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Your practical, time-saving guide to building a flawless capsule wardrobe

“Less is more.”
In our age of constant stimulation, this saying holds truer than ever. When we have fewer distractions and trivial decisions to make, we get more time, headspace, and brainpower to focus on what matters to us. Think Steve Jobs with his iconic turtleneck and jeans. Or President Obama’s staple blue and grey suits. And this high-profile art director who rocks white satin blouses with black trousers and a bow to work every single day. These powerful folks all mixed decision fatigue in favor of focusing harder on their jobs and personal life.

How? They cultivated a capsule wardrobe suited to their personal needs and lifestyle.

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Image via A Beautiful Mess

In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, a capsule wardrobe is a small, useful collection of clothing you actually enjoy and want to wear. It eliminates hectic mornings. You know, the ones spent scrambling through a wardrobe crammed with shirts bought on clearance and pants you’re not sure fit in the first place. It does so by reducing your clothes collection to a smaller, more manageable size. This makes it easier for mixing and matching pieces that you feel confident in. It also pares down impulse spending, since you’ll become inclined to only invest in items you truly enjoy and can get a lot of wear out of.

Interested in making mornings easier, getting yourself out of a shopping rut, or just clearing up precious space in your NYC apartment? A capsule wardrobe is a great launching pad to do so.

Here’s how to start your own capsule wardrobe:

1. Take inventory of what you already have

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Like a concentrated, lightning round of Kondo-ing, take all items out of your daily wardrobe and lay them on your bed. Then, evaluate each item and sort it into one of four piles:

Keep: For items that fit you well, you absolutely enjoy wearing, and are practical enough for everyday use. Your most comfortable jeans, for example, or favorite button-down shirt.

Maybe: For pieces you can’t totally justify, but aren’t ready to part ways with, either. Think beloved silk shirts that cost a small fortune but stain so easily.

Doesn’t Fit/Needs Repairs: For items that need tailoring or no longer fit. Give yourself a realistic time limit (whether it’s a week or two months) to deal with each piece. If you haven’t done so by said deadline, consider donating the item.

Donate/Toss: For items that no longer belong in your personal style sphere. (NYC boss ladies can donate professional clothing in good condition to Bottomless Closet.)

As you separate and categorize your clothes, your daily personal style should start to become clearer. Maybe you feel your best in loose sweaters and black pants, or in an easy maxi-dress with flats. But that time you mistakenly ventured into polka dots? Cut your losses, and let bygones be bygones.

2. Determine your signature items

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These are the items that you love 100%. The shirts you breathe best in, the jeans that spark joy. You’ll want to only let items like these into your closet from here on out. Since you’ve already decluttered and determined which pieces really speak to you, this should be relatively easy.

You may find that you have enough items in your wardrobe to proceed with the capsule, or maybe you need to invest in new, quality items. If you’re still struggling to pinpoint your style, check out this Capsule Planner from Unfancy. It’s creator, Caroline Rector, has been rocking a capsule wardrobe since 2014. If you’re able to close your eyes and pick out a piece at random that you’d be happy to wear right away, then you know you’re headed in the right direction.

3. Calculate your base number

A commonly recommended number is 35, which includes tops, bottoms, shoes, and dresses. Think of 35 as a reference point, rather than a strict number. Lindsay Ostrom from Pinch of Yum wears only nine tops, five pants, and five pairs of shoes. Rector of Unfancy settled on nine pairs of shoes, nine bottoms, and 15 tops. Whatever number you decide can fluctuate with the seasons. Fall calls for more sweaters and layering tees, for example, than summer does. Experiment to find your own golden number. You might find that you have enough items in your wardrobe to proceed with the capsule, or maybe you need to invest in new ones.

Important: Don’t count items that are extraneous to your day-to- day outfits. Things like workout clothes, lounging items (e.g., comfy sweatshirts and pajamas), outerwear staples, formal needs, and so forth. Store these outside of your closet for what Lindsay from Pinch of Yum calls “mental cleanliness“.

4. Invest in high quality items


Even if you’re on a budget, you can build a fantastic capsule wardrobe with high-quality items. The key is to put down more upfront cash for fewer pieces that will last longer. Used to spending $20 on shoes that you know won’t keep for three weeks and will give you blisters? Spring for the pair that fits you well and is durable instead. Also opt for items you know will complement at least three other pieces in your rotation, advises Leanne B. from Classy Yet Trendy.

Embracing a capsule wardrobe often means boycotting fast fashion for it’s various societal and environmental pitfalls. Many capsule wardrobe pros recommend ethical brands, rather than the potentially harmful standards. Anushka Rees has a list of her favorite ethical sites and brands, as does blogger Andrea Hartman of Seasons and Salt. Vintage and secondhand stores are also sustainable alternatives.

5. Forgo trends in favor of items you actually love

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Every three months or so, incorporate new items you may need for the season. Tuck out-of-season staples away, or put them into storage. Better yet, let MakeSpace (an affordable alternative to self-storage facilities in Brooklyn, the rest of NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago, and DC) pick up and store everything for you. Moving forward, skip trends in favor of pieces you actually enjoy. You’ll have worked hard to cultivate your personal style, so honor it by purchasing items that truly flatter and fit your lifestyle.

6. Enjoy your simpler lifestyle

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Things like packing when traveling become easier with fewer clothing options to choose from. And you’ll have more time in the AM to start the day off on simpler, less-stressful terms. Try a new routine that includes gratitude stretching, or enjoying a healthy breakfast. And relish the luxury of a morning that doesn’t include draining “I have nothing to wear” sessions in front of the mirror.

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