Wear a Capsule Wardrobe

I'm sure you've seen Pinterest photos of beautifully curated closets and capsule wardrobes.  Maybe you long for one yourself, but think it's impossible or too restrictive.

It's a modern consumer belief that we need a huge wardrobe to be "interesting."  Of course you want to be appropriately dressed, and why not wear attractive clothes that flatter your body type and coloring?  But none of that demands a huge quantity of clothing.  Limits encourage creativity, and a smaller closet isn't necessarily boring.

In the 1940s the average person owned 36 items of clothing.  Today the average consumer has 120 items, with 80% going unworn.  This tells me several things:

  • 20% of what's in the average closet (that's 24 pieces of clothing) may be an adequate wardrobe.
  • We hang on to clothes that haven't fit in years and (if we're honest) will never fit again.  Even if we could wear them, they'd be out of style.  These clothes mock us and wreck our confidence.
  • We hang on to clothes that we will never wear again:  prom dresses, concert tee shirts, cheerleader uniforms.  These souvenirs crowd our closets, waste our time, and keep us from concentrating on who we are now.
  • We're quite obviously addicted to shopping, whether we need anything or not.  We're worse than any 3-year-old nagging for a new toy!

We need clothing, but it should never be the most noteworthy thing about us.

You may already own the core of a great capsule wardrobe, once you've decluttered the 80% that doesn't fit, that you never wear, that's no longer in good shape, or that doesn't go with anything else in your closet.

There are two secrets to a minimalist wardrobe:  separates and color.  A wardrobe built on separates such as skirts, trousers, jeans, tees, blouses, cardigans, and jackets, in a few coordinating colors, allows all of the pieces to be mixed and matched into a maximum number of wearable outfits.

If you need a clue to what will work best for you, consider pieces you already own that make you feel attractive and confident.  Notice styling and details that these pieces share.  You probably already have a few favorite colors you wear most often because you like the way you look in them.  Intentionally wearing fewer colors also means you need fewer accessories (shoes, belts, handbags, etc.)

If you work in an office or a classroom, as I used to do, you'll want outfits that are professional yet comfortable.  I used to own three similar skirts (navy, taupe, burgundy) and two trousers (black, charcoal).  With about eight shirts or blouses and three cardigans or jackets, I could mix and match to create at least two dozen outfits, more than enough for a month of work days without an exact repeat.

Just one is a concept that can be applied to certain areas of your wardrobe.  Sometimes one is enough:  one swimsuit, one black dress, one winter coat, one leather belt, one pair of sneakers, one handbag.  Consider owning just one of some things, based on your occupation, lifestyle, and climate.

For some, shopping for clothes is a habit, something they do with certain friends or when they're bored.  Become aware of your shopping habits, and take control of them by imposing a buying freeze.  90 days without buying clothes will definitely save you money, but may also make you aware that you already own plenty.  Your view of fashion and marketers may change forever.

When you own fewer clothes, you can afford to buy higher quality garments, and these look better, fit better, and last longer.  Choose classic styles that suit your body type, so nothing looks dated after only one season.  This will enable you to avoid the evils of fast fashion, which leads to millions of tons of textile waste each year.

With a smaller wardrobe, make sure each outfit passes the "feel good test," including casual wear.  Would you feel comfortable being photographed in your outfit, or running into an old classmate?  You are the curator of your wardrobe, and each piece must pass the test to be included.

For more inspiration, I highly recommend Courtney Carver's Project 333.  Thousands of women and men have participated in this project and found that

  • mornings are more peaceful with fewer choices,
  • it's really nice to wear your favorite clothes every day,
  • no one really cares that you wear the same things over and over, though they may notice that you present yourself with more self-confidence.

The magic of a minimalist wardrobe happens when you shop intentionally for items you need, free from the pressures of trends and brands.  The result?

You love and wear 100% of the items in your closet.

Photo by James Hollingsworth on Unsplash


  1. I love my capsule wardrobe! I went on Pinterest and found one that had some pieces similar to ones I already own for inspiration and filled in the gaps with Goodwill purchases.

    1. Good for you, Rain68! I love the creativity shown in creating a capsule wardrobe.

  2. I have been trying to get a capsule wardrobe for a while now. I still make mistakes by buying the wrong pieces. But all in all I am getting there slowly. It is so much easier to get dressed in the morning.

    1. Hello, and thank you for your comment. I got better at purchasing pieces I would really love and wear when I looked carefully at details of the pieces I already liked. For example, I look much better in a v-neck than a crew neck, so I never buy crew necks any more. Pastels really wash me out, so I never even look at pastel pieces any more. Maybe analyzing those details will help you make better choices too. Good luck!

  3. What's the difference between a capsule wardrobe and wardrobe essentials?

    1. A capsule wardrobe is usually made up of key pieces in classic styles. I suppose you could call them wardrobe essentials. They form the foundation of what you wear. Usually in neutral colors (like black, navy, brown, khaki, etc.), these are the skirts, trousers, jackets, cardigans, suits, or dresses that you wear over and over. To these pieces you would add shirts, tees, blouses, and accessories that go with them. These pieces might be more seasonal, or in a color you want to experiment with. So the capsule wardrobe would be quality neutral pieces that you wear over and over for years, augmented with a few items that add variety and versatility. I hope this answers your question.


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