By Arwa Lodhi
The term, “capsule wardrobe” is commonly used in the fashion media; but what does it really mean?
In the beginning, the term “capsule wardrobe” was coined by Susie Faux, owner of the West End boutique “Wardrobe” in the 1970s, to refer to a handful of essential fashion items of clothing that would never go out of fashion, and could be worn for multiple seasons. The idea was to update this with accessories and seasonal pieces to provide something to wear for any occasion without buying many new items of clothing.
The capsule wardrobe concept was popularised in the States by designer Donna Karan in 1985, when she released her “7 Easy Pieces” collection. This showed eight models dressed only in bodysuits and black tights strutting down the runway. The models then began to add items of clothing such as wrap-skirts, trousers, and dresses, to demonstrate her interchangeable style of dressing.
Since then, several TV shows, including Trinny and Susannah‘s ‘What Not to Wear’ and Gok’s Fashion Fix have highlighted how a capsule wardrobe is an especially important tool for those who are trying to save the environment, wardrobe space – and money!
While Susie Faux suggests that a woman’s capsule wardrobe contain at least “2 pairs of trousers, a dress or a skirt, a jacket, a coat, a knit, two pairs of shoes and two bags”, we think a bit more may be needed for a full wardrobe.
The general rules
To get the perfect capsule wardrobe, first think about these points:
Choose your colour scheme
This would typically involve choosing one or two base colours that go with everything. It could be a monochrome wardrobe based on black, white, and navy, or one in warmer tones of cream, camel and brown. Staple items like trousers, handbags or coats would be bought in shades of these colours so that they can be mixed and matched with anything else in your wardrobe.
After choosing your base colours, it’s time to select one or two accent colours, which should be brighter than and co-ordinate with the base. These would typically be used for items such as tops, dresses, or accessories; once a colour scheme is established, all the items in a wardrobe should be fully interchangeable, making dressing simple!
Consider your body shape
Some cuts of clothing are more flattering than others. For example, wrap style dresses suit just about every figure, as they can be adjusted to every body type. Most stylists often advise that women with wider hips wear cap sleeves, as they make the shoulders appear wider and more proportionate to the hips. If you have a large bust, you may not want to buy bulky knits. If you pick clothing that’s flattering, you’ll want to wear them a lot more, right?
Consider your complexion
As with cuts of clothing, some colours are more flattering than others, to both skin tone and body shape. If your skin is super pale or dark, choose cool colours; if you have a bit of golden undertones, choose warmer tones.
Choose classic shapes and patterns – or better yet, few patterns at all
While some cuts and patterns of clothing go in and out of fashion, others are considered ‘classic’ because they don’t date. Animal prints generally come and go with regularity, as do basic florals. But remember when Stella McCartney did those big fruity prints? They look a bit dated now. As do the ‘bling bling’ chain prints from the 80s at Versace. Keep it simple: stripes, polka dots, tiny flowers or animal prints are ok in small quanities. Think of French girl chic: the Breton stripes are an eternal classic, but generally, the French don’t ‘do’ prints – and their wardrobes stay evergreen for decades.
Choose high-quality fabrics
Some great fabrics, like silks and leathers, look even better with age, and dea of a capsule wardrobe is to own a few items of clothing that can be worn different ways, individual pieces get lots of wear. Therefore, it is a good idea to choose clothing that is well made and continues to look good despite wear.
Here are the 14 essentials we think you’ll need (besides underwear, bras, socks and tights) and where to get them sustainably.
A classic trench or swing coat
These both suit any figure and seem to be eternally in fashion. Both styles can be done in wool or alpaca for colder weather, or canvas or organic cotton for when it’s a bit warmer.
Eileen Fisher makes wonderful coats of all kinds: swing, trench, military, you name it. And the best part? This 100% sustainable designer’s perfect capsule pieces are available internationally online or through major department stores around the world.
2. Great jeans
First, think of which type of jeans suit your body type: slightly high waisted, or low slung? Straight legged or flared? Skinny jeans seem to be perineally ‘in’, though whether they are above-or-below ankle is another story. You can always buy vintage, and there are loads of great ‘green’ denim brands, including Kuyuchi, which is not only super stylish, but super sustainable, too.
3. Tailored trousers
A good pair of tailored trousers should fit like a glove. Additionally, ensure they’re made from high quality materials: think wool or linen. Annaborgia makes classic, minimalistic fashion from cruelty-free and toxic-dye-free textiles. Their high-waisted palazzo Kats pants were inspired by the iconic actress Katharine Hepburn and suit most figures. The wrinkle-free, washable fabric makes these an easy to wear wardrobe staple that can be mixed and matched with sweaters, blouses or sexy tops.
4. A nice casual dress or skirt
Think of something that will look great with both heels or flats, like this beautifully styled dress by Les Sublimes. All items in their French-inspired collections are made from organic, sustainably-harvested natural resources, using innovative technology that reduces water consumption, recovers waste & preserves neighboring ecosystems.
