Week One: Capsule Wardrobe Basics

Repeat after me:

I think about what I’m wearing more than anyone else does.

A big hurdle to overcome with culling your daily wear clothing is the fear that someone will notice you wear the same outfit twice in one week. The truth is they won’t.

Most people are far too concerned with their own appearance to notice that you’ve been wearing the same trusty, fashionable and comfortable heels to work daily for six months.

Yes, beyond dragging those sacks of once worn culottes (they looked so good in the store), cork wedges (so comfortable if I’m sitting all night) and the thrift store LBD that you never wore (the cost of altering it was more than two new dresses), you’ll have to do some heavy lifting with your ideas about fashion norms. You’ll have to forget the totally untrue thoughts that:

  • I can’t wear the same outfit in a month/week.
  • I have to wear something new to an event/wedding/party.
  • I need to keep those things because even though I don’t wear them I spent a lot of money on them. *The MONEY IS GONE. From experience, it will feel better to have those items gone than to have them staring you in the face everyday taunting you about the wasted money.

Let those ideas percolate as you peruse my wardrobe basics list. This is the meat and potatoes of my winter and fall wardrobe. For summer I just remove a few of the heavier pieces and add in lighter replacements. We don’t have hot summers here in the Isle of Man so I don’t need an extensive hot weather wardrobe. Sad but true.

Basics of My Capsule Wardrobe:

For a stay-at-home-work-at-home mother of two children under four.

  • Black Blazer
  • Black Cardigan
  • Gray Cardigan
  • Blue Jeans *thinning area in the seat means I will be purchasing a replacement pair this year.
  • Black Jeans *After a lot of bad buys – Levis and the GAP I’m looking at you – I have found a pair of black jeans that will stay black. They are Mavi brand if you are curious.
  • 2nd Pair of Black Jeans: these are in a post-partum size and should be phased out, I hope, in the next few months.
  • 8 assorted tops and t-shirts in neutrals and stripes

On Hiatus

A few items of mine are waiting in the wings for me either because I can’t wear them while nursing or they aren’t needed for my current lifestyle.

  • Sweater Dress: gift from my mother-in-law a few years ago and I love it but haven’t been able to wear it for two winters now due to pregnancy and nursing.
  • Suit: should I need to interview or go to a formal day time function. I’m debating letting this one go – if I get pencil skit that works with my blazer I could use those pieces instead.

To Add

My wardrobe works right now but I am still saving my clothing budget dollars for a few items that will add some variety and flexibility to my wardrobe.

  • Another pair of jeans. I’ve been considering a pair of colored or patterned jeans but with my small wardrobe they would be a short term investment. How long will hounds tooth printed jeans really be in style? Most likely I will get a pair of straight leg jeans in a blue wash.
  • Button down shirt in chambray or white. I will need to get this item tailored. Tough when you have size 16 shoulders and bust, size 12 or 14 mid section and need it all with extra length.
  • Pencil Skirt. This will need to compliment my everyday wardrobe but also works for formal wear. When I search for this piece I’ll be staying away from suiting fabrics and look for something that is knitted or a jersey material. I need a skirt that I can sit on the floor in to play with the kids or add some heels to for a night out.

What if you have a formal work environment or another challenge that requires a broader wardrobe? What if you love fashion and would die if you had so few choices for what to wear?

That’s the best part about streamlining: you get to do what works for you and only you.

If you have a formal work environment but love casual and comfy clothes build two separate capsule wardrobes. If you love fashion then accept the challenge to find accessories that dress up those day time dresses into evening wear and invest in t-shirts that you can wear with a suit or jeans. Build a capsule wardrobe system that works for 95% your life.

The Other 5%

What about wedding wear, ballgowns and that once in a blue moon ski trip? What about all of those one off occasions that you know will arise but take up a good chunk of your closet? This is a chance to get a bit radical. This is a chance to lean into the sharing economy.

In 2012 I needed a formal-ish maternity dress for just one night. I bought the normally $250 dress on eBay for $80, had a grand time in it, dry cleaned it, listed it on eBay and sold it for $100.

Will I ever need a formal maternity dress again? Maybe. But I’d rather have fewer things in my closet than keep things just in case. And as I already proved to myself, I can buy something second hand again, and resell it again, if need be.

