What's the Big Deal About Capsule Wardrobes?

One of the biggest sustainable fashion buzz terms right now is “capsule wardrobe”. We hear about them all the time online, see clothing brands creating capsule collections, and also see capsule challenges like Project 333 and the 10 x 10 Challenge going viral. But what is a capsule wardrobe, anyway? What’s all the hype about? I’d like to dig into this a little bit and give you some of my thoughts and recommendations about creating a capsule of your own.

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What is a capsule wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe is a small collection of clothing (usually between 30 and 50 pieces) created with the idea of mixing and matching garments to create different styles. The idea behind the capsule wardrobe is finding ways to craft different “outfit formulas” so you can quickly pick out your clothing, saving you time in the morning. A lot of capsules are comprised of basic items in classic silhouettes that will never go out of style. A successful capsule wardrobe addresses all of your basic clothing needs throughout the week, while preventing you from over-stuffing your closet and dresser with additional pieces you rarely wear and don’t feel confident in.

The Benefits of Capsule Wardrobes

I’ve been maintaining a capsule wardrobe for about 2 years now, and the biggest value it adds to my life is that I know that everything in my closet fits me, and that I feel confident wearing it. I don’t put anything in my capsule I don’t feel good in. Anything that gives me a muffin top, una-boob or camel toe is out! I’ve worked very hard over the years to ensure I only keep things in my wardrobe that I feel are flattering, well-made, and suit my personality. There have been times when I’ve purchased something (especially online) that I thought would be a good fit for my capsule, and then tried it on and realized it just doesn’t work. We’re human, we all make mistakes, right? When this happens, I usually try to return the item, but if I can’t, I either attempt to upcycle it into something that better suits my needs, or I re-sell it. I’ve decided that my closet is a special place that only certain items are allowed to be. You only make the cut if you fit properly, suit my life, and “play well” with the other items in my capsule.   

The second thing I’ve loved about capsuling is the time it saves me getting ready in the morning. Since I don’t have to worry about items not fitting me or not feeling comfortable, it’s much easier to choose what to wear. Also, the simple fact that there are much fewer pieces in my closet saves me time fishing around for a particular item. I typically don’t plan out my outfits in advance, so it’s nice to just look at my closet, find something that catches my eye, and then quickly be able to find other things that go with it.

In addition to saving time, capsuling also prevents a lot of stress and anxiety for me. I don’t like being overwhelmed by too many choices (the Cheesecake Factory menu TOTALLY freaks me out!), so it’s really nice to have just a simple rack of clothing with a small number of items I can clearly see and process. When we have a lot of clothing in our wardrobes, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all. We often forget about certain things we own because we can’t even focus on individual items. Our pieces get swallowed up in the giant abyss of our closets. Before capsuling, I used to tell people that I might as well just blindfold myself and grab whatever is in front of me, because it was hard for me to put an outfit together with all of the different options staring me in the face. Now that I’ve made my capsule, I can actually see what I have, and natural patterns and collaborations just present themselves. Pretty handy, right?

I’ve also found that capsuling has saved me quite a bit of money. On average, I used to buy at least one or two pieces of clothing every month or so. I didn’t intend to, but it sort of felt like an addiction or a recurring itch I needed to scratch. Every few weeks I’d start thinking about wanting to go shopping, wanting that cute top I saw online, or even just wanting the confidence boost and high that came from buying something new. I guess you could say clothes shopping was part of my monthly “routine”. If I couldn’t actually go out shopping somewhere, I’d look for things online or browse through emails from my favorite stores. When money was tight, I’d find myself searching through the clearance section of my favorite stores, or buying things secondhand. I just needed that fix!

Now that I’ve started capsuling, I’m very picky about what I put in my closet. I don’t often buy new things unless I’m replacing something that’s worn out. I don’t think about shopping nearly as often and don’t feel that pressing need for something new. When I start to feel like my wardrobe is old and tired, I take a look at what I have and see if I can make different outfit combinations that I’ve never thought of before, or dress up garments with accessories and jewelry to create new looks. This has saved me a lot of money that I can now put toward other things like travel, my weekly pilates classes, or evenings out.

Every now and then, I’ll still buy things just because I like them. However, when I do, I make sure they follow these rules:

  1. Does it fit well?

  2. Will it go with at least 3 other things in my closet?

  3. Is it well-made? (here are some tips on how to determine this)

  4. Is it washable? (Dry clean only is just not my bag)

  5. Will I wear it at least 30 times? (see the previous blog post for details about the Wear 30 Challenge)

Following these simple rules has saved me so much money on impulse buys, and you know what? I’ve never regretted putting something back on the rack that didn’t meet these requirements.

Capsuling 101

The biggest thing to remember when you create your capsule is to make sure it stays neat and tidy. I personally don’t believe in setting a specific number of garments, but I do recommend that you keep it pretty minimal. It might be hard to narrow your closet down to so few pieces, but remember, you’re not preparing for the apocalypse. You don’t need to get rid of your other pieces, just store them somewhere else so they aren’t in your way when you’re trying to get ready in the morning. I have a couple of bins under my bed and in storage where I keep additional clothing that’s not in my capsule. If I need something or want to change up my capsule, these pieces are still easily accessible.

