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A Capsule Wardrobe: What it is & How to Start One

Minimizing and simplifying our lives is more than a trend that Marie Kondo came up with when she created her tidying up technique; it is opening our eyes to the fact that less is more. Streamlining your wardrobe, and letting go of things you don’t need or use, is a great way to decrease clutter and eliminate decision fatigue. While for some, picking out an outfit is a creative process of self-expression, for others, it is just something clean to put on that accommodates your tasks for the day. For still others, you might work from home and not have to worry as much about what you wear day-to-day. Regardless of your lifestyle and work requirements, a capsule wardrobe (and the varying types of capsule wardrobes) can benefit anyone. In this article, I will show you exactly how to build a capsule wardrobe, plus discuss:

  • Decluttering and creating the perfect capsule wardrobe that works for you and your lifestyle
  • What a capsule wardrobe looks like
  • Separate base wardrobe items and mini capsule wardrobes
  • How to put together a work “uniform” from your capsule wardrobe
  • My capsule wardrobe experiment

What is a Capsule Wardrobe?

The main authority on the capsule wardrobe movement is Caroline Rector who is also the creator of unfancy.com, where you can find tons of resources on creating capsule collections (including her wonderful wardrobe planner).

She describes a capsule wardrobe like a mini wardrobe of versatile pieces that you love to wear.

How does it work?

Caroline recommends 37 items as the golden number of clothing to own and with variations by season. You should take what you have in your closet now, size it down to 37 wearable items, and then test wear only those items for 3 months. Don’t shop for any new items until the next season.

However, I’ve tweaked this original formula to work for myself, as you should do for yourself as well as no two people will have the same wardrobe needs. I like to keep mine between 25 to 50 pieces but yours can easily go below 25 or above 50. These items include tops, bottoms, dresses, shoes, accessories, etc.

You also want to keep in mind the categories of where you would wear these items such as workout clothing, lounge clothing, work clothing, formal wear, etc. Also, depending on where you live, you may not need a seasonal capsule wardrobe. So keep that in mind as you think about putting together your collection.

You can start by either creating your capsule wardrobe from what you already have or use a service to put together capsule wardrobes for you. Alternatively, you can do a combination of what you already have and then shop for new items each season (or as needed). It is really up to you and what works best for you.

The Benefits of a Capsule Collection

There are many benefits that people experience from downsizing their closet and creating a capsule collection including:

  • Cost savings
  • Time savings
  • Decision making energy savings
  • The ability to recognize what you enjoy wearing

The idea is that from decluttering our closets and downsizing to what we like wearing and plan on wearing, we have more time, money and energy for other things in our lives that matter.

What stood out to me most about my capsule wardrobe was how much more energy and time I had in the mornings when I didn’t have to decide between so many options.

How to Create Your Capsule Wardrobe

The first thing you want to do before putting together your capsule collection is to open that closet. Finding motivation might be hard at first, but all you are required to do is start. Start going through each item in your closet, one-by-one. Label each as a keep, donate, or sell. Then look at the keep pile. That is where we are going to pull from for this capsule wardrobe.

What a Capsule Wardrobe Looks Like

I don’t think there is any “right” way to create a capsule wardrobe. As long as you have downsized your closet to a manageable number of clothes that you love and you plan on wearing in a rotation, you are good to go. The entire purpose behind creating something like this is to make your life a little easier. As long as your capsule(s) accomplishes that, you did it “right”.

Use the breakdown below of items as a guideline of what to aim for the coveted number of 37 for your capsule wardrobe (please tweak for your needs):

  • 11 tops
  • 11 bottoms
  • 6 outerwear items
  • 3 dresses
  • 6 shoes

Seasonal vs. All Year Round

I live in the midwest and our seasons are pretty drastic. However, I don’t have 4 separate capsule wardrobes for all of the 4 seasons. I have 2; one for warm weather and one for cold weather. If you live somewhere tropical, I suspect you will have one capsule wardrobe. You might need to add extra items like rain boots, raincoats, etc, to be prepared for the weather in your area.

You can also include accessories in your capsule wardrobe lineup like scarves, jewelry, hats, etc, but those can be thought of as “extra” items. Remember to include as much in your wardrobe that your lifestyle and the climate of that lifestyle calls for.

Creating Sub-Categories and “Work Uniforms”

The most helpful strategy in creating my capsule wardrobe(s) was categorizing the items based on where they would be worn. I broke them out into 4 categories:

Workwear was difficult to put together at first because I had clothes I liked wearing to work and clothes that I thought I would like, but I probably was never going to wear them. Instead, I chose based on what I was already wearing to work and what was the most comfortable and professional looking. I approached those items like I was putting together my own “work uniform” for myself. But instead of wearing the same “work uniform” every day, I would rotate the items of my “work uniform”.

Some of the items in your capsule will straddle the categories of where you will wear them and the more they do that, the better. The more multi-functional a clothing item is, the better.

Take It for a Test Wear

After you think you have a good starter capsule wardrobe together, test it out in the real world. Get into the habit of the rotation and laundry. See how you feel in them and if there is anything you want to add, tweak or change in any way about the items you wear in the real world. After my first couple of months of wearing my capsule wardrobe, I started feeling a little self-conscious about my rotation. I kept thinking “what if someone at work notices that I rotate the same clothes all the time”.

Why did I care so much? I decided to do a capsule wardrobe experiment and wear the same thing to work every day for a week to see if anyone noticed and if I cared that they might notice. At the end of the week, I even asked one of my colleagues if they noticed and they said no while looking at me very confused. People are so self-absorbed in their own lives that most of them won’t notice your new minimalist wardrobe. And, even if they do, does it matter? In my opinion, no. They are just clothes. If we worried about every little thing other people thought of us, we would be pretty miserable (been there, done that). There are bigger fish for you to fry.

Is a Capsule Wardrobe Right for You?

Capsule wardrobes aren’t for everyone. Certain people have a real passion for fashion and collect certain items from designer collections. Some express themselves through their fashion and like to mix it up every day with different items. I would never ask those people to give up their collection, passion or the way they decide to express themselves. Even if you are one of those people, you could still give a capsule wardrobe a try but make it your version of one.

Try it out for everyday loungewear or maybe just as a “work uniform” capsule. See how it feels. If you hate it, you can always go back. If you loved it, look for more ways to incorporate the same logic to other areas of your life that might need simplification. Either way, let us know in the comments your thoughts and/or experiences you’ve had with trying capsule wardrobes!

This article originally appeared on The Money Mix and has been republished with permission.

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