Capsule Wardrobe

Edited by Lesley Sheridan, Eng, VC

How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe on a Budget

When asked for styling tips, acclaimed fashion designer Vivienne Westwood once advised, "Buy less. Choose well. Make it last. Everybody's buying far too many clothes". She certainly makes a valid point. After all, the average American goes through 68 garments and 7 pairs of shoes each year. That's more than one piece of clothing purchased every week. The common problem of having a closet full of nothing to wear is usually attributable to buying items because they're "cheap" or "on sale", which is great in terms of the cost per piece. But do you actually like what you're buying? Creating a capsule wardrobe means taking a long, hard look at your personal style and investing in it accordingly. That doesn't mean that you can't spend wisely at the same time, though! We're taking a look at how to curate a fashionable capsule wardrobe on a budget.

What is a Capsule Wardrobe?


You've likely seen images of perfectly arranged capsule wardrobes on Pinterest or fashion blogs. These collections run the gamut in terms of style, color and outfit pairings, but they all have one thing in common. They utilize basic foundational pieces throughout a variety of looks. One woman's capsule may contain two pairs of high-waisted jeans, a black blazer, a chambray button-down shirt and black heels in heavy rotation. Another woman may choose black leggings, black motorcycle boots and five tunics in various shades of gray. The great thing about these collections is that they're entirely built upon your unique preferences. Having certain items that you use regularly allows you to create personal style and eliminate the stress of choosing what to wear each day. You'll know what pieces work together, and you'll have outfit pairings ready to go for easier morning routines and overall peace of mind.

Instead of having a closet full of garments you feel so-so about, you'll have reliable wardrobe staples that you can count on for year-round wear. This allows you to effectively downsize your closet and reduce the clutter that so many of us accumulate and hold on to unnecessarily.

Benefits of Downsizing


We live in a throwaway culture where the quality we used to expect from our products is greatly compromised. Actress Livia Firth, an environmental activist and fan of the eco-fashion movement, is outspoken about the reality of modern fashion consumerism. "Today, the consumer is completely detached from the clothes he or she wears and from who makes them. It happens far away so we don't see It.... Out of sight, out of mind", says Firth. There's so much truth to her quote, and the effects of this detached habit of spending money on substandard pieces takes a toll on everything from our wallets to the environment and human rights worldwide. Here are some startling facts about "fast fashion":

  • Each year, the average American throws 68 lbs. of textiles into landfills. This adds up to 13 million tons of waste in our country on an annual basis. Most of these clothes are made of synthetic fabrics, so they'll take decades to decompose.
  • Fast fashion requires lots of workers to keep up with supply demands. These jobs have been outsourced from the United States to countries who pay their workers infuriatingly low wages and force them to perform their jobs in dangerous working conditions. In fact, 98% of clothing is now produced outside of the U.S. as opposed to 50% in 1990.
  • The amount of resources it takes to meet production demands is overwhelming to our planet. Worldwide fiber production uses 145 million tons of coal and up to 2 trillion gallons of water.
  • Many of these fibers are produced using enormous amounts of pesticides that harm humans and animals.

Slowing down our mindless shopping is not only helpful to our budgets, but it's also a step in the right direction for the environment as well as the workers within these clothing production factories worldwide.

Take a Wardrobe Inventory

Organized Closet.jpg

The most important part of inventorying your personal closet is determining which pieces you rely on regularly. What do you typically wear to work? What is your go-to weekend wear? What colors do you love to pair together, and what are your favorite daily accessories? Sure, a gorgeous silk maxi dress from Anthropologie may be a dream item, but will you wear it more than a cream cashmere sweater? Similarly, every capsule idea online may include a little black dress, but if you only wear bright colors, feel free to skip shopping for that LBD. Consider these factors while taking stock of the pieces you currently own.

When you go through your closet, you're going to need to sort your clothing into at least a few separate piles. The things you love will hang right back up, while the items that no longer fit or just aren't your thing anymore will go in a pile to be sold or donated. But what about the things you're iffy about? Store these pieces at the front of your closet and take note of how often you wear them in the next three months. Turn them to face the other way after washing if that's helpful visually. Whatever you haven't touched, donate or sell.

One of the most helpful components of building a capsule wardrobe is making sure everything in your closet is organized and visible. Stock up on matching hangers, organizational hanging compartments and drawer dividers to keep everything in its place. This way, you'll know that you already have brown leggings without buying a clearance pair on a whim.

Get Inspired!


One of the best parts about a capsule wardrobe is dreaming about what you'll put in it! Search through Pinterest boards for plenty of inspiration, or browse featured lookbooks on your favorite stores' websites for ideas on ways to style pieces you're considering.

If you feel stuck, enlist the help of a great muse. Your favorite celebrities can reveal a wealth of insight into your favorite fashions, so choose a few actresses that you think are consistently best-dressed. What styles do they regularly wear? What do you most love about their overall aesthetics? Identifying what you like about someone else's style is a great way to better understand your own.

