I. Why build a capsule wardrobe?
The phenomenon we just encountered is nothing out of the ordinary. And if you’ve been there (and who hasn’t?), you know how frustrating it is. Getting dressed in the morning becomes an unwanted chore. Every occasion calls for the purchase of a new outfit. As a society, we own more clothes than ever, but we feel like we have very few garments to put on. What is going on?
The epidemic of overflowing wardrobes
The problem is, most people own clothes, but they don’t own a wardrobe. A random assortment of garments collected haphazardly over the years can hardly be called a functional wardrobe. Yet, this is the reality many of us are confronted with when we open our bursting wardrobe doors. And it’s an unnecessary waste of space, money and time - not to mention a lost opportunity to create a personal image and confidence in our clothing choices.
But why is owning a lot of clothes a bad thing? Surely, the more clothes you have, the easier it becomes to put together an outfit because there are more options to choose from.
This appears like a plausible argument at first. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up. A vast wardrobe containing seemingly endless clothing choices creates excessive visual clutter. This, in turn, puts stress on the brain, which is unable to process all the options and instead produces that panicky feeling you experience when you stare at your wardrobe and think 'I have nothing to wear.’
“Our brains become overwhelmed by too many options, which is also known as analysis paralysis. This is what happens when you stare at your overflowing wardrobe, but don’t seem to have anything to wear.”
If you are also the owner of a malfunctioning wardrobe, don’t blame yourself. We live in an age where fashion is easily accessible and highly affordable. Not to mention the endless trends we are constantly bombarded with. For many, filling up a wardrobe with clothes proves neither a financial nor a logistical strain.
And so it’s only too easy to become guilty of buying and hoarding unworn, unflattering and ultimately unnecessary clothing. Add to this the fact that the experience is also bad for our wellbeing. Those jeans you bought last year because they were on sale but have never actually worn are only adding to the visual clutter that overwhelms your brain and stops you from making confident clothing choices.
So if the answer to our wardrobe crisis is not owning more clothing, could it be owning less? If there is a limited number of items to choose from, our brains won’t have to process too many options, and we should be able to make better clothing decisions. This is the idea behind the capsule wardrobe.
II. What is a capsule wardrobe?
Whether you are an informed minimalist or not, the capsule wardrobe has been in everyone’s mouth in recent years. The term ‘capsule wardrobe’ was coined in the 1970s by Susie Faux, a London boutique owner, and popularised in the 1980s by designer Donna Karan. The capsule wardrobe has made a big comeback since its invention around 50 years ago and is often seen as a way to dress better with fewer items of clothing.
So what exactly is a capsule wardrobe?
The original capsule wardrobe is a wardrobe that contains a collection of a few essential items of clothing that are timeless, i.e. never go out of fashion, which can then be changed up with seasonal items.
The idea of the capsule wardrobe is thus simple: build a wardrobe with a limited number of strategically selected items of clothing. All items go well together and because they are timeless, they will never go out of style. The result: you always have something appropriate to wear.
But there are also other good reasons why you should turn your wardrobe into a capsule wardrobe:
- Save time getting dressed
- Save money by buying fewer items of clothing
- Free up money to invest in higher quality items
- More sustainable and better for the environment
Remember, the more options you have, the more overwhelming the choice, the less likely you are to make a good decision. Therefore the capsule wardrobe idea is not to buy more, but to buy less and to buy better.
So the solution is very simple: to have a wardrobe that serves you well, you need to be very particular about what you put in it in the first place. This will ensure that your wardrobe remains functional. And if you are looking for a minimal and basic wardrobe solution, the capsule wardrobe is a helpful way of reducing unnecessary clutter and keeping your wardrobe lean and clean.
The Wardrobe Guide
Learn how to build a flattering and functional wardrobe tailored to you.Learn More
III. Shortcomings of the capsule wardrobe
The capsule wardrobe in its original form was a good starting point for building a functional wardrobe. But here is what happened to the capsule wardrobe since its invention:
For a while, it got buried under mountains of fast fashion clothing and was replaced by ever-changing fashion trends. Some of the consequences of this - such as overflowing wardrobes and garments that fall apart after the third wash - are still prevalent today. But with the recent rise of minimalism, the capsule wardrobe has made a comeback, not least among fashion and sustainability bloggers. This is certainly a welcome development and one I wholeheartedly support.
