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How to build a capsule wardrobe and banish outfit anxiety forever

Photography By @maggiemarilyn, Michael Comnius for RIISE, @kowtowclothing, @stagnistudio
Published 13.01.22

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

Naturally, 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? 

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 though. 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 for many stylish, but practical, fashion fans. 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 

Now, 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. That’s not to say your perfectly chosen sweater set is going to solve climate change by itself. But the thought and care that goes into buying it has knock-on effects for the planet. 

For starters, the whole movement is a kind of 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 can stand the test of time and will 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 and last, 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. 

ARNSDORF

Maggie Marilyn

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 curating 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 actually plan 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 are doing good for the planet, as, naturally, we want to point you towards those with strong environmental values. 

One of the things that you might not realise is that brands looking to lower their impact on the planet often gravitate towards timeless, seasonless fashion – 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 (and no doubt obsessively arranged and colour coded it) actually 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
The T-shirt
The Shirt
The Skirt
The Jeans
The Trouser
The Jumper
The Blazer
The Jacket/Coat
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