Capsule Wardrobes 101 (Hint: You Might Already Have One!)

Thanks, in part, to the minimalist movement, capsule wardrobes have become all the rage over the last several years. But did you know this concept first originated in the 1940s?  And for decades, image consultants have been trained to help their clients curate seasonal clothing collections that effortlessly mix and match. I may be dating myself here, but I learned this wardrobe hack back in my very first image consulting training at the London Image Institute in 2007!

If the thought of owning a SMALL, neutral, classic-centric wardrobe sounds less chic and more snooze-worthy to you, I have good news. You can break all the “rules” and do things your own way. In this article, I’ll show you how.

Before I blow your mind with just how fun and creative capsule wardrobes can be, let’s enjoy a quick Capsule Wardrobes 101 review… and discuss why you might already have one.

Capsule Wardrobes 101

Traditionally, capsule wardrobes are defined as a small collection of garments designed to be worn together, which harmonize in color and line (Wikipedia). You’ve probably seen them look something like this…

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “I definitely DO NOT have a capsule wardrobe.  This looks NOTHING like my closet!”  So why do I suggest you do?

According to a 2018 study conducted by Movinga, the average American wears just under 20% of what’s in their closet.

Don’t believe me? Go take a quick head count of ALL the pieces of clothing in your closet and drawers. Then take another tally of the items you’ve actually worn over the past year. I know, I know… quarantine. But you’ll still likely be shocked at how much has gone untouched.

You’re probably wearing a tiny fraction of the pieces you own in slightly new combinations from week to week. And that leads me to believe you already have a capsule wardrobe, it’s just not effectively curated.

Now that you’ve realized how few clothing items you actually wear and need, are you starting to see how an intentionally designed capsule wardrobe consisting only of items you truly love might not be such a bad idea?

Let’s break down a few more myths and misnomers…

How many items should be in a capsule wardrobe?

Traditionally: 25-50 pieces

HER Style philosophy: It’s irrelevant!

There’s a range of views on exactly how many items should be included in a capsule wardrobe. This also depends on whether your capsule is for a specific season or meant to be worn throughout the entire year. The general consensus seems to be 25-50 pieces of clothing (shoes, accessories, under garments, and athletic wear typically excluded).

In my opinion (which is why you’re here, right?), the number of items you own should be based on SO MUCH MORE than a randomly Googled capsule wardrobe rule. Instead, consider your unique lifestyle, preferences, storage space, personal values, needs, and budget to determine what feels right for you.

At the end of the day, I believe the number of items in your wardrobe is irrelevant. It’s always quality over quantity of items in my book. And if your closet is meeting the needs of your everyday life, that’s what counts.

What items should make up your capsule wardrobe?

Traditionally: Closet “essentials” like a classic white t-shirt, black pants, 1-2 pairs of jeans, a cardigan for layering, a little black dress, etc.

HER Style philosophy: Check OUT of generic checklists

For funsies, type “what items should be in a capsule wardrobe” into your favorite search engine and see what happens.

(Spoiler alert!) You’ll find pages… and pages… and pages!… of closet essentials checklists.  Of course, almost no two are the same. Want to know why?

Because everyone’s lifestyles, personal tastes, and preferences are unique. So are yours.

Instead of a generic closet wardrobe checklist (aka: someone else’s dream closet), gather inspiration from a few, and then create your own list instead. Think about the activities you do in your average week and the items you’d ideally have on hand to feel effortlessly pulled together.

Love slipping into the perfect pair of jeans everyday? You’ll likely need more denim options on hand than a dress or skirt enthusiast.

Constantly running your kids to the park, play dates, and soccer practice? Your wardrobe must-haves will probably be more casual than a single worker bee, focusing full-time hours on building her own business.

You get the idea.

Which colors should you incorporate into your capsule wardrobe?

Traditionally: 1-2 neutral bases (think black or navy & white or gray), 2-3 core colors (like light blue, camel, blush pink), and 1-2 accent colors or prints (perhaps a pop of plum or eye-catching leopard print)

HER Style philosophy: Pull from your personal color palette

While I don’t disagree with the general advice out there about choosing colors for a capsule wardrobe, I do find it limiting. As someone who loves color just as much as a great neutral, I know I’d get bored FAST with less than 10 hues in my closet.

The solution? Pull from your personal color palette instead. Your best hues are already designed to compliment your personal coloring, personality, and preferences — and BONUS! — your hand-selected colors are in perfect harmony with one another. This means any combination of them will work.

Don’t have a personal color palette yet? Take a peek at this article for some immediate, personalized color inspo. Or head to my Personal Color Analysis page to get started!

Since the goal of a capsule wardrobe is to have a smaller number of clothes that seamlessly mix and match, your personal color palette is the perfect resource to make this process full of possibilities rather than limitations.

Which styles should you adopt in your capsule wardrobe?

Traditionally: Classic pieces that never go out of style

HER Style philosophy: Whatever aligns with YOUR signature style

When you’re working toward a well-curated closet, it makes sense to opt for items with longevity. Avoiding the latest fads and filling your wardrobe with pieces that stand the test of time will give you the greatest return on your investment. This logic is airtight for those with a traditional style. But what about those of us who like a little more variety?

Rather than creating a cookie-cutter capsule, look for pieces that light you UP, reflect your one-of-a-kind personality, align with your lifestyle, and work together to enhance your own enviable signature style.

If you want all the feminine feels, pick up a top with ruffled sleeves or a peplum silhouette rather than a basic white tee.

If your goal is to stand out in the crowd, go for bold prints that catch your eye (in your best colors, of course!) and dramatic lines.

I’m all for eco-friendly over fast fashion. But don’t spend a small fortune on items you might tire of quickly. It’s a good rule of thumb to make sure every piece you add in will coordinate with at least 3-5 other articles of clothing in your wardrobe. Give yourself some options, a good old-fashioned gut check, and some space to evaluate your priorities before you buy.

Remember to always do what works for YOU. If you love the idea of a classic, all-neutral wardrobe or feel like having fewer color options will free you up from analysis paralysis, then do you, boo. Whether a rule follower or breaker, I hope this shows you there’s no singular way to create the capsule wardrobe of your dreams.

And tell me in the comments, what are your thoughts on capsule wardrobes? Have you or will you be giving this closet concept a try?

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