How to build a capsule wardrobe

I’ve just recently shared my Autumn/Fall capsule wardrobe, and after more than a year and a half of living with ‘less’, I thought it was time to share with you a guide on how to build a capsule wardrobe.

Capsule wardrobes come in varying shapes and sizes, so it’s important to choose the one which works best for you. It’s essentially a seasonally curated closet, which allows you to express your personal style and effortlessly pull together an outfit which makes you feel and look good. Remember, no two capsules are the same, and just because someone else is wearing it, doesn’t mean that you have to jump out there and wear it to (unless you want to, of course!).

I’m narrowing down my own capsule to 30 pieces of clothing for the next three months. As per my previous capsules, I’ve decided not to include shoes, handbags or accessories. I’m not a freelancer, a student, nor do I work from home, so I need to make sure that I have enough options to see me through three months in the office and for the weekend.

While I have enjoyed Project 333, I thought it was time to rework the concept to suit my lifestyle, and I feel that 30 items is a happy medium. There’s enough wiggle room to add in a couple of statement pieces (if I want…) while also building up my core wardrobe for the season.

So, without further ado, let’s get stuck into it!

STEP ONE: Assess your wardrobe
If you’re building your first capsule wardrobe, I’d recommend starting by assessing what you have in your wardrobe. Take out everything out that you no longer wear, whether this be because you no longer like the style, it doesn’t fit, or it doesn’t flatter your body shape. I’ve written a how-to on culling your wardrobe which is a great starting point.

This really helps to narrow the focus of your closet, and helps to ensure that it is packed with pieces that you absolutely love.

STEP TWO: Pick your colour palette
Personally, I work best when I’m working to a theme, and I find that deciding on a natural colour palette for my capsule is the best way to ensure a cohesive selection of clothing which work well interchangeably. This doesn’t mean selecting only black, white and grey; quite the contrary. I’m partial to lemon yellows, blush pinks, camels, cornflower blues and the odd pop of cherry red, and I think that having at least a couple pieces with a bit of colour in them help to stop your capsule from feeling a bit stale once you hit the two month mark.

If you’d like to get a better understanding of how to select a colour palette, then you can read my blog post about it here.

It may feel a bit limiting at first, particularly if your closet runs the gamut of the colour wheel, but narrowing your focus will be a huge help in making sure you get off on the right foot, and knowing where to start. Once you get into it a little more, you’ll find that this structure will also make it easier to fill in the gaps as it allows you to be much more specific with which pieces are missing.

STEP THREE: Start with the essentials
It’s important to ask yourself: What is the weather going to be like over the next three months? What types of activities will you be doing? and What are my wardrobe staples that I just can’t bear to be without?

In this step, you’ll be identifying the essence of your personal style, and using this to create what will become the foundation of your capsule, or the starting point for a lot of your outfits over the next few months.

For me, this almost always includes: denim (whether it be shorts or jeans), a cute skirt, a silk cami or tank, a sleeveless or long sleeve blouse, a long cardigan, and a loose fitted tee. These are classic pieces which can be styled with almost anything else I decide to include in my capsule. For you, this might look incredibly different, but again, it’s all about making sure that your style shines through.

Deciding how many tops, jumpers, skirts, dresses, trousers and jackets to include in your capsule is probably the trickiest part, and there’s no one size fits all approach. You may prefer to wear dresses almost daily rather than separates, or perhaps you’re a denim girl through and through. What’d I’d recommend it taking a look at what you wear on a weekly basis. If it helps, you could journal your outfits for two weeks, and use this as framework to identify how many pieces you many need in each category.

Given that there may be a few pieces that you need to pick up to complete your capsule, you can always adjust this as you go along. And don’t forget to make sure that you think about the merits of items you can handwash or launder yourself over those which are dryclean only.

If you already have a well-defined style, or a closet full of high quality essentials, what you already own is likely to form the bulk – if not all – of your capsule wardrobe for the season ahead.

STEP FOUR: Breaking it down into categories
While I do work in more a creative office, I’m not going to be showing up there in sweat pants any time soon. I like to look put together and relatively professional – you never know who is going to pop into the office.

As such, I tend to focus on building my capsule using the following split; 30% for weekend or ‘play’ wear, 20-30% is allocated to what I’d refer to as multi-purpose piece that can be worn for work or play, and the final 40-50% is allocated to work wear.

