Written by Niki Whittle
Updated - Sept 2022
Creating a capsule wardrobe can feel overwhelming and daunting, especially if your current morning routine is to stare blankly inside a wardrobe brimming with clothes that you just can’t seem to put into outfits that you like wearing.
If you wish you had a collection of clothes that you feel excited about, that is easy to use and fun to wear, but you don’t know where to start, or what you need to do to pull together the right capsule collection for you, I have the answers!
Over the past 16 years I’ve sourced custom capsule wardrobes for thousands of women like you, that fit and suit them, and create a whole host of fail-safe outfits so they don't have to think about what to wear! And this post shares all my tried and true tips and advice.
the 4 steps to creating a capsule wardrobe
Most people just dive right in and start shopping for their collection. This is why most people don't succeed! Before you start choosing the clothes to include in your collection, you need to understand what you need and why. Spend some time thinking about things like:
- What you do day-to-day and how you could proportion your collection to align with this
- Your style preferences - what you like and dislike (colours, prints, shapes etc...) and why
- And which clothes you enjoy wearing, and which clothes work for you
I’ve created an in-depth online questionnaire you can fill in here, to help you with this step.
PULL TOGETHER A DRAFT COLLECTION
Once you've got a clarity on what your capsule wardrobe needs to do for you, you can start to think about what it might look like. The easiest way to do this (and the way I do this) is to use Pinterest:
- Set up a board on Pinterest called 'Capsule Wardrobe' and start pinning any clothes you like, that align with your answers from the questionnaire
- Don't just re-pin images within Pinterest; head to retailer websites and pin from there, too.
- Be methodical in your pinning - pin items in a range of categories covering tops, knitwear, jeans, pants, skirts, dresses, jackets, blazers and coats. If you want a more thorough breakdown of which items should be included in a capsule wardrobe, there's one here.
- And stick to a fairly limited color palette for now - it's the best way to ensure that the items in your collection go together, and make complete outfits. If you need some inspiration for your color palette, head here
Edit your rough draft
When you’ve finished pinning to your draft collection, go through and edit it until you have a collection of pieces that is cohesive and reflects you and your requirements. The best way to do this is to create a new section within your board, and move the best picks into that.
See what you already have, and shop for the rest
You'll already have some of the clothes for your capsule wardrobe so take your Pinterest board over to your wardrobe and see what you can find. It might help to remove and hang the pieces you find so you can start to see your collection take shape. All items on your board that you don't have can then be added to a shopping list.
Then all you have to do is hunt down those missing items. If you've done as I suggested and have created a Pinterest board, it should be as simple as shopping your board!
what is a capsule wardrobe?
A capsule wardrobe is a hard working collection of clothes consisting of staple pieces (preferably timeless) that fit you well, align with your lifestyle, and that can be mixed and matched (with very little thought) to create a whole host of outfits for all the occasions you need.
The concept of creating a capsule wardrobe is nothing new. You can trace its origins back to the 1970's, when Susie Faux (the founder of Wardrobe) came up with the concept of a capsule wardrobe. This was then championed by Donna Karan in the eighties, when she launched her 7 Easy Pieces collection that consisted of 7 staple pieces that could be layered over black body suits and opaque tights to create outfits for a variety of occasions. The emphasis was on a chic, pared back collection of clothes that mixed and matched effortlessly.
The capsule wardrobe has continued to be around over the last 40 years, albeit in the background, but over the past few years there's been a real resurgence in the desire to create a capsule collection. I think in part due to the fact that there is more choice and variety than ever, and prices are reducing - we're overwhelmed by choice, and buying more than we need because it’s cheap..so it’s low risk. As a result our closets are full of clothes that we don't really like that much, that we don't wear often and so we're craving a fresh start and an easy to use wardrobe that’s fun to use!
why is it a good idea to create a capsule wardrobe?
If you want an easy to use, fun to wear collection of clothes, that saves you money and time, then creating a capsule wardrobe is a great idea!
And all of these benefits matter, because each one of them will have a positive knock on effect to other aspects of your life. I've had clients tell me that sorting out their closet gave them the confidence and motivation they needed, to improve other areas of their life that they'd been neglecting.
how long does it take to build a capsule wardrobe?
I’m not going to lie, a capsule collection takes time to create. Especially if you are starting from scratch. But that’s a good thing. You shouldn’t rush the process, because if you do you’ll end up back at square one - with a disjointed collection that doesn’t look right on you, and is difficult to use.
Take your time to understand what you need in your collection, and when you think you’ve got a handle on that, take even more time carefully selecting items that fit you well and that compliment each other.
Take it step by step. Move at a pace that is right for you. And keep tabs of where you're at, and what you need to do next.