So before you store it forever consider renting it, selling it, sharing it or borrowing it. This goes for everything from tennis whites to Halloween costumes. If you want to live a bit differently you need to do things a bit differently.

Next up: if that picture of my basics is freaking you out – no color!! – you’ll be excited for the accessories section of my capsule wardrobe.

What are your basics? Do you have the dreaded challenge of transitioning formal work clothes to evening and weekend wear?

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  • This is my FAVORITE post here ever (which is really saying something because I really love this blog)! I want this to be my wardrobe. My problem isn’t too much; it’s too random. I have too many hings that don’t fit, are worn out, or just don’t look right and too few things I love that work for me. I end up wearing out those few things and hating the others. This post will hopefully give me some direction!

      • I stumbled on this website looking for tips for a ‘capsule’ wardrobe. I have 2 under 2 and have not shopped or really even though about clothes in 3 years – when i was pregnant with my first. I really enjoyed these tips. I like fashion, but I’m home full time and keep a minimal budget/ wardrobe. I hate having junk and love throwing stuff out/ giving away/ repurposing. Anyway, these were great tips! I, too, wear the same pair of jeans all year. In fact, I bought it post-pardom with my first. And right when I started to need a smaller size I got pregnant again. (Our littles are 17 mos apart.) So, I wore the same pair through 30 weeks of pregnancy, adding a rubberband or belly band when I couldn’t button. THEN, I was post pardom and they fit great. I wash every week to shrink them back down. Love having 1 pair of jeans I love. The best part is they were $18 at Marshalls. I need to apply this philosophy to the rest of my wardrobe – thanks for the inspiration!

  • Thanks so much for this. I am a stay at home mom of three (10 and under) and I’ve been reading many blogs regarding minimalism. Yours is the first I’ve found to address a similar life as mine. I live in a smallish town and my husbands income would be considered small by some but it is enough for us. This post is exactly what I needed to guide me in paring down and making my wardrobe actually useful. I’m looking forward to your other posts in this series. 2014 is my year to simplify :)

    • Thanks so much for the kinds words, Tess. I hope you find lots of ideas here that work for you. :)
      P.S. I just wore the same outfit two days in a row (fresh underwear of course). If little hands keep my outfit mostly clean I always try to get a second day out of it. We hang all our laundry to dry here so there is a lot of incentive to re-wear.

  • Saw this post on Facebook today and had to surf over and take a look! I love your simple wardrobe, I wear similar pieces myself. What I have learned about my clothing preferences/needs over the past year: for tops, if it’s not a cotton/jersey knit fabric, I don’t want to own it! I’ve known since high school that button down shirts don’t work for me (hello, busty!) but I have continued to purchase the occasional one here and there over the years. No more! Turning over a new leaf this year…

    Also, for all those dressier events, I have one trusty, simple black dress that I have worn to every single one of these for the past 12 years. And no one has noticed. In fact, I get compliments on my dress each time I wear it!

    • Button down shirts: this is my last hurrah at them. I think they can work for me, I want them to work for me, but I have to get them tailored.
      Erin, I think of you often! You commented over here a long time ago that you gave up PJs for your boys and they just wear comfy pants and tees that can also be worn during the day if they want. Genius. I’ve been transitioning my bigger kid to that. We sometimes get PJs as a gift and last year I got him a set that matched his dad for Christmas but otherwise it is sweatpants or long johns and a t-shirt.
      Hope you are enjoying all that beautiful Vancouver has to offer – I miss it!! – Rachel

      • I wonder if that is a habit that is so savoury when boys get to teenage, though?! (although I can see the practicality, I find it unpleasant that my teenage daughters sleep in regular clothing…)

      • I know this is a late reply, but I thought it might be worth mentioning. If you are bustier, which I am, button down shirts can be really hard. I’ve gotten two white shirts from campbellandkate.com . They are pricier than a lot of clothes, but they are cut to order and crafted by hand by people in the United States. And they will ship you 3 shirts based on your measurements to try and only charge you for one, so you aren’t seeing crazier numbers hit your bank account.

  • This is so inspiring! I really have way too many clothes, but I’ve had 3 babies in the last 5 years and it’s so difficult to get rid of things when I know (hope) I’ll be wearing them when the baby weight comes off. I think we’ll have more children so I don’t want to get rid of my different sized pants…?? I have several jeans in all different sizes–sizes 4 through 12!! What do you do with maternity/postpartum clothes?

