Sunday, September 18, 2016

All Things Capsule Wardrobe: Part 1

A couple years ago I came across an interesting idea for clothing - the capsule wardrobe. A capsule wardrobe is created by choosing items for your wardrobe that mix and match to create many outfit options. These items are the only ones in your closet, you get rid of excess and pack away out of season clothes. Some people give this capsule wardrobe a specific number, such as 27. That means your capsule for a season would include 27 items, a mix of tops (basic and more special, layering pieces like cardigans), bottoms (pants, jeans, skirts), dresses, shoes, and accessories (hats, scarves, necklaces or other jewelry, purse). It does not include pajamas, workout clothes, or underthings like bras and tank tops. Others are less picky about having an exact number of items. I'm on the flexible end of things.

What are the benefits?

Have you ever had the experience of standing in front of your closet and feeling like you have nothing to wear? I know I have even when hangers are full of clothes. It may be that there are good pieces but none of them go together, or there are a mix of items that don't fit, are in colors that I don't like, or are worn out and just need to go. It can even be that there are so many options I can't picture what to put together. A capsule wardrobe addresses most of these issues.
  •  The pieces already go together color wise because you selected them on purpose to do so.
  • The pieces fit because you made sure to use items that fit your current body shape in a flattering way.
  • The colors are ones you like, you selected them.
  • The items aren't worn out, you got rid of those.
  • The options are easy to find: choose one top, one bottom, one layer (in fall or winter), a pair of shoes, and one or more accessories. It helps if you hang items by those categories - grab one piece from each section and off you go.

How do I begin a capsule wardrobe?

I just went through this process for my first fall capsule so I'll explain exactly what I did. (I did a limited spring capsule this year but didn't go through these first steps I'm about to describe. I just boxed up things I didn't want to deal with instead of sorting and purging.

The first time is a bit more work because of the purge process.

Step one for me was to pull out all the clothing I own. I sorted it into piles by item type (tops, bottoms, skirts, layering pieces). I tried on every single piece. If it didn't fit and wasn't something I wanted to get altered it went into a bag for donation. This was a long process for me as my body has changed continually due to 13 pregnancies in 15 years and recently I've lost some weight. I had a variety of sizes stored. If an item fit but I didn't feel comfortable in it or didn't like it for some other reason, like color, it also went into the donation bag. Don't keep what you don't like wearing, it's just taking up space.

Once that step was finished I went through these smaller piles that no longer included donation items. Any pieces that are obviously spring/summer in nature went into a bin to store in the attic until that season. Now I was left only with the clothing that will work for my climate's fall and winter weather.

Now I was down to the actual capsule creation. I don't know about you, but my budget is limited. That means the first place I turn to is clothing I already own to begin building my capsule. I made a list of categories I wanted:
  •  10 tops (a mix of basic and special)
  • 4 layering pieces (sweaters, cardigans, etc)
  • 3 skirts
  • 4 pants or capris
  • 3 dresses
  • 7 accessories
I didn't have a category for shoes, I just don't enjoy shoe shopping. I have a few basic shoes that will go with things: a brown ballet flat, black boots for winter, and tennis shoes.

Let's Talk Color for a Moment

One key concept for the most mix and match potential in a capsule wardrobe is using neutrals and a limited palette of colors. Neutrals are white, black, brown, gray, and blue jeans. These colors will work with any other. I could pair pink with each of them, or neon green, or blue, or brick red. One way to simplify the planning process for a capsule wardrobe is to have all of one item in neutral colors. For my fall capsule I decided bottoms/skirts would be my neutrals. I would add color with my tops or accessories. I realized during  my sort that I have no fall dresses so I shunted those extra pieces into more bottoms/tops instead.

My skirts.

I looked at my pile of clothes and pulled out the following bottoms:
  •  2 pair of jeans
  • 1 pair of black dressier pants
  • 1 pair of capris (these I've been wearing all summer and they're too big, but I'm not buying new ones this late in the season.)
  • 1 brown long skirt
  • 1 jean long skirt
  • 3 black skirts (I'm debating which I'll wear more, a maxi, a mid calf skirt, and a knee length with black lace overlay, two will probably be packed away.)
As I looked over my tops I thought about colors I like, that look good on me, and that say 'fall' to me. Olive and sage green, burgundy, dark orange, red, deep yellow, and a deep purple came to mind. I had been to a store recently and admired some green and burgundy shirts, so I went with those colors. I chose the following tops from my pile of clothes, a mix of neutrals and my colors:
  •  Gray t-shirt
  • Sage green t-shirt
  • Tan t-shirt
  • Plum and burgundy 3/4 length sleeve shirt
  • Brown shirt with details around the collar (in teal and burnt orange, so not technically my colors, oh well!)
  • Dressy collared tan shirt with black/tan/burnt orange pattern
  • White eyelet short sleeve shirt
My sweaters and pants.

