The Non-Fashionista’s Guide to Beginning a Capsule Wardrobe

The Non-Fashionista’s Guide to Beginning a Capsule Wardrobe

I never thought I’d be writing a guide to beginning a capsule wardrobe. Any longtime readers of this blog will know that I struggled for years to declutter my wardrobe. I fell for every excuse in the book. Yet with determination and time (and a lot of encouragement from you all!) I have decluttered from a few hundred items to around 40 today.

Now I’m ready for the next stage: beginning a capsule wardrobe.

What is a Capsule Wardrobe Anyway? And Why Would I Want One?

The term “capsule wardrobe” was coined in the 1970s. It is defined as a small collection of staple pieces that don’t go out of fashion –maybe 30 items or fewer, including shoes and possibly accessories. These can be supplemented with a couple of seasonal items.

Bonus for people like me – if it was never in fashion in the first place, then it can’t go out of fashion either! Hurrah!

The benefits? Having a streamlined wardrobe of pieces that you love, wear often and are interchangeable with other pieces makes life simpler. There’s less choice and less stress, it takes up less space and it means less waste.

Owning clothes we don’t wear is a waste of time, resources and money. We waste time buying them, and then maintaining them, before ultimately getting rid of them. It also brings about a huge amount of guilt for most of us.

Why would we want to put ourselves through that?

If you’ve ever stood looking at your full-to-bursting wardrobe yet couldn’t find a single thing to wear, you might benefit from embracing a capsule wardrobe.

The Non-Fashionista’s Guide to Beginning a Capsule Wardrobe (Part 1)

You’ll notice that I say “beginning”. I am no master of the capsule wardrobe (yet!) but I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far. I have a lot to share, so I’ve divided this into two parts.

In this (Part 1) I want to debunk some myths, outline the basics and get you thinking about your own wardrobe.

In Part 2 (next week) I’ll share my own wardrobe – yes with pictures! – and explain what is working, what (and how) I hope to improve, and how I’ve still managed to incorporate patterns and colours into my wardrobe. (Important point: I do not promise to offer any fashion advice or style tips! But if you don’t want a wardrobe made up entirely of grey, you might find it helpful.)

Myths About Capsule Wardrobes

Myth 1: A capsule wardrobe should be made up of neutrals.

Not true! If you’re looking for pieces that go with lots of other pieces, neutrals can do that. But so can colours, and patterns. It’s all about understanding what goes with what.

There’s no reason why bright tops can’t go with neutral bottoms, or patterned trousers with plain tops. Combining patterns works too, and if you personally like the combo, then it is a win. There’s definitely no reason not to embrace bright or patterned dresses!

Don’t feel that you need to give up your personal sense of style to embrace capsule wardrobe living. You don’t.

Myth 2: Capsule Wardrobes are all about shopping.

Capsule wardrobes are about finding staples, not about having a small amount of clothes that are rotated (usually donated or landfilled in order to buy more) every couple of months. It is perfectly possible to develop a capsule wardrobe and not need to buy any new stuff.

I’m all about reducing waste. I wouldn’t be advocating capsule wardrobes if I thought they weren’t part of this.

Last year, I only purchased a single item of clothing. One piece for 365 days. By not buying anything new, I was able to really drill down to what I liked to wear and what was practical. When my clothes began wearing out at the start of this year, I was absolutely clear what I needed to make my wardrobe more functional.

Myth 3: Capsule wardrobes are only for fashionistas.

(Rolls on the floor laughing) I do not profess to have any sense of style. I do not want to spend time thinking about piecing outfits together. I have wasted far too much of my life already trying to squeeze into items that didn’t fit, resenting my poor choice, feeling guilty about my overflowing wardrobe and bemoaning having nothing to wear.

Capsule wardrobes are for anyone who wants a practical, functional, no tears approach to getting dressed in the morning.

Stylishness = optional.

Tips for Beginning a Capsule Wardrobe

#1: Figure out what you actually wear.

