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How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe

Updated on January 27, 2020
Susan Caplan McCarthy profile image

Susan's take on finding your personal style comes from her experience as a decluttering coach as opposed to as a stylist.

What Is a Capsule Wardrobe?

If you’ve heard the term ‘capsule wardrobe’ but aren’t quite sure what one is, here’s the simple, non-fashionista version. A capsule wardrobe is approximately 20-40 pieces worn during a season. That’s it. You don’t need to go out an buy a capsule wardrobe every season. Most, if not all, of these items can be already be found right in your closet.

Aim for 20-40 Items


Why You Want Fewer Items in Your Closet

Do you struggle trying to pull together an outfit every morning? Eliminating options will save you time. Also, keep in mind that on any given day you are limiting your options based on the weather and what you’ll be doing during the day (work, running errands, hanging around your house).

So, while fewer options might not sound appealing, you really aren’t going into your closet any given day and making selections based on 100% of the items there. There’re already restrictions.

And you’re not only saving time, but your willpower. Making multiple decisions causes something called decision fatigue. When you’re caught in decision fatigue, it’s more difficult to make good choices.

While I’m simplifying the effects of willpower, debating about the outfit you’re going to wear to work could make it more difficult to order a salad instead of a slice of pizza at lunchtime.

Look Through Your Closet

Decide what you'll be wearing for the next three months.

Everyday Items Aren't Counted

Some of the more practical, everyday items that you wear aren’t counted as items in a capsule. However, that doesn’t mean that you own a lot of these pieces. You need enough pieces to wear based on your activities and how often you do laundry.

  • Underwear and socks
  • Workout gear (that’s only worn when exercising)
  • Sleepwear
  • Loungewear
  • Bathing suits
  • Jewelry worn every day, like a wedding ring

Look for Mix-and-Match Pieces

Go beyond thinking of your closet as being filled with outfits. You want pieces to match with as many items as possible so you get the most variety.
Go beyond thinking of your closet as being filled with outfits. You want pieces to match with as many items as possible so you get the most variety. | Source

Choose the Clothing for Your Capsule

Start by Decluttering Your Closet. Look at each item in your closet and dresser drawers. Eliminate any items that are stained or need to be repaired. Take out clothing that doesn’t fit. Remember, a capsule wardrobe is all about what you’ll be wearing for a season. If you won’t wear it, toss it, donate it, or pack it away for the appropriate season.

If you don’t have a lot of storage space, your out-of- season clothing may end up in boxes stored in your closet. That’s fine. However, you don’t want items in your drawers or hanging from the rod in your closet that you won’t be wearing. That creates clutter and can make it more confusing when pulling together an outfit.

Declutter One More Time. Go through your closet one more time. Do you really wear these items? If not, donate the items. If you aren’t certain, box them up for the season and see if you miss them.

Remove Non-Seasonal Items. If you’re creating a spring capsule, chances are you won’t need your heaviest winter sweaters. However, spring days can be warm or cool, so you’ll want clothing that will cover the variable weather. Layers will be your friend.

Select Clothing that Will Suit Your Activities. What types of things will you be doing in the next three months? Work in an office, work at home, activities with kids, vacation, weekend get-togethers with friends, parties, volunteer work, etc. You don’t need to know every detail of your schedule; but chances are you know your core activities for the season.

Create Your Capsule. Set out the clothing and accessories that you want to include in your capsule. Remember to add in any outwear – coats, jackets, rainwear, etc. Do you have 20-to-40-items that will cover your clothing needs for the next three months? Review the list of items that you don’t count as part of your wardrobe.

When you’ve set what you’ll wear, box up everything else so you only wear your capsule.

Change Your Closet Every Season

When the next season rolls around, you’ll go through the same process of creating a new capsule. Notice that you don’t need to change out every item. A lot of items will probably transition to two or three seasons.

Select Accessories to Accent All Your Outfits

Yes, things like jewelry get counted toward your total. One necklace is one item; a pair of earrings is another item. However, if you have a stack of bracelets that you always wear together, then there’s nothing saying that you must count each individual bracelet. You can count the set as one piece.

Sunglasses, one item. Shoes – count each pair. A scarf or shawl is also an item, so you want it to accessorize with all or most of your outfits. Add your hat, gloves, purse, and tote or duffel bag to your tally.

Obviously, you don’t want a lot of accessories because they take away from the number of clothing items you can add to your list. And, remember, you are selecting season-appropriate accessories.

In the past, you may have looked at accessories to add variety to your wardrobe. With a capsule wardrobe, your accessories help define your personal style. That chunky statement necklace becomes a signature piece when you wear it more frequently.

Multiple Capsules Create Your Wardrobe

If you have multiple 40-item capsules, you don’t need 160-items in your overall wardrobe because many items can be worn during multiple seasons.

Choose Your Pieces With Care

A capsule wardrobe requires a bit of planning to decide what pieces you want to include.
A capsule wardrobe requires a bit of planning to decide what pieces you want to include. | Source

Get the Most from Your Capsule Wardrobe

Check that everything is color coordinated to maximize your options. Can you layer pieces to add variety? Do you have items that you can wear in multiple situations (work, coffee with friends, house party)?

The next step is to wear the items you’ve selected. You may find that you become more creative with mixing-and-matching your items into outfits you may not have otherwise pulled together.

Notice the time you are saving getting dressed. Now, do something nice for yourself – use the time to meditate, take a short walk, dance to a song, read a chapter in a book, work on a craft project.


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