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 messy 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 own 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.
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
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 may contain is stressful rather than helpful.
A better way to phrase the concept of the capsule wardrobe 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, and (b) reflect your personal style. If you find that you have more than the necessary number of items fulfilling the same purpose or items that you don't need/like at all, you are wasting space in your wardrobe.
So 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. But what kind of clothing should end up in your wardrobe really depends on your lifestyle, your physical appearance and your personal taste.
All of these factors vary from person to person. So unlike the generic capsule wardrobe instructions you see everywhere, it is not possible to create a magic one-size-fits-all formula. A wardrobe must be tailored to the individual who owns it. And that is where the concept wardrobe comes in.
A functional + flattering wardrobe
Before you can even start planning your capsule wardrobe, you need to create a concept for it. Because the key to owning a great wardrobe is having a concept for it and sticking to this concept when shopping for new items.
And based on what we have just discussed, the concept for your wardrobe comprises two elements: functionality and style.
A functional wardrobe contains the right kinds of clothing in the right amounts. Functionality is defined by your lifestyle and your environment (the climate you live in).
And a flattering wardrobe is built around your personal style or image. It may sound daunting to you to define your personal fashion style. But don't worry. This time there really is a formula for it, which we will discover later.
There are endless combinations; the magic happens when you discover the wardrobe concept that works for you.
Before we get to building your wardrobe concept, 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.
And that's where the fun starts: 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.
V. Why a flattering wardrobe?
A quick detour into the world of fashion
You might be wondering, 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 disappointing 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 colour. It clashes with Lucy's natural colouring and as such stands out from her appearance. And secondly, it's the wrong style and fights against her body shape. 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 an 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 natural 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, we can finally address the question of how to build one.
The wardrobe master plan
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.
Without a plan, your wardrobe will most likely fall back into its original dumping ground shape within a few weeks. But a wardrobe plan does not only help keep your wardrobe organised, it also helps you to refine your personal image.
And so your wardrobe plan will cover the two elements we have discussed earlier: functionality + style.
A functional wardrobe contains the right kinds of clothing in the right amounts. Functionality is defined by your lifestyle and your environment (the climate you live in).
Your wardrobe master plan must contain all the items you need for your lifestyle all year round. That means, it includes everything - from the jeans you wear everyday to the jumper you wear five times a year as the temperature drops below zero.
To determine what kind of clothes you need, you will need to carry out an environment and lifestyle analysis. What climate do you live in? What weather conditions do you experience? You need to be covered for all potential scenarios.
The same goes for your lifestyle. What do you do in your day-to-day life? What activities do you engage in? What events do you attend from time to time? Once you've examined these two areas, you should have a pretty clear idea of what kind of clothes you need in your capsule wardrobe, and this will ensure its functionality.
If you want to learn about this process in more detail and have pre-made worksheets you can fill in, check out the wardrobe guide below.
With functionality out of the way, you can then start decorating 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 there is actually a formula for this process. Your personal image image comprises two elements: colours and fashion styles.
If you are not aware how colours can (positively or negatively) impact your appearance, take a look at the following images:
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.
The right colours can make you look healthy and glowing, but that also means that the wrong colours can leave you looking unhealthy and off. That's why colours play a crucial part in creating your personal image.
And fortunately, there is a helpful tool to help you discover your best colours: seasonal colour analysis. Colour analysis determines which kind of colours harmonise with your natural colouring and make you appear healthy and glowing.
Apart from colours, you will also need to pay attention to the shapes, fits and cuts of your clothes. Because just like the wrong colours, 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? One style looks odd and separate, but the other looks fitting and harmonious.
An unfitting clothing style will look separate from you and draw all the attention onto itself. This is what happens when you receive the unfortunate compliment that your outfit looks nice. Your outfit looks great, but you have disappeared.
The right clothing style, in contrast, will complement your natural appearance. It will melt into your body shape and highlight it.
To find your best styles, you can use style essence theory. Style essences are comprehensive fashion styles matched to your personal appearance.
You can learn more about developing your personal style here.
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.
If you want the full, step-by-side guide with worksheets on how to build your concept wardrobe, check out the wardrobe guide.