capsule wardrobe infographic

What the HECK is a capsule wardrobe?

Great question! A capsule wardrobe is a minimalist wardrobe. When you remove all the unnecessary and unworn items from your closet and fill it with the bare minimum keeping just the items you adore, you’ve created yourself a capsule wardrobe. I was first introduced to the concept in a little book I found by Marie Kondo called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The book has a bit of a cult following these days and a healthy group of people who aren’t a fan. She personifies objects to the degree that it’s almost painful to read. That said, she makes some good, thought provoking points if you can get past the “woo-woo” of it all.

What makes you qualified to talk about this crazy idea?

I have a capsule wardrobe of about 33 pieces per season and successfully donated all of the following clothing items: clothes that didn’t fit, clothes I didn’t love, clothes I wore in middle school, clothes I wore in high school, clothes I wore in college, clothes that were too small, and clothes that I loved but that were worn out. For each season, I have between 30 and 40 items of clothing that I mix and match to create many different looks. (Did I just say looks? Do I really dress in looks? I think not.) For me, this means hanging my current season’s clothing on my main closet bar and hanging the out of season pieces on a separate bar to hibernate for a few months.

Do you count everything?

I don’t count pajamas, workout clothes, bathing suits, parkas, hiking boots, scarves, or jewelry. That said, I use similar criteria to evaluate how much is enough. Three gym outfits is plenty. Two bathing suits is enough for any trip. I own a total of five scarves and maybe six necklaces. It turns out I discovered that earrings and bracelets are not day to day items for me so I stash a handful of special ones away for special occasions. I wear my simple pearl earrings each day and never take them off and just throw on a necklace with most outfits these days.

You might have some climbing gear, activism tees, or cocktail dresses for your specific interests and needs. Again, keep what you absolutely LOVE and get rid of the things that don’t fit, don’t make your heart sing, or bring no true joy to your life.

Do yourself a favor and don’t downgrade old clothes to lounge wear. Having decent lounge wear is a huge mental step for most people. Two great sets of pajamas will make you feel amazing in the evening and will really round out this capsule wardrobe experience.

Also, underwear. Get yourself some nice comfy ones along with some nicer/fancier/sexier ones. An overloaded undie drawer with wedgie makers isn’t helping you. Might I suggest the Warner’s hipster from Bare Necessities? True story, my “cool hairdresser” swears by them too.

How do you dress appropriately for different seasons and still minimize your wardrobe?

33 pieces??? You are thinking this: “Hahahaha. But I need shorts, skirts, coats, tanks, and everything in between. Goodness, I have 33 pairs of shoes alone!” You count the 33 items per season. For me, I find that I really just do this part about twice a year. I switch in my short sleeve dresses and shorts in the summer and switch in my leggings and long sleeve shirts in the winter. After I finish the Q&A, I’ll talk about exactly how many of each item I have for both a summer and winter wardrobe so that you can get an idea of what works for me. I’ll also talk about how I put together versatile pieces.

How do I meet my needs for both a work and non-work wardrobe?

So work with me on this one. I’m a stay at home mom who can really just dress up and down a pair of jeans day to day. I own a few nicer tops and dresses so that I can dress up for specific occasions with easy. My suggestion would be to pare down your weekend wardrobe and include 2 pairs of jeans, a simple tee, and two other tops. The remaining items like cardigans or shoes can be pulled from your work wardrobe. If you have to pull 5 additional items into your work wardrobe to complete it, fine. No more cheating though. Invest in great lounge wear for after work. And if you exercise in stuff like yoga pants or leggings, choose those wisely. Finally, consider how versatile most clothing items can be and really purchase with care.

Where do I find quality pieces?

The photos of items below come from Madewell, J. Crew, Target, Athleta, Oka-B, Tieks, and The Flourish Market (a local Raleigh business). I love much of what J. Crew puts out. I absolutely adore about what half of Madewell creates. (The other half? I find completely bizarre and wouldn’t buy it.) Those are my two favorite stores but lower price point options like Target and Old Navy have great pieces too. I prefer to purchase fewer higher quality pieces over a longer period of time than to purchase a ton of poorly constructed “disposable” clothing. That said, a capsule wardrobe will wear out slightly faster than a larger, conventional one. So inexpensive pieces from places like Old Navy can work, they will just need to be replaced sooner. You’ll be able to accommodate more variety on a smaller budget though. I highly recommend putting much thought and care into each wardrobe addition, even at a lower price point. Believe it or not, that $10 “deal” isn’t really a deal if it’s cluttering up your life and you don’t need it.

What added benefits did you notice?

I do about 50% less laundry. I wash about four full loads a week, granted my washer is large but this includes sheets and towels. I find it only takes about 20 minutes to fold and put away our entire family’s clothing. It’s way more fun to dress in the morning because each item of clothing makes me feel amazing. I also feel better once I am dressed. Mind you, I’m at the highest weight of my life courtesy of birthing two children in a short time frame and taking a healthy dose of postpartum depression medication for two years. I feel like my wardrobe is far more versatile now than it was before. Instead of choosing a different shirt to change up my outfit, I find myself choosing to pair a shirt with a different sweater or accessories. In short, the “fun” aspect of the clothing became mixing things up, not just acquiring more. Before you dismiss the idea, let me ask: how is acquiring more working for you now? I thought so.

Will I have to do more laundry?

