How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe (And Why You Should)

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

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How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe (And Why You Should)How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe (And Why You Should)

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

Hat: Panama Jack | Watch: Timex | Bracelet: Target | Chambray: Torrid | Leggings: JCPenney

Yeah, so I’m pretty much the last person who should be writing about fashion with any authority. I actually wasn’t even sure I was going to write this post, but after mentioning my capsule wardrobe a few times on social media (and checking with the awesome members of the Wholefully VIP group on Facebook)—you guys asked me to write about it, and I love you all and would do anything for you, so here I am!

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like looking nice, but fashion is definitely not a passion of mine. I much prefer a world where I don’t even have to think about clothes. I want my closet to just automagically be full of clothes that are comfortable, make me feel great, and are reasonably on-trend. And that is exactly why a capsule wardrobe is perfect for me.

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

Jacket: Old Navy | Tank: Duluth Trading Company | Skirt: Old Navy (not available) | Bracelet: TargetWatch: Timex | Sandals: KEEN

If you’ve never heard of it, a capsule wardrobe is a simple concept that has taken the internet by storm over the past few years. The idea with a capsule wardrobe is simple—you limit the number of items in your closet at one time and then swap those clothes out seasonally.

So instead of your closet being packed with all of your clothes, all the time, you create small curated collections (or capsules) that work for your climate, your lifestyle, and the current season. That way, when you walk into your closet, all you see are options that (a) are appropriate for your lifestyle (b) are appropriate for the season and (c) make you feel awesome. It makes getting dressed every morning SO. MUCH. EASIER. Simpifying my closet has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

Sunglasses: OakleyTank: Duluth Trading Company | Skirt: Torrid | Bag: MKF Collection | Watch: Timex | Shoes: Cob Hill

There aren’t really any rules to creating a capsule wardrobe, because everyone is different. Some people go extreme and limit their closet to 20 items (including shoes and accessories) for three months at a time. Some people need to go up to more like 50 or 60 because they have a lot of different scenarios in their daily lives that require different types of clothing.

It’s less about the actual number, and more about being persnickety about what is taking up precious real estate in your closet. A capsule wardrobe is a mindset, not a contract. For me, when I was going through the process, the thing I kept asking myself was this, “What is the smallest amount of clothes I can get by with without it feeling like an inconvenience?”

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

Sunglasses: Oakley | Tank: Old Navy (not available) | Jeans: TorridSandals: KEEN | Prayer Beads: JDZ Amulets | Watch: Timex

After a few weeks of shaking out the hiccups and wearing my summer capsule (more about the specific pieces in my summer capsule in a bit), I landed on 37 pieces in my capsule—and that includes all my shoes and accessories.

I could probably cut it back a little bit and still be comfortable, but I’m really happy with the items in my capsule—and my whole goal with this was to be excited when I walked into my closet, and I totally am now!

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

Now, if you want to transition over to a capsule wardrobe, let me guide you through the steps I took to make it happen in my closet. Some folks have different methods (capsule wardrobe how-tos are all over Pinterest if you want to see other examples), but this is what worked for me.

1: Sort and purge!

The first step was my favorite of the process, and that involved me actually getting in my closet and sorting and purging. I tried on every single item in my closet and asked myself these questions:

  • Does it make me feel awesome? If it was anything except a resounding “YES!!!!!” then it went directly into the donation pile. I wanted my closet to be filled with clothes that made me feel my best. Period.
  • Is it in good shape? I’m pretty bad about keeping clothes that have holes, stains, and tears. Any clothes that had those went directly into the trash pile. No matter how much I love a shirt, wearing it out with a big grease stain is not going to help me feel good about myself.
  • Do I have an occasion to wear this? This is something I struggled with because I’m still working on purging my clothes from when I worked an office job. There were items of clothing in my closet that I literally haven’t worn for years. No matter how much I love something, if I’m not wearing it, it isn’t staying in my closet. No occasion to wear it? Donate pile.
  • Is it in season? If the item passed through the above questions, then it was a “keeper” and it was time for me to determine if it was in or out of my current seasonal capsule. I was working on my summer capsule, so sweaters, wool dresses, and cords went into a tote for storage. If you are planning on storing your clothes in a storage area, I recommend getting storage totes with gaskets to make sure to keep the elements (and rodents and bugs) out. I filled and labeled my storage totes, and they went to some attic space we have free.

