Has this happened to you? You’ve invested your time (and perhaps money) in putting together a capsule wardrobe, either for a vacation, to downsize your life, or simply to manage your closet and life with less, but found a few weeks in you are unhappy, or tired of your choices. I can definitely report it happens to me.
My first really serious adventure into capsule dressing was about 15 years ago when I traveled a lot for business. I made myself a reversible capsule from a Simplicity ‘weekender’ pattern of a jacket, skirt, tank top and pants. The fabric I bought was polyester crepe, solid navy and navy with small white flowers for the reverse side. With these basics I packed a pair of jeans, a couple of navy tops, and a couple of white tops. It definitely gave me a lot of choices.
I fully intended to wear them after the trips were over but it ended up languishing in my closet for a few years until I admitted defeat and gave it away. Although the concept was good, the pattern and shapes weren’t great for me – they were too boxy, and boxy makes me feel frumpy. It was also too warm, even though it was a lightweight fabric and meant for summer, double layers of polyester don’t breathe very well. The biggest fail though was that there wasn’t enough variation between the two layers. Navy and a small print of navy/white look pretty much the same from any distance at all.
It took awhile to figure out how to make a capsule wardrobe I’d want to wear for longer than a couple of weeks and I was greatly helped by doing Project 333 for the past couple of years. Project 333 refers to wearing the same capsule which consists of 33 items for 3 months. Through doing it I learned how to put together a capsule collection of clothes that has sticking power. You can definitely get ideas from books but in the end you have to figure out what works for you. Here are some principles I’ve learned that have kept me, more or less, on the straight path of simplicity. I hope they will help you make your capsule wardrobe ‘sticky’!
1. Choose a Colour Palette
Working with a limited palette doesn’t have to be monochromatic. I’ve seen some gorgeous colourful capsule wardrobes. For a while I was super strict and kept my palette to the one on the right. I still keep this as my basics, but as you can see in my current summer capsule capsule above, I’ve added some patterned kimonos with a decidedly warmer feel. I do subscribe to the belief that our bodies ask for particular colours at different times and that is something I listen to. When I decided on these items I also felt they would transition well into autumn with long sleeved tops.
Why this works:
- Everything in your closet goes together colour-wise.
- There is less decision fatigue when it comes time to replace or add to your wardrobe since you immediately eliminate a lot of options on the store racks.
- When you constantly wear colours you love that go together, it will give you an energetic boost all the time.
- It will at least make you think twice about going for trendy colours.
2. Find your Clothing ‘Cut’
This is different than find your style, because most styles come in more than one shape. Jeans, for example, come in many different cuts. One, or maybe more will resonate with you, look good on you and make you feel good when you wear them. (I have yet to find a low rise jean that is comfortable for me, and I also have a bit of problem with high rise. I prefer a tighter leg but not skin tight).
Clothes that are fitted look best for my proportions, even though I love loose styles (like my current collection of Kimonos). I might like tailored clothes too, if I got some professionally made, but I always think of those as a bit more unforgiving if you gain weight. Fitted to me means it skims my curves but doesn’t cling. If I do wear something loose (because I love loose and flowy) the fabric has to drape really well – not stiff or too boxy – and it has to be paired with something fitted, which, in my current capsule would be a straight t-shirt dress, leggings and a tunic, or slim jeans and a close fitting tank top.
Please note that I don’t buy 100% into dress for your shape. I remember going to a presentation a fashion consultant gave where she informed all the heavier women that skinny jeans were not for them. (Well, phooey I say to that). By cut I am not referring to what an ‘apple’ shape can wear. For fun, I put ‘clothing cut’ into a search engine. According to Wikipeda, clothing cut is:
Another thing here: how garments hang depend on your build. I am a curvy petite, even at my lowest weight, and too much bulk makes me look a bit like I am a kid playing dress-up. There are many cringe-worthy photos of me before I figured this out. Here is some extra reading on garment cuts.
Style is also something to look at and will probably be related to cut. I am not writing about it because I certainly don’t consider myself an expert. Personally, I like to call my style classic bohemian. A book that helped me identify that is The Cool Factor: A Guide to Achieving Effortless Style with Secrets from the Women Who Have It, by Andera Linett.
Why this Works:
- If you are going to wear the same items of clothing heavily for 3 months, they need to be ones that you feel really good about. These are the ones that people say, that suits you.
- Similar cuts of clothes often go well together.
- You won’t need special pieces to make that one thing, which is not like the others, work.
3. Build with Versatile Pieces
Dresses, or tunics with leggings or skinny jeans, can be very versatile. Yesterday I was reminded by that when I saw a young woman, probably on her lunch break, wearing a fitted black dress with ballet flats and a short jean jacket. And, I fancied, she went back to her office and swapped the jean jacket for a blazer or smart cardigan. It looked so chic and effortless that I wanted to run home and change to my LBD and jean jacket. I have those things in my closet – I just had to remember that simple is chic. Also a LDB with a jean jacket is by my definition, my classic bohemian style!
A basic dress can take you from a dress-up event, everyday work, and weekend casual depending on what you wear with it, and how you wear it.
Apart from wearing my dress with a smart blazer for the office, I’ve worn them over jeans and leggings, belted and loose. I have even tucked them into trousers or jeans and worn it as a top. I’ve put a shirt or top over my dress so that it looks like a skirt. I’ll say it again: a dress (or tunic) can be a really versatile item. I have a couple of LBDs, but my favourite at the moment is a Little Blue Dress (navy).
Other versatile pieces might be a blazer that goes with everything you own, or that one pair of shoes which look good with everything.
4. Think Layers
I’ve found that I get the most mileage from wearing layers. For example a sleeveless summer dress can become an all season dress with short sleeved t-shirt worn under for warmer months and a long-sleeved for winter. You can wear a top over a the dress which creates the illusion of a skirt and top. Add a jacket, blazer, cardigan, or other topper (like my kimonos) for more warmth or to just change it up. With one dress, a top and a jacket or cardigan, you have 6 ways of wearing the same 3 items. With a few more tops and some pants, that is a week long capsule right there.
Tips to make layers work:
- Stick to fairly similar necklines. I’ve had my fair share of figuring out that a scoop neck and v-neck can be more difficult to layer.
- Keep the layers thin, or at least not bulky. A top layer can be a looser fit but as a base for layering, a fitted style gives the most seamless look.
What to do if you’ve ‘Made a Mistake’
Take a deep breath! Having a simplified closet is not about deprivation. It is about awareness. We can and should have things that make us feel good. Notice that I said good, as in Good Enough. Aiming for perfect, aiming for only wearing what you love is a tall order that can keep you forever looking for the perfect ones. So, beware of perfect.
Also, I have to share that my experience with finding things that are ‘perfect’ is that I wear them sparingly. I want to keep them forever, pristine if possible, even though I know that is messed up thinking. I love Good Enough clothes because those I can relax and take what the day gives me without worrying. If life gives me a beach, I will sit on that beach in the sand and eventually I will probably find myself wading in the water too.
Food and clothing choices are the most criticized things on the planet, both from ourselves and others and there is so much emotional baggage attached to them. Accept that things you’ve bought suited your life at one point but now they don’t. Change can come quickly and sneak up on you. Things you bought which no longer feel like you aren’t necessarily mistakes. It’s just life. So give yourself permission to swap that piece (or pieces) out. Chances are good that you have even something else in your closet that you can swap it with.
Start your own Project 333