Depending on your career, your lifestyle, and your preferences, your own breakdown is going to look a little different. If you’re feeling a little stumped, I’d recommend keeping a diary of what you are wearing over a two-week period, and use that as a template to identify what types of pieces you will need for the months ahead. Keep in mind what types of activities you will be taking part in, where you will be going (whether it be to school/university, to the office, or just a casual day at home), what the dress code is, and what the weather is expected to be.

Keep in mind the pieces that you tend to wear almost daily; if it’s winter, are you happy to wear the same coat all season long, or do you like to alternate to prolong their lifespan? Do you wear the same types of shoes on a daily basis? Is there a silhouette that you are constantly gravitating towards?

Use the answers to these questions as a guide, and don’t feel that you should include something in your wardrobe – such as trousers – if you never actually wear them.

STEP FIVE: Plan out what’s missing
A capsule doesn’t always come together overnight (although having a good stable of staples tucked in your closet definitely helps), and you can’t expect to find all the pieces that you’ll be happy with overnight. There’s a lot of trial and error, and as the saying goes, good things come to those who wait.

So, now that you have most of your capsule mapped out, it’s time to start looking at what’s missing. Identifying what you need to complete your wardrobe can sometimes be a case of scanning what you have, but I find that compiling inspiration in one place (such as on Pinterest) can be a great place to start. I tend to save a lot of my favourite ‘looks’ to my laptop, and a quick browse through will tell you I love neutrals (creamy beiges and Parisian stripes in particular), fun embellishments (feathers and sequins – yes please), and the odd printed piece. If you’re anything like me, the theme should be pretty evident, and it shouldn’t take long to spot which elements of these images are most appealing to you (and by proxy, missing from your closet!).

I’ve spoken about the concept of uniforms in the past, and this process can also serve as an identifier for what combinations you could see yourself wearing, or would like to wear. After you’ve planned out what you need, comes the fun (or tedious – depends on who you’re asking) part – shopping.

I eschew any practices that suggest purchasing any missing pieces within a short window before your capsule begins. Rather, I find it more useful to start with a core capsule – be it 75-90% of your total – that is built up as the months go on. The way that we’ve shopped has changed; buying full price isn’t always feasible, and often, new pieces drop in-season which might be more suited to what you’re after. Stick to the brands that you know, and take a peek every now and then to see if anything fits the bill of what you’re after.

I typically pick a few key pieces from my favourite designers as their new season is released, as well as nabbing the odd basic from Everlane and ‘trend’ piece from ASOS.

What you’ll notice is that I opt for quality nine times out of ten, which means that I get a lot more mileage out of my wardrobe. In saying that, everyone has different means, so if you can, focus on buying the best quality that you can afford.

STEP SIX: Know your go-to looks
Finally, having a uniform, or a few go-to outfits that you can just slip on makes all the difference. Experiment a little and have a play with your capsule wardrobe, and come up with a few different looks which make you feel confident. If it helps, take some snaps so that you can reference these later on.

If I’m feeling a little stuck, I’ll throw on a button up silk blouse with an a-line skirt, or one of my Karen Walker frill tees with a pair of trousers and some heels; these looks are so simple yet I always feel really good about my appearance whenever I’m wearing either of these combinations.

A few parting thoughts
A capsule wardrobe should make your life easier, rather than more difficult. If you’re struggling with the pieces you’ve chosen, maybe you need to re-evaluate and start from scratch, or look at loosening up the rules; you want it to be fun!

It’s completely possible to have a capsule wardrobe when working in a corporate office. It’s simple; break down how many days you spend in the office with how many days you have at home, and use this split to guide how much of your allocation should be used for work clothing, and how much for ‘play’. Where you can, pick versatile pieces that can be dressed up and dressed down – this gives you a little bit of extra leeway.

Don’t expect to complete the challenge successfully the first time around, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve set out to do something with the best of intentions, only to find my focus waning less than halfway through.

Less is always more, a truism that has been at the heart of my own capsule wardrobe journey. It’s not about striving to reach a specific number necessarily (whether that be 30, 33 or 37…), but about being open-minded in trying something new, and wandering down a different path – even if it’s only for three months.

For those of you embarking on this ‘minimalist’ journey for the first time, I’ve put together a small workbook to complement the steps that I’ve talked about in this post. You can download the workbook by clicking this link. Best of luck with your capsule! x



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