so make sure each piece is deliberate and cohesive. Creating a budget is key. I find an annual budget to be more effective than a monthly allowance, as it’s efficient and practical to buy at certain times of the year.

Sticking to your list when you’re in stores or browsing online is essential. It’s easy to get derailed — so if something isn’t on your list, bookmark it or take a photo of it, and consider it for a while before making the purchase.

Integrate

Integrate

Once you’ve purged and made some strategic purchases, it’s time to take a fresh look at your new, curated collection. Avoid the need to create “outfits,” as everything should more or less work together. Instead, examine the collection as an active flow and practice moving the pieces around like a flexible puzzle. You will likely identify some still-missing items, which is to be expected. Move those to the top of your ongoing wish list and keep an eye out for those pieces when sifting through sales or browsing online.

It is very possible that some items remaining in your closet simply won’t be part of the capsule, but will stay in your wardrobe nonetheless. We all have one-off items that are worn infrequently for very specific occasions. Keep those in a separate section of your closet or pushed to the back, so you can display your capsule items in easy-to-access locations.

Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and the "thinking person's stylist." She is the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image and culture-related issues and offers holistic image consulting and life coaching services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.

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