A capsule wardrobe is a small, but well-curated collection of clothing items designed to all go together. Last year, I decided to create just that. I gave away all of my clothing except for ten items: A pair of jeans, a pair of leggings, two sweaters, two button-down shirts, two tops, one workout top, and one workout bottom. It was pretty extreme to say the least.
I did this because I was tired of having clothes I didn’t like—and lots of them. Every morning I would sort through my closet exasperated, unable to find anything that I liked, and every morning I would head out the door hating whatever it was I ultimately chose.
This is what I wanted in my capsule wardrobe
But that’s not how I wanted to feel. I had just entered into my early thirties at the time and I wanted to look it. I wanted to wear beautiful cashmere sweaters with classic black trousers. I wanted to wear patent leather shoes with Italian leather handbags. I wanted to wear gold jewelry and to be known for a signature perfume. In short, I wanted to feel classic, elegant, and feminine. Every single day.
Then I read an article about Audrey Hepburn. It said that despite being a fashion icon, she was actually known for only five iconic pieces: a black boatneck sweater, a black trouser pant, a black fitted dress, a pair of black heels, and a strand of pearls. And it’s true—whenever I picture Audrey in my mind, she’s inevitably wearing one of those key classic pieces.
Finally, after reading Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up I came up with a plan: I was going to design what my dream wardrobe looked like, then I was going to get rid of everything that didn’t fit the bill. From there I would rebuild my very own capsule wardrobe from scratch, slowly buying up those pieces that would eventually make up my dream closet. But first, I needed to decide what exactly my “style” was.
So I started a Pinterest board called Wardrobe and I started pinning every possible style I loved to it. For months I edited it, adding things I loved and deleting things that didn’t match the other pieces. Soon I began to notice patterns. I really only liked neutrals: blacks, cremes, greys, and a blush pink; I loved pullover sweaters with crew necks (open-front cardigans and v-necklines just weren’t my thing); I loved a solid white tee over jeans (crew neck, no pocket), and a classic pump heel in black and nude. And that was really it. Everything else, I realized, I just didn’t like.
This is what I didn’t want in my capsule wardrobe
Now that I knew what I did want in my capsule wardrobe, I had to make some decisions about what I didn’t. At the time I had a lot of clothing, and most of it didn’t match my newly discovered style. As I started the arduous process of getting rid of 99% of my clothing, I found myself justifying why I might need each individual piece. This is my music festival dress, I rationed. Or, these are my camping pants.
But as I delved deeper into the process of architecting my dream closet, I realized that single-use items could no longer have a place in it. I didn’t want to change out of my beautiful, feminine wardrobe on a Friday night just to change into boxy, manly camping gear on the weekends. The goal of this whole project, after all, was to feel like “me” every day. To have one set of clothing that I absolutely loved, and to wear those items for every purpose.
The idea reminded me of a picture I once saw at Yosemite National Park—it was taken in the late 1800s and featured men and women hiking up Yosemite Falls (sort of like this one). At the time men and women only had two outfits: a daywear outfit and a formalwear outfit for church. Women, whether working in the home, gardening in the yard, or climbing up Yosemite Falls, wore the same thick wool dress with the same slightly heeled boots. They simply cleaned the outfit when it got dirty and mended it when it tore.
Clothing today should be the same, I thought. If it’s made to be good quality, then it should stand up to significant use—and every kind of use. We shouldn’t be afraid to wear one set of clothing in all circumstances. Just because companies market clothing to us as “activewear” or “outdoor wear” doesn’t mean we can’t opt-out of the consumerist mindset and purchase one Tory Sport sweater that can be worn on a hike in Yosemite or with heels at the office. With this in mind, here’s what I decided my capsule wardrobe would not have in it:
Loungewear: Most people change into loungewear when they get home from work because their daywear outfit is not comfortable and they don’t want to spill on it when they cook. I decided that my daywear wardrobe should be comfortable enough to wear all day and that I would simply put an apron over it when I cook (like any good French chef would do!).
Outdoor wear: Most people change into “outdoor wear” when they go camping because they don’t want to get their nice clothing dirty—news flash: Patagonia clothing costs just as much as Nordstrom clothing and they’re both going to get dirty. A pair of leggings and a well-made wool sweater will suit both purposes just fine. And if I’m doing something sweaty, my baselayers will all be activewear-esque.
