How to Painlessly Create a Capsule Wardrobe

And discover your personal style

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I’m not sure why but I love pants with crazy patterns on them. For the most part, the rest of my wardrobe is pretty vanilla, but anytime I see a crazy pair of pants, I have to resist the urge to buy them. Maybe it’s some throwback to my late-seventies childhood, maybe it’s just because I love textiles. But whatever the reason, until I started my capsule wardrobe experiment, I had a closet full of crazy patterns, most of which I never wore, because I had nothing to wear them with.

A capsule wardrobe is a small assortment of clothes that you love, they all fit, they all go together, and you wear each and every one. Simple as that. Raise your hand if you already have this. Yeah, I thought so.

Most of us only wear about 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. That confusing statistic basically means that if you have 100 things in your closet, you only wear about 20 of them, Monday through Friday, and maybe bust out a couple of fun pieces on the weekend. But that also means that you have about 80 things in there that don’t fit, you don’t like, or that just don’t work in some way. (Like, maybe a crazy pair of pants that don’t go with anything!)

So, the idea is pretty simple, you go through your clothes and pull out those 20 things. The number itself is arbitrary, but the important thing is that you choose a number that’s small enough that you will really, truly wear each and every item in there.

Ok, but what do you do with all the other stuff? Well, if you are reading this and you’d really like to try it, I have a few suggestions that will baby step you into the capsule wardrobe world. First of all, you don’t have to get rid of anything. But here’s what you do have to do.

1| Pull out absolutely every item of clothing that you own and put it in a big ol’ pile.

Ok, this is the part that can be daunting for some, but it’s really important. First of all, you just can’t experience the true benefits of a capsule wardrobe, (and there are big benefits!) if you are still looking at all that stuff that you’re not using. Hopefully, you have some storage space. Get a couple of big boxes to hide the stuff away that you are not going to be using.

2| Now you get to have the fun task of going through your stuff. Be RUTHLESS.

You don’t have to get rid of anything unless you want to. Maybe you have a small pile of donations. Most of us have at least a few things that we have no problem tossing. But most likely you are going to have a big, big pile of stuff that you want to keep, but don’t wear. For now only keep the stuff that you wear on the regular, those things that you love, love, love, and make you happy just to look at. Put the rest aside. Put them in boxes, put them away.

Here’s some advice, try to do this part as quickly as possible. Ask yourself, do I wear this a lot? Does it fit well, is it flattering? If the answer is yes to all three, keep. If it’s no, put it away.

3| Start the curation process

Look at what you’ve pulled out. How far is it from the number you picked? Way too much? Way too little? At this point, you are going to start to build the wardrobe. To me, this is the fun part. If you’re the type of person that has no interest in fashion, this might not be fun. But, if you’d like to dress a little better, and maybe feel a little better about what you wear most days, this is a really great exercise.

The idea here is to create cohesion. You want everything to go together. One of the easiest ways to do this is to create a color palate. This is why I don’t really advocate getting rid of stuff. This winter, my color palette is grey, tan and navy, with pops of cranberry and pumpkin. It’s warm and nice, and I’m just feeling those colors right now. You can pick whatever palate you like, or maybe you have started to see a palate emerging as you’re pulling things out. Maybe you notice that everything you wear regularly falls into a particular group. Lots of greens maybe, or all earth tones. Maybe you always wear black. Just go with it. This is what you naturally gravitate towards. All that other stuff is just things you think you should be wearing. It’s not what you really love.

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The other idea of a capsule wardrobe is that everything fits perfectly. You should be able to put each item on and feel great immediately. The goal here is to get dressed effortlessly. So if it doesn’t fit, but you’re thinking, it might fit in a few months after I’ve lost a couple of pounds, put it away- NOW!! If it’s missing a button or has a tear or a stain, it goes in the box. If you really want to keep it out, take the time to repair it.

I’m telling you, hiding all of these things, these pants that are just a little bit too tight, that sweater that is just a little bit too itchy, it frees up so much brain space, it will blow you away. Getting dressed will become so much more fun

4| Fill in the gaps

Finally, after you’ve double-checked that everything fits, and everything goes together (ie, you can make several outfits with each item) then you might need to fill in the gaps. This was where I had a big a-ha moment the first time I created a capsule. I realized that I needed some staples. Staples are those items in your closet that aren’t fun to buy but are really important for pulling a look together. For me, I really needed a few solid-color things. I bought a really cute solid-color navy sweater that I could wear with all my crazy pants, and it was a game-changer. Sounds obvious maybe, but I just had never thought that way before. I do a lot of thrift shopping and often what happens is I end up with a lot of odd stuff that is interesting by itself but doesn’t go with anything in my closet.

What my process looks like

I committed to doing this experiment for a full year, and then I never went back. Now I’ve got it down. Each season, I pull my clothes out of storage (and after years of curation, everything I own fits into two Rubbermaid containers). I choose my color palette and pick a general feel for the season. For example, my feel this winter is “grandpa chic” — I don’t really know if this is a thing, but right now I’m wearing baggy pants and cardigans with big clunky shoes and I think it’s great. I don’t really care if other people don’t get it, I really like it! I look to people on Pinterest for style inspiration (like Nadia Sarwar) and enjoy getting creative with it.

I pick an arbitrary number, usually somewhere in the 30s, and it might look something like this

5 t-shirts

3 long-sleeved shirts

12 sweaters

8 pairs of pants

2 dresses

3 jackets

I don’t include pajamas or work-out clothes in this number. I also don’t include shoes, although a lot of people do. I just don’t own that many shoes, to begin with, so I don’t really see it as a necessary thing. If you have a lot of shoes, you might choose a few pairs and make them part of your capsule. Make it your own. I don’t really wear dresses that much and I never wear skirts. Maybe your capsule would be 20 dresses! That’s fine, but make sure that you love each and every one of them, and that they all fit perfectly.

The benefits

  • I do one load of laundry a week. It takes me no time to wash, dry and put everything away. I really can’t overstate how nice this is
  • This is an obvious one but getting ready is SO EASY. I don’t have to try on a million things, I don’t have to waste valuable brain space making a decision. Everything works, so I can just grab it and go
  • I have a clearer sense of my own style. Doing this for a few seasons really helped me refine my taste and figure out what I actually like and don’t like. It helped me see what was really flattering. It also elevated my style a little, since it forced me to get rid of the unflattering but comfy stuff.
  • I stopped buying any article of clothing unless I could think of several outfits that I could create with it right away. Since I get most of my clothes at thrift stores, I wasn’t that worried about saving money, but it did help me stop making impulse buys, and buying things that are pretty similar to items I already own.
  • It has helped me with my body issues. Having clothes that don’t fit mixed in with your regular clothes is a huge bummer. I didn’t realize the damage I was subconsciously doing to myself by seeing things every day that I liked but couldn’t wear. It’s not motivating. It just starts your day off on the wrong foot.
  • After I saw how it simplified my life and freed me up, it started spilling over into other parts of my life. I started paring down all kinds of things, and it’s helped me get organized in all sorts of ways.

If you want to give it a shot, there’s plenty of guides and youtube videos out there with great advice. I would suggest this one, by Unfancy to start.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, the main thing is to pick a number and stick with it. Put everything you are not going to use away, out of sight, and commit to it for at least a month. Just try it and see what happens. Clearing space in your closet helps clear space in your mind, and you may just be delighted to find what you can do with that extra space!

Psychologist and Human mood ring.

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