You’ll have to do less laundry, possibly more frequently. We have one laundry basket (see photo at the top) in our laundry room and about twice a week, I run a dark load and once a week, I run the whites. I place all the clean clothes in two baskets and fold/put away about once a week. It’s seriously that easy. Before I found a capsule wardrobe, I was overwhelmed with laundry. Now, I actually ALMOST enjoy the process because it feels manageable. It’s more like a simple household chore (dishwasher emptying, small pile of dishes) than a large one (painting the house, washing a car, cleaning all the bathrooms).

Will I get bored?

Maybe. This idea could be entirely unappealing to you. If fashion trends are important to you or shopping is a serious hobby, then this could get boring. If your goal is to look relatively put together each day and prevent yourself from spending time at the mall stressing about clothing, then this is a serious idea to explore. Like I said, I’ve found a new mental challenge to getting dressed in the form of accessorizing.¬†You’ll also be surprised at how many outfits you can make with 33 pieces of clothing when you actually enjoy wearing 100% of them.

I’d bet none of my friends have actually noticed that I re-wear a ton of clothes every other week. The same basic pieces can look really different if I grab a different pair of shoes, different necklace, and maybe wear a different layer.

Is there a place for endless piles of yoga pants?

If yoga pants are your jam, then yes. If you want to be the kind of person that wears cute skirts and jeans with boots each day, then probably not. But if you want to exist in yoga pants, then build your wardrobe around them, invest in a solid pair, find tops that rock the yoga pants, and fill in your wardrobe with things like jeans. What I don’t recommend is having a capsule wardrobe of more dressy clothes and then resorting to a hidden pile of yoga pants and t-shirts. The rule is WEAR WHAT YOU LOVE. Love wearing yoga pants? Make it work for yourself.

I’ve tried getting rid of things before and I took 2 bags to Goodwill! It was awesome. I still have a closet full of clothes and I don’t want to get rid of anything else.

You really need to LOVE each article of clothing. You can’t feel like “but that’s the thing I wear over that dress so I have to keep it.” You have to be RUTHLESS with this process. If you haven’t worn it in the last year, it absolutely, positively, MUST go. If it doesn’t fit anymore, ditch it. I know, you might loose 10 pounds but I’m a firm believer in meeting yourself where you are NOW and not placing permanent reminders of your lack of “whatever quality prevents you from loosing weight” in your closet forever. If you do lose that weight, grabbing one or two pairs of pants should be just fine–after all most shirts fit a pretty wide range of sizes. The amount of space you will create in your closet will astound you. You will be able to store things that bring you pleasure in your closet like crafting supplies, books, or pretty artwork. (Need family photos for all that space? You can contact me because that’s my jam.)

Did you miss things you donated?

Yes. Twice, I have really wished I had a simple piece from my closet. Oddly enough, I can’t remember what those specific items were if that tells you something. But surprisingly, never enough to wish I hadn’t gone through the whole process of simplification. I just wear something else. If it got bad enough, I’d probably prefer to re-purchase one or two items over the course of a year or two than to just own ALL THE CLOTHES. Turns out there is actually little joy in acquiring.

What about special occasions?

Fair. I’m considering renting something for my next wedding. Have a job interview and don’t want to invest in a suit for one day? Rentals also can meet that need. I’ll keep you posted once I try this. The two places I’ve heard good things about are Rent the Runway (use this link for $20 off your first order) and Lending Luxury.

Can I do this for my kids too? What about my husband?

Totally. I’m working on a separate post for capsule wardrobing with kids (It’s done, see it here!). My husband is a minimalist by nature so he’s always dressed in a style that is compatible with this method. He wears polo shirts and khakis to work, adding a half zip in the winter. After work, he usually puts on one of his three pairs of jeans and a basic tee or a pair of khaki shorts and a basic tee. (We love American Giant for our t-shirts and dad jammies. The specialize in American made basics and their quality is top notch. They are best known for the world’s perfect hoodie.)

What sorts of items are you wearing right now?

Here is rundown of what some of my favorite look like this winter. You’ll see I stick with neutral basics in gray, black, or navy and spice up an outfit with colorful shoes or scarves. The photos of items below come from Madewell, J. Crew, Target, Athleta, Oka-B, Tieks, and The Flourish Market.

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Quick note about shoes: My entire life, I never spent much money on shoes or gave them much thought. But I’ve fallen in love with two brands of flats. Oka-B flats are made of rubber and dishwasher safe. They have never given me any red marks or blisters and are my go to flats for outdoor photo sessions, muddy walks, or rainy days. You may have seen the Tieks brand on a Facebook ad. Holy crap are they expensive! But man. My parents got me a pair for my 30th birthday as a special gift in my favorite emerald green. They are made of Italian leather and are comfortable like slippers due to their elastic band. The leather is so breathable and I’ve concluded that they are in fact VERY different and honestly, deserving of the price tag. Oh and the colors. Hold your breath. Both brands have a special place in my minimal wardrobe and on most days, you’ve got an 80% chance of seeing me in them.

Last by not least, here are a few photos of my favorite pieces from this fall’s wardrobe. You’ll see my favorite blue tee, mustard textured sweater, my scarves, and my love of basics and neutrals. I figured visuals of actual clothing could help you out as you try to envision how you might pull this off.


Can you help me with this?

Absolutely. One lucky commenter will win a one on one consult with me so please leave me your feedback below. I’ll randomly draw a name on February 14, 2016! I’m happy to field questions via email as well

how to make a capsule wardrobe 08jessP.S. This single blog post probably took me over 30 hours to prepare and write plus I had to toss a little cash it’s way to make sure it was as awesome and professional as possible. To recoup those costs and support giveaways, I have a few affiliate links which will help support the blog. Many thanks if you choose to use them.