Style Systems: Capsule Wardrobe

If you’re new to minimalism or capsule wardrobes, welcome! I’m super excited to be the first to share this concept with you! If you’re already a capsule pro, high five! Leave me a comment – I’d love to hear more about how you do your capsule wardrobe!

What is a capsule wardrobe?

At its core, a capsule wardrobe is a small set of clothing that can be mixed, matched, and interchanged, fits your current lifestyle, looks and feels good to wear now, and consists of things you enjoy wearing.

Now, “small” means different things to different people. For Courtney Carver of Project 333, small is 33 items worn over a 3-month season. Caroline at Unfancy keeps things a little more relaxed. The main thing to keep in mind is that there is a limit. This could be a number limit, a spacial limit, or simply the mindset of “less.” Some people find it’s easier to keep a year-round capsule wardrobe (I’m looking at you, crazy Kentucky weather), and some people build 4 capsules a year, switching out clothing as the seasons change.

It’s also worth noting that most people do not include the “necessaries” – items like activewear, loungewear, undergarments, or activity-specific clothing in their capsules. Accessories are usually exempt, too. My rule of thumb in those areas is keep it as simple and minimal as possible for your lifestyle.

Why should I consider a capsule wardrobe?

The benefits of capsuling are many! My original goal in making a capsule wardrobe was to challenge myself to stop buying clothes mindlessly and be more intentional about what I was wearing. Having a small set of clothing that could be mixed and matched into multiple outfits meant fewer items to sort through when deciding what to wear, and having only those items that fit me and made me feel good meant I could always go to my closet with confidence that I would find something I would be excited to wear. No more days of too many clothes and nothing to wear!

Before I dive deeper, I want to deal with this common misconception. Capsule wardrobes should not be about “what” they should be about “why.” Focus TOO much on how many, which ones, what level of quality, and I think you start to lose the joy and inspiration of living with less. These might be interesting discoveries to explore along the journey, but never lose focus on why: What will this help me accomplish in my life? How does this improve my life?  How does this make my life more livable? How does this enhance my ability to find joy everyday?  Remember that the goal here is to focus on clothes just a few times per year so that you never have to focus on clothes during your everyday life. Set it and forget it.

Here are some of the benefits I’ve seen over the past few years of capsuling:

  • Spend less
  • Shop less
  • More – and more organized – closet space
  • Fewer decisions to make
  • Get ready faster
  • Packing is simpler
  • More time for self/family/books/dancing/life
  • A better understanding of personal style

Essentially, authentically, and honestly, why do I keep a capsule wardrobe? My capsule wardrobe means I can be lazy and low maintenance but look good. So much winning.

So now I’m sure you’re asking, ‘How do I start my own capsule?’ Let’s talk.



Step 1 | Plan

Before you get up to your elbows in garments, take a minute to remember why you’re doing this. It might even be helpful to write out some goals and guidelines to keep you motivated and focused. So before you start tossing, plan out the following:

  • What are my goals in creating a capsule wardrobe?
  • Realistically, what is the climate in my area?
  • What sort of activities do I have to dress for in my life? How much of my life is devoted to each activity and therefore, how much of my wardrobe should be devoted to that activity?
  • What colors look best on me? If you’ve never tried seasonal color analysis, I highly recommend it! I’ll eventually write more on this, but my favorite online resource is this quiz.

The biggest thing here is that you take time to be realistic about your life, your weather, and your activities. It might be tons of fun to have a closet full of trendy dresses and shoes, but it’s not practical if you find yourself always reaching past those dresses to get to your jeans and tees. Taking a realistic look at your life and needs is a necessary step in restoring balance to a wardrobe.



Step 2 | Clean Out

Cue the music – It’s time to get to work! Go ahead and take all the clothing out of your closet, drawers, boxes, and anywhere else it’s stashed and put every item through a rigorous set of questions:

  • When was the last time I wore this?
  • How often do I wear this?
  • Does this fit me?
  • Do I feel good/confident/like myself when I wear this? Why?
  • What purpose does this item serve in my wardrobe?
  • Can I wear this with several other items in my wardrobe?
  • What is involved in maintaining this item (dry cleaning, hand washing, frequent pilling removal, etc.)

