The Why It was a Sunday about a month ago when I decided that things needed to change. There wasn’t a cathartic last-straw moment that heralded this decision, but rather a slowly growing feeling that something wasn’t right. Call it maturity, maybe. I felt choked by my closet. Obsessed–far too obsessed–with clothes. Years of being… View Article

How to Put Together a Comprehensive Capsule Wardrobe

The Why

It was a Sunday about a month ago when I decided that things needed to change. There wasn’t a cathartic last-straw moment that heralded this decision, but rather a slowly growing feeling that something wasn’t right. Call it maturity, maybe.

I felt choked by my closet. Obsessed–far too obsessed–with clothes. Years of being a fashion blogger and collaborating with brands had left my wardrobe bulging with garments. I felt a constant desire to add more things to my collection. I know it’s a bit of a platitude to blame this on our society, but the truth is, our culture is one of consumption. I constantly felt pressure to wear new outfits–I often laid in bed at night putting together the next day’s outfit in my head, always steering clear of combinations I’d worn before. At work I regularly found myself mindless browsing the new arrivals at my favorite retailers.

My collection of clothing had grown to a preposterous size. I often felt guilt about only wearing new items a few times before they were replaced with yet more new items. I had so much jewelry that I could lose a favorite pair of earrings behind my headboard and not remember them for well over a year because I simply had so many other pairs to wear.

There was a time when I dreamed of this lifestyle. When I started fashion blogging my wardrobe was a modest size. It all fit, as I recall, in my half of the Ikea PAX wardrobe my husband and I shared. At that time I was reading blogs like Gal Meets Glam, 9 to 5 Chic, and Extra Petite and was utterly enamored with their collections of clothing. Their expansive wardrobes seemed to provide the perfect outfit for literally any occasion. Their collections of designer handbags were intensely enviable. Part of starting my own fashion blog was aspirational–I wanted to be like them. I figured that if my blog got popular enough I would also be sent free clothing and designer bags and I could live the dream I saw them living.

As I edited the photos from our Hawaii vacation I realized that I am living that dream–or at least starting to. I’ve been collaborating more and more frequently with brands. My photography skills have grown to the point where this space has gone from being a pet project to a full-on commercial venture. I have Kate Spade bags, designer shoes, and endless items of clothing that were given to me free of charge. I achieved what I set out to do.

But on that Sunday about a month ago, sorting through the latest Loft sale purchases I’d made I realized that I didn’t feel satisfied. Happy? Sure, in a kind of instant gratification way. But not satisfied. I thought about what the future might hold for me. Julia Engel of Gal Meets Glam has so many seriously expensive designer handbags that most of them sit on the shelf indefinitely. It’s almost sad to think of all the nice things she has that she never even uses simply due to the ever present need to acquire more stuff. When does it end?

I’m smart enough to know that it’s absolutely ridiculous to spend this much time focusing on clothing. Dressing well is a fun hobby and not one I want to eliminate from my life entirely, but spending every waking moment thinking about clothing is not a healthy pursuit. There are, quite simply, other more substantial things in my life that deserve that kind of focus and attention. I’m also smart enough to know that the pressure to always be buying or wearing something new is manufactured by the culture in which I live. It’s not a healthy pressure–in fact it has all kinds of terrible consequences–everything from environment destruction on a global scale to the wasted hours we all spend shopping for things we don’t need on a more personal scale.

As I thought about this, I realized that not only did I have an enormity of clothing in my closet–way more clothing than any one person could need–but also that much of my clothing wasn’t serving me. I had an obsession with high heels and owned a preponderance of them, and yet I rarely had the opportunities to wear them so they sat gathering dust. At the same time, I had literally not one single pair of shoes that were both work appropriate and comfortable enough to wear at my standing desk all day. I had literally been standing in my bare (tights clad) feet on my standing desk pad at work for lack of appropriate footwear.

This feeling built momentum in me until I made my decision one month ago to fix the two problems that were most plaguing me, and those were:

1. I had far too much clothing and I had an unhealthy obsession with continually buying new things I didn’t need.
2. My clothing didn’t fit my lifestyle. Being acquired in bursts of desire and emotion, my clothing fit, as Unfancy puts it, my emotional needs by not my actual, objective needs.

