How (and Why) to Capsule Wardrobe

If you read my sartorial manifesto you know that I think capsule wardrobing is a good way to keep yourself from buying too much or buying things made by the fast fashion industry.

Here’s a quick reminder of what a capsule wardrobe is: a capsule wardrobe is a limited number of clothing pieces (20 to 30 or really whatever number fits your needs) that are interchangeable and complimentary in color and style. A good capsule wardrobe gives you all the outfits you need for various situations. You should be able to make several combinations of the pieces in your capsule in order to make several different outfits.

Perhaps you are thinking “wait wait wait Professor, I’m supposed to limit myself to only 20 or 30 pieces of clothing? That sounds impossible!”

So let me clarify: think of your capsule wardrobe as your “outside” clothes – the stuff you wear to work or when you go to the store or when you meet your friends out on the town. Some things that DO NOT count toward the capsule wardrobe: socks, underwear, pajamas, lounging clothes, workout attire, bathing suits, etc. I also doin’t count accessories like belts, ties, pocket squares, and sunglasses. Your capsule is basically these things: bottoms (pants, jeans, shorts, skirts, etc), shirts, jackets, dresses, suits, shoes, coats, and/or bags. Capsule wardrobes can also be seasonal – one for warmer weather and one for colder weather.

Now that you have a good sense of what a capsule wardrobe is (and isn’t) you can begin the process of creating your capsule. However, getting started on your capsule wardrobe can be a bit intimidating. So here are some tips for getting started:

First, evaluate what you already have in your wardrobe. Separate the things that you wear regularly from the things that you hardly ever wear. The first thing you should ask is: did I wear it recently (within the last three months or so)? If it’s a seasonal item did you wear it last season? If not, put it aside to be donated or sold on the secondhand market. Hang up the things that you currently wear regularly and assess what you have. How many pants? How many shirts? How many jackets? And so on.

Second, after you have cleared your closet of things that you don’t wear take a look at what is left and think about what you wear on a daily or regular basis. Your clothes should match your lifestyle. What are your clothing needs? Think about what you need for work – do you need to dress formally or can you dress more casually? What do you do outside of work? Do you need clothes for outdoor adventures or are you more of an inside person? Do the clothes left in your closet match your regular needs? Finally, look at the colors and styles of the clothes in your closet. There should be enough versatility and complimentary colors in your wardrobe that you can mix and match and create several different outfits from just a few things.

It might help at this point to make a list of what you have and divide your clothes into categories. Here are the categories I have in my capsule wardrobe: Pants, shirts (this includes button down and t-shirts), jackets (this includes things like blazers and casual jackets), shoes, outer coats, bags, and suits. Here’s where putting a cap on the number of pieces in your capsule can be helpful because it will give you a sense of whether you have too many pieces in a particular category (usually it’s shirts). For example, I have capped my capsule at 30 pieces, but I currently have 22 pieces in it to give it some room for new additions. When I started pairing down my wardrobe I had to make decisions about what to keep and what to sell and having a sense of how many pieces I could have in each category helped quite a bit. I knew that if I had five or six jackets or ten or more shirts in my capsule that might not leave much room for other things like shoes, pants, or coats.

Third, start trying on your clothes in various combinations. Does every piece have at least one other piece that it can match with? For example, I try to make sure that every pair of pants in my capsule (I have three currently) can match with pretty much every shirt (I currently have seven). This gives me 21 potential different combinations to work with. If I decide to add a fourth pair of pants or a few more shirts in the future, I will make sure that the pants will work with multiple shirts and the shirts will work with all of my pants.

Once you’ve done these three things you are well on your way to having a manageable capsule wardrobe.

There are several reasons for creating a capsule wardrobe. First of all, it makes managing your clothes easier. Do you ever have trouble deciding what to put on in the morning? This is probably due to the fact that you have too much in your closet to choose from. Limiting your wardrobe to a certain number of pieces that you can mix and match makes deciding what to wear a lot simpler. Second, in the long run it can save you money. When it comes to buying new clothes, a capsule wardrobe can give you focus because it gives you a good sense of what is in your wardrobe already. You can stop shopping willy nilly for things and buy only to replace what you already have or to add to your wardrobe if you have enough room under your cap. Third, limiting your wardrobe means that you can spend a bit more on each piece which means you can buy things that are better quality, more durable, and made from sustainable materials in ethical working conditions.

Capsule wardrobing, in my opinion, is the best way to break the hold that fast fashion has on the clothing industry.

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