Last year’s Marie Kondo craze really inspired me to take a closer look at the clothes in my wardrobe, to see which ones “sparked joy” and which ones didn’t. Needless to say, I learnt a lot about myself based on the clothes I hoard but hardly wear. This led me to doing a closet detox, where I ‘shopped my closet’ for 30 days, rewearing designs I hadn’t worn in a while but wanted to give a second chance. Over the past year, I’ve done multiple mini closet detoxes, and even (responsibly) cleared my closet of what no longer suits my style. Yet, I still find myself decluttering, over and over again. Will I ever reach closet nirvana? I often reflect on the prospect of being happier with less—but how? This led me to my next sartorial experiment: trying out a capsule wardrobe.
Now, creating a capsule wardrobe isn’t a new invention. Our grandparents definitely knew a thing or two about rewearing, repairing and making the most with less. So what is it about this small, curated collection of clothes that has piqued the interest of so many fashion and sustainability enthusiasts? After attempting to build my own, I now understand the hype: there’s so many more benefits to downsizing your wardrobe than just saving space! What’s more, I managed to create 45 looks with just 13 core pieces from ZERRIN’s arsenal of ethical brands and a few honourable mentions from my own closet. Yes, that’s two months worth of outfits! And no, we’re not here to tell you to only wear plain white tees and beige trousers here, this guide will help you build a capsule wardrobe to suit your lifestyle.
What is a capsule wardrobe?
As its name suggests, a capsule wardrobe is a curated collection of clothes you love that are timeless and versatile enough to be worn continuously and styled in different ways. But if (like me) you spent a minute searching capsule closet ideas on Pinterest and felt flabbergasted by the neatly collaged images of black, white and a touch of denim, you might think it’s not for you.
The brief said downsized wardrobe, not necessarily devoid of bold colours, prints or personal style. Maybe, if that’s your style you’d probably find it easier to cannonball into building your capsule wardrobe. However, if you’re a bit like me, and can’t live without 50 different outfit choices spanning animal print, floral, clashing patterns or varying silhouettes in the morning, you might be hesitant to dip even a toe. So this is where this guide differs from other capsule wardrobe ideas. Not only will there be no fixed limit to how many clothes you can keep in your capsule wardrobe, but I also encourage you to use it as a tee-off point instead of a strict rulebook.
Having a capsule closet means you don’t need a lot of clothes to make dozens of outfits. Consciously choosing less, but more versatile pieces are the key to making the most of your closet. Plus, owning less means you can afford to invest a little bit more into each piece. Having well-tailored, high-quality and comfortable pieces increases longevity and makes you feel more polished.
Not your average capsule wardrobe
Putting the ‘fun’ in ‘functional’, I believe that having a minimal wardrobe and a maximalist style did not have to be mutually exclusive. It’s all about striking a balance between the suits and the sequins and making sure each found its own place. The last place you want to be is in another closet rut feeling like you have nothing to wear despite carefully curating your capsule. Especially if you’re afraid of repeating outfits, I’ll specify some tips and tricks to squeeze out all the potential from each of your garments.
Why should you start a capsule wardrobe?
While the proverb ‘the more the merrier’ works for adding guests to a party, applying it to your wardrobe might make you far from merry. Here’s why creating a capsule wardrobe may be your best style solution this year:
- It helps you downsize your wardrobe yet maximise what you have. Did you know that we wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time? Having a capsule wardrobe ensures you’re wearing 100% of your wardrobe all the time. Flip your thinking: would you rather have more outfits or more clothes?
- It helps you declutter your mind and purchase more intentionally. A capsule wardrobe helps you improve your relationship with your clothes. We’re often bombarded with thoughts, advertisements and outside opinions of what we should wear. But when you think in terms of a capsule wardrobe, you’re essentially loosening the hold fleeting trends have on your style. Essentially, a capsule closet is a more concentrated view of your style, your priorities, your purchasing habits and so much forth. Because of that, building your capsule wardrobe with pieces you have an emotional connection with helps you be more mindful of the origins of your clothes, who made them and under what conditions. It also helps you think of yourself as a curator vs. a consumer.
