Week 1: Building a Capsule Wardrobe


Week One of the 2016 Clutter Cleanse Challenge starts today! If you’re on Instagram follow and share your results on hashtag #cluttercleanse2016

The first place we’re streamlining: our wardrobe.

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.

The traditional capsule wardrobe involves tailored and somewhat formal basics mixed in with more informal clothing. Think suit jacket, wool skirt, silk blouse, jeans, white button down shirt. Not for everyone. You may only work in a formal office or only wear jeans or only wear dresses. So let’s think of the term capsule wardrobe as being more about wearing clothes that a) work together, b) work for your lifestyle and c) that you feel good in.

To get started on your capsule wardrobe first identify what you’re already wearing with our first task.

Task #1 (30 minutes): try on your five most often worn outfits.

Take a photo of yourself in each of the outfits.

What do they have in common? Are they interchangeable separates, stand alone outfits or a single piece (dresses)?

Can you identify your two most common neutrals (black, gray, white, navy, beige) and your two most common accent colors? If not look for the colors you like the best and would like more of in your wardrobe.

Here are my answers: interchangeable casual separates, neutrals are black, denim and some gray, accent colors are blue/aqua and violet. I’m, again, in another transition phase as I come to the end of nursing baby #3 and slowly moving out of nursing wear.



***Instagram-ers: share your photos on the hash tag #cluttercleanse16****

I’ll be loosely sharing some tips from the wonderful Vivienne Files for the wardrobe series in the Clutter Cleanse. I strongly recommend reading more at her website if you are interested in building a wardrobe of interchangeable separates. She has great general advice, excellent packing tips for travel and so many templates for building out a modern capsule wardrobe.

More to come…

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  • I like the idea of a capsule wardrobe, but at the same time, don’t. I feel like there isn’t a lot of color variety afforded by such a narrow palette (unless I misunderstand?). But I do love the idea of one’s wardrobe being carefully curated rather than made up of poorly made, got-it-because-it-was-cheap type stuff.

    I also realized being in the midst of the baby/toddler/preschool years, I am willing to spend more for good quality jeans, jackets, and other things that don’t stain easily, but for my everyday shirts and such… they get ruined so easily with greasy little hands and the like that I don’t even worry about nice everyday tops… that will come when the kids are a little older and a little less messy. 😉

    • Abby: the Vivienne Files recommends a system of neutrals and two to three key colors. I love that this simplifies so many things for building a wardrobe. Items work together, there are pretty strict guidelines for buying new items that work with your current wardrobe, and it often creates a polished look (I’m more to the casual end of this!).
      Another capsule wardrobe system I have come across is to have a set of basics in one neutral color and then build out pieces and accessories in many other colors.
      And my wardrobe sounds similar for what I invest in right now. Tops tend to get stained and need to be washed more frequently with young children around. I won’t be investing in long term tops until my kids are older.

  • I did this last year and I love it. Most of my clothes are navy/denim, burgundy, gray, or black. I found the secret is bridge garments: those that have two or more of your colors. My favorite is a plaid shirt with navy and burgundy. I can wear it with almost everything in my closet. This way of dressing makes shopping and traveling much easier.

  • Rachel,
    I’m just starting my minimalism journey and have found your blog very inspirational. In terms of culling the wardrobe I am naturally a bit minimalist, but I have quite a large number of clothes from my pre-baby days. I am hoping to get back into them during the course of this year. You mentioned you were also transitioning. What do you do with clothes that are currently too small? I can’t justify just getting rid of them and then having to repurchase if I lose the weight. I’m thinking about giving myself this year to get back into those clothes or then donate them. I’d love to hear how others handle this issue.

    • Kate: I think giving yourself at least a year to see where your body settles after the baby is a great idea. If you’re in pregnancy/new baby mode your body is changing a lot. My size has been all over the place since I started having kids – sometimes below my pre-pregnancy size, sometimes way above. At this point I only have a few fitted pieces from my pre-baby days. I also had a career transition after baby #1 and have either been a stay-at-home parent or working for myself, I ended up donating most of my office clothing when my oldest was 18 months and I knew I wasn’t going back to an office.
      Good luck!

