Creating a Capsule Wardrobe (for Dummies)

I am not fashionable. I am not trendy. I am not now, nor will I ever be, the sort of lifestyle blogger (or, let’s be honest, any sort of lifestyle blogger at all) whose oh-so chic white aesthetic effortlessly cool photos will end up on Refinery29–or anywhere, because I am not chic, I do not have a white aesthetic, and I am not effortlessly cool. Fortunately, I’m happy to own these truths about myself, so none of these things bother me.

When I got my new job, my first question for my recruiter was about the company’s dress code. I was told “smart casual,” which is fancy HR-speak for, “business casual, but you can wear jeans every day.” My tops had to be nice. My shoes had to be nice (ugh). I can’t wear shorts (ugh x2). Having strictly stuck to a style that could be quite accurately described as “Old Navy Basics Department” for, well, ever, I was in desperate need of a wardrobe overhaul, as barely any of my current clothes fell into that nice top/nice shoes category.

In addition to not being fashionable, trendy, or cool, I also am not in any way interested in clothes shopping. In fact, I would label clothes shopping as one of the few non-insect/non-severe weather/non-flying things in life that I truly, absolutely hate. There is not one single thing I enjoy about clothes shopping. I don’t like looking for new clothes. I don’t like trying on new clothes. I don’t like spending money on new clothes.

Regardless, there was no avoiding the fact that I needed to go clothes shopping, and fast. To make this as painless and affordable as possible, I decided to go with the lifestyle blogger-friendly trend of a capsule wardrobe.

Capsule wardrobes, for those of you unfamiliar, feature a certain number of pieces (in my case, 33), that are the only things you wear for an entire season, no mid-season shopping to supplement (oh darn). That number of pieces covers everything: shirts, sweaters, pants, skirts, dresses, shoes, bags, jewelry: the whole nine yards. (In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t include my jewelry in my capsule count, because everything I have goes with just about anything, nor did I include my bag, because I only have one work bag that I will always use.) The idea is that the items you have will all, for the most part, match each other, promoting minimalism and reducing unnecessary clothing consumption (or, for me, unnecessary money spending on clothes).

I expected creating a capsule wardrobe to be an arduous process, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I anticipated. Since I would firmly put myself in the “Dummies” category this blog title referenced, I thought I’d outline how I went about making my capsule wardrobes (one for warm weather, one for cold weather), in case anyone else ever needs to overhaul their entire wardrobe in the space of three weeks.

capsulewardrobegraphic

Step One: Evaluate Your Current Wardrobe
The best way to do this is by taking everything (yes, everything) out of your closet and laying it out. When I did this, I separated all of my clothes into one of four piles: warm weather clothes appropriate for work, warm weather clothes inappropriate for work, cold weather clothes appropriate for work, and cold weather clothes inappropriate for work.

originalwardrobe

Doing this served a dual purpose. For one thing, I could see everything I already owned, and use those pieces to fill in my 33 allotted items in each capsule. Seeing everything I already owned also allowed me to identify color trends, which I’ll get back to in a second. For another thing, this helped me evaluate the current contents of my closet and decide what to keep and what to donate. I have a very small closet, so space is at a premium, and I didn’t want tops or bottoms I no longer liked taking up room that could go to my new work clothes instead. Knowing that I’m probably never going to choose to wear real clothes on the weekend unless I’m going to be seen by other people, I was particularly ruthless with the items in my inappropriate-for-work piles, as anything filed under that category probably won’t get much action moving forward, and I don’t need to hang onto a shirt I rarely wear and don’t find particularly flattering if instead I could keep shirts that make me feel confident and put together when I do need to be out and about on the weekends.

Step Two: Choose a Color Palette
Having a color palette is, I would argue, the #1 key to success when it comes to a capsule wardrobe. The point of a capsule wardrobe is to mix and match your 33 items to create new outfits, but if none of the clothes in your wardrobe go well with each other, you’re going to be in trouble.

For my capsule wardrobes, I chose two palettes per wardrobe: a neutral palette and a colored palette. I picked these based on what I felt would be seasonally appropriate, what I already had in my closet, and what I liked. For cold weather, I went with black/grey/navy for my neutrals and purple/blue/green for my colors, and for warm weather, I went black/grey/tan for neutrals and pink/purple/blue/green for my colors. Obviously this yielded some overlap between capsules (hooray! Less shopping!). I was also open to any color within the spectrum of my color palette–for example, anything from lavender to royal purple would count as purple for me.

