How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe
A Beginners Guide
What does building a capsule wardrobe have to do with travel? Well, a helluva lot more than you think! And why am I (a non-fashionista) talking to you about fashion? Precisely because I’m NOT a fashion blogger! It’s easy for a professional stylist or established fashion blogger to tell you how to build a wardrobe but wouldn’t you rather hear it from an everyday person, just like you? If yes, I’m your girl!
My first goal is to show you how to build a capsule wardrobe that you’re proud of in under a week, flat. My second goal is to prove to you that building a capsule wardrobe doesn’t have to mean wearing only black, white & grey. And my final goal is to convince you that investing in a high-quality capsule wardrobe will actually save you time and money in the long run.
Sound good? Let’s get at it!
Why Start a Capsule Wardrobe?
For me, it’s to spend less time and energy on clothes and on dressing myself.
Just look around this site. My greatest passions are travel, food (and booze – just being honest) and having incredible experiences with the people I love. Fashion (and clothes in general) don’t fall into the “things I’m passionate about” category. This is precisely why a capsule wardrobe was so attractive to me!
In addition to the convenience of it, we travel a LOT. Actually, about 50% of the time. That means we’re constantly living out of suitcases & carry-on bags. A cleverly curated capsule wardrobe makes packing incredibly simple, efficient and mindless.
Now, I can basically grab anything out of my closet, toss it in a bag, and know that it’s going to work for me on the road. It’s been a game-changer.
But, is a capsule wardrobe the right choice for you? Before you start diving into how to build a capsule wardrobe, consider the these things…
Does any of this sound familiar?
You’re someone who’s passionate about something – but that something isn’t necessarily clothes
You find yourself saying “I have nothing to wear” more often than you’d care to admit (but you actually have a closet full of clothes).
You’ve been known to buy multiples of things that are on sale (like that sleeveless T in 5 different colors)
You have things hanging in your closet or (gasp) still in the bags with tags still on them.
Finding something to wear at the last minute causes you a great deal of anxiety. You change multiple times, tossing clothes into a pile on the bed and then just “settling for” the same outfit you wear to most events.
You’ve found yourself (on more than one occasion) frustrated and overwhelmed trying to find something to wear for a particular event.
You’ve found yourself frustrated or overwhelmed in a store, unsure of what to buy or where to even begin.
Enter: The Capsule Wardrobe
What is a Capsule Wardrobe?
A capsule wardrobe is just a fancy term for a small collection of versatile clothing that you absolutely love. For me, a capsule wardrobe represents more time, more money (even though I’m investing in higher ticket items) and more energy for the things that actually matter (as in, not clothes).
Aside from all of those logical benefits, here are a few more that made my decision to “go capsule” (I made that up) an easy one:
- Every article of clothing is my favorite. No more misshapen, pilled, faded, low-quality items lurking in my closet.
- Outfit decisions go from 10-minute events to 10-second events.
- I feel great in everything I own (no more hanging on to “someday” jeans that just make me feel shitty)
- I’m helping to protect the environment (fast fashion is a MAJOR contributor to environmental distress)
- I’m supporting local (by shopping at locally owned boutiques instead of big-box department stores)
- Packing is WAY easier
How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe
First, there’s no right way to do this. Trust me – I’m the LAST person I ever thought would be writing on the topic of fashion. But, here I am! I’m going to show what I personally do and what I’ve found to be the simplest way to build a capsule wardrobe.
Capsule Wardrobe Rules
There are three main principals of any capsule wardrobe. Rules, if you like, that I followed when creating my own capsule wardrobe. These guidelines made my decision-making much easier, especially in the beginning. But, they also serve as a sounding board when I’m adding to my now carefully curated collection. The rules were as follows:
- Pair down my existing closet to include ONLY things I absolutely love (and wear)
- Tops & bottoms that go together
- Overall fewer clothes but more outfit options of higher quality
My capsule wardrobe doesn’t include PJ’s, workout clothes, loungewear, accessories (purses, bags, etc), or underwear but it DOES include shoes. I loosely follow the 333 project rules and find the idea of limiting yourself to 33 items for a 3 month period incredibly helpful in choosing wisely.
I should also note that I work in modules and have found this to be THE BEST way to start building a crazy versatile capsule wardrobe. And, I didn’t make that up – I first heard the idea of modules from Christie Ressel (a Toronto based stylist) and I fell in love with the idea.
Another word to the wise, start with a base capsule that includes these essential pieces and build out from there.
The Capsule Module Formula
The idea behind modules is that your entire wardrobe is made up of these small capsules of clothes – modules. The trick to an effective module is that each top has to go with each bottom. Voila! A module!