From there, sort each item into a Sell, Give Away, Trash, Hold, or Keep pile.

Sell*: Items that you feel still have some value in them (things that were never worn and still have tags, are high-quality items you only wore once or twice, etc.) and could be sold either online or at a local consignment store
Give Away: Items you’re not going to wear but are in good enough condition someone else could wear them (things that no longer fit, aren’t comfortable to wear, do that weird thing in that one area, aren’t a color you love to wear or look good in, etc.)
Trash: Items that have little or no value left in them (things that had holes, unredeemable stains, or are threadbare)
Items you could see yourself wearing, but they don’t make you excited to wear them right now
Keep: Items that fit you, make you feel like yourself, and make you excited to wear them

Now that you have the initial sort done, you’ll probably start to see some trends in the cut, fabrics, and colors of the things you chose to put in your Keep and Hold piles. Way to go! Your capsule is starting to take shape! Now pack up your Sell, Give Away, and Trash piles and move them out of the way to be dealt with accordingly later.

* My initial closet clean out selling experience yielded a minuscule profit of less than $50. I have since decided that becoming a re-selling maven is not my favorite way to spend time, so now if I remove a high-quality item from my wardrobe, I donate it. It’s way more satisfying.



Step 3 | Categorize, Organize, and Hang!

Ok, you made it! Give yourself a high five, do a dance, and maybe have a cookie. Now we get to move on to the really fun stuff.

Remember all those questions about weather and activities we went through at the beginning of this? Pull that back out. This is now the lens through which you look at your clothing. Go through your clothing in the Keep and Hold piles piece by piece and decide if it will help you accomplish the goals you have for your capsule wardrobe and also fit your actual real life and daily needs.

If it helps to make sub-categories, try it! You might have an item that works for being home and weekend life, but not for your work life. Or you might have a piece that is good for wearing at your office and also good for going out, etc. One of the keys to getting the most out of the least items is to have items that fit multiple categories. That dress that you only ever wear to weddings or parties? It’s probably worth holding on to, but maybe it doesn’t get enough wear to warrant a place in your capsule. As you’re evaluating your clothing, start separating out the items that will become your capsule.

When you think you have your clothes organized into 1) your capsule and 2) the rest of your Keep and Hold piles, hang your capsule up in your closet and put the rest away for another season.




Step 4 | Assess

If you still have some energy left, take a minute to really assess your capsule. Maybe take some notes.

  • Do the items here appropriately reflect the amount of time I spend doing each activity in my life?
  • Are there any gaps between my real life and the clothes I have here? What do I need to fill that gap?
  • How many items are in my capsule? Could I get by with less?

This is a step you’ll probably repeat throughout the season. The key here is not to ask if there are other things you want in your capsule but whether it’s missing anything you need. Use this to guide your research and planning as you shop.



Step 5 | Grace

The truth of the matter is there is no one-size-fits all capsule solution. My hope is that this guide will give you the framework to start capsuling effectively, but the truth is you’re going to make mistakes and discoveries and have remarkable AHA! moments as you learn about yourself in this process.

Embrace the process! And give yourself some grace. It’s not about having the perfect wardrobe, it’s about discovering a system that enhances your life and your ability to live it to it’s fullest potential. We want to make life easier, not harder, so step back, take a look at what you have, and breathe a grateful sigh.


Was this guide helpful? In the process of creating your capsule, did you learn anything about yourself? Leave me a comment – I’d love to hear all about it!

Anna Signature

3 thoughts on “Style Systems: Capsule Wardrobe

  1. Also holy! You’re a swing dancer and DJ? Me too! I also teach, and do blues, here in Boston, soon to be NOLA.
    Odd Q: are you at all familiar with my favorite jazz inspired band out of Kentucky: Small Time Napoleon? It’s on my bucket list to see them perform live someday but they only play locally, despite being complete badasses.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What? That’s awesome! I just recently moved to Kentucky from Birmingham, AL, so I am not familiar with Small Time Napoleon, but I’ll definitely check them out! Thanks for the tip!


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