One secret to dressing stylishly and well with a smaller wardrobe is to limit colors. This doesn't mean you need to dress all in black. A capsule wardrobe can certainly include bright color. The trick is to choose a base color. A base color is a neutral that can be worn with many other hues, such as black, brown, navy, khaki, gray, or denim. This is the color you want to use for trousers, skirts, jackets, cardigans, suits, and dresses that you wear over and over.
Look in your closet and pull out the trousers, skirts, suits, or cardigans and jackets that you wear most often and feel most comfortable and attractive in. Do they share any colors in common? Many of us gravitate toward one or two base/neutral colors. One person might find that she consistently likes and chooses black and charcoal for trousers and jackets; another person naturally chooses navy, while a third gravitates toward shades of brown. I like black and dark wash denim.
The color(s) that we like to put on below the waist, or wear as a jacket over trousers and a shirt, or over a skirt and a blouse, make the perfect base color(s) for a capsule wardrobe. More than that, this color guides our choice of shoes, belts, and bags. If you consistently choose gray skirts and suits, for example, you don't need brown shoes.
Do you already own two bottoms and two tops in a favorite base color? Perhaps you have black trousers, a black skirt, a black jacket or cardigan, and a black and white striped shirt. You can combine these four items into four outfits:
- trousers + shirt
- trousers + shirt + cardigan (or jacket)
- skirt + shirt
- skirt + shirt + cardigan
These pieces by themselves are not very exciting, and that shirt is certainly going to be over-worn, but they constitute the first four pieces of a 4x4 Wardrobe.
Now see whether you already own two more bottoms and two more tops in the same or a complementary base color. I own the group of four I've already described. I also own another group of four: black jeans, dark wash denim jeans, a black and white patterned top, and a denim jacket. I can combine the second four items into four more outfits, PLUS I can mix and match both sets of four into even more combinations.
- black jeans + patterned shirt
- black jeans + striped shirt
- black jeans + patterned shirt + cardigan
- black jeans + striped shirt + cardigan
- black jeans + patterned shirt + denim jacket
- black jeans + striped shirt + denim jacket....
You get the idea. There are actually 24 ways to wear these 8 items. But there's still not much color in my wardrobe, and those two tops are being seriously over-used.
That's why the next four pieces in your 4x4 Wardrobe are all tops. They can be all different colors, if you want. They all simply need to look good with your base color(s). My four tops all have subtle tone-on-tone patterns, but each is a different color: periwinkle blue, rosy orange, mossy green, purple.
Once this third group of four pieces is added to the first two groups, all 12 pieces mix and match into 72 outfits. Wow!
To recap, I've chosen twelve pieces of clothing in three groups of four. I have black trousers, a black skirt, black jeans, and dark wash jeans. I have a black draped cardigan and a denim jacket. I have two different black and white tops and four tops in other colors.
Of course, I also own shoes. Mine are all black: heels, loafers, sandals, demi boots. I have one black belt and one black handbag. I wear one necklace and my wedding ring every day, but you might choose to own more jewelry or even a few scarves to embellish your outfits.
If you work in a nice office, you may need a career 4x4 wardrobe and a leisure 4x4 wardrobe. Follow the guidelines I've described. If you live with weather extremes, you might need a different wardrobe for each season (or at least for fall/winter and spring/summer). You'd still have a curated selection on any given day, even though you'd own more clothing.
I haven't forgotten the Final Four! So far we've only discussed a 4x3 Wardrobe, which really might be adequate (I'm doing a 30 day challenge with only 10 pieces, after all). These final pieces are for fun and/or practicality. So you can add whatever you want, love, and will use (of course, they must mix and match with the first three groups of four). For summer, I've added a black and white dress, denim capris, a teal/aqua shirt, and a black tank top. In the winter, I like to have a couple of black silk turtlenecks for layering, an extra pair of denim jeans, and a multi-hued crocheted shawl (of course I have a coat and rainboots too).
The 4x4 Wardrobe is a fantastic tool for creating a minimalist closet. It can help you buy less clothing that you love and wear more often and with greater ease.
- First Four: two bottoms, two tops (perhaps including a cardigan or jacket) in a favorite neutral color
- Second Four: two bottoms, two tops in the same or a coordinating neutral color
- Third Four: four tops (your chance to add more color and style)
- Final Four: additional items you need or want to extend the versatility of your wardrobe
P.S. Thank you to Janice at The Vivienne Files for the general idea of the 4x4 Wardrobe.
Photo by Hailey Moeller on Unsplash