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

Worth noting, most people leave underwear, sleepwear, workout clothes, and speciality items (ski pants, swimsuits, etc.) out of the capsule number—and I did, too. But I highly recommend taking this time to sort and purge through all of those, too. Do you really need 17 workout tops when you do laundry every three days? Probably not. For me, I sorted through all this stuff and ended up putting three bins in my closet to hold the extras—one for jammies, one for workout clothes and swimwear, and one for grubby/painting/working in the dirt clothes.

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

By the time I got through this process, I had almost nothing left in my closet. I had packed a lot away for cooler months, and it was crazy to me how few summer clothes I had that made me feel good about myself.

Now that my closet wasn’t filled with clothes that I didn’t love, weren’t in good shape, or weren’t appropriate for my lifestyle or season, it was blatantly obvious that I was in need of some shopping. Onto the next!

2: Plan.

I think one of the keys with a capsule wardrobe is planning it so that all the items work well together. It doesn’t mean all of your shirts need to be black, but it does mean that some thought should be put into what items will go together. I wouldn’t recommend throwing everything in your closet away and then immediately heading to the store and picking up whatever fits. I think a good capsule requires some forethought. For me, my goal was for every item in my capsule to be able to be paired with at least two other items (and hopefully more) to make an outfit. I wanted a really modular, mix-and-match wardrobe.

To do this, I focused mostly on neutral pieces, and then chose two color families—cranberry and teal—for some pops of color throughout my summer wardrobe. I chose those colors based on shoes I had, but really, you can pick whatever color makes you feel good. I think having an accent color or two is what really helps you have a wardrobe that feels fresh but is also über flexible.

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

When planning your capsule, you can work with a list or a spreadsheet, but I’m a very visual person, so I used Polyvore to plan my capsule. Polyvore is super easy to use, and makes finding clothes that fit in with a capsule a breeze. To use Polyvore to plan my capsule, I first started by placing the items I already owned that were staying in my closet into a set (I tried to find the exact ones, but when I couldn’t, something that looked similar).

Then, I started to identify holes in what I had. Like, for example, I had gotten rid of my only pair of cropped jeans because I didn’t love the way I felt in them—so a hole I had was a new pair of cropped jeans for summer. Or I knew I was going to need a nice, summery dress to wear to graduations, weddings, and other dressier events this summer, so I found one that would work. Holes can come from items you need (like a dress for summer weddings) or items you want (like you’re dying to get a pair of hot pink pants).

I didn’t really do a lot of detail research to find the “perfect” option for each type of item at this stage. My goal was more to give myself an idea of the kinds of pieces I wanted in my wardrobe. I wanted to get a big picture overview of what my summer capsule would look like, and then during the next phase is when I’d really buckle down and find THE pieces.

Of course, the holes in your capsule will be almost entirely dependent on your lifestyle and climate. Maybe you are a single lawyer who is in court all day and goes out on dates in the evening—you’re going to have significantly different clothing needs than a work from home mom who lives out in the country (anyone know any of those?). Keep in mind your lifestyle, and be realistic about your clothing needs.

I think here is a good place to note that my capsule is very casual and, honestly, not super trendy. I’m 100% a jeans and t-shirt kinda girl who spends most of her days at home (either working or cooking or gardening)—so there is no reason for me to have a power suit, ya know? Your capsule might (and probably will) look different.

