How to Create A Capsule Wardrobe

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of the chic Parisian woman with a tiny closet housing a select number of carefully chosen articles of quality clothing that can be mixed and matched to create a simple yet sophisticated wardrobe.

Of course, I live in America — land of the free and home of the discount shopping. I have a mid-size suburban home with a generous walk-in closet that is usually bursting at the seams, although I purge ruthlessly and often . . . or so I thought.

My situation is not an uncommon one, and many of us are overwhelmed with too much stuff. In response, a minimalist living movement is gaining popularity, and with that, the capsule wardrobe.

how to build a capsule wardrobe

What is a capsule wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe is a mini-wardrobe made up of versatile pieces that you LOVE to wear.

The idea is to select a specific number of pieces that work together in different ways, and to wear them for three months, or one season. During that time, you don’t shop for anything new. At the end of that three-month period, you have two weeks to put together your capsule wardrobe for the next season. You can buy as much as you need, but the idea is to be selective and use as much as you can from your existing wardrobe. You don’t get rid of the clothes that aren’t in your capsule (unless you want to). You store the things you want to keep, and you can swap them out when you plan your next capsule.

The capsule wardrobe was made popular by Caroline Rector of Unfancy, but it is my friend Amy at Mom Advice who really made me stop and seriously consider trying it.

When I first heard about the capsule wardrobe, I thought it sounded pretty cool . . . for other people. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of having a simplified closet, but with this here blog of mine, I pretty much make a living trying new trends and showing you how to style them. I hesitate to get rid of clothes I’m not currently wearing because I never know when I might need to pull something from the recesses of my closet to create a new outfit.

But as I read more about the idea of a capsule wardrobe, I came to two realizations.

#1. Because you actually plan out your capsule so every piece in your closet can be used multiple ways and all goes together, you don’t have to worry about buying something new and not having the right pieces to make an outfit with it. You only shop for the two weeks before your next capsule begins, and you intentionally purchase pieces to go with the rest of the capsule.

#2. It also occurred to me that we tend to switch out our wardrobes TWO times a year — winter and summer, so by the end of a season, we are sick of our clothes. With a capsule wardrobe, you have four separate wardrobes that you wear for three months each, so you get to completely switch them out FOUR times a year. Yes, some basic staples will overlap, but you’re less likely to get bored, and you’re able to consider the weather variations and move out some things that might not be practical for an entire 6 months.

This fall, I’ve bought (some things I’ve returned) more clothing than I can even wrap my head around. This is partly because of my job, and partly because I have no strategy for my wardrobe. Now that the holidays are behind us and we have three months of winter looming, I decided it was the ideal time to give a capsule wardrobe a try. Even if I don’t stick with it long-term, I hope to learn a lot about my own personal style so I have more clarity when making purchases in the future.

How does a capsule wardrobe work?

There is no right or wrong way, but Caroline Rector’s method makes a lot of sense to me, so I decided to give it a try.

She recommends selecting 37 pieces of clothing to make up a capsule.

Let’s stop right here for a minute.

Do you know what 37 pieces of clothing looks like hanging in a closet???

NOT MUCH, just sayin’. I was shocked when I got down to brass tacks and started emptying my closet. I envisioned ending up with about 10 pieces of clothing that I loved and getting to shop to fill in my closet, but it was exactly the opposite. I had a reeeeeeally hard time reducing my closet to 37 pieces. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Those 37 pieces include tops, bottoms, dresses, outerwear, and shoes. It does NOT include accessories, handbags, jewelry, undergarments, formalwear, swimsuits, or workout clothes. Caroline likes to break hers down into 9 pairs of shoes, 9 bottoms, 15 tops, and 4 jackets or dresses. She likes the rule of three so you can have one casual pair, one statement pair, and one in-between pair. It makes sense, but it’s easier said than done.

Here are the steps to create a capsule wardrobe.

tops

How to Create A Capsule Wardrobe

Step 1: Empty out your closet.

