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.
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. The thought and effort that goes into constructing these wardrobes makes me want to run for the hills. (Or straight to the Big Woods, where I’d have exactly one fancy dress.)
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 and I like it that way.
A closet project isn’t necessary and I don’t want to push the limits of my personal style. In the morning, I just want to get dressed 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.
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.
Having the right wardrobe is 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.
The magic of an accidental capsule wardrobe isn’t the capsule part: it’s the uniform.
(I would very much like to refine that uniform further for even easier mornings. Stay tuned.)
Share your thoughts and tips for capsule wardrobes and personal uniforms in comments.