As a follow up to the introduction to my own wardrobe, I thought I’d create a separate capsule wardrobe FAQ for all the questions I received about creating and maintaining a capsule wardrobe.
Here’s what this post will cover:
Capsule wardrobe FAQs
- What is the best way to transition into a capsule wardrobe?
- What should I do with all of the items I decide to get rid of?
- Does a capsule wardrobe have to be all black and grey?
- How do you decide how many of each item to have in your capsule?
- So how does all this work with seasons?
- Don’t your items wear out quickly?
- How do you find quality clothes on a budget?
- What’s the biggest difference between my wardrobe then and my wardrobe now?
- Don’t you have any comfy clothes?
What is the best way to transition into a capsule wardrobe?
I’ve had a capsule wardrobe for about five years now and what really pared me down was years of constantly living out of a suitcase and flying across the Atlantic Ocean. If you don’t have time for that experience, I’d still recommend transitioning slowly.
We are so used to being presented with an overabundance of options, having so little can seem shocking. Don’t pair down too quickly in a fit of motivation. I’m almost positive you’ll panic, feel unprepared, and then start restocking immediately to fill the perceived void.
MINI CHALLENGE: Choose a week to wear a “uniform” and see how it feels. For example, my uniform is t-shirt, cardigan, jeans, boots. Choose your top/bottom/accessory/shoe of choice and then choose 2-3 of each item to mix and match through the week. Essentially, create a mini-capsule for a week of testing. (If you’re feeling really brave, pack/separate all your other clothes away to remove temptation!)
If it wasn’t too difficult, you’re probably ready to pare down and start seriously thinking about a capsule wardrobe!
Also, be sure to check out this capsule wardrobe planner to help you get started.
What should I do with all of the items I decide to get rid of?
From a zero waste perspective, this is definitely the trickiest bit of downsizing into a capsule wardrobe. While it may be tempting to simply pack them all up and drop them off at the nearest donation center, the truth is a lot of these items go to for-profit recycling programs that aren’t particularly concerned where those clothes end up.
Instead, find some other use for clothes.
Most of my clothing becomes rags or towels (thus eliminating traditional sponges and paper towels).
If you have way too many clothes for that to be feasible, consider giving them directly to a local organization calling for clothing specifically or even reselling some of your higher-end items.
Does a capsule wardrobe have to be all black and grey?
Absolutely not! My dark little heart loathes color in clothing which makes the capsule wardrobe process MUCH easier. My base is black and grey with dark green or reddish-brown accent colors.
But is it necessary to be so boring? Of course not!
This is an excellent, thorough resource for creating a color palette but the big gist of it is: you need main colors (the colors of your key pieces), neutral colors (the colors of your basics), and accent colors (the color of your accessories or one-off items).
Oh, and on that note of flexibility: capsule wardrobes also don’t have to be casual. Or office ready. Or all-natural. Capsule wardrobes are here to cater to your needs, not the other way around!
How do you decide how many of each item to have in your capsule?
In a general sense, I’d suggest coming up with a uniform (mine’s tee, cardigan, jeans, boots) and allocating at least 50% of your wardrobe to key pieces – realistically closer to 60%.
I’d allocate 25% to seasonal items and the remaining 15-25% to whatever you see as a gap in your wardrobe.
In a 30 piece wardrobe, those numbers would break down to 15-18 items in your uniform, about 7 seasonal items, and 5-7 extra items that may be needed.
Let’s say I’m trying to create a 30 piece wardrobe. Right now I have 22 items, and 15 of them are part of my uniform.That’s exactly 50% of my capsule (not at all planned, I swear!). I’ve added 7 more items – sweaters, jumpsuits, and a skirt – that work with my uniform but aren’t technically part of the uniform.That still leaves me with 8 items that I could potentially add to my capsule that would be specific to the spring/summer seasons. Those items might include: a pair of shorts, a pair of sandals, a few tank tops, etc.
As I mentioned in the previous post, my general theory on deciding how much of each item to include revolves around laundry. I like to ensure that I have enough items in my uniform to last for a whole week (or more!) without washing.
I need plenty of t-shirts as I may or may not be able to wear them twice so I allocate about 7 out of 15 uniform items for shirts. Cardigans – enough for variety, but I can re-wear so 3-4. Shoes and jeans are not a priority and can be rotated frequently, so 2-3 of each.
The 3-4 other categories are extra, non-uniform items and depends on a case-by-case basis.
So how does all this work with seasons?
My capsule wardrobe started in Russia, so I don’t want to hear you all complain you can’t do it! Living somewhere with 90F summers and -30 or below winters is no joke.
Here are some tips of creating a capsule wardrobe to span the ages:
Envision a uniform that could realistically work year-round. Some people like the idea of packing away their entire wardrobe each season and buying/pulling out 30-ish fresh pieces. I’m not about that; instead, I like my core capsule (AKA those 15 pieces of uniform) to go with me year-round. Because I work indoors in a place that requires pants and close-toed shoes, it’s easy enough to go with jeans + a sweater + boots year-round.
