Hi there! If you’re new here, this post is part of a series called Style Bootcamp. For more information, please click here. Enjoy!
In comparison with many of my fashion blogger counterparts, my approach to building a capsule wardrobe is closer to curation than it is minimization. Although I know part of the appeal of using a capsule wardrobe is reduction and simplicity, this post won’t speak directly to sustainable fashion or living with less. For this series, I’m COMPLETELY revamping my style so it’s likely I’m going to make a lot of mistakes and spend more money on clothes than I normally would.
That being said, I still think there is great value in using minimalism to structure our closets… but not in the way you think.
In my opinion, minimalism is not about owning nothing but about owning intentionally. It’s this never-ending process of ensuring that all the “things” present in our lives provide value and purpose, even those “things” we can’t see or touch. So for me, building a capsule wardrobe is less about reducing the number of items in my closet to exactly 35 and more about purposefully curating pieces to match the essence of the style I want to have. In that sense, the minimalism part is just about eliminating what’s in excess of that essence.
With a capsule wardrobe carefully curated, I find this essence far easier to convey. I like to think of it as “Style Insurance” for your closet: it gives you the freedom to experiment with your look without mixing so many conflicting flavors that you make a huge, embarrassing mess. Since your wardrobe is already built to be intentional, you can’t really go wrong when you’re rushing out the door for work at 7:30 in the morning (GROSS).
To sum all that up, if you’re looking for a post that emphasizes quantity when it comes to constructing your capsule, this is not the how-to guide for you. Whether your capsule has 35 or 105 items, this seven step guide will show you how curation, good intentions, and a whole lot of inspiration can boost your sense of style even before you have to go shopping. It’s all about reframing how you see yourself dressed and getting excited about it. Let’s dig in.
Step 1: Define Your Style
The first step in building a highly-curated capsule wardrobe is defining that “essence” I talked about. We have the power to change our sense of style at will. However, when we do so intentionally, we increase our chances of reflecting the type of person we want to be to the world. We set ourselves up to be confident, creative, and true to ourselves in our day-to-day dealings. Blair Waldorf said it best (of course, before delivering some well-witted criticism) with this line:
Fashion is the most powerful art there is. It’s movement, design and architecture all in one. It shows the world who we are and who we’d like to be.Blair Waldorf (Gossip Girl)
To understand the essence of the style you want, start by asking yourself these questions:
- What kind of person do you aspire to be this season?
- What colors and textures inspire you?
- Is there a story you want your clothes to convey?
- Are there parts of your personality you want to highlight? Hide?
- Is there someone who inspires your sense of style right now?
All these questions will help you understand what you want your look to do for you and what inspires you most about clothes this season.
For me, I want this Spring/Summer to be laid back and uninhibited. My style should feel warm and inviting (a complete deviation from my usual monotonous black and grey looks). It will emphasize the free-spirited and laid back parts of my personality and tell a story of travel and adventure. The fabrics will be comfortable and breathable (but still polished) and the overall look will remind me to take life less seriously. For reference, see: Serena van der Woodsen. Can you tell I’m a bit of a fangirl yet…?
Step 2: Compile Inspiration Photos & Note Down Keywords/Prominent Colors
Once you’re finished establishing your essence and defining your style, you can start looking for visual inspiration. I recommend that you start this step AFTER you have your look clearly defined so you’re not overwhelmed by conflicting looks and colors. However, it’s not unreasonable to use visual cues to help reveal your look’s essence. As always, do what works for you.
For this step, I like to use Pinterest because it’s quick and convenient to edit. I can be standing in line at the grocery store and still be curating looks. In capsule wardrobe planning, the clutter free (and ad free!) boards work great for reducing visual noise and identifying patterns and themes throughout the photos you save.
