How To Build A Capsule Wardrobe

With its less-is-more approach and mix-and-match potential, this just might be the minimalist update your closet needs.

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A capsule wardrobe is a streamlined approach to shopping and dressing that focusses on maximizing a limited number of highly wearable essentials that seamlessly work together.

Kondo Fever has once again swept the nation, and the clothes piled high on your floor may be causing you a similarly sized pile of guilt and shame. In her best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and in her Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, the de-cluttering guru lists editing your wardrobe to keep only what brings you joy as the first step towards a new you and all-around better life.

Taking stock of every shirt, pair of pants, bag, hat, etc., under your roof is eye-opening⁠—especially for anyone who has ever stood in front of their closet feeling stumped for options. And once you’ve whittled down your fashion belongings to contain only those items that spark joy, you may be left with a mish-mash of garments and accessories. Are they compactly folded standing up in a drawer? Sure. Do they work together as a cohesive wardrobe? Um, probably not so much. If you want to adopt a less-is-more approach and take control of your closet, a capsule wardrobe could be the thing you need⁠—and there are other benefits, too.

What is a capsule wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe is a streamlined approach to shopping and dressing that focuses on maximizing a limited number of highly wearable essentials that work together. Hardly a new idea, the concept was originally developed by a London boutique owner, Susie Faux, in the 1970s. But thanks to fashion bloggers and social media platforms, the approach has gained steam in recent years. Caroline Joy, one of the movement’s early proponents, started her style blog Unfancy in 2014 with the goal of nipping a “mindless shopping habit” in the bud via a capsule wardrobe of 37 pieces. That’s right: 3-to-the-7. If that sounds impossible, know this: Everyone’s magic number is unique (and doesn’t include underwear and socks). Your number might be 45, 50 or more. Creating a capsule wardrobe is about the journey, not the destination. Six years in, Joy is no longer committed to a strict capsule lifestyle, but her website remains a great source for inspiration and information.

What pieces should it contain?

Rather than focus on a certain number, it’s best to think about the feeling your wardrobe as a whole and the individual items it contains evoke. And that feeling, as with Kondo’s method, should be joy. A capsule collection should be built out of pieces you can’t get enough of and actually want to wear all the time—because you will be wearing them all the time. It’s also about investing in higher-quality garments and accessories that will stand the test of time, rather than constantly replenishing through fast fashion offerings.

A capsule wardrobe is basically fashion math operating at the highest level: Top 14 + Pants 3 + Footwear 1 = Outfit 5 of… well, that’s up to you.

What are the benefits of a capsule wardrobe?

There are a few elements that make developing a capsule wardrobe appealing. If you’re looking to free up time in the morning, a capsule wardrobe can be a game changer. Deciding what to wear becomes a 10-second task when you only have a limited number of puzzle pieces to work with. From a wellness angle, getting on the capsule wagon means less mental exertion spent worrying over what to wear, how to wear it, what to buy now and so on.

There’s also a financial benefit. Once you’ve acquired the items that will carry you through the season (and yes, you’re allowed to assess and re-strategize seasonally), you’ll be kissing impromptu shopping sprees goodbye, thereby freeing up cash for other worthwhile endeavors. Suddenly saving for your dream vacation can become a reality. And, of course, consuming less also supports eco-minded efforts.

Plus, it’s hella stylish. A moto jacket, worn with a white tee, amazing jeans and booties will never not look chic. If you’re in a style rut, identify as having no sense of style and/or don’t feel like your current closet represents you, building a capsule wardrobe can help steer you in the right direction. Joy attests to this perk, too.

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A white t-shirt and moto jacket will never not look chic.

How to get started

First things first, you’re going to have to face the pile and complete the purge. It’s the only way to know if you have some essentials to work with and get rid of all the duds. Once you’ve done that you can assess the missing links. Perhaps you need jeans in a lighter wash to balance out the dark wash pair you already own and love. Or maybe you’re missing a blazer that actually fits your shoulders and bust properly? Or, maybe you don’t care for a blazer in the first place? That’s important, too, because tailoring your capsule to your style preferences is crucial. What works for one woman as a must-have—i.e. a white blouse—won’t necessarily work for another. Take inspiration from the capsule wardrobes of style bloggers as a jumping off point, be open to trying something new, but never hesitate to make it your own. Lifestyle needs count as well. If you have minimal formal events to attend in the near future, one versatile dress will likely suffice—you don’t need five. This is where the power of accessories comes into play. Using variations of shoes, bags and extras, like jewelry, belts and scarves can transform the look of key pieces.

What should a capsule wardrobe consist of?

Overall, the bulk of a capsule wardrobe is dedicated to tops, with bottoms, dresses and jackets making up the second-largest group, followed by footwear. If starting from scratch seems too daunting, try Joy’s brilliant baby step suggestion: take ten pieces and wear them exclusively for ten days. It’s the perfect test-drive of a capsule wardrobe, with minimal commitment.