The Dream Closet...The Simple Chic Capsule Wardrobe

1:30 PM

I LOVE uniforms! They are easy and simple. Ever since graduating from Catholic grade school (and high school!), I have wondered why adults don't wear pre-determined outfits everyday - that was until I found out about the capsule wardrobe concept.

My desire to look chic runs counter to my anti-morning tendencies. Before switching over to the capsule wardrobe most mornings went like this: after waking up at the last possible minute, I would spend 30 minutes standing in my closet looking at all of the options. This usually involved trying on at least 5-6 different ensemble variations and generally running late. The result was feeling more like a mess than a stylish individual.

When it comes to closet cleaning and organizing overall, a one-size-fits all approach wasn't going to work. So, after much research, I took my favorite elements to create my perfect solution. Using the capsule wardrobe method as my base, I also pulled in inspiration and techniques from the KonMari Method, ZeroWaste Home, and the concept of a French closet.

  • Capsule wardrobe - you re-asses your closet every quarter and pick 33 items to wear for the coming season. This does not include shoes, undershirts, underwear, bras, and workout clothes.
  • KonMari Method - an organizational technique where the key choice between keep or toss is determined by wether or not the item brings you joy. You can read more in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
  • Zero Waste Home - a much more extreme version of the capsule wardrobe where you effectively have a minimal number of items in your closet that you wear year round. Most clothes are purchases second-hand to reduce the impact on the environment. You can read more on the Zero Waste blog
  • French Closet - based on the idea that French women always have one or two fabulous items on them at all times. The principle is to build up your wardrobe over your life by investing in 3-5 fantastic and timeless pieces every year.

The Perfect Closet Solution
The first thing I did was read the The EveryGirl blog post in its entirety (Un-Fancy is also a fantastic guide). She does a great job of breaking closet organizing down into easy steps. It includes a downloadable worksheet to help you figure out your style by walking through the key elements to consider with only 33 items:

  • Lifestyle - almost everything I needed was casual (my office is typically relaxed) and maybe one dress or skirt I could wear to showers or client meetings.
  • Words that describe the style you like - simple, classic, 20s inspired, 60s inspired, neutral with a few pops of color, comfortable but chic
  • Brands - I have a lot of opinions on this (especially for shoes) because I want stylish and comfortable (which can be hard to find). I am also more inclined to purchase something that costs a bit more but is better quality and I am in love with (meaning I will wear it).
    • Favorite clothing brands include: Theory, Petit Beateu (French kids clothes but they make awesome basics for women too), Kit + Ace, AYR, Everlane (my go to for basics), Emerson Fry, Maria Pinto, Chance Co, Cuyana, and Lululemon (but not for workout clothes). 
    • Favorite shoe brands (carefully chosen for comfort + style) include: Aerin, AGL, Frye, Kork-ease, Sorels, Uggs, Aquatalia, LK Bennett, and Loeffler Randall.
  • Major Colors - black, gray, navy
  • Accent Colors - bright/baby blue + creme/peach
Instead of continuing with the capsule wardrobe planner, I switched to the KonMari Method and took all of the items out of my closet and put them into piles:
  1. Clothes I love - These clothes make me feel good when I wear them, I wear them often because I love them, and I would buy them again. This first step means you are able to touch each object  to determine your reaction to it - does it make you happy (a key to the KonMari Method). It also lets you look for any holes, snags, or areas that are too worn.
  2. Everything else - Any item that doesn't make you feel good when you are wearing it goes in this pile. Don't let guilt influence you here. If someone gave it to you, you never wore it, it still has the tags on, it was an heirloom, etc., then recognize the joy it brought to your life or the excitement that person had in sharing it with you and then let it go. 
From the "clothes I love" pile I put anything relevant to the season back into the closet. I differ from the KonMari method when it comes to drawers (she prefers to have everything in drawers). Having only 33 items, I find it much easier to hang them up so I can see them all quickly - a must when you wake up at the last possible moment for work. This also means you now have room in your drawers to store the off-season items that you love (ideally folded as KonMari suggests).

Anything you don't love gets sold (ebay, craigslist, etc.), given to friends who actually love and want it, or passed on to a charity such as Salvo (thanks ZeroWasteHome for the ideas). If you have really ratty old cotton shirts consider using them for cleaning rags in the house.

Turning to the current season (for me July-September), the next piece of the puzzle is confirming you have what you need in order to fit your lifestyle for the next 3 months. For example, if you have 18 shirts and one pair of jeans but you wear jeans daily then you need to adjust. The easiest way to see where you need to adjust is to write out how many items you have in each category.
I netted out with:
1 dress
5 dressier shirts
10 cotton t-shirts
5 sweaters
8 pairs of jeans
TOTAL = 29 (you may end up with over 33 in this first pass and that is fine too)

Reviewing these items to look for any clear areas that might need to have items removed or added. This step will form the basis for your shopping list. For me I realized I had too many pairs of jeans and not enough summer dresses. I also needed to shift my ratio of cotton t-shirts to dressier shirts since I wear nicer shirts with jeans on weekdays to work. Finally, given how chilly my office is I needed a few more sweaters and probably a blazer for more traditional work events. You can also think about what you need for shoes using this same method. 

As you shop to round out your wardrobe here is where the French inspiration comes into play. Consider picking 1-2 items per season that are worth the splurge. The only rule is that you have to LOVE them! These might even be in your accent colors or they might be a timeless black blazer. I try to invest in pieces that could be cross season (if I love them enough I would probably want to find a way to wear them in several seasons).
A great new buy from Kit+Ace. It doesn't look super flattering on the hanger, but top is gorgeous on with a slight feminine touch. 

This was such a find from AYR. I wasn't sure about the look until I put it on. Fantastic with a minimalist vibe from the cut (instead of stitched) seams. 

