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What is a capsule wardrobe?

8 Mar 2023


“Capsule wardrobes” are a bit of a sustainability buzzword. If you’re even just low-key interested in sustainable fashion, and maybe even if you’re not, you might have come across the phrase “capsule wardrobe”. What is a capsule wardrobe? Is it right for you? And are capsule wardrobes the future of fashion? Let’s dive in.

What is a capsule wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe is a minimalist and sustainable approach to fashion.

It's based on the idea that you can reduce your wardrobe down to a select number of items that are curated to be flexible, timeless and easy to style.

Many people who opt for capsule wardrobes stick to certain colour palettes and classic styles as the idea is that you should be able to pair each item with any other item in your wardrobe.

That being said, there are lots of ways you could build your own capsule wardrobe and it's very much more of an approach you can adopt, rather than a rule book you have to follow.

So if you’re the kind of person who loves animal prints or pop colours, and the idea of a fully beige wardrobe makes you feel a little bit scared, don’t stop reading now. You can definitely still take on the capsule wardrobe challenge and make it work for you.

History of the capsule wardrobe

As we increasingly discuss the impact of fashion on the environment in the media, lots of us are exploring ways we can make personal, positive changes.

Capsule wardrobes are at the beating heart of the “buy less, buy better” movement in fashion.

They encourage you to take a mindful approach to your wardrobe and select items that you are going to wear for years to come. If you really think about it, they nod back to a time (not so long ago) where clothes weren't as readily available and people had to be more forward thinking and less trend led with their style.

Whilst the term “capsule wardrobe” might be new to you, it's actually been around for some time. They were first popularised in the 1940s when American publications encouraged people to purchase “small collections of garments designed to be worn together which harmonise in colour and line.”

They were then revived by Susie Faux (a boutique owner) in the 1970s who offered collections of clothing that could be mixed and matched. Faux suggested that a woman's capsule wardrobe contain at least "2 pairs of trousers, a dress or a skirt, a jacket, a coat, a knit, two pairs of shoes and two bags.”

Donna Karen then brought the concept up again in 1985 with the “7 Easy Pieces'' collection which was designed with the working woman in mind. She showcased a group of women in bodysuits, and then demonstrated how they could swap items to create different looks, including wrap skirts, trousers and dresses.

Throughout the 00s and the last decade, we've also seen the word “capsule wardrobe” gain more traction with references on TV in shows like What Not To Wear and encouragement from stylist Gok Wan. Nowadays, the capsule wardrobe is often included in sustainable fashion tips from major fashion magazines like Marie Claire and even Vogue.

How many clothes should be in a capsule wardrobe?

There’s not hard and fast rules for how big or small your capsule wardrobe should be, but most experts suggest having around 30 to 40 items in your wardrobe which can be easily mixed and matched to create looks for every occasion. This is a lot bigger than the historic 7 to 10 items, but fashion moves quickly, and 30 to 40 feels a bit more realistic for our modern lifestyle.

Your collection should include a range of tops, bottoms, dresses, outerwear, and shoes.

Other items like your workout clothes, accessories, swimsuits, pyjamas and underwear don’t need to be included in your capsule wardrobe, as these are specific items for unique purposes.

There’s no limit to what number of items you can choose. For some people, 40 pieces in your wardrobe just isn’t enough, and for others, even 30 feels like too many!

Some people have even gone as far as attempting the 10x10 challenge, which is a method that involves reducing your wardrobe to just 10 items that can be styled into 10 different outfits. Not for the faint hearted.

Don’t let numbers bog you down or deter you from trying it for yourself. Creating a capsule wardrobe can be a great way to be a little bit more mindful about how you dress, and make it easier to put together looks that feel authentic to you, and you feel good wearing every day.

Why should you have a capsule wardrobe?

The big hit of a capsule wardrobe is that it saves you time.

If you only have a select number of items that all pair well with each other, then it's very easy to pull together an outfit in the morning. This also means you can feel less stressed about getting dressed.

