Capsule Wardrobing

5 Steps to a Great Capsule

Hello dearest reader,

Thank you for coming to visit today! I hope your day has been a good one! Where did the summer go? It’s the end of August, so it’s well past time to start to thinking about a capsule for fall. I’ve been thinking about my fall capsule since the beginning of August, but only because I needed to get this post organized for those of you ready to test drive a capsule wardrobe. Last spring, I talked you through my thoughts about my summer capsule, and how it finally came together. Those posts were free form, and not conducive to using as a guide! Today, I’ll talk you through the steps I use to plan a capsule. I ask myself lots of questions as I plan. Since your answers will be different from mine, your capsule will be different!

General Eisenhower said “A plan is useless, planning is indispensable.” These are planning steps, not a designated A, B, C, 1, 2, 3 capsule plan. I’ve heard people say they “can’t do a capsule wardrobe.” When I do some digging, it usually turns out they were duplicating someone else’s capsule. Someone with a different personality, lifestyle, values, and coloring. No wonder it didn’t work! That’s like getting dressed from someone else’s closet. Those cookie-cutter capsule plans don’t take you into account! I won’t tell you how many pieces you get, or what colors they should be. I won’t tell you how many months to live with your capsule. These are all things you choose for yourself! (Isn’t that empowering?)

Capsule Basics: Timing and Weather

What will work where you live? If you live in a stable climate, you might choose three 4-month capsules, or two 6-month capsules. I like variety, so a four 3-month capsules routine is best for me. If you can’t make up your mind, four 3’s is a great place to start!

Another misconception is that capsule wardrobes have set dates. Not true! You set your calendar. Many capsule enthusiasts work on a regular quarterly calendar. I prefer my summer capsule to run from June through August. That puts fall Sept-Nov, and winter is Dec-Jan. Since I’m more likely to add in reds and more festive items for the winter holiday season and then put them away again in the spring, I like the winter holiday season all in one capsule! Your seasons don’t even have to be the same length. It’s an experiment. It doesn’t need to be perfect. There are no grades. It’s about learning what does and doesn’t work for you! If a whole season sounds scary, try just one month!

If this is your first capsule wardrobe foray, I would suggest tackling each step on a separate day. If you are feeling ambitious, you could do the five in a long weekend. (Oh, look! We have one of those coming up… How convenient!) Don’t empty your closet just yet. Before you pull everything out, you need an idea of what you want your capsule to look like. Let’s get started creating a capsule customized for you.

1. What Kind of Look Do I Want? (Imagine)

It’s important to spend some time getting inspired! What are you seeing out there in fashion land? It’s true that stylish women don’t chase trends, but… It is important to know what the trends are, so that you can take advantage and shop when the trends align with your colors and/or style recipe!

(If you’ve read The Myth of Effortless Style post, parts of this will sound familiar…)

At writing, here’s an example of where my Fall 2018 Capsule Inspiration board stands: (This board still looks disjointed to me and is completely subject to change!)

To help you visualize the look you want, create a mood board of outfits that you love and pieces that exemplify what you’d like to wear for the coming season. Pinterest is the perfect resource for this. No buying magazines, glue sticks, or poster board. But if you prefer the old-school method, be my guest! As you pin or glue, here are some questions to ask yourself:  Are there colors you are loving? Silhouettes? Do you want to try the new cut of jean that is all over Instagram? How does your favorite celebrity dress? What are your favorite stores advertising? Is there a painting, scarf, or photograph that speaks to you? Pin the looks and colors you love onto one board. They don’t have to be clothing! Pin dishes, interiors, what ever speaks to you. Title it “My (Season) Style!” because yours shouldn’t be exactly like anyone else’s. This step can be done in a day, or even in a few hours with a nice cuppa and a good wi-fi connection. Start a board for next season, too. That way you can add things you love for next season as the ideas present themselves.

After you have 50 to 100 pictures, sit back and look at the whole. Take some time to find common themes, colors, and clothing items. This can help you define your ideal style. Make notes about those colors, styles, and silhouettes. What words keep popping up? What do you already have in your closet that you can use to create similar looks? If nothing, it may be that your vision of style and your personality or lifestyle may be butting heads. (If everything you posted is Hollywood starlets in red carpet wear and you are a SAHM with 3 littles, some soul searching may be in order.)

If this is your first capsule, a great place to start is with two neutrals and two accent colors. Throw in your version of white here, too. I don’t count that as one of your wardrobe colors. Here’s a sample of a tiny capsule (It would be great for a trip!) using colors from a warm palette. I suggest the 2+2 color formula to start with because it keeps things simple, tight, and mix-and-matchable.

2. What Do I Have? (Assess)

Now that you have an idea of what your want your capsule to look like, the best place to start is in your own closet! Planning a capsule wardrobe is not an excuse to throw out everything you own and start new. Be a good steward of your finances and the planet’s resources, and shop your closet first. My clothes are in my closet and an out of season box, so that’s where I start.  (Now is the pull-out-all-your-clothing part!)

Look what I found in my closet and box in my chosen colors!