What you like and what you actually wear are two different things. Sometimes we don’t actually wear the things we like. That’s usually because we like the idea of them, but they are not actually comfortable, or possibly don’t fit well.

Our fantasy self has completely different wardrobe ideas to our actual self. If it isn’t going to be worn, there is no point owning it.

#2: Play the slow game.

No need to rush to the shops! Take your time to decide the kinds if things you like, and what you actually need.

Think about the weather. Think about the colours and fabrics that you enjoy wearing. Think about wearing out what you already have, and replacing it with something better next time.

The longer you take, the better the final result will be.

#3: Start to think about ‘what goes with what’ with the things you already own.

Sometimes things are difficult to pair with anything, and we don’t wear them. But other times, it’s just that we don’t have anything suitable.

If there’s an item that you love but you don’t wear because you’re missing a piece to make it work, think about adding that to your wardrobe. Be careful though, of having too many items that only go with one other thing.

The more we own that goes with multiple other pieces, the easier it is to get dressed, the less items we need, the more use everything will get, and the better it will be.

#4: Have a List Ready Before You Go Shopping.

Capsule wardrobes are all about being clear what we need. Opportunistic browsing doesn’t fit in well with that. Rather than just going shopping, have an idea of what it is you’re looking for before you hit the stores. It can be super specific (a denim pencil skirt with pockets) or much more fluid (summery tops).

If you’re looking for something to go with other things, make a list of them, or take photos on your phone. Better still, wear them when you head out so you can see what works.

#5: Seriously Consider Shopping Second-Hand.

The fashion industry is a huge burden on the environment. The average Australian buys 27 kg of new clothing and textiles per year (the second-highest in the world after the US), and only 15% of donated clothing is actually re-sold by charity shops.

By choosing second-hand we can reduce resource consumption and our own environmental impact. Choosing second-hand is also a cheaper way to explore our own preferences and styles, and second-hand items rarely bring the same attachment as new ones.

Whilst I love the idea of supporting sustainable fashion businesses, I think for those starting out, second-hand is a better option. Once you’re clear about exactly what staple pieces you need, that is the time to start exploring ethical brands. These are often investment pieces, and well worth the money so long as you’ve done the research first.

Ethical, sustainable clothing that we just don’t wear misses the point.

Need a Hand to Declutter Your Wardrobe?

If you’re reading this thinking that before you even get to this, you’ll need to declutter your wardrobe properly, then help is on hand! I’ve put together this awesome resource to help you master the art of wardrobe decluttering. The best news is: it’s free for my readers! It’s 50 pages, with practical, actionable steps to get you started, and helpful tips to support your efforts and keep you going.

(It was meant to be shorter, but there was just too much good stuff to share!)

Just click the pic to tell me where to send it!

See you next week for Part 2!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have a capsule wardrobe? Are there any tips you’ like to add? What are your staples? What have you decided isn’t worth the money spent? How has your capsule wardrobe changed over time? Or are you right at the beginning of the journey? If so, what have been your successes to date? And your struggles? Please share your thoughts below!

15 Responses to The Non-Fashionista’s Guide to Beginning a Capsule Wardrobe

  1. Excellent!

    I don’t have a capsule wardrobe yet, but for the last six months or so I’ve been head over heels in love with the simplicity of a Beá Johnson-type wardrobe. So small, so efficient! My wardrobe will never be as small as hers, since I need more than three pair of socks and have more piercings than she does, but I’m making progress.

    • Thanks Rebekah! Hopefully this helps. I find it hard with some minimalism type blogs that they talk about “before” and they talk about “after”, but the entire middle seems to be forgotten! Next week I’ve got a bunch of pics to share with you. It’s obvious as I look at it that I still have things I don’t really need, but I’m a believer in wearing stuff out. Unless I truly hate it, that is. So it will be interesting to see how my capsule wardrobe shrinks in time. Anyways, hopefully you will find it useful :)

  2. I have been decluttering my wardrobe for a few months now, but I still have a lot of stuff, and sure I can give away 1/3 more maybe, but that still leaves me with I can’t count how many items (over 200 for sure).