- It’s easier and less time-consuming to get dressed. Capsule closets reduce the stress and ‘decision fatigue’ of getting dressed. This frees up more of your time to get other things done, instead of overthinking which pants go with which top.
- A capsule wardrobe helps you look instantly put together. When you know all your clothes pair well with everything else, you’re able to quickly throw something on without much fuss.
- You save money! Being in an ‘I have nothing to wear’ rut means you’re more likely to impulse shop. Adding high-quality, timeless pieces to your capsule lets you wear them over a long period of time and reduces the cost per wear of all your clothes.
How to curate your own capsule wardrobe
Step 1: Identify your outfit categories.
You need to know what your closet is meant to accommodate. This means breaking down your wardrobe based on your daily needs. Whether you work from home or have to attend many formal events, you will need to pick your clothes accordingly. The most common categories are work formals, casual, weekend and special occasions. For example, if you spend a lot of time working from home, partake in a few weekend activities, have a more smart-casual style and don’t have many special events to attend, your breakdown might be 40% work formals, 30% casual, 25% weekend and 5% special occasion wear. When you can figure out how big each category’s fraction is, you’ll be more mindful of the pieces you add.
Important note: this capsule closet does not include uniforms, activewear, sleepwear and underwear so they will not count towards your capsule wardrobe size.
Step 2: Strike a balance between basics and statements.
If you want to create a capsule wardrobe that you won’t exhaust in a week, you need to mix it in with a good amount of statement pieces with your closet fundamentals to keep things versatile and fresh. Mostly neutral colours will help to mix and match, but not everyone wants to dress in black, white and navy. You need to find what your basics are because basics do not mean the same to everyone. For some, it could be white shirts, jeans or a suit for others, it’s sequinned pants, printed dresses and fedoras.
Choose what suits your style preferences. The easiest way is to pick from the pieces you reach out for the most. The same goes for your statement pieces; pick items that can easily elevate or change the mood of an outfit if you add or remove it. Plus, when it comes to finding the right balance, it’s not as easy as 50/50. Just as you broke down your outfit categories, think of basics and statements relative to your lifestyle needs. A general rule of thumb requires more basics than statements, say ⅗ are basics and ⅖ are statements. However, follow what makes sense for you and feel free to break some rules!
Step 3: Pick your number and stick to it.
While you don’t necessarily have to dwindle your closet down to a neat, round number, it helps to keep track of what you have. Many capsule closet enthusiasts follow Project 333 where you stick to 33 items for 3 months or the 10×10 challenge for those trying a capsule for the first time. More proof that capsule closets don’t have to be dowdy and boring, author Elizabeth Cline even put a bold spin to the 10×10 challenge and called it the Glam Capsule Challenge.
If you’re like me and love the fact that you can create two month’s worth of outfits with just over a dozen pieces, it helps to keep track of a number. Ideally, you would not be shopping during this time. However, if you do have to get anything for your capsule, switch it out with something so your number stays intact. You can choose to stick to your current capsule for as little as a month or as long as a season. After that, you can either stick to the same number when you curate your next capsule or be a little more flexible if you have other items to consider such as sweaters, coats and jackets.
Step 4: Mix and match to your closet’s full extent.
Probably the most important part of building your capsule is knowing how to make clothes work with each other. The traditional capsule closet sticks with neutrals of similar shades, saturation and hues for easy pairing. However, if beige, greige and grey are not your cup of tea, learn how to mix and match. You can do that by mixing solids with prints, prints with prints and colour blocking two or more colours. The easiest way to do that is to pick colours opposite or next to each other on the colour wheel. For example, the blues and yellows I’ve picked out in this capsule are complementary, and the red and pink are close to each other on the colour wheel. This helps to bring some cohesion to the outfit. Still, don’t be afraid to try new combinations with the same clothes.
