How To Create A Capsule Wardrobe

Learning how to create a capsule wardrobe will reduce tons of waste in your closet!

By Chere Di Boscio

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 actually coined by Susie Faux, owner of the West End boutique “Wardrobe” in the 1970s. It referred to a handful of  essential fashion items of clothing that would never go out of style, 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 this easy, 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.

How To Create A Capsule Wardrobe

The general rules

When learning how to create a 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, shoes 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. These 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!

Toss out what you don’t use

It’s a good idea to start to create a capsule wardrobe from scratch. Learn how to clean out your wardrobe, and give away or swap unused clothing with a friend. Who knows? You may find your perfect capsule wardrobe pieces in her closet!

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 larger 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. If your skin is super pale or dark, choose cool colours like navy blue and black. If you have a bit of golden undertones, choose warmer tones, like caramel and coral.

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 quantities. 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. Since the idea of how to create 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.

Essentials For A Timeless Wardrobe

Here are the essentials we think you’ll need (besides underwear, bras, socks and tights) when learning how to create a capsule wardrobe. We’ve also added where to get them sustainably.

1. 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. Looking for sustainable brands to help build a capsule wardrobe?

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.

eileen fisher coat

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 Frank & Oak. Their jeans are not only ethically made, but super stylish, 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. Of course, Stella McCartney makes beautiful cruelty-free fashion from non-toxic textiles. The wrinkle-free, washable fabric of these Julia trousers makes these an easy to wear wardrobe staple that can be mixed and matched with sweaters, blouses or sexy tops.

How To Create A Capsule Wardrobe

4. A nice casual dress 

When learning how to build a capsule wardrobe, a LBD is essential. Think of something that will look great with both heels or flats, like this beautifully styled dress by Olistic. 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.

Pair it with heels, ballet flats or trainers. Throw a sweater or wrap over in when it’s cold. It’s perfect for all seasons!

How To Create A Capsule Wardrobe

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. Encircled makes really beautifully cut ethical tees that literally go with everything in your wardrobe. Long sleeved, short sleeved. White, black or blue. Whatever staple you need, you’ll find it here!

organic tee

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 Reformation. They’re generally made from recycled yarns, and their styles are comfy and timelessly cool.

reformation sweater

7. 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. Think: navy, black, white or cream. For example? This organic crepe de chine blouse by Gucci may not be cheap, but can you ever imagine this NOT being in style?

How To Create A Capsule Wardrobe

8. Everyday shoes

You can wear classic ballet pumps almost every day, the same with trainers or moccasins. What you’re basically after here is a shoe that reflects your style and matches everything. Say, ballet pumps for girly girls, trainers for sporty spirits and moccasins for city sophisticates, for example. We love these flats by Vivaia. They go on like a slipper, but they look like a loafer. And they’re made from recycled PET bottles, and created with zero waste 3D printing!

How To Create A Capsule Wardrobe

9. A great 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 vegan shoes by Huntd?? If you’re not great with the stilettos, they do shorter heels, too. And of course, they have these in a more classic black, if you prefer.

10. An everyday bag

Again, to create a capsule wardrobe, you’ll need 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! Rothy’s makes a great range of durable totes, gym and crossbody bags. They’re crafted from recycled PET bottles, using a zero waste 3D printing method. And the best part? You can toss ’em into the wash when they get a bit dirty!

rothys bags

11. A fancy clutch

Fancy is the key word here: this is for going out! A good clutch can instantly make a neutral outfit look elegant. Ensure it matches your evening wear – neutral colours or metallics work best. We love JW Pei’s vegan bags. Their styles are truly unique! Image credit: @emmawilkinsonlefeubvre.

12. A good scarf

To add a bit of colour to your outfit  and to layer up to keep warm, a good scarf comes in handy. Whether you want this to be a basic or a stand-out staple piece of your capsule wardrobe, Anchal  has you covered. Each product uses up hand-selected vintage materials, organic fibers and low-impact dyes. But the brand is ethical, too. All artisans who create these gain economic stability, community and confidence.


Main and first image: Les Sublimes


Chere Di Boscio
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