All This Talk about Capsule Wardrobes: How to Create Your Own

September 15th, 2016

How often do you say to yourself “I have so many clothes but nothing to wear”?
There is lots of talk these days about capsule wardrobes. I have read many articles, done the research and tried it with my own wardrobe. I will share with you my thoughts on how you too can create a capsule wardrobe.

First, you might be asking “what is a capsule wardrobe?” A capsule wardrobe is a wardrobe of around 30 pieces (you choose the number that works for you) that you customize to coordinate numerous outfit options. It’s usually derived from two or three basic colors, a few coordinating colors and two or three accent colors that help you dress with fewer clothing items. A capsule wardrobe does not include pajamas, workout clothing, or accessories (whew!). Of course, once you achieve a capsule wardrobe, you might be tempted to minimize those items too! Capsule wardrobes are often created by season, so as we approach fall you may want to start this process with your fall wardrobe.

The next question is, “why would you want a capsule wardrobe?” Having fewer items in your wardrobe means less to sort through as you decide what to wear and offers more space in your closet. Choosing your outfit for the day from a limited capsule wardrobe is fast and easy. Some folks decide on a capsule wardrobe to be more eco-friendly, do less shopping or to spend less money. According to the book Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline, Americans buy an average of 64 items of clothing a year! Inexpensive clothing is readily available and often on sale, so we tend to buy more clothing which is typically of lesser quality.

Any of you that know me can assume I am guilty of having more clothes than I need. OK yes, it’s true. I’m a “Certified Professional Organizer®” and I have a passion for fashion. Consequently, the idea of a capsule wardrobe seemed both challenging and interesting to me so I took an evening to create a capsule wardrobe from my current wardrobe. Here are the steps I took and recommendations I would give after applying the process myself.

1. Consulting with an image consultant is the best start, though not mandatory. I know it can be expensive, but it’s not as expensive as buying the wrong items of clothing for you in color, cut and style. You will learn a lot more from an image consultant than you expect. Kate Leser, The Makeover Expert® taught me:

  • My style – I’m sophisticated classic with a twist of drama. Maybe you are bohemian, town and country or rock and roll?
  • My best colors for cosmetics and for clothing – I got a fan guide of my best colors to carry with me while shopping!
  • My patterns – This one I was pretty much doing by default – large, angular patterns work best for me.
  • My most flattering shirt, dress, skirt and pant style – Tunics were out and pencil skirts were in!
  • My face shape, which told me my best neckline, haircut, glasses and jewelry – My chunky necklaces were often the drama in my style.

Wow! Imagine how much easier it is to weed out your closet and accessories when you know all this information!

2. Make a list of what is important to you in your clothing. You may list things like:

  • Material and texture
  • Comfort
  • Colors
  • Image/perception you want to create (business and casual)
  • Whose style you want to emulate
  • What your favorite items are to wear
  • Level of clothing care (I haven’t bought dry clean only items for years.)
  • Quality

… And anything else that comes to mind. There are no wrong answers here. Just write it down!

3.  With all of the criteria from above, start sorting the items in your closet into three categories.

The So Longs – These can be donated, consigned or trashed. Thank them for their time with you and send them off to their next life.

The Maybes – These are items that are not favorites but you can’t quite make a final decision to get rid of them. If you find yourself thinking too hard about an item, it probably falls in this category. Once you have sorted everything, these items will be easier to come back to for final decision making.

The Keepers – These are items that meet your criteria from steps one and two as well as those you love, look and feel great in. You know right away these are non-negotiable. Keep in mind that capsule wardrobe items are worn more often, so quality will be important in the items you select.

Once the sorting is complete, move the Maybes to another closet or storage space and move the So Longs to the trash or to your car for consignment or donation.

4.  Determine your basic colors. Take a look at your Keepers to select your possible capsule wardrobe items. Are you finding that your Keepers are showing up as potential coordinating colors? Do you see any trends in your Keepers? You may want to use these answers as you move into deciding your colors in the next steps.

The basic colors will be for your basic pieces such as pants, skirts, cardigans, blazers, and shoes. Some typical basic colors might be navy, brown, gray, black white or winter white. I chose navy, winter white and clear white (which can be worn year-round in NC). I am always tempted by black as a basic, but my image consultant convinced me that navy was a better choice for me, and after testing it, I found this to be true!

Review your Keepers and select your 3 best basic color choices.

Basic Colors

Select your basic clothing pieces based on your basic color selection.

5. Determine your coordinating colors. These should be colors that coordinate well with your basics. For coordinating colors I chose pink, red and orange, (I know, bright, right?) all of which go well with all three of my basic colors as well as with each other! A good way to find some pleasing color combinations is to take a look at a color wheel.

Coordinating Colors

I did find that this coordinating colors step required a lot more patience than I expected. A single color such as red comes in a number of hues. Hold your items up against the pieces you hope to coordinate them with to be sure they work with at least four pieces of the capsule wardrobe. This is an important step, so take your time.

6.  Once you have your basic and coordinating pieces, you may want to pull in accent colors to add a pop to your outfits. Accent colors are good in pieces like scarves, jewelry, and shoes. They give an outfit an additional pop of color and lend personality to an otherwise uninteresting combination.

Accent Colors

Don’t worry about it being a perfect capsule wardrobe; there will be options going forward to switch things out or add things in as you see fit. Here’s the order I found easiest to sort by and also how I ended up putting 31 pieces in my capsule wardrobe.

0 Suits – I don’t wear suits, but I do coordinate other pieces for a “Cyndy suit” look that is still professional.
3 Pants – career – It’s a bonus if they can work as casual too
3 Pants – casual
1 Jean
4 Skirts
3 Tops – sleeveless (layering)
2 Tops – short sleeve
6 Tops – long sleeve (for more options select long-sleeved tops that can roll to shorter sleeves)
5 Second Layers (2 cardigans, 2 blazers, 1 denim jacket)
4 Dresses

So, there you have it! You’ve set up your first capsule wardrobe. It would be a good idea to throw together some outfits and take pictures of them with shoes and accessories reminding you of the many options you have available. Again, we are not going for perfect here. We are going for simplicity and allowing ourselves room for change. Below are outfit examples from my initial capsule wardrobe. I’d love to hear your stories and see pictures of your wardrobe choices.

In full disclosure, here I am now one month later having used my capsule wardrobe regularly and I have to admit, my creative side quickly felt limited. I was drawn to sneaking some Maybes back into the mix (guilt).

This process did confirm that, yes, with weeding, decision making and coordinating items in our closet we do have lots to wear, even in a capsule wardrobe!



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