Week One: Building Your Capsule Wardrobe

Week One of the 2014 Clutter Cleanse Challenge starts today!

The first place I start when streamlining my stuff: clothes.

Unlike a few other rooms or closets in the home, we look at our wardrobe everyday. You may not pick something out of your home library every morning, or bake a cake/ski/hold a wine tasting at your home, but you always get dressed. It may be pajamas or the same jeans or the dress you wear that feels not quite right, but you choose something to put on, or stay in, daily.

So what are you wearing? What do you want to be wearing?

Are you wearing everything in your closet regularly? If you aren’t wearing everything in your closet frequently why is that? Are things too big, too small, out dated, need mending, don’t go with anything you wore or you don’t have an occasion to wear them? Start asking yourself these questions as you look through those hangars.

It’s time to build your capsule wardrobe.

You may have heard the term before. It was coined in the 70s and is still a popular way to describe a collection of clothing that works interchangeably. The idea is that pieces and accessories compliment each other and any top could be worn with any bottom. Your shoes work to dress up a pair of jeans, compliment a little black dress and you can still wear them daily to your business casual office. The concept of a capsule wardrobe is exciting for people that want to have a smaller wardrobe full of things they enjoy wearing.

I’ve been happy with my wardrobe in the past but in the last two years my body shape has changed several times. First I stopped doing Crossfit and got um, soft, so to speak. Then I was pregnant. Then I was post-partum.

Last summer I was back at a comfortable size and shape but my wardrobe was looking tired. Threadbare jeans, a few tops that I wore a little too long into my last pregnancy and stretched out. My trusty yoga pants were getting a lot of use. And no, I wasn’t wearing them for yoga.

I’m a big believer in only wearing and owning things you love and feel great in: yet, there I was not loving or feeling good in my whole wardrobe. Looking for a fresh start I bought The No Brainer Wardrobe by Hayley Morgan.

Note: this is a great book but not a necessity for building a capsule wardrobe. If you have a good sense of your own style and some fashion confidence you’ve got all the tools you need to edit your wardrobe down to just what you love. I, however, don’t really like shopping and often buy the wrong things because I just want to get out of the store. This book was a big help to me.

After two babies and moving overseas to an island where it is often windy and wet, I was feeling confused about what to wear.

Can I be fashionably dressed while still being able to discreetly and comfortably nurse?

How do I find the right clothes for my thirty-six year old ‘has had two kids’ body?

Can I rebuild and edit my wardrobe without spending a fortune in time and money on it?

Is any of this possible for a woman that actually hates shopping for clothes?

The No Brainer Wardrobe answered those questions for me. Yes, I can have all those things.

Today I have a capsule wardrobe. I’m still saving up for a few pieces and my current blue jeans (hand-me-downs from my sister) need replacing, but the bones are all there. I’m wearing 95% of my wardrobe regularly and 95% of the pieces work together. Yes, I’ll be copping to the pieces that don’t work that I am still hanging onto too.

Some revelations from reading The No Brainer Wardrobe:

  • I am a stacked triangle shape. Essentially I am an hourglass. Crazy. For years I thought I was an apple and have done a lot of dressing/shopping accordingly.
  • I don’t have a full length mirror in my home. I bought one.
  • Shopping for clothes should be an enjoyable process. I’ve always hated it.
  • You don’t have to be an expert to shop thrift stores or second hand. You just have to be knowledgeable about what you are looking for and if things can be tailored. Hayley has some really good tips for shopping at second hand stores in this e-book.

For the rest of the week I’ll be sharing my capsule wardrobe in a series of posts and including short tasks and exercises you can use to get your own wardrobe in shape. While I haven’t burned or donated my yoga pants since I built my capsule wardrobe, I will say I have had far fewer days in them. I can also say that I have actually enjoyed this process of tailoring my closet and even some of the shopping. It is so much easier to look for clothing when you know what you want and what will look good on you.

Task: before you start tearing your closet apart, choose three to four outfits that you enjoy wearing, that work for most days of your life and that are somewhat interchangeable.

Example: cardigan + jeans + button down + boots, dress + cardigan + scarf + flats or boots, jeans + t-shirt + flats + scarf, etc.

Define why you like these outfits. Is it the color combination? Is it the cut of the clothing? Can you wear these outfits most days of the week? You might find it helpful to jot down a few notes as you go along. Don’t over think this process. These outfits should be made of your go-to pieces and this exercise should take 20-30 minutes at most.