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Alright, now that we’ve learned some basics about capsule wardrobe creation, let’s get building already! Here are the steps I use when creating a capsule:

  1. If you’re new to capsuling, start by thinking about the different activities you do each week that you need different clothing for. Work, exercise, going out, lounging around the house… whatever it is that you do during the week. Write these categories down so you can make sure they’re all addressed in your capsule.

  2. Go through your clothing and gather the items you wear the most week after week. These are the items you’re going to build your capsule around. Take a look at each piece and think about why you like it so much. Is it because it’s comfy or fits well? Is it versatile? Think about why you choose these items time and time again over all the other pieces in your wardrobe. Once you’ve identified the reasons, keep them in mind while picking out other items for your capsule.

  3. Once you’ve created the “base” of your capsule (i.e. the garments you already wear a lot) look around in your closet for things that pair well with them. Try out different combinations and mix and match to create different looks. If you have an item that doesn’t pair well with other pieces in your capsule, you might want to re-assess whether or not it needs to be there.

  4. If you’re having trouble putting together different outfits, Pinterest can really help you out. What I’ve done in the past is just enter the type of item (like “red leather jacket”, “black plaid pants”, “pink maxi dress”, etc.) and see what comes up. You can find some really great looks you might not have thought of before. Or sometimes I’ll search for a type of look I’m trying to put together like “concert outfit” or “business casual”. I often find looks with items that are very similar to what I already have. You can even create boards for the different categories of your capsule to keep yourself organized.  

  5. Once you’ve created some outfits, I recommend taking pictures of them to either keep on your phone or to print out when you need some inspiration. You can also use apps like Cladwell and Closetspace to organize your pieces and get outfit suggestions.   

  6. Before making your final selections, go back to your activities list to make sure you have at least a few outfits that can be used for each of them.

  7. If you really feel like you need to purchase a few items to allow you to utilize your capsule better, go ahead and buy them. Just be cautious, make sure they fit your needs and are made to last.

  8. Lastly, try it out. After a few weeks of wearing the items in your capsule, you’ll begin to learn what works and what doesn’t. If something is just not doing it for ya, swap it out for something else. I like to apply the “one in one out” rule when making changes to my capsule. I don’t want my wardrobe to be too sparse, so if I remove something, I usually replace it with something similar. If I decide to add something to my capsule, I take a look through it first to see if there’s anything I’m not wearing much. If I find something I’m not using, I remove it and replace it with the new item. If I really can’t find anything I want to kick out of my capsule, I make sure the new piece will mix well with the other items in my closet before adding it to the “family”.


So what should go in my capsule?

You’ll find a lot of suggestions online as to what should be included in a capsule wardrobe. 1 white collared shirt, 1 pair of black pants, 2 cardigans...blah blah blah. I don’t believe in telling people what to put in their capsule because everyone’s life is different. For example, putting an LBD, 3 pairs of slacks and a black blazer in your capsule is not helpful if you wear a uniform to work. Also, a capsule that contains 3 sweaters, a trench coat and a leather jacket may not work well for you if you live in a warm climate. That’s why I suggest starting with the pieces you already wear a lot. I’d stay away from capsule checklists and articles talking about “capsule must haves”. You need to determine for yourself what those essential pieces are.

You may find it difficult to build a capsule solely from the clothing you currently have. This is very common, so don’t worry. Remember, this is a process. Your capsule will probably never be perfect (especially not on the first try) but that doesn’t mean you can’t build something that will meet your needs. If you’re underwhelmed by the pieces you already own, think about ways to change them up so they’ll work better for you. Do they need to be altered or repaired? Would they look better if you paired them with one of your favorite pieces? Could you dress them up with some accessories? Be open to trying out new things, and rest assured your capsule will improve with time.  

Do your best to work with what you have, and then make a plan to gradually purchase items that will make you more satisfied with your wardrobe. Maybe once springs hits you can buy a lightweight jacket to go with your boots and favorite jeans. Then in summer you might need a sleeveless top or two you can pair with that skirt you love. Make a list of the items you’d like to incorporate into your capsule, but don’t just rush out and buy them all at once. Give it a few weeks or months and then purchase the top thing (yes thing, not things) on your list that you’d like the most. Space your purchases out so you know these pieces are things you truly want, and not just impulse buys or trends that caught your eye.  

Do what works for you

The point of creating a capsule wardrobe is not to have as few pieces of clothing in your closet as possible. It’s not about getting rid of most of your clothes or confining your style into one basic aesthetic. It’s about making your life easier and creating a wardrobe that allows your personal style to shine through. Don’t get stressed out by how many pieces you have in your capsule. Just focus on determining whether or not it really works for you. Get to know yourself, your body, and what makes you feel good. That’s pretty much it, folks. Capsuling doesn’t have to feel basic, boring or restrictive. It can be whatever you want it to be. The important thing is that you remain conscious of the clothing you have, and that you make the most of it. If you feel good in the garments you have, you’ll be less likely to want to go out and buy more. So take your time, be thoughtful, and get creative. Happy capsuling!