    And I have to say that yes, I would wear all of that in a year’s time. I can scale down on the sports stuff and use 3-4 shirts only for running, or just 2 jerseys for biking for example, but all of my current lycra shirts are good quality ones and would last for many more years, so it would be wasteful giving that away. I do triathlon and kettlebell, basically doing sports at least 10 hours/week, and also cycle through all winter for many years now. This year was extreme, with temperatures reaching sometimes below 15 celsius, so that left me wearing 3 trousers, 2 shirts, a jumper, a ski jacket, a face mask and a scarf, winter gloves, warm hat, double socks, knee warmer, shoe protection.. just what I wear in one trip was more than 17 items (shoes included)!

    Anyway, I’m just saying that sometimes you can’t avoid having a bigger wardrobe :)

    • Hi Dori, thanks so much for your comment! Of course, “enough” is different for everyone, and depends so much on our personal circumstances. Things like where we work, where we live, what we do in our spare time, the climate – and lots of other things no doubt!

      For me, if I owned 200 items, that would mean I’d only be wearing some of these items once or twice per year, To me, that seems like a waste. I would rather have less items, and wear them more often, and replace them more quickly. Styles change, and so does my size. I also buy good quality items that don’t wear out quickly, so many items I have in my wardrobe are 6 years old.

      I ended up selling some of my better quality clothes, because whilst I liked them, I wanted to wear the older stuff out as it was too tatty to donate. Some of these better quality clothes had been sitting in my wardrobe, virtually untouched, for years whilst I waited for the other stuff to wear out. Eventually I decided that if I sold them, someone else could get the benefit of wearing them today. Plus when I finally wore the old stuff out, did I even want to wear these clothes I’d purchased a few years ago? For me, the answer was no.

      But we’re all different! The main thing is that we are happy with our possessions. I found having this much stuff made me super stressed out. But I have a friend who has maybe 200 items, but loves getting dressed in the morning, picking outfits, and wears everything she owns. There’s no point decluttering if we’re happy with what we have! :)

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Dori, it is great to hear how everyone’s “enough” is so different :)

  3. Hi Lindsay!!

    I absolutely loved this post! I’m currently “in the middle” of decluttering my wardrobe. I belong to the group of people who take it veeeery slowly, so basically I’ve been working on this for nearly a year.
    I don’t have the money (student…) to buy everything new by ethical brands nor the ideas what I really love, I’m really undecided about my personal style. So what i do is, I go to a lot clothe swaps, where you bring some of your own pieces, and take others home with you. That way, about once a month I grab between 3 and 8 pieces I don’t like that much and bring them there, and then I bring some “new” ones home. My only rule: Bring home less then you brought to the swap!
    That way I can test new clothing without adding something new to the circuit and if I don’t like something, I simply bring it to the next swap and somebody else can have it.
    Sometimes the pieces need some mending, so I do that, wear them a few times, decide they only fit my “ideal unreal self”, and bring them back to the swap, fully mended and ready to wear :)
    The only thing I bought new and absolutely unethically this year was a bra. Apart from that, only some swaped pieces, and I have to say, although this way is sooo slow, I’m pretty proud of my progress!

    Greetings,

    Marisa

    • Hi Marisa, thanks so much for sharing! Ah, I think it is a slow game, if you want to do it properly. I think clothes swaps are a great idea! I’ve been buying stuff from charity shops and I like that if I change my mind, I can give it straight back to the charity shop. I don’t feel guilty because my money went to charity originally – and of course it cost much less than brand new.

      I love your rule for clothes swaps! I bought a top recently from the charity shop and one of the poppers is faulty, so I’ve discovered it pings open when I wear it (the popper is right at the front). That must be why it was donated almost new. I think it will be an easy fix though. Like you say, if I change my mind, at least I can donate it fixed for someone else!

      I wonder, are ethical bras even a thing? Mine is giving up on me and I will probably have to research that!