Yes. Take everything out, down to the bare walls. Do NOT skip this step. Caroline says, “Don’t cheat. Taking everything out at once is the secret to style clarity. As you put your LOVE IT pieces back into your empty closet, your style will practically scream at you.”

I can personally speak to the wisdom of this strategy. I thought I was good at purging every season, but I never took every last thing out of my closet when I was organizing. Then one day last fall, after reading this advice from Clinton Kelly, I went into my room and took every last thing out of my closet. Anything I hadn’t worn recently, I tried on. I had no idea how much stuff I was keeping “just in case”, and I was shocked at how many of my “just in case” pieces didn’t even fit anymore. What a waste of closet space!

Step 2: Sort each item into four piles.

  • LOVE IT: If it is appropriate for the current season, and you absolutely love it and want to put it on right this second, hang it back in your closet. This will be the basis for your capsule wardrobe.
  • MAYBE: Is the fit a bit off? The color? Are you keeping it just because it has sentimental value, or because you paid a lot for it and feel guilty getting rid of it? Put it in a box and store it. If you find yourself wishing you had it, you can always go retrieve it. But if you don’t find yourself wanting it before the end of the season, it’s time to donate it and let someone else enjoy it. If you’re not used to purging, this can be hard to do, but I promise you, it is SO freeing!
  • HATE IT: Self explanatory. Donate or sell to fund new purchases.
  • SEASONAL: If it’s not in season, but you LOVE IT (and I mean LOVE IT), put it in a box and store it so you can add it to your capsule wardrobe when the proper season rolls around.

Step 3: Assess what’s left in your closet.

Caroline suggests you live with your clothes for a little while before shopping for new pieces. “Living with what you have for a little while will teach you so much about your style and what you really need,” she says. Take notes about the items you think you need to round out your capsule so you’re prepared when it’s time to go shopping.

Step 4: Shop. 

Shop for any items you need to complete your capsule. Make a list and shop intentionally. Consider your lifestyle. Make sure you have a good ratio of casual clothes to work wear. This varies from person to person and, of course, is based on climate as well.

Remember: Once you start wearing your capsule wardrobe, you don’t shop again until two weeks before the next capsule begins.

How to Purge Ruthlessly

Between the time I decided to try a capsule wardrobe and the day I went through my closet purging and sorting, I started reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. Reading this book is what caused me to actually get off my butt and start purging and sorting my closet. I was planning to do it, but her advice convicted me to start right away, and I credit her with giving me the tools I needed to purge my closet so ruthlessly.

Marie’s advice dovetails nicely with a capsule wardrobe. Both are basically advising you to go through your closet and keep only the things you absolutely love, but she actually has you hold each piece of clothing and ask yourself, “Does it spark joy?” If not, it goes.

It sounds hokey, but there’s a big difference between, “Eh, it’s okay. I might want it some day,” and “I love this, and I want to put it on and wear it right now.” That made all the difference for me. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.

Tomorrow I’ll go into all the gory details about my wardrobe reduction project, concluding with pictures of my new minimalist closet, but first I want to answer a few questions that I’ve been getting in case it helps you decide if you want to join me or not. Feel free to leave additional questions in the comments.

FAQ

#1. What do you do with the clothes you get rid of?

The short answer is, I donate most of my discarded clothing to a local thrift store that supports a Christian organization and their prison ministry.

I sometimes take a bag to a friend or family member who has shown interest, but I get stressed out by a bunch of bags sitting around, designated for various destinations. I’m certainly not going to deal with consignment or eBay. I just don’t have the time, and that would bog me down and halt the process. I prefer to put it all in the trunk of my car and haul it to the thrift store — usually the same day I take it out of my closet. (This is a good time to put your husband to work!)

That sounds simple, but I realize there is an underlying question behind the question of what to do with the castoffs.

Yes, it feels very wasteful to give away perfectly good clothing, and some people have a hard time with the purging process. Marie addresses this by telling you to thank your clothing for its service and all kinds of mystic nonsense. I look at it this way. It’s not a waste if it blesses someone who needs it.