    • I’ve got a stash of maternity and post-partum clothing stored away. Again, I keep a very small amount of maternity clothing (2 pairs of jeans, 1 dress and some tops). I use the bella band or an elastic band on my regular jeans as long as my thighs allow (four or five months) and then live in my maternity jeans. I really puff up from hips down while pregnant so can’t just make do with the bella band on my regular jeans.

    • It’s worth taking a hard look at the smaller sizes you are keeping to determine if it’s stuff you will actually wear again. I didn’t quite get back into pre-pregnancy sizes before getting pregnant with number 2 and got rid of everything. Now, after baby number 3 and switching to paleo I could easily fit into all that stuff I purged (about 4 years ago). I miss exactly one pair of pants and even those I’d probably seldom wear in my current life.

  • Nice choices. I agree on the jeans. Do not buy trendy. Black and indigo are the way to go with the jeans. Classic boot cut. They NEVER go out of style. I would not get a wash. I love Badolino or Levis. They seem to always fit great. I would never buy a piece of clothing that needs altering. I have actually almost retired my jeans. I have been wearing Coldwater Creek knit jeans that are tremendous. But, always too long. I am not short either. 5 6. I have switched to Land s End Starfish pants. Extremely comfortable clothing line. I use the black long pants and the crops. In black to. Makes life so much easier especially on vacaton. You can crush them up into a ball and they are non wrinkle. Coldwater has a similar line called weekend wear and they are similar. Excellent. Personally, i feel that everyone should ditch the skinny jeans. No one looks good in them. The same way with leggings. If you don t wear them with a lon top over them please be aware of what ou look like. No matter if you have a gorgeous shape or are overweight.

    • I’m a fan of altering because I am not a standard size. Most people aren’t! I envy those that are an average height and sized the same head to toe. Sadly that is not me so a standard US 12 will fit my waist but not my shoulders, be too short in the torso and the skirt or pant hem will be 2 to 3 inches too short. I’ve started buying things in larger sizes and having them taken in. If I buy to fit the largest part of my body it makes me feel frumpy :(

  • Thanks for sharing some insight from your wardrobe. The capsule wardrobe thing is very new to me, and I was shocked at the fact that there wasn’t any color. I am very excited to see your next post and how you add color with accessories.

  • This is so helpful! For shirts, have you tried pepperberry.com? It’s a UK website for ladies with the bigger bosom – the clothes are great quality and free shipping for returns. I still buy a large proportion of my clothes from there even now I’m in Australia.

  • Love seeing capsule wardrobes, especially for fellow moms of littles, thank you! Like, I’ve found many seemingly decent shirts get necklines pulled too low when holding toddler on hip. Everything has to be able to stretch and move, with no gapping at top or bottom for all the times of bending over. Nothing easily wrinkled, stained, or otherwise high-maintenance :) I’ve gone a different color direction and eliminated black, sticking with blue denim paired with mostly brown shades and occasionally green, teal or rose.

  • This year, I finally had to add to my wardrobe because I had two long sleeved shirts. That’s it, and it’s currently below zero degrees F outside. I love turtle necks even if the rest of the world thinks I’m 30 years too young for them. Anyway, I can’t wait to add a little in the summer. I’m down to only two warm weather shirts, and they’re both threadbare. I’m determined to find a couple of things that fit, even if they’re more expensive. I think I’m the only person I know IRL who doesn’t need to remove clothing from her closet, but add a few items instead!

  • my mommy winter wardrobe looks the same. black and blue skinnies, 2 favorite cardis, a few v-sweaters, tanks and ts for layering. a chambray button down (favorite!) and a black/white plaid button down, tall burgundy brown riding boots and black uggs. i would like 2 belts and a few necklaces. i’m covered on scarves and sunnies. =)

  • My basics are two flowing skirts, two black trousers, and a pair of jeans. For tops, I have several long sleeve tops and then four more flashy items: blazer, poncho, sweaters to go over my basics.

    Love this series! I am following step by step.

  • Loving this post! Like yourself I’m a Cdn expat mum to 2 small kids in a mild climate (Ireland instead of the Isle of Man) and also have a love for stripey tops with jeans. Any tips for keeping your clothes clean from sticky hands and baby spittles? Every time I go to rewear something I find my kids have left their mark. Boo!

