Thursday, June 18, 2015

Capsule Wardrobe 101

So a very dear friend from high school texted and asked how to best build a capsule wardrobe. In this text message she reiterated that she's a mama of 2 little ones and prefers to revamp her wardrobe using second hand or eco-friendly garments. I told her I'd think about this and get back to her and asked if I could blog about it.  Here it is, my friend...finally.

I had heard this term capsule wardrobe, but to be totally honest I had to google it to make sure my understanding was in alignment with what she was hoping to achieve. Once I read a few blogs about it I realized that my entire life is capsuled, but most specifically my wardrobe.  This happened slowly over the years and started several years ago when I traveled for my job.  I'd pack and only bring items in one color story and one lifestyle (business casual) so I could mix and match.  As time wore on and I became a business owner and teacher I knew that my life needed to be streamlined.  I'm notorious for wearing the same outfit days in a row and wearing the same 3 outfits over and over again.  I also rotate the same garments throughout seasons.  So, that's the basic description of a capsule wardrobe and the most basic way to wear it.  I once read in Vanity Fair that President Obama wears only one color of suit and rotates ties that are in red, white, or blue.  He is the boss of capsule wardrobing.

According to a capsule wardrobe is a collection of clothes and accessories that include only items considered essential. I've read some information out there on the interwebs machine and feel like it gives some good advice about building a wardrobe of essentials, however I feel like even they expanded waaaayyyy beyond essential and basically give advice on ways to redo your closet to refill it with more crap.

I decided to pair down the description of a capsule wardrobe to include the absolute essentials and I'm going to feature my own closet (instead of the usual myriad of pictures of items from the boutique).  This way it proves that someone can actually create and sustain on a capsule wardrobe.  You'll get to see my wardrobe and the closet space I've created.

Now for a little back story......

Dustin and I moved to Madison in 2009 and left behind a 1300 square foot home with roughly the same amount of unfinished storage space as well as a garage.  We "temporarily" moved into a 750 square foot space here in Madison with the intentions of moving within a year to a larger space.  Prior to moving to Madison we sold and threw out about 50% of our stuff (oooooh, it felt so good).  We packed up the Uhaul and sailed off to Badgerland and inevitable bliss.  He went to work the next day while I was supposed to unpack. About an hour after he left I called my sister in near hysterics because the boxes literally filled the entire house, leaving  a little path to our bedroom and the bathroom.  My cats were in HEAVEN.  I was in complete hell.  So, I took her advice and opened a bottle of wine.  This lead to a brilliant idea (I'm not being cheeky) that I should order a dumpster.  I opened the boxes and threw out (or donated) anything that we absolutely didn't need.  We had 2 wooden spoons, one got tossed.  We had 2 sets of red plates, I tossed all of them except a set of 4. We had 12 wine glasses, I tossed 0.  It's very simple math.

I systematically went through every box (and that bottle of wine) and cleared out our lives.  This included my precious, and meticulously curated collection of clothes.  It felt so good to clear out the clutter of life that I didn't even care.  Dustin came home and was kind of taken off guard, but after explaining he totally agreed that it's all we really could do.  I never did show him all the kitchen gadgets that didn't make the cut.  He even jumped in and helped* get rid of anything unnecessary. By the end of the day the pile of boxes were gone and our house was livable.  In fact it became so livable we are still happily living in this space 6 years later and it's still clutter free.

*he threw out an old canvas bag without looking inside.  My wedding dress was in it.  I rescued it.

So, what can you do to build a capsule wardrobe?  Here are a few guidelines:

Focus on your main wardrobe; pajamas, workout clothes, and undergarments are not included. Although, you should pair that down.  It's all about simplifying!

Pour a glass of wine or beverage of choice.  Some people get anxious tossing items, this should be enjoyable and I promise you will feel so great after you're done.

1. Focus on one season at a time.
2. Pull everything out of your closet (or in my mom's case, closets, as in 3)
3. Start a pile of everything that is your absolute favorite (meaning, you wear over and over again)
4. Add to that pile anything that fits really well.
5. That other pile needs to go.  Donate or have a swap party.

Didn't that feel good to get rid of shit?!

Alright, you are ready to build your capsule. Look over your pile of clothes, is there a theme?  Most people like certain colors or fabrics and certainly have a specific lifestyle.  Mine is business casual for teaching and working in retail.  Categories include:

  • Casual (weekend at the farmer's market)
  • Business casual (bank teller)
  • Business (CEO)

It's best to keep everything in a similar lifestyle and color story.  Note that black, navy, and brown play well together, It's an old fashion rule that says you can't mix black with brown or black with navy.  Screw those old rules.  In fact, I'm wearing white jeans and we are still weeks away from Memorial Day.  I basically do whatever I want though so it's your choice if you want to live on the edge with me.

Capsule video:

Anyways, here's the meat of this novel-of-a-post:

Must-haves in your capsule (click here for a check list for printing)


  • LBD (should fit well and can be worn to a wedding, office party, or the opera...versatile)
  • Crisp white dress shirt (buttons all the way up and is plain, no frills)
  • Blazer (trust me on this, it can be worn dressy and casual)
  • Skinny black trousers
  • Legging (not crappy ones from Wally World, quality ones that won't show undie lines)
  • Straight leg jeans (medium wash; again casual and dressy all in one)
  • White tee shirt (fitted)
  • Long sleeve tee (black and brown)
  • Jean jacket (or easy layering piece that can be worn all day in or out)
  • Cardigan (this doesn't necessarily mean classic, it can be any layering sweater)
  • Pencil skirt (mid calf or right above knee, no shorter)
  • Casual dress pants (this could mean khakis or lightweight seersucker)
  • Trench coat


  • Sleeveless dress top (chiffon is easy to wear and travels well)
  • Long sleeve dress top (chiffon or silk)
  • Sweater (a style that can be worn dressy or casual)


  • Scarves (I rotate between 3 of my faves)
  • Tall boots
  • Flats (ballet or pointy)
  • Black purse
  • Brown purse 
  • Sunglasses (one brown, one black)

Jewelry (choose either a gold or silver story and stick to it)*

  • Hoop earrings (about the size of a golf ball)
  • Diamond Studs (pea size or smaller)
  • Costume ring (one big fun ring)
  • Simple band (simple is really fashionable right now)
  • Chunky necklace
  • Strand necklace
  • Wedding rings (mine are silver, and I still wear gold with them.  No rules, remember?)

*You really can't have enough of jewelry or accessories.  This is a good way to jazz up your simplified wardrobe, however I find I wear the same few items repeatedly.

Ok, let's talk seasons.  Yes, most people change out their wardrobe for each season.  I don't think this is totally necessary.  The above items are a basis for any wardrobe, any season.  Of course you're going to layer more for winter and bare more skin in summer.  Here's the kicker, summer is all about stripping down (literally and figuratively).  I have the above wardrobe, and for summer I have a small little basket in my closet that has my favorite items for summer:

  • Khaki shorts
  • Denim shorts
  • Strapless maxi
  • Beach cover up
  • Strapless tanks ( two; black and neon yellow)
  • Cotton skirt
  • Flip flops in black
  • Leather flips that are dressier

THAT'S IT!!!  You can do it.  Go forth and start cleaning out your closet and your life!  Build a new wardrobe with the checklist.  Here are ideas for shopping on a budget or by being eco-conscious

  • Upshift Swap Shop (or host a swap at home)
  • Second hand stores
  • Rummage sales
  • Curb shop (Yes, some of my favorite items were free from a curb. Feel free to judge.)
  • Estate sales
  • Vintage
  • Small boutiques
  • Craigslist, etsy, or ebay, etc. 


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