Formal wear: I have never worn the same dress twice. So I decided I would not own or purchase formal dresses. If a formal occasion comes up, I just wear one of my skirts with a nice top and heels. Almost all of my clothing can be dressed down into activewear or dressed up into formal wear.
Seasonal wear: A lot of capsule wardrobers divide their clothing into four categories: their fall, spring, summer, and winter wear. I didn’t want to do that. I prefer to have one set of clothing that can be layered up or layered down depending on the temperature.
Single-use items: I see no need for sport-specific sunglasses (my Tory Burch ones are just fine for everything) or sport-specific shoes (one pair of sneakers can be used for all activities in my mind).
Based on those guidelines, I designed my dream capsule wardrobe (here’s a tour)
I have a couple tanks that can be worn alone in the summer tucked into jeans, or under a sweater in the fall, or to dress up a skirt for formal wear.
- 1 white tank by Cuyana (that looks like the above picture)
- 1 black crop top by Eliza J—for wearing with a skirt and heels to a formal occasion.
I’m also a big fan of the classic tee, either paired with jean shorts when it’s warm (like this) or paired with a sweater when it’s cool (like this or like this). The most important thing when choosing a tee is to make sure it is super soft (so that it can double as loungewear and casual wear) and that it is not see-through (so you don’t have to buy anything to go under it).
I personally love a crew neck better than a v-neck, and I’m not a big fan of the pocket tee. It also has to be long enough to tuck in and to peek out from under a sweater and baggy enough to have that 90s mom look. I have two white tee shirts, and then three cashmere tees.
- 2 white tee shirts—one fitted by Levi’s, and one oversized by Bassike.
- 3 cashmere tees by Theory—I have them in grey, burgundy, and black.
- 1 crop top by Tibi—this is one of those pieces that didn’t really fit into any category, but I love it and it goes with everything else I own. I especially love wearing this piece with my high-waisted trousers to work, or with my skirts to parties.
Apart from my tees, the rest of my tops are button-downs. I love that oversized, 90s mom look (like this or like this) and I wear them with shorts in the summer, with jeans or trousers or skirts in the fall, and under sweaters in winter. Tucked in slightly in the front with rolled sleeves is my favorite vibe.
A classic buttondown is the most versatile piece a girl can have. I have a couple of them so I have something to wear when the others are in the wash.
- 1 oversized buttondown by ALLSAINTS—I ordered this in a size medium so it would be especially baggy.
- 1 short sleeved buttondown by Madewell.
- 1 short sleeved buttondown from a boutique.
- 1 short sleeved buttondown by Vince in blue. For a while, the space between the buttons on this one kept opening, revealing my skin through the shirt holes. Then I took it to a tailor and had invisible snaps placed between the buttons. Problem solved!
When it’s cooler, I add a sweater—but picking the perfect sweater is truly an art form. Thus far, my base layers and my tees could be worn for every possible activity. Not so easy to find with sweaters. But I was determined to have thick, quality sweaters that could be worn over leggings or jeans while camping or over leggings or jeans with heels for daywear.
So I came up with a rule for my sweaters: they had to be made primarily of wool (like 75% or up). Wool is as versatile as a fabric can come (and it’s totally what the settlers were wearing when they climbed up Yosemite). You’ll notice that outdoor wear companies like Patagonia make most of their sweaters using wool and that’s because as a fiber, it’s naturally breathable and has wicking properties.
I also wanted all of my sweaters to be oversized. That way I would only ever have to wash my baselayer, and could take my sweaters to the cleaners once every three months or so. Someone once asked why I would wear a dry-clean-only sweater camping or to a bonfire, and I said it was because no matter what sweater I wore, it would have been hard to clean. At least when I go to the cleaners my sweater will come back still looking the same. Not so with many outdoor sweaters of my husband’s that I have inevitably shrunk in the wash.
As to brands, all of my sweaters are Vince or Tory Sport. They vary in weight from lighter to heavier and in silhouette from fitted to baggy so that they can suit a wide variety of temperatures and styles. Obviously, this could be pared down quite a bit. But I have a thing for sweaters. And I love all of them.