These patterns and themes can then be distilled into keywords that best capture the look you’re going for. These will serve as guidelines for every piece you select for your capsule. Here’s mine:
|boho prints||statement necklaces|
|ruffles||vests & looser tops|
|black leather belts||boyfriend jeans|
After compiling the keywords, you’ll also want to make note of the colors your wardrobe will contain. I like to turn this exercise into a visual, like the one below, to provide guidance as I start curating my pieces. You can do this in a variety of ways, from using colored pencils, to cutting out pictures in a magazine, to just simply writing the colors down in a notebook. Being a #ProductOfTheInformationAge (😂), I like to leverage the power of my computer but do whatever inspires you the most! Planning your style should be fun, not stressful.
Step 3: Work the Grid & Find Your Basics
When I was developing my first capsule wardrobe (which, BTW, was for South Africa), I found it helpful to write down each piece I wanted to include in a grid format. Not only did it provide me with some sort of packing list, it also made finding what category of clothing I needed the most a whole lot easier.
This grid gives you an aerial view of what your capsule wardrobe looks like, helps you identify what your basics are, and when filled in, draws attention to any deficits. Here’s what a blank grid might look like:
A few notes on the grid:
- Accept It As a Work In Progress:
- Some of your blocks might be empty when you first start but that’s OKAY! In fact, I suggest leaving blocks beyond “Basic” and “Shoes” mostly empty or generic so you can add pieces as your style evolves with the capsule. Accept the grid as more of a blueprint rather than rules set in stone. Remember everyone, FASHION IS FUN.
- Mark It Up:
- Another great way to leverage the grid is to mark it up. I like to make notes for what I want to spend, where I want to shop, and who inspired selecting that item next to each piece so I don’t get overwhelmed trying to plan out my look.
- Aim For Versatility With Each Piece:
- One of the most attractive reasons for using a capsule wardrobe is versatility. In a well planned capsule, no matter the total number of garments, each piece should be informed by the other. This way you can create tons and tons of outfits with the same five garments and STILL. LOOK. GREAT.
- Fill Out the Most “Foundational” Blocks First:
- When I’m working on my capsule, I like to fill out the most essential blocks first because they help build out the rest of my wardrobe. These are the items I consider to be the most versatile/functional and I usually put these first on my shopping list. They also play a huge role in the Fashion Formula, which I’ll discuss in Step 6. But use the grid in a way that works for you! You might find that because of how often you wear dresses, the “Dresses & Rompers” block is more foundational for you. For me, my “Basics” and “Shoes” set the tone for the rest of my wardrobe. Here are my foundational blocks filled out:
|long-sleeve white top||white denim shorts|
|denim shorts||denim skirt|
|beige skirt||skinny jeans|
|light wash boyfriend jeans||white v-neck|
|white ruffle dress||black belt|
|rust red sweater||statement necklace|
|beige/nude mule sandals||brown leather slide sandals|
|flat thong style sandals||rust red flats|
|pale yellow pumps||rust red heeled sandals|
|black healed sandals||tall brown western boots|
|short taupe western boots||white canvas slip-on sneaker|
Step 4: Shop Your Closet & Clear Out Clutter
This step is probably my least favorite. While I like to be resourceful in finding pieces I already own that fit my new look, I HATE digging through a cluttered closet. ESPECIALLY, when the seasons changes. There’s just so much dead energy in there and it’s FRUSTRATING. That said, for the sake of sustainability we have to be resourceful. Fast fashion is a serious problem and although I don’t shop often, I buy a lot when I do (please consider this post Exhibit A-Z).
So as much as I hate organizing my clothes, it’s a must-do to determine where I can reuse garments and what pieces it’s time to let go of. For this step, just do what you have to and try not to hate it as much as I do. Go through your closet, figure out if you have any pieces that work, determine if there’s anything you want to exclude from your closet but not give away, and then donate the rest. It’s a necessary evil.
Step 5: Fill In the Gaps
NOW, on to fun part. When it comes to shopping for your capsule, I think one of the most important things to remember is to take your time, especially if your existing closet doesn’t have a lot of the pieces you’re looking for. As much as we’d all like to make our closets as perfect as possible right away, developing good personal style is a process, one that takes patience and time. Leaving room to pick up pieces as the season progresses gives you the flexibility to evolve what you’ve built so don’t feel rushed to buy everything all at once.
