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How To Start A Capsule Wardrobe: A Guide for Beginners

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.

Shirts, scarf, a notebook and a pen on a bed.

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.

Image advertising capsule wardrobe quickstart guide.

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.

How to start 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.

Image advertising capsule wardrobe quickstart guide.

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.

Capsule Wardrobe for beginners' shows nine tops, five bottoms and five shoes.

My Capsule Formula:

  • BASE (more on this concept in a second)
  • 9 TOPS
  • 5 PANTS
  • 5 SHOES

Tadahhh!

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.

TIP:

  • 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.

  1. Workout (pants and tops)
  2. Lounge (pajamas, yoga pants, big comfy sweatshirts)
  3. Layering (tanks and tees)
  4. Outerwear (jackets, swimwear, hats and mittens)
  5. 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.

TIPS:

  • 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.

How to start a capsule wardrobe without going crazy. Perfect for beginners - with free printable guides to help you get started! | pinchofyum.com

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:

  1. Their usefulness in each of your outfit categories;
  2. How well the items fit today;
  3. 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.

Shirts, jeans, shoes, notebook and a pen on a bed.

TIPS:

  • 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:

How to start a capsule wardrobe without going crazy. Perfect for beginners - with free printable guides to help you get started! | pinchofyum.com

(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:

Image advertising capsule wardrobe quickstart guide.

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196 Comments

  1. Pinch of Yum Logo

    A couple of years ago my husband booked me a “capsule wardrobe advisor” as a birthday present. I wasn’t THAT offended and yes, this is a real job! We were in the midst of becoming truly minimalist and getting read of EVERYTHING that didn’t “spark joy.” (aka – we live in London and houses have NO storage, like not even closets and with a sister that can get me up to 75% discount at all Gap Group shops, I had a clothing problem). One of the best things the advisor did, besides show me how to dress to my body type, was to establish my colours! We then looked at my best base neutral colours to build a capsule wardrobe around. After we looked at more fun accents to add, but only one or two at most and always small details only (think scarves, jewelry, etc)! She also emphasised the need to buy quality and that does mean spending more. To this day I still only have two pairs of jeans, three jumpers, three button downs, three long-sleeve shirts, three short sleeve shirts, two dresses, one pair of dress slacks. I go shopping maybe 1-2 times per year. I can literally dress myself in the dark and know that it will all match. It also helps me steer clear of impulse “but that looks so fun” Zara purchases b/c the colour is wrong and I know it will be out of style in about 2.4 nanoseconds. It totally takes time and diligence, and does require a bit of investment to get pieces that will last, but the end result is AMAZING!! Good luck!!!

    1. Pinch of Yum Logo

      “She also emphasised the need to buy quality” – exactly. I love the idea of base colors! I recently had a situation where I found a sweater that I loved but it just wasn’t right in terms of color – I didn’t have any other similarly colored pieces or complimentary pieces to wear with it. So I just said no! Hard in the moment, but such a good practice. Love hearing about your experience with this Cassandra – thanks for sharing!

    2. Pinch of Yum Logo
      vicky langdon

      Hi Cassandra,
      It sounds like you would recommend the ‘capsule wardrobe advisor’. Could you tell me their name and/or contact details. I’d be really interested to work out my colours and dress for my body shape. I think I need a little help doing this. Great to hear your story. Vicky

  2. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Joy

    Nice post! I’ve heard about capsule wardrobes lately, and this guide is great. You have excellent taste in clothes. I especially love your boots! I just wanted to let you know that the first link under My Winter Pants and Boots (Midrise Jean Leggings – Express) takes me to the Target jeans.

  3. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Caitie

    I have had a capsule wardrobe since June and I LOVE it! My summer capsule was rough because I was still unsure about what I was doing. It ended up being totally not “me” and I always felt uncomfortable. Fall was a little better, but I still hadn’t invested enough time and money into the capsule to have it really fit my style. My winter capsule is the best one I’ve had yet- it feels so right! However, I think I made it just a teensy bit too small. I don’t know how you only have 19 pieces, I have 28 and I feel too constrained. In spring I’m aiming for about 35 pieces, and for things that really fit my style.

    I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve taken away from this: I truly know my style. I know what makes me feel sexy, comfortable, professional, whatever. In my first capsule I kept a lot of pieces that I loved because of the way they looked, but not for the way they felt. I’m finally figuring out how to find pieces where I love how they look AND feel! (Like ponchos. Ponchos 4 lyfe.)

    I saw a few months ago on the VIP page that you were doing this and I was so excited for you! Glad to see it’s all working out so well! 🙂

    1. Pinch of Yum Logo

      Yes! It really is! 🙂 So glad to hear you’ve had a good experience too! The number 19 is a little deceiving though because I keep a base wardrobe of like 50 items that just stay the same all through the year. It’s a little bit of an a-typical capsule formula. 🙂 But I love it!

