A few years ago, I decided my closet, budget and morning routine all needed a little TLC.
As a ridiculously busy college student (weren’t we all?), I realized I was spending too many mornings exhausted, frustrated and running late, and too much of each paycheck buying clothes I would hardly ever wear.
I know it might sound silly to some, but my shopping (and wearing) habits had me at a breaking point.
Enter the capsule wardrobe and its magical minimalist properties that helped me spend less, worry less and generally feel just a little bit more free.
Wait, wait — hold on a second. A weird internet trend did all this?
I mean, yeah, believe it or not.
You see, a capsule wardrobe is all about living with less.
Having a limited number of items in your closet means you can’t constantly be buying clothing to add to the collection. And with fewer options to choose from, your outfit selection process goes from 30 minutes down to three.
Plus, if you’re not spending money on tops, pants and dresses you’ll wear once or twice before tossing into the donate pile, you can funnel the cash straight into a savings account.
The capsule wardrobe concept isn’t new by any measure, but its popularity has made a resurgence in the last several years. Bloggers and fashionistas across the internet are all talking about their own experiences trying this minimalistic method.
But while everyone seems to have their own rules regarding capsule wardrobes (and you can, too!), there are some tips, tricks and guidelines for starting (and sticking with) the concept that can help even the most nervous among us gain the confidence to try it for themselves.
What Is a Capsule Wardrobe?
A capsule wardrobe is a limited, curated collection of clothing, shoes and accessories that can help you live with simplicity while reducing decision fatigue.
It generally consists of anywhere from 30 to 50 items that are used exclusively and as your entire wardrobe for a specified period of time. (See? The rules are vague, and you can really make it work for you.)
According to the internet and the folklore passed around about the fashion world ensconced therein, the term “capsule wardrobe” was coined by a London boutique owner named Susie Faux.
Back in the ’70s, she made it her mission to help women find their personal style by honing and focusing their wardrobes. In doing this, she found a magic formula that just seemed to work.
She would instruct her clients to start with classic, neutral basics to mix, match and reuse, throw in a few statement pieces to inject some personality and leave a little wiggle room to bring in seasonal or on-trend items once in a while.
And just like that, the capsule wardrobe was born.
How Do I Start a Capsule Wardrobe?
Faux never offered an official set of rules. Rather, she made suggestions for a few staple pieces and encouraged her clients to find the version of each of those they liked best, supplementing them with pieces showcasing each person’s personality.
People have thrown out plenty of guidelines and suggestions over the years as the concept has evolved and been adapted, but there are no hard and fast rules you have to stick to when creating your capsule wardrobe.
After you live with a capsule wardrobe for a time, you’ll start to understand what you need to make yours work for you — and what elements you don’t.
Rules for Starting Your Capsule Wardrobe
Here are the most basic capsule wardrobe rules you can use as a jumping off point.
First things first: Your capsule wardrobe should consist of only clothing you like and that you like on your body, and should generally coordinate enough in color and style that you can mix and match frequently.
Your capsule wardrobe should have between 25 and 50 pieces, which includes clothing, shoes and accessories. (Some people swear by 33, and some will say 50 is too many. It all depends on the size of your current closet and how much you want to challenge yourself.)
Each “capsule” should last for three months. Focus on putting together seasonal capsules until you get the hang of it.
Outerwear and swimwear count as part of your capsule.
Underwear, loungewear and workout wear do not. The exception is these pieces must serve only their proper function. If you start to incorporate your lounge leggings into your everyday looks, they become a part of your capsule and therefore must be counted in your total number.
A rule I stick to (not everybody does) is no buying. Of course, if your only pair of jeans gets torn to shreds by the dog, go ahead and replace them — but don’t go shopping just to shop or round out your capsule with the pieces you think are “missing.”
Now that we understand the rules, let’s focus on the how.
How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe
Building your capsule wardrobe is a two-step process.
Tear Your Closet Apart
Before you can put your capsule wardrobe together, you have to level your current closet.
Start by pulling literally everything you own out of your closet and piling it on the bed. I’m talking your clothes, your shoes, your accessories — everything.
Then, separate everything into four piles: Like, love, donate (or sell!) and trash (or recycle!).
Sort everything into these piles, taking time to try things on and noticing how they make you feel. Be honest with yourself about if you’ll ever really wear it again.
(Pro-tip: If you haven’t worn it in more than six months, or you wouldn’t be willing to wear it out in public tomorrow because of a size or style issue, it’s probably time to let it go.)
Once you’ve got everything sorted into these four piles, bag up the donate and trash piles and move them to the trunk of your car — out of sight, out of mind.
Whew! Doesn’t that feel better already?
Build Your Capsule Wardrobe
Now that you’re left with your “like” and “love” piles, it’s time to create your first capsule.
Pick your top one or two favorites from each of these categories (depending on what you prefer to wear):
- Nice tops
- Swim/Outerwear (depending on the season)
- Accessories (sunglasses, bags, etc.)
Once you have a couple of good basics in each category, start filling in the gaps until you reach your set number.
Opt for pieces that can do double duty, like a sweater that works equally well on a slouchy Sunday and in a meeting on Monday, or a pair of flats you can dress up for a night out or down for running errands on a busy afternoon.
Keep in mind that you’ll want to be able to mix and match across categories often, so there should be a bit of coordination in color palette and style throughout.
After finalizing your decisions, put the rest of your “likes” and “loves” into bins and store them away for the next season. Then, bring them back out and start the decision process over to create a new seasonal capsule.
Make Your Capsule Wardrobe Work For You
The capsule wardrobe is a learning process.
Treat the first couple of capsules as practice. You’re not going to make perfect picks every time, and you may end up swapping out a piece or two here and there. Give yourself some flexibility (but not too much!) as you learn what you like best.
During your first season, you’ll notice what’s working — and what definitely is not. Think about those notes while you’re building your next capsule, and try to adjust to make it work better for you.
Once you have the concept down pat, try adjusting your rules and attempting different challenges.
Some people live by the 10×10 rule — mixing and matching a total of 10 items for 10 days before creating a new ten-piece capsule.
Some people create a 50-piece capsule meant to last a whole year (with the addition/subtraction of a few seasonal pieces).
Some people try to live with smaller and smaller numbers for longer and longer times. Adjust your capsule number downward each time and see how little you truly need to live.
Eventually, you might just find you don’t need the extra options stored away in bins, and you might be ready to sell those items off for a little extra cash.
If you live with your capsule for a few months and realize you have a need that your current wardrobe just can’t fill (like if you don’t own a white button-down or a classic pair of jeans) It’s OK to invest in a high-quality piece that will last.
A capsule wardrobe is a good opportunity to hone your style and figure out more specifically how to express yourself — as long as you’re not using it as an excuse to go on a major shopping spree every few months.
The bottom line is this: As long as you’re focusing on eliminating decision fatigue and curbing your spending, there’s really no wrong way to do a capsule wardrobe.
Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s a reformed maximalist, trying her best to live minimally in a very busy world.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
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