3: Shop (and shop some more)

This is my least favorite part of the whole thing. In theory, I like the idea of shopping, but in practice, it just really isn’t my favorite—especially when I’m trying to make sure all my clothes make me feel awesome. I’ve been really guilty of just buying (and keeping) clothes that barely do anything more than cover my body. I wanted to change that with this capsule wardrobe. I wanted clothes that made me feel awesome, and that meant some shopping around, exchanging, and returning.

So, for each of the holes I identified and tentatively filled in step two, I started to search for the perfect item to fill it. This was not a quick process, because I really wanted to invest some money into getting clothes that were perfect for me—and perfection takes time.

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

Let’s take one piece for example—a classic chambray shirt. I owned one before this process, but it didn’t fit me great. It was huge up top, tight over my tummy, and too short for my long torso. It went out of my closet during the purge (I actually put it into the box for painting clothes), but I still wanted a good chambray. So I started researching. I looked at dozens of stores trying to find a chambray that was the right size, right length, and right color. I read a bajillionity reviews. I tried a handful on in store. Finally, I found one I love from Torrid.

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

Hat: Panama Jack | Watch: Timex | Bracelet: Target | Chambray: Torrid | Leggings: JCPenney

I repeated this process for all the holes I identified while I was planning. You don’t have to be this intense about it, but I really wanted my wardrobe to be carefree and painless going forward—and the only way to accomplish that was for it to be a little be painful at the start. It took me about a month of frequent shopping to nail down the 12 or so extra pieces I needed to complete my summer capsule.

I made sure to focus on better quality (read: more expensive) classic items, and I felt okay spending a little less on trendier or flashier pieces. My theory is that when I go to make my capsule next summer, 90% of this summer’s capsule will still apply—and I can garnish my wardrobe with new trendy pieces to make the capsule feel new and exciting.

4: Adjust

You can plan all you want, but until you start actually wearing your capsule, there are some things you won’t be able to see. For me, I did have to tweak my capsule some. I ended up adding a couple more t-shirts and plain tanks into the mix—I’m just a casual girl and there is no avoiding that. I also added back in some comfy skirts that I had packed away, because the comfy skirt + tank top combo is pretty much like my “lounge wear” at home in the summer.

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

Jacket: Old Navy | Tank: Duluth Trading Company | Skirt: Old Navy (not available) | Bracelet: TargetWatch: Timex | Sandals: KEEN

I think the key is to think of your capsule as a living breathing thing. Don’t be afraid to adjust if you need to. This is YOUR wardrobe, and it needs to work for you. I think a lot of times we try to force ourselves into these Pinterest-inspired boxes. I know I do. It’s okay to wear what you like!

My Final Summer Capsule Wardrobe

Alright, enough of me rambling on about how I did it, are you ready to see the clothes? Now, this is definitely a very me capsule—it isn’t super trendy, it isn’t very fancy. It’s comfortable, a little quirky, and all so perfectly me. I am in love with my capsule!

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

 Dress: Target | Belt: Torrid | Shoes: Cob Hill Watch: Timex | Bracelet: Target

Some of these pictures aren’t the exact item I have, but most are pretty darn close. I tried to link to the exact item when it was still available, for ones that weren’t, I linked to something similar.

A note about sizing, just for reference: I am what fashion types call an “inbetweener,” meaning my sizing falls somewhere between straight sizing and plus sizes. It means that at some stores, I wear a straight size and at others, I’m 100% in the plus size clothing. Below you’ll find a mix of links to plus size stores and links to stores that aren’t—this isn’t any sort of commentary on how I feel about my body or anyone else’s body (I think all bodies are bangin’), it’s just where I’ve found what fits me.

Alright, onto the clothes!

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe Tops

1) Relaxed V-Neck Tee / Old Navy (similar)

2) Copper Boom Tee / Kindred Handicrafts — Because everyone needs a Gilmore Girls shirt in their wardrobe, amirite?

3) Crusher “Create” Tee / Life is Good (similar) — This shirt has a Mason jar on it. Because, of course.

