How to Build a Timeless Capsule Wardrobe

Let’s try a quick exercise. If you were to walk over to your closet right now, how many pieces would you be able to confidently identify as true wardrobe staples? Garments you wear pretty regularly — and we don’t mean your shredded T-shirt from your alma mater that you don’t have the heart to toss. We’re talking about those foundational pieces that you can always rely on for work or weekends. If your drawers are more overstuffed with the unnecessary, it’s time to create a classic capsule wardrobe that will serve you for years on end.

But first, what is a capsule wardrobe? 

Think of it as a pared-down collection of essentials that you can easily mix and match. It’s a way to minimize clutter and reduce your wardrobe to versatile items you love and wear. Not only will this free up significant closet and storage space, but sticking to your favorite tried-and-trues can also help you cut back on waste. Rather than purchasing numerous fast-fashion pieces that end up in the donation bin by the end of the year, invest in timeless staples that will outlast trends and seasons. 

How do you start a capsule wardrobe?

Begin with a closet cleanout. Identify clothes you haven’t worn in over a year, and if they’re still in wearable condition, set them aside in a donation pile. If purging isn’t the easiest thing for you to do, you can always hold onto those “maybe” items and revisit the process again in a couple of months. Chances are, you won’t even miss them. Once you’re left with a smaller selection, sift through these pieces once again through another lens: Can I build multiple looks around this? Meaning, can I simply swap the bottom, top, or jacket to create a different outfit? The end result should be your best core basics — or you may even realize that you don’t have any. 

How many pieces should you have?

Whether or not you’re starting from complete scratch at this point, we recommend having a selective assortment of about 20 to 25 pieces (including clothing, shoes, and accessories) per season. Some swear by the 333 rule (33 pieces every three months), but it also doesn’t have to be that prescriptive, depending on your lifestyle and location. For example, if you live in a seasonless city like Los Angeles, your spring capsule wardrobe may not differ so much from your summer or fall wardrobe. And if your work calls for more a casual office look, you’ll have more flexibility versus someone who wears a suit and tie each day. Feel free to find that sweet spot that works for you. 

What should be in a capsule wardrobe? 

Now, onto the fun stuff. Aside from those occasion-specific pieces you won’t be able to get around, focus on versatile layers. Bonus points if they can be worn across seasons but some items, like your winter down jacket, have a very specific window. And that’s ok. Here’s a good breakdown of 20 garments you can work off of:

  • 2 pairs of jeans
  • 2 other bottoms (pants or shorts)
  • 3 tees
  • 3 jackets (including a blazer)
  • 4 shirts 
  • 3 pairs of shoes 
  • 3 accessories (example: sunglasses, belt, hat)

Keep in mind that this doesn’t count sleepwear, workout clothes, socks, or underwear, but use your best judgment to keep these other categories at a low too. Go ahead and give your own capsule wardrobe a shot — you’ll be surprised at much more you can do with less.

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