Note: I am not a fashion blogger. I’ll be including lots of advice I have found from stylists and fashion bloggers this week as we whittle wardrobes down to just what we love and wear. I’ll even be sharing my wardrobe, a wardrobe that works for my life on a little rainy island with two kids under five and a work from home job. Please, please don’t take this as advice to copy my wardrobe. If you do you’ll find yourself in black skinny jeans, knee high boots, a striped t-shirt, infinity scarf, either a black blazer or grey cardigan, red shoulder tote or mustard yellow cross body bag, pearl or diamond studs and if I am not holding a baby, a necklace with birds on it, most days.

Next up: defining your wardrobe basics.

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  • I feel most contented in comfortable clothes that wash well, look good and are ‘timeless fashion’ items. As I am comfortable in my clothes, I tend to wear the same at home as outside. (apart from work-clothes)
    Therefore most of the time I am in jeans, a top and a cardigan, in jeans and a tunic. In the summer I would wear a dress or a skirt/shorts and a top.
    For work I wear a suit or a skirt and a top/shirt.
    I also have outfits for when I do sports; but I only wear these when going for a walk or for yoga.

    Over the next days I need to take account of all the clothes I have, what needs to be replaced and additional items I need to buy.

  • I’m pretty happy with my wardrobe at the moment- I have a ‘uniform’ of leggings/jeggings and dresses, with flat boots or ballet pumps. I have one nice party dress (mostly used at Christmas!) and a summer dress. The leggings need replacing fairly often, as they get heavy wear.
    Although I don’t think there is anything that I need to declutter from my wardrobe, I plan to go through it and check that there is nothing that needs repair/is beyond repair!
    I may need to buy another dress as we get into summer (if it ever happens!) because two of my staple dresses at the moment are merino wool, which might not be great for very hot days…

  • I am most comfortable in jeans and a comfy sweater but my job demands business casual even thought I work in a cubicle unseen for 8 hours of the day =/ I have nothing to wear to work and hate shopping. Furthermore I feel I will end up with 2 wardrobes my clothes and the clothes of the persona I must be to type away on my cubicle hell.

    • I remember having this same dilemma when I worked in a business casual office. I wore a lot of wrap dresses and skirt + top + cardigan combos. If I had been into streamlining back then I would have had two dresses and then three top and three bottoms that I could interchange. It’s good to remember people spend more time thinking about their clothes than examining other peoples. If you wear the same outfit every Monday for a year it’s unlikely anyone will notice.

    • Carla … I am in the same boat, and it was frustrating to me because unlike men who can get away with wearing slacks and a polo most days, there seems to be a lot of “pressure” for women to have more variety. However, Rachel is right when she says that people won’t notice (and tbh if a few do, they are polite enough to not comment).

      I used this as a guide to build my work wardrobe and it has made life so much easier: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/242561129903687931/

      And in fact if you are like me and make all of your clothing black compatable (or brown if you prefer) you can get away with one pair of shoes and still have 31 outfits with only 12 pieces!

  • After two kids I’m also running into wardrobe fatigue. I’ve held on to serviceable clothes I don’t love and stretched them with pregnancy and nursing. The baby is three months old and I just always feel frumpy. I know I feel better when I dress nicely, but I’m nursing frequently and my baby enjoys spitting up on my clothes. Do I buy things now, with a spitty baby and I’ve only started losing the baby weight? Or do I wait, but how long do I wait?

    • I personally waited … 7 months I waited. I kept thinking I would lose the baby weight like I did the first go around and it hasn’t happened (and that’s okay, because its mostly due to keeping my milk supply up for my 23lb chucker). I also didn’t want to spend money on clothing that would only fit for a short while. So I was frumpy and wore the same things day in and out … and I found myself avoiding being in pictures, or not wanting to go out because my kids and husband always look so put together. Finally, I caved and got a few pieces that fit me comfortably now. Let me tell you, it has made the world of difference in my outlook. So I would say get a pair of jeans or a top that fits you well, that you are comfortable in, and that you enjoy how you look in. Don’t go buy a whole wardrobe, but a few pieces to boost your spirits can do wonders.

      We are mothers, not martyers … so don’t forget to treat yourself once in a while too!

    • Personally, I like to have at least one outfit I feel good/great in during the post-partum stage. This time around I had one great BOOB designs nursing top and a pair of jeans in a flattering cut in a larger size. I know there is the temptation to tell yourself it’s a waste to buy clothing in a temporary size or that will get a lot of spit up on it, but I’ve found only having frumpy or too small options can do a number on my psyche. If you can spare some budget for one good outfit I say go for it.

