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The Capsule Wardrobe

I recently wrote about about the small steps we can all take to make our fashion habits more ethical and sustainable. One of them was to develop a capsule wardrobe. I promised a more detailed post on that my very topic – and here it is.

There are a lot of different interpretations of what a capsule wardrobe is, and I always work with my personal styling clients on developing one that works for them and their individual lifestyle. However, I’ve developed my own take on it: it’s purpose, the benefits, what it consists of and how to develop your own capsule wardrobe.

A capsule wardrobe is one that consists of up to forty pieces of interchangeable “basic” pieces that can be combined in a number of configurations, maximising your outfit possibilities. It includes shoes and outerwear, but not specific pieces such as underwear, gym-wear, sleepwear or accessories. Purists would say that the capsule wardrobe should consist of as little as ten pieces and it should be a complete and stand alone one. I would argue that it can consist of more, as it forms the basis of your outfit repertoire, and it can be topped up with a few additional stand-out pieces each season.

Why build a capsule wardrobe?

I have to say at the outset I couldn’t live with a capsule wardrobe alone. I love to shop, and I love unique pieces that can’t really be described as “basics”. I love to mix animal print, sequins and embellishments into my outfits. I like to have options and I love nothing more than to create fabulous outfits from a plentiful supply of pieces, both basic and OTT. So a strict approach to a capsule wardrobe – where it forms your complete wardrobe to exclusion of everything else – just won’t work for me. That said, I do have all the pieces of a classic capsule sitting as a subset of my overall wardrobe. They form the basis of almost every outfit I wear and they are the hardest working pieces I own – particularly when it comes to my corporate-wear.

A capsule wardrobe is an ideal solution for people for don’t enjoy shopping, or who like simplicity. It’s ideal for anyone with a minimalist aesthetic, or who wants to have an easy work wardrobe that adheres to a particular dress code. If you travel a lot or you are coming into a phase of life where you need easy outfit options (e.g. the early weeks/months of maternity leave, coming into a busy time for work), then a capsule wardrobe will make getting dressed so much easier, leaving your mind free to focus on more important things. Pick an outfit and go.

And because a capsule wardrobe consists of fewer, classic, better quality, harder working pieces, the result is less waste and fewer clothes ending up in landfill. You’ll be doing your bit for the environment by reducing your fashion carbon footprint.

How to build your capsule wardrobe

1.   Define the purpose of your capsule wardrobe

Before you start on the in- depth planning, first get clear about what purpose your capsule wardrobe has for you. Is it for work only? Will it need to cover you for weekends and social occasions?

If your capsule wardrobe is going to cover you for all eventualities, write a list of all the activities you dress for every week, such as work, school runs, brunches, date night, work drinks, friends drinks etc. Keep this in mind as you move to the next step:

2.  List the pieces you need

Here’s a list of what I would need for work and play if I were to take a strict approach to wearing capsule pieces exclusively, but still have enough options to keep me interested:

  • 3 blazers (one black, one colour and one patterned, such as checks)
  • 3 jeans (blue, black, grey (or white))
  • 4 button down shirts (white, blue, black, stripes (or floral))
  • 4 tshirts (white, black, grey, vintage/slogan)
  • 3 sweaters (one v neck, one crew neck, one polar neck – at least one of them cashmere)
  • 3 skirts (pencil, A line, pleated)
  • 3 trousers (tailored black, tailored colour (for me, pink), casual cotton)
  • 3 dresses (one maxi, one midi, one cocktail)
  • 1 jean jacket
  • 1 leather jacket
  • 1 trench coat
  • 1 wool coat
  • 1 pair of ankle boots
  • 1 pair of pumps
  • 1 pair of fashion trainers (not work out trainers)
  • 1 pair of flats (loafers)
  • 1 pair sandals
  • 1 pair strappy heels

This might be excessive for the minimalists amongst us, so take this as a starter list that you can build on or whittle down depending on your lifestyle, climate, budget and needs.

Multi-Hyphen Style 5

3. Review your wardrobe

Next, take a look through what you already have to see what is going to form part of your capsule wardrobe. Make sure that, of these pieces, you really love them, they work well with other pieces and they suit you. They are going to be working hard for you, so you need to want to wear them.

Use this as an opportunity to do a cull of your wardrobe – blogpost on this coming soon. For now, a general rule to use is if you haven’t worn something in 18 months, either give to charity or a friend or put into storage if you’re not sure about getting rid of it just yet.

Try to look at your wardrobe with a fresh perspective (or ask a stylish friend to take a look at it) and see if you can create any new outfit combinations with what you already have.

Once you’ve done that, look back at your capsule list and identify the items that are missing. This will be your shopping list.

Petar Petrov

4. Shop

If you love nothing more than a bit of retail therapy, then this is the most fun part. But before you hit the shops, let’s set a few guidelines. To serve you well and with longevity, your capsule pieces need to be classic designs (no trends!) and made of quality, natural fabrics. You also need to keep in mind the other pieces you already have in the capsule. Your new pieces have to work with as many of them as possible. Wear two or three of them when you shop.

My go-to designers for beautifully made classic pieces are By Malene Birger, Theory, Filippa K, Camilla & Marc, Scanlan Theodore, Vince, Diane Von Furstenburg. If you can’t afford to invest in high-end pieces, the High Street still has affordable options. My pick of the High Street for quality and design are Arket (well made basics like shirts and tshirts), & Other Stories (dresses, skirts and shoes), Massimo Dutti (blazers and tailored trousers), Uniqlo (wool and cashmere sweaters and outerwear), Uterque (everything), Country Road (shirts, skirts, dresses), Witchery (skirts). And in between there’s Finery London who make the most beautiful dresses that magically work for office and evening with the change of a shoe.

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5. Plan your outfits

As you add each new piece to your capsule wardrobe try it on in as many combinations as you can with your other pieces. Think about layering and try different styling tricks (a tuck here, a strategically placed accessory there). Take full length photos of yourself in each outfit combination and store them in a dedicated folder on your phone for those days when you need some inspiration for your outfit.

If you need that extra bit of help in defining and setting up a capsule wardrobe that works for your lifestyle, check out my personal styling services here.

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