What Is a Capsule Wardrobe and How Do You Build One?

If you’re stuck in the fashion doldrums, it may be time to consider a capsule wardrobe that helps you buy less, enjoy your clothing more and be more thoughtful about the clothing choices you make.

What is a capsule wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe lets you create a variety of different outfits with a limited selection of interchangeable, well-made clothing pieces that complement each other. Think versatile pieces in neutral colors (or not!) that do not go out of style.

In the 1970s Susie Faux opened a boutique “Wardrobe” in London, where she sold minimalist-looking clothing that was versatile, high quality and that could be easily mixed and matched. She wanted to help women gain confidence in how they dressed and looked. Designer Donna Karan brought the capsule wardrobe to the US in 1985 when she introduced her Seven Easy Pieces line.  Her models were all dressed in bodysuits and showcased seven clothing pieces by creating various outfits with fewer pieces.

Not only are capsule wardrobes about personal style, but they are also about living with more intention in a more sustainable way. Our fast fashion culture, where designs move quickly from the runway to the racks and push the most current trends to consumers as quickly as possible, has tricked us into believing that we must own everything, and the result is a stuffed closet full of clothes that we may never wear.

Four reasons why you should have a capsule wardrobe

Here are just a few of the benefits of a capsule wardrobe:

Cut down on decision fatigue

Our brains are wired to make a limited number of efficient decisions each day. With a capsule wardrobe, choosing what to wear is easier with fewer decisions. You have pre-selected pieces that you love and that you already know work well together.

Save on time and energy

If you have a closet with your favorite go-to pieces, you can get dressed each morning and know that most combinations of items will create an outfit you love. Not only do you have to spend less time choosing what to wear, you can save time on shopping too. With a capsule wardrobe you’ll fine-tune your shopping list to hone in on that next perfect piece to add to your closet instead of sifting through racks (or thumbnails online) of clothes trying to choose new pieces.

Save money, too

A capsule wardrobe can save you money. While you may spend a bit more on new investment pieces, high-quality items will last longer than cheap pieces. Also, when you know each item in your closet needs to count, you'll be much more thoughtful about the handful of purchase decisions you do make. 

Leave a smaller footprint

When you buy better and wear longer, your fashion choices can make a big difference. With a high turnover rate in fast fashion, trendy clothes are often of poor quality, pressure manufactures to utilize cheap labor and have environmental consequences including landfill overflow and pollution. Fewer, better pieces can help you build a sustainable wardrobe that’s good for you and the planet.

Tips for building a capsule

Keep in mind there is no right or wrong way to start a capsule wardrobe, and there are no rules for what you can and cannot wear.

1.     Start with your current closet, and repurpose pieces that work. For each piece of clothing, ask yourself: when was the last time I wore this? If you haven’t worn it in a few months, it’s probably not a great piece for your capsule wardrobe.

2.     Declutter everything that you do not love, that does not fit properly, that isn’t in your color palette or that isn’t your style.

3.     Make a plan to add new pieces. The good news? There’s no wrong way to build a capsule wardrobe. Consider adding neutral-colored t-shirts, a pair of black pants or skirt, a pair of jeans, a blazer, a cardigan or sweater for layering, a black dress that you can dress up or dress down, and accessories like shoes, belts and scarves. Check out these examples for inspiration.

4.     Discover your style and get creative. An authentic, timeless wardrobe will reflect your personality and    make you feel most like yourself. As you refine your capsule ask yourself: What do I want my clothes to say about me? Which fabrics and fits do I feel most comfortable wearing? Which colors, patterns and accessories bring out my true self and best complement my personality?

If you need a little help getting started, Courtney Carver, the author of Project 333™, has made intentional shopping her mission. To help others on their journey to build a capsule wardrobe, Project 333 helps you choose 33 different items (yes, including shoes, accessories and jewelry) for spring, summer, fall and winter. A seasonal capsule wardrobe can help you de-clutter your closet with intentional styling throughout each season.

If you’re not quite ready to commit to complete overhaul of your closet, check out the 10 X 10 Challenge™ from Lee Vosburgh of Style Bee. Vosburgh created the challenge, so she could get more creative with her clothes while taking a break from making new purchases during a shopping fast. It’s basically a mini capsule closet of 10 items that you work with for 10 days, creating new looks and styling your clothes in ways you might not otherwise try.

Remember, your capsule is for you, and a closet filled with pieces that you love helps you define your personal style and find more confidence in yourself.

Want to learn more about senior-friendly trends? Check out our Trending Now blogs to get started.

Project 333 is a trademark of Courtney Carver.

10 x 10 Challenge is a trademark of StyleBee.com.

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