  • This is something that I have been working towards for the past 7 months since I had my second kid. I did a great job kulling out items I didn’t love, didn’t fit my new body, and that I would realistically not fit into again. However, since it seems like my body has changed in a different way than my last pregnancy I really do need to readdress my wardrobe and this is the perfect opportunity!

    Also, if anyone is interested I’ve compiled some minimalist wardrobe resources on a pinterest board if you want to check it out: http://www.pinterest.com/gadaadgirl/xuwtsas-clothing/

  • I am in the military and have many uniforms. My challenge is having a wardrobe for after work (comfy clothes), work out clothes, going to town (jeans), going out (slacks or skirt), and special occasions (dress). So many of the ideas about purging your wardrobe are based on how often you’ve worn something and they simply do not work for me. I am really looking forward to your blog posts on wardrobe shaping.

  • going tio follow this series…been purging since last sumner …i do have bags of clothes I wud luv to reduce but cant seem to..as I feel I mau fit in them…u see I sm ten weeks post partum!…not sure how long I shud hold out…

  • Angie, this is exactly how I feel about the ‘dressie’ outfits. Occassionally I need to and want to dress up, but unfortunately not often enough to justify too many elegant, sparklie, beautiful dresses and shoes. But how many its too many? :)

  • Ahhh! Timely. I’ve been organizing and purging to make way for a renter/live-in babysitter and was bemoaning our overcrowded (small) closet just yesterday. Like you, I’m also postpartum, and it does make it harder to keep the clothes in order. Not to mention that it’s cold here in Michigan, but my maternity jeans fall down now, and I can’t button or zip my regular jeans… the rubber band trick: bringing the world together, one postpartum muffin-top at a time! 😉

    • The rubber band trick really is a lifesaver for that in-between stage.
      Speaking of muffin-tops: I have to wear a belt with jeans since have children. It’s the only way my jeans stay up. My belt broke the other day and I have been doing a lot of tugging up of jeans. :(

  • I’m so excited to have found your blog and am very motivated to follow through on the clutter cleanse! As a mom of 3, 4 and under, I am in desperate need of some clutter cleansing and organization in our home! I love your concepts of living simply and with minimal possesions! That is how Jesus lived and my goal in life is to be more like Him!
    I also have to mention that it is so cool that you live on the Isle of Man! My great-grandfather was born there and immigrated to the US when he was three years old. When I was a sophomore in high school I had the opportunity to go and visit the Island with my parents and grandparents; it was an unforgettable experience! It is such a beautiful island and I hope to return some day with my husband and children!

  • Ha! Actually, your wardrobe list looks very much like mine.

    I think the capsule wardrobe idea works rather well for those postpartum weeks/months/years. I didn’t discover this concept until recently, so I missed out on it during most of my post-baby experiences. But this last time around, I had just a few things that could be mixed and matched that got me through that transitional time. It definitely helped my emotional well-being, to have things that fit well and looked decent. I had even planned ahead, moving to larger sizes during pregnancy before putting on true maternity clothing … then those clothes were waiting for me in that postpartum time. Again, not an entire closet of clothes, just some core pieces that all went together.

  • This serie is exactly what I needed! My body has changed a lot after pregnancy too, I’m nursing and I changed work. Of course I don’t have a lot of money to spend on my new wardrobe and I think that I may eventually fit again into my old clothes. What am I am to do? I was thinking about this capsule wardrobe thing but didn’t really know how to put it into practice. Thank you very much. You will help me make rational choices as I now work in a clothing store and am daily tempted to buy a lot of things. Obviously it’s even worse now that things are on sale !

  • I’m always very interested in capsule and minimalist wardrobes and my own is a constant process.

    Part of the problem is finding my uniform and what both suits me as well as my life. Unfortunately, clean jeans and (even an ironed) t-shirt only look smart on the slimmer bodies; if you are fuller-figured it’s that much harder not to look like a slob in simple clothing, no matter your age. And I’m short (i.e. round/square figure). Sigh. My permanent dilemma. I’ve been wearing dresses to look put together but keep things simple this winter. Summer is harder when it’s warm and you neither want to wear a tent nor show sweaty skin.

  • Well, I cleaned out my closet. It was actually kind of scary how easy it was to be ruthless. There’s very little left, but what’s there I pretty much love. I have the perfect start of a capsule wardrobe where the pieces pretty much all work together. There’s gaps I need to fill. Overall, it felt totally great! Right now I love having less. My college age daughter thinks I’m crazy, and maybe she is right. Time will tell!

  • For someone who isn’t a fashion blogger, you’ve made capsule wardrobes seem a whole lot simpler than many of the other sites make them seem. Thanks for your help in creating a simple but functional wardrobe :)