- 13 crewneck sweaters (in black, blush, taupe, creme, camel, grey, maroon, and navy).
- 3 turtleneck sweaters (in red, navy, and black).
I have four pairs of denim to suit any style (with sweaters, tees, or
- 1 dark skinny
- 1 light high-waist jean by Levi’s (that look like the above picture)
- 1 baggy dad jean by Madewell
- 1 washed jean short—I have a pair by Villa Clothes that I bought in France
I have four pairs of pants that aren’t jeans. These also go great with all my tops and sweaters
- 1 black trouser I have one pair of the Rag & Bone Simone Slim Angle Pant in black (my Audrey Hepburn trouser!).
- 2 wide-leg pants—I have one full-length black pair by Vince and one camel culotte by Vince.
- 1 trouser short in navy.
- 3 pleated skirts—I have this pleated skirt by Vince in creme and this pleated skirt by Vince in black, as well as a pleated blue velvet skirt (that looks like the picture above) from a boutique in New Orleans.
- 1 pencil skirt—I have a classic black pencil skirt by BCBG.
- 3 black dresses—I have two black dresses by James Perse (that look like the above) and one with a plunge v-neck for over swimsuits. I wear one of those two classic black dresses almost every day in the summer.
This is something I didn’t have when we lived in California, but now that we’re in Utah I had to invest heavily in warm layers. I decided I needed two heavy sweaters that could be worn over anything in the fall, one heavy down jacket that could be worn over those in the winter, and for outdoor sports like Nordic skiing, I have a down jacket and an outer shell that can be paired together or separately depending on the temperature.
- 3 heavy cardigans— I have one cashmere coat in creme by Vince, one light black cardigan by Vince, and one heavy black knit coat by Vince.
- 1 heavy parka in black—I have a North Face down parka that goes down to my ankles, a necessity in Utah.
- 1 down jacket in grey—I have Cotopaxi’s Fuego Down Jacket in mist/creamsicle for outdoor activities such as skiing.
- 1 outerwear jacket in grey—I have Arc’teryx’Shashka Jacket in brushed nickel for outdoor activities such as skiing.
My activewear wardrobe is designed for ballet. So I have a couple baselayer items I wear to the barre (mostly a high waisted legging with a crop top), and a couple of layering pieces to keep my muscles and joints warm. Since ballet requires a certain kind of fitted apparel, I have some other activewear items as well for activities such as hiking, biking, or skiing.
I could honestly stand to reduce this category further—two pairs of leggings instead of four, for example—but as I own four pairs of Lululemon leggings, I decided it wasn’t worth getting rid of two quality pair of pants that I wear all the time. Instead, this just allows me to always have a couple pairs in the wash. If eventually, a pair wears out, I won’t replace them.
- 1 leotard—for ballet. This is by Lululemon in black.
- 4 pairs leggings—I have three pairs of Lululemon Wunder Unders in black (two in
regular-rise, and one in highrise) and one pair in blush.
- 3 crop tops—I have three crop tops by Goop’s G.
Sportlabel, this one, this one, and this one. They’re perfect with my high-waisted leggings for ballet.
- 3 sweaters—I have three blush sweaters to wear over my crop tops at the beginning of ballet. All by Lululemon.
- 2 pair shorts—I have two pairs of Lululemon athletic shorts one in black and one in floral.
- 2 tanks—I have two Lululemon tanks, both black, to wear for all other activities.
- 2 baselayers—I have one short-sleeved fitted baselayer, and one long-sleeved fitted baselayer for outdoor sports.
- 1 sweatshirt—I have one Tory Burch sweatshirt to layer over for all activities.
- 1 hiking dress—I know this is weird, but I prefer to hike and backpack in a dress. It’s just so much more comfortable. I have a black tank dress by Lululemon that I wear for this purpose.
- Biking gear—I have one pair of padded bike shorts for biking with my husband as well as a pair of biking gloves.
- Ski wear—I have one pair of ski pants, and a pair of waterproof ski pants for Nordic, backcountry, and downhill skiing as well as a pair of snow gloves.
- 1 wool hat by Clyde in burgundy (for fall/winter)
- 1 fedora by Eric Javitz (for spring/summer)
- 2 pairs sunglasses—one pair of Dior sunglasses in blush and one pair of Tory Burch sunglasses in
- 2 belts—I have two Madewell belts, one in black, and one in brown leather.