I love sweaters/cardigans in cool weather so I had a stack to choose from already. These will layer over the short sleeve shirts and can even work over long sleeves on especially chilly days as fall wears on.
  • Gray loose cardigan
  • Tan loose cardigan
  • Black more fitted cardigan
  • Blue Ombre cardigan - this is totally outside my palette but I love this and want to wear it a time or two before the weather gets too cold for this lightweight fabric. It will go over my white, gray, or tan shirt and go with any of my bottoms. This is what capsule wardrobe fans call an outlier - it lies outside of your palette but you chose it anyway.
I also noticed that I have an olive green maxi skirt so I pulled that in for my capsule too. I like wearing skirts both at church and around the house - especially maxi skirts because they are so comfy! It almost feels like I'm wearing pajamas.

Have you kept up so far? That brings my capsule wardrobe amounts to:
  •  8 bottoms/skirts (I'm counting all 3 black skirts as 1, I'll put two away when I decide which to use)
  • 7 tops
  • 4 layering pieces
The only things I needed to add at this point were some tops and accessories. I decided I wanted 4 tops in my chosen colors of green and burgundy. In an ideal world I would love to get a black or charcoal blazer but I don't think it will fit in my budget this time. I also considered adding another neutral shirt in place of one of the colored ones if I could find one that was a bit dressier. For accessories I have a couple necklaces that may work but I knew I still needed just a simple silver or gold chain in a shorter length, and I would like some scarves that go with my colors. My budget for these items is $100. We'll talk more about money and capsule wardrobes later in this post.

Shopping Time

I went to only two stores for starters. I had been to Target recently and knew that it didn't have what I was looking for, and as I'm on a budget and wear plus size clothes I decided my best options were Cato and Wal-Mart. (I don't usually have luck at local thrift stores, mostly due to being plus size (I wear an 18/20 in bottoms and tops tend to be XL or 2XL depending on who makes them.) At Cato I tried on several things. I found only one thing I wanted, a leopard print tank top to go under cardigans. However it was $18 and that was more than I was willing to spend. Oh well!

(Samuel was my 'helper' to photograph my capsule, including these shirts. He's a cutie!)

At Wal-Mart I grabbed a cart to hold things I wanted to try on. I prefer to expedite the process by grabbing two sizes of everything I am considering and then spend a solid chunk of time changing in and out of things to compare it all. Here is where one of the strengths of doing a capsule wardrobe comes in. If a top was not in my chosen colors or a neutral color then I didn't bother trying it. Yes, other things were pretty, but for this season I only want things that I can mix and match easily. I had about 16 pieces to try on and in the end found 4 tops.
  •  Burgundy short sleeve peasant top with pretty detailing. ($12.88)
  • Dark green short sleeve peasant top with the same pretty detailing. ($12.88)
  • Burgundy cardigan/floral shirt combo (this is a faux cardigan, it's one piece, but looks like I've layered a cardigan over a shirt). This is long sleeved but lightweight. ($13.44)
  • Leopard print sweater with white button up shirt accents built in. Again, it looks layered but is one piece. ($14.96)
I also found one accessory, a simple short silver rope necklace. ($2.88)

That means I spent $61.18 with tax. I have $38.82 left for accessories (scarves for sure, possibly a fun chunky colored necklace). I don't think a blazer will fit in what's left of the budget, maybe some other season.

My first day wearing my fall capsule.

One thing to remember is a capsule wardrobe is flexible. It's just a tool you can use in the way that fits you and your life. I'm a stay at home mom slash homeschool teacher. I prefer comfortable clothing that is washable and have no need for office clothing. My mother, however, works in an office job and her capsule would look very different. Look at your life and your preferences and build the capsule from there.