      Sounds like you’re going great Marisa, so keep up the awesome work :)

  4. I wouldn’t say I’m at capsule level, but I feel like I have acted on many of your tips and DO wear almost all my wardrobe, and what I don’t, I donate. And I largely buy second hand – dress shirts particularly – actually most tops. For pants and work out gear, it’s more likely new, likewise camisoles/singlets and knickers. You’re right that you become less attached – but you also sometimes compromise on fit, or at least I had been1

    It helps that I have a work uniform (as in, the things I wear) being pants and a button up top/blouse. Thankfully, many of the tops i am happy and comfy enough to wear on weekends, so I only have a handful of ‘casual only’ tops. And pants – I have many shorts, and some jeans. It’s all the special use items that get burdensome – the dress for a gala/ball/wedding; the shoes for walking on coral (which I’ve had for 10+ years and continue to sporadically use). I can fit all my clothing in my wardrobe, so I’m happy with the quanitity, but it’s probably time for another blog post on it, for my own insights and thoughts.

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for your thoughts! I always love to hear your version of things :) Glad to hear I’ve been able to help. I agree with you about compromising on fit. In the past (when I lived in the UK) I used to buy a specific brand I liked on eBay so I knew it would fit. I don’t enjoy charity shop shopping. I’ve recently found a shop that I like that has good quality clothes in my size, but I have definitely made do with stuff that is a little bigger or tighter than maybe I would have chosen in the shop. I got desperate though – in the space of a week a whole heap of my clothes ripped/completely wore out. And some stuff had been hole-filled for a while.

      I think as I get better at capsule wardrobes I’ll be less willing to compromise.

      Yeah, I got rid of my “special” stuff. I had a fancy dress that got hauled to every wedding/dinner, and I decided after the last one to donate it. I either make do, or I borrow from someone else. Works for me!

      Oh, do let me know when you’ve written your post – I’d love to read it! :)

  5. “What you like and what you actually wear are two different things.” oh this is so true! You know already that I do have a Capsule wardrobe and that it took me ten years of tweaking to learn myself enough for it to be optimal. What a blessing it is for me now! If anyone’s interested, check out some of it on #circularwardrobe over at Instagram, I’d love to see more people using the hashtag :)

  6. Yep, special occasion outfits are the worst, they sit in your wardrobe and only get used occasionally. I got rid of mine and the matching shoes, but then we had two funerals for the same family within a short time frame and having to find a dress an hour before the funeral was so stressful (we had to travel for it) that I have now a dedicated funeral outfit – navy blue, that I can alter its look by a different jacket so it looks like I didn’t wear the same dress. Lesson learnt!
    My biggest problem with having a small wardrobe is I am a grot! White goes so well with outfits but as soon as I put it on, I splosh, drop or wipe something onto it! I’m like a little kid, I need “going out” clothes and “play” clothes!
    I love that my small amount of clothes can now be called a capsule wardrobe, and that I can be called trendy, whereas before I would’ve been called poor or lazy for wearing the same clothes all the time :-)

    • Special occasion outfits drive me crazy! But I can relate to your stress. I’ve got things in my wardrobe now that aren’t ‘special occasion’ outfits in my wardrobe now that I can call on in emergencies. I was quite stressed out about what to wear for my Tedx talk because most of my clothes at the time had holes, and I wanted to wear something I felt comfortable in. Friends offered to lend me dresses but I didn’t think I’d feel comfortable in them. Eventually I remembered my dress in my mending basket that I’d split down the side. I can’t fix it as it’s too complicated for me, but I put a belt around the waist to hide the hole and job done.

      It definitely made me think though – having stuff that can be adapted is very useful, even if we don’t want dedicated outfits!

      Oh I am so the same when it comes to being messy! I still keep hole-y stuff for round the house. I feel better wearing these than wrecking decent clothes! White is not practical for me, and black doesn’t suit me at all, so I can’t do the traditional minimalist staple colours either. We all have to find out own way ;)

Share your thoughts!