4) Oversized Owl Tee / Free Bird Cloth — I got this shirt solely because my kid is obsessed with owls right now. It makes her so happy whenever I wear it.

5) Rib Knit Tank / Old Navy — These are the best.

6) Racerback Tank / Old Navy (similar)

7 & 8) No Yank Tank / Duluth Trading Company — I’m tempted to buy these in every color ever. They really are no yank. Love.

9) Stripped Ribbed Peplum Shirt / Torrid — I wasn’t sure about the whole peplum trend, but I like that this is a gentle peplum. Peplum Lite, if you will. It fits so well.

10) Chiffon Bow Back Top / Torrid — Pretty much the best shirt I’ve ever owned.

11) Light Wash Chambray Shirt / Torrid — Can you tell Torrid had a buy one get one sale going on back in the spring?

12) Jean Jacket / Old Navy (similar) — I’ve had an Old Navy denim jacket in my closet since I was in high school. One wears out, and I buy a new one. Love.

13) 3/4 Length Cardigan/ Target 

14) Open Knit Cardigan / Old Navy — I couldn’t find a similar one to link to for this. It’s an open knit, light cardigan that is perfect for summer. I’ve had it for a few years.

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe Bottoms

15) Jersey Maxi Skirt / Target 

16) Lace Midi Skirt / Torrid — This skirt makes me feel super girly. Which is rare.

17) Jersey Circle Skirt / Old Navy — Couldn’t find anything similar to this either, it’s a short circle skirt that is super comfy!

18) Armachillio Skort / Duluth Trading Company — This is one my favorite items in this capsule, but a word of warning if you’re going to buy it. The hem stitching comes out really easily. The skirt fabric is stretch, but the thread they used for the hem isn’t, so you bend over or stretch, and POP the seam just breaks. I even exchanged it for a new one in hopes that it was just a quality control issue. Nope. I love the skort so much I’m overlooking it (and eventually I’ll probably just resew the hem with stretchy thread).

19) Jersey Fold Over Skirt / Old Navy (similar)— These skirts were pretty much the only thing I wore during my pregnancy. And I still love them. So comfy. It looks like Old Navy is only selling them in Maternity right now, but mine are regular/non-with child.

20) Cropped Boyfriend Jeans / Torrid — I have always wanted a pair of boyfriend jeans, but could never find any that looked decent on my body. Torrid to the rescue! These are bombdotcom.

21) Rockstar Skinny Jeans / Old Navy — These don’t see a lot of action in the heat of summer, but are good for cooler late spring and early fall days.

22) Midi Denim Shorts / Target

23) Linen Wide Leg Pants / Old Navy (similar)

24) Fitted Leggings / JCPenney — I love these leggings, but they’re starting to look a little faded. I’d love some suggestions of really great (OPAQUE!) black leggings. Preferably that come in long/tall, because homegirl has some legs on her.

25) Denim Shirtdress/ Target — This dress is awesome. I knew I wanted a denim shirtdress for summer, but was afraid I’d be too warm in one, but this particular one is super light. I did have to run a row of stitching along the buttons because the buttons kept coming undone, and I really have no interest in giving everyone on the sidewalk a free peep show.

26) Knit Bardot Dress / Target — This is surprisingly awesome quality for Target. Super cute.

27) Broderie Jersey Dress / Boden — I bought this to wear to some fancier events I had this summer, but I’ve found that it can also be dressed down really easily. I feel great in this dress!

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe Shoes & Accessories

28 ) Rose Sandal / KEEN 

29) La Paz Sandal / KEEN — KEEN hasn’t sold this style in years (or anything even close), but a few other brands have something similar (like these from Teva or these from Chaco).

30) Harper Sandal / Cobb Hill — These shoes are the BEST. Super comfy, and they can be dressed up or dressed down. I wear them all the time. Totally worth the price tag.

31) Sienna MJ Canvas Shoes / KEEN — Can you tell I love KEENs?

32) Classic Slip-ons / TOMS (similar) — My “summer” TOMS are black with rainbow glitter, but I can’t seem to find those online anywhere.

