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The Capsule Wardrobe

The phrase, “capsule wardrobe” came to popularity in the 70s, but the concept has been a foundational part of wardrobe management since women started having more than one or two outfits at their disposal.   It’s the best way to maximize the value of your clothing dollar.   The concept has changed slightly in recent years, where people now talk about having a ‘seasonal’ capsule wardrobe … like you’d update this multiple times/year rather than buy pieces expected to last for five years or so.   That’s fine if you have the resources to update your entire wardrobe regularly, but since most of us don’t, I’ll just skip that for the nonce.

What is a capsule wardrobe?  It’s a collection of basic items that mix-and-match well, where items move the outfits to greater and lesser formality depending on what you need in your life.   There are very few, if any, duplicates – and no “closet orphans” – everything coordinates.  I can remember first reading about this as a child in my mother’s executive style books!  You *have* to buy top-quality, because you’re going to be wearing the items constantly, and low-quality won’t hold up.   (The original plans called for you to wear the same black skirt 3 days/wk – no, not three of the same skirt, the SAME skirt).  This was a relatively common plan when the clothing budget was a bigger part of our spending than it is today.

How to make a capsule wardrobe:   Plan.  Plan.  Plan.   (If you’d like more information, I write about how to figure out your wardrobe needs in my book).

  1.  Be honest about your lifestyle and clothing needs.  Yes, you can download a basic office capsule wardrobe plan for somewhere with four seasons online.  But does that suit your needs?  It might not!  I live in SoCal, and investing in a beautiful winter coat is … well, it’s not on the top of my list.  I just don’t need one very often.   What if you’re a SAHM?   What if you work, but in a casual environment?    What clothes do you *really need*, and what holes in your current wardrobe constantly throw you under the bus?   What do you DO with your life?
  2. Figure out your personal color scheme.  This will be reduced from your seasonal colors, into your very best colors, and then you narrow from there – you pick a basic color for your staples (jacket/skirt/slacks) and you use your white for a few tops (blouse/sweater/buttondown) and insert some brights here and there.
  3. Figure out your leather color, and stick to it.  You start with ONE color and it needs to match – belt/purse/shoes.
  4. Start with basic accessories (in your metal first, then adding some interest).  This is where you add interest and distract the viewer from the fact that, yes, you ARE wearing the same dress as you did on Monday.

So, if you do that and roll old-school, you start with a very few clothes and add gradually over the years, replacing your staples and duplicating them as you have space in your clothing budget.  If you do this, each item doesn’t just add one look to your resources, it multiplies.

This is what I encourage all of my clients to start with.  When you have a solid foundation to work from, you can start adding the “fun” bits, the less expensive trendy items that perk up the wardrobe – and then those items CAN be fun, and you don’t spend a lot of time saying, “but I have nothing to wear!”

Example of a capsule wardrobe color scheme, moi:

  • Dark basic color – Navy
  • Light basic color – Ivory
  • Dynamic colors:  Clear Red, Turquoise, Jade Green
  • Metal:  Gold
  • Leather:   Warm brown

First wardrobe priorities:

  • Ivory dress
  • Navy blazer
  • Jeans
  • Denim skirt
  • Ivory skirt
  • Ivory blouse
  • Leather belt
  • Leather wedges

Secondary wardrobe priorities:

  • Dresses and blouses in my dynamic colors
  • Denim jacket
  • Sweaters in my dynamic colors
  • Skirts in my dynamic colors
  • Alternate belt
  • Alternate shoes

Tertiary priorities:

Now I’d switch colors and start bringing in the softer shades that I relax with, like sea-green (still goes with ivory, navy and denim) and pine (goes with red, navy, ivory, denim).   Add some more tops in these colors, additional skirts.   .

All items can be mixed and matched except the “top” dressiest items and the “bottom” most casual items.   Chiffon and jersey just DON’T work together.

Creating a capsule wardrobe is part of my services, it’s part of the Closet Reboot, in stage 2 of your wardrobe makeover.  First you need to figure out who you are and where you’re going, then you figure out what you have that works (and get rid of what doesn’t), then you make a shopping list and fill in the blanks.

Capsule wardrobes can make dressing fun and easy – but they do require that you spend some time thinking before you hit the mall.

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