Guide to Starting a Capsule Wardrobe

It’s another rushed morning before running to the office. You head to your closet seeking the perfect summer outfit, knowing that to find it you’ll have to wade through piles of drab sweaters and crop tops that would scandalize the office. “Why can’t dressing in the morning be easier?” you wonder — not for the first time.

If you own more clothes than you know what to do with, yet can never seem to put together an outfit that makes your heart sing, a capsule wardrobe might be just what you need.

A capsule wardrobe can help you take control of your (fashion) life

The concept of capsule wardrobes was introduced in the 1970’s and popularized by Western fashion houses and French “It” girls. The idea is simple: Pare your wardrobe down to a couple dozen clothing essentials (some swear that the “magic number” is 37). Why does it work? Because it hinges on finding pieces you love as standalone items, that are also versatile enough to go with a large variety of outfits.

Think of a capsule wardrobe as fashion’s answer to mindfulness, a conscious effort that makes getting dressed a simpler and more joyful affair in the long run. Not only is it smart from a fashion perspective — a capsule wardrobe can help you develop better organizational skills, and it’s also a great way to get yourself thinking about clothing in a more minimalist and sustainable way.

Ready to turn your cluttered closet into one that actually makes you happy? Read on!

4 Steps to Start a Capsule Wardrobe


Spend a few hours taking inventory of each piece of clothing you own. That’s right — every piece. As you take out each item, think about how it makes you feel when you wear it: Does it fit you just right? Is it something you wear once a week or more? Or has it been sitting on a hanger for months? If it doesn’t “spark joy” for you, put it in a giveaway pile.

Once you’ve got your pile together, don’t head straight for the nearest Goodwill. Donating clothes without doing your research can have unintended negative consequences. Try these options first:

  • Host a clothing exchange party with your friends (chances are they’ll be as excited as you are to unload some of their unwanted garments).
  • Research nonprofits that take clothing donations and use them to help people in need. Here are some ideas:

●  Use hacks to reinvent old garments or to put used fabrics to good use

●  If you want to earn a few bucks, consider selling gently-used items on an app like DePop or Poshmark

Start with the basics

It’s time to start thinking of clothing as an investment, not just a pastime. Follow the Golden Rule of ethical fashion: If you can’t see yourself wearing it in 3 years (or, worse yet, if it doesn’t look like it will last 3 years), don’t buy it. That “perfect” wardrobe will look different for everyone and, like fashion itself, will evolve over time. But in a nutshell, these are the items Nicole Anzia from the Washington Post suggests: “A couple of pairs of pants and two skirts in navy and black; dark denim jeans and white jeans; a classic, black V-neck sweater; several basic T-shirts; a long-sleeved blouse and a white sleeveless blouse; a black blazer; a black dress; black pumps and flats; a versatile pair of sandals and sneakers; and a trench coat.”

Whatever you buy, make sure it flatters YOU and makes you feel like a million bucks — and not just from one angle in the dressing room mirror.

Think about seasons

The most successful capsule wardrobes will have a few essential items that are mainstays throughout the year and can be easily paired with more seasonal pieces. Rotate your closet, keeping out-of-season clothes in a storage container to save closet space and reduce clutter (both physical and mental).

Find yourself in every stitch

The minimalist fashion movement is strongly biased towards neutral, muted tones and blocks of color. There’s a reason for this — they’re easy to pair with more exciting pieces, they fit in with almost any sense of fashion, and you’re more likely to wear them often because rarely does one second-guess dressing themselves in taupe. But while that may be, don’t forget that the most urgent requirement of a capsule wardrobe is that you find YOURSELF in the clothes. If muted tones just aren’t your style, now is not the time to try and make them your style.

Whichever colors, fabrics, and silhouettes float your boat, try to pick at least a few monotone pieces that will go well with a lot of other things. The key is matchability.

These tips are by no means the end-all of creating a capsule wardrobe, but they will help you lay the groundwork. If you’re ready to learn more, check out these other great resources on how to build out a chic and versatile capsule wardrobe:

How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe
10 basics You Need in Your Closet
14 Wardrobe Essentials Every French Girl Owns

Written by: Janie Ryan

Photo credit Sarah Parker