My #1 shop for blazers from now on, Miik is a Canadian company. The material feels like your favorite sweatshirt but looks like the classic blazer. 

This same principle applies to shoes and purses. For shoes, I try to pare myself down (see KonMari method above) and invest in good quality brands that both will last a long time and are comfortable! Sometimes that means a splurge as part of my "French wardrobe" approach and sometimes that means ensuring I am getting good quality basics.
Aerin made these adorable pointy toe fancy gym shoes. They are made of leather and are well constructed to last city walks. Classic Adidas are also hard to go wrong with. The material on these are fantastic as dirt just brushes off. 

AGL are my all time favorite shoes! They are incredibly comfortable (read walk all over the city or wear them on big travel days) and effortlessly stylish. They tend to run pricier but they often go on sale and their good leather construction means shoemakers can repair them easily. 

When it comes to purses, I typically try to invest once every few years in a quality purse I am totally gaga over (for me this still means I am buying used on Ebay or during major sales if I happen to catch them).  I would rather buy one quality item I will keep forever than buy any number of items I barely wear and end up getting rid of in a few months.
My YSL Muse that serves as my work daily work bag. This thing holds everything from lunch to computer to a change of shoes on rainy or snowy days. 

This Lanvin is my equivalent to a Drs. bag. I love how it sits on my arm. 

I love that gorgeous subtle detailing.
My purchase for this year, a gorgeous Chloe bag that I can double as a clutch and is the perfect shade for all season. Also, gotta have a good hat. I love my Goorin Brother's Panama hat

For everything else, try to buy as quality if you can and again make sure it makes you feel good when you wear it. I find Everlane and Kit+Ace are fantastic resources for quality basics that don't break the bank.
I love the detail on this basic from Kit+Ace.

Same on this. Check out that cute copper stripe amid the blue. Also from Kit+Ace (they were my go-to for summer apparently). 

After shopping to round out my wardrobe my final number was:
4 pairs of jeans
1 skirt (shorter)
4 dresses (1 maxi and 4 shorter)
7 cardigans
1 pullover
1 lighter weight/lighter color long sleeve (since it is summer)
6 cotton shirts
12 dressier shirts
TOTAL = 36 (Note I am a few over. That is ok. The goal is to reduce the items to fit your lifestyle and make you feel great everyday with a simple and chic wardrobe. Don't get hung up on the exact number). 

You can keep filling out the planner, but I found once I was paired down to those ~33 items and really stuck with the basic neutrals plus adding one pop of color getting dressed was a breeze. Almost all of my items worked together, and in many cases a simple piece of jewelry or a gold bracelet took the ensemble up a notch.

Every 3 months go through the same process. The best part, all of those clothes you put in the drawer will seem new and while you may not keep all of them (since you won't love them all), it feels like shopping in your own closet. Being on an austerity campaign, this works well for me!

Stand back and enjoy the fact that you just simplified your life, made it easier for you to feel chic, and organized/cleaned out your closet. 

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  1. I read that post by Zero Waste Home a few months ago and loved the idea but haven't pared down my wardrobe yet. It must feel like such a relief to get rid of stuff and just have what you need and love. I'm inspired now to at least do a first step in this direction.

    1. That is so fantastic that you are inspired to start! It has made a huge difference to my daily life. I was pretty surprised actually. A clean closet means I am much less stressed and getting dressed is so much easier! Plus if you are worried when you first try, you can keep all of your old clothes in a drawer for the first month or two until you feel sure that this is the right solution for you. I would love to hear how it goes!

  2. this is such a great post (and a nice blog as well!) and it's something that i've really tried so hard to achieve.

    1. Thanks! I am glad you like it. I hope you keep finding it useful! Are you going to give a capsule wardrobe a try? Let me know how it goes. When I first did it I save everything in a drawer so I could pull it back out if I decided it wasn't for me. But I loved it!

  3. I wore uniform for 12 years and hated it. So now I love wearing whatever I like and don't care for a uniform. My main colours aren't neutrals, black and grey are my accent colours for most of the time so I just switch it around. What I do do is prepare my clothes the night before after checking the weather and then it takes me almost no time to get dressed in the morning. That's as far as my dedication goes to the capsule :P

    1. Many of my friends feel that way about uniforms too! I wonder if the negative feelings about uniforms and the love of bright colors go together? My best friend from high school also likes to have a lot of variation and her main colors are bright as well. Either way she always looks lovely and I am sure you do as well!

      I have tried laying out my clothes the night before but I have never been able to make it work? I have no idea why, but I always ending up wanting to wear something else based on how I am feeling that morning. I have lots of outfits that feel like PJs and usually those are the ones I gravitate towards on certain mornings. Hahaha!

  4. Thanks, this was a really useful post! I know what you mean about uniforms. It's difficult to decide what to wear any given morning. I finished the Life Changing Magic Of Tidying Up book last year and it really helped me organize my apt and only buy things that truly make me happy. I still have too many items though and this post is a great guide to get me started again!

    1. Hi Laura-

      I am glad the post sparked a bit of inspiration on cleaning out. I feel like we have too much stuff. I need to go through our kitchen again. There are million things in there that I don't use. If you want additional inspiration, you should check out Zero Waste Home too. That also made me want to get rid of most things. Let me know how the clean out continues to go. Any tricks?

  5. Unfancy allows 37, so by those rules you are dead on. I started a capsule last summer, and I LOVE IT. The change out is next weekend, and I'm already thinking about what stays, what will go, and what I ended up really liking from it. I found my uniform in the process.

    I broke the rules with Unfancy and had 38 items. Today, while starting the pre-sort for the next capsule, I discovered I never wore one of the pieces. 36-37 seems to be a really good number the more I think about it!