  4. Pinch of Yum Logo

    This is BRILLIANT! Thank you for this post. This year is all about simplifying my life to make room for big things to come next year. Looks like I have a game plan for this weekend. Thanks!

  5. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Morgan

    OMG I have searched for an article like this for a LONG time. I feel like it’s fate as I just started following your blog earlier this week. Thanks for the great advice!

  6. Pinch of Yum Logo
    TERESA DE LA ROSA

    First let me say that I love your blog and all the useful information (and of course wonderful recipes!) that you and your husband share! This is not something I had heard of before but I would love to not have to try on three outfits before deciding what to wear. Thank you for inspiring change in a positive way!

  7. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Katie @ Beyond the Clothing

    I think this is the easiest way I’ve ever heard a capsule wardrobe described…. and then you added a printable! Genius. and more time for food thoughts, totally a triple score.

    I can’t say I could get down to 5 pairs of shoes. Maybe 5 in a few categories, but not 5 total lol. The rest of this looks super amazing. Thank you for sharing

    xoxo
    Katie
    https://www.newyorkersapparel.com/

  8. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Ashley Sears

    I followed Un-Fancy and kept toying with the capsule idea. The only commitment I made was buying the pieces she linked and gaining more clothes ahah!! BUT I loved Caroline’s commitment to the capsule. YOU just reinvigorated me to give it a REAL honest try. I am in the process of moving and need to cut waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down on my closet. I love your “base wardrobe” concept. Wish me luck… I start this project tomorrow at 10AM. Love love love your blog. Thanks

  9. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Melanie @ Gather for Bread

    This is a great idea! You’ve definitely inspired me to minimize my wardrobe. You did all the hard work for us. Thank you!

  10. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Mary Mork

    Like, like, like! You would be proud of me, Lindsay! I’m TRYING to purge-the first step in tidying up. 🙂 My only problem is that I kind of do like to shop. 😕 Now what? Self-discipline, I guess?? Thanks for the good information! 🙂

    1. Pinch of Yum Logo

      no way!! I am proud! The capsule concept is definitely not for everyone, so don’t feel bad if you don’t like it… but wow! 😀 I hope you love it Mom!

  11. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Rebeca

    I’ve been reading about capsules wardrobes a lot lately and I think I should give it a try. I got rid of a lot of clothes last year because I got sick of my “just in case” mentality… “Oh, I’m going to keep this dress I haven’t worn in more than a year just in case I need it soon!” Nope, that wasn’t working out too well. I still suffer from the “I have nothing to wear” syndrome, though. I like your idea of a base wardrobe, I feel it would make it easier for me. Hmm, gotta think about it!

    1. Pinch of Yum Logo

      I get ya! I feel like keeping things (in a separate room) really helped me with that. And there actually were like 2 times over the last six months that I ran downstairs to get something that I had moved out of my closet but still actually needed to wear, so I was really glad I didn’t totally get rid of things right away – just gradually moved them out of the closet.

  12. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Felisha

    I stumbled upon a capsule wardrobe by accident. I was transiting from maternity clothes to “mom” clothes. As in all cotton, comfy, machine washable (no dry cleaning). I literally bought clothes based on if they were toddler friendly. I had a very minimal wardrobe before I knew what a capsule wardrobe was. Now I shop with purpose, but still have a minimal wardrobe. It is the best thing ever. If you need a little inspiration or just want to play with style, you should try the stylebook app. It allows you to add outfit inspiration pictures, but it’s basically works as a catalog of all your clothes and you can create outfits on there. Love that you shared this post!

  13. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Heather

    This is timely, as one of my projects this year is to create a wardrobe that I actually like. This will help me conceptualize things a bit. I HATE shopping – especially clothes and shoe.

    My big problem nowadays is that I hate everything that is out. It’s all skinny pants and big poofy tops, which make me look like I am pregnant. Not comfortable in that kind of thing. When did normal fitting clothes go out of style?!!! But, I am going to get a a handle on things this year…even if it kills me. I’m lucky that I work in a pretty informal office, so I don’t have to wear dress pants and suits etc. But I should be looking a little bit more put together at the office than I currently am…!

    1. Pinch of Yum Logo
      Emily Pitts

      I don’t know if you have a good thrift store where you live, buy I’ve had lots of success (and saved lots of money) finding clothes that I like at my local thrift store. The skinny jeans can be avoided with higher end clothes I’m finding. My thrift store must get a lot of sunshine from the high end stores because most if what I buy still has tags. Score!

  14. Pinch of Yum Logo
    JamieinPDX

    Great! A weekend project that I can attack with enthusiasm and gusto. Not only do I like cooking, I also enjoy organizing. Anything that makes things simpler, I’m all about.

    I have one question, though. The shoes I use for running–would they go in the Base category? As comfortable as they are, I don’t use them daily. Once in a while I do wear them to work if my feet are a bit sore from work week overuse (I get around a lot at my job).

