How to Build Your Capsule Wardrobe

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The single most frequent inquiry I receive from readers is how to demystify fashion and create a stylish but functional wardrobe you can feel confident in. I also noticed that the desire for a more pleasing (and practical) closet often comes after a major life change. 

In response, I've decided to share my personal style journey as well as a wealth of resources to assist you on yours. Read the post in full for links to a variety of resources including my capsule wardrobe e-course. 

About four years ago I sold or gave away about 90% of my possessions. I was going through a number of exciting life changes (new country, new career, etc.) in that period and I used that momentum to more fully realize my minimalistic ideals. Since then I've continued to experience a lot of change and, as a result, I've only been able to hold onto a few possessions.

However, I'm sure you can relate: change can be hard! Living a long time without certain things that genuinely enhance your sense of self sounds admirable but it's not comfortable. So, I turned my attention to my wardrobe and took the daily uniform concept one step further by developing a capsule wardrobe.  

Though minimalist styling and closet capsules are becoming more common, there still aren't an abundance of reliable resources to rely on as there is in more mainstream fashion. So to build my capsule wardrobe I created my own 10-step process: 

  1. Capsule Wardrobe: Understanding What It Is
  2. Matching Your Closet to Your Lifestyle 
  3. Understanding Your Unique Aesthetic
  4. Evaluating Your Closet: What You Do/Don't Need 
  5. Creating a Shopping Checklist 
  6. Budgeting For Your Wardrobe Needs 
  7. Determining Your Best "Go-To" Brands 
  8. Shopping Without Impulse Purchasing 
  9. Increasing Longevity with Proper Wardrobe Care 
  10. Maintain Your Commitment to the Capsule

I've highlighted just a few elements from steps 3-8 of the process below to give you a preview of the exercises that I found particularly useful in helping me craft the perfect closet.

step 3/10: Understanding Your Unique Aesthetic

There are many ways you can do this and I get into them in-depth in my e-course, however one of the best exercises is to create an inspiration board. 

This is a useful activity in capturing your aesthetic while also helping you be realistic about the demands of your lifestyle. It's a short assortment of outfits that serve as a visual roadmap to follow as you move through the rest of the process. I used my pinterest account to pin favorite looks but you can use any tool – from Evernote to a good old fashion wall collage – to collect favorite outfits. 

I work for myself so can wear what I want and hardly ever go to formal events. I also live in a city that has a laid-back and brand-less style. So, I decided that the theme of my capsule wardrobe (as seen below) would be "subtly stylish": casual and understated because it best reflects the easygoing nature of my typical day (as well as my personality).

step 4/10: EVALUATING YOUR CLOSET 

Evaluating your closet is an important step because you want to assess what you have in relation to (a) your aesthetic and (b) your practical needs. This is a critical part of mapping style to lifestyle.

One exercise within this particular step is to think about a consistent color palette.  No, you don't necessarily have to purchase everything in black and white, but sticking with a consistent color scheme will maximize the number of pieces that can work together.

A small wardrobe based on neutrals, solids, and subtle patterns can go much further than a large wardrobe made up of eclectic hues and dramatic prints. 

My wardrobe is in multiple shades of blues, whites, blacks, grays, tans, and taupes. Those six tones offer a lot of diversity while still ensuring that virtually any two or three pieces can be paired together effortlessly. 

step 5/10: creating your checklist

Use your inspiration board, color palette, and other tools within the previous steps to create a list of the specific items you want in your capsule then take inventory of what you have vs. what you need to purchase.

A capsule wardrobe checklist will be useful in keeping you on track so you won't succumb to the thrill of shopping and end up with things you have no real use for.

It's not realistic to think you can go from zero to a full-fledged capsule overnight so take your time and put more emphasis on classic pieces that can be worn over and over again.

An additional consideration at this point is also whether you have intentions of refreshing your capsule wardrobe on a seasonal basis.

I know some who like to refresh their capsules every season, however I personally only want to go through this exercise every few years or during pivotal life moments.

So, I only make incremental changes to my closet each season and prefer that most of my items are wearable in different weather conditions.

Most importantly, I try to only buy things for that capsule that I believe  and I'll still love at least 3-5 years from now.

STEP 6/10: DETERMINing YOUR BUDGET

I see this missing or too quickly glossed over in many of the capsule wardrobe resources I've researched. However, this is the crux of your plan. You have to align your taste with your financial resources and, for some, this doesn't necessarily mean going for the cheapest options.

For instance, I like to really live in the clothes that I own and I refuse to have anything that's too delicate and high-maintenance (it's why I have few silk pieces in my lineup). On the other hand I get annoyed when I spend money on things that fall apart, and will only consider things that are built to last.

So this perspective (plus my current financial state) lands me in the "affordable luxury" category. I'm not a fashionista walking down a red carpet so don't need to be in Proenza Schouler. That said, you'd probably never catch me in Forever 21.  I consider brands like Vince and James Perse to be suitable. 

After you make your checklist, it's important to have a set budget in mind before you go on a shopping excursion so you don't break the bank. That would defeat the whole purpose of simplifying! 

Step 7/10: DECIDing ON YOUR GO-TO BRANDS 

With your overall aesthetic, outfits, and budget in hand, now you can craft a short list of brands that are feasible for you to shop from. The benefit of this shortlist is that in the future, whenever you need to replace an item, it will save you time and effort because you already know where to turn.

My list of brands includes those that have the effortless but elevated look I'm going after such as Vince, James Perse, Equipment, and Majestic Filatures. They've also proven to be high-quality and worth the investment.

Step 8/10: Shopping Without Impulse Purchasing 

With your checklist in hand and a clear breakdown of your budget you're ready to go shopping. However there's a little trick I use just to make sure I don't get ahead of myself: shop anchor pieces first. 

Anchor pieces are the most important items on your list. They are typically the basics (like a pair of jeans or white button down shirt) that will get the most wear.

I believe you should buy these pieces first. One, so everything else is coordinated around them. Two, if you underestimated your costs at least you are able to get the most useful items that can hold you over until you have the means to tackle the rest of the list.

My anchor pieces are knit dresses, button down shirts, tees, skinny jeans, and sneakers. These practical items constitute the core of my daily uniform and I'm willing to spend what I need to get the most comfortable, durable, and aesthetically pleasing items I can find. 


Take the Capsule Wardrobe e-Course

I help thinkers, creators, and entrepreneurs achieve their ambitions by streamlining their life, changing their mindset, and focusing on what matters most.

The quintessential tool for streamlining your personal style is the Capsule Wardrobe. Learn why and how so many smart and successful use this strategy to:

  • increase confidence
  • save time
  • spend wisely