How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe
(And why it will change your life)
You know that when it comes to fashion and style, we're all about practicality. So when we heard about Caroline Rector's capsule wardrobes, our ears perked up. Haven't heard of a capsule collection? You'll want to take notes! Caroline started her blog, Unfancy, as a way to document her minimalistic style—wearing only 37 (yes, that's thirty-seven) clothing pieces for three straight months. After three months, she'll pick new pieces to add to her rotation. Not only does this completely de-stress the whole idea of getting dressed but also saves a lot of money (no shopping for three months!) and has completely changed her outlook on life.
Ready to be inspired? Let's get to it with Capsule Wardrobe 101 and our chat with Caroline on how she did it and why.
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On the Definition of a Capsule Wardrobe
Simple definition? It’s a mini wardrobe made up of really versatile pieces that you completely LOVE to wear.
For Unfancy purposes (and what Caroline did), it’s a 37-piece wardrobe (rotated every three months) that includes tops, bottoms, dresses, outerwear, and shoes.
Why is it so great?
Remember when you buy fun new clothes, but end up wearing old favorites? Me too. Ever go to your closet and feel like you have nothing to wear, even when your closet is filled with clothes? Me too! I started wondering why I was keeping a closet stuffed with things I didn’t love. And I also started wondering why I kept spending money on mediocre clothes I didn’t wear because they didn’t fit quite right.
We’ve all experienced closet envy, right? We’ve been conditioned to want the celeb closet-room, you know? And even though those are pretty cool, I realized I could be really happy with a lot less. So I tried out this capsule wardrobe idea I’d been hearing about and I never looked back! Now I always feel like I have something awesome to throw on, be it Sunday brunch or a client meeting, because every single item hanging in my closet is something I would love to wear right this moment.
To me, a capsule wardrobe represents more time and energy for what really matters (less time spent deciding what to wear/less time spent shopping/less time doing laundry or caring for clothes) more money for our dreams and helping others (less money spent on clothes that never get worn) and more contentment and happiness.
On what got me into capsule wardrobes
On Black Friday 2013, I went on a shopping binge, buying anything and everything in the heat of the frenzy. I got home with a mess of clothes that contributed nothing to my style or my needs—and immediately knew this was part of a bigger problem. Recently, I had noticed that I had a bad habit of using shopping as a way to jolt myself out of a bad mood with a little instant gratification. Not the worst thing in the world but…it hit me pretty hard when I realized I wasn’t shopping for clothes—I was shopping for happiness.
No wonder my closet didn’t make any sense.
I wanted a change. I wanted to stop spending money on emotional purchases. I wanted to stop buying clothes that were going to end up in the donation pile after a month. I wanted to start making more intentional buying choices. I wanted to start finding my style and confidence.
So, I Googled it. I searched all sorts of things like “How to find your style” and “How to curb a shopping problem” until I stumbled upon the term “capsule wardrobe”—it was coined in the 70’s by London boutique owner, Susie Faux. But it was two blogs that really opened my eyes to the modern capsule wardrobe: Into Mind and Project333. I was hooked on the idea of a minimal closet, so much so that I wanted to experiment with it as a long-term lifestyle. As I started living with less, I noticed the biggest change happening in my heart.
I realized that happiness, contentment, and joy come from within—not from stuff or external circumstances; I couldn’t help but share it.
So I started my blog, Unfancy, for two reasons: 1. To show that it’s possible to live with a tiny wardrobe, and still have impeccable style and tons of options, and 2. Because trying something new and taking control of your closet can be a powerful reminder that it’s never too late to change your life.
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On my structure for building a capsule wardrobe
Typically, I start with shoes since they can make the biggest impact on an outfit. I like having about nine pairs of shoes. So I’ll typically have, for example: three pairs of flats, three pairs of heels, and three pairs of boots. I also like having nine bottoms too—for example: three pairs of jeans, three pairs of shorts, and three skirts. I use a “3 of each” rule because I like having one casual pair, one statement pair, and one in-between pair.
