My Take: The Capsule Wardrobe

15th June 2015

So apparently this thing called the “capsule wardrobe” has been around for a long time. I read about it for the first time this past fall in a slightly altered capacity from a blog called Un-Fancy.

The original idea? To have versatile pieces in your wardrobe that don’t go out of style season to season and to minimize the moments of closet gazing. The capsule wardrobe making its way around the Internet, though, is different: You choose a number (most center in the mid 30s) and build your main wardrobe around that number, counting tops, bottoms, dresses, and shoes. Accessories and workout clothes don’t count. Then for a season, you wear nothing but those items. (Examples here and here.)

The main goal seems to be to simplify and minimize both daily choices and the amount of shopping/money necessary each season. In other words, no standing in the closet or in front of it despairing that there is nothing to wear, particularly as you build a wardrobe to mix and match intentionally. So most bloggers sell or donate their extra pieces if they don’t use them.

My problem? (And I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this…) Because of a strict budget (paid off my car and student loans last summer!), weight issues, and attitude – I tend to think of clothes as a luxury, and rightly so, in some instances – I don’t even have 20 pieces, much less 30. Or in other words, I’m cheap! Even though I budget each month for clothes, I never, never buy them. I went shopping in October to start replenishing my wardrobe, but here we are in June, and I had two short sleeve shirts. I am warm natured, and Texas is hot. Two tops will not exactly work.

Though I love shopping in general, clothes shopping is not my favorite. I get hot. I hate dressing room mirrors, and I tend not to have the same vision I do when I’m not in the moment, attempting to piece together a wardrobe. So online shopping makes sense to me, even with the hassle of returns.

Plus, there are some really great early summer sales going on online right now (I won’t link as they seem to change daily) on various sites I like. So I made a few purchases (and made sure the sites I shopped had free return shipping).

Summer Wardrobe


How I Did It:

1. I made a numbered list of my clothes that can work from season to season (jeans, crop pants, slacks).

2. I made a list of clothes that should be (a) retired – nothing overly nubby/worn will be kept. This is tough for me as I really stretch my clothes way past when I should. And because I don’t have a broad selection, my clothes get worn a lot. (b) repaired – I am tough on my shoes, and repairing them is not costly. The only way to extend the life of a pair of shoes is to take care of it.

3. I made another list (what can I say, I love lists) of pieces I needed: for instance, a light blazer is a must to make some of my outfits more work appropriate. I also knew I needed another pair of slacks, crop pants, and jeans. I always need tops. I included shoes as well.

4. Browsed sites for items I liked and added to my numbered list.

5. For each potential item, I cross referenced my list to see how many outfits I could make. If I could only make one or two, then I marked the item off. If the piece worked well in multiple pairings, I starred it to possibly buy. If it was a dress, I tried to make sure it wasn’t so flashy or patterned that I couldn’t wear it often or paired with a blue jean jacket. And I read reviews. Man, reviews are so helpful to be able to see how different items run, size wise. Reviews definitely had me reevaluating sizes for several selections I made.

6. I waited. Online sales change constantly, and I knew I would not buy until the site had at least 40%-60% off. Once it did, I pulled the trigger. I was pleased with what I spent and the value.

7. Next, I tried on…from the comfort of my own home. This is trial and error, but at least it’s conscious trial and error.

8. Filled in the gaps. For anything that I couldn’t find online, I headed to the mall. But with a short, targeted list, it was a much less painful experience. Plus, I felt focused and in control.

All in all, I spent less than $400 and now have (I counted) over 50 different combinations of outfits from less than 30 distinct pieces. That’s pretty incredible. And since summer in my area lasts well into September and sometimes October, that’s a good long time to get my money’s worth. With so many options, I shouldn’t need to dash out to the mall anytime soon, and I feel equipped to be able to dress for just about any event with my new wardrobe. Here’s just one example:


One Top Four Ways


As silly as it may sound, taking the daily decision of what to wear out of the equation has made my mornings much simpler, and I value simplicity.

Have you heard of the capsule wardrobe?

  • I have been hearing a lot about capsule wardrobes lately and clothing (or my closet even)has been on my mind since reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’ve started to realize how JOYLESS my clothes are and how much I HATE getting dressed in the morning! I love the idea of pieces that I can mix and match…but it’s also overwhelming for me to figure out where to start. I love the idea you shared for making the list and then purposely trying to find pieces that fit the list…not just going to the store, trying on what looks good, and buying something just so you don’t go home empty handed (I’m not a fan of shopping either). ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks for sharing this!

