How to start a capsule wardrobe: The beginner’s guide
Have you ever opened your closet, looked at your clothes, and thought, “I have nothing to wear!” In fact, the opposite might be true – you actually have too many articles of clothing and the choices are overwhelming.
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Instead of adding to the pile, why not try something different? Have you heard of capsule wardrobes? It’s part of the minimalist wardrobe movement that many designers and celebrities swear by.
In our handy guide, we will teach you how to build a capsule wardrobe from scratch and put together your very first capsule wardrobe.
What is a capsule wardrobe?
A capsule wardrobe is not an actual wardrobe but a concept of having a limited collection of clothes that can be mixed, matched, and worn in multiple occasions.
The items in a capsule wardrobe can change every season but each piece should contain the following characteristics:
- Neutral coloured
- Pairs with other pieces
- Can be worn both for work and going out
- Styled in many ways
- Well fitted
- Sturdy, good quality
- Not trendy
While this minimalist approach to dressing may sound like a modern concept, capsule wardrobes have actually been around since the 1970s.
The idea of capsule wardrobes was developed by British boutique owner Susie Faux. Her principle to shopping is to only buy a few high-quality essentials which could be worn interchangeably.
It wasn’t until 1985 that capsule wardrobes became mainstream, thanks to famous designer Donna Karan. Her collection of office clothes called “Seven Easy Pieces” made capsule wardrobes a household name and the trend remained hot ever since.
How many items should be in a capsule wardrobe?
Since capsule wardrobe is a concept, there are no rigid rules. That said, people have been known to follow certain guidelines which adhere to the capsule wardrobe principle:
The 37 item capsule wardrobe
One of the most famous guidelines is the 37-item capsule wardrobe. These 37 pieces, from clothes to footwear, should be good for one season.
It typically consists of 9 shoes, 9 bottoms, 15 tops, 2 dresses, and 2 jackets. Depending on the season, the number of shirts or bottoms could change. For a breezy Spring season, you may include more jackets in your mix and fewer bottoms. For Summer, you may also want to include more dresses and fewer jackets.
The 37-item rule does not apply to accessories, jewellery, and underwear.
The 333 capsule wardrobe
What is the 333 rule? This rule is easier to remember because you simply need to wear only 33 articles of clothing for the next 3 months.
Some people are calling this Project 333 and unlike other capsule wardrobe rules, the 33 articles of clothing must include jewellery and accessories too.
Why should I start a capsule wardrobe?
There are many reasons to start a capsule wardrobe. In fact, when Faux created the movement, it had an unintended effect — less clothes ended up in the landfill because people were buying less and reusing their high-quality pieces more. Here are other reasons to consider capsule wardrobe:
It promotes sustainability
Do you know that for every piece of clothing you buy, you are using more resources from the environment? If you’re conscious about saving the planet then you’ll be happy to hear that having a capsule wardrobe is actually the greener choice.
The amount of clothing that ends up in the bin is reduced. High-quality clothes may be more expensive but they definitely last longer. In the long run, you’ll also spend less because you don’t need to keep on buying new clothes.
Because you also have less clothes, you also take less time and detergent when washing them, saving you precious time, money, and electricity. It also goes without saying that you should take very good care of your high-quality clothes.
It’s cost effective
One of the cardinal rules of having a capsule wardrobe is that you shouldn’t buy any new clothes — until the next season, that is. This is why it’s important to have pieces you can mix and match so you won’t be tempted to buy new outfits.
By investing on sturdy and quality pieces, you are also guaranteed that they will last for years to come so there is no need to keep buying new apparel.
It’s easier to choose what to wear
You’ve probably noticed times when too much choice has led to indecision. Have you ever looked at your wardrobe and spend so much time deciding what to wear because there were too many options?
With a capsule wardrobe, your usual 10 minute routine could be trimmed down to 10 seconds because you only have a few classic pieces to mix and match!
This frees up more minutes in the morning, allowing you extra time to relax before you head out for the day.
How will I know a capsule wardrobe is right for me?
Capsule wardrobes are not for everyone. How do you know if it’s right for you? Do a test run first and try the 10 days, 10 items challenge.
With the 10 days, 10 items challenge, you would get a sense of how it feels like to have a capsule wardrobe and see if it matches your lifestyle.
