How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe That Will Last a Lifetime

Hannah Almassi
·7-min read

Not so long ago, the fashion world was buzzing about the concept of a capsule wardrobe—the kind of compact closet that only held a bare minimum of pieces that all perfectly matched each other with great ease and much time saved in the morning. Perhaps because the economic downturn was ramping up at the same time that a furious decade of fast-fashion shopping was taking its toll on the capacity of our closets, the capsule wardrobe appeared to be the solution to everyone's fashion woes.

Around that time in 2014, Caroline Rector, a Texan and fashion lover who'd had enough of the chaos, began to whittle down her closet to a mere 37 pieces, documenting the process on her brilliant website called Unfancy. Everyone paid attention to her method.

A few years later, we thought it time to catch up with the capsule wardrobe guru for a refresher course. Times change, trends move on, and so do these tidy solutions, and it turns out maybe we took the capsule wardrobe approach too literally and could do with easing up a little.

"Before I started my capsule, I'd noticed that I had a bad habit of going shopping when I needed to jolt myself out of a bad mood. Hard day at work? Shopping! Not feeling very pretty today? Shopping! Frustrated with my family? Shopping!" explains Caroline, who has since curbed her emotional spending habits by creating enforced shopping "fasts" and focusing her attention on seeking out top-quality, long-lasting pieces. These factors have meant that all the while she's really found her style. "I'm much better at dressing for the life I have, rather than a fantasy life," she says. "My closet matches my lifestyle now." It's more about mindfulness than having some majorly strict rules you feel bad about breaking.

Does that sound like a stylish setup you'd like for yourself? Thought so. Then read on to get Caroline's top capsule wardrobe-building tips.

You don't have to have a number, but aim for 50 or fewer pieces.

"I think mine is now somewhere around 50 pieces, but I actually don't keep a numerical count anymore. Instead, I go with what feels right. That's actually one of the biggest changes I've made to my capsule. After a year of living with a strict 37-piece wardrobe, I felt that it was time to let my 'capsule diet' melt into my real life. I let go of some of the structure, like going on strict shopping fasts and limiting my closet to a specific number of pieces. But I carry the heart of it with me—smaller closet, intentional purchases, less shopping and more joy."

Treat the idea like a game.

"Keep a playful, open attitude, and treat it like a game. You'll encounter a few frustrations along the way, but a capsule isn't about suffering. It's about trying something new and learning more about yourself."

Begin with a simple clear-out.

"At first, limiting your wardrobe to a specific number might help you. But after a while, it might not serve you anymore. Give yourself the freedom to evolve over time as you learn."

Take a timeout before refilling your wardrobe.

"Instead of buying new clothes right away, give yourself some breathing room and live with your wardrobe as is for a week or a month or however long you like. Just see what it feels like to live with less clothing."

Don't worry about making it perfect.

"Let it be imperfect. I've been at this for [a few] years now, and my wardrobe still isn't perfect. I've realised it never will be, and embracing that truth has helped me find peace—in my wardrobe and in my life."

Trial-run the process if you're scared to commit.

"Want to test a capsule without really committing? Try a 10-day remix challenge. Pick 10 pieces out of your closet and wear only those pieces for the next 10 days. See how it goes!"

Be honest about your lifestyle and what you need from a wardrobe.

"I work from home, so I spend 70% to 80% of my time at home. But something in me decides that's not cool enough, so sometimes I trick myself into thinking that I spend 40% of my time at home. Since I'm not being honest with myself, I end up with fantasy-life clothes instead of real-life clothes."

Ready to get your capsule collection together? Go through the gallery below to see the kind of classic pieces that will hold anyone's closet together, and see more of Caroline's wise wardrobe advice on her site.

Shop a Capsule Wardrobe

#1: A Forever Biker Jacket

H&M Leather Biker Jacket (£120)

Wear this with everything you own.

Raey Tumbled-Leather Biker Jacket (£895)

#2: Statement But Wearable Trousers

& Other Stories High Waisted Pleated Twill Trousers (£85)

Who says purple or a bold print can't be long-lasting?

Paco Rabanne Peony-Print Swirl-Jacquard Cropped Trousers (£710)

#3: An Easy Sweatshirt

H&M Jersey Sweatshirt (£18)

A chic but cool option.

#4: A Smart Skirt

Arket Pleated Midi Skirt (£69)

Try one of these skirts to give your outfit polish.

Jil Sander Pleated Wool-Blend Midi Skirt (£600)

#5: A Laid-Back Sweater

Bella Freud 1970 Navy Cashmere-Blend Jumper (£410)

Your off-duty wardrobe needs this.

& Other Stories Mock Neck Sweater (£35)

#6: Black Ankle Boots

& Other Stories Leather Chelsea Boots (£120)

There's nothing more versatile than a pair of black ankle boots.

Bottega Veneta Glossed-Leather Ankle Boots (£940)

#7: Relaxed True-Blue Jeans

Re/Done Cropped High-Rise Skinny Jeans (£235)

If you don't own a pair of relaxed jeans, try these easy-to-wear versions.

Arket Regular Stretch Cropped Jeans (£59)

#8: A Versatile Scarf

Loewe Puzzle Printed Modal and Cashmere-Blend Twill Scarf (£395)

Tie it around your neck for an oversize-choker look or around your head to tie back your hair.

#9: A White Blouse

Tibi Mika Oversized Cotton-Poplin Shirt (£365)

You will wear this forever.

#10: Fancy Flat Shoes

Roger Viviert Trompette Quadrata Leather Ballet Flats (£485)

Worth the investment.

H&M Slingbacks (£18)

#11: A Flattering Wear-Everywhere Dress

& Other Stories Belted Rib Midi Dress (£95)

The dress to wear when you've got "nothing to wear."

Topshop Black Editor Ruched Tie Side Midi Dress (£40)

#12: A Posh Carryall Bag

Arket Soft Leather Bucket Bag (£150)

A great classic.

Prada Logo-Embroidered Nylon Tote Bag (£990)

#13: A Slick Coat That Smartens Up Every Outfit

Weekend Max Mara Torbole Coat (£605)

You'll wear these over and over.

Monki Tailored Coat (£60)

#14: Mid-Heels That Go With All Outfits

Gianvito Rossi Gianvito 85 Point-Toe Suede Pumps (£520)

These are just high enough to be flattering, but they're not so high that you'll start falling over your feet.

Charles & Keith Pointed Toe Pumps (£49)

#15: A Traditional Trouser Suit

Ganni Belted Heathered-Sharkskin Suit Jacket (£325)

We'll always reach for a chic suit.

Ganni Paperbag-Waist Crepe Wide-Leg Trousers (£195)

#16: A Plain Crossbody

Gucci Gg Marmont Matelassé Mini Bag (£800)

So versatile.

#17: A Basic Belt to Cinch 24/7

Isabel Marant Lecce Leather Belt (£110)

We don't know where we'd be without our classic cinching belt.

& Other Stories Croco Leather Belt (£35)

This story was published at an earlier date and has since been updated.

Next up, the biggest autumn/winter 2020 fashion trends you need to know.

Opening Image: @eniswardrobe

This article originally appeared on Who What Wear

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