Capsule wardrobes are having a real moment right now. Between #Project333 and the 10×10 challenge, these minimalist approaches to clothing are cropping up all over social media.
I think it’s wonderful to see people becoming more intentional about their wardrobes and rejecting fast fashion. And it’s amazing how creative some people are with a limited number of items.
But it’s not for me.
It’s a bit hard to admit that. I’ve tried capsule wardrobes several times over the years, and honestly I had something akin to a capsule wardrobe when I moved countries a couple of years ago, as I discarded any clothes I didn’t love and only brought what remained across the Atlantic.
It didn’t take me long to build up a larger wardrobe, though.
And, while in some cases I’ve been excessive (I found a couple of jumpers that I love and proceeded to buy each in about half a dozen colours), on the whole I’ve realised it’s because a small wardrobe simply didn’t work for me, for a number of reasons.
You can have great style and still have a capsule wardrobe. In fact, many of my capsule wardrobe idols, like Jessica Rose Williams and Anuschka Rees, are far more stylish than I am. I think it tends to be people with a very tightly defined personal style that capsule wardrobes work best for; when you know what you like and only choose things that fit your style, you’ll have a small selection of clothes you wear frequently.
If you’re facing the ‘my closet is full of clothes, but I have nothing to wear’ dilemma, then I highly recommend Anuschka’s 10-Step Wardrobe Revamp to help you get a handle on your personal style.
In my case, I have a good sense of my personal style, but it’s not entirely fixed. I tend to go through phases — lasting weeks to months — where I’m all about flannel shirts and plaits, and then others when it’s all cardigans and big scarves and ballerina buns. Because of this, I like to have enough clothes for each of my style ‘personalities’ to last until I do laundry.
My sense of style also tends to favour layers, so in addition to my cardigans and flannel shirts I need lots of tops to wear under them, meaning I have more clothing than a woman who favours pullover jumpers or long-sleeved dresses.
Although I have more clothes than someone with a less changeable personal style, though, I do still keep it simple by focussing my attention mostly on the basics. T-shirts in neutral colours, skinny jeans, chelsea boots, and my leather jacket all go equally well with a flannel shirt or a cardigan and pashmina.
The thing that bothered me the most about having a small wardrobe was having to do laundry every single weekend, or I wouldn’t have enough clothes for the next week. If you do a google search on doing laundry with a capsule wardrobe, you’ll undoubtedly find articles from people proclaiming that they wear things multiple times before washing them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of these people also seem to live in the Pacific Northwest or the UK; in other words, they’re in places where summer lasts about a week and doesn’t go north of 30 degrees.
While in the winter I can wear my jeans and pullovers multiple times in between washes, in the summer I’m lucky if I don’t have to change my top on my lunch break; I need ten tops just to be confident I’ll make it through the work week without an emergency laundry load on a Thursday evening.
As I’ve taken steps to simplify my life, I find I care more about being able to skip a laundry day every once in a while than I do about having a tiny wardrobe. Perhaps it’s because my style is very basic, so the items I have the most of are a series of neutral-toned cotton tops to wear under cardigans and flannel shirts; there’s not much decision-making in the morning because everything’s very similar.
At the moment, I have about ten t-shirts, plus four tops that are casual enough for work (I’m a software developer, so jeans and a t-shirt is pretty standard workplace attire), but dressy enough for the theatre. This allows me to do laundry about once a fortnight in the winter, and to comfortably manage a work week in the summer without worrying about running out of clothes.
I hate clothes shopping. Absolutely hate it. As a result, I want my clothes to last as long as possible. And, while it’s true that the better-made clothes that are a staple of capsule wardrobes are going to last longer than fast fashion dresses that are only meant to be worn on a handful of nights out, all clothes will eventually deteriorate, particularly if, like myself, you simply can’t wear clothes more than once in the summer months without washing them.
I think if I was more fashionable – or less sweaty – I wouldn’t mind this. I’d buy beautiful clothes, enjoy them to their fullest, and then when they reached the end of their lifespan I’d find something new to replace them with.
But I’m more the sort of person who likes to find a single brand of t-shirt that fits my athletic shoulders and buy ten so I don’t have to worry that the shop will have changed the cut the next time I need more (this has, unfortunately, happened to me on more than one occasion).
I notice this most commonly with bras. Although they’re not typically included in the 37 or 50 or however items make up a capsule wardrobe, the effects of over-wearing are more noticeable as they have to do a lot of heavy lifting. If I only have two bras, they last perhaps a year before they need replaced. If I have half a dozen, on the other hand, they’ll last four or five years.
For this reason, while I could get away with one or two pairs of jeans at any given time, I prefer to have three or four, as I wear them every day and want them to last as long as possible.
A final note
This post isn’t meant to be a criticism of capsule wardrobes. Just because it didn’t work for me doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for a lot of other people, and it certainly doesn’t mean it won’t work for you.
I’m also not advocating an enormous wardrobe full of things you rarely, or never, wear. According to a recent study, the average American woman has 103 items in her wardrobe, of which she wears around 10%. In comparison, I have about 70 items in my closet at the moment, excluding loungewear, athletic wear, and underwear. Of those 70 items, I probably wear half to two thirds on a regular basis, with much of the remainder being dressier things that I wear rarely, but like to have on hand.
I could certainly stand to have fewer of these items, but as I currently have the space to store them and all these clothes do see some wear, I don’t see any particular reason to discard them at the moment. However, I do pay attention to which ones I reach for when the occasion arises, and readily give away or sell the ones that I regularly pass over.
Ultimately, what matters is approaching your wardrobe with intention, and curating a closet of items that fit your lifestyle and that you cycle through regularly. That might be a small capsule wardrobe, or it might be a slightly larger simplified wardrobe like mine.