Next, the most realistic way to have a versatile capsule is to make sure each of your items is interchangeable. For example, doubles the number of outfits you can create by choosing tops that pair well with every bottom. Plus, try to find 5 different ways to wear something before adding it to your capsule. Wear it as it is, backwards, as outerwear, as inner wear, play with proportions and embrace layering.
Step 5: Shoes maketh the outfit.
Even if it’s the last thing we put on while getting dressed, don’t underestimate the importance of footwear. However, that doesn’t mean you need fifty options to create fifty looks. I would say 3 kinds of footwear is more than enough – white sneakers, classic black boots, neutral heels. If you were to add a 4th pair, the best is to go for a pair of comfy slides that can substitute your heels for when you want a more laid-back yet elevated mood.
10 Do’s and Don’ts
Don’t start from scratch and get rid of all your clothes. Always audit your own closet to see what you have that fits your ideal capsule closet. After which you can fill in any gaps responsibly.
Do pause all shopping. Make sure you buy anything you need before you start the capsule wardrobe. Else you might find it hard to incorporate anything new into your mix and match collection. If you want to add something in, try to take something out.
Don’t forget to accessorise. An outfit can completely change based on how you style it with the right accessories, bags, shoes and outerwear.
Do dress for the climate(s) you’re in. Choose breathable fabrics such as cotton, hemp and linen for those hot and humid months. Keep the leathers and polyester blends for cooler days. If you experience four seasons, prepare for the other times of the year by keeping those pieces in storage.
Don’t keep your capsule closet with the rest of your clothes. Most of us won’t give up the rest of our clothes while testing out the capsule closet lifestyle. However, it’s important to not keep them in the same space. This can cause a lot of physical and mental clutter. Hang your capsule in your closet or even on a clothing rack, and the rest of your clothes in a dresser or folded away. This way it doesn’t get in the way of your current capsule.
Do use high-quality garments for your capsule. The purpose of this capsule is to make a few items go a long way. However, it’ll be harder to do so if the clothes you wear are hanging by a thread after a few washes. It’s a timely investment to have high-quality clothes. In the long run, it saves you a lot of money and time replacing your old clothes. And besides, since you only have a few clothes to work with, you have fewer repairs to do. This means you learn to value each of them better.
Don’t be afraid to add in any trendy pieces of clothing you might like. Given that a majority of your clothing are timeless, versatile and work well with the rest, you can easily style your trendy pieces in different ways to make the most of them.
Do choose clothing that is practical, and I don’t mean boring. Choose clothes that are functional, fit and flatter you well, easy to take care of, and things that you want to reach out for. It also helps if they are multi-purpose. A short sleeve shirt that you usually wear on its own can be worn as an outer layer over a tank top or a dress instead.
Don’t just wear your clothes in a conventional way. Try to wear them backwards, over or under something else, and don’t be afraid to get experimental. This should be something you think about before you commence, so you know how many unique wears you can get with the same garment.
Do layer smartly. This goes without saying that you don’t have to layer all the time, or when it’s too uncomfortable (read: too hot) to layer a turtleneck under a dress. But sometimes, an oversized shirt goes a long way to make something too formal look more casual. The same goes for a chic blazer to transform the mood of one outfit to convey a whole new message.
Capsule closets are evolving
A capsule wardrobe is meant to reduce strain and time when getting ready. However, during the pandemic, when time is all we have with working from home and not many places to go, the priority shifts from efficiency to enjoyment. We want the clothes we wear to not just represent who we are, but what we need emotionally. A respite or simply a reason to feel special, capsule closets are now adapting to support a new kind of lifestyle that values intentionality as well as logic. For example, all the pieces in this capsule closet were curated to be multi-purpose and stylish. Our wardrobes need intentionality built-in from the get-go – and a capsule closet makes it easier to get started.
With a background in fashion and textiles, Durva is an ardent photographer and advocate of social justice. She enjoys writing about fashion, socio-political issues within sustainability and partakes in the occasional 'who wore it better' banter on Diet Prada.