My suggestion is to think in terms of outfits. Ask yourself this while shopping:
What outfit can I put together that will address several of the items on my list?
… and then shop smart to find those items. Another thing I recommend is shopping for your “Basics” and your “Shoes” first so you have a good foundation for outfits moving into the new season. From there, you can add more of the “fashionable” pieces without losing sight of what’s essential.
For the blocks you’ve left wiggle room in, pick up unique pieces as you go. Use these gaps to enjoy shopping. That way when you see something you like that brings value to your look while on vacation or out shopping with friends, you won’t feel restricted from buying it just because your capsule is “complete.” I’m going to say it again because I have to drill it into my own head: FASHION IS FUN.
Step 6: Follow the Fashion Formula
I first heard about The Fashion Formula on Who What Wear a couple of years ago and it’s been in the back of my mind ever since. I think using the formula makes a lot of sense in the context of a capsule wardrobe because it brings structure to the process of putting together outfits. I’m the type of person that craves that “finished feeling,” which I think is easier to accomplish with your style when you have something to go off of and boxes to tick. In building a capsule wardrobe, I believe this type of structure translates well to the grid we used in Step 3 and helps make getting dressed a little more seamless.
Basically put, the formula is as follows:
One Basic + One Interest Piece + One or More Completer Pieces + Standard Accessories = THE PERFECT OUTFIT
So… let’s define those variables:
- Basic = a staple, most likely found in your “Basics” block, a foundational piece
- Interest Piece = a garment or accessory that makes a statement, the focal point
- Completer Piece(s) = a piece from you capsule that ties together and polishes the look
- Standard Accessories = necessary accessories you use on a daily basis such as a purse and/or sunglasses
If you’re interested, you can see a ton of examples of this in action over at Who What Wear but to sum it all up, I think this is a great way to put together outfits because it defines the pieces you have and identifies the value it brings to your outfit. It’s another quick and easy way to be intentional with what you wear (which is pretty much the whole point of this post, lol).
Step 7: Organize & Plan Outfits Ahead of Time to Streamline Getting Ready
I’m going to write a more in-depth post about HOW to do this later in the month but this step is all about organizing your closet so getting dressed each day is inspiring rather than exhausting. When burnout strikes, the LAST thing I want to do every morning is fuss over how I’m dressed or if I’m wearing make-up. It’s just another decision I have to make, about a day I’m sometimes not prepared to face. I KNOW, I KNOW. It’s totally bad but it’s the truth.
I’ve found that when we neglect to take care of ourselves, we invite more burnout into our lives and things just start to spiral out of control. It’s that one day where you wake up late and stumble out the door in your moccasins and dress pants that makes you question whether you were ever capable of holding it together in the first place. Simple tasks, like getting dressed, become landmines of stress and low confidence. But it doesn’t have to be that way with a little preparation and intention (or at least, that’s the pep talk I give myself 😂).
My advice to you is this: take it easy on yourself. Set yourself up for success by putting yourself first and building your life out to accommodate you. You know who you are. You know what stresses you out the most about your day. For me, it’s mornings. I HATE THEM but in a weird kind of, “I-really- wish-I-could-love-you-but-I’m-dysfunctional” way. Make those moments easier ahead of time so you can be the best version of yourself. If mornings aren’t your thing BUT style is, make your closet work for you so you don’t have to compromise on confidence for 15 more minutes of sleep.
Infinite love (and shut eye) for those of you who made it to the end of this ultimate guide (you will be rewarded with a giveaway… someday… tell your friends),
Use #ProductOfTheInformationAge or #ShareWithShawna to connect with me! More posts are on the way! Subscribe via email to never miss a fashion, technology, or lifestyle post. Click here to learn more about my first series called Style Bootcamp. I’m looking forward to sharing my closet with you!
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While the whole world races to keep up with technology, we may tighten our laces and join the race, but our end goal is to preserve what’s already there.BLAKE LIVELY (PRESERVE EDITOR’S LETTER VIA POPSUGAR)