Capsule wardrobe for women: Dress smartly and simplify your life

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If you spend most days paralyzed about what to wear, you may need a capsule wardrobe. This kind of clothing collection helps cut down on decision fatigue and makes it easier to get dressed in the morning.

A woman curating a capsule wardrobe in front of a closet full of clothes.
Photo credit: YayImages.

The capsule wardrobe explained

When you create a capsule wardrobe, you’re purchasing clothing that you can easily mix and match. The idea is to have a small number of pieces that work well together.

Deciding to go with a capsule wardrobe is a great way of decluttering your closet, bedroom and even laundry room by having fewer pieces of clothing in rotation.

Where did the term capsule wardrobe originate? According to The Washington Post, it started with a single designer in London in the 1970s but became part of the fashion lexicon “in 1985 when designer Donna Karan introduced a capsule collection of interchangeable workwear attire called ‘Seven Easy Pieces’,” The Washington Post reported.

In 2020, everyone needed a work-from-home wardrobe. Enter the capsule concept. Using this tool, you could look professional on camera without stressing that you had nothing to wear.

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Elements of the capsule wardrobe

A woman is organizing her capsule wardrobe in her closet.
Photo credit: YayImages.

A capsule wardrobe is a collection of versatile, timeless and high-quality clothing items that you use interchangeably to create a range of different outfits.

So, what do you need for this new approach to your wardrobe?

  • Classic white shirt — T-shirt or buttoned blouse.
  • Tailored blazer.
  • Pair of dark-wash jeans.
  • Little black dress.
  • A versatile skirt, such as a pencil or A-line.
  • Comfortable pair of flats.
  • Pair of black pumps.
  • Neutral-colored sweater or cardigan.
  • Trench coat or a classic coat.

These items can be dressed up or down so that they are appropriate for a range of settings.

“A capsule wardrobe isn’t complete without a few killer accessories,” said Harman Arwal of Your Girl Knows. She suggests working neck chains, earrings, bracelets and rings into your capsule collection.

Lifestyle and work environment

A young stay-at-home mother, a rising corporate executive and a woman approaching retirement age can all benefit from a capsule wardrobe. However, what they buy or wear may differ.

For example, if you work in a corporate environment, you’ll have to reserve those dark-wash jeans for weekends only. And one dress and skirt may not be enough for five days in the office.

So, you may want to add an extra pair of trousers or some other more formal pieces to your closet. Of course, you’ll want them to fit seamlessly with what you already own so you can still do easy mixing and matching.

Plus, if you travel for your job, you’ll find that a capsule wardrobe makes it easier to pack. “I used to travel every week for work,” Michelle Price of Honest and Truly recalled. “I chose simple color palettes that allowed me to create complementary outfits where I can mix and match rather than packing five full outfits with shoes each week.”

On the other hand, the woman who is dressing casually most of the time will probably get more mileage from those dark-wash jeans than the little black dress.

Where to shop for wardrobe essentials

Capsule wardrobe featuring clothes hanging on a rack in a closet.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Chances are you may already have some of these wardrobe essentials in your closet. However, if you need to add items, you have a variety of shopping options.

Shopping thrift and consignment stores

There are a few reasons you might want to look for capsule wardrobe elements at a thrift store or resale shop. One, you likely did a closet cleanout to make room for your new way of getting dressed.

Why not make some extra cash consigning your clothing at the very place where you might buy new? Plus, there’s a benefit to this approach: some consignment shops will give you a higher-value store credit for your clothing versus paying you directly.

For example, at the resale chain Buffalo Exchange, you get twice as much in-store credit than you would if you walked away with cash in hand for the clothing you consigned to them.

Two, if part of your inspiration for going with a capsule wardrobe is to build an eco-friendly closet, then buying used at a thrift store makes the most sense.

There are also online thrift shop options via Poshmark or ThredUp, or even brand-specific resale shops. Some of the brands that sell their clothing used on their own sites include:

  • Eileen Fisher
  • H&M
  • Levi’s
  • Lululemon
  • MM LaFleur

Buying brands that stand behind their products

If you’re going to invest in new clothing and aren’t interested in buying used, then you’ll want to choose brands that last. And if something goes wrong with the clothing — due to no fault of your own — then you’ll want to give your business to brands and retailers that stand behind their products.

For instance, look for brands that offer guarantees on their clothing, such as L.L. Bean or check out this Lulus review. Or, always shop at a retailer with an exceptional customer service reputation. These are the stores that will stand behind what they sell, regardless of the brand you buy.

For instance, here is the Nordstrom return policy:

“We stand behind our goods and services, and want customers to be satisfied with them. We’ll always do our best to take care of customers — our philosophy is to deal with them fairly and reasonably.”

Using a personal stylist

If all of this clothes shopping feels overwhelming, you can always work with a personal stylist. And you don’t have to pay for it either, this will also ensure you don’t buy clothes that clash.

Many national stores offer styling services for free, done in person or virtually, based on your preferences. These stores include:

  • Bloomingdale’s
  • J. Crew
  • Macy’s
  • Madewell
  • Nordstrom

Trends and the capsule wardrobe

A capsule wardrobe in a white closet.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Even after you’ve built your capsule wardrobe, you can still have fun with fashion trends. Just don’t overdo it.

For example, if designers are sending animal prints down the fashion runway, you could add a leopard print scarf or a pair of animal print flats to your capsule wardrobe. The idea is to choose one or two trend pieces that can be mixed and matched with your existing wardrobe to create new outfits.

Even better with regards to animal prints: InStyle magazine says that you can use them as a neutral in your capsule wardrobe.

Overall, you want to be comfortable in the clothes you buy for your capsule wardrobe. So, choose well-made pieces that fit and flatter your body. By focusing on quality over quantity, you can save money, reduce waste and simplify your life.

Leah Ingram is the author of 15 books, including “Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less” and “The Complete Guide to Paying for College.” She shares shopping advice for getting the most value for your time and money at Leah Ingram Real Sophisticated Consumer.

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