How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe

Why you need a capsule wardrobe

If you’re new to the term “capsule wardrobe,” it’s pretty self-explanatory: a capsule wardrobe is a small collection of essential items of clothing that don’t go out of fashion (or, at least, not quickly). It’s also an approach to shopping that emphasizes quality over quantity—you’re buying fewer clothes and spending more money on each piece.

When you create a capsule wardrobe, you’ll get the satisfaction of having minimalized your closet and become less wasteful in your shopping habits. But, as you start to pare down, you might wonder why you bought so many clothes before—and why we as Westerners have such an obsession with material goods anyway?

To keep your closet pared down, every time you buy something new, ask yourself if there’s an item from your current wardrobe that could be retired or donated.

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How to build a capsule wardrobe

Begin with the basics. Starting with a neutral foundation is essential: blacks, greys, and whites are your best options. Next, select around five bottoms in basic colors (such as a pair of jeans, black leggings, and a couple of skirts) that are timeless and can be worn with almost anything.

Add on top of that. Classic tops like turtlenecks and button-ups will offer the most versatility. You’ll also want to include five or six plain T-shirts in traditional colors like navy, grey, and white—but don’t forget about patterns! A few patterned tops will add something special to your wardrobe without breaking the bank.

Don’t forget accessories! A few scarves in solid colors can dress up any outfit, or you could wear them around your neck for some lightweight warmth during the colder months. A hat will not only keep you warm but can give any outfit an extra edge—plus, it covers up any bad hair days!

What to consider when picking clothes for your capsule wardrobe

First, limit how many items you include in your capsule wardrobe. The most common number is 40—but if you like to wear lots of accessories or typically have more than one pair of shoes on the go at any given time, you might want to consider an expanded number such as 60 or 80.

Pick a seasonal timeframe for your capsule wardrobe. The most common timeframes are three months (this is my personal choice) and six months. Because I sometimes travel to places with very different climates from where I live, I choose to do two capsules per year: one for spring/summer and another for fall/winter. If you live somewhere with a temperate climate and don’t necessarily need two separate sets of cold weather and warm weather clothing, consider doing a single capsule that will last all year long. What works best for you may be something altogether different—a one-month capsule might also work well if you need frequent changes in your wardrobe to stay motivated!

Please consider things like work schedule when building your capsules (I recommend having no less than ten pairs of socks on hand at any given time when working retail). Other considerations may be pregnancy, breastfeeding, or special events like weddings or vacations. The clothes that tend to suit these needs aren’t what we usually wear every day (in which case, check out my post about packing light for trips).

It’s better to have a few great pieces instead of lots of fast fashion

Before you get started, a small wardrobe can feel like a burden. You may have hundreds of items in your closet that you don’t know what to wear anymore and many that you don’t even wear anymore. Plus, it’s always challenging to find the right thing when there are so many options.

But building a capsule wardrobe is worth it—especially if you’re like most folks and use your closet once or twice a week instead of every day. The goal is not to keep clothes on hand for weeks at a time but rather to build up an impressive array of outfits based around fewer pieces (think: essential pieces with one or two different styles) that can be mixed and matched quickly and easily, so you can dress from head-to-toe in just minutes throughout the workday. If you’re unsure about this approach, start by creating three pairs of shoes, three pairs of jeans styles, three hoodies/jackets/outerwear styles; then try adding another piece each week until you’ve reached ten items per item category.

We used this method to create an excellent capsule wardrobe for our apartment—and we got rid of lots of excess clothes! Our main clothing categories were:

  • Neutral tones (black/navy blue jeans & black basic tees; grey basics; grey cotton skirts)
  • Colorful neutral tints (white works best); these were only used occasionally during the week.
  • Seasonal tints (hottest color typically worn in summertime)

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