If my clothes sit in my closet and rot until they are outdated and full of moth holes, then yes. That’s a waste. However, if I can bring joy to someone today by giving them a bag of like-new clothing that they will wear and enjoy, then I’m all for it.

If you don’t personally know someone who wants your castoffs, there are tons of local organizations that do good work providing clothing to needy women and families in the community where you live. Just find one that resonates with you and haul your stuff over there. As an added bonus, get a receipt, and it’s a tax write-off.

#2. What about accessories, handbags, etc.?

According to Caroline Rector’s capsule wardrobe philosophy, you don’t count scarves, jewelry, and other accessories in your capsule. They are what help you keep your minimalist wardrobe interesting, so you don’t really have to settle on a number, although “less is more” is her basic philosophy on everything.

I went through my accessories using the Marie Kondo method of purging and sorting. Again, my personal situation is a bit different than most. I’m a Stella & Dot stylist, and it doesn’t behoove me to keep a ton of our discontinued jewelry around because I can’t sell it. I keep my favorites, of course, but I have to make room every so often for the new jewelry I add to my inventory. I gave a few pieces to a friend, and the rest I put in my donation bags for the thrift store.

As for scarves and handbags, I got rid of the ones that don’t “spark joy” and kept the rest. Because I have so much extra space in my closet now, I hung my scarves on pants hangers so I can see them better.

scarves - 1

#3. How do you organize the clothing you have left? What goes in the closet, what goes in drawers, etc.?

This is an interesting topic as well. Marie Kondo advises you to fold everything you possibly can. She says the clothes are happier that way (snort!!) and that it’s more efficient (she has a specific folding method where you stand your clothing up in the drawer, instead of stacking, so you can see everything at a glance.)

I prefer to hang everything I can because I feel like I can see what I have more easily, and I am often inspired to come up with new outfit combinations simply by seeing them together in my closet. My running clothes, pajamas, and loungewear are housed in my dresser drawers. Lingerie and undergarments are in the drawers in my closet.

#4. How do you store your jewelry, and how do you keep them all so shiny and pretty?

I feel the same about my jewelry as I do about my clothing. I like to keep it out where I can see it so I know what I have and can get inspired to create new outfit combinations. However, silver jewelry is best stored in Ziploc bags, so that creates a bit of a conundrum. I have a standing jewelry armoire beside my dresser that could easily house all my collection, but I don’t like to use that for the stuff I wear every day because I can’t see it easily. In fact, I am considering donating that piece of furniture, although it pains me to do so because it was a gift from my husband, and it looks pretty in our bedroom.

I also have a jewelry box on top of my dresser, and I have jewelry dividers in the top drawer of my dresser. AND in addition to all of that, I have some standing jewelry organizers on my dresser. I KNOW. It’s too much. Now that I’ve downsized so much, I need to rethink my jewelry storage. I’m working on that.

Here’s a picture of my dresser.

jewelry storage

And my jewelry drawer.

jewelry drawer

#5. What if I can’t afford to buy the pieces I need to fill in and make a working capsule wardrobe?

It is best to invest in quality pieces that will last, but you certainly don’t want to go broke creating your capsule wardrobe. Don’t forget to take advantage of thrift stores or websites like ThredUp, where you can find gently used but high quality clothing that will be kind to your budget.

And also, give yourself time. If this is something you plan to do long-term, you will perfect it as you go along. It’s fine to add your investment pieces over time. The key is to be intentional about your purchases, making sure everything you buy compliments the rest of your wardrobe.

Stay Tuned!!

Click here to see my 50-piece winter capsule wardrobe.

Resources:

If you’re considering giving the capsule wardrobe a try, here are some articles I found helpful.

How To Build A Capsule Wardrobe | Unfancy

Creating the Perfect Capsule Wardrobe That Will Really Work | Mom Advice

How To Create A Capsule Wardrobe for Work | Stylebook

Project 333 | Be More With Less

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