Capsule Wardrobe Update

I am officially one month in to my experiment. I’ve had several social events along with regular everyday stuff. I’ve had a month of doing the laundry and resisting post-Christmas sales. I continue to catalog outfits and new combinations and pin them to my board on Pinterest.

So far, I feel great about my clothes. I haven’t felt stifled or bored. That’s not to say that I don’t get the “I don’t have anything new and exciting to wear” reaction every so often, but it’s easier now to say, “Well, then, just wear what you have.”

Accessory Capsule Wardrobe
Accessory Capsule Wardrobe

I also did a capsule wardrobe for my accessories (except for jewelry, because that’s my one indulgence in making outfits look different, new, dressed up, and dressed down). I’ve got shoes, hats, bags, and scarves here. So far, so good with my choices for all those.

I don’t have the bikini yet because who knows what size I’ll be by summer if I keep working out. Also, I don’t have the plastic flip-flops. I usually buy those at Target at the beginning of the spring, and yes, they are usually a loud, obnoxious color. Finally, I don’t have the yellow scarf. I did have one at one point, but I gave it to my mom, and I’m on the hunt again. However, this time, I think I want it to be in cotton instead of wool, and thinner instead of big and bulky.

There are few things I’ve noticed, and these may lead to changes in my selections for next year.

I have yet to find black pants. I know the ones I want. They are Cynthia Rowley “Pia” pants, but they don’t seem to have them in stock right now anywhere. Plus, I’m on the cusp of going down a size in my jeans, so I might as well wait. However, it’s interesting that I haven’t missed them so far.

I haven’t used either of my silk blouses. But, I have found that I am lacking a long, tunic-style casual knit top. One of those blouses might be swapped out for that if I can find one. I came to this conclusion after several weeks of noticing I was wishing for a specific kind of top to go with my leggings and jeans.

In addition, I have glanced several times through clothes that I have set aside for the year. Most of them are special and/or sentimental, and I have worn them in the past. There are a few pieces that are simply extraordinarily lovely or unique, and I would hate to get rid of them just because I’m not wearing them for a year.

This has led me to consider a “secondary capsule.” In other words, I think for next year, I would like to make a small, secondary capsule wardrobe of unique/accent pieces. Maybe 10-15 items total. We’ll see. I have 11 months to go in this experiment.

Laundry hasn’t been an issue so long as I do it consistently once a week. Yeah, there was a two week gap, and I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. However, I now know that I have to do the laundry at least once a week.

We have had one casualty and replacement so far. My grey t-shirt got a bbq sauce stain on it during the AFC Championship game. It didn’t come out. However, I was able to go to Marshall’s and get a replacement for $5.99. I even found the same style. Not bad. This means that for January 2015, I spent a grand total of $5.99 on clothes, shoes, and accessories. 

I’ll probably do another post at the end of February to talk about how I’m doing at the two month mark. Let me know if you are trying your own capsule wardrobe or want help/advice. I love doing this stuff and would be glad to share and work with you!

Below are a bunch of outfits I’ve catalogued for January.

CD release party at a cafe.
Running errands.
Running errands.
Chemo day with Jaime. Comfort required!
Lunch with a friend.
Robert Burns Supper – Scots wahey! (Wallace tartan leggings in honor of my husband found at Forever 21 last year).
Birthday party after a blizzard. Bowling night. Mini-dress probably not the right choice as I may have accidentally flashed the entire bowling alley while jumping for joy at my strike.
Super Bowl party! Comfy, cozy, especially with boot socks. Plus, I was sick of wearing jeans and leggings.


Cait’s Capsule Wardrobe

What is a Capsule Wardrobe?

I am telepathic. I know what you are thinking. You are thinking: “What is a capsule wardrobe?” and maybe, “Why should I care?”

The first answer is simple. A capsule wardrobe is a limited set of clothing and accessory items you pick for a period of time (a long vacation, a season, six months, one year, etc.). The second answer about why you should care has to come from you, and my goal with this post about my experiment is to offer a little life hack by disciplined wardrobe management.

There are varying techniques for designing a capsule wardrobe. Some people use the “333” method – 33 pieces of clothing and accessories for 3 months (which could be a season). Some people do a color scheme. I decided to do a 50-item, one year wardrobe of clothes, and then do a separate set of 30 items for accessories.

Now, my method won’t work for everyone, especially since I work from home and I don’t need much variation between a “work” wardrobe and a “casual” wardrobe. Though, there’s no reason you couldn’t do a 50-item, one year work wardrobe, and a 30-item, one year casual wardrobe. The idea is flexible enough that everyone could find a way to use it.

Why Do a Capsule Wardrobe?