    For those formal occasions I have a monsoon dress that I totally love that’s strapless, knee length and full of bright colours. I’ve worn it to every dressy occasion in the last three years and just alter my accessories and throw a black jacket or shrug over it. It looks like a different dress each time and I don’t have to stick to an LBD every time there’s a “big” event.

    • Hello from across the Irish Sea!
      I use a damp cloth to spot remove. Sometimes it’s not enough so the item goes to the laundry pile but I can often get sticky hand print off my cardigan or a nose wipe off my jeans.

      • I’m going up start keeping a damp cloth to hand. I’ve taken to throwing a bathrobe over me in the morning if I’m going anywhere as I always seem to find the little surprises just as we’re running out the door. It kind of negates getting dressed though so don’t want to be doing that all the time!

    • Hi Jan, good to see someone else who is based in Ire. :)
      I have a Monsoon dress too ,which I wear to most dressy occassions when it is not too cold. I bought it in 2002 and still looks new. Monsoon clothes wash well. :)

      • They really do. Mine is from the Fusion range so a tad more casual and can be dressed up or down. I love it as it looks good with dark tights so can go from summer to winter as well. My best friend wore it to my wedding and I loved it so much I went out and bought it on sale in the last size they had then got it altered. And I might have loved it so much that when I got pregnant I bought it in the size up on eBay and wore it throughout my pregnancy. (Whoops that was not a very minimalist confession at all…)

    • Those aren’t the exact shirts I have but I have one striped tee from the GAP and one from White Stuff. I also have a long sleeved Breton striped nursing top from BOOB – I wear it at least twice a week.

  • So glad you’re posting this series! I struggle with getting my wardrobe right. I’m happy to see that I already have most everything that you suggest. I just need to do a whole lot of purging, and I think I’ll feel a lot better. The challenge right now is dealing with a baby who spits up a ton–I can literally go through three outfits in one day. It’s very frustrating. But he’s almost 8 months, so I assume I won’t be dealing with that much longer.

    I appreciate when you mention brands, too–whether good, or bad. It’s so frustrating to spend money on clothing with the intention of having it last quite some time only to discover that the quality isn’t there.

  • I have silk scarves, a rather large collection. Adds colour to my neutral wardrobe and I can wear them in so many ways with an added “scarf ring”.
    I gave away all my suits, as I find separates work for me. A blazer for summer and one for winter, with a few pair of trousers to mix and match. Add the scarves and I can take these individual pieces through most of the season. Can I get rid of some? Sure? Pieces I want to add? Sure. But I’ve managed with this for years:
    I own:
    – two pairs wool tailored trousers, black and dark grey.
    – two dresses (little black dress and a coloured version of the same cut), plus a black formal evening gown
    – three blazers (one neutral for winter, one coloured), summer version
    – casual wool trousers that I can wear out and about and are not tailored.
    – “only wear in house and never out in public” comfy snuggly trousers (think like sweat pants)
    – silk sweater sets (various colours – black, deep purple, red, dark green) with turtlenecks, cardigans, sleeveless top and short sleeve tops
    – cashmere sweater 3 piece sets (cardigan, turtle-neck, short sleeve) in black, and red
    – one pair of nice blue jeans, and a pair from university just to make sure I can still fit into them!
    – various cotton turtlenecks, fitted nice tee-shirts
    – one wool black skirt for winter, a lighter summer weight version
    – a couple of heavy duty Nordic style winter sweaters, cardigans too
    – underthings, thermal underwear, socks, etc.
    – two nightgowns, one for summer and one for winter

    Outwear:
    – long heavy duty winter coat
    – mid-winter coat
    – Barbour fall jacket
    – jean jacket
    – leather jacket (needs replacing, updating)

    shoes:
    – two pair winter boots (heavy duty and fashion)
    – leather knee height boots
    – loafers
    – sandals ( a casual pair – like Birkenstocks, and a fancier pair)
    – formal dress shoes that match formal gown
    – high heels
    – flats (ballet flats, looking for a second pair too)

    All held in a small closet and a small dresser…which also hold other things too, but that’s another topic to declutter the closet storage!
    Sorry for the long post. I don’t think I have that much until I typed it out!

