How to build a capsule wardrobe: everything you need to know before you start
I first became aware of the capsule wardrobe system in 2015. I learned about it through Caroline Joy, author of the blog Un-fancy. She wrote all about this way of building your wardrobe based on slow fashion principles, and right away I was intrigued to try it out myself. I was working as a designer in the commercial fashion industry at the time, and I was fed up even just few years after graduating and getting my first real job. I knew in my heart pretty early on, that it wasn’t how I saw myself contributing to the fashion industry. I watched documentaries like ‘The True Cost’ and ‘Minimalism’ and that – combined with my own experience in the fast fashion industry – was it for me. Trying a capsule wardrobe and decluttering our home Konmari-style started out as a personal experiment, I was on a journey to free myself from excess stuff. A journey that I then decided to share on my blog, Use Less, which has now turned into my fulltime job. I learned the art of limitation in more ways than one, and allowed myself to miss out and commit more. Because you know what happens when you commit to things in life? You find more freedom. So as I made peace with my wardrobe, I started making peace with myself and my life.
It is my mission to help you discover that you can do that too, without it happening at the expense of everything that makes fashion and style the amazingly fun and creative universe it is.
WHAT is a capsule wardrobe?
A capsule wardrobe in its original sense, is a “collection” (or capsule as the name refers to) with clothes and shoes, that you can adjust from season to season and that you LOVE to wear. During winter you might wear knitwear and heavy wool coats, and in summer you wear more shorts and dresses. The essence is to store away the items that don’t fit the season you’re in, so you only ever have items you are actually able to wear in your wardrobe. Then when the seasons change, you get to “shop” your good old faves. Clever, right?
It is very individual how many items you end up with, and the specific amount is not the most important thing; it is way more important that you have the (for you) right clothes in your wardrobe. Things that suit your current style and life, that you can easily dress up or down and is as interchangeable as possible to maximise the number of outfits you can create – and most importantly; that you LOVE to wear. Personally I tend to end up with around 35-40 items in my capsule wardrobes.
What doesn’t count?
Basic tanktops, underwear & socks, bags, accessories, jewelry, workout clothes, practical clothes (what you wear when you are gardening for example). Although, you can of course make small “capsule” collections of these sorts of items too. There’s no real rules here – do what feels right for you.
Everything beside that count – jackets, trousers, jeans, shoes, shirts, blouses, dresses, skirts etc. Items that ‘make’ the core of your style and the overall expression.
WHY should you build one?
Fast fashion has a huge environmental footprint both in terms of production and disposal. It requires a large amount of energy and (often non-renewable) resources to produce textiles, and it depends on toxic fabric dyes and other chemicals that contaminate fresh water. The speed this type of clothing is produced at means that more and more clothing is discarded too, which has lead to enormous amounts of textile waste. Not to mention the human cost. This quote from Sustainable Fashion Forum sums it up pretty well: Fast fashion is able to be “affordable” because it relies on the exploitation and mistreatment of mostly Black and Brown women in low-income countries like Bangladesh, India, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Many of these women work in poorly ventilated buildings with limited access to water and are frequently exposed to toxic chemicals.
Progress, not perfection
Ethical fashion is (sadly, I’m tempted to say because really, it should be the only way we produce garments) still a rather complex topic, and also one that fast fashion brands are trying to benefit from by making “eco friendly” capsule collections, while maintaining their usual business model on the side. Some brands have done this for years, and they should have come further by now. There can be many reasons why you are not able to support smaller, ethical brands; limited budget, lack of representation (sizes for example), you can’t find the style you like etc. So – in the words of Maya Angelou, do your best until you know better – then when you know better, do better. The most sustainable piece of clothing is the one you already have in your wardrobe, so bottomline is (no matter how tricky it might be to find those core pieces you’ll want to hold on to for years), that you need to practise the art of limitation and also buy items that last longer in your wardrobe. Start there, and you’re well on your way already! Check out my sustainable brands library for inspiration.
And you know what else?
You can actually dress yourself to more well-being with a capsule wardrobe. Through following principles of slow fashion. Your wardrobe will become a source of daily inspiration and enlightenment, full of your favourite clothes. The clothes you put on and become you. No more “I have nothing to wear”. With a capsule wardrobe, you ALWAYS have something to wear.
… I’m running out of reasons why you shouldn’t try it out, aren’t you?
HOW do you get started?
In 2020 I decided to take my business one step further, and I am now a certified stylecoach – dedicated to help you find that sweet spot of wardrobe joy, exactly how I found it myself! Here are a number of guides I’ve made through the years, but don’t forget to join my online capsule wardrobe masterclass if you’d like to learn more and grant access to hours worth of exclusive video material, worksheets and so much more. In any case you do need more of a 360 degree approach to building a capsule wardrobe in order for it to be a success; you can’t just copy someone else’s capsule wardrobe or use a template you find online. It can be helpful as a way to get started, sure. But a wardrobe that reflects you, your taste, your lifestyle and profession will always be more sustainable in the long run.
If you are more into the written format (most of the guides linked below are videos), make sure you check out my capsule wardrobe guides category.
1 – LOVE (this goes back into your wardrobe if it’s in season, otherwise store it away)
2 – Maybe
3 – No (donate, recycle or sell)
4 – To be repaired (clothes that you love but that need a little TLC before you can wear it)
I like keeping my basics, the “core” of my wardrobe, pretty static. That doesn’t mean I can never change it as my life or taste simply changes, but roughly it has looked the same since I started doing capsule wardrobes 6 years ago. I tend to wear t-shirts, basic shirts, jeans and blazers all through the year, so I like having those within reach always. I call these my “all-year basics”.
Learn how to define your basics in the first step: “find your (current) style”. Also, please note that even though my basics are very monochrome and minimal, they might look completely different for you. You can wear all the prints and colours you want, and still have a strong basic wardrobe. That’s why it’s so important that you try the exercise mentioned in the video in step 1.
So now that you’ve got the backbone of your wardrobe sorted, it’s time to curate your wardrobe so that it fits the current season. It can both be based on practical means such as what you’ll be able to wear according to the weather, but also more creatively what you’re in the mood for – different colours, fabrics, prints etc. Here’s an example of a spring capsule of mine:
I usually like giving my closet a re-organisation and deep clean it, before getting my storage out and getting my wardrobe fully ready for a new season. I also like to take some time to reflect upon my style between seasons; this kind of reflection is really important in terms of progress and growth. Be honest with yourself, so you won’t keep making the same style mistakes over and over again.
So, you build a completely new wardrobe every time the seasons change? How is that sustainable?
No. That’s probably the biggest misconception about having a capsule wardrobe. The essence of a capsule wardrobe is that you store away clothes – that you still love – that are out of season (or you simply need a break from), and then you get to “shop” that when the seasons change. So in reality, you trick your mind into thinking you get new clothes, but really it’s the same old faves you get out season after season. That doesn’t mean you are never allowed to add new items to your wardrobe. Again, your lifestyle, body, style preferences etc. might change along the way so your wardrobe will probably never be 100% static. Check out THIS guide on how to be a more conscious consumer, whenever you wish to add something new to your wardrobe. Basically think quality above quantity, go secondhand more often and look for 3rd party certifications as far as it’s possible.