However, there are a number of issues I have with the capsule wardrobe and the way it is being promoted nowadays:
- The term ‘capsule wardrobe’ makes it sound like it is something different from a normal wardrobe; when, in fact, every wardrobe is (or should ideally be) a capsule wardrobe. Without functionality, your wardrobe is just a random assortment of clothes.
- The capsule wardrobe works on the basis of timeless clothing. But owning clothes that are ‘timeless’ will not guarantee that they suit you and work for you. A timeless clothing style is in itself a very specific way of dressing, which might not be to your taste or fit your lifestyle.
- The term ‘capsule wardrobe’ has been dragged in all sorts of directions over the last few years. You will find people telling you which items you must have in your wardrobe for it to be a capsule wardrobe (cue: white shirt and a pair of jeans). And then there are those who argue that a wardrobe must not contain more than a certain number of items for it to be deemed a capsule wardrobe.
I think all of this is nonsense and unhelpful.
IV. The concept wardrobe: a functional + flattering wardrobe
An ideal wardrobe is a very personal thing. We all lead different lives, and our clothes should fit those lives, not the other way round.
The ideal wardrobe shouldn’t be a collection of items that you don’t like or that don’t suit you just because they work for someone else. And worrying about limiting yourself to some prescribed magic number of items that your wardrobe can contain is stressful rather than helpful.
A better way to phrase this idea is to say that your wardrobe should contain suitable and sufficient items for you to go about your life, but not more than necessary. And those items should be tailored to your personal image, not to a ‘timeless’ fashion style.
What do I mean by that? Well, every item in your wardrobe should (a) have a purpose, (b) fit your lifestyle and (c) reflect your personal style. If you find that you have more than the necessary number of items fulfilling the same purpose, you are wasting space in your wardrobe.
How many purpose-serving items you need depends solely on your lifestyle and the climate you live in. And what kind of clothing styles should be in your wardrobe depends on your physical appearance and taste - because flattering clothes inspire confidence.
All of these factors vary from person to person. So while the capsule wardrobe in its original formulation is a great starting point for building a wardrobe, it must be tailored to the individual. And that is where the concept wardrobe comes in.
The key to owning a great wardrobe is having a concept for it and sticking to this concept when shopping for new items.
The concept for your wardrobe is defined by your lifestyle, your environment and your personal image. There are endless combinations; the magic happens when you discover the wardrobe concept that works for you.
So let’s recap: the capsule wardrobe is a good foundation for building a wardrobe. The idea of owning limited, but strategic items of clothing is what creates a functional wardrobe. However, the missing element of the capsule wardrobe is individuality. A capsule wardrobe works on the basis of timeless clothes, which never go out of style.
This is a problem because a wardrobe is not a one-size-fits-all business. An ideal wardrobe is a very personal thing and must be tailored to the individual. A pre-made wardrobe of ‘timeless’ clothes might give you a functional wardrobe, but it will do nothing to bring out your natural beauty and inspire confidence in your clothing.
This is where the concept wardrobe differs. The concept wardrobe takes the idea of the capsule wardrobe a step further. Instead of just building a functional wardrobe, the philosophy is to also build a flattering wardrobe. This is your opportunity to create a personal image through your clothing, lift your appearance and bring out your natural beauty with the help of fashion.
The Wardrobe Guide
Learn how to build a flattering and functional wardrobe tailored to you.Learn More
V. Why a flattering wardrobe?
You might think now, what is this idea of flattering clothes? Why should I care about what clothes suit me?
You can, of course, choose not to care. But by doing so, you run into the following risks:
- Your wardrobe will become another dumping ground for a random assortment of clothes rather than a functional tool to make you feel confident.
- You will be more vulnerable to impulse purchases and unflattering buys.
- And most importantly: you are putting clothes at the forefront of fashion instead of yourself.