I decided to make a smart, trim wardrobe that would be so comprehensive that upon its completion I would have no need to purchase new clothing. In short, I decided to build a capsule wardrobe. A permanent one.

The How

Step One: Exploration

This was new territory for me. My entire adult life I had spent my time expanding and padding out my wardrobe, so the idea of thinning it down was incredibly foreign. I spent some time sifting through what the internet had to offer on capsule wardrobes.

My initial reaction to what I found was surprise at how frankly limited and gimmicky most capsule wardrobes seem to be. Limiting yourself to 12 or 20 or 33 seasonally appropriate items seems unlikely to be a lasting commitment. My guess is that most everyone who commits to a capsule wardrobe with those guidelines gives up the ghost as soon as the next season hits. I realized quickly that I didn’t want to do a seasonal wardrobe that would leave me feeling pressured to revamp and rework–in other words to buy new things–every three months or so. I wanted something more permanent.

I was also surprised to find that most of capsule wardrobe guides I found advised not including gym clothes, jewelry, accessories, and similar items in the capsule wardrobe total. To me, this seems to limit the scope of the capsule so much that it hardly is affective as a means to reduce clothing consumption.

I decided to set my own rules.

  1. Nothing that could fall, even loosely, under the umbrella of the term “clothing” would be excluded from my capsule.
  2. I would focus less on a random and aspirational number of clothing items in my wardrobe and more on finding the perfect ratio between meeting my clothing needs and keeping the wardrobe as small as possible.

My research wasn’t entirely without benefit. I did find a few worthy resources, and one in particular really helped me to shape my capsule: Unfancy’s Capsule Wardrobe Planner worksheets. Now, if you’re like me, your initial reaction to the idea of worksheets will be to roll your eyes. Worksheets like these have a decidedly pedantic air to them. I encourage you to soldier on, though, as I did, because the thinking you’ll do for these sheets will really help you to find the foundation of your wardrobe–the core ideas you want to use to make your clothing choices. I’ll share my sheets with you to show you what I mean.

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In the interest of really making sure my wardrobe would meet my personal needs, I decided to be quite objective about the whole thing. The first task was to determine how you’re spending your time, and so I decided to run through an average week of mine and section off the time I spent by clothing type. I then plugged these numbers into an online pie chart generator and had a look at the results. Right away I noticed a few holes in my current wardrobe. I spent decidedly more time lounging around at home than I do at work or going out, and yet my wardrobe is heavily skewed towards the later two. In fact, my wardrobe had almost no good comfortable lounge clothing.

The next task was to list adjectives that describe my personal style. I poked around the internet for lists of words that could describe style or fashion and cherry picked my favorites. After I had a good list going, I went through and increased the font size of those that felt the most important and accurate and decreased the size of those that felt a bit farther off the mark. After I did this several times I landed on six that I really feel describe my sense of style quite well. The one that surprised me was “colorful.” I feel that it very accurately describes me and my sense of style, but I’d never thought of it before I did this exercise.

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The third exercise was one I did later in the capsule process, so I’ll come back to it in a bit. The fourth exercise was instrumental, and came surprisingly easy to me. I already had an idea in my head of colors I liked–pinks, light and bright blues, camel–but the thing that really rounded it out for me was that adjective “colorful.” I realized that, as a northerner, I wear tights much of the year. Generally I wear black tights, which seem to be the standard choice. Because of this, black has become a staple neutral in my closet. But I don’t really like black, it’s much too gloomy and serious for me. I realized I’d much rather go for a colorful neutral like navy. I decided to build my capsule wardrobe around that.

Step Two: Reduce, Reduce, Reduce

Armed with a working knowledge of what I wanted my wardrobe to look like, I first set out to trim away all the unnecessary stuff from my closet. I have to say, I underestimated this task. It took me two full afternoons to clear out all the excess. All in all, I filled up about fifteen garbage bags that are now sitting in our storage closet and locker, waiting to be donated. I don’t think I truly realized just how much time and money I had put into my closet until I did this. It was almost a bit overwhelming.

As an example of the process I used for elimination, I thought I’d show you how I went through my shoe collection. Here are all the shoes I possessed at the outset, all thirty-six pairs.