Ah, incoming telepathic message.

“Why are you doing this?”

There are several very good reasons I am doing this. They are:

  • I will save money by not buying things on a whim or for a trend
  • I will save time when looking at my closet and trying to figure out what to wear
  • I will not feel overwhelmed by the amount of clothing I have
  • I will no longer have a “totally adorable top” that “I just need to find bottoms to go with it” and spend weeks and months looking for the bottoms before giving up and pushing it to the back of my closet.
  • I will be less vain and less pretentious about having to be seen in a “new outfit” all the time – if what I have in my closet looks good on me once, it will look good on me again…and again…
  • I will put to the test the theory that the people who matter in life don’t really give a shit about what you are wearing because you are valued for yourself, not your clothes
  • I will put to the test the theory that the people who don’t matter in life don’t even really notice you’re wearing the same things over and over…and even if they do, since they don’t matter, why do you care?
  • I will buy fewer things but higher quality things that will last and not eventually end up in landfills or garbage bags at Goodwill because they faded or pilled after four washes
  • I live in a small condo with limited storage space
  • I hate having to forcibly push apart tightly-packed clothing on hangers to find something…I want clothes in a closet, not sardines in a can

How Do You Build a Capsule Wardrobe?

Now, I’ve never really been into clothes. When I was little and my mom used to try and get me interested in buying my back-to-school outfits, I would beg off the shopping trip, asking, “What am I? Cinderella’s stepsisters?” You know, the ones who were always fussing about their dresses for the ball? Forget it. I had more important things to do like read books and write. Poor Mom had to slog off to the mall by herself.

But, after my miscarriage, I found myself scrambling for anything mindless and numbing to fill the endless minutes of physical pain and emotional agony. It started with Pinterest, and then turned into a full-on obsessive quest to build the perfect capsule wardrobe.

I spent a couple of evenings playing around on Polyvore, trying to match up actual items in my closet with images of clothes on their site. It took some patience, but I ended up doing really, really well with the matches. I ended up with a 50-piece “set” that included all four seasons of clothing and outerwear.

I also had to develop a philosophy of what I wear and why I wear it. Questions I asked included:

  • Take time to think about how you use and wear clothes.
  • For a week or two (or three), try to stay conscious of exactly what you wear in your wardrobe.
  • Analyze why you wear the things you do: Comfort? Style? Ease of decision-making?
  • Do you tend to be hotter than everyone in a room or colder than everyone in a room?
  • What do I want to look like when people see me? Bohemian? Conservative? Powerful? Playful?

I decided that I wanted to have a practical, simple appearance that was based on really comfortable clothes, but I also wanted a slight European flavor to my look. I also tend to run hot in body temperature, therefore, I needed clothes that would allow me to rapidly cool myself down.

Now that I knew that, I started developing my rules for what went in my closet:

  • Layering: This was probably the key principle to my entire strategy.
  • Basic colors: I chose black, cream, and grey. This way, everything would pretty much go with everything.
  • Accent colors: There were a few things that I really, really wanted to keep in my new capsule wardrobe from my existing clothes, so they became my accent colors: a lavender silk blouse, a pair of Wallace-tartan pattern leggings, an ombre-wine silk formal dress, a sage green silk cocktail dress from Paris, a cheerful red summer romper.
  • Up or down: While I work from home, I do have to “dress up” enough to go to certain meetings or events. I needed a few key things that would dress up or down depending on the combination.
My 2015 Capsule Wardrobe
My 2015 Capsule Wardrobe

My set came together pretty easily after that.

Once I went through my closet and matched everything up, I removed all my other clothing and packed it away.

Please note, I didn’t give it away. I put it away. This was important to me because some of the things I put away were too beautiful or sentimental or potentially useful to get rid of. Plus, this is the first year of my experiment. If I found something really wasn’t working and needed to be added or switched out, I could first go to my existing supply of clothing before doing anything else.

Next, I went through my closet and made a list of the things I was missing in reality compared to my “set” on Polyvore. It turned out, I needed two t-shirts, a black-and-white strip 3/4-sleeve shirt, two tank tops, and a one all-season cream tunic/sweater. One trip to Marshall’s and $110 later, I was done. The things I bought were of decent quality and good brands. All of my clothing for one year now fit on one small rod of my closet.

The sight of that made me feel so good.

After this, I did the same thing with my accessories: shoes, purses, scarves, and hats. I excluded gloves and sunglasses because of my propensity to lose them. I also did the same thing with my jewelry.