  • The part that really resonates with me is the bit about wearing everything in your closet regularly. I’ve always been pretty good about getting rid of (donating) clothing that didn’t fit me or that I no longer liked….but never continued that feeling with then wearing what I *DO* have.
    Last week I came back from holiday family visits to CLEAN MY HOUSE! And that meant finally *really* cleaning my closet. I asked myself why I didn’t wear each piece of clothing – and if my best response was “because I wear other things” then I put it at the front of my closet, to wear this week. No sense in waiting to wear clothes I like!
    I have a much better sense of how many outfits I really have now….and realized that quite a bit isn’t needed. 3 large bags off to the local shelter tomorrow. I’d rather wear the clothes I really like, every week!

    • Yes! Wear those items that you like but never seem to put on. You’ll quickly figure out if you’ve just been overlooking the garment or if it doesn’t work for you.
      Well done on the three bags to donation.

      • Thanks! I should clarify that part of those 3 bags was my husband’s clothing as well. I can’t take all the credit 😉

  • I finished nursing my last baby in November and am very VERY excited to move on from the baby stage, in terms of my wardrobe. No more nursing… No more pregnancies… Yay!

    I like the photo idea. That’s a good way to see clothing in a new light.

  • I wear everything that I own. I have 3 navy blue t-shirts, 1 navy blue long sleeve shirt, a black/grey plaid shirt, 3 pairs of black capris, black yoga pants, 2 pairs of jeans, a pair of tennis shoes, pair of hiking boots, black Lands End fleece jacket, 3 bras, 3 pairs of underwear and 3 pairs of socks. Before I retired 2 years ago I had 2 pairs of slacks and 2 fitted button down shirt I wore on days when I was lecturing and didn’t have a physical activity portion of the class. My clothing choices are so much easier now.

  • I have been dressings exclusively out of a capsule wardrobe (well it rotates with the season) for about a year and a half, and it’s changed my life! I am so much more confident in my clothes because I only own and wear what I love.

  • I’m a dresses with no accessories kind of person and I’ve been wearing the same four dresses for the last two years. They are now getting quite threadbare and, as my favourite clothes shop went into administration (come back East!), I’ve now started on the highly exciting project of sewing myself four new dresses.
    I would never have had the opportunity to get into sewing if I’d had clothes coming out of my ears, so I’m so thankful for this challenge. I’m still working on prototypes, but I know I’ll get there soon. Can’t wait!

    Loving your project, it will be fab to be able to go over things with a fine tooth comb and get rid of even more stuff! 😀

    • That’s an inspiring thought! I was going through my wardrobe for the umpteenth time this morning and struggled to get rid of anything for once. I’m a pretty eccentric dresser which works quite well; nothing I wear is normal fashion so it never dates. On the other hand, if I like something, it’s fairly likely I won’t go off it. My mum gave me her engagement present red fur coat twenty years ago. I’m still wearing it.
      As I struggled to get rid of anything this morning, I thought, well, obviously I really do like and wear what I have; so….no need to buy or look for anything more for a few years. I like the idea that if I manage to wear things out, I could make something. In fact, I did declutter something last night. My mum gave me top she’d embroidered that I was neither going to wear nor give away. I cut out the embroidered panel and sewed it on a jacket I have that came with all sorts of customised patches. Downsized, treasured and will see the light of day :-)

  • I don’t even need to try them on to know what my five outfits are (and my husband joined in to say that it’s only really two; jeans & a t shirt or black pants & a t shirt)
    If most ppl only wear 20% of their wardrobe, I must only wear 2% of mine!

    *blue jeans and turquoise or purple top with black fleece & trainers (general life)
    *black pants and burgandy, green or purple T-shirt with black hoody & trainers (work)
    *red or purple&turquoise tunic with black leggings and knee boots (evenings out-rare!)

  • I love the idea of a capsule wardrobe, but I have no idea how to get started as a college student! I’m everywhere from business/formal to sweatpants and t-shirt. Any advice?

    • I’m probably not the best person to give minimal clothes advice, but…firstly you may just need two capsule wardrobes- I have home and work clothes and almost never mix the two (the rainbow elf fleece I’m currently wearing wouldn’t go down well in my role in a hospital, for example).
      However, it does depend on what you want to wear at home and how formal wear is at work. I’d google business capsule wardrobe for ideas and maybe holiday wardrobe for home. I’m suggesting the latter because that’s one of the occasions where people do a capsule wardrobe so there’s lots written on it that may give you inspiration.

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