The Capsule Wardrobe Crutch

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the problem with capsule wardrobes

Last year when I was feeling a bit lost, a reader suggested I check out Brené Brown and now I suggest the same for everyone else I meet who is going through a similar experience. While I have read (and listened to) many of her pieces and left with so many a-ha moments and have frantically typed so many quotes into my iPhone Notes, this is one I keep coming back to (don't have the book right now so going by memory, notes, and what I found via Google):

We all get so many emails in our inbox on “how to…” However “how to” does not work – if it did, none of us would be struggling- we would not be the most obese, in debt, addicted society in human history. We frequently look for “quick fixes,”, “instant solutions” and helpful tips in the areas we struggle most in our attempt to “fix” the areas that cause us pain. If “how to” worked, none of us would struggle with feelings we're “enough.” We live in a culture where if we are not doing huge, extraordinary things, we are “not enough”. All of the social media are based on the shame-based fear of being ordinary. We are hyper-aware of lack. The first thing we do in the morning is to say to ourselves, “I didn’t sleep enough” and the last thing before bed is “I didn’t get enough done.”

The most popular topic here at Wardrobe Oxygen is capsule wardrobes. They get pinned the most on Pinterest, receive the most comments, I gain the most Facebook followers after I share a new one on the blog, and I receive more “Ask Allie” requests for capsule wardrobes than any other fashion advice. The thing is, I don’t believe in living your entire life from a capsule, and I never have.  A capsule wardrobe is not a quick fix, or instant solution for what is wrong in your wardrobe or your life.

A couple summers ago I tried Project 333, a program I find to be one of the originators of the capsule wardrobe. I respect Courtney Carver; she believes in this program, cares about her readers, and walks the talk of Project 333. And ever since I learned about her project, I recommend it to those interested in paring down their wardrobe (and those who show me one of the newer shiny blogs out there who took her idea and made it “Pinteresting” with fancy photography and affiliate links). But learning about and trying Project 333 made me realize it is not for me.

That doesn’t mean I don’t believe that life is better with a smaller closet. I have had points in my life where my closet was gorgeous – tons of color and prints, full of covetable pieces. And those points in life were those where I had the hardest time getting dressed every morning, had the worst personal style, and was often lost or disorganized in other aspects of my life. But when I’ve done a serious analysis of my closet and only kept what I love and loves me in return; when I have shopped with care, considering what I currently own and only buying what I need to complete my current wardrobe; that is when style emerges.

My capsule wardrobes are not a how to get dressed for a season, they are a guide to help you see how style and versatility can be achieved with fewer pieces. Be it trying to fit two weeks into a suitcase or imagining how a handful of budget-friendly separates can provide a month’s worth of work outfits, my capsules aren’t gospel but a reminder to choose quality over quantity.

A capsule wardrobe won’t fix your closet, and it surely won’t fix your life. But the process of paring down your wardrobe may bring up a lot of emotions and other issues in your life and help you realize and understand those issues. And a shrunken closet of simple pieces may give you the space to address other aspects in your life, or that space to actually experience your life. Clothing – be it over-shopping, trying to emulate the style of another, buying the must-have three or five or ten items, or trying to gain control or calm with a capsule is a quick fix, isn't addressing the true issue. You deserve to live your life, and dress for it, on your terms in a manner that is right for you. It may be painful, it may take time, but you’re worth it.

Capsule Wardrobes and How to Take Control of your Tablet

Tips on Taking Control of your Closet:

  • Go slow. Don’t expect to do a whole wardrobe assessment in one weekend. Go on your own timeline. Even I recommend an afternoon but there's a lot of history and emotions in your closet; if it takes longer that's okay. Go at your own pace, but don't quit.
  • Shop with intention.  Shopping should not be a pastime.  Download a game on your phone, try out gardening or knitting, but don't shop to fill time or a void in your life.  It only makes more of a mess of your closet… and your finances.
  • Create a uniform.  A uniform doesn't have to LOOK like a uniform, but if you whittle down to a few select silhouettes and colors it makes things easier.  You can go online or in a store and head straight to the bootcut jeans, the a-line skirts, the fit and flare dresses.  No one will notice if every pair of pants you own is the same brand, cut, and even fabric (says the woman who only owns LOFT pants in one cut).  The media and blogosphere pressure us to buy new things to achieve style and success.  It's a lie; we need to feel confident and have our clothes fit our figures and lifestyles to be stylish.  The most stylish women wear items over and over and have a signature look, AKA a uniform.  Seriously, Google Image your favorite fashionista, and you'll see, more often than not, she's wearing the same silhouette, the same designer, and the same colors.
  • One thing in, one thing out.  If you found the Best Thing In The World, that's awesome… what will you remove from your closet to make room for it?  When you start thinking “one thing in, one thing out” you're more careful with your purchases and you often realize you're buying or holding on to items that don't deserve it.
  • Shop your current life.  I mentioned this in last week's post.  Don't buy for the past, don't buy for a possible future.  Don't buy an entire new wardrobe for a week-long vacation, don't think a capsule will help your love life, give you a promotion, make you look younger or thinner or happier.  Buy with care, buy slow, and buy what you honestly need for the current life you own.
A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. i love your capsule wardrobe advice, and i’ve been meaning to thank you, in particular, for your posts about interview outfits and how to style a navy blazer. i’ve been on the job market this summer and had only a black suit. no! so i purchased a lovely navy blazer and had it tailored to perfection…and then had no idea what to do with it. piecing together recommendations from several of your posts i’ve created a summer interview capsule wardrobe — two skirts, three blouses, two pairs of shoes, the blazer, and two different sets of accessories — that is simply dynamite. it didn’t break the bank and i love knowing that as i line up interviews i can easily grab something from that capsule and look great without wearing the exact same thing over and over.