If you don’t class yourself as a fashion-forward person, the idea of a capsule wardrobe might feel like too much effort, but it’s all about putting a system in place to make getting dressed more simple. In fact, you might even find you’re already wearing outfits from a capsule wardrobe without realising, especially if you’re the kind of person who thinks carefully about what you buy and how it fits into your lifestyle.

Capsule wardrobes can save you money in the long run.

Because there is a focus on buying less, many people who have a capsule wardrobe tend to take a very mindful and curative approach to buying. They invest in items they feel comfortable will last physically because of their high quality, but also last the test of time because of their classic style. This can help you avoid spending money on trend-led pieces of clothing, and result in your wardrobe being full of things that right now might feel out of your budget.

Lastly, a capsule wardrobe can be a more sustainable option if done mindfully.

If you're able to reduce your wardrobe down to the right pieces, you will be more clear about what it is you want to buy. By buying less, there may be more room to support independent and sustainable makers, or look for excellent second hand pieces. It's a great way to steer clear of clothes that have been made in less than great conditions with poor quality.

Can I wear trend-led pieces and still have a capsule wardrobe?

We're all about leaving it up to you to find what works best for you here at Reskinned. We're never going to say “you must do” this or that.

The concept of a capsule wardrobe does rest on the idea that you move away from trend led fashion. That said, we reckon there is still a way to adopt trend pieces into your wardrobe.

You just need to always be asking yourself how well each piece fits in with your other items, how much you really, genuinely want it and whether you feel you could get at least 30 wears out of it.

The best approach would probably be to pick one or two items that bring some joy rather than randomly chucking “in-season” pieces into the mix that don't necessarily make much sense with the rest of your wardrobe.

It's all about what your wardrobe consists of, rather than specifically how many items. Look for good quality clothes you can genuinely see yourself wearing in years to come, and always make sure they are easily styled with things you already own.

How do you build a capsule wardrobe?

Right, first things first, do not just go through and clear out everything in your wardrobe. Sit with the idea for some time and really explore what sort of capsule wardrobe you want to curate.

Is it led by colour?

Is there a style that you really feel reflect your personality (eg. tailored / practical etc.)?

It's time to do an audit of your current wardrobe.

Once you have an idea of the sort of capsule wardrobe you want, follow our wardrobe clear out guide. When you have reduced your wardrobe down to items that make sense and can be easily mixed and matched, write a list of items that you feel are needed in your wardrobe. Use this as your guide when adding to your wardrobe, and take your time.

Look at pre-loved sites like Reskinned, and support smaller brands who have a commitment to quality and sustainability.

Remember, a capsule wardrobe really thrives when you take care of your clothes and make them last a long time.

Why are Capsule Wardrobes Sustainable?

One of the big reasons that people choose a capsule wardrobe is because it allows them to make more sustainable choices with their clothes.

Adding limitations like only 30 items in your wardrobe, or a one-in-one-out policy (when you buy something new, you donate something you don’t wear) means you end up being stricter about what you choose, and tend not to make as many impulse purchases, consume less and overall you have less impact on the environment with your shopping habits.

Textile waste is a big problem for the environment, and one that we talk about a lot over here at Reskinned.

The less you buy, and the more conscious you are about the choices you make, the more you can contribute to a healthy planet.

Maintaining and Refreshing Your Capsule Wardrobe

Thinking about starting your own capsule wardrobe, but you’re scared you’ll get bored?

We get it. With the fashion world moving so quickly, it can feel scary to limit yourself, but it doesn’t have to feel that way.

Keep your items fresh by looking after them properly. We've got some great tips on how to make your clothes last longer.

You can always add to your capsule wardrobe. We suggest seasonally assessing what’s there and what feels like it’s missing, and adding a couple of key items that you know will fit in with what’s already there.

The Capsule Wardrobe Essentials

There is no such thing as “should’s” for your capsule wardrobe. If you know you’re not the kind of person who’s going to wear a dress, then there’s not much point in us suggesting you invest in one to fit the capsule wardrobe ideal.