What if you like too many colors? You could try two mini capsules! Select your neutral basic items (white, black, jean, gray, etc - I did my bottoms in neutrals). These will work for both mini capsules. Hang these in the middle of your closet. Then choose a small set of clothes in one color palette and hang it to the left of the neutrals. Choose a second small set of clothes in another color palette and hang it to the right of the neutrals. To get dressed each day you will grab clothes only from one side of the neutrals, plus neutral pieces.

A general tip I find essential to preserve my clothing is to have a couple of aprons and use them faithfully. Every time I am in the kitchen doing dishes, cooking, cleaning, or doing a messy art project I need an apron. It saves my clothes from so many stains and spills!

Money Questions

I have already shared my budget ($100) and what I've spent so far. Creating a capsule wardrobe can be as expensive or thrifty as you like. Look first at the items you already own and use those for the heart of your capsule if possible. Then add a few new pieces for the season. Remember, there is a big difference in price for a white tank top at Wal Mart or Target compared to the thrift store or to a more expensive store, but they are all just a white tank top. In other words, use your budget wisely. If you have more money in the budget for this season's capsule then you may have more shopping options.

What if you have a tiny budget, which could be as little as $15? You'll watch for sales or check local thrift and consignment stores. An example: I just went fall clothes shopping yesterday for 8 of my 9 children. After shopping our closets to see what we had, of course! We got all the clothing 8 children need for fall - 46 ITEMS - for $212. That is an average of $4.61 per item and was a mix of tops, jeans, jackets, and pants in sizes from toddler to 16 in boys. Many items were recognizable brands like Old Navy, Urban Pipeline, Osh Kosh BGosh, Aeropostale, American Eagle, and Gymboree. How did we do it? We went to 3 stores: Once Upon a Child, Plato's Closet, and Wal-Mart (when we finally didn't find 3 items we needed at the other two stores). The only person left to shop for is my teenage daughter, who wasn't up for a trip after having her wisdom teeth out this week.

Another possibility if you have a very low budget it so aim for a partial capsule. Select as many items you already own as possible that will mix and match. See what 1-2 items you really need to give you the most options possible and seek those out secondhand. For example, if I already owned a couple shirts and pants that would mix and match well, but many of the shirts are short sleeve and will not be warm enough for later fall days, then I would shop for one or two open front sweaters (cardigans? people call them both). I would want these sweaters to come in neutral colors like black, gray, brown, or white so that they would go over every single shirt. That would be it for the season. Another possibility would be to look for 1 sweater and 1 skirt, both neutrals, so that I could use the 6 tops I already owned to make 6 new outfits (top+skirt) plus altering the rest of my outfits by adding the sweater as a layer (if I owned 4 pairs of pants, 1 skirt, and 6 tops that gives me an astounding 30 outfits before adding a sweater on top or changing accessories (adding a necklace, belt, or scarf I already own).

I think I need a Part 2!

Okay, this post has become extremely long. If you have read this far I applaud you! In the next week I am going to share another post about capsule wardrobes. It will have a guide to online posts I have found helpful in learning about capsule wardrobes. It will also include photo examples of outfit possibilities with my current capsule. I might even share a bunch of template ideas that will make it easy for you to begin seeing how many possibilities come from just one capsule wardrobe. (A template might say: pant + print shirt + sweater + belt, or it might say: skirt + solid top + scarf + blazer. I'll give photo examples to go with them.) The templates may need to go in a third post, we'll see! 

Please share a comment telling me your thoughts on capsule wardrobes. If you have questions be sure to ask! I'll address them when I can, they may even make it into a future post.


  1. I love this idea. I may try it for my daughter. I don't think there is any money in the budget for clothes for me this year. My son just needs a few button down shirts. He already basically wears jeans and a white t-shirt with a button down shirt over it.
    Blessings, Dawn

  2. Your capsule already includes more clothes than I own. I'm not so sure I need to purge and create a capsule right now!!! 😊 Maybe my daughters can study this post because they just got 4 boxes of hand-me-downs and we are drowning in their clothes!

  3. Tristan, this is a very good explanation of how to build a capsule wardrobe! I have never really just made myself put one together like that but this helps.

  4. Love this! This is basically what I do, though I could use some improvement. My biggest challenge is, as you said, the number of sizes I stock due to pregnancy. I have at least four sizes: (1) the size I should be, but am not, (2) the size I really am, (3) early pregnancy/postpartum, (4) maternity. Maybe I should group by size rather than clothing type, because it's hard to tell what I actually HAVE in any one size!

    Good article! :)


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