My accidental capsule wardrobe.

My accidental capsule wardrobe.

The “capsule wardrobe” isn’t new, although it hasn’t gotten much buzz until the past few years.

The phrase was coined 40 years ago by London boutique owner Susie Faux to describe a woman’s core collection of wardrobe essentials: the basic pieces that wear well and remain stylish, season after season. The capsule is the foundation; women keep their wardrobes current by adding seasonal pieces to this core.

Faux called the capsule wardrobe a vital starting point for women who are serious about developing their sense of style.

Numerous style bloggers are riffing the capsule wardrobe these days. Un-Fancy built a blog on it.

At first glance, it seems like the capsule wardrobe would be up my alley.

Buy less, choose well: words to live by and the real magic of the capsule wardrobe

I love the idea of tightly constricting my wardrobe, in order to simplify my life and maximize productivity—to minimize decision fatigue and conserve my mental energy for the things that matter, and does what I wear every day really matter?

Every time I read about a blogger’s capsule wardrobe project, I can’t help but picture Caroline Ingalls and her fancy dress. Her one fancy dress:

Ma’s delaine dress was beautiful. It was a dark green, with a little pattern all over it that looked like ripe strawberries. A dressmaker had made it, in the East, in the place where Ma came from when she married Pa and moved out west to the Big Woods in Wisconsin. Ma had been very fashionable, before she married Pa, and a dressmaker had made her clothes. 

I love the capsule wardrobe concept, but not the idea of creating one. It’s not that I mind restricting my closet, not at all. It’s the thought and effort that goes into constructing these wardrobes that makes me want to run for the hills. (Or straight to the Big Woods, where I’d have exactly one fancy dress.)

my accidental capsule wardrobe

The capsule wardrobe proponents of the blogosphere lovingly curate their 37 pieces. They rave about the ability to mix and match to their hearts’ desires. They write about how much their bold experiments are teaching them.

But here’s the thing: I don’t wear my clothes in infinite combinations: I wear them in just a handful. I like it that way.

I don’t need a closet project and I don’t want to push the limits of my personal style. I just want to get dressed in the morning, with as little conscious thought as possible.

I was talking through this with Will the other night, and he asked me: How many clothes do you actually have?

I went to count them. In my closet right now, for the winter season, I have:

• 5 blouses: 3 everyday, 1 special occasion, 1 from Stitch Fix that I haven’t even worn yet
• 5 jackets: 3 jackets, 2 blazers
• 5 tees
• 5 sweaters: 3 lightweight; 2 chunky
• 1 button-down (it should be 2, but my favorite flannel is AWOL)
• 2 dresses
• 1 pencil skirt
• 6 pairs of pants: denim skinnies, tan skinnies, 2 pairs black skinnies, denim trouser jeans, bootleg jeans, and red skinnies I never wear (I got rid of several pairs of colored skinnies after reading this book, because they were complicating my mornings instead of bringing me joy)
• 7 pairs of shoes: gold flats, black flats, brown boots, black boots, green Hunters, and black Danskos

After a few years of deliberately buying quality, I don’t need quantity. I have 37 items in my closet right now: the exact number of items many of these modern capsule wardrobe experiments employ.

my accidental capsule wardrobe

The capsule wardrobe-ers emphasize the freedom of wardrobe scarcity. But here’s the thing: my wardrobe of 37 items doesn’t feel scarce to me. At all. I have 37 items that I love to wear (okay, 36—curse you, red skinnies!)

I feel like I have a ton of clothes. More than enough. Possibly too many.

Despite the fact that I have 37 pieces in my closet, I wear pretty much the same thing every day: a top and a bottom. Gold flats are my default; boots if it’s freezing, Hunters if it’s raining, Danskos if I’m walking the dog. If I’m going fancy, I wear a dress. (One-piece dressing at its finest.)

Most of my 37 pieces are in neutrals, so I add a necklace or a scarf. That’s the kind of morning decision I can handle.

I find having the right wardrobe extremely liberating. But if my 37 items consisted of numerous pieces that I could endlessly mix and match, it wouldn’t feel freeing. It would make me crazy.

I have an accidental capsule wardrobe, but it’s not the capsule part that’s magic: it’s the uniform.

(I would very much like to refine that uniform further for even easier mornings. I’ll keep you posted.)

I’d love to hear your thoughts and tips for capsule wardrobes and personal uniforms in comments. 

capsule wardrobe

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146 comments

  1. cristina says:

    I’m starting to experiment the liberation of a capsule wardrobe. The idea of using only the clothes I love effortlessly is wonderful.
    I’m much more happy… And probably more stylish too 😉

  2. GalyaB says:

    I am all for minimalistic wardrobe. I’m drying my brain off to purge and pare down to only have as little as I can without getting ridiculors. But as far as uniform for someone like a teacher I would not go for a single outfit challenge. For I remember a teacher in my school who always wore her green knitted jacket all winter. Year after year. We called her Mrs. Green. Even several years later when she switched to a blue jacket. Don’t full yourself that others don’t notice. They do. Of course they don’t pay as much attention as we think they do.

  3. Nisrin says:

    When I first started reading about the capsule wardrobe, I kept thinking “I want to have 37 pieces!!”. But after trying to do that I decided it wasn’t for me. However, I was able to bring my closet to a point that I love wearing every piece in it. I wanted easy dressing in the morning like you said. I don’t want to have one fancy dress, I like have options…lots of options that I love! My capsule might be bigger than most but at least I enjoy it all.

  4. Simone says:

    I love this! I have a similar reaction to capsule wardrobes: my wardrobe already feels like one. I don’t want endless possibilities – just a few great pieces/outfits that I love to wear all the time. Thanks for this post!

  5. Yurika says:

    I have gone down in number of items and color palette and it has made my life much easier. I have not gone down to 37 pieces though. The next step is to find a uniform that I can feel confortable AND stylish with. I believe that after I have done so, my wardrobe will shrink a little more. On the other hand I hear my husband saying: “Please do not buy black anymore”. He loves color!

  6. Ketutar says:

    It’s the same thing.
    Reminds me of my husband and writing. He is a writer and a good one, but every now and then he gets… er… seduced by me to experiment with things, like “planning” and “nanowrimo” and tidbits about how other authors do things. And that’s just confusing and limiting to him. Every time he does things my way, he loses his own. The thing is that he does all those things I do, but he does them his way and has his own name for them, so they work just as they work for every other writer 😀
    SO, if it makes you feel liberated to NOT call your capsule wardrobe a capsule wardrobe, don’t. A rose is a rose what ever one calls it, and it smells just as wonderful what ever one calls it. 😀

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