How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe

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Regain control over your wardrobe, simplify your morning routine, and feel fabulous in the process.

If you have trouble figuring out what to wear in the morning... if your closet and dresser are overflowing with so many clothes that it’s hard to dig through them... if you’ve ever caught yourself saying, “I have nothing to wear!”... then perhaps it’s time to create a capsule wardrobe.

The term ‘capsule wardrobe’ has been around for a while – Wikipedia says it was coined by a London boutique owner in the 1970s – but it has reached a new level of popularity in recent years as more and more people grow weary of the burden of living with so much stuff. Minimalism, tiny houses, Zero Waste, and decluttering are hot topics everywhere, and reducing one’s wardrobe to the bare minimum fits in nicely with the growing urge to purge.

A capsule wardrobe is a small collection of basic, essential clothing items that don’t go out of fashion. They can be paired together and augmented easily with seasonal items. The idea is to have sufficient clothes for any occasion, without having an overflowing closet. People who use a capsule wardrobe report a sense of freedom; they don’t feel anxiety in the mornings over what to wear, and, most importantly, they always feel comfortable and confident in what they’ve chosen.

Reducing that morning anxiety has the added benefit of clearing one’s mind for the day’s upcoming decisions. It reduces mental fatigue. From an earlier post I wrote on minimizing one’s wardrobe:

“There is a good reason why successful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Hillary Clinton, even fashion designer Vera Wang, opt for the same, often plain outfits on a daily basis. They’d rather spend their time and brainpower elsewhere than standing in front of their closets in a state of panicked indecision.”

So, where to begin?

Know your look.

Who are you? What do you do on a daily basis? How do others perceive you? (Ask a best friend or partner about this.) What do you like to wear? Be practical in choosing which items to keep.

Choose a base colour.

Black, brown, khaki, cream, or navy are good option to start. These are foundational colours on which to build the rest of the wardrobe, colours that pair well with clothing accents, accessories, and your complexion.

Consider your body shape.

You have to feel good in clothes in order to want to wear them. Know what flatters your body shape and reject items that do not. Don’t keep anything in hopes that, someday, they will work.

Dress in layers.

If you live in a place with defined seasons, use clothing layers to keep warm (i.e. a cardigan over a long-sleeve shirt over a tank top), instead of using valuable closet space for rarely-used, seasonal-specific items like heavy sweaters and socks.

Choose classic styles.

Don’t go too trendy when choosing items, since they will quickly become outdated or you’ll lose interest in them. Simple, classic clothes will draw attention to you, rather than the clothes. Go for “timeless silhouettes,” as the Huffington Post suggests – straight-leg pants, A-line skirts, classic shift dresses – and avoid trendy patterns.

Choose high-quality items.

Invest in fewer, yet higher quality items. This is important not only for aesthetic and ethical reasons, but also because the clothes will be worn more often. If they’re well made, the clothes will stand up well and continue to look good.

Seek inspiration and fellowship.

There are plenty of websites, blogs, and online communities that will provide support, inspiration, and ideas for how to embrace the capsule wardrobe lifestyle. Check out #konmari (the hashtag accompanying Marie Kondo’s bestselling book on how to tidy and simplify one’s life). Read Bea Johnson’s book “Zero Waste Home” for specific wardrobe ideas. See websites such as Project 333, Wardrobe Oxygen, and Unfancy for inspiration and tutorials.

Remember: "The best way to enjoy your favourite things is to only own your favourite things."