    • It was overwhelming for me too, at first. But I knew it would be worth it in the end, and I’m so glad I’ve done it. I also made sure I got good pieces that should hold up through several seasons instead of just heading to clearance racks at stores that have cheaper clothes (I’m looking at you, Old Navy!).

  • Julie Merilatt

    I am by no means a clothes person and I hate shopping, but I have recently discovered Zulily and it’s addicting. My first purchase I scored 2 dresses, a skirt, 2 tunics (my new favorite) and socks for less than $100. There are some great deals, and I won’t spend more than $20 per item (except a swimming suit). I did thin out my closet since I’ve maintained my weight for the past few years, I could get rid of my “fat” clothes. I tend to buy versatile tops that I can dress up for work with black pants or dress down with jeans or capris.

    • I have looked from time to time on Zulily, but there’s so much there! I get overwhelmed. And yes, totally with you on the versatile tops.

  • I’ve never heard of a capsule wardrobe. I’ll be honest, this sounds like a lot work. Mainly I just shop the clearance section of Target. :p

    • Believe me, that’s all I’ve done for years. But I needed to be more intentional about my wardrobe. My job is such that some days are pretty casual, but I need to, at a moment’s notice, be able to look more professional.

      • Maybe I’ll give it a try. I feel you on trying to speed up the time it takes to get dressed. I swear this morning I stared at my dresser drawers for fifteen minutes. Why is it so hard!

  • I’ve been kind of doing the capsule wardrobe thing since last fall. I don’t really stick to the rules, but I DO rotate things in and out by season (I live in Western New York, so I have a lot of clothes that can only be worn seasonally — heavy sweaters, sun dresses), avoid impulse purchases, and try to be more intentional about what I purchase — planning what I want and need, and then shopping for just the right piece so I don’t buy something I only kind of like just to check off the “black cardigan” box. And my summer wardrobe is somewhere in the mid-30s, so it’s worked out well! The less clothes I have in my closet, the more conscious I am that I reach for the same few items, anyway — and I enjoy having a closet that contains only pieces I love!

    • That’s awesome! And yeah, I figured the “rules” needed to be flexible, and as I mentioned, I don’t have 30 pieces, so I’m not sticking to it religiously. But it did help to have some guidelines and to, as you say, be more intentional with it.

  • Ti Reed

    Oh yes. I’ve heard of it and need one badly. My closet is such a disaster. It’s neat and I get rid of stuff all the time but what’s left is just an eyesore. My clothes are not stylish or cute in any way. They are practical but boring. I don’t know what happened to me. I wasn’t like that before kids. Then I picked up that Kondo book about how you should find joy in your purchases and I was like really? There is no freakin’ joy when I purchase…anything. I get hot and sweaty and literally feel faint when i try stuff on. I need an intervention.

    • YES! Hot and sweaty. I am miserable in dressing rooms. That’s why I did this the way I did. No way could I deal with that and remain conscious of my goals.

      I haven’t read the book, but a lot of what I’ve read about it sounds very much like what I’m trying to do.

      And yeah, I had gotten into a rut myself. I used to always pride myself on my professional wear being cute, but somewhere along the way, I lost that.

  • I have heard of a capsule wardrobe, but cannot do one myself because approximately 40% of the clothes I own are gifts from this one aunt who is a brilliant clothes-picker-outer. She frankly can pick out clothes for me better than I can pick out clothes for me. :p I do have a large and versatile wardrobe — there are things I could weed out of it and probably should, but what I really need is something that will help me put outfits together in my brain. I hate having to do all the work of like “this top and these trousers and these shoes and this cardigan” all over again every week. I AM LAZY.

    • That’s AWESOME! I would love to have someone do that for me. That’s what I love about the capsule – I thought it out beforehand, which made it much easier in the long run, I think.

  • Nishita

    I’ve heard the term, but frankly my entire wardrobe could be classified as a capsule wardrobe as I have so little. Plus I live in a very temperate place, so I don’t have to do seasonal stuff. Everything I have I can wear all year long.

    Also, it’s been a long time since I visited your blog, I saw the new look on Instagram, and love your blog re-design ๐Ÿ™‚