- Jewelry—I only have one pair of studs by Kate Spade, two dangly pairs, a necklace, and a strand of pearls.
- 4-piece leather luggage set—I have a leather A.P.C. bag that is my daily purse. Then I have a Madewell tote that I use for work and traveling. I also have the Madewell Weekender for road trips and a BRIC’s
rollerbagfor air travel. All of those are in brown leather so they all go together and are very classic looking.
- 1 scarf, 1 pair of mittens, 1 hat.
- 5 boots—I have one pair of tall black riding boots by Tory Burch, one pair of heeled black ankle boots by Tory Burch, one pair of Timberland boots, and two pairs of Sorrels.
- 8 heels—I have eight pairs of heels (three in black, one classic nude, one blush, two in red velvet, one in gold).
- 2 flats—I have one pair of Madewell loafers in black and one pair of smoking slippers in red velvet.
- 1 sandals—I have one pair of Tory Burch’s Miller sandals. These are my go-to summer shoes and I re-purchase them every couple of seasons once they have worn out.
- 1 sneaker—I have one pair of Vince’s white slip-
- 4 active shoes—I have one pair of hiking boots, one pair of hiking shoes, one pair of Nike Free’s, and one pair of custom designed Chaco sandals for the outdoors in the summer.
- 2 casual shoes—I have one pair of black Uggs for the winter, and one pair of flip flops for the summer for going to and from ballet.
- 1 one-piece swimsuit by American Eagle (they carry basic swimsuits in size long!)
- 2 two-piece swimsuits—one black bandeau by American Eagle, and one navy ruffle swimsuit from a boutique.
- 2 sports bras—I have two Lululemon sports bras one in black, and one in blush.
- 2 bralettes in nude and black—I have Hanky Panky’s Signature Lace Padded Bralette in black and chai (finally! A bralette that has just enough padding so that nothing shows through! This is what I wear every day)
- 2 bras in nude and black—I have Wacoal’s How Perfect Wireless Contour Bra in black and nude (I’m very against anything with wires or pads!)
- 20 pairs of thong underwear—I only buy Hanky Panky low-rise thongs in black so they always match my bras.
- 10 pairs of THINX (the underwear that’s made for when you’re on your period)—I have thongs for day, and boyshorts for night.
A few things I learned the hard way
Quality doesn’t come cheap
You’ll notice that none of the items in my wardrobe come cheap. In fact, though I only have around 40 pieces of clothing, my wardrobe is the most expensive thing that I own. But there’s a reason for this: I decided to invest in quality clothing knowing that it would be all I ever needed in the years to come. The only reason I would ever need to purchase anything else would be if I actually wore something out. Which is unlikely because everything can be mended.
Don’t buy cashmere
At first, I tried to go all cashmere with my sweater wardrobe, but I quickly learned that they just don’t last (every single cashmere piece I have ever owned got holes within the first six months of wear), and they just aren’t versatile enough (they’re really only good for daywear).
Don’t go shopping
The thing about creating this kind of wardrobe is that It’s not fun to shop for. And shopping is what got me into the whole “hating everything I own” thing to begin with. Because when you’re walking around Nordstrom, a solid white tee just isn’t that enticing. Instead, we gravitate towards a floral print top (so hot right now) or millennial pink leggings. In the store, they’re simply the prettier option.
But when you buy the pretty thing in the store, you end up hating it at home. It doesn’t go with anything, you need to buy a new bra to wear it, or you need to buy a new top or bottom to match it. Eventually, after a year or two, the trendy items get sent to Goodwill with the rest. On the other hand, when you buy a classic piece, it may not feel as enticing in the store, but when you bring it home it feels like pure luxury. It goes with every single thing in your closet, it looks beautiful and elegant on, and you wear it every day because it’s your favorite piece.
So now I don’t go shopping. I know it will only lead me to impulse buy. Instead, I look at my list above to see what I need and then I look at my Pinterest board to see the exact item I’m looking for. I might spend an entire year searching for the perfect product, never compromising until I find the exact item I’m looking for.