    Please advise. Thanks 🙂

    1. Pinch of Yum Logo

      Good question – I put mine in the base category because I only wear them for running. I think I put them in my workout category. But no rules! 🙂 So just put them where it works for you!

  15. Pinch of Yum Logo
    JamieinPDX

    Just clicked on your PDF download offered for the printable, but got your e-cookbook download pop-up, btw…

  16. Pinch of Yum Logo

    I’m so glad to see this post! I have been trying to convince my friends recently that a capsule wardrobe clears up your mental space and reduces “decision stress” but honestly everyone has been looking at me like I’m crazy for cocoa puffs. Finally, people who get it! My friends are (apparently the opposite of me) the kind of people who thrive on picking out something fabulous and different and thoughtful every morning. Whereas even though I like to look fabulous, I also like it to be EASY. They insist I’ll look weird if I wear the same clothes all the time but here’s the kicker – I basically already do! Getting rid of all the ill-fitting, not-quite-what-I’m-looking-for items in my closet just makes those decisions easier in the morning. So even if they don’t get it, I love it and appreciate more mental space 🙂 Glad I’m not the only one!

  17. Pinch of Yum Logo
    April

    This is awesome!! Tackling my closet and dresser is something I desperately need to do, and this is going to be super helpful, thank you so much for sharing!! I also think it would help with preventing me from wanting to buy MORE clothes, which I also need help with 😉

  18. Pinch of Yum Logo

    Can I just say how fun this post is? When I scrolled through my emails and first saw this subject line from you I was like “whaat!? this is POY?” *click * So fun, and a wonderful little procrastinating-while-caffeinating break from work. 🙂

    LOVE how you emphasized choosing a wardrobe that reflects what is “most relevant to my lifestyle right now”. Pretty sure my closet is guilty of reflecting my past/ future / and “but what if I have to meet Oprah for a fancy lunch someday” lifestyles. Can’t wait to whittle my wardrobe down to capsule size using your NOW lifestyle mentality. It’s far too easy to get swept up in elaborate fantasies of cute sparkly dresses and printed pants, when jeggings and warm coats are much more my speed. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Pinch of Yum Logo

    Oh my gosh, YES. Yes yes yes.

    We are currently journeying around the world with our five kids in carryon backpacks (yeah, I know, we’re crazy), and capsule everything is basically our life in a nutshell. It is WONDERFUL. Most people don’t understand this, but there is something SO incredibly freeing about everything you own in the world fitting into a backpack!

    And like you said, 10 second clothing choices. I have two pairs of the same black pants and a shorts version, two of the same t-shirt (different colors) and a long sleeve version, a couple baselayer tank tops and a couple sleep shorts, and that is IT. Everyone else in our family has about the same ratio (a few more items for the younger children that still get messy super quick), and as long as we do laundry every 1-2 days, it works brilliantly.

    I do also second the quality thing though. Things show wear more quickly since they’re being worn more often in general, but buying quality clothing minimizes this. Truly, though, you’re still spending way less than if you had a closet full of clothes!

    THANK YOU for posting this, I hope more people get to experience the wonderful feeling of living with less as a result! 🙂

      1. Pinch of Yum Logo

        Haha 🙂 I have one, actually… I just post more parenting things usually lol. But here’s the overview if you’re interested 🙂

        https://jornie.com/travel-the-world-kids/

        And I do totally follow you guys like a little lost puppy. Lol. Got to sit in on a couple of your sessions at Blog Elevated 2014 🙂 you’re both very inspiring, yourselves!

  20. Pinch of Yum Logo

    I was going to say that I don’t think I can find a capsule that will fit me 🙂 But yes, you do have a point and I have been saving my clothes for when I lose that 15 pounds I want to lose. I’ll have to think long and hard because if I give up all of my clothes I feel like I’m giving up on my weight 🙁 I will pin — who knows I may get my capsule at the 15 pounds less size!!

  21. Pinch of Yum Logo

    Interesting.

    I HATE shopping. Ok, I loved it when I was in Corporate America and I would just go to Nordstrom and buy a gorgeous suit.

    My current categories would be: Farm chores, sleep, and teaching.

    I have no life.

    I still hate clothes. But, I have a lot. So I guess I should at least do the purge part.

    I think I’m going to need help.

  22. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Holly

    Thank you thank you thank you for writing this post! I’ve been trying to start a capsule wardrobe myself since last fall (but then got pregnant and well that was the end of that for a while). But now I feel really determined and you have laid it out so practically. So again. Thank you!

  23. Pinch of Yum Logo
    Joan B. in S. C.

    This has the be the simplest explanation of how to create a capsule wardrobe. I spent 2015 purging, so I can no spend 2016 coordinating. Thank you!

  24. Pinch of Yum Logo

    Wow I totally love this!

    I have never heard of the Capsule Wardrobe. I am totally a minimalist, especially after we sold everything we owned and moved from Minnesota to Florida fitting all of our belongings in 2 cars…yep!

    Now I know what to officially call my wardrobe:)

    This is a great post and I love, love, love your blog!