Starting A Capsule Wardrobe

7 Aug 2020

 Starting A Capsule Wardrobe

Content warning: I’m about to start talking about clothes a lot. I’m not sure what’s happened to me either. 

For the past couple of years, I have been fascinated with the idea of a capsule wardrobe. Time and time again, I find myself drawn to articles and blog posts about the concept and then sitting in front of my own wardrobe and imagining everything in there being just… less.

For those not in the know, here’s the Wikipedia definition for a capsule wardrobe – a collection of a few essential items of clothing that do not go out of fashion which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces. It is obviously open to interpretation but the reoccurring themes always seem to be: to have less, to swap out the seasonal pieces at the beginning of each season, to only shop when you need something and when you do, invest in good quality pieces that will last yonks.

I have never fully committed to the idea before now because I was trying to adapt to the one-size fits all approach. Sometimes it felt like a simple concept but then, because it has become so popular, sometimes it felt a tad ‘information overload’ with lots of rules banded about like a maximum number of items allowed or only buying clothes in neutral colours. I would try and conform myself and my wardrobe to those rules and then get frustrated when it didn’t quite work for me.

As with anything, and as I should have realised – you do you. Going again, I’ve found it quite helpful to ignore most of those rules! 

Despite previous failed starts, I keep coming back to the idea. The reason it speaks to me so much is because I’ve long been frustrated with my wardrobe. I felt like I never quite knew what I was doing with it and was constantly torn between feeling like life was too short to think about clothes too much and also knowing that feeling uncomfortable or not myself in clothes makes me feel like shit. I have been guilty of making spontaneous purchases that I only wear a handful of times, shopping for something I actually already own but had forgotten about and trying to fix feeling rubbish about my body by shopping for clothes better suited to other shapes and sizes. I have long craved a wardrobe that is simple, where I like and wear every single item in it, and to eliminate any feelings of anxiety and overwhelm when it comes to what I’m wearing.

I also no longer want to engage with fast fashion which is one of the biggest polluters of our environment. We all need our clothing to last much longer and to be more sustainable. Having a capsule wardrobe is one of the ways I am attempting to do that, but I am also aiming to only buy from sustainable clothing brands in the future, to wash my clothes a lot less (the majority of us over wash our clothes) and to try and only buy clothes made of natural materials.  

So this is how I went about creating my own capsule wardrobe: 

Step 1: Finding my ‘style’

Yes I mentally cringed at ‘finding my style’ as well. Soz. So I have never counted myself as someone who is really into clothes – and I stand by that – but there is also no denying that when I’m in an outfit that feels like ‘me’, my mood is lifted. The problem is, I’ve never properly paid attention to what is ‘me’ before and have often been drawn into new-season impulse purchases without stopping to consider whether an item fits in with what I like let alone whether it’s good quality, fits with the rest of my wardrobe and ultimately worth spending my money on. Fast fashion pushes us to shop for new clothes all the damn time and it’s very easy to get sensory overload. Taking a step back and acknowledging which items I’m always drawn to in my wardrobe and what I feel fits who I am and my lifestyle the best (which took a surprisingly short amount of time) meant I then found myself baffled at all the other purchases I’d made over the years that clearly didn’t work for me. Why was I wearing things that I didn’t feel 100% comfortable in? Why was I engaging my time and money in an industry that can often make me feel stressed and uncomfortable when more often than not I push around the majority of my clothes for the same white shirt and pair of jeans?

Basically - I’m a jeans & trainers girl, with the occasional midi-dress thrown in for good measure. I’ve finally realised that skirts and shorts are almost never my thing but I’m partial to a jumpsuit every now and again. I’m happiest in a jeans-and-shirt combo, jazzed up with a colourful bag and shoes. None of this is particularly revelatory but cementing this in my mind felt like an important step when it comes to more mindful shopping in the future. 