Pull everything and anything that fits your chosen palette. I even pull the out-of-season items, because they can be a starting point for what may need to go on my shopping list. Spend some time playing with what you have, creating outfits that reflect the feeling on your board. What do you have in your closet that can create similar looks? Is there something missing? (Especially more than once?) When I do a wardrobe audit with a client, I often find the basics are missing, because other pieces are more fun to buy! Look at those out of season pieces. Do you wear a grey sweater all winter long? Would a grey tee make a good substitute for the warmer weather? What is worn and needs replacing? What needs updating? Has the stretch in your jeans given out? Is your favorite sweater pilled and thin?

Start a list of those items that would help pull a variety of outfits together. Look for wardrobe gaps. Would a pair of grey jeans make an entire line of outfits fall into place? Maybe you need a new pair of pumps? Our goal here is to make sure you have no wardrobe orphans, and no pieces in your capsule that can only be worn one way. When you finish your assessment, pull out the pieces that don’t suit your season or vision, and tuck them away in a storage box.

3. What Do I Need? (Evaluate)

What Do I Need?–What you need depends on your personality, lifestyle, and climate, and on special occasions you may have coming up. (Don’t panic: You can choose to keep special occasion wear as its own mini-capsule and tackle it later.) Ask: How does what I already own fit in with my mood board, or visual goal? What’s been on my Wish List? Take a good look at the list of wardrobe gaps and orphans you made in Step 2. What would fill those gaps AND be versatile? If you have orphans, will the pieces you listed work with the rest of your plan? Or should that orphan be released to another home, or put away for a season? What do you have that can be repurposed? Jeans and blouses can be dyed, dresses made into skirts, and unworn trousers hemmed into shorts to give unworn pieces new life. Something as simple as having an unworn pair of trousers hemmed or narrowed could bring new life to your closet, and save you money and resources!

How much do I need? — Only you can answer this one. The right number of pieces for your capsule depends on you. What season is it? How much variety you like? How often you do laundry? What’s your lifestyle like? You can find capsule wardrobes with 12 pieces, and others with 39 or more. Last year, I experimented with a one month Baker’s Dozen Capsule. I was perfectly content with my 13 pieces for 31 days. Could I have gone much longer? Sure. But it was time for a little more variety. Last spring’s capsule was 20 pieces. This summer’s was around 40, which proved too many pieces for me. When you build your capsule, err on the side of too little. You may be surprised, and you can always add pieces as you go if you find holes. This isn’t meant to be a punishment, but a learning adventure, and a way to spend less time in front of your closet each morning!

Thinking in ratios can help. Allotting twice as many tops as bottoms is practical. If you like dresses, include a few. Don’t forget some toppers (sweaters, jackets, vests, and the like), especially if you are heading into a chillier season or are cold natured. I wear lots of toppers, so I like to have one per bottom. Looking back at this Baker’s Dozen Capsule has me wondering how I would do with two 13-piece capsules… Hmmm.

4. What Will I Buy? (Eliminate)

You are likely to have more items on your list than you have room for in your capsule, or in your budget! Just because you have something on your Needs List or your Wish List, doesn’t mean it must be bought! Review your list, and choose what pieces you will look for first. Fill the biggest hole(s) with the most versatile items. It’s important to stay flexible here. Sometimes what we want just isn’t in the stores. If you fixate on a coral and teal floral print blouse with a purple background, you are likely to find yourself disappointed. But if white jean is on your list, or flat dark shoe, you are more likely to find it what you are looking for, and have some wiggle room. Think in categories, and general color families… Highlight five (or so) of the most important pieces to buy.

5. Shopping  (Refresh)

Online browsing can give you great ideas, and save you time when (and if) you head to the shops. Often, browsing will remind me of similar pieces I already own. If so, I may dye something I own, or have alterations done to change the silhouette, or hemline. (Yes, that sent me back to Step 3! And it saves me money…)

As I said earlier, the point of a capsule is not to buy a new wardrobe every season. It’s a good idea to limit your purchases, especially when trying a new color or silhouette. Play with a few new pieces before deciding to go all in. I have a solid wardrobe of mostly basics that needs a little refresh a few times a year, so my shopping plan is similar to a 5 Piece French Wardrobe. (That’s a shopping plan, not how many clothes you own!) If you have been neglecting your wardrobe, you may need to spend more on basics.

When and wherever you shop, stick to your list. That can be a challenge when you are used to browsing and just picking up what appeals to you, but you will find that shopping is easier when you have a goal in mind. That’s how I shop with clients, and they are always surprised at how much easier it is with a plan! When you get home from shopping, take time to play with the new pieces and work them into outfits with what you shopped from your closet. Don’t forget to include accessories to complete your looks! Finally, store away everything else that’s not part of your capsule, and get dressing and living with your “new” capsule.

Do you capsule? Does less clothing and choices sound like a blessing or a curse? Do you shop with a plan, or as the spirit moves you? I love to hear from you! Let’s start a conversation in the comments below…

Stylishly yours,


PS: If all of this sounds like too much work, you can always call me! I love to help my clients create wardrobes that make them look and feel great!


    • closetplayadmin

      Welcome back, Lise! I like capsules because too much choice stresses me out. AND I find I am more creative with constraints…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.