What To Include In a Capsule Wardrobe

A capsule wardrobe may be minimalist at heart, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring.

Capsule clothes in beige and pink colors closeup
A capsule wardrobe built around pinks and patterns that all work together. Elizaveta Shishlyannikova / Getty Images

In 1985, American designer Donna Karan debuted her first solo collection, which introduced the world to her concept of Seven Easy Pieces. In the decade before, London boutique owner Susie Faux had first coined the term “capsule wardrobe” – a collection of high-quality, timeless pieces that could be worn for decades. But it was Karan’s streamlined set of coordinated items that thrust the idea into the limelight. Thirty-five years later and the capsule wardrobe is as popular as ever.

Karan’s collection began with a bodysuit at the base, along with a pair of tights, a skirt, loose trousers, a cashmere sweater, a white shirt, and a tailored jacket. 

“So many women find assembling the right clothes bewildering today,” Karan said at the time. “They’ve discovered fast ways to put food on the table, but they do not know how to get their wardrobes together easily.”

Nowadays, the attraction to a capsule wardrobe may be inspired by other factors beyond bewildering fashion decisions. From awareness of the massive environmental impact of cheap clothing to a desire to downsize and lead a more minimalist lifestyle, a capsule wardrobe can address a lot of issues. (Read more about the problems with fast fashion here.) 

A capsule wardrobe starts with a set of basics that can be mixed and matched, dressed up and dressed down, and can be layered as the seasons dictate. Faux has said that fewer than a few dozen pieces of clothing is ideal; some contemporary fashion bloggers put the number at 37 … or more, or less.

Honestly, the exact number doesn’t really matter – the idea is to create (or evolve into) a pared-down selection of high-quality, timeless pieces that can take you from coffee with friends to a business meeting to a dinner date. Typically pajamas, undergarments, fitness wear, special occasion dressing, and accessories are not included in the count. And a note on accessories; these are key, and a place where you can add seasonal and trendier touches.

Many capsule wardrobes stick to a monochromatic color scheme – but if you are more of a polychromatic person, go all out. "Capsule wardrobe" does not mean "boring uniform." The best approach is to include items that you love and want to wear, they should just be chosen thoughtfully and with the intention that they can be worn together in multiple iterations.

There are a lot of lists out there, but one size doesn’t fit all since we all have different demands from our wardrobes. You can start by using this collection of ideas from which to pick and choose, and to build upon, to suit your individual needs.

Capsule Wardrobe Mix and Match 

Tailored pants
Casual shorts
Tailored shorts
Pencil skirt
Midi skirt
Day dress
Summer dress
Sweater dress
Cocktail dress
Short-sleeved T-shirt
Long-sleeved T-shirt
Cotton blouse
Silk blouse
Patterned blouse
Party blouse
Crewneck sweater
V-neck sweater
Turtleneck sweater
Casual blazer
Tailored jacket
Tuxedo-style jacket
Pea coat
Winter coat

When shopping, remember to focus on quality so that these items last for as long as possible. (We have some great advice here: Questions to Ask Yourself When Buying Clothes.) And look for sustainably made items. The best approach of all might be to comb through a thrift shop for high-end treasures, or indulge in the wonders of an online luxury consignment shop like The Real Real, where one can find some of the highest quality brands at a fraction of their retail price. Pre-owned goods will always be the most sustainable of all.

(And by the way, capsule wardrobes are not exclusive to women’s apparel. Here are some good ideas for a capsule wardrobe for menswear, all with sustainability in mind.)

For more detailed advice on the approach, see How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe. And in the meantime, remember this advice from (the now-shuttered) Barney’s: “The capsule mentality is about knowing your own style and buying key pieces that will work for you in all the different areas of your life.” And all the while, making your life easier and taking care of the planet at the same time.

View Article Sources
  1. Claudio, Luz. "Waste Couture: Environmental Impact Of The Clothing Industry." Environmental Health Perspectives, vol. 115, no. 9, 2007, doi:10.1289/ehp.115-a449