Step 2: An Almighty Clear Out

Luckily this wasn’t too overwhelming as I’ve become much better at regular clear-outs over the last couple of years but still, a lot went. I had to be brutally honest with myself about what I was actually comfortable with and what I’d worn a lot in the last year, and to let go of thoughts like ‘but it’s in good condition’, ‘I only bought that last year’ or ‘I might wear it again’ (spoiler: I won’t). Even I was surprised by my own ruthlessness but once you’ve crossed the line, it actually becomes quite freeing/addictive. I sent three big boxes of clothes to charity shops and immediately felt lighter. 

Starting A Capsule Wardrobe

Step 3: Making Your Own Rules

I’ve split what’s left into five categories:

The basics – for all year round. Also includes a sub-category of at-home wear, which is a mix of weekend loungewear and weekday comfort (the classic shirt with leggings for Zoom work meetings).

Seasonal: Summer – swapped in around May time to go alongside the basics.  

Seasonal: Autumn/Winter – swapped in around September time to go alongside the basics.  

Workout wear – pretty self-explanatory; the stuff to sweat in.  

Occasion wear – for parties, weddings, fancy meals etc.

I’ve not bothered with a Spring category because it’s changeable enough that I know I’ll wear a mix of things from basics, autumn & probably summer should we get a random April heatwave. 

What I’m not including for now: pyjamas, underwear, shoes and coats. These are some of the things that used to trip me up when considering capsule wardrobes in the past, as I know these are ‘supposed’ to be included but I always felt they were separate to what is hanging in my wardrobe (both literally and figuratively). So I simply mentally put them to one side for now. You do you

A note on numbers 

The internet seems to band about the elusive number 37, for the number of items one has in their capsule wardrobe during any one season. I think trying to get to a particular ‘number’ of items is silly – you shouldn’t be trying to choose between two tops when you really want to keep both, just to hit a certain number. It’s about what works for you. 

The below works out at a neat 50 items all in. This is for all year round. At the moment, I have 43 items of clothing hanging in my wardrobe, including workout wear and occasion wear. My winter things are currently vacuum packed under the bed. Before I did my clear out, I would have thought 50 sounded like a lot until I pulled out every item in my wardrobe and realised that the average person has a lot more than that. Putting occasion wear (not like I’ve had much use for them during lockdown) and workout wear (as it’s for once specific purpose) to one side for a second: for the last couple of months I’ve been living with 33 items (basics + summer) in my wardrobe and so far am really loving it. If anything, I’m wondering if I could live with less but I’m trying not to get too eager given that the last few months haven’t really been representative of ‘normal’ life. 

And here’s what I’ve got: 

The Basics 

3x Jeans (2x blue, 1x black)

1x Black trousers

1x Black cardigan

2x blazer (1x yellow, 1x pink)

2x hoodie (1x grey, 1x navy striped)

3 x White shirts 

(1x long sleeved, 1x short sleeved, 1x patterned)

9 x Tops 

(3 x Breton long-sleeved, 1x Breton t-shirt, 1x pink shirt, 1 x red wrap, 1x blue, 1x white with black lining, 1x print patterned)

Basics: at-home wear (a sub-category if you will)

1x Jogging bottoms

1x White t-shirt

1x Black leggings

1x Oversized cardigan

1x Casual jumpsuit

Seasonal: Summer 

3 x Dresses (1 x yellow midi, 1x blue maxi, 1x pink patterned)  

1x Jumpsuit (black polka dot)

1x white jeans 

1x short dungarees  

1 x denim shorts

Seasonal: Autumn/Winter 

4 x Knits

3 x Dresses (all in autumnal colours)

Occasion wear

1 x Leather-look trousers

1 x Black tulle skirt + 1 x black strappy top 

1 x Red dress

1 x Wedding-guest dress

Workout wear

2x Leggings

3 x Tops (long-sleeved, t-shirt, vest)

Photos by Tutu and Amanda Vick