Putting in some organized, focused, effort upfront will pay dividends in the months to come when you open up your closet and feel excited about deciding what to wear.
is there anything i shouldn't do?
Yes! There are 7 important things you should avoid doing when you start creating your capsule wardrobe:
Avoid following pre-made templates, verbatim
There is no one size fits all capsule collection because what you need in your collection will depend on YOU. So use with caution, the ‘must have capsule collection’ type posts, use the information as a guide and mold it to suit you.
avoid including high-trend items
The key to a hard working capsule collection is that it stands the test of time. You want your capsule to form the foundation of your wardrobe, on which you can build and develop your style as and when you want to. So avoid including high-trend items, especially fleeting trends. Granted, some trends move into classic’s territory (wide leg pants/jeans are one such trend), so use your instincts and only include clothes you know you will still want to wear in a couple of years.
try to avoid cheap or fast fashion
Invest in the best quality that your budget will allow, rather than wasting it on lots of cheaper, poorer quality items that won't last and will need to be replaced often.
do not rush
Try to get out of the habit of buying clothes in a rush, on the way to the checkout at Target. Take your time to make more considered purchases - try the item on before you buy it, check the fit properly, ask yourself if the item can be worn with at least 3 items you already own. If you hear that voice in your head telling you “it’s not quite right, but it doesn’t matter because it’s cheap!” leave it!
don't create a collection for the life you wish you had
Be realistic and create a capsule collection for the life you do have. There's no point in having a wardrobe full of clothes waiting for an event that may never happen. Take the time to consider what you need your outfits for, then proportion your collection accordingly. Otherwise you will struggle to create outfits for the life you actually lead...and so continues the frustrating cycle of buying clothes, but having nothing to wear.
only include the items that fit you and work for you
If an item doesn’t fit quite right, or doesn’t look right on you. Don't include it. Even if you love it, or love the idea of it. It will only end up hanging unworn in your wardrobe.
If you don't know which clothes fit you and work best for you, this guide will help.
Don't include lots of different colors
In my experience, it is much simpler to base a capsule wardrobe around a limited color palette. If you try to introduce lots of different colors you may find it difficult to know what to put with what and will end up only wearing a small percentage of your collection. If you want some ideas to base your collection around, I've created 8 different palettes for you here.
don't include footwear and accessories
I know this contradicts the advice you typically read, but in my opinion, footwear and accessories are a separate collection.
My reasoning behind this is that your shoes and accessories are what will enable you to be creative with your capsule collection and to effortlessly take an outfit from day to night. IF you try to squeeze these into your capsule collection you won't have enough variety. Footwear and accessories are the one area where I do not think less is more.
important things to do before you start creating a capsule wardrobe?
There are a few important steps to take before you even start working on your capsule collection:
get to grips with what works for your shape
It’s a fact that some clothing styles will fit you better than others, but until you understand which clothes these are, and why they work so well for you, you will continue to purchase clothes that disappoint you.
If you're not sure what your body-shape is, you can take my body-shape analysis
clear some space in your closet
Remove the clothes you don’t like, that are tired or damaged beyond repair, and that don’t fit.
This will make some space for the new, ‘right’ pieces to be added, but more importantly than that, it will help you to rediscover what you have in your wardrobe, will spur you on to make further improvements, and will ultimately make the process of creating a capsule wardrobe easier.
create a color palette to build your collection around
It is completely up to you what color palette you decide to build your collection around, but what ever you go for, it is a good idea to plan it out before you start so you can keep it the back of your mind while you're sourcing your capsule wardrobe.
If you want to go one step further - create a little color palette board like this, and have it near you when you're working on your collection.
free up some time
It takes time and effort to create a capsule collection that works so it’s not something you want to start if you’re about to move house, or start a new job, or have a new baby to look after.
Wait until you have the time to commit to it. And if you don’t want to wait, hire a professional to do it for you.
how to start work on a capsule wardrobe
Take it in baby steps.
When you are ready to start working on your collection, set aside an hour of uninterrupted time to sit down and go through this questionnaire to help you to understand how you feel about yourself, your body, your current wardrobe, and pinpoint what you need your capsule collection to do for you and what you're looking for.
When you’ve completed that, you'll feel more confident and equipped to take the next step - creating a draft collection
how many clothes should be in a capsule wardrobe?
I create 2 different sizes of capsule collections for my clients:
One is a mini collection which consists of around 10 -12 essential items that mix and match to create more than 20 different outfits.
The second is a standard collection, which consists of those 10-12 essential items PLUS 10 other items that all mix and match to create over 80 outfits.
My suggestion would be to go for somewhere in the middle and opt for around 15 items to begin with - this will give you enough pieces to include all the essentials you need, as well as some extra, more fun (but still super versatile) items.