After all that I still have room for 15 tops. Sometimes I’ll use the “3 of each rule” here too. For example: three sweaters, three t-shirts, three button-up shirts, three tank tops, and three vests.
And finally, that leaves room for four jackets or dresses and those break down differently depending on the season. For example, in winter I might have four jackets and no dresses while in summer I might have one jacket and three dresses.
Mistakes are a part of the process—there’s no such thing as a perfect wardrobe. I always make a few mistakes in my capsule wardrobes, but I don’t really regret them. Those mistakes end up being the best teachers. Even if I see I’ve made a mistake, I still try to wear them for that season and try to make the best of them. Sometimes they even end up surprising me and becoming beloved pieces by the end of the season. But even if they don’t, the mistakes help me hone in on my style even more and help me know what to do better next time.
On starting your own capsule wardrobe
It all starts with cleaning out our closets. Usually when it’s time to purge, we rifle through our clothes while they are still in our closet on the hangers. But there’s a much better way—one that will actually help us find our style and give us clarity. (Editor's note: Can you tell we've been on a clean and edited closet kick lately? See related articles here, here, and here!)
Step 1: The secret to cleaning out your closet is to completely empty your closet first. I know, it sounds like a ton of work. But it works. Take absolutely everything out of your closet and lay it out on your bed.
Step 2: Sort each item into one of these four piles:
- LOVE IT AND WOULD WEAR IT RIGHT NOW! It fits. It’s right for your lifestyle. You feel comfortable and confident wearing it. Great, now put it back in your closet.
- MAYBE. This is for items that don’t fit quite right, the color is a little off, have sentimental value, you can’t put your finger on it but you just don’t wear it, or you’re keeping it because you paid a lot for it but you don’t wear it. Put all this stuff in a box and store it in the garage. You can always go get stuff out of it, but you probably won’t. If it’s still in the box at the end of your season, it’s time to say goodbye to it.
- NOPE. Self-explanatory. Donate, swap with a friend, or sell it to fund new purchases.
- SEASONAL. Wool coat in summer? Probably don’t need it handy. But you’d never get rid of a staple like that. If it’s not in season, but you LOVE IT, put it in a nice under-the-bed box and store it. You’ll definitely use it when the appropriate season rolls around.
Step 3: Assess what’s left in your closet: your LOVE IT clothes. Your true style should be practically screaming at you. From here, I suggest going on a shopping hiatus for however long you like—especially if your wardrobe is less than perfect (and trust me, it will be). Living with what you have for a little while will teach you so much about your style and what you really need. Once your finished with your shopping hiatus, make a plan and then shop for the missing pieces. (Tip: free wardrobe planner I made for you!)
If you’re nervous about getting rid of the clothes you clean out, simply store them instead (safety net!). It gets the visual clutter out of your closet but takes the pressure off. And later, if you realize you miss something, go grab it.
As you go along, edit the process to fit your own lifestyle. If you need two capsule wardrobes (one for work and one for the weekends), go for it. If you need more clothes than 37, add ‘em in. If you hate numbers and rules, scrap them all together. No matter what, make it yours—and enjoy it.
And remember, it’s not meant to be a miserable experience—it’s meant to be invigorating and fun. The goal here isn’t to bash shopping, clothes, and style. The goal is to try something new if you don’t like your current situation. Remember, trying something new and taking control of your closet can be a powerful reminder that it’s never too late to change your life—either by changing your attitude or by changing your environment.
On making it a lifestyle
I’ve lived with my 37-piece capsule wardrobe for a year, and now I’m interested in making this whole experience more of a lifestyle—instead of a rule-based challenge. Life changes and we change with it. I have no doubt that my definition of a capsule wardrobe will change as I evolve, but I think I’ll always live with a version of a capsule wardrobe; I’m excited to see what that looks like down the road.
Are you as inspired as we are? Would you take on the capsule wardrobe challenge?