A Stay At Home Capsule Wardrobe

We are over two months into staying home in the United States.  While some states have opened up and others have relaxed shelter in place directives, other places, like where I live, continue to be locked down.  We don't know what the future holds, how long states will be opened or closed, but I do know that this time at home has really affected my personal style.  And over the weeks, I have created a capsule wardrobe of pieces that work for this new normal.  This stay at home capsule wardrobe contains pieces that feel good, look good, are functional for my new everyday, and mix and match to achieve more style with less clothing.  

How To Create a Capsule Wardrobe

To create a successful capsule wardrobe, you need to first factor what you need from your wardrobe to perform everyday tasks.  Are you training business leaders in a conference room?  Are you sitting on the floor reading books to toddlers?  Are you bending over a lot in your garden?  Are you walking to client sites?  Are you walking around your home?  I find for my life currently at home, I am doing a lot of going up and downstairs, a lot of time sitting on the couch, sitting and standing at my desk, moving around as I put away laundry and cook and clean.  I also find there are some things I like having on my person at all times: a phone, lip balm, and occasionally a tissue.  I need clothing that can move with me, can handle if it gets splattered with spaghetti sauce or toilet bowl cleaner, and can hold all my essentials.  Machine washable, stretch, and pockets are a must for my stay at home capsule wardrobe.

Next, you need to know and remember who you are.  Whether you are on lockdown or on vacation, you are you and your clothing should fit your body as well as your personality and be enjoyable to put on everyday.  For me, that means color, bold jewelry, and the occasional graphic print.  For you, that may be elegant neutrals, or feminine florals, or bold black, or a riot of pattern mixing.  There is no wrong answer, no matter your personal style and taste, you can create an effective capsule wardrobe.  No capsule wardrobe will be effective if you don't enjoy wearing it.

What Should Be in a Capsule Wardrobe?

When choosing items for a capsule wardrobe, they need to be versatile.  Sure, you love that skirt, but can you style it in three different ways with three different items in your closet?  If not, that doesn't mean the skirt is bad, it just means it is an accent piece, not part of your capsule.  A good way to build a capsule wardrobe is to place all the potential items already in your closet on your bed and play dress up.  Try that skirt with that blouse, that t-shirt, even that hoodie.  That hoodie, see how it looks with that dress as well as the jeans.  How would the dress look over the jeans?  No one is watching, no one is taking score.  Sure, some of these combos will be awful but they will help you see your clothes in a new light, see the proportions of it, get your mind thinking in a different way.  And once you have performed this exercise, you will better know what pieces you need to create a cohesive collection of clothing for your capsule wardrobe.

Some capsule wardrobes, like this stay at home capsule wardrobe, come from trial and error and working with what is available.  When lockdown happened, I was worried about my career and financial future and had no desire to shop.  I went through my existing wardrobe to find what would make sense with this new everyday.  Some of the things I wore the first two weeks haven't been worn ever again.  Some pieces I felt were staples proved to not be as functional as I hoped, or didn't launder well enough to hold up through a season.  A successful capsule wardrobe doesn't happen the first try; this time at home likely has already primed you for knowing what you absolutely do NOT want to wear, and what you've found to make sense for your lifestyle.  This post is to help you keep moving in the right direction of making smart choices to create if not a capsule wardrobe, a small yet hardworking closet of clothes that you don't hate and don't require a struggle to style.

Can You Have a Capsule Wardrobe and Own Clothing Multiples?

We often feel that when it comes to capsule wardrobes, we need to have just one pair of jeans, one t-shirt, one pair of shoes.  And for most capsule wardrobes, if you have more than one of the same kind of item, they should be at least a different color or silhouette.  We often buy multiples because we fear scarcity.  It's so hard to find the right t-shirt, the right jeans, the right kind of shoes that when we do we buy more than we need worried we'll never find them again.  The thing is, a t-shirt isn't a can of tomatoes or a discontinued eau de toilette.  Our bodies changes, or lives change, our tastes change, and trends change.  When we stock up on a single silhouette or style we limit our future selves. Unless it is a truly unusual circumstance, it makes more sense to just carefully care for the one item you have.

