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 black or 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” e v e r y d a y. To have one set of clothing that I absolutely loved, and to wear those items for everything. All of my clothing would have to be multi-purpose, I decided, or it just wouldn’t make the cut.
The idea reminded me of picture I once saw at Yosemite National Park—it was taken in the late 1800’s 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. 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:
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!).
Most people change into activewear because they don’t want to sweat in their clothing. First of all, many of the activities I love (ballet, tennis, walking, hiking) don’t involve enough sweat to do anything to my outfit. I simply wear a pair of leggings with a sweater and some sneakers.
Second of all, for the activities that do involve a lot of sweating (BBG, running, etc), I usually wear three things: a sports bra, a tank top, and a pair of leggings—and I figured those were three staples that I could use for several other uses as well (with a tee for loungewear, with a down jacket for outdoor wear, and with heels and a sweater as daywear).
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, see activewear above.
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 rent something.
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.
I see no need for swimsuit coverups (I simply wear my jean shorts or my summer dress over my swimsuit), sport-specific sneakers (I have one pair for exercise including walking, running, tennis, and dance classes; and I have one pair for outdoor activities including hiking and backpacking), or sport-specific sunglasses (my Tory Burch ones are just fine for everything).
Based on those guidelines, I designed my dream capsule wardrobe (here’s a tour)
Inspired by Hilaria Baldwin who famously wears her black Lululemon leggings with a tank top for yoga, with a baggy tee for loungewear, or with a baggy sweater and heels for daywear—(and often even wears the baggy sweater for yoga too!) I designed my wardrobe the same way. So that my base layer could fit all activities (loungewear, activewear, outdoor wear, or daywear) when layered over with the right accoutrements.
- 3 Pairs Leggings—I have two pairs of Lululemon Wunder Unders in black and one pair Lululemon Wunder Unders Low Rise Tights in henna/black
- 1 Pair Shorts—I have one pair of Lululemon athletic shorts in black (which they don’t make anymore).
- 2 Sports bras—I have two Lululemon sports bras in black (both of which they don’t make anymore)
- 3 Tanks—I have three Lululemon tanks (of which they don’t make anymore), two in black, and one in carbon
From there I will layer on a classic tee either paired with jean shorts when it’s warm (like this or 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. I have one white tee shirt, and then three cashmere tees.
- 1 White t-shirt by Levi’s
- 3 Cashmere tees by Theory—I have them in grey, burgundy, and black
Apart from my one white t-shirt, the rest of my tops are buttondowns. 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 in blue by Vince
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 primary 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’re just my favorites. My blush and grey sweaters are no longer available online, though they are both Vince. Stay tuned with those brands though and I guarantee the right one will pop-up.
- 10 Vince Sweaters (in various neutrals)
When I’m not wearing leggings, I wear my black trouser pant, my black skirt, or my black dresses (depending on the weather). I also own two pairs of jeans.
- 1 Black Trouser—I have one pair of the Rag & Bone Simone Slim Ankle Pant in black (my Audrey Hepburn trouser!)
- 2 Wide-leg pants—one floor length black pair by Vince, one camel culotte by Vince
- 2 Pairs of Jeans—A dark skinny jean by Paige and a light wash baggier jean by Levi’s
- 1 Washed Jean short—I have a pair by Villa Clothes that I bought in France
- 3 Flowy Skirts—I have one pleated black skirt by Vince, one pleated creme skirt by Vince, and one pleated blue velvet skirt from a boutique in New Orleans
- 2 Black Dresses—I have a fitted black dress and a flowy black dress by James Perse
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.
- 1 Heavy sweater in creme by Vince
- 1 Heavy sweater in black by Vince
- 1 Heavy coat in black—I have a North Face down parka that goes down to my ankles
- 1 Down jacket in grey—I have Cotopaxi’s Fuego Down Jacket in mist/creamsicle
- 1 Outerwear jacket in grey—I have Arc’teryx’Shashka Jacket in brushed nickel
- 1 Black two-piece swimsuit by American Eagle
- 1 Navy two-piece swimsuit from a boutique
- 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!)
- 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)
- 20 Pairs of thong underwear—I only buy Hanky Panky low-rise thongs in black
- 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.
- 1 Wool hat by Clyde in burgundy (for fall/winter)
- 1 Straw hat by Eric Javitz (for spring/summer)
- 2 Pair sunglasses—I have one classic pair of Tory Burch sunglasses, and one pop-color pair of Dior sunglasses
- Jewelry—I only have one pair of studs, two dangly pairs, two watches, a necklace, and a strand of pearls
I don’t have a minimalist rule on shoes but I try to keep the classics on hand. Here’s what I have:
- Boots—I have two pairs of black booties (in high and low heel), one pair of tall black riding boots, one pair of Timberland boots, and two pairs of Sorrels
- Heels—I have four pairs of heels (in classic black, classic nude, trendy gold, and red-velvet)
- Flats—I have two pairs of flats (in black and red velvet)
- Sandals—I have one pair of Tory Burch’s Miller sandals
- Active—I have one pair of outdoor sneakers, and one pair of indoor sneakers, and one pair of custom designed Chaco sandals for the outdoors in the summer
- Sneakers—I have one pair of white slip ons by Vince
- Casual—I have one pair of black Uggs for the winter, and one pair of flip flops for the summer
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.