    it’s not *my* capsule wardrobe — i have other clothes, although i keep my wardrobe small — it’s sort of my capsule within a capsule. i love that it gives me freedom and keeps things within control all at the same time. thank you allie!

  2. “A capsule wardrobe won’t fix your closet, and it surely won’t fix your life.”

    True fact.

    I have found that a capsule wardrobe would be most useful for those who have a fairly similar requirement to every day – business casual office, put-together city or suburban weekend wear, with the occasional night out, say.

    Unfortunately, that’s not me. I work in a formal-ish office 2 days a week, work from home 2 days a week, and in my spare time handle a baby, chickens, goats, and a large garden, while also running two start-ups that require the occasional business-casual wear (sleep? What sleep?). There isn’t a single “33 items fit all your needs!” category that’s gonna work for that… so I’ve basically got a few general “categories” of clothes, with some cross-over items. It’s more than 33 items, though, not gonna lie.

    So, what I’d like to specifically add here is that I really appreciate your capsule wardrobe suggestions. They’ve helped me get together a VERY SMALL selection of business clothes for my 2 days a week in the office, and also for the business-casual meetings… so I always look well-dressed and put-together in different outfits made from the same base, without needing a full wardrobe for everything. Thanks for the help. 🙂

  3. Since your post last week, I have been re-reading your older posts on closet organization, shopping and personal style. Having gained some weight over the last year, I’ve been feeling the blahs and mostly making do with what fits me in my closet although recently I did purchase a few new tops for some variety and a few dresses. The dresses are all the same label, same cut – it fits well and is appropriate for work. I was thinking I shouldn’t purchase more but the reality is that I am comfortable and it makes getting ready for work in the morning easy. So I am going to buy a few more and then I’ll be set for the next few months while I focus on losing the pounds (per the doctor). And I’m going to take the time to sort through my closet, shoes & accessories and reassess and hone in on my personal style. Thank you for all the great advice and suggestions.

  4. Whew, Allie. How do you always know what I need to hear? I am breathing a sigh of relief as you, once again, snap me back out of a clothing funk. And particularly today, after being too sick to fly to Yellowstone with my husband, it’s been too easy to turn this inwards. Think I’ll go & organize something! Grazie –

  5. I have a pretty small wardrobe now, and I’m super slow to replace things. It’s part laziness with regard to shopping and part ignorance of what will actually look good on me. I’m taking this advice to heart and taking it slow, though. Thanks!

  6. I admire Courtney and Project 333 and follow her on FB and other platforms, but sometimes I think the concept of a capsule wardrobe can get bogged down with the idea of perfectionism. Like these 10, 20 or 33 items have to be the MOST PERFECT things ever or else you’ve failed. I did however have an interesting epiphany one day in that I realized that sometimes I buy new things because those things have not yet disappointed me. And as someone who shops in the plus size market, sometimes just finding something that fits outweighs the idea that something hits all the benchmarks of a piece of your perfect wardrobe. (Still looking for the best fitting black pants!)

  7. I have a limited wardrobe which has kept me focused on a few key items and colours to match my lifestyle. I try to buy quality in both cut and cloth ( although never designer). Mornings are a doddle – just pull out the bottoms and any top knowing that they go together. I can’t live with too many clothes and, therefore, too many choices. Time is too precious. Occasionally, I will buy clothes for a special event, e.g. a wedding as long as I know I’ll wear the outfit later and that the outfit adds sparkle to my existing wardrobe. Personal choice I suppose.

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