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How To Build A Capsule Wardrobe And Banish Outfit Anxiety Forever

05/01/23

Author: Courtney Kruk

DOCUMENTED BY: ESSE STUDIOS

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Our style sensibilities have changed. We’re consuming less, making more informed purchasing decisions and reassessing our relationships with our wardrobes.

This has seen us shift away from fast fashion and throwaway trends. We’re less impulsive and more considerate, treating our wardrobes as lifelong companions, rather than short-term flings. (What can we say? We’ve matured.)  

This maturation has given us the chance to celebrate great style and define a personal look. It has also steered us in the direction of one slightly elusive, but highly relevant, concept: the capsule wardrobe.  

What is a capsule wardrobe?

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Alessandra Trench Coat

Arnsdorf

Documented By: Arnsdorf

What is a capsule wardrobe?

The concept of a capsule wardrobe dates back to the 1970s and was first introduced by wardrobe consultant and author Susie Faux. At the time, she had noticed people “were spending far too many resources on multiple fashion items that weren’t well-made, didn’t fit right, and would likely be out of season by the following year”. Frustrated by these impracticalities, she came up with the capsule wardrobe to hero essential, high-quality pieces that could stand the test of time.   

It would take another decade for the idea to really enter the mainstream. Designer Donna Karan ushered in the shift with her iconic collection Seven Easy Pieces. These now seminal garments were designed to be interchangeable; able to be worn together and separately to create different looks and outfits.   

Over 40 years later, the Seven Easy Pieces collection is still viewed as a fashion ideal. It’s come to define the notion of a capsule wardrobe: prizing functionality, quality, wearability, timelessness and mindful consumption above crashing trends.   

What a capsule wardrobe can do for the environment

This is all great from a fashion (and time-saving) point of view. But, increasingly, capsule wardrobes have also been celebrated for the role they can play in reducing the fashion industry’s harsh environmental impact.  

For starters, the whole movement is an antithesis to trends. You’re looking for timeless, seasonless, long-term investments – not the latest item to be replicated by every second retailer at the shops.  

Secondly, the strong focus on high-quality garments acts as a deterrence to buying cheap, poorly made clothes. There’s no point in adding a piece to your capsule collection that will wear quickly or is likely to be discarded. It’s all about finding items that will last and hold enough personal value to be repaired or altered, should the need arise. It’s worth noting that, since these items are designed to be bought once, you might end up paying more upfront. But remember, investing in quality will save you more money in the long term and will give you the freedom to shop with brands whose values align with yours.   

How to build a sustainable capsule wardrobe

Clean out your closet

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Documented By: Fredric

How to build a sustainable capsule wardrobe

Clean out your closet

Let’s face it, you’re probably overdue for a bit of a wardrobe audit. Before you start adding anything to your capsule collection, work out what you’ve already got and cleanse your closet of the things you no longer wear. It will also help you figure out what you need to invest in. Our editor-in-chief recently wrote an excellent guide on how to tackle this mammoth task.  

Get reacquainted with your style

You probably already know what you like wearing and what looks good on you. But life rarely remains stagnant: perhaps you’ve started a new job that requires different clothes or your body has changed over the last few years. Or maybe you just feel like shaking things up. Before you start building your collection, spend some time really considering your style and picturing the kinds of things you want in your wardrobe in 10, 20 or even 30 years time. Though we’ve highlighted that circumstances can change, when it comes to a capsule collection, try to put a long-term lens on each item. What do you see your future self wearing? That vintage Burberry trench? Yes. That low-rise revival skirt? Probably not.   

Finding visual style references can simplify this step. Screenshot photos, make a collage, start a Pinterest board – really map out what your capsule wardrobe (and you) will look like.   

Actually do some planning

The closet audit should have revealed what is missing from your capsule wardrobe, so now is the time to map out what you need to source. There’s no fixed number of items to have in a capsule wardrobe; some put a number around 30 while others go as high as 50. (And let’s not forget Donna Karan nailed her capsule collection with just seven pieces.) Be More with Less founder Courtney Carver created a minimalist fashion challenge called Project 333 which encourages participants to choose 33 different items to wear during three-month periods (so a seasonal capsule wardrobe). This approach has been popular, but it’s really an individual decision. Your lifestyle, your activities and the seasons where you live should give you an idea of the quantity you actually need.   

Don’t be afraid to wreak organisational havoc on this step: write lists, break your wardrobe into categories (work, events and going out) and itemise garment types (pants, jeans, jackets, shirts, etc.). Some pre-planning here will make it easier when the time comes to start shopping as you will know what you’re looking for, in what colours and in what style.   

Look for brands doing good and shop second-hand

If you’re buying new items, we suggest first finding brands you like and want to shop with. We’ll suggest a few at the end of this article that have passed our climate credentials and are doing good for the planet.  

One of the things that you might not realise is that brands lowering their environmental impact tend to design timeless, seasonless garments – excellent for capsule wardrobe building. They also tend to use higher quality materials that are better for the environment and the longevity of your clothes (think organic cotton and linen).   

