The fashion trend of the moment is not about buying more — it’s about buying less. And it’s actually not such a new trend after all. The term “capsule wardrobe” was first coined by London boutique owner Susan Faux in the 1970s and later popularized by Donna Karan. It describes a small collection of a few essential clothing items that never go out of style. Add in a few seasonal pieces, and you’re good to go.
In recent years, the simple-living movement has adopted this concept, as illustrated by “tiny wardrobe” experiments, such as Project 333 — a challenge to thrive with a wardrobe consisting of fewer than 33 items for three months — promoted by simple-living author Courtney Carver.
Capsule wardrobes are embraced by those who want to tilt toward a more sustainable, minimalist, and essentialist way of living. Importantly, they provide a way to save money on fashion while still supporting “slow fashion” that is ethically produced. Although you may spend more money on a sustainable item than on a fast-fashion one, it will last you longer and you will buy fewer pieces.
Indeed, capsule wardrobes are the answer to lives that are bursting at the seams. The big idea? If your wardrobe has white space in it, your life will too.
5 Tips for Creating a Capsule Wardrobe
- Identify Your Personal Style
Before you begin purging your closet or buying new pieces, spend some time thinking about your own personal style. Don’t know for sure what your personal style is?
Try describing what you gravitate toward: “Take stock of your closet and put items you always wear into a pile,” suggests Catherine Giese, blogger at Life of Dada. “What is this style? Come up with three words to describe it.” (Don’t worry if your style sounds contradictory. Preppy Bohemian Minimalist might be just your thing.)
If you don’t love what you have in your closet, try verbalizing how you would want to express who you are through your wardrobe, suggests style blogger and author Anuschka Rees in her book, The Curated Closet.
Then, think about what really works for your body. What makes you feel confident when you wear it? What fits you well?
- Eliminate Strategically
Compare what’s in your closet with your description of your personal style, says Giese. Maybe you tend to buy things you think you might wear but never do.
“You will probably find that what you like and what you wear are different. It’s necessary to recognize that there is a difference, so you can avoid keeping things you hate or buying things you won’t wear.”
Another way to curate your closet is to think in terms of seasons, suggests Tsh Oxenreider, host of The Simple Show podcast and author of At Home in the World.
“What works for me in the fall?” is a great guiding question, she advises.
Then, use the hanger trick: At the start of the season, turn all your hangers backward. Any time you wear an item, hang it right-side out again. Come season’s end, find a new home for what you haven’t turned around. You can donate gently used clothes — or consider hosting a clothing swap by gathering a few friends and asking everyone to bring a set number of gently used pieces they’d like to pass on to someone else. Don’t ignore clothes that need a little tailoring or mending. Sometimes the best pieces can get a new life with some quick stitching.
- Think Basics — With Flair
After taking an inventory, you might find you have dozens of pieces you don’t need, yet don’t have everything you do need to round out your capsule wardrobe.
“The most important thing to consider when creating a capsule wardrobe is that all or most all items should be basics,” advises Diane Pollack, a stylist at www.stylempower.com. “That means that they are not highly designed pieces. They need to be able to work [together well].”
Many experts recommend finding a great button-down shirt or a classic blazer, items that can go easily from work to dinner date.
“The other thing to consider is color,” says Pollack. “Neutrals are great.” If you want to diversify your look, you can bring in accent colors or prints, but Pollack suggests using accessories — such as a scarf — to do this, rather than staples.
Once you make a list of what is missing in your wardrobe, work to find high-quality versions of those items.
- Source Sustainably
For true capsule-wardrobe aficionados, sustainability is a key part of the buying process. You may spend more on ethically produced clothing, but you’ll feel better not only because you’re wearing a higher-quality piece, but because you’ll likely know something about who made your clothing.
That said, just like the labeling on free-range chicken, slow-fashion labeling can also confuse. There are lots of resources out there to help you make choices you can feel good about, including an app called Good on You, which rates the sustainability of various brands.
- Don’t Let Perfect Be the Enemy of Good
The classic five-piece French wardrobe can give us the mistaken idea that there is a magic number of pieces to strive toward to have a true capsule wardrobe.
Not true, says Oxenreider. Do what works for you — in terms of number of pieces, and in terms of the brands you choose.
“Don’t be a hard-nosed about being a minimalist,” she says.
Ultimately, a great capsule wardrobe can do much more for you than update your closet. It’s a tried and true way to feel more comfortable in your own skin.
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