But we are not living in typical times.  The capsule you're building now isn't containing tropical wool trousers, work dresses, or nude pumps.  This is a capsule wardrobe that needs to wear multiple hats.  These aren't pieces you're hanging up to air out at the end of the day, they can't be dropped off at the dry cleaners, they are worn beyond the office chair.  So if you find that a garment over a couple of weeks is a showstopper in regard to comfort, style, and practicality, it's okay to buy more than one.  Below I share my current at home capsule wardrobe, but I only feature one of each item even though I may own multiples.  I have more than one graphic tee, more than one pair of joggers, and as the temps raise with summer coming, I know I will have more than one sundress and more than one pair of shorts.  

My Stay at Home Capsule Wardrobe

Below is my current wardrobe while sheltering in home.  It is representative of my personal style, functional for my day-to-day activities, and I truly enjoy wearing these garments.  This capsule will change as time continues and the weather changes, but this is essentially what I have been wearing the past two months and most of what I will be wearing for the upcoming two months.

stretchy ankle jeans (plus size option) | knit joggers (plus size option) | overalls | knit shorts (plus sizes) | graphic tee | striped knit top | washable blouse (plus sizes) | printed blouse (similar concept) (plus size option) | colorful tee with flattering neckline (plus size option) | lightweight zipper hoodie (plus size option) | cardigan sweater | longer wrap jacket | cotton sundress | leather sandals | washable sandals | sneakers | gripper socks | comfort/wireless bra | fun earrings | interesting necklace | sunglasses | face mask

If you follow my Monday posts of what I wore the previous week, a lot of these pieces will look familiar to you.  I have been wearing them over and over the past nine weeks, they're road-tested and proven worth my money and time. Let me break down why these items are in my stay at home capsule wardrobe and how they work:

