Capsule Wardrobes: What, Why, and How

by - 8:00 AM

You know when you go to get dressed for the day, or for a night out, you stand in your closet and after a long, dramatic sigh, announce to everyone in the house "I HAVE NOTHING TO WEAR"? Well I have your solution: a capsule wardrobe. I've recently made the switch and I can honestly say, I've never complained. It is quite possibly the most impactful part of my new "minimalistic" lifestyle.

So, what is a capsule wardrobe? Well, a few decades ago, a brilliant lady named Susie Faux, who owned a boutique in London, noticed that people were spending too many resources on clothing articles and accessories that were basically crap quality--they didn't hold up in durability and would be distasteful come the next year. So to combat this issue, she came up with this idea that people could fill their closets with a few essential items that would never go out of style, and therefore could wear them in every season, for years and years--decades, even. She called this concept a "capsule wardrobe". The idea was that consumers could then update their wardrobes seasonally with a few new pieces and accessories without over-stuffing their closets, and without over-spending. 

Later, in the 1980's, American fashion designer Donna Karan was inspired by Faux's idea and released a collection of her own known as "7 Easy Pieces". It comprised of 7 pieces of black business-type wear that could similarly be accented by other garments and jewelry pieces. Karan's notion was to make clothing work for women--not the other way around.

Despite of the effort of these notorious women, the fashion industry is one of the leading causes of textile waste throughout the entire world. According to Business Insider, "the fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined" (italicized for effect), equaling 10% of all humanity's carbon emissions. In addition, they're "the second-largest consumer of the world's water supply, and [they pollute] the oceans with microplastics".

In my personal opinion (because I really don't know that much about the fashion industry), I feel that stores like Forever 21 and H&M are major contributors to this issue. Think about it: their displays are constantly changing, and they sell their clothing at rock-bottom prices. Why are they so cheap? Because they're crap quality. I bought a few $5 shirts from H&M in early December and wore each of them no more than 5 times before I had to toss them out. They quickly developed several holes in the waist line and no longer served their purpose. 

This kind of consumerism is called "fast fashion", and it hurts our beautiful planet in more ways than previously listed. It hurts people directly--like the people who work in sweat shops (with very little pay) to make cheap quality clothing. When we don't up-cycle or re-purpose this seemingly useless clothing, it ends up in our landfills--"the equivalent of one dump truck full of clothes is burned or dumped in a landfill every second" (italicized for effect). (If this intrigues you, you should really read this article, the facts are unbelievable.) For this reason, I am grateful for organizations like Deseret Industries, who upon receiving unsalable items, will recycle them economically and effectively. For example, cleaning and shredding stained or otherwise damaged fabric, then using it as stuffing for pillows, comforters, etc. in humanitarian efforts. 

Now that you understand how capsule wardrobes came about and why they're important, let's dive into the fun part: how to start one of your own!

Photo by Amanda Vick on Unsplash

I know I mentioned that I'm not the biggest fan of H&M, but for just a few seconds (the average amount of time their clothing lasts), imagine yourself in their store. You know that section that's usually near the front, that has a bunch of sweaters, tees, and camisoles? Okay, so those are what some refer to as basics, which is what you will fill the majority of your closet with! But please, not from H&M. 

I want to note that you shouldn't feel the need to spend a whole butt-ton of money on buying super high-quality items at the start. Use what you have already in your closet until it has no life left in it, and in the meantime, do save up for items that are more sustainable (and are ethically made). The Earth will thank you for it.

First, declutter your closet. Aim for your capsule wardrobe to contain significantly less than what you currently own. The average person only uses about 10% of their wardrobe, so let that sink in while you're cleaning out your closet. Get rid of anything you plan to wear "just in case (insert unlikely occasion here)". 

Second, establish your lifestyle. Are you in the office 5 days a week? Are you a yoga instructor or gym rat? How often do you actually get dressed up to go out? Don't plan to keep or purchase anything that doesn't fit with your normal way of life, no matter how cute it is. And don't forget lounge wear! We all need a good pair of sweats for those Netflix marathon days. Also consider the climate of where you live! You don't need 12 bikinis if you live in the arctic tundra, sis.

Third, choose your essentials. We aren't talking about work and dates just yet. This is about exercise, lounge, accessories, etc. Try to stick to about 10 items per category. Some categories may have more, and some may have less, and that's perfectly okay. No two capsule wardrobes will be the same.

Fourth, pick your capsule items! Okay now you can start dreaming up outfits for girls night out. It's important here to come up with your color scheme. I personally find myself flocking to neutral colors, so I fill my closet mostly with that, and then add a few pops of color here and there. Your closet may change a bit from season to season as well. I recommend storing what you won't wear in a particular season so it won't take up space. 

Things to keep in mind during step 4 are how well it fits right this second, its versatility within different categories and ability to make several outfits out of it. For example, on my full-time church mission, I lived out of just two suitcases. I made sure that every item of clothing I packed prior to leaving could make at least 4 outfits. I definitely came up with some interesting skirt/shirt combos I otherwise would not have thought of. You can do the same with your work and going out clothes, your lounge and gym wear, and any number of categories. I recommend downloading the Cladwell app. You can log each of your clothing items and it will generate outfits for you! It will also suggest what basics/essentials you should add to your closet to help build more outfit combos.

Your wardrobe (essentials + capsule items) should consist of about 25-50 items. I personally have about 40, because that is what fits my lifestyle, and I have room for it. I won't tell you how much of each clothing item you should have, because honestly, it will be so different for anyone. There's no such thing as the "Capsule Wardrobe" police, and this is all about what works for you, not anyone else. 

I will tell you that simplifying my clothing this way has made life so much simpler. I spend less time getting ready in the morning, or getting ready for date night. I don't spend even a fourth of what I used to on clothes, because I know that A) I already have something so similar, B) I know it's cheap and won't last, C) I don't want to contribute to landfills or support poor working conditions, and D) I would honestly prefer to spend my time, energy, and money somewhere else. I don't even bother going shopping "just for fun" anymore, unless I really need an item for whatever reason. And if I do need a replacement or addition to my wardrobe, I try to thrift it first, either at a brick-and-mortar store, or by searching my favorite resell apps like Poshmark, Vinted, or Mercari. You can also join local Facebook clothing swap groups and buy/sell/trade clothes there!

If you're interested in making more ethical, sustainable clothing purchases, but don't know where to start, I recommend the app "Good On You". You simply type in a brand and it will tell you all of the stats about that company. They will also recommend similar brands if the one you researched doesn't live up to their standards. It has saved me a lot of time doing research!

I hope you found some inspiring insights here today! I'm excited to hear about your personal journeys with simplifying your closet space! 

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