Your capsule wardrobe absolutely doesn’t need to be filled with new clothes though. Second-hand stores and online vintage accounts are bursting with things like blazers, jackets, suit pants and designer pieces. They also do well to highlight styles and pieces that have never gone out of fashion, which is exactly what you want for your capsule wardrobe. If you’ve put in the hard yards during the planning stages, the preloved search will also be much easier as you’ll know exactly what you’re after.   

Take your capsule wardrobe for a test drive

Once you’ve built your capsule wardrobe, spend some time experimenting with outfits. See how your new staple pieces work or can be styled differently. Take photos, create new looks and model outfit options for your housemates. This will also help future you fight decision fatigue and the stress of getting dressed because you’ll already be familiar with your capsule wardrobe and the items you want to wear for all sorts of occasions. 

Get your capsule wardrobe started with...

THE DRESS

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Sloane Dress

Dominique Healy

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Tank Swing Dress

Kowtow

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Collected Short Sleeve Dress

Esse Studios

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Collected Mini Dress

Esse Studios

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Tulip Dress

Kowtow

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Annie Dress

Jillian Boustred

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Unchartered Shirt Dress

PALMA MARTÎN

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Eucalyptus Tie Front Midi Dress

Madre Natura

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Sloane Dress

Dominique Healy

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Marta Dress

fredric

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Batwing Dress

Autark

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Kaspara Dress

UNIKSPACE

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Valdis Dress

UNIKSPACE

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Juliet Pleat Dress

NICO

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Sloane Dress

Dominique Healy

Tank Swing Dress

Kowtow

Collected Short Sleeve Dress

Esse Studios

Collected Mini Dress

Esse Studios

Tulip Dress

Kowtow

Strap V Maxi Dress

Esse Studios

Annie Dress

Jillian Boustred

Unchartered Shirt Dress

PALMA MARTÎN

Eucalyptus Tie Front Midi Dress

Madre Natura

Sloane Dress

Dominique Healy

Marta Dress

fredric

Batwing Dress

Autark

Kaspara Dress

UNIKSPACE

Valdis Dress

UNIKSPACE

Juliet Pleat Dress

NICO

THE SHIRT

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Relaxed Fit Shirt

autark

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Poppy Shirt

Kowtow

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Everyday Shirt

Kowtow

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Demie Shirt

par moi

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Relaxed Fit Shirt

autark

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Collected Short Sleeve Shirt

Esse Studios

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Collected Short Sleeve Shirt

Esse Studios

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Collected Shirt

Esse Studios

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Collected Shirt

Esse Studios

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Collected Shirt

Esse Studios

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Classico Collarless Shirt

Esse Studios

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Classico Collarless Shirt

Esse Studios

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Unisex Button Up Linen Shirt

A.BCH

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Classic Short Sleeve Chambray Shirt

A.BCH

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Unisex Button Up Chambray Shirt

A.BCH

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Unisex Button Up Linen Shirt

A.BCH

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Unisex Oversized Shirt

A.BCH

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Frances Button Up Shirt

NICO

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Frances Button Up Shirt

NICO

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Gather Sleeve Shirt

Autark

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Gather Sleeve Shirt

Autark

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Classic Shirt

Arnsdorf

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Carolyn Shirt

Arnsdorf

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Bailey Shirt

Jillian Boustred

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Lounge Pants

LE Studio

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All Terrain Shirt

LE Studio

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All Terrain Shirt

LE Studio

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All Terrain Shirt

LE Studio

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All Terrain Shirt

LE Studio

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Collected Short Sleeve Shirt

Esse Studios

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Classico Pocket Shirt

Esse Studios

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June Shirt

UNIKSPACE

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June Shirt

UNIKSPACE

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Elvis Shirt

Fredric

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Relaxed Fit Shirt

autark

Poppy Shirt

Kowtow

Everyday Shirt

Kowtow

Demie Shirt

par moi

Relaxed Fit Shirt

autark

Collected Short Sleeve Shirt

Esse Studios

Collected Short Sleeve Shirt

Esse Studios

Collected Short Sleeve Shirt

Esse Studios

Collected Shirt

Esse Studios

Collected Shirt

Esse Studios

Collected Shirt

Esse Studios

Classico Collarless Shirt

Esse Studios

Classico Collarless Shirt

Esse Studios

Unisex Button Up Linen Shirt

A.BCH

Classic Short Sleeve Chambray Shirt

A.BCH

Unisex Button Up Chambray Shirt

A.BCH

Unisex Button Up Linen Shirt

A.BCH

Unisex Oversized Shirt

A.BCH

Frances Button Up Shirt

NICO

Frances Button Up Shirt

NICO

Gather Sleeve Shirt

Autark

Gather Sleeve Shirt

Autark

Classic Shirt

Arnsdorf

Carolyn Shirt

Arnsdorf

Bailey Shirt

Jillian Boustred

Lounge Pants

LE Studio

All Terrain Shirt

LE Studio

All Terrain Shirt

LE Studio

All Terrain Shirt

LE Studio

All Terrain Shirt

LE Studio

Collected Short Sleeve Shirt

Esse Studios

Classico Pocket Shirt

Esse Studios

June Shirt

UNIKSPACE

June Shirt

UNIKSPACE

Elvis Shirt

Fredric

THE T-SHIRT

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Classic T-Shirt

A.BCH

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Organic Fitted Rib Tee

Arnsdorf

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The Rib Tee

Cloth & Co.