Every time you put on clothes, you are choosing between fashionability and your own appearance. And when you choose fashion over yourself, this is what happens: rather than putting yourself on display, you are putting your clothes on display. Have you every heard someone tell you that your outfit looks nice? Wouldn't you rather hear how you look nice?
Fashion is a powerful tool. But if not used properly, it will draw all of the attention away from you and onto itself.
All of this might still sound very abstract, so let’s take a look at some examples:
Coincidentally, both of these ladies are wearing the same outfit. But only on one, it looks good; on the other, it doesn’t. While the dress blends nicely into Selena's appearance on the right, it draws all the attention away from Lucy and onto itself. We don't see Lucy, we see the dress. But why is that?
There are two reasons for Lucy's disappearance act. Firstly, the dress has the wrong colours. It clashes with Lucy's natural colouring and as such stands out from her appearance. And secondly, it's the wrong style and doesn't fit her. Notice how long and straight the same dress looks on Selena. But on Lucy, it looks like a balloon.
The same dress has no such effect on Selena, on whom it looks natural and fitting, melting into her colouring and defining her silhouette.
Here is another example of Eva Longoria - one time in an unflattering suit (in the wrong colours), which makes her look short and chunky; and one time in a red dress, which highlights her curves and complements her colouring.
So the question is, will you choose fashion or choose yourself? The point is, building a flattering wardrobe is critical if you want to make confident clothing choices and be confident in the clothes you wear. Because once you become aware of the fact that 90% of the clothes you see in shops and online don’t actually suit you, you won’t look twice at them, let alone consider purchasing them. And you can spend that money on items that truly work for you instead.
The problem here is a lack of consumer education. Again, this is not your fault. Have you been taught what kind of clothing flatters your body? Are you aware of what colours suit you?
You might have experimented with your clothing style over the years; perhaps you have even consulted a personal stylist. But whatever your answers to the above questions, the problem is very clear: clothes are very personal, but few people know what clothing actually works for them. So we end up buying into trends and purchasing too much of the wrong sort, which provides us with very little return for our money, our confidence and the planet.
VI. How to build a concept wardrobe
Now that we know that the key to being well-dressed is a functional and flattering wardrobe, the next question is how to build one. And, you’ve guessed it, there are two parts to it: functionality + style.
You can envision the wardrobe-building process like the construction of a house. To create an architectural masterpiece, let alone a halfway decent building, you need a concept for it. And that concept needs to be laid down in a master plan, so you can always refer back to it.
With your wardrobe, it's a similar story. Before you can even lay the first brick, you need to make sure the house doesn't just collapse. For your wardrobe, this means we need to lay the foundation and build its backbone first. The structure will guarantee the functionality and usefulness of your wardrobe, meaning it will contain the right amount of clothes.
In order to build the structure, you will need to follow three steps:
- Analyse your environment and lifestyle
- Determine the amount of clothes you need
- Select the right kind of clothes
If you a full step-by-step guide with worksheets to help you build a functional wardrobe, check out the wardrobe guide below.
With functionality out of the way, you can then decorate your wardrobe based on your personal style. This is the exciting part of the wardrobe-building process because you get create your personal image. And this image comprises two elements: colours and fashion styles.
If you are not aware how colours can impact your appearance, then go back to the examples above or take a look at the following ones:
Do you see the difference the right colours make to these ladies’ appearances? This is yet another example of what happens when you choose to put your clothes on display vs when you make your clothes work for you.
To find your best colours, you can use seasonal colour analysis. This analysis determines your best kind of colours - those which will harmonise and blend into your appearance.
Apart from colours, you will also need to pay attention to the shapes, fits, and cuts of your clothes. And it’s a similar story with fashion styles. The wrong styles can leave you looking odd at best, but the right ones can give you a confident, harmonious appearance.
Do you see the difference? You can choose to show off yourself or you can choose to show off your clothes.
To find your best styles, you can use style essence theory. Style essences are specific fashion styles matched to your body and face.
You can learn more about developing your personal style here and in the wardrobe guide.
And that's all there is to owning a great wardrobe. Once you have understood how you can make fashion work for you, you will be able to draw confidence from your clothing and leave those 'I have nothing to wear' moments in the past.