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Building a Capsule Wardrobe: Part 1

By Sunday, February 15, 2015

Have you ever stood in front of your closet and thought to yourself, "I have nothing to wear!" This has happened to me all too often, so when I was home in Iowa over the holidays and my sister Audrey mentioned that she was building a capsule wardrobe, I was intrigued.

Not knowing anything about the concept behind a capsule wardrobe, I asked Audrey a million questions. Since she's planning a wedding, saving money is a priority. She explained, "I was constantly buying things for specific occasions, rather than to fit my life, and found myself spending a lot on clothes that I would only wear once or twice."

Inspired by a podcast by Jess Lively interviewing Caroline Rector of UnFancy, Audrey decided to take a more minimalist approach to dressing. Caroline recommends having a collection of 37 pieces, including shoes, to create a capsule wardrobe for a defined season. The idea works like this: You have two weeks to assess your current clothes, determine which items you'd like to add, and purchase them...and then not shop again throughout the entire season (3-4 months). At the end of the season, you go through your closet again, roll some pieces forward, take some out of storage / put others in, and repeat the shopping process to get just the few new pieces that you need.

Audrey's refined closet

Audrey put this to the test in November, to build a winter capsule that would last until March. First, she went through her current wardrobe – fall and winter pieces were kept in her closet, while items for warmer weather went in storage under her bed. Her assessment revealed that she was lacking cardigans, blouses, and more structured items for work that could also be layered or worn differently on the weekend. She chose to go for neutrals in cream and gray as the color palette to unite the pieces. This was her shopping list:

  • Graphic tee
  • Plain black and white tees
  • White button down shirt
  • Black collarless blouse
  • Sweater jacket
  • Gray open cardigan 
  • Striped shift dress
  • Printed silk top
Two of her favorite pieces: a gray cardigan and striped shift dress

I was pretty impressed by her method, but a little skeptical of the reality. Wouldn't she miss shopping? Wasn't she horrified by her now tiny closet? And wouldn't she be tempted to buy things, especially during the holidays?

"No, I haven't been," said Audrey. "Most people have the misperception that a capsule wardrobe is about deprivation, but I didn't feel that way at all. I really liked planning for what I wanted to buy, and for once, what was in my closet made me feel happy. I wasn't overspending anymore on trendy items that I wouldn't actually wear, and I feel like I've defined my personal style in a new way."

Work and casual outfits made from the same capsule 

After a couple months with her winter capsule, I asked Audrey what she'd so discovered so far, and what her favorite pieces ended up being. "The striped dress is probably my favorite piece. I normally never wear dresses / skirts to work, but I have worn this one so different ways! I also wear the gray open cardigan a ton. It works with leggings and a tee on the weekend or with a blouse tucked in underneath for work," she said. "Overall, I discovered that pants need to be more investment items, whereas tops can be swapped out, so will need to budget for that when I do my spring capsule. Also, that shoes can really change an outfit from casual to dressy, so I want to experiment with that next."

When asked what advice she would give me (or anyone who wants to try building a capsule wardrobe) she stressed these three things:

  1. You have to plan.
  2. Keep it fun - it's still shopping!
  3. Be honest about your lifestyle and what type of wardrobe you really need.
I thought that was great advice, so have been doing quite a bit of research (and acquiring a few pieces!) since then to apply the concept of a capsule wardrobe to my own closet. Stay tuned – I'll be sharing the results soon!

Thanks, Audrey!


  1. I love the idea of a capsule wardrobe, but I enjoy mixing it up a bit. However, I probably should invest in more versatile pieces.

    :] // ▲ itsCarmen.com ▲

    1. Hi Carmen,
      I get that :) Audrey and Caroline's approach is a little too small of a wardrobe for me. I'll be doing a "Part 2" soon of how I decided to make the concept of a capsule wardrobe work for me by being more thoughtful about the pieces I buy. Thanks for reading! Ida

  2. Hm, my wardrobe is not so much "capsule" as "dull" -- perhaps if I looked at it this way, I might get some more variety in it! Although I don't have to dress formally for work, so the temptation to live in T-shirts and jeans is very strong. I do like that grey cardigan, though.

    Angella Frasier @ 4 Wardrobe

    1. Hi! I totally understand that feeling, as I work from home and wear a lot of jeans and t-shirts myself - though I do try to accessorize with a necklace and/or earrings, even if no one else sees me :) The concept of a capsule that really resonated with me was being more thoughtful about the things I purchase, so that they are things that go with the rest of my wardrobe and don't just look fun in the store. Since you work with custom closets, I'm sure yours looks amazing!