  • Stretchy Ankle-length Jeans: I bought these before we were told to shelter in place.  I really liked them, then I wore them once lockdown happened, didn't like them, and now I like them again.  I found with time I wanted a bit of structure to things.  Also as the temps warmed up I found myself going outside mid-day to sit in the grass and get some Vitamin D, pull weeds, or take the dog for a walk.  All the pockets and the less pajama look of stretchy soft jeans ended up being a favorite.  These from Athleta don't bag out on me, and I think they look cute with a pair of Birkenstocks.  Readers have said the “Bae Boyfriend” jeans from Universal Standard are a good alternative.  Silhouette and wash can vary depending on your tastes and personal style. Boyfriend jeans, straight leg, skinny, wide-leg crops… do what you like but make sure they are a fabric and cut you can wear with all the shoes and tops in your capsule wardrobe and be comfortable to keep zipped up even if you're lying on the couch binging Netflix.
  • Knit Joggers: I wear knit joggers at least three times a week and own three pairs.  Two pairs I had before staying at home; I found them so perfect I got a third pair.  My favorite are from Soma, they are so soft, they wash up amazingly well, and the zipper pockets keep items contained even if you curl up on the couch while also making them look less like pajamas. If joggers aren't your style, look for ponte or heavyweight knit pants in a silhouette you like.  Lands' End has a pant called the Starfish that comes in a variety of lengths and cuts that is a great choice.
  • Overalls: I get it, this isn't a choice for everyone.  But I feel in times like this, you have a green light to wear what makes you happy and overalls make me happy.  These from Universal Standard I have in black and I love them.  They're stretchy and soft while being thick enough to maintain their shape.  Low on hardware, sleek fit, easy to get on and off thanks to the front zipper, they're great for being at home and also great if you are doing chores, home repairs, or gardening.  Mine are over a year old and have been in the dryer many times and still look fab.  If overalls aren't your thing, consider another pair of pants and/or jeans in a different wash or silhouette.  I'm considering a pair of lightweight pull-on cropped wide-leg pants like these as the weather gets warmer. 
  • Knit shorts with pockets: Consider these the summer alternative to the joggers.  Long enough to not ride up but not so long they look frumpy or get in the way, these from Lands' End come in a few colors, have pockets, and wash up great.  While last summer you may have chosen cropped pants with more coverage, or shorts in twill or denim; this summer if you're spending it at home it makes sense to choose shorts that offer comfort and easily fit into your existing capsule wardrobe.
  • Flattering Knit Tops and T-shirts: I am specifically using the term flattering here not to mean that which makes you look slimmer or taller or something different, but t-shirts that flatter your personal style and feel good when you wear them.  For me, I like white graphic t-shirts that are of softer fabric and have a more feminine cut, and v-neck and u-neck t-shirts in either white or cheery colors (my favorites are orange, coral, and pink) with slightly shorter sleeves that are long enough that I can tuck, half-tuck, or knot at the waist.  I also am a fan of stripes because they are classic yet not boring, work with most any other print, and add interest to wardrobe staples. For you, it may be linen v-neck tees, or fitted crewnecks, or sleeveless cowlnecks, or bracelet-sleeve tunics.  Work with what you already own, and then as you test them out you'll start to see a theme emerge. 
  • Zoom Blouses: We live in a time where everything from weddings to work meetings take place on video, so it makes sense to have one or two pieces in your capsule wardrobe so you're dressed for them. In this blog post I write about the importance of a Zoom blouse and what to look for such a top. In this capsule wardrobe, I have two – a solid coral-colored one and a print.  These tops are also just a nice switch from t-shirts and hoodies.
  • Easy Layers: I find while being at home, the kinds of layers I desire are different from what I wanted before. I desire either a loose layer I can throw on that ends right near my hips so it doesn't get all bunched up when on the couch, or else I want one longer than my bum with pockets.  I don't want sleeves that can fall into the dishes as I wash them or into my food, and I don't want anything that will cause the under layers to get all hunched up on my shoulders.  I have a lightweight cropped hoodie (love the hood while my hair is airdrying), a dolman-sleeve sweater with fun stripes on the sleeves (I feel like this sweater from cabi could have been rocked by Joey on Full House), and this longer piece which doesn't really have sleeves but offers enough warmth and has pockets deep and secure enough for all my essentials.
  • Knee- to Ankle-length Sundresses: When we started staying at home, I felt I'd be wearing caftans all the time as I sashayed through my home looking all glam while being all comfy.  But caftans rarely have pockets and either show too much or inhibit movement.  I stopped wearing dresses, but as the weather has gotten warmer I have gravitated towards knee- to ankle-length sundresses.  Nothing that clings, something that can be thrown in the washer, straps wide enough to wear a normal bra (or maybe even is structured so no bra is needed at all).  And of course, pockets.  I purchased this dress from J. Crew a couple of weeks ago; it's so outside my normal pricerange but it's truly everything I want in a dress.  And when at home, there's no need to have a new look for every day and occasion.  Instead of variety, we can create signature looks with our perfect pieces.  Shop slow, and think you don't need several dresses for your whole summer social calendar, you only need one or two.  If you consider that, you may be able to adjust your budget. 
  • Supportive Shoes:  Have you been going barefoot or wearing slippers while at home?  Have your feet been hurting?  While it's enjoyable to switch from pointed toes and heels to socks, by going without arch support and structure your feet may eventually become miserable.  My Birkenstocks from last summer have become my house shoes because they're easy to slip on and off and offer the support my feet need.  I have two pairs in here so you can have one pair for your house shoes and one for when you go outside (these can be hosed off or even put on the top rack of your dishwasher for cleaning).  I also included a pair of sneakers because getting out and about and moving while at home is a must for health and well-being.  I find I use my sneakers more now than I did a year ago! I also added a pair of gripper socks because there will be some days when you just spend it on the couch or the chair or padding around in your pajamas.  These from Bombas aren't too thick for spring and summer in the A/C, and can slip into Birkenstocks easily.
  • A Comfortable Bra: I don't find a well-fitting underwire bra to be uncomfortable, but I am in the minority.  And even I love a wire-free comfort bra for working from home.  The bra I have linked above is from Soma and I think it is by far the best comfort bra for large busts.  If you have a DD or smaller cup, I also recommend the Soma Enbliss, which many friends have and swear by. 
  • Accessories: The best way to feel “normal” even when things around you aren't normal, is by dressing “normal.”  The easiest way to achieve that is with accessories.  If you wore earrings to work, why can't you wear them at home?  That t-shirt and pair of joggers will look great with your favorite scarf or a necklace.  Don't let your beloved accessories collect dust, give them a new life with your new capsule wardrobe!  For me, the two accessories I wear the most are my big silver hoops and my gold link necklace from Baublebar. I always include sunglasses in a capsule wardrobe; they're chic while also keeping your eyes and the delicate skin around your eyes protected. And well, with this new normal comes new accessories!  You should own at least two face masks so one can be laundered while you have another at the ready. I have found beautiful and well-made masks at several retailers but am partial to the ones from Mixed-Up Clothing which fit well, have a wire at the nose for custom fit, and a pocket to add a filter. 

