Inside: how to build a capsule wardrobe using clothes you already have, how to choose the best colors for your wardrobe, plus 5 capsule wardrobe benefits you may not have considered.
Imagine you’re unexpectedly hospitalized. The doctor tells you it will be a few days, maybe a week, before you can go home. Your helpful husband reaches into your closet, grabs the first two pairs of pants and four tops he sees, and brings them to you to the hospital.
What did he bring? A small cohesive collection of clothes that work well together and make you feel good? Or a random set of clothes that have seen better days, some with holes or threads hanging off them, in colors that make you wonder why you bought them in the first place?
If you already have a capsule wardrobe you love to wear, he brought you your favorite clothes that will lift your spirits, right? How awesome! And if you don’t have a capsule wardrobe yet, read on for why you might want to consider it.
The wonderful benefits of a capsule wardrobe
#1 – less embarrassment
When all that’s hanging in your closet are clothes you love to wear, you never ever have to feel embarrassed about wearing them. Clothes that are comfortable and make you feel good about yourself help you feel composed as you go about your day.
#2 – more compliments
And because a capsule wardrobe by definition is a collection of clothes that work well together, you always look put together. This results in compliments from family, friends, and even random strangers.
#3 – more smiles
Compliments lead to smiles. It’s hard not to smile when somebody tells you that you look fabulous, right? Even on a totally crummy day. Compliments make your day and lift your spirits. So say thank you and hold on to that smile!
#4 – more paying it forward
Ever notice what happens when you get compliments? You’re more likely to compliment the next person or two, right? That’s awesome because you make their day with your kind words. And they smile.
And then they pay it forward and compliment another person or two each. Yep, more people whose spirits have been lifted. Just another benefit of a capsule wardrobe.
#5 – a better world
As you go about your day, feeling good in your clothes, getting and paying compliments, smiles abound. Lots of positive energy, leaving little to no room for negative energy. And that makes for a much better world.
You had no idea that you can easily make the world better by creating a capsule wardrobe you love to wear, did you? Well, you do now, yay! I mean, we’re not saving the whole world here in one day. But this is one small step in the right direction.
I hope you never find yourself a patient in a hospital, much less for a week. But if you ever do, having clothes you love to wear will help you get through it more comfortably.
And it will make your husband feel like a rock star for picking out your favorite clothes. You don’t have to tell him that’s all you have, hehe.
Oh, and just in case these five awesome reasons were not enough to convince you to give the capsule wardrobe concept a try, here’s a few more:
A good capsule wardrobe is reasonably timeless and requires less replacement, so it’s better for the environment. It’s also an excellent guiding concept to reduce the size of your wardrobe if your closet is overflowing.
And because everything goes with everything else, your decisions are quicker in the morning when you’re pressed for time.
So now that you’ve seen why having a capsule wardrobe is a great idea, let’s talk about the next step.
How to create a capsule wardrobe you’ll love to wear
If you’ve ever tried a list of “must-have essentials” only to find you don’t wear half of them, never fear. This is not a rigid list but a process based on what is already working for you.
But before we get to building one, let’s define what we’re actually building.
So, what is a capsule wardrobe?
The term capsule wardrobe originally meant a collection of a few essential garments that were impervious to fashion trends and would work well with seasonal items. This was back in the 70s.
Over time, the idea morphed into various must-have lists that almost always include a white shirt, beige trench coat, skinny jeans, and ballet flats. Ugh! Do you just want to scream?
Maybe you wouldn’t be seen in skinny jeans if your life depended on it (okay, well, possibly then), or beige makes you look like death warmed over. Or maybe you prefer sandals over ballet flats any day.
Those must-have lists work reasonably well for women whose best style is relatively classic. They’re also usually tailored to climates with long transitional seasons and relatively short periods of summer heat and wet, snowy winters.
But what if your best style is more dramatic, romantic, sporty, or otherwise far from classic? And what if your climate is tropical, or you have a long winter, decent summer, and two weeks of spring?
Let’s go back to the original definition and expand it slightly to make it work for you.
This is a bit of a process because you have to take into account a lot of different factors. Many guides start off by having you choose black or navy as a base color and build a mostly neutral wardrobe around it, sprinkled with very few bits of other colors.
But what if you really like taupe? Or your favorite color is red or lime green or turquoise, and you want to wear it just about every day? Well, then we’ll take a different approach.