1 Outer Layer (cardigan, jacket, blazer)
3 Tops (camisole, blouse, T-shirt, etc)
2 Bottoms (pants, skirt, shorts)
Each module has 6 items (as you can see) and creates 12 different outfits. I repeat, a single module created 12 DIFFERENT LOOKS. That’s crazy, right?
STEP 1: Clean Out Your Closet
This is the biggest and often scariest step for many of us. Decluttering your closet is essential and should be your first order of business before you begin to capsule your wardrobe. If you struggle with the idea of getting rid of clothes or if you’ve been hanging on to things “just in case”, START HERE.
STEP 2: Establish a Base Module
Every well-crafted structure needs a strong foundation and your new capsule wardrobe is no different. As you craft the rest of your wardrobe, you’ll take your lifestyle and day to day needs into far more consideration. But in terms of a base, there are a few things that every great wardrobe needs.
Confession: my base has about 10 essential items, not 6 like the rest of my modules. In my view, this base module should be made up of high-quality, long-lasting, classic items that you’ll be able to mix and match with the rest of your capsule wardrobe. Whether you’re just learning how to build a capsule wardrobe or you’re a seasoned shopper, here are 10 essential pieces every capsule should have.
STEP 3: Assess Your Lifestyle
In order to get the most out of your wardrobe, you’ll need to consider where you spend the majority of your time. If you work in a business casual setting, your capsule wardrobe will look very different from that of a full-time yoga instructor.
You see the point, right? Consider how you spend most of your time. Build a wardrobe that functions for your life!
STEP 4: Build Your Capsule Modules
These modules (not your base) are where you get to have some fun. There’s a common misconception that a capsule wardrobe has to be basic and boring. NOT TRUE! Patterns, colors and texture can all be staples in your new capsule wardrobe.
This is also where the magic happens. With a little fancy footwork, you can create a multi-module capsule wardrobe that ALL works together. Remember that one module of 6 pieces create 12 looks. Now get this:
1 module (6 pieces) = 12 outfits
2 modules (12 pieces) = 72 outfits
3 modules (18 pieces) = 216 outfits
Of course, this is all contingent on the fact that you choose articles of clothing that all marry well with one another. That means that every top goes with every bottom and each outer layer can combine with any outfit combination.
Is your mind blown?
STEP 5: Create a Wishlist & Shop Thoughtfully
Once you’ve established your base module and perhaps your first style module, you have effectively created a blueprint for yourself. Now it’s time to create a wishlist of the items you’d like to add to your capsule wardrobe. Buying clothing on a whim is no longer part of our lives.
Now, we have a running wish-list of pieces we’d like to add to our wardrobe. In order for a piece to make the cut, it has to meet our capsule wardrobe criteria:
- How is it made? Where is it made?
- Will it last?
- How versatile is it?
We’re proud to support well made, quality pieces from Canadian brands as often as we can. We understand now (this wasn’t always the case) that investing in clothes that we can be proud of, not just from a style perspective but from a responsibility and sustainability perspective, means a lot.
STEP 6: Organize Your Closet
That’s it! You’ve got a capsule wardrobe – easy peasy. Now that you’ve paired things down it’ll be much easier to keep an organized closet. Whether you’re a fan of the KonMari way or you prefer to hang everything (like I do), taking care of your clothes is important because when it comes time to upcycle it, you’ll be able to pass down your treasures to someone else.
When it comes time to cull your capsule, I recommend donating or taking your clothes to a consignment shop. I also recommend doing said “culls” bi-annually to make sure you’re actually wearing the clothes you have.
Capsule Wardrobe Pro Tip
We love our capsule wardrobes but if you’re new to the game here’s a great strategy for breaking the impulse shopping habit. Make a deal with yourself that you’ll only purchase clothes on Thursdays. So, if you see something you want on Saturday. Too bad. You have to go home and let it simmer for a few days.
If you still want the thing and it meets all of your capsule wardrobe criteria, go on back and get it.
This has helped me immensely!
Psst. Here’s how I would build my base module:
I hope this guide serves as a great starting point for you, dearest blog reader, to start your own capsule wardrobe. This process has saved us incredible amounts of time, stress and money (even though we invest in higher quality clothing)!
If you want a done for you list of the basics that any capsule wardrobe should have – you can get that right here.
We love hearing from you so leave a comment and let us know if this was helpful!
*this post was sponsored by Take It Outside which is where we get 80% of our clothing and gear. We adore this company and everything they stand for and only share it with you because we think you will too! As always, all opinions remain our own.