How To Create Capsule Wardrobes

A few of you have asked how I get the inspiration for my capsule wardrobes.  I think how I figure out these capsule wardrobes may also help you create simpler wardrobes for yourself and benefit you when packing for a trip. Below I share how I come to creating these capsule wardrobes (while sharing some of the most popular ones I have made), and how you can use this to help in building your own capsule wardrobes.

 

Imagine the Person

I don’t imagine myself, but I create an imaginary woman. I usually envision her around 5’6”, size 8-10. Not one who has to deal with petite or tall lengths or the trouble that cusp and plus size women do with finding quality options. As for age, that usually has to do with the reader question; if it’s not a factor I play with her age, imagining her 30, then 48, then 35 to see if the pieces are versatile across the general age of my readership.

When creating a capsule for you, imagine how another would see you.  In my head, I am taller and slimmer and smaller busted than I am in real life.  When planning for myself, I describe myself as someone else would describe me.  It not only helps me put my figure into perspective, but also my lifestyle and personal style.  If this is hard to do, ask a close friend to describe you.  Significant others often provide the most accurate descriptions of us, but I don’t recommend asking them because it can hit a bit too close to home and what they find to be adorable you may find to be a flaw.  Save the relationship, ask your bestie!

 

Imagine the Week

Be it a trip to Paris or the first few days at a new job, I work with dressing for a week. Most of us hate wearing the same look in one week, but don’t feel as weird wearing the same combination on Tuesday of Week 1 and then Friday of Week 2. Within that week, I think of what may take place – a networking event after business hours, a board meeting, drinks with a client, you make friends at a museum and they invite you to their party that evening.

I think about my own experiences. With my recent capsule wardrobe for Paris, I thought of my own trip to Paris and the items I wish I had packed. I remembered my longer trip to Italy and how varied my days and nights were and the pieces that got the most mileage (and how many were the same piece I wore the most when visiting Paris a year later). With work wardrobes, I remember changing from retail to a desk job and how I had to overhaul my whole closet. I think of my last job where I traveled on business on a regular basis and would have to pack for a hole in the wall barbecue joint, a fancy five-star restaurant, three client meetings and a bowling networking event in one carry-on.

Be it a family cruise or a business trip, you likely have a general idea of how each day will be laid out.  Prepare for the unexpected, but be realistic and know you likely won’t be invited to the White House or take part in a triathlon.  Do a bit of research online and see what the hot spots are in your destination, how people dress in your field, what excursions are available at your resort.

 

Start With the Star

So you’re going on a business trip, what’s the most important event of the trip? Usually it’s the first client meeting, so I start with that. For a trip, it’s usually an outfit to go sightseeing that first day. I try to make that be something my imaginary woman would already have in her wardrobe. Simple black pantsuit, pair of jeans and a lightweight jacket, LBD, that sort of thing.

Then I think of ways of incorporating that star into other situations. Can the jacket be worn with jeans or over a dress? Can the LBD be dressed down with flats and a cardigan? Considering she can wear the pants at least twice over a week, what could she wear with them that travels well and could pair with something else?

Never buy a whole new wardrobe for a trip.  Always start with pieces you already own, know, and love.  Save the money for the excursions and events.  Heck, the main purpose of a capsule wardrobe is to buy less and choose quality versatile items over quantity!

 

Stick to a Color Story

Along with that imaginary woman, I think about who she is. What is her favorite color, does she work in government or graphic design? Does she have short spiky black hair, or long blonde waves? Does she prefer shoulder pads or chiffon ruffles? That helps me narrow down what colors I use, and I try to stick to very few that mix and match with ease.

Look in your closet, you likely already have a color theme.  Work with what you have, and build from there.

 

Consider the Shoes

You’ll see I often have the same black pumps in every collage – the MICHAEL Michael Kors “Flex” Mid-Heel Pump. Why? Because I own them and I know they are comfortable, reasonably priced, and a heel height where my pants I wear with flats don’t look wonky with them. Seriously, I wear my Tahari Hazel pants with my flats (which do have a sole and a mini heel, they’re not ballet flats) and with these shoes and neither looks awkward. I also choose pant legs that look okay a bit shorter with that heel (not so full, more of a tailored look).

Not only in that regard, I look for shoes that are versatile in that they look good with pants and skirts, can be worn to a business meeting and a cocktail party, can be worn for hours walking on cobblestone streets but also be smart with a business outfit. I try to never have more than three pairs of shoes because shoes add the most weight and take the most space in a suitcase, and be the most expensive part of a wardrobe.

When shopping for new shoes, consider the wardrobe you already have.  If they don’t work with at least three different pieces (and I don’t mean three pencil skirts or three pairs of skinny jeans), they don’t deserve to be in your capsule.  It’s better to keep your shoes neutral and add interest with other accessories.

 

If it Doesn’t Hit Ten, Do it Again

I then make imaginary outfits from the pieces. I keep thinking about the imaginary woman and her itinerary or lifestyle. Who needs club outfits when you’re a new mom? Who needs tall leather boots when you’re vacationing in Key West? If I can’t break ten REAL outfits (no turning a top backwards and wearing a bulky dress under a sweater to pretend it’s a skirt and making a scarf into a blouse), I keep working. Sometimes it’s just removing one piece, sometimes I save it and come back the next day and start from scratch.

Never buy anything if it doesn’t go with at least two to four other pieces.  If you can’t sit in that fitting room and envision it working with a bunch of pieces in your closet, leave it at the store.  The point of a capsule is to have versatility.  If you shop thoughtfully, slowly, and carefully you will find that you can have fewer garments and build even more ensembles!

  • Never buy anything that doesn’t go with two to four other pieces… there’s a great piece of advice I desperately need to follow! Especially when it comes to shoes. I’ve got too many fancy pairs of heels in very specific colours that I just don’t wear.

  • LOVE the beach one!!!!!

  • Okay this: “If I can’t break ten REAL outfits (no turning a top backwards and wearing a bulky dress under a sweater to pretend it’s a skirt and making a scarf into a blouse), I keep working.” made me laugh!

  • Patti_NotDeadYetStyle

    Great ideas, Allie, and I love the visuals. I’m not a SAHM but that capsule really looks like my life (casual workplace).

  • It’s my biggest peeve with magazines like Lucky and other blogs that try to make a month’s worth of outfits from 5 pieces. Few women can wear a square scarf as a halter top, few are comfortable with a sweater dress under a chambray shirt, and that backwards cardigan LOOKS like a backwards cardigan! 🙂

  • Melons on the Mountain

    I spent most of my morning searching your site for “Capsule Wardrobes” today! For the most part, I follow fashion bloggers who are over 40, but I’ve been following you for at least a year because I think your writing and stylings bridge the age, body type and geographical area gaps. I’m 48 and I have learned so much from you; it is impossible for me to thank you enough!

    I’m hoping that (someday) you’ll offer paid individual styling services. I’d love to work with you!

  • Paula

    “If I can’t break ten REAL outfits (no turning a top backwards and wearing a bulky dress under a sweater to pretend it’s a skirt and making a scarf into a blouse), I keep working.” … This is why I love your capsules!

  • I’m really into capsule wardrobes and often dress myself for a nice chunk of time based off of a capsule wardrobe. It’s a great way for me to figure out how to wear different things in my closet and to make sure I am getting the most bang for my buck with each piece. I am also very interested in paring down my possessions and becoming more minimalistic, so “practicing” with capsule wardrobes is a great way to try it out. The guidelines you mentioned here are solid, and I am eager to start another capsule for winter now!

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