Choose a box for off-season clothing and don’t get outside of it. Pick a container that will fit neatly into your storage space to save your off-season clothing. Anything that doesn’t fit in there doesn’t go in your capsule.* Right now, my “container” is one drawer of an unused dresser that has my heavy sweaters, heavy black pants, and my hats/scarves/gloves. Once the season changes, I’ll rotate some currently-in-use items into that space to give them a break.
*I do let myself have 5-8 hangers in our hallway closet for my coats – a definite obsession. But I also have 3 incredibly high-quality vintage fur coats that will last me forever so they get a pass from not being in the box. Speaking of…
Layering is your friend. For real. That tank I wear over a pair of light jeans in the summer? It goes under a light sweater, a heavy wool sweater, and maybe even a coat/jacket once the weather gets cool. Don’t be afraid to utilize pieces in different ways instead of having one item for every possible scenario!
Don’t your items wear out quickly?
Honestly, no. And I say this as someone who wears the same items over and over and over and over… Why not? I have a couple of theories:
- I look for quality items. I choose quality over quantity. I’ve got more money to spend on higher-end items and I also only buy high-quality items second hand. Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy to spot excellent, long-lasting construction. (See the next question for more information about quality on a budget.)
- I don’t wash my clothes very often. I really don’t even want to admit this, but I wash my clothes really infrequently. We only do laundry once a week, so that mitigates a lot of stress on the clothes. Some of my more delicate items I prefer to take in the shower with me to wash there. Also, never underestimate the power of just hanging clothes in some fresh air every once and a while (after spraying it with some citrus vinegar!).
- Having less clothes forces you to care about them. Sure, I may still throw my clothes on the floor but I know I shouldn’t. When you know your wardrobe is limited – and you’ve made a firm commitment to stop buying – you’re forced to consider everything more precious.
How do you find quality clothes on a budget?
Here’s the super real deal: it’s an incredibly frustrating, slow process. Don’t expect to have an on-point, high-end capsule wardrobe with just a couple of bucks and a few days.
The other important point to consider is cost-per-wear. A $9.99 tank from H&M lasted me about 6 months wearing it once a week. That tank was approximately $0.42/wear. The $22 tank from Everlane lasted me at least 2.5 years wearing it 1-2x/week. That thank was approximately $0.14/wear.
After considering that, I’m willing to spend more.
My first point is generally trawling through the second hand stores around the richer parts of town. With a little bit of luck, you can find extremely high-end brands of excellent quality for just a couple bucks. There’s a whole world of basic tees and nice jeans that have only been worn once or twice, trust.
A few tips for successful thrifting:
- keep a running list of items you’re looking for on your phone. Once you’ve solidified your uniform and what number of different items you want in your capsule wardrobe, it’ll be pretty easy to compile a list of what items are missing. Learn that list. Love that list. Do not buy pieces that are not on that list!
- say no if: the garment doesn’t seem to fit with the other items already in your closet, it’s not in season, there’s major pilling, there’s an imperfect fit you aren’t willing to pay to fix/do it yourself, the item is made from synthetic fibers (if that’s a priority).
- head toward the people whose clothing you want. I prefer higher-end basics from name brands. Therefore, I head north of Indianapolis into Carmel or Noblesville (AKA the richer suburbs of Indianapolis). If I’m looking for trendier items, I’l head towards spots in Fountain Square. Common sense, but shop where the people you want to look like live!
- don’t settle for a meh item. Look, this sh*t is already second hand. If you don’t love it/it doesn’t fit in seamlessly with the wardrobe you already have, it’s not worth it. Don’t fall into the trap of “oh, but it’s only $5”!
- accept defeat but don’t be afraid to come back. Let’s be real: what are the chances you’re going to find the perfect black tee, green cardigan, and grey pair of work pants on the same day in a second hand store? Pretty close to zero. AGAIN, this is a slow process that you shouldn’t rush. Come back another week and give it another try.
For those basic items I just can’t find second hand, I usually turn to Everlane*. Expensive, but absolutely worth every penny. My parents brought me the cashmere sweater I bought over to Russia right before my wedding in 2013 – the sweater’s still in excellent condition and I’ve worn it at least 1-2x/week. (Cost-per-wear? About $0.65!)
My newest obsession is Uniform and I plan to repurchase from them if I should ever want a specialty item. It’s held up well to a lot of wear in the past few months.
What’s the biggest difference between my wardrobe then and my wardrobe now?
Honestly, from looking at me: not much. I still wear what I like, I just don’t have a ton of extra clothes laying around unworn and stuffed in the back of my closet. I think the capsule wardrobe has changed the way I think about clothes more than it’s physically changed my wardrobe or how I look day-to-day.
I now consider whether clothes are serving a purpose and actually functional; if not, I either say goodbye or don’t purchase them at all.
Don’t you have any comfy clothes?
I do! I own two pairs of pyjama pants, a pair of leggings, one old t-shirt, and a tank top that serve as my at-home, lazy clothes. I don’t count them because I’m pretty ruthless with what non-uniform clothes I keep around.
Plus, if I keep around too many comfortable clothes, I tend to look a little too… comfortable, if you know what I mean.
More questions? Any other insights you have about creating a capsule wardrobe? Drop them in the comments below!