Until recently, I thought a “capsule wardrobe” was some contemporary notion that millennials were touting as the newest fashion craze. I was surprised to learn that the term was coined by Susie Faux, the owner of a London boutique called Wardrobe, in the 1970s. According to Faux, a capsule wardrobe contains a few essential and timeless items, such as skirts and pants, that can be supplemented with seasonal pieces. The concept peaked in 1985 when designer Donna Karan introduced a capsule collection of interchangeable workwear attire called “Seven Easy Pieces,” and has floated around ever since. Now, the capsule wardrobe seems to be having something of a revival.
I became interested in the concept when I cleaned out my closet last month. I realized that although I hadn’t formally created a capsule wardrobe, I was basically dressing as if I had — wearing the same basic, interchangeable items and then accessorizing and supplementing them for special occasions or for different seasons. All of the other stuff was never worn — either because it didn’t fit properly, it wasn’t versatile enough, or it was out of fashion. So I’ve started to embrace the idea and have learned that capsule wardrobes are not only smart from a fashion perspective, but they also help solve organizational challenges.
First and foremost, capsule wardrobes provide an easy-to-understand framework that makes shopping and getting dressed easier. No longer do you have to wonder whether something will go with something else or if a top and a bottom can be worn together — everything works with everything else.
Some sources advise that your capsule should include 37 pieces. Others recommend as many as 50, and some recommend as few as 10. According to Kirby Markivich of Nordstrom’s Trunk Club, the number of pieces you own is not as important as “making sure you have all of the basics covered with well-made pieces that fit you properly.”
Everyone’s capsule wardrobe will be different depending on lifestyle, (e.g., do you work in an office, work from home, attend events frequently), but for most women, the capsule would probably include some combination of the following: a couple of pairs of pants and two skirts in navy and black; dark denim jeans and white jeans; a classic, black V-neck sweater; several basic T-shirts; a long-sleeved blouse and a white sleeveless blouse; a black blazer; a black dress; black pumps and flats; a versatile pair of sandals and sneakers; and a trench coat. No, those aren’t the only clothes you own (sleepwear, underwear and workout clothes are extras), but those are the basics that you wear daily and from which you can create different looks.
Imagine having a closet that isn’t packed with clothes you don’t like, that don’t fit or that you rarely wear — and in its place, a sparsely populated closet filled with clothes that you love, that is easy to keep organized and that simplifies getting dressed in the morning. If done correctly, a capsule wardrobe should reduce the number of items in your closet — and thus, reduce the amount of time you spend organizing and cleaning out your closet and donating unused items.
“Creating a capsule wardrobe may feel a little indulgent at first, especially if you’re not used to thinking of your clothing as an investment,” Markivich says. But in order for it to work well and for the long term, you’ll need to spend some time and money upfront to find high-quality items that fit. Think about the type of clothing you like to wear and feel comfortable in, spend time to find the fabrics and styles you like, try things on in a store, and get help from a friend, relative or stylist if necessary.
Ultimately, your investments will pay off. You’ll spend less time and money replacing and updating items, and you’ll eliminate the time and energy spent churning through the endless cycle of buying clothes, wearing them for a few months, and then donating or selling items you no longer like or wear. And because you’ve invested in high-quality, timeless pieces, you’ll also be less likely to make impulse purchases.
Markivich also says that most of the old fashion rules are no longer relevant. It’s okay to wear white after Labor Day; you can wear suede shoes in the summer; you can mix prints; and it’s even okay to wear navy and black together. So the items in your capsule can remain in your closet all year, eliminating the time-consuming task of removing, organizing and properly storing out-of-season items twice a year. Often my clients have questions about how and where to store out-of-season clothes, but aside from winter coats and accessories, the capsule wardrobe eliminates this task. And if you’ve reduced the number of pieces in your closet to capsule size, you should have plenty of room to keep cold-weather items such as a few wool sweaters and skirts in your closet all year.
If these reasons aren’t sufficient evidence of the benefits of a capsule wardrobe, consider the environmental ramifications of cheap, disposable clothing, otherwise known as “fast fashion.” I see this a lot working with my clients — closets filled with things purchased for $40 at chain stores, but because the quality is so poor, they don’t fit well or they look tired after being worn only a dozen times.
Elizabeth L. Cline, author of “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion,” says the average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing annually. “Charities receive far too much clothing to sell it all locally or even to give it away,” Cline says. “There are around 43,000 pounds of unwanted clothes collected on average each hour in the U.S., enough to fill three Olympic-sized pools.”
According to a 2017 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation called “A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future,” we are using our clothes much less than in the past and wearing pieces far fewer times before disposing of them. The study says that more than half of fast-fashion products are disposed of in under a year. It also noted that less than 1 percent of the materials used are recycled, and, as a result, “one garbage truck full of textiles is landfilled or burnt every second.”
Buying fewer, high-quality, well-made pieces of clothing that will last years instead of months is not only far better for the environment, but it’s also better for your pocketbook in the long term. And as an organizer who spends lots of time helping people sort out their closets, I can affirm that the capsule wardrobe has great potential to reduce your daily organizing time and make your closet clean-outs much easier and less frequent.
Chat Thursday at 11 a.m. Suzanne Eblen and Amy Whyte of the Old Lucketts Store join staff writer Jura Koncius for our weekly online Q&A on decorating and household advice. Submit questions at washingtonpost.com/home.
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