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For my first sweep, I got rid of every pair of shoes that I simply never wore because either they didn’t fit, they were worn out, or I just didn’t like them.

how to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobe

Next, I took away all the shoes that didn’t fit into the color palette of my capsule wardrobe.

how to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobe

Finally, and this step took the longest, I selected a small number of the remaining shoes to put into my capsule wardrobe based on what footwear I actually needed for my lifestyle. I tried to keep the final number as small as reasonably possible. This process was aided by Step Three, below.

how to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobe

Nothing in my closet was spared this elimination process, even my coats, handbags, jewelry, scarves, and underwear drawer.

Step Three: Get Organized

At this point I had reduced my closet so much that the remaining items could be quantified in a spreadsheet. Here is the final draft of that sheet. I spent some time putting all the remaining clothing into columns based on clothing type. From there, I tried to reduce things as much as possible. I also noted where there were holes that needed to be filled. I found that building a solid capsule wardrobe isn’t just about reduction, it’s also about making sure that all your clothing needs are met.

In terms of reducing the remaining items, I asked myself the following questions:

  1. Can I see myself wearing this in six months? Do I really love this item?
  2. Is this item versatile? Can I wear it to work with flats and to dinner with heels? Will it work in the summer and the winter?
  3. Is this clothing item high quality enough to last a reasonable amount of time?

This helped me really narrow down the remaining items.

Step Four: Fill in the Gaps

As I mentioned, I found that my wardrobe had some holes that needed to filled. I needed to expand my lounge wear collection, I needed work shoes to wear at my standing desk, I needed tops and sweaters to wear with skirts, and I needed a few more versatile dresses.

It was here that step three of the Capsule Wardrobe Planner worksheets really helped me. During the elimination process it became very clear which brands made clothing built to last and which ones didn’t. Above all, I was surprised to find that much of the clothing I had bought at Banana Republic was clothing I kept with me over the years. I generally had thought of them as overpriced, but I don’t anymore. I now consider them to be the principle retailer for my clothing choices. I also realized that pricier more specialized retailers tended to produce better more long lasting clothing than cheaper retailers. This seems obvious, but as a thrift shopper it was a truth I had long avoided. When you want to buy a lot of clothing, buying it cheap seems like a good option. But now that I wanted to buy clothing that would last, it was easy to see just how cheap much of the clothing I had been purchasing was.

With this in mind I turned to retailers like Lululemon and Eliza J for some of my final purchases. I took my time and tried on lots of options. Something about knowing you’re making a long term purchase makes it easy to be very discerning about clothing choices. The items I bought were admittedly much more expensive than what I would usually buy, but I think the end result will be well worth it.

The Capsule Wardrobe

My capsule wardrobe is comprised of around 75 items. That count doesn’t include underwear or what I term “special use” items–the kind of items that are technically clothing but only used about once a year. My Capsule Wardrobe Spreadsheet lists all of these items. Most, but not all of them are depicted below. The pictures don’t include the special use items, socks and tights, underwear (obviously), sleepwear (again, obviously), my winter hat and gloves, my flips flops, and a pair of sunglasses I couldn’t find for the life of me.

how to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobe
how to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobe
how to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobe
how to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobe
how to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobehow to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobe
how to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobe
how to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobe
how to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobe
how to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobe
how to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobe
how to capsule wardrobe comprehensive capsule wardrobe minimal fashion minimal wardrobe

This capsule wardrobe is comprehensive and complete. It should carry me through all four seasons and keep me well dressed for all the occasions of my life. My current plans are only to purchase new items when the ones I currently have wear out or need replacing. As for the blog, I will be featuring outfits from the capsule in my outfit posts as well as thoughts on owning a capsule wardrobe as time carries on. Next Sunday I will be featuring reviews of some of the purchases I made for the capsule, including how I went about deciding which items to buy. I hope to see you then.

From Desk to Drinks: Summer Skirt
Summer Workwear: Leaf Print Shirtdress
How to Wear a Wrap Skirt
Colorblock Fit-and-Flare from Eliza J
Maggy London Colorful Maxi Outfit

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20 Comments and Pingbacks for How to Put Together a Comprehensive Capsule Wardrobe.

  1. I thought this was fascinating, honest, helpful, and practical! I want to do something similar with my closet. But my reasoning is that I moved into an old house with very little storage space!