Ankura‘s small team works to promote a more sustainable, responsible and ethical fashion industry that creates better job opportunities with fair wages in the communities in Peru where they source their Pima Cotton and Alpaca wool. Some items are made with ‘baby silk,’ a new material composed of 80% natural Baby Alpaca wool and 20% silk. We love this style for its slimming midriff panel.
Prefer a looser fit? Wrap style dresses suit all occasions and seem to never go out of style, and DE SMET makes a killer one. This dress’s versatility is perfect for a capsule wardrobe, but we also love De Smet because, as opposed to the ‘fast fashion’ model, only one style is released per month, focusing on the slow, natural accumulation of wardrobe pieces. Each piece is custom made for your order, which already eliminates any potential for overproduction and waste.
5. Some basic tees
From H&M to Eileen Fisher, there are loads of brands creating simple, organic cotton or linen tees, which form the foundation for a great capsule wardrobe. Aeon Row makes really beautifully cut plain black tees that literally go with everything in your wardrobe. We also love this brand because they have a scheme in place that lets you send back your old clothes for recycling – and you’ll get a 15% discount!
Prefer a tee with a message? We are totally crushing on Cossac, a cheeky eco brand that uses fair trade, organic and recycled fabrics, ensuring their clothing all makes a low environmental impact. Their ‘Namaste, Bitches’ tee kinda sums up our whole vibe.
6. A few basic sweaters or wraps
Choose something that suits the climate you live in: if you’re far up north, you should opt for a thicker knit made from ethically sourced cashmere or thick wool; if you live in a moderate climate, thinner knits in Alpaca or Tencel are a good bet. We love knits by Wool & The Gang, below, which repurposes fashion waste into new yarns, thereby reducing landfill. Their unique ‘Billie Jean Yarn’ has been spun from pre-consumer denim remnants from production at denim mills, which makes it upcycled, sustainable, natural, and dye and chemical free.
Encircled has created clothing to be worn multiple ways. Their Chrysalis Cardigan is made from 100% sustainable fabrics sourced and sewn in small batches within Canada, and then coloured with low-impact dyes. The ‘cardigan’ is in fact a scarf, a dress, a wrap and a sweater, making it a valuable contribution to any capsule wardrobe.
7. A timeless sundress
Keep this sweet and simple, in a light fabric. Alexandria Main makes great eco-friendly sundresses, all created by seamstresses in Phnom Penh who are paid a fair wage. The fabrics used are either silk, or deadstock, and 20% of the profits of the bags return back to the company’s sewing school. Just imagine this piece with the Wool and the Gang sweater on top of it in autumn, and you can imagine exactly what we’re talking about here in terms of interchangeability of pieces in your closet!
8. A formal shirt or blouse
Ask which wardrobe they could never be without, and a button down, white shirt is what most French women would answer. Personally, I wear more black, but you get the idea – the colour of this should be classic, be it navy, black, white or cream. P.i.C., one of London’s coolest sustainable brands, makes a great button down white Hoxton shirt that goes with everything (including their capsule wardrobe must-have Dalston peg trousers) and lasts forever. Not fond of the button down style? Go for a flowing 70’s style blouse instead. The idea is to marry this top to both trousers and skirts.
9. Everyday shoes
Classic ballet pumps can be used every day, as can trainers or moccasins. What you’re basically after here is a shoe that reflects your style and can be used every day: ballet pumps for girly girls, trainers for sporty spirits and mocassins like these by Coclico for city sophisticates, for example.
10. A pair of heels
The perfect item for nights out, these need to go with dress pants, dresses and skirts. Wear as high as heel as you can – these are special shoes for special occasions! Example: how sexy are these stilettos by Nasty Gal?
11. A pair of boots
A pair of good booties go with jeans and skirts both. They should have a classic cut and be in a colour that matches everything in your wardrobe. Opt for eco-leather, which lasts for ages and even gets better with age. Alternatively, vegan boots are getting more stylish than ever, and no one does them better than Stella McCartney.
12. A tote bag
Again, choose something that reflects your style: sophisticated, sporty, feminine, hipster? This baby’s going to have to work for you every day for years, so ensure it’s durable, beautiful and above all, YOU! Gym bunnies will love this vegan tote by Stella McCartney.
13. A fancy clutch
Fancy is the key word here: this is for going out! Ensure it matches your evening wear – neutral colours or metallics work best. We love this ethically produced bag by Abury – it helps artisans in Morocco, and it says ‘Peace’ in Arabic.
14. A good scarf
To add a bit of colour to your outfit and to layer up to keep warm, a good scarf comes in handly. Whether you want this to be a basic or a stand-out staple piece of your capsule wardrobe, Anchal has you covered. Each product is made from hand-selected vintage materials, organic fibers and low-impact dyes, but it’s ethical, too: all artisans who create these are empowered with economic stability, community and confidence.
Main image: Les Sublimes