Want to start a capsule wardrobe without going totally crazy? This guide is perfect for beginners – with a free quickstart guide, printable downloads, tips and resources, and more, you can have your capsule wardrobe ready to go in less than a week.
Yep – still me.
Yep – on a food blog.
Yep – writing about how to start a capsule wardrobe. Like, seriously – who is in charge of the editorial calendar around here? Me, actually – and I’m going a little rogue on you today.
But it all makes sense, when you think about it.
Why Start a Capsule Wardrobe?
For me? It was to spend less time and money on clothes.
I mean, come on. Look around this site. My great love in life is food.
Clothing and fashion and shopping are not my great loves, which is why a capsule wardrobe (a very small collection of useful clothing that you love that changes with each season) IS VERY MUCH one of my great loves.
Let’s play True or False.
- You are a ____ person (in my case, a food person) who cares very deeply about your thing. But that THING is not necessarily clothes.
- Even with a closet full of clothes, you end up wearing the same three shirts over and over again.
- You are known to say things like: “I have nothing to wear.” When, in fact, you have lots of things to wear, but for some reason you just don’t want to wear any of them.
- Sometimes you find pieces of clothing in the back of your closet that still have the tags on them. Woops – guess you never wore that one?
- You have been known to buy ill-fitting clothes off the clearance rack, because CLEARANCE.
- Finding the time, energy, and money to put together a perfect (and affordable) wardrobe is overwhelming, sooo you just wear one of your three regular shirts again.
- You want two things in life, really: a) to look pretty good most of the time without really having to think about it, and b) to spend the saved brain space on other things like, just as an example, MORE FOOD.
Enter: A CAPSULE WARDROBE.
What is a capsule wardrobe? Capsule wardrobe is just a trendy-cool name for a small collection of useful clothing that you love that changes with each season.
**word association: minimalism, streamlining, organization, resourcefulness, mindfulness, simplifying, and my personal favorite – easy**
Once you have a capsule wardrobe, GETTING DRESSED BECOMES SO EASY. Oh my gosh, you guys. I cannot stress this enough. That dreaded standing-in-front-of-the-closet moment each morning turns from a 10 minute ordeal into a 10 second decision.
Simplifying my mental space is the #1 reason why I love having a capsule wardrobe. I have clothes that I love. I almost always want to wear ANY of them no matter the day or the occasion. They fit me well and I feel comfortable. And I don’t have to think about how to put together outfits. AT. ALL.
How To Start a Capsule Wardrobe:
Okay, first and foremost, there are no rules. Seriously. No rules.
That being said, I like rules a little bit, so these are my loose rules.
My Capsule Formula:
- BASE (more on this concept in a second)
- 9 TOPS
- 5 PANTS
- 5 SHOES
That’s about it. Besides what I’m calling my base wardrobe of pajamas, workout clothes, and layering pieces, my capsule is made up of 19 pieces per season: 9 shirts, 5 pants, 5 shoes.
Step 1: Reduce.
When was the last time you went through your clothes and cleaned out what was in your closet?
If it’s been more than a year, then this is your first order of business. Don’t even try to capsule just yet. Take one or two hours to pull out the things that you know for sure you aren’t going to wear and get them out of your closet and then celebrate your tidyness with a cookie.
- Don’t get rid of them just yet if that makes you nervous – but at the very least, bring them to a different room. Building a capsule is a lot easier when you’re already working with a reduced amount of clothing.
Step 2: Establish Your Base Wardrobe.
First of all, I just made this up, okay? As far as I know, there is no such thing as a Base Wardrobe in capsule wardrobe land, but I just it made it a thing. Let’s go.
A Base Wardrobe is, believe it or not, YOUR BASE. This isn’t your bank of clothing to draw daily outfits from. This is just what you need for the categories of use in your life BEYOND day-to-day dressing.
I built my Base Wardrobe around the concept of 50 total pieces that would not change throughout the year – 10 in each of 5 different categories.
- Workout (pants and tops)
- Lounge (pajamas, yoga pants, big comfy sweatshirts)
- Layering (tanks and tees)
- Outerwear (jackets, swimwear, hats and mittens)
- Formal / Accessories (necklaces, scarves, earrings)
Honestly, a few of my categories include more than ten items. Like workout gear is probably more like 15 because it includes everything I need for running outside in all seasons. And formal / accessories includes a few dresses, a few shoes, scarves, and necklaces – probably also totaling 15 items.
But that’s okay because hard and fast numbers aren’t really the point. The point is to reduce reduce reduce and identify a clear use for each piece that’s in your base.
Again, just to be clear: the base is NOT where you find your day-to-day clothes. The base is all the other extra stuff you need to do things like sleep, work out, and go outside in the cold.