    Genevieve on April 10, 2017   /   Reply
    • Thanks, Genevieve! I’d love to hear how it goes for you if you give it a shot. Limited closet space is also an issue for me and one of the reasons I wanted to do this too. It was getting to the point where I was going to either need to buy another wardrobe from Ikea or make a change.

      Hope you’re doing well! :)

      Joules on April 10, 2017   /   Reply
  2. I was surprised to see you got rid of your boots (other then the winter ones) – what was the reasoning behind that? If you live in Chicago aren’t they a need? (I’m asking this out of self-interest – I live in the NorthEast and boots were my staple all winter in keeping my legs warm). :)

    Emily on April 10, 2017   /   Reply
    • Good question! I should have mentioned this in the post. Prior to my closet cleanout, I had a few pairs of booties and riding boots. I’ve decided that booties don’t particularly suit my style and the ones I had, which had ~3″ heels, we really impractical anyway. I hardly had the occasion to wear them. As for the riding boots, they were all really old other than my black ones and I decided to replace those this fall when retailers release their new lines with a cognac pair that would go with navy tights.

      So the tl;dr is that I will have a pair of cognac/tan riding boots in my capsule wardrobe eventually. And you’re right–if you live in a cooler climate like Chicago they are decidedly a need. :)

      Joules on April 10, 2017   /   Reply
      • Makes sense. I impulse purchased a pair of booties last winter and have yet to wear them, so I can definitely relate!

        Thanks :)

        Emily on April 11, 2017   /   Reply
  3. This is really impressive! I’m struggling with similar issues right now, but am a bit afraid to purge so much. Did you have any thoughts of “What if I need this at some point?” when you were deciding what to purge? I’d love to see some of the pieces that you aren’t keeping and the reason why.

    Erin on April 12, 2017   /   Reply
    • Hi, Erin! Great question. There certainly were moments where I had a tough time bagging something up. I think in particular the hardest items for me were newer items (the frugal shopper in me cringed at the idea of giving away something I had just bought) and items I really liked but didn’t fit into the color scheme of my new wardrobe. Some of those items I put in a separate bag to store rather than donate. That way, if I do end deciding to do away with this capsule wardrobe idea in the future I’ll still have them. In fact, a lot of my items are still in bags in my storage locker–I didn’t want to give away things too hastily. I wanted to make sure the capsule wardrobe feels right to me after a few months of doing it before truly purging things.

      As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that this subject is broad enough to deserve its own post. Stay tuned for that in the future! :)

      Joules on April 13, 2017   /   Reply
      • Awesome! Thanks for responding. I’m looking forward to that post!

        Erin on April 17, 2017   /   Reply
  4. This is such a handy guide! I have a ton of things in my closet that I don’t wear but I don’t know why I can’t seem to give them up!

    Abby of Life in the Fash Lane

    Abby on April 12, 2017   /   Reply
  5. This is so impressive Joules! I really need to do something similar with my clothes. Every time I have moved, I have boxed up my stuff and never gone through it and seen what fits, I still like, etc. Now I feel like I wear the same 4 things all the time because I’m utterly intimidated by going through my stuff and finding something else! This might be my summer project since someone *coughcough*Ben*coughcough* will be available to wrangle our resident toddler ;)

    Vanessa on April 15, 2017   /   Reply
  6. This post…… amazing insight. I loved it. And I loved the honesty. It is really frustrating to see how high consumerism is for some bloggers, and how clothing is never re-worn.

    Taryn on April 21, 2017   /   Reply
  7. Wow, I can’t tell you how much I love the fact that you did some serious research order to build your capsule. For me personally, a wardrobe capsule isn’t something I could manage, but I admire people who can put a great one together. I rely on continuously curating my wardrobe to make sure I don’t keep anything I don’t absolutely love, and on buying sustainable items that I can wear for a long time. And I agree, it’s unhealthy to constantly focus on clothing- in the end, they’re just one part of your personal style and of your persona:)

    silvia on April 23, 2017   /   Reply
  8. I wasn’t a follower before, but will be now! Your assessment of most fashion bloggers is so accurate- and sad. I value feeling good in my clothes and work in a field where looking put-together and professional matters. And I enjoy shopping! But the vast amount of consumerism shown by many of these women is shocking. I really appreciate the direction you’re taking and look forward to reading more.

    Stephanie S. on April 24, 2017   /   Reply