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Classic T-Shirt

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Organic Fitted Rib Tee

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The Rib Tee

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THE SKIRT

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Wray Skirt

Dominique Healy

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Frankie Skirt

Fredric

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Coquille Skirt

par moi

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Bias Skirt

Dominique Healy

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Bella Skirt

Fredric

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Silk Drawstring Skirt

Autark

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Asymmetric Skirt

Autark

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Wray Skirt

Dominique Healy

Frankie Skirt

Fredric

Coquille Skirt

par moi

Bias Skirt

Dominique Healy

Bella Skirt

Fredric

Wray Skirt

Dominique Healy

Silk Drawstring Skirt

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Asymmetric Skirt

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THE JEANS

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Denim Rigid Jeans

Esse Studios

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Relaxed Jean

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Wide Jean

Arnsdorf

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Denim Rigid Jeans

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Relaxed Jean

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Wide Jean

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THE TROUSER

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Di Morra Silk Pant

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Ida Pant

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Ida Pant

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Ida Pant

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Relaxed Fit Pant

autark

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Sonia Pant

Dominique Healy

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Sonia Pant

Dominique Healy

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Suit Trouser

Arnsdorf

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Lave Tailored Trouser

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Frances Flares

NICO

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Relaxed Jean

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Tailored Trouser

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Frances Flares

NICO

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Denim Rigid Jeans

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Wide Jean

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Rune Pants

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Relaxed Trouser

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Semi-Tailored Linen Trousers

A.BCH

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Lily Palazzo Pant

van der kooij

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Lily Palazzo Pant

Van Der Kooij

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Lily Palazzo Pant

van der kooij

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Rodeo Pant

PALMA MARTÎN

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Jonathan Pant

UNIKSPACE

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Jonathan Pant

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Jonathan Pant

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Wide Track Pant

JH Lounge

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Slim Track Pant

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Fleecy Trackpants

A.BCH

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Slim Track Pant

JH Lounge

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Fleecy Trackpants

A.BCH

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Wide Track Pant

JH Lounge

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Wide Track Pant

JH Lounge

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Slim Track Pant

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The Fleece Track

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The Slub Lounge Pant

Cloth & Co.

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The Waffle Pant

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Relaxed Trouser

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Di Morra Silk Pant

UNIKSPACE

Ida Pant

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Ida Pant

UNIKSPACE

Ida Pant

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Relaxed Fit Pant

autark

Darcey Trouser

Jillian Boustred

Sonia Pant

Dominique Healy

Sonia Pant

Dominique Healy

Suit Trouser

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Lave Tailored Trouser

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Frances Flares

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Relaxed Jean

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Tailored Trouser

Arnsdorf

Frances Flares

NICO

Denim Rigid Jeans

Esse Studios

Wide Jean

Arnsdorf

Rune Pants

UNIKSPACE

Relaxed Trouser

Arnsdorf

Semi-Tailored Linen Trousers

A.BCH

Lily Palazzo Pant

van der kooij

Lily Palazzo Pant

Van Der Kooij

Lily Palazzo Pant

van der kooij

Rodeo Pant

PALMA MARTÎN

Jonathan Pant

UNIKSPACE

Jonathan Pant

UNIKSPACE

Jonathan Pant

UNIKSPACE

Wide Track Pant

JH Lounge

Slim Track Pant

JH Lounge

Fleecy Trackpants

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Slim Track Pant

JH Lounge

Fleecy Trackpants

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Wide Track Pant

JH Lounge

Wide Track Pant

JH Lounge

Slim Track Pant

JH Lounge

The Fleece Track

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The Slub Lounge Pant

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The Waffle Pant

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Relaxed Trouser

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THE JUMPER

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Fleecy Sweater

A.BCH

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Cable Knit Sweater

Pinky & Kamal

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Fleecy Sweater

A.BCH

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Crew Sweater

JH Lounge

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Luxe Hoodie

JH Lounge

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Crew Sweater

JH Lounge

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Fleecy Sweater

A.BCH

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Fleecy Sweater

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The Fleece Sweat

Cloth & Co.

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Fleecy Sweater

A.BCH

Cable Knit Sweater

Pinky & Kamal

Fleecy Sweater

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Crew Sweater

JH Lounge

Luxe Hoodie

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Crew Sweater

JH Lounge

Crew Sweater

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Fleecy Sweater

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Fleecy Sweater

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The Fleece Sweat

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THE BLAZER

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Darcey Oversized Blazer

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Joan Jacket

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Joan Jacket

Arnsdorf

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Joan Jacket

Arnsdorf

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Darcey Oversized Blazer

Jillian Boustred

Joan Jacket

Arnsdorf

Joan Jacket

Arnsdorf

Joan Jacket

Arnsdorf

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