- Store your Base Wardrobe in a separate place from your capsule (I keep my base wardrobe in my dresser and my capsule wardrobe in my closet). Mental cleanliness, you know?
- Remember – the Base Wardrobe does not change throughout the year, and it does NOT include your daily outfits. It is your clothes that you really need to have for one certain, specific thing (like sleeping or working out).
Step 3: Build Your Capsule Wardrobe.
This is where things get fun because the “capsule” (not the base) is where you get your day-to-day outfits from.
You can find the guide I use by signing up for our FREE quickstart guide.
First, identify three primary outfit categories that are most relevant to your lifestyle. Really imagine a general look/feel for what you would be wearing in each of those scenarios. Here are all of the daily outfit categories I identified:
- Active: gym, kids, on the go, etc.
- Work: office, meetings, etc.
- Dressy: formal events, concerts, etc.
- Fun: restaurants, date night, etc.
- Lounge: movies at home, baking, etc.
- Daily: groceries, errands, work-from-home, etc.
The ones that are most relevant to my lifestyle right now are the ones I’m calling Fun, Lounge, and Daily. These categories involve lots of jeans, boots, and tops that are comfy enough for me to actually want to wear while working from home and cooking – but also sometimes cute enough to wear out to a restaurant or event with friends. I don’t dress up a lot, I don’t work in an office, and I’m not running around with kids all day. So Fun, Lounge, and Daily describe my life best right now.
Now that you’ve identified your primary outfit categories, select 9 tops, 5 pants, and 5 shoes. Choose these items based on three things:
- Their usefulness in each of your outfit categories;
- How well the items fit today;
- How easily you could create an outfit with them based on the other pieces in your capsule.
Example: You have a hot pink sequined top that is a 7/10 on the cuteness scale. You mostly like it. And you *might* wear it this year at some point. But (1: CATEGORIES) your categories are Active, Lounge, and Daily, and (2: FIT) the top is a little bit too short, and (3: EASE) you don’t have any shoes to go with it. Verdict: No. Not a valuable part of your capsule.
Example: You have an expensive long sleeved shirt. (?) You want to keep it. Should you? Ask yourself – (1:CATEGORIES) your categories are Work, Fun, and Daily, and (2: FIT) it’s a little too tight, and (3: EASE) you could wear it with just about anything. So in some ways, maybe you would want to keep it (it goes with the other things in your capsule) but if it were me, I wouldn’t keep it because of the fit factor. I would probably be uncomfortable every time I wore it, so that’s a NO for me.
If you know that you won’t want to wear it because of fit, DON’T PUT IT IN YOUR CAPSULE. You only get 9 shirts (and 5 pants and 5 shoes). All of them should be shirts (and pants and shoes) that you would be happy to wear at any given moment. That’s kind of the ultimate litmus test in my mind.
Would I like to wear this right now, TODAY?
If the answer is no, then it probably doesn’t belong in my capsule.
- That sequined top and the long-sleeved shirt? Don’t get rid of them yet – just put them aside, out of your closet, so that they doesn’t hold you back from creating a capsule wardrobe. I know. Even though you are feeling all OH NO WHAT IF I NEED MY SEQUINED TOP FOR THAT ONE EVENT NEXT YEAR? don’t panic. Just move them outside of your closet. If you need them, they will still be there.
- Think about your tops in threes. For example, three sweaters, three button-down tops, and three wildcard tops. WILDCARRRRD! It helps to categorize, and I am not above just buying three of the exact same tops in different colors once I find ones that I love and that fit really well (see picture above – Merona boyfriend cardigans and Express button-down shirts).
- If this is your first time, don’t buy new things yet. Try to just create a capsule based on what you have. You don’t want to this to just evolve into a you-taking-yourself-shopping moment.
And Now – ENJOY.
Seriously – that’s it!
Give it time, let it be flexible, enjoy the freedom, and (again) don’t buy new things unless you really need to. Let it simmer for a hot minute, okay? I had a hard time with that the first time I did this (fall 2015) and I wanted to go out and buy all the pieces I was “missing,” but I held out and I’m glad I did.
Here’s an example of what I would put in my winter capsule wardrobe:
(I am a fighting perfectionist battle over here with these weird-looking collages. 😭 Plz be gentle with me. I’m a first timer.)
Friends, that’s about it!
I love having a capsule. LOVE LOVE LOVE. Cannot stress enough.
If you love to not think about clothes, and you love to look good while (not) doing it, then the capsule is for you. I guarantee it.
Pst! My way is not the only way. Maybe that was obvious?
If you want to see what other people suggest as far as how to start a capsule wardrobe, check out these other posts:
- Capsule Wardrobe on Un-Fancy (as far as I can see, this is the blog that sort of started the whole movement)
- How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe on TODAY.com
- How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe on The Everygirl