Step 1 – Evaluate your favorite outfits
The ones you love to wear regularly. Even if you have to get them out of the laundry hamper, that’s okay. Get them out where you can see them. They will inform your whole capsule wardrobe process.
What do they have in common? Colors? Shapes? Are you looking at mostly pants or skirts? Or do you spend most days in a dress? And your tops – are they primarily T-shirts or blouses? Or do you live in sweaters or sweatshirts? Hang on to your findings.
Step 2 – Choose your colors
First, pick your base color – it will form the backbone of your wardrobe. Often this is a neutral color, like gray or taupe. But don’t hesitate to choose a non-neutral if your favorite outfits show your preference for it. Rust, olive green, and various shades of red or blue are fabulous contenders if you like your wardrobe more colorful.
Next, choose your accent colors – this is where you add personality and style to your wardrobe’s backbone. Playful bright colors, romantic jewel tones, calming blues and greens… your choices should be the colors that make you feel like you.
And then, choose your patterns – this only applies if you wear them. If you only wear solid colors, move on to the next step.
For more on choosing your best color palette, read on or skip directly to the section about selecting colors.
Step 3 – Choose your styles
Here’s where you draw on your findings from step 1. What do you actually wear? Dresses alone or with cardigans; pants or skirts with knit tops; blouses or poplin shirts… Think about whether you wear these things because they’re comfortable or because you feel really put together in them. Ideally, they should be both.
Step 4 – Pull together essential pieces
Now it’s time to select a collection of garments that are the colors and styles you have chosen. You’re aiming for at least a week’s worth of outfits without having to do laundry. Ideally, you have enough for two weeks.
Include layers in this step, if applicable. Think blazers, jackets, etc. Often, they are a substantial component of winter wardrobes and a tiny part of summer ones.
Step 5 – Add shoes and accessories
You’re almost done, so let’s talk about shoes. Here you want to choose several pairs that work well with the garments you selected earlier, and that will get you through most situations. Some dressier, some more casual, so that you always have a choice.
And finally, add accessories. Scarves, jewelry, hats, handbags – everything that helps you jazz up your outfits. Stick with your chosen color palette to ensure everything coordinates easily.
The capsule wardrobe concept is excellent for simplifying your wardrobe strategy. Start with what is already working well for you, choose your colors, styles, and patterns, and add shoes and accessories. Re-evaluate regularly and keep notes, so your capsules get better and better over time.
And now, let’s talk about one of my favorite topics, color!
How to choose the best color palette for your capsule wardrobe
A limited selection of colors seems… limiting, doesn’t it? Only, it’s not. It’s actually incredibly liberating. We see it time and again in arts and nature. So let’s talk about how you can choose a few colors to define a color palette for your capsule wardrobe.
Why should you use a limited color palette for your capsule wardrobe?
Because it is freeing. It frees you to explore various shapes and textures, and everything will still go together because the colors are constant. And as all your garments work together, it is easy to reach into your closet and pull out an outfit without spending forever thinking about it.
When do you decide on your color palette?
This is a decision you make at the beginning of your wardrobe building process. You can create multiple capsules or collections, and they can each have a different color palette if that’s your preference.
Some women keep the same neutrals from capsule to capsule, using deeper accent colors in winter and lighter ones in the summer. Others do the exact opposite, keeping their bright colors year-round and switching out darker and lighter neutrals depending on the season.
We’ll use a three-step process here. If you’re starting with your favorite outfits, note the colors that appear over and over. And if you’re starting from scratch, that’s okay too.
1. Pick your base color
Here you want to select a color that is among your best ones. If you’ve had a color analysis, you already (hopefully) know your best colors. Otherwise, pick one that makes you look radiant and healthy.
You can choose a neutral color here, but if neutrals are more of a sprinkle for you, then you’re welcome to pick a bright color. The guideline I like to use is one from the garment sewing community – if you would wear pants or a skirt in this color, it counts as your base.
Your favorite outfits should prove a useful guide here – what colors do you enjoy wearing almost every day? Black/gray, brown/camel, taupe, rust, navy, olive, reds, or purples? Use this color family to form the backbone of your capsule wardrobe.
2. Select your accent colors
This is where your personality comes into play. Women on the classic end of the spectrum may well prefer to stick with neutral colors for their capsule wardrobe or maybe add a bit of blush or another light color.