Here are some important points to consider when you're deciding how many clothes you should have in your collection:
how many colors should be in a capsule wardrobe?
If you’re someone who struggles to put outfits together, or you’re not confident wearing or mixing colors, then I recommend limiting your color palette to around 5 colors that work together, in a variety of different shades (by 'shades' I mean a lighter and darker shade of each of the 5 colors). It's a simple way to give you 15 colors to play with!
I've created some example color palettes, in a variety of tones, to give you some ideas:
is it possible to create a capsule wardrobe on a budget?
Yes! You absolutely can. The whole concept of a capsule collection is that:
- it contains only what you need
- each item is right for you (so will be worn)
- each piece in the collection is versatile so can be worn in multiple ways
- and the items in the collection are of the best quality your budget will allow, which means they last longer = value for money.
Creating a capsule wardrobe is quite literally an exercise in spending your money wisely!
is a capsule wardrobe going to limit me?
Let me ask you this:
- How many different outfits are you putting together with your current collection? 6? Maybe 8?
- What percentage of the clothes in your wardrobe are you actually wearing? 20% - 30%
- And how long does it take you to put an outfit together? I'm guessing it's...too. damn. long.
You see, it’s not the size of the collection, or the amount of clothes that you have in the wardrobe that dictates how fun or easy it is to use - you already have a closet bulging with clothes but you're wearing the same few outfits. It’s the actual items themselves that determine how limiting a collection is.
A capsule collection is the opposite to your current collection - it’s small, easy to use, fun to wear and can be developed effortlessly each season, as and when you want.
is a capsule wardrobe boring?
I can forgive you for worrying about this, given that the majority of the capsule wardrobe templates floating around Pinterest consist of plain, neutral, bland clothes that don't really excite.
The truth is that your collection can be whatever you want it to be, in any color and any style you like…the only proviso is that each piece in your collection works for you, and compliments the other items in the collection.
this is how you make a capsule wardrobe work for you
it must align with your lifestyle
The clothes you have in your capsule collection must work for your lifestyle. There’s no point in having a large proportion of your closet devoted to dressy occasions if you rarely get dressed up. Think about what you do day to day, and proportion your closet accordingly.
it should work for your body shape
The clothes in your capsule collection need to fit you really well, and they should make the best of your shape. If they don’t, you’ll end up questioning why you struggle to put outfits together from your capsule collection that look as good on you as they do in your head.
Keep your shape in mind when you're shopping for your pieces, and only let into your collection, the ones that look good on you and make you feel good.
Not sure which clothes work best for you?
My simple guide will show you exactly what the most and least flattering clothes are for your shape, so you can start creating outfits that look good on you 👇
it should reflect your personal style
Many of the capsule wardrobe examples you’ll see are quite neutral or minimal, this is because it’s easier for others to copy (and it’s trending) - but if that’s not your style, don't replicate it.
Make your capsule collection a reflection of you, so you feel good wearing it and enjoy putting your outfits together. If you need help uncovering your personal style, this post might help
it should align with your likes and dislikes
OK, this might seem like an obvious, but with social media, and retailer newsletters ramming the current popular styles down our throat every. single. day. you can be forgiven for succumbing and purchasing something you might not usually buy.
Put the latest trends (and your Instagram feed) to one side and remind yourself which shapes, styles, colors and prints you really like, and then add more of this good stuff to your collection.
what should a capsule wardrobe include?
There's no universally right or wrong item for your capsule collection - as long as the items you choose are right for you and compliment each other. However, I know that’s not a super helpful answer so, to help you, I’ve listed the 12-15 pieces I typically build my clients capsule collections around. But, PLEASE NOTE - this is designed to be used as a guide, so don’t copy and paste it to your wardrobe.
You will also want to make sure that your collection includes all the essentials you need. If you need help identifying which essentials items to include in your wardrobe, this post will help.
I've also created a free workbook for you to download to help you identify what your capsule collection should include 👇
1-2 pairs of jeans
Choose 2 different styles, and choose styles that work for you. They can be anything from a skinny jean to a straight leg. And you don't have to go for the classic blue denim, they can be any color you like.
Here are some of my favorite jeans for a capsule collection in 2022:
1-2 pairs of pants or trousers
They should fit you fantastically, they should suit your shape, and ideally they should look good with both heels and sneakers for maximum versatility.
Choose a fabric that works for your lifestyle and go for a color that you like, that you feel is versatile. A navy, black or cream is typically the easiest color to pair with others, but you don't need to limit yourself to those hues, and the pants don’t have to be plain either.
If you don’t like pants, add a second pair of jeans in a different style, or swap it out for a skirt.
Here are some of my favorite pants and trousers for a capsule collection in 2022:
Again, choose a shape that compliments you, in a color that suits your style preferences.