If it’s not perfect, wait
There were a couple of times that I needed something time sensitive and so I made a rash decision. For example, last summer I tried to find the perfect hat, and I wanted to find that perfect hat before my girlfriends and I went to France. Rashly, I bought a hat. But it wasn’t the perfect hat. When I came back I regretted that I had bought it and wished I had waited to find the perfect one. Which took me another two years to find. Rather than buying something temporary and then replacing it, I wish that I had waited and just bought the perfect thing when I found it.
Only buy from Nordstrom
Sometimes I find the perfect thing only to discover that it’s actually not the perfect thing after I’ve worn it for a few months (for example, Vince leggings that I bought that stretched out horribly after a few months of use or an impulse buy at a boutique that doesn’t accept returns). Because of this I now have a rule that all of my purchases have to be made from Nordstrom.
Nordstrom will let you return anything, even without a tag, even without a receipt, even if you bought it five years ago. For this reason, buying something from Nordstrom is like taking out an insurance policy that whatever I buy from them will for sure be the piece I’m looking for. And if it’s not, I know I can always return it.
Get everything tailored
I once read that the secret to Jennifer Aniston’s classic style is that she gets everything tailored. Even t-shirts. After I read that I’ve realized that more often than not, the reason why a particular item isn’t 100% perfect, is because it just doesn’t fit quite like I’d like it to. For this reason, I get almost everything tailored so that it has that perfect fit.
This is the classic problem I face when I’m shopping: most clothing assumes a shorter person with a wider frame. I’m tall and skinny. For this reason, I almost always have to buy a size or two up (for length and drapeyness) and then have to get it tailored in (so that they are slender enough around my arms and midsection). Once you find out what problem you consistently face with clothing, you can get everything tailored to have that perfect fit.
Try on different silhouettes to see how they actually look on you
One of the items I originally pinned a lot was a classic panama hat. I searched for it forever before realizing that panamas just don’t look as good on my particular face. It took me dozens of returned hat ordered to discover fedora, and wide fedoras were better suited to my stature. If I had it all to do over again I would go to Nordstrom and try on all of the various silhouettes I pinned to my inspiration board to see which would work best for me.
Think through the details
Thinking through the details is especially important when packing. Once, my sister and I went to Vancouver to run the Lululemon half-marathon and I thought I had packed everything I needed. Turns out I forgot my running shoes. This led to me purchasing a pair of $120 shoes that I didn’t even like just so I could run the race. I did this exact same thing when I drove up to Tahoe for a ski weekend only to discover that I didn’t have my ski pants. I bought a pair I didn’t like just so I could ski for the day. I ended up with those ugly shoes and that ugly pair of ski pants for years before I finally replaced them with something I actually liked. And I felt extremely guilty getting rid of something that was still wearable (the exact opposite of my goal).
What’s next for my wardrobe?
Now my closet is a living breathing thing. I know that over time I still have a couple of key pieces to add to it, and that as styles change, I will have to retire some pieces and add some new ones (though I hope that I’ve kept my closet as timeless as possible so as to avoid doing so excessively). I know that sometimes I will have a shoe that cannot be repaired (like a pair of Frye boots that completely fell apart on me) that I will need to get rid of.
But for the most part, I’m done. I have exactly what I started out one year ago to achieve: a beautiful wardrobe that is classic, elegant, and feminine. I have very few items, but what I do have is extremely good quality, and everything goes together. It’s easy to choose what I want to wear each day. And every day I feel like Audrey Hepburn. Best of all, my wardrobe is so simple that it is easy to pack, I simply put almost everything I own in my luggage.
Finally, I also have a closet that is more sustainable. Meaning that the items shouldn’t need to be replaced with too much regularity and I shouldn’t need to shop anymore. For the most part I’m “done.” And that means that regardless of what activity we do, or where we go, I shouldn’t need to buy anything for it. Just like those early settlers in Yosemite valley, my small simple closet is all I need and I plan to make it last for a long time.
That being said, I am in no way trying to be a “minimalist.” Though I might fit into a few categories of that movement (fewer items, all of which I love, only the items that I need), I have no restrictions on my wardrobe and may buy more pieces as they suit my style. To me having few items is merely a byproduct of what I was really trying to create with my capsule wardrobe: a simple closet, where everything goes together, and that makes me feel classy every day.