Most people have a few basic looks that they gravitate toward naturally. Style inventories, quizzes and magazines can help you define your exact blend of preferences. Common style categories may include classic, trendy, bohemian, romantic, athletic, urban, mod or preppy... and the list goes on! If you're a blend of two or more style types (and most people are), look for versatile pieces that fit a range of looks. Tunics can be athletic or bohemian depending on how they're styled, while blazers can be tomboyish or preppy based on what items they're paired alongside.

Several examples of capsule wardrobes can be found online, and these can help you visually build you own. Stylist Tim Gunn has his own take on the basics every woman needs in her collection, including a pair of dark denim jeans, a trench coat, a classic black dress and a white button down shirt. These essential staples can easily be translated into most styles. A bohemian approach to these everyday pieces may include flare jeans or a flowy white button down tunic. A tomboy may choose boyfriend style jeans instead or a boxy swing trench. Keep these details in mind when narrowing down your options.

Pre-Shopping Considerations


Before you head to the mall, make a list of the items you need... and stick to it! It's so easy to get off track at the first sign of a clearance sale, but keep yourself focused on what you're specifically shopping for. Don't settle for something that is almost what you want, either. Set the bar high for each piece; otherwise, you'll replace it within a year for something you like more.

One of the major considerations for each piece is its overall level of versatility. Will you get plenty of wear out of it, or will it be reserved for special occasions? As a general rule of thumb, look for styles that are multi-seasonal and neutral in color. Basics like white and black Breton stripe tops or lightweight gray cardigans and sweaters are ideal since they go with so many items in your wardrobe.

When building your shopping list and setting your budget, allot more of your money for shoes, handbags, outerwear and key pieces like blazers and jeans. Since you'll be wearing these styles most, it makes sense to put any extra money toward them. Similarly, plan to spend less money on items like layering tanks and tees, trendy blouses and loungewear basics, since these are less visible and worn less frequently. Ultimately, investing in a fitted denim jacket that you'll wear year-round is a better idea than spending the same amount of money on a party dress that you'll wear just once.

Keep in mind that you don't have to purchase everything you want for your capsule collection all at once. These wardrobes are best built over time. Each month, choose a few pieces you're looking for so that you don't get overwhelmed.

Start Shopping!


The time has finally come to spend some money on some new clothes. Keep the following guidelines in mind throughout your shopping fun:

  1. 1
    Skimp on basics
    Essentials like camisoles, leggings, tights and layering tops are the best items to skimp on if you can. These pieces are easily replaceable and virtually the same across brands.
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  2. 2
    Consider fabric and care
    One thing to consider when buying everyday items is their care instructions and overall fabric content. Several basic garments are hand wash only, and they don't last very long. At such a low price, that's understandable, but you may have more luck shopping at sites that have longer-lasting machine washable options for similarly reasonable prices.
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  3. 3
    Spend more on stand-out pieces
    A standard white t-shirt or pair of black leggings will look basically the same whether you spend $5 or $100 on them, so it's wise to opt for the lower priced version. On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, the right outerwear, dress or style of jean can vary based on different rises, lengths and specialty sizing. Since finding the right fit is vital for these essential pieces, it makes sense to spend a little extra. Doing so will make your entire wardrobe look more expensive without costing you a fortune.
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  4. 4
    Consider fit first and foremost
    Are you 5'4" or under? Shop exclusively for petite styles. Built like an Amazonian goddess? Spend your money on tall designs that cater to your frame. The single most effective way to make your capsule wardrobe look chic is through proper tailoring. Many stores like Ann Taylor, LOFT, J.Crew, Old Navy and Banana Republic sell work essentials in a range of size types. If you're looking for something more trendy or youthful, Topshop and ASOS are excellent choices that fit a variety of builds, as well. These stores regularly extend major savings, so keep an eye out for opportunities to stock up on what you need. LOFT and Ann Taylor both are known for their random flash sales of 60%-70% off already low clearance prices, so take advantage of these events when they happen.
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  5. 5
    Embrace vintage style
    Thrifting is a wonderful way to build a totally unique capsule wardrobe - and it's wonderfully inexpensive! You'll find one-of-a-kind garments from decades past, but don't fear that you'll look like you're stuck in a different era. Fashion trends are constantly recycled, so a flattering piece that fits well is a timeless investment. Even better, vintage styles are more likely to be handcrafted and constructed of durable fabrics.
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  6. 6
    Shop second-hand
    eBay, Etsy and thredUP are great sites to scour for fashion finds. With these companies, you'll be purchasing from people just like you, and you'll avoid supporting fast fashion companies who exploit their workers in terrible (and hazardous) working conditions.
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  7. 7
    Buy off-season
    Shopping for off-season favorites is a great way to make money-savvy investments. If you know that you want a little white dress, wait until the fall to find incredible deals rather than shopping for one in the spring. Likewise, shop for that trench coat must-have when the temperatures begin to rise.
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Creating a capsule wardrobe requires smart shopping that's tailored to your personal style. Every woman needs reliable, quality pieces she can wear season after season, and this versatile approach to fashion will save you money over time by teaching you that less is most certainly more.

If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


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Categories : Home Improvement

Recent edits by: Eng, Lesley Sheridan

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