Step Three: Make a List
After establishing my palettes, I decided how many types of clothing I would need–how many shirts, how many pants, how many skirts, how many pairs of shoes, etc.–based both on what I already had, and how I like to dress. I will shamelessly wear the same pair of pants three days in a row without a second thought. I will absolutely not wear the same shirt twice in one week. Because of that, I need a lot fewer pairs of pants than I need shirts to fill out my allotted 33 items. I then created lists, writing down everything I had first, filling in items I needed (with specific colors) second, and highlighting these needed items so I would remember them later.

shoppinglist

Step Four: Go Shopping
If possible, I recommend recruiting your own Erin, because it will save you untold hours of weeping and gnashing of teeth to have someone who enjoys shopping and is good at shopping and understands fashion AND how to dress for the workplace to do all your shopping for you. If you do not have an Erin handy, I picked up the following helpful pointers:

  • Shop for one item at a time, and make the most important item (for me: black pants) the item you shop for first. Pick up several different versions of this item (brands, sizes, styles, etc.) and take them all to the dressing room with you at once so you can try everything on in one fell swoop. After you’ve found what you want, head out for item (or items, if it makes sense–for example, if you want three long sleeve shirts) number two. Repeat.
  • Pay attention to the material. If you’re creating a capsule wardrobe based around crappy clothes, this may not matter as much, but for a work wardrobe, I wanted something nice that would last, and Erin picked items accordingly.
  • This was my own doing, but bring along supplemental items you already have on hand if necessary. For example, I wore jeans I’d feel comfortable wearing to the office  on our shopping trip, but sometimes I wanted to see how things would look with my pencil skirt, so I brought my pencil skirt along in my purse. I also brought a pair of flats, wore a black cardigan I anticipate wearing to the office…basically every day…wore a cami underneath my shirt in case I’d need to see how a shirt would look with a cami, and brought an additional bra of a different color and style than the one I wore that day to test that out if necessary as well. Also, if you find an item you plan to buy (i.e.: black pants), you can, obviously, put those back on while trying on your other clothes.
  • Visit a one-stop shop if possible, and first. Erin and I started our day at Macy’s, which has floors upon floors upon floors of clothes, and found nearly everything I needed there. Had we started somewhere else (like The Limited, where we went next), the selection would’ve been much slimmer.

And that’s basically that!

capsulewardrobe

Ta-da!

I’m honestly so pleased with the outcome of all of this. Though my wallet weeped at having to replace my entire wardrobe at once (if I could go back and do it all over again, I would’ve started squirreling away money for new work clothes when I started applying for new jobs), I really like what I have. I still don’t care about fashion all that much, but I know that looking put together makes me feel more confident, and that’s exactly how I want to feel in my new job.

Have you ever tried a capsule wardrobe?

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8 thoughts on “Creating a Capsule Wardrobe (for Dummies)

  1. I tend to think I do it intuitively – when I shop (which, btw, I actually love doing with my wife and kids) if I like something I try to contextualize it in my wardrobe – which pants/shirt/shoes/sweaters/etc will fit together into a matrix of outfits.

    Admittedly it is easier for a guy – especially one who is pretty basic in terms of fashion. Sure I wore paisley prints in the 80s, and I have some awesome plaids and bright red pants now … but mostly it is button down shirts and a variety of colors of khaki-style pants. And blue shirt/tan pants is as close to an ‘engineer uniform’ as I could ever imagine. 🙂

    • That’s definitely a smart way to shop! Everything I read talked about doing that – not buying items unless you could think of three ways to wear it with things you already owned, or something like that. Actually, every guy I’ve mentioned this whole shopping thing to mentioned the same thing — men’s fashion is so basic, at least in terms of dress clothes, that it’s fairly straightforward to buy a business wardrobe for them.

  2. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of a capsule wardrobe since they started popping up in the blog world a year or two ago but I’ve been hesitant to try it. It always seemed like very fashionable people were doing them and I just wasn’t that into it. But I really like your guide. I wear a lot of similar items to work often like a few sweaters, a few cardigans, and like 4 different pairs of pants for the winter. So this makes the capsule wardrobe seem more approachable.
    Plus having fewer items in your closet should actually make it easier to pick out an outfit each day!

    • Well thank you! I’ve never really been one to own a lot of clothes, but I’ve also never really had a organized wardrobe – everything was a hodgepodge of individual items I liked, but may not have gone together. Fortunately with this, things should mix and match pretty easily, making it easier to get by with less. Or at least that’s the goal!

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