Once all of this was done, I realized there were a few things I still needed for the summer: the shorts and the black sundress. However, I reasoned that since I was going to go back to working out, I would probably be a different size by the summer. It wouldn’t make sense to buy summer things now (even if they could be found) if I knew they wouldn’t fit in a few months. So, I still have three things to buy, but that’s okay. It’s just three things.

To summarize, the process is:

  • Study capsule wardrobes on Pinterest. You can check out my Pinterest board on them to get started.
  • Sign up for Polyvore and start playing around, building your own wardrobe. Do as many sets as you want until you get it right. I did five or six before I felt I had a real, workable set.
  • Do the same thing for your accessories.
  • Clean out your closet until it’s just the clothes for your capsule wardrobe. Pack everything else away. This is an experiment, not a gutting.
  • Make a list of what you need, go buy it, and don’t buy anything else.
  • Go through your jewelry. Same thing. Select what you truly love and put the rest away. It will be there if you want to reevaluate at the end of the year.
  • Breathe a sigh of relief.

The Rules of Living the Capsule Wardrobe

Okay, so now you have a wardrobe that you think will work. There are a few rules you will have to follow if you want to be successful at this. They are as follows:

  • You can only buy clothes or shoes if they become torn, dirty, damaged, or otherwise unusable.
  • You can only buy clothes if it is not the season for the store to be stocking them and they are missing from your actual wardrobe (i.e. buying summer shorts in January just can’t be done in Boston)
  • You can only buy clothes if you gain/lose weight, BUT, you may only buy replacements of the same item! i.e. You lose weight and your jeans become too big. You may buy a pair of jeans that fits, but you must put away your other jeans first.

There are a few other minor rules:

  • Workout gear is exempt from the capsule wardrobe because depending on how much working out you do and what types you do, you may need layers for outdoor exercise or specialized items for various activities. i.e. running shorts vs. yoga pants, strategic layers for weather, etc.
  • Sleepwear: keep what you have and don’t buy any more. Use it up. Then go through the capsule wardrobe process with your sleepwear.
  • Lingerie: I admit, I have a lot of lingerie. It’s wasteful to throw it all away when I do use quite a bit of it. However, same with sleepwear, I am using it up. As it gets to the point where I need to throw it away, I am going through the capsule wardrobe process for it. I’m halfway there.
  • Lingerie redux: Personally, I am aiming for coming around to black and beige for the basics, with a few accent pieces (no, there will be no detail about those, use your imagination). I like to have a well-fitting bra in both black and beige with coordinated panties. Once I find a panty style I like, I simply buy something like 10 of the same panties. This little trick has eliminated scrambling through the underwear drawer trying to find matching things or pushing aside the uncomfortable panties you don’t want to wear but don’t want to throw out. And there is no reason that your bra-and-panty sets can’t be drop dead sexy yet functional. Also, there is little that is sexier than a well-fitting black bra and panties. Just saying.

You must also change your mindset to accept the following:

  • You will wear some of the same combinations over and over again. This is not a bad thing. If your clothes look good on you and fit both in style and shape, you simply look good over and over again.
  • People don’t really care if you wear the same thing over and over again. And if they are shallow enough to care and judge you for it, should they be your friends in the first place?
  • You will get to a point where you stare at your wardrobe and say, “I have nothing to wear.” This is false. What you are actually saying is, “I have nothing new to wear.” You kind of have to beat your head against this a little bit, but then you start to realize your fall back choices are actually your key outfits.
  • You might do an extra load of laundry a week, but it will be a small one because you simply don’t have that many clothes to wash. Also, drying t-shirts, tanks, leggings and other cotton knits on a drying rack instead of the dryer will preserve their condition and make them last longer.

Results So Far

I have been doing this wardrobe since mid-December, so it has been about a month.

Frankly, I LOVE it.

I know I will look good in whatever I pull together.

I know there is a high probability that whatever I pull out of my closet already coordinates.

I have gotten through “I have nothing new to wear” urge.

I save so much time in getting ready because I’m already developing key outfits that I just grab and go with.

I already know that I will need to buy a replacement pair of jeans in a smaller size in about a month. That’s okay.

My accessories have worked perfectly so far.

I have yet to be disappointed in an outfit I put together or feel like I’m not looking my best when I step out of the house. This is because everything goes. That was a shocker and a pleasant side-effect I had not anticipated.

I have not really missed any of my other clothing because I can’t see it and haven’t had a need for it.

I have yet to spend any money on clothing, accessories, or jewelry since my final wardrobe-completion purchases.

My life has definitely become simpler in this small way, and I welcome it very much.

I think that from time-to-time, I will post outfits and combinations I wear here so you can see how I’m doing. I will share my progress on the experiment as I go along, and I love questions!

So…that’s it. Here’s we go. To a simpler, chapter 2015!