      • Thank you! To me it still seems like I have so much and am trying to cull. Yet I wear it all. Or the pieces I need to replace – I am waiting until I find just the right replacement. Some of the items are dry-clean only and I find I automatically reach for things I can wash on my own instead. Something to keep in mind when culling – money spent on item vs. cost per wear.
        Take care of your things and they will last, hence I don’t mind spending more on quality as I’ll have it for years. Even if it’s an expensive one-time cost, if it lasts, fits, looks good, makes me feel I look good – well worth the cost per wear!
        Cheers!

  • I’m impressed by how you’ve really streamlined things!

    I have to say, I love me my Mavi jeans – I have one pair bought brand new, then a pair found at a school fair second hand stall and the third are blue and skinny and a little higher waisted (read – COMFY!) that I found in a Red Cross store, as a second from Mavi. Mavi for the win I tell you!!

  • The best black jeans I’ve owned were from Urban Outfiters; they’re too small now, but they were practically the only pair of jeans I wore and endured a lot and stayed true to their original dark black for as long as I had them! I hated that they were not fair-trade, but they were impressive quality. BDG in the mid-rise or high-rise were both really comfortable. Great post! :)

  • I’m using this list to buy my essentials right now and everything else gets donated. I looked a hot mess at my kids school tonight and not because I don’t have clothes, I have too much, but they don’t fit or were bought with some occasion in mind so they’re never worn. Instead, I go around in yoga pants and AE hoodies ALL THE TIME, EVERYWHERE. I embarrass myself. It’s time for a few good, quality pieces that actually fit the real me, not the me from 4 kids, 13 years, and 3900 tiramisus ago, the me right now that doesn’t do yoga and shouldn’t be wearing those damn pants anymore. Thanks for the post,

  • Ideas for shopping..I am a Jehovah’s Witness, and am an impulse buyer. I need to have dresses, skirts and layering pieces as I am out in service often as well as meetings . We do have social gatherings that require dressier clothes several times a year. I own a good pair of calfhair pumps, and black and silver flats, and need 2 skirts, a couple of really good cardis preferably wool/silk blend for the ever changing climate here in AK. Would love 2 longer lbd’s that I can use for meetings that also do well with opaque
    tights and high boots. Also one caban style coat for warmth. Any recommended shopping sites? Also, need at least 2 really good quality jeans without much stretching, or if they DO stretch, recover well. Would like one longish whiite blouse, preferably a silk or silk blend for layering and versatility and a good blazer, maybe in a color that pops. Shopping site ideas? I need help as I buy very impulsively.

  • I’m arriving late in the game and just discovered your blog searching for a post on this topic. I’m a US expat to France. I always used to buy classics–black, blue, tan; etc, but in France people will actually say, “oh, that’s so *classic*, it’s too bad.” People have no qualms investing in something trendy and colorful yet wearing it several days in a row. I’ve adopted this technique a bit–So if I find something a bit trendy, Idon’t mind taking the plunge. And by keeping the wardrobe small, f I really like an outfit, I’ll wear it out before it goes out of style. . .

  • Hi there! sorry for the necro, but in case anyone else might benefit: one of the most comfy and flexible items in my wardrobe is a heavier weight knit (think ponte) pencil skirt (knee length or just below). the elastic waist and stretchiness make it comfy, but the waistline sits flat and the heavier weight knit never needs ironing so it looks smart enough for work or dress ups with heels

  • THANK YOU!! know this post is really old now, but it was so helpful. In all the many, many blogs I’ve read about minimalism/capsule wardrobes, I’ve never heard anyone point out that “it will feel better to have those items gone than to have them staring you in the face everyday taunting you about the wasted money.” My biggest hurdle is the guilt over money wasted and that idea definitely helped me think of things in a whole new perspective. I was getting tired of reading what seemed like the exact same words replicated on thousands of blogs, but yours is actually really different and has original ideas that helped me a bunch. Plus we seem to have the exact same fashion sense, so you are freaking awesome! Thanks again for sharing all your helpful advice!

  • I, too, have been using a capsule wardrobe for a long time. while I don’t follow the formal rules anymore of the capsule wardrobe I DO stick with the concept of less is more. And have the best, not the most. Thanks for the clear ideas and outfits…that’s always fun to see!