Also known as the 10-item capsule wardrobe, simply choose 10 items of clothing and footwear that you can mix and match. Make sure not to include your accessories, underwear, gym wear or bags in the count!
What do I need in my capsule wardrobe?
You may ask, what should be in a capsule wardrobe? It’s easier to explain this by listing down the items that aren’t part of the capsule wardrobe. These are items that have their own special functions and shouldn’t be part of the things you need to set aside when you’re downsizing your closet:
The capsule wardrobe formula
As mentioned previously, there isn’t a clear-cut formula for capsule wardrobes. Instead, simply remember the basics that should be included in your mix. This consists of the base wardrobe, tops, bottoms, outerwear, and shoes.
Capsule wardrobe basics
These are your staple pieces that transcend time and trends. Make sure that these are made from quality fabrics and that they fit properly.
Base wardrobe may consist of tailored trousers, denim jeans that go well with heels and flat shoes, neutral t-shirts, a neutral-coloured dress, a coat, a pair of boots.
You want your top to harmonise with everything else that you’re wearing. After all, people notice tops more than bottom pieces like jeans or skirts. Let your personality shine when choosing your top.
You can have a few statement pieces or your own colour pallet. However, if you are new to making your own capsule wardrobe, it’s best to stick with neutral colours like black, white, gray, and beige. You can even throw in a bit of chambray or a denim-coloured top.
Why go for neutrals? Neutrals are just easier to pair with any type of bottom or shoes.
Examples of essentials are a white button-up shirt, gray short sleeve tee, beige sweater, white long sleeve tee, for your neutral tops.
Similar to tops, bottoms should also work with whatever you pair it with. Just take note that some colours may not work well together. For example, navy and black don’t look too good when worn together. So you may want to stay away from a navy top when you want to wear your black trousers.
A staple for your bottom pieces should be slim jeans that are easy to coordinate with a variety of tops.
Layering and wearing outerwear depends on the season. The colder the season, the thicker and warmer your outerwear should be.
A versatile outerwear piece is something you can wear in different occasions and may even transcend seasons. This can be a trench coat you can wear both in autumn and winter.
It is also advisable to choose formal coats in neutral colours or plain prints so they’re easy to pair with various base pieces for different months.
Capsule wardrobe experts recommend not having more than 10 pairs of shoes for one season’s capsule wardrobe. Of course you can have even less if you prefer to have more tops or bottoms.
Of course, don’t forget your strappy heels for those nights out with the girls! Next are flat shoes or trainers for casual get togethers with the gang.
Last but not the least, ballet flats are the ultimate capsule wardrobe must-have since they can go with almost anything.
Seasonal pieces of clothing
Keep 3 to 4 pieces of clothing specific for that season like snow boots for winter and tea dresses for summer.
These are articles of clothing you can store or swap at the end of every season because they have specific or specialised functions for that season only.
Autumn capsule wardrobe
While most people follow their own colour palette, a fun way to build your autumn capsule wardrobe is to use fall colours — reds, oranges, beiges, browns.
When putting together your look for the day, use the neutral pieces as your base wardrobe then add in the fall colour pieces as accents.
Autumn can also be a very unpredictable season – one day it’s cool and the next day it’s very mild. So your autumn capsule wardrobe should be versatile enough to accommodate all types of weather. Have a mix of breezy tank tops and tees, as well as warm wool coats and biker jackets.
Winter capsule wardrobe
Winter is the time to put together cold-weather ensembles that adequately prepare you to brave the elements. Bring out all your heavy jackets and faux fur coats!
A fun way to spruce up your winter capsule wardrobe is to use festive colours like red, gold and white as base colours. You may also accessorise with shiny jewellery to add some spark to the yuletide season.
Summer capsule wardrobe
Sunny summers allow you to have more tops, bottoms, and footwear simply because you don’t have to layer that much. Use this opportunity to include a few standout or fun pieces that will let your personality shine through!
Some tried-and-tested summer capsule wardrobe staples include: the basic white tee, a denim jacket, boyfriend jeans, two-strap sandals, denim shorts, a midi skirt, white trainers, a maxi dress, white pants, and t-shirt dresses. For your work capsule wardrobe, it’s also time to bring out the light-wash or white-coloured pants.
Work capsule wardrobe
Your workwear doesn’t have to look boring. Just because you have limited amount of pieces to wear doesn’t mean you can’t look stylish and chic.