To find your perfect wardrobe essentials, start by looking at what you already wear a lot of. If you’re a jeans and t-shirt type of person, and that’s what makes you feel good, then you might want to have a couple of different pairs of jeans in your wardrobe.

Try to think about the different occasions you’ll need outfits for, and choose garments you can wear across multiple occasions. For example, a pair of wide leg trousers could be worn to the office, on a date night and for a casual Sunday stroll, whereas a tailored work outfit might not be as versatile.

Your capsule wardrobe should be unique to you, so don’t be afraid to experiment with what you love. If you’re more of a minimalist, then classic plain t-shirts and shirts could be the answer, but if you lean towards bohemian style, your capsule wardrobe could be full of vintage silk slips and shimmery shirts.

All we’re trying to say is that there isn’t a right or wrong way to create your wardrobe, and there’s no such thing as essentials, except what’s essential to you.

Capsule Wardrobe and Your Personal Style

The common misconception about building a capsule wardrobe is that you have to get rid of any personality from your wardrobe.

Even though plain items and basic classic pieces like a white shirt or straight leg jeans are ones you can easily style, it is certainly not the case that you have to have a wardrobe full of things that don’t make you feel excited.

By limiting yourself to fewer clothes, you can hone in on the things you wear regularly. Staple pieces to you might mean something completely different to the next person, so keeping your personal style in mind when choosing what to keep is the best way to stay true to yourself, and create a system that you’re actually going to enjoy wearing.

If you’re struggling to work out what your personal style is, pull out your favourite items - the ones you always pick, and ask yourself, “does this make me feel good?” If it does, experiment with styling it in new combinations with other things that make you feel good, and your capsule wardrobe will begin to take form.

Budget-Friendly Strategies for Building Your Capsule Wardrobe

Another great thing about building a capsule wardrobe is that it can be a budget-friendly way to shop for clothes in the long term.

In the short term, however, it can feel a little bit unattainable if you’re on a budget, as you might feel like you have to fork out for brand new “basics” in order to get the full effect.

If you want to save money on staple pieces for your capsule collection, or you have a limited budget then we’ve got a few tips for you.

  • Buy pre-loved. When choosing high quality pieces, buying pre-loved can be the difference between breaking the bank and affording something you’ll love for life.
  • Take part in a takeback scheme. Clear out the things you no longer wear with our takeback scheme, and we’ll give you a voucher to spend on something that fits in your capsule wardrobe.
  • Sell things you don’t want. Peer-to-peer platforms are a great place to turn your unwanted items into cash, so you can buy the timeless pieces that will make up your capsule wardrobe.
  • Save money by buying versatile staple pieces that you can easily style for multiple seasons. Taking a more considered approach to what you buy will save you money in the long run.
  • Don’t feel like you have to buy everything at once. You can invest in different things for your capsule wardrobe each month. You’re already able to dress yourself every day from the clothes you have, and taking a longer approach will mean less impulse purchases that you might not even end up liking or wearing.
  • Fast fashion isn’t necessarily off limits. We always encourage buying from sustainable brands when possible, and if you do buy fast fashion, try to buy it pre-loved to give something a second life. But if your budget isn’t going to stretch to buying luxury items, choosing mindfully, so you buy pieces that will last you for years to come is okay too.
  • Try out clothing swaps. They can be a great way to hunt for specific items for your capsule wardrobe, and get rid of the things you don’t want any more, without spending any money at all.

What do you do with your old clothes?

Feeling inspired to start your capsule wardrobe journey?

If you've cleared out your wardrobe and removed items that don't fit in your new capsule wardrobe, send them to Reskinned as part of our takeback scheme.

We'll rehome or recycle items depending on their condition. Nothing ever goes to landfill.

There are also other options out there for your old clothes including donation and swapping.

Sign up to Reskinned to find out more about what we do and be the first to find out when drops are happening from the brands you love.