Those of us with bold and playful personalities will likely want to add a solid dose of bright colors. The point here is to pick accent colors that go well with your base color so that everything will work nicely together.
If you select a color family, you’ll have a built-in range of colors. But what if you like bright turquoise and don’t care for teal and pale aqua? No problem. It’s perfectly okay to have one particular shade you love. Keep your accents to no more than three or four colors.
3. Select your patterns
Patterns are a little funny. Some women love them, some can’t stand wearing them. If you only ever wear solid colors and patterned clothes would only languish in your closet, you are done. Your color palette is now complete.
Now, if you wear patterns, think about which ones you like. I mean, like on you, not on other people on Pinterest. Do you love the large florals that go so prettily with your dreamy romantic curls? Great, then don’t worry about the striped boatnecks on the typical wardrobe must-have lists.
Playful polka dots, bold zig-zags, florals large or small – go with what works for you. And stick with your chosen color palette so that your patterns work seamlessly with the solid colored pieces in your wardrobe.
Examples of color palettes for a capsule wardrobe
Here are three very different color combinations to show what’s possible. If you think it would help to see an actual wardrobe in these colors, let me know below in the comments.
The first example is a striking combination of red, gray, and black, without any patterns. We often see this combination as black pants, a gray sweater, and a red scarf. But how about a red dress with a gray-black ombre scarf?
Our second example is a playful combination of four bright colors with a base of black. The polka dots add to the playfulness. An example of this could be a black skirt with a lime green blouse and a polka-dotted scarf that combines both colors together.
This third color palette is very calming – the blues and greens evoke the ocean, and the languid wavy patterns continue the theme. One example could be a long flowy dress worn with a coordinating shawl covering the shoulders.
As you can see, limiting the color palette for your capsule wardrobe doesn’t limit your possibilities. Instead, it frees you to explore them. So go ahead, start by picking a base color and accent colors, add patterns if you like, and you’ll be off and running.
And now, let’s move on to the ubiquitous FAQ section.
Frequently asked questions
This is a collection of questions many have asked. If you don’t see an answer to yours, leave it in the comments below and I’ll do my best to include it in the next update.
Can you have multiple color palettes?
Absolutely! You want to keep it to one color palette per capsule wardrobe, but you can have multiple capsules. Some women enjoy wearing one set of colors to work, another one at home, and yet a third one for an activity-specific capsule, such as workout gear.
You’re the boss of your wardrobe, and you can make it as colorful or as neutral as you like. The color palette concept simply makes it easier to build a cohesive collection of clothes, so you always look nicely put together.
When should you create a capsule wardrobe?
If you don’t already have one, now is a great time to start. As you make your choices, remember to account for the weather. Your summer capsule will likely be very different from your winter capsule unless you live in a tropical climate where the weather is the same year-round.
In most climates, you’ll likely want two separate capsule wardrobes – one for warmer weather and one for colder weather. Their sizes will depend on the length of the warm and cool seasons in your area.
It’s a good idea to go through this exercise before the season starts, in case you need to shop for new pieces to round it out. It’s easiest to do your shopping before the selection is all picked over.
When is a good time to re-evaluate your capsule wardrobe?
Your best bet is to evaluate your new capsule wardrobe a few weeks into using it, just in case you need to make adjustments. If all is well, take another look halfway through the season and adjust if needed.
Towards the end of the season, re-evaluate your capsule one more time and note any changes you have made plus changes you want to make going forward. Write them down, so you have a reference next year.
Where do you store your capsule wardrobe?
Some garments do well hanging in the closet, others last longer if they are kept folded. Woven fabrics are usually fine on hangers but knits (t-shirts and sweaters) require a little extra care as they tend to stretch out.
If you prefer to keep your t-shirts, sweaters, and cardigans hanging in the closet, look for hangers with wide rounded ends, similar to fancy coat hangers. Or fold the sweater and hang it over the bar of the hanger.
Make sure your current wardrobe is easily accessible because you’ll be reaching for it over and over. If needed, out-of-season garments can be packed away to make room in the closet.
And there you have it. We’ve covered the reasons why you should at least consider creating a capsule wardrobe, how to build it step-by-step, and how to choose the right color palette for your personality. And then we topped it off with a few FAQ’s.
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