For your shirts, choose blouse shirts that are versatile enough to be worn in the office and straight to happy hour. Pick shirts with basic, neutral colours that would look well with different pants and skirts.
For your bottom pieces, have at least a single pair of jeans and a single pair of black trousers. As for skirts, choose the ones made from different material for variety. So for example, you can have a leather skirt, a denim skirt, a woolen skirt.
Dresses should also be part of your wardrobe capsule and this is where you get to have a bit of fun. You have to make sure that you have one for each occasion – from fancier events, to formal meetings, to an ordinary day at the office.
How to build a capsule wardrobe
Figure out lifestyle needs
Not every capsule wardrobe is built the same. It’s still very dependent on one’s lifestyle and capacity to afford the items needed in the wardrobe. (Remember that these should be high-quality pieces that can stand the test of time!)
Your mix would differ according to your work too. Do you work from home or are you a stay-at-home parent? Since lounge wear isn’t included in the capsule wardrobe formula, you may want to invest more instead in clothes you wear when you go out with friends.
Do you meet clients a lot? Then you can have more formal dresses and power pieces in your wardrobe. Or maybe you have a job that requires you to be outdoors? Include more protective outerwear and boots, then.
When you figure out your lifestyle needs and the dress code needed for your line of work, then you can prioritise what to include in your wardrobe.
Look for inspiration
Maybe you already have some pieces that are good for your wardrobe and you just need to downsize. Do you need inspiration when it comes to combining the different pieces in your wardrobe? Or do you need examples on what you can actually include?
There are several websites that can give you the fashion inspo you need to create a capsule wardrobe that reflects your style. Check out fashion forward social media pages on Instagram, Pinterest, and fashion blogs.
Just remember to keep track of the pieces and combinations you like so when you assess your closet or shop for more items, you already have a clear vision in mind.
Now that you have done the preparation, it’s time to build your wardrobe. If you’re not buying anything new and just need to declutter your wardrobe, you can do it several ways.
Again, since there are no clear-cut rules as to how many items you’ll really need, you don’t need to be constricted by the 37 items.
You may also use the KonMari method that was all the rage at the beginning of 2018. Popularised by author and host Marie Kondo, the KonMari method is a decluttering technique. When doing this, you should hold each piece of clothing and ask yourself if it sparks joy. If it does, then it makes it into your capsule wardrobe.
For the items that did not make the cut, you can sort them into categories:
- Keep – You may store them away in another closet or a box because they may make the cut for next season’s capsule wardrobe.
- Unsure – You may store this in a box near your closet in case you may need some items you want to include in your capsule wardrobe later.
- Give away – For items that have outlived its usefulness in your life, help them find a second life by donating them to charity. You may also swap them or give them as hand-me-downs to your younger relatives.
- Seasonal – These are seasonal items like winter coats or mittens that you should simply put away in storage until needed.
Figure out what your staples are
You should have at least one staple per category as mentioned above. However, you can also go about it another way. The Capsule Project recommends organising your capsule wardrobe into four categories: statement pieces, foundational pieces, layers, and five favourites.
Statement pieces are usually made up of 1 dress, 2 tops, and 2 bottoms. These pieces play extremely well together but each should have its own special quality, colour, or design that makes them stand out. They can have fun prints, rich colours, or other unique details.
Five favourites are exactly what they are — your five beloved pieces that fit you really well, composed of 1 dress, 2 tops, and 2 bottoms.
Layers like blazers, jumpers, jackets, coats are great for mixing and matching. You should have at least five layering pieces and 10 at the most.
Staples or foundational pieces are usually 2 tank tops, 2 t-shirts, 3 blouses, and a pair of leggings or jeans or pants. Bear in mind that these foundational pieces can make or break your capsule wardrobe. This is why it’s better to choose neutral colours for these pieces because they are easier to blend or match with your Statement Makers and Five Favourites.
Go shopping for any gaps or replacements
When it’s time to create another capsule wardrobe for the upcoming months, then you can take your learnings from the previous season. You’ll be better prepared to choose or buy the articles of clothing you may need. As they say, shop in haste and repent in leisure.
That said, you can build your capsule wardrobe over time so if the need arises for you to buy a piece for your current wardrobe, then go ahead. It won’t be considered a crime.