33) Straw Gambler Hat / Panama Jack — Giant hat for my giant head.

34) Weekender Dot Watch / Timex — Time will tell if this white band will cause problems. It’s already looking a little dingy, but I haven’t tried washing it yet.

35) Leather Tassel Tote / MKF Collection

36) Braided Leather Belt / Torrid — When you only have one belt in your closet, a braided belt is the way to go, because you can cinch it down to go around your waist or let it out and wear it normally—no need to have new holes punched.

37) Memory Wire Beaded Bracelet / Target — Goes with everything, and the memory wire has proven to be unbreakable even under the roughest of toddler abuse.

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

Cardigan: Old Navy (not available) | Tank: Duluth Trading Company Jeans: Torrid

A few questions you probably have (because I had the same ones):

Won’t you get bored of your clothes?

Most of the parents out there reading this know the joys of toy rotation—instead of having all your kid’s toys out all the time, you only put out a few at a time, and then rotate in new/old toys when your kid gets sick of the current ones. It doesn’t just work for kids and toys.

Since you’re only using the same clothes for a certain amount of time (three months works for my climate), you really don’t have time to get bored. By the time your closet starts to feel a little dull, it’s time to bring out your next season’s capsule (and maybe do some shopping). I think it has actually made my clothes more interesting!

What do you do with clothes that aren’t in your capsule?

I have mine packed away in storage totes that are labeled with the season they are in our attic space. When it’s time for me to work on my next season’s capsule, I’ll pull out the boxes and start the process again.

Isn’t it expensive?

It can be. Especially if you want to purchase high quality clothes, or have a lot of holes that need to be filled. BUT, it doesn’t have to be either. You can create a capsule without having to buy a single thing. Like I said, it’s more of a mindset.

If you have a limited budget, you might need to adjust your expectations a bit—you might not be able to have the perfect closet filled with the perfect clothes—but you can definitely limit your closet to only holding pieces that make you feel good and are seasonally appropriate.

So you do this every three months?

Well, sorta. The first time you do a capsule, it’s a pretty intensive process, but once you get through a whole year’s worth of seasons, it’s actually pretty simple to pull together your capsule each season. Unless you’ve changed sizes, moved to a new climate, or had a total life change (like leaving a job that required a suit everyday), chances are, most of the clothes you had from last year’s summer capsule will work for this year. You’ll just need to find a few new pieces to freshen up the capsule if you like.

But I really love shopping for clothes! And I love my closet full of pretty clothes!

Then don’t do a capsule. Ha! Seriously. If clothes shopping and wearing something new and awesome all the time makes you happy, you do you. It just isn’t my thing, so a capsule wardrobe works for me.

Most of the capsules I see are all neutrals, do I have to do that?

Heck no. Every item in your capsule could be purple with green polka dots if you want, but the key is making sure your items work together. Since you are limiting the number of items in your closet, you really want them to mix and match well—and honestly, it’s easiest to do that with neutrals. But if color makes you happy, go for it! I couldn’t do a 100% neutral closet, so that’s why I pick a pop (or two) of color for my capsules).

Are those really all the accessories you use?

Yup. I picked items that go with everything and make me happy. I’m pretty low-maintenance when it comes to jewelry and other accessories. Also: I have a toddler who makes wearing necklaces, earrings, and most bracelets pretty much impossible. Fewer accessories works for me!

Summer 2016 Capsule Wardrobe

Sunglasses: OakleyTank: Duluth Trading Company | Skirt: Torrid | Bag: MKF Collection | Watch: Timex 

Phew, are you still with me? That was the most I’ve probably ever written about clothes ever anywhere. If you guys are interested, I’d be happy to share with you my future capsules (I’ve started working on my Fall capsule now)—but only if you are interested. Chime in in the comments.

I’ll be back later in the week with a normal Wholefully post (one that involves tequila, because obviously). Cheers!

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.
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