It can be plain or print. Maxi, midi or mini - whatever you like, but make sure it’s a shape and length that you are comfortable wearing in multiple ways on to a variety of events because it needs to be versatile.
If you don’t like wearing skirts, add a second pair of pants in a different style.
Here are some of my favorite skirts for a capsule collection in 2022:
Choose a dress that can be easily dressed up and down. Make sure it fits you well and works for your shape. It also wants to align with your lifestyle. As with the skirt, go for plain or print, midi, maxi, or mini. Just make sure it’s versatile.
If dresses aren’t your thing, consider matching separates (these are a capsule wardrobe hero!), a jumpsuit, or pants suit.
Here are some of my favorite versatile dresses for a capsule collection in 2022:
a short sleeve T-shirt
Now, you don’t have to go for the classic plain white tee here, it can be striped, plain, graphic or a band tee. But make sure you choose a neckline and length that works for your shape, and a color that takes your fancy, but make sure the color you choose compliments ALL the bottoms in your collection. This is key to a successful capsule collection.
Here are some of my favorite tees for a capsule collection in 2022:
a long sleeve T-shirt
Again, you don’t have to go for the classic plain white tee here. Just make sure the neckline and length works for your shape, and the color compliments you and ALL the bottoms in your collection.
Here are some of my favorite tees for a capsule collection in 2022:
2x blouse, top or button up
whichever you prefer. I find that a blouse is more versatile but choose what works for you. Whatever you choose make sure it will layer under jackets and knitwear to give you maximum versatility, and opt for a neckline that works for your shape. Oh, and it MUST compliment the bottoms in your collection.
Here are some of my favorite blouses and button ups for a capsule collection in 2022:
sweater or a sweatshirt
A few things to keep in mind with a sweater are the thickness of the fabric, the neckline, and the length. You want whichever style you go for to layer easily over tops and under jackets as this will be the most versatile. Choose a neckline and length that works for you and a color that goes with everything else in the collection.
Here are some of my favorite sweaters for a capsule collection in 2022:
A cardigan is a super useful item to have in your collection. Choose one in a length and neckline that works for you, and make sure you can layer it over all the tops in your collection.
Here are some of my favorite sweaters for a capsule collection in 2022:
a casual jacket
Pick any style - a denim, moto or utility jacket are the classic options but don’t restrict yourself to those if they’re not your bag. Whatever you choose it must compliment the other items in the collection, and it should suit you and your lifestyle.
Here are some of my favorite jackets for a capsule collection in 2022:
a tailored jacket
Any style or length you like…if it works for you. Choose one that looks as good with jeans as it does with pants. And make sure to pick a color that works with everything else in the collection. Tailored jackets come in a wide range of fabrics, so choose one that works best or your lifestyle. It could be a comfortable jersey blazer, or a more tailored style.
Here are some of my favorite blazers for a capsule collection in 2022:
This must work with the rest of the collection so choose a color that compliments the other items. Choose a shape that suits your shape, and a fabric that works for your lifestyle. It can be any length you like, and any style, it just needs to work with the collection and you.
Here are some of my favorite coats for a capsule collection in 2022:
extras - footwear
Footwear is extremely important, but choose that once you’ve compiled your capsule collection. At a minimum I recommend:
- 1x pair of sneakers
- 1x pair of flats
- 1x pair of heels
- 1x pair of ankle boots
- 1x pair of calf/knee high boots
Don't forget to download my free workbook to help you start building your capsule wardrobe👇
these are the best stores to head to when you're creating a capsule wardrobe
These are some of the stores I regularly use when I'm sourcing a capsule collection for my clients. Their clothing is good quality, their pieces are typically very versatile, and the brands compliment each other which makes it easier to mix and match from them.
Can I get a pre-made capsule wardrobe?
If you can’t face building a capsule collection on your own, or don't have the time, there are some retailers and companies who can do it for you:
Ultimately - if you want to open your closet each morning, feeling excited about deciding what to wear, and to spend only a few minutes putting together an outfit that looks good on you, then a capsule wardrobe is for you!
Yes, it takes time to create, but the effort you put into creating your wardrobe will yield HUGE benefits in the months to come.
In the words of one of my clients, after I sourced her a standard capsule collection:
"I really love my closet now, it's a joy again because I now know my style and feel confident in how to put things together that I like. I always find something I love to wear, and I have way more confidence to add to it. I know the combos that work well and feel good on my body. I also have way less decision fatigue. I just know what to take out - simple!"
- ZOE LAVENDER
If you have any questions about pulling together your capsule wardrobe, get in touch - I'm here to help!
Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase a product via these links I will earn a small commission. I NEVER link to products that I wouldn’t recommend to my clients, or purchase myself, in fact I own many of the styles linked here so can vouch for them! To find out more CLICK HERE