What you have to bear in mind is that you should impose a limit on yourself. Whether you’re following the 37 or 333 rule, if you do want to include another item in your capsule wardrobe, then one of your current pieces has to go. The rule is: One in, one out.
How to create a men’s capsule wardrobe
Is there a different rule to creating a capsule wardrobe for men? Not really. The same principles apply in building men’s capsule wardrobes.
Just remember that accessories such as ties, pocket squares, bow ties, cufflinks, scarves, gloves, are not part of the capsule. You can use as many as you want to create different looks and combinations.
Here are some basic you can include in your capsule wardrobe:
- Shirts – Your safe bet is an Oxford shirt or a smart-looking striped shirt.
- Dark wash jeans – Include several pairs of dark-rinse, slim-to-straight fit denim jeans that you can match with different tops.
- Brown formal shoes – Lace-up boots can be your staple piece but make sure to include at least one pair of formal shoes you can wear to formal events. If you’re bored with black, brown is also a sophisticated colour that can be paired with almost anything.
- Khaki chinos – Chinos can be very versatile and they also look playful. They can work well for an ordinary day in the office or for a casual date.
- Jumpers – Do you know how many looks you can pull off with a jumper? Many! They look great over a collared shirt if you want to look dressed up. You can also pair them with a casual shirt and trainers.
- Suits and blazers – Formal events like weddings and christenings require you to wear tailored-fit suits and blazers. Choose one in navy or charcoal – safe and dependable colours to celebrate milestones in your or your partner’s life.
- White trainers – Why are white trainers perfect for a capsule wardrobe? It’s because they look elegant enough when you feel like dressing up but you can also wear them in casual occasions.
Example capsule wardrobe outfits
When looking for inspiration, you can look at Pinterest boards and find matching articles of clothing with online shopping websites for easier comparison. Isn’t technology wonderful?
For example, in this 9 Pieces, 9 Outfits capsule wardrobe post, you can recreate it with these pieces:
- White blouse
- Black blouse
- Casual top
- Denim jacket
- Leather jacket
- Gray overcoat
- Beige cardigan
- Black trousers
- Gray jeans
In this other post, detailing the many ways to wear black jeans, they suggest wearing it with a:
There are plenty of sample capsule wardrobes put together online so it’s quite easy to pick one that reflects your style.
Capsule wardrobe packing
Do you know that when you travel, you can also apply the capsule wardrobe principle? It helps you pack light and look stylish!
For example, you’re finally taking that well-deserved holiday on some tropical island. So what do you pack for your beach capsule wardrobe?
Capsule wardrobe experts recommend packing 8 to 10 items and 2 pairs of footwear. Don’t forget to choose a colour palette and focus on the quality of clothes you will bring. Here are a few beach essentials you should include in your beach capsule wardrobe:
- Cover ups – Something to put over your bikini before and after swimming.
- Shirtdress – This can cover your swimsuit and it can also double as a casual wear when you’re not on the beach.
- Light shirts – Choose light-coloured and breezy fabrics.
- Sandals – Sturdy and comfortable on your feet for those long walks on the beach.
How about if you’re travelling to somewhere cold or doing a city tour? Here’s another sample breakdown for your capsule wardrobe:
- 3 tops – Make sure they are all different colours so you can have more looks and combinations.
- 2 bottoms – Try to include bottoms that are not exactly alike so there could be a variety in your looks. For example, instead of packing two pairs of jeans, you can go for jeans and a skirt.
- 1 dress or jumpsuit – In case of a formal dinner or a romantic date.
- 1 cardigan/jumper – Put it over your top for those chilly but dry nights.
- 1 jacket – Anticipate all types of weather with your trusty jacket.
- 2 pairs of shoes – Pick comfort and style. You can bring a pair that you can walk around for hours for those long city tours and another pair to pair with your dress for dinner.
When travelling, the rule is not to bring anything too heavy so limit your accessories or workout gear.
Where to shop for your capsule wardrobe
Capsule wardrobes don’t need to be difficult nor expensive. If you’re looking to build your capsule wardrobe on a budget, you’re already at the perfect place!
Littlewoods, Ireland’s leading online department store, offers a variety of affordable fashion items for both men and women who are looking to build their very first capsule wardrobe. Now what are you waiting for? Start building and happy shopping!