I hope this gives you some ideas on how to create a capsule wardrobe for this spring into summer that will work for your stay at home lifestyle.  And I hope this shows that you don't need to stick to neutrals or simple silhouettes to achieve a lot of versatility in your wardrobe!

Shop the Capsule Wardrobe:

19 Comments

  1. Paula Spizziri
    June 5, 2020 / 1:03 pm

    Giving us the rationale for why you chose the different pieces helps us apply it to our own situations and styles. I’ve been WFH for years and this is making me take a fresh look at my wardrobe. Most days I stay in my yoga clothes from the morning. Thanks!

  2. Kate
    May 20, 2020 / 8:29 pm

    Such a great guide – thank you! Here’s a couple of adds from my perspective of starting lockdown in warm weather (late summer in Australia heading into very cool autumn mornings). Instead of overalls, I had an all in one wide-legged jumpsuit with thick straps and pockets of course – light flowy material like a sundress, and I’ve been able to add layers under and over as the weather has gotten cooler. In place of the shorts – and I love shorts but needed more straight-up comfort – I ended up in a Capri length (knee length) soft jogger – a bit like yoga pants, with pockets and of course super soft and stretchy. I wore them with the lightest of tank tops and segued to sweatshirts and hoodies.

  3. Linda Wilkins
    May 20, 2020 / 10:28 am

    Thanks for this post. It’s one of the most useful capsule wardrobe descriptions I’ve read. Now to my closet…

    • May 20, 2020 / 2:34 pm

      I’m so glad you found it helpful, Linda!

  4. Michele
    May 19, 2020 / 9:35 pm

    Nicole K- This is more than I could have even asked for in terms of a description! Thank you so much for the details. I think I am going to check them out- they are on sale!

  5. Michele Donati
    May 19, 2020 / 4:13 pm

    i think you mentioned this before, but what is the weight of the fabric of the Soma joggers? Is it like sweatpant material or thinner than that? love these posts!

    • Nicole K
      May 19, 2020 / 6:17 pm

      Hi Michele,
      I have two pairs of the Soma Joggers. They are not regular fleece sweatshirt material. They are a polished fabric blend that is somewhere between light and medium weight. They call it French Terry, and it does have a little of that terry texture inside, but not much. I think the blend of Supima cotton and modal makes them really nice looking and must hold in the color. Heavy for a really hot summer day, but good up until you get over 75 degrees I would say. They are really great. The waist stays flat, the hardware is a gunmetal that really elevates them and they don’t bag out. I wore them out to run errands and then just left them on to work out. They still looked great!

      • May 19, 2020 / 7:51 pm

        Thank you so much Nicole for this perfect description of these joggers! I am so glad you like them as much as I do!

        • Michele
          May 19, 2020 / 9:36 pm

          Seriously a great description! 🙂

        • Nicole K
          May 20, 2020 / 12:43 am

          I was channeling my inner Alison. WWAW? (What would Alison write?). LOL

  6. K8
    May 19, 2020 / 11:53 am

    Of all the posts I’ve read about how to put together a capsule wardrobe this is by far the best!

  7. May 19, 2020 / 10:36 am

    Thanks Alison….Comfy, cozy ……Thank you for including cabi! Xoxo

  8. Bonnie Grove
    May 19, 2020 / 9:51 am

    I love the green hoodie but they only have a large left. I’m typically a medium. Do you think that it runs TTS or can I get away with the L? Thanks Alison! 🙂

    • May 19, 2020 / 7:50 pm

      Sorry for the delay, thanks for asking also on Facebook! I have an XL when I usually order L and like the fit. Relaxed, not swimming!

  9. Patricia
    May 19, 2020 / 9:12 am

    Always love a good capsule!

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