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What Is a Capsule Wardrobe (and How Do I Create One)?

A well-organized closet
Mari Nevich/Shutterstock

For the past few years, minimalism has dominated conversations about fashion and lifestyle. From the KonMari craze to the people who keep 33 clothing items at a time, is paring things down the secret to a simple and stylish life?

A capsule wardrobe—a closet that’s stripped-down yet trendy—might help you live better. It streamlines time spent getting ready, reduces spending on new clothes and accessories, and frees up space in your home. And while this extreme approach may not be for everyone, anyone can incorporate similar ideas as they work to organize their closets.

Let’s take a look at how the capsule closet works, and whether or not it’s right for you.

What is a Capsule Wardrobe?

First, we should define the “capsule wardrobe.”

While the idea hinges on limited options, it doesn’t mean taking the Steve Jobs approach of wearing the same outfit each day.

Instead, this concept came straight from the fashion world, and it’s all about streamlining without sacrificing style. The idea actually isn’t new: boutique owner Susie Faux came up with the term “capsule wardrobe” in the ‘70s, and modern iterations function much like her original vision. Today’s shift toward minimalism simply brought capsule closets back into the spotlight.

The concept revolves around paring down your clothes and accessories to hit a certain number. Faux originally suggested 30 or 40, but today, people have tried numbers ranging from 50 all the way down to 12(!).

Some capsule closets also involve rotating your items through the seasons. You might keep your basic staples, but periodically swap out the more fashionable or seasonal items to keep things fresh. 

Building Your New Wardrobe: A Step-by-Step Guide

small, well organized closet
AlesiaKan/Shutterstock

Is a capsule closet right for you? Not everyone might be ready to take this minimalistic plunge, but the benefits are clear: more space, less stress. If you’re willing to give it a try, follow these steps.

Run the Numbers

First, decide what your target number is. Will you try to narrow things down to a relatively easy 50 pieces, or a more challenging number, like 20? Lots of stylists swear by a capsule closet of 37.

Next, decide how you’ll break down that number by item. It might help to break it down by category first: tops, bottoms, outerwear, shoes, and accessories.

Get an idea of how many of each item you should end up with. For example, if your target number is 50, you could aim for 10 in each category. However, you might find that you need more shirts, but can get away with fewer shoes, so adjust these numbers as you go.

People who take this trend seriously swear that everything you could wear outside of the house needs to fit in your capsule wardrobe, from work clothes to your swimsuit. But you can also pare down your closet without being so extreme. For example, you might start by making a capsule closet of your casual clothes, while keeping work items separate.

Make Your Selections

Now, it’s time to pick out the exact items to keep in your capsule closet and get rid of the rest.

An easy way to start is by targeting the clothes you wear most. Your favorite or most versatile pieces can form the foundation for your wardrobe, while the things you haven’t worn in ages will be easier to ditch.

As you work through your clothes, create “love it,” “leave it,” and “maybe” piles. Keep going until you’ve sorted through everything and made your final decisions on the “maybe” clothes. It’s okay to stretch the process out over a few days.

Stay Permanent or Go Seasonal

Once you’re done or nearly done making your decisions, you should also decide if you want your capsule closet to stay the same year-round, or if you’ll make seasonal changes.

If you love following trends, for example, you might want to trade out a handful of items for new styles each season. If you prefer to keep things ultra-simple, work to build a wardrobe that will carry you through the year.

Wear Your New Wardrobe

Now, you’re ready to wear your new wardrobe!

The goal of a capsule closet is to have things you can mix and match easily, rather than repeating outfits again and again. Experiment by rearranging your pieces for different looks. You might be surprised at how many different outfits you can create with a limited number of items.

Would You Try This Trend?

The capsule wardrobe might not suit everyone, but you can easily give it a trial run before you commit.

Just design your capsule closet using the steps above, and put everything else in storage for a while instead of getting rid of it immediately. If you find that you love working with a stripped-down selection, you can make the change permanent and donate your stored clothes.

If it doesn’t work for you, you can put everything back in your closet. Even if you don’t end up making a classic capsule wardrobe, this process gives you a great opportunity to take an inventory of your stuff, organize everything, and get rid of what you no longer want.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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