Learn how to build a minimalist capsule wardrobe that works for you and your lifestyle.
When I first heard of capsule wardrobes, I didn’t want one.
How boring, I thought.
I wanted a celebrity closet with walls of shoes, racks of clothes, and handbags for every day of the month.
But then I realized that I’m more like a cartoon character who wears the same clothes every day.
I didn’t need a huge wardrobe; I wouldn’t use a huge wardrobe.
I needed a capsule wardrobe.
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What Is a Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe?
A minimalist capsule wardrobe is a smaller number of staple clothing items that can be worn interchangeably to create many different outfits. The goal is to simplify your closet while still wearing clothes you love.
Capsule wardrobes usually include timeless, classic pieces that can be worn for years. They often contain clothes in neutral colors because they’re the easiest to mix and match.
A minimalist capsule wardrobe:
- saves money (maybe not right away if you have to buy new clothes, but eventually it does!)
- reduces the number of decisions you have to make on a daily basis
- saves time in the morning
- reduces textile waste
- declutters your closet
Most people rotate clothing on a seasonal basis. I live in Southern California in a temperate climate, so I can wear a lot of my clothing all year long.
You Should Know
If you’re starting from scratch, building a minimalist capsule wardrobe will take time and money. You need to be very intentional with your planning and shopping, and it’s not always easy. It’s worth it, but it’s not as simple as people make it out to be.
Sometimes you know what you want, but you can’t find the right fit, quality, or price point. Maybe you need to save up for an investment piece like a leather jacket. Maybe you have to wait for the jeans to go on sale. Maybe you have to get some pieces tailored for them to fit properly.
While these things take time and money, the capsule wardrobe of your dreams is worth the effort.
In a Perfect World
In a perfect world, you would be able to pair any top with any bottom, shoes, and accessories in your closet and they’d all work together. In the real world, though, your wardrobe won’t be quite so perfect.
You do, however, want most items to work with multiple pieces. For example, you’ll want a top that works with several bottoms and you’ll want a pair of pants you can wear with multiple tops and jackets.
Do your best to make your clothing items interchangeable but don’t get too hung up on making it perfect.
Step 1: Pre-Plan
Make sure you do these three things before planning your capsule wardrobe.
Learn How To Dress Your Body Type
Don’t buy any clothes until you know what’s flattering on your body type.
I spent years wearing clothing that didn’t look nice on my apple body shape, which meant that I spent years not wearing clothes that I love. But once I finally figured out what I should actually be wearing, I became more confident in my body.
When you buy clothes that flatter your body, you will wear them more often, keep them in good condition, and have them for years to come.
If you’re apple shaped like me, check out my blog posts on how to dress the apple body shape.
Find Your Style
Your style is what you want to wear, not necessarily what you’re actually wearing.
Not sure of your style? Browse fashion accounts on TikTok, Instagram, and Pinterest and save the videos or images of outfits that you like. Eventually a pattern will emerge and you’ll see what catches your eye the most often.
Then go to the mall and try on that style. You may find that you like it on other people, but it’s not for you. Continue trying on different styles until you find that one that just feels right.
A few months ago, I spent an excessive amount of time trying on floral dresses. I loved they way they looked on other women, but they looked like nightgowns on me. Then one day, while trying on yet another floral dress, I realized that they didn’t look right on me because they’re just not my style.
You might also like a mix of different styles, so you can combine them into one wardrobe. I love the look of a black leather jacket over a feminine dress; it’s edgy and feminine at the same time.
I’ve lived in many different areas of the United States, and my current wardrobe reveals how heavily influenced I am. I’ve only realized more recently that my personal style is a bit preppy coastal grandmother with a little masculine edge. But now that I’ve figured out what I really like, I’m slowly curating my perfect wardrobe.
Think About Your Lifestyle
What I wear on a daily basis now that my kids are older is different from what I wore as a stay-at-home mom to two littles.
And what you want to wear might not work with your current lifestyle. A beautiful dry clean only blouse might not be practical if you have a newborn who spits up all the time. Or if you don’t have time to iron, you don’t want items that wrinkle easily.
You’ll probably also need multiple capsule wardrobes to fit your lifestyle. You may need a work wardrobe, a casual wardrobe, and a workout wardrobe. This may mean your closet has more clothes than whatever number people say you should have, but that’s okay!
Step 2: Plan
Once you know what styles and silhouettes you like, it’s time to choose your wardrobe essentials.
You should have as many clothes in a capsule wardrobe as you need. Many people give specific numbers, often around 25-30, but it’s really more of a personal preference. You may need more, or you may need less.
Try starting off with fewer items than you think you need. After wearing those clothes for a few weeks or a few months, you’ll have a better idea of anything else you might need.
Make a List
Because a capsule wardrobe is very personal, there’s no set list of items that should be in every one. I’ve read a lot of capsule wardrobe checklists and they all include items I wouldn’t have in my personal closet.
To determine what pieces you specifically need, make a list of everywhere you go (work, church, date nights, the gym, hanging out at home) and what you want to wear at those places.
Specify exactly what you want. Don’t just write “white t-shirt”; write “white t-shirt (cotton, v-neck, short-sleeve, cropped).” Don’t just write “jeans”; write “blue jeans (medium-wash, non-stretch, straight leg, full length).” And don’t forget about shoes, jewelry, handbags, hats, and other accessories.
Then when you’ve written down everything you want to wear, see how you can reduce the number of items on the list. Maybe you’d like a pair of ecru jeans, but you know you won’t wear them very often. Maybe you’d like a tan purse, but you already have a black one that works with your outfits.
And ideally, you should be able to wear clothes for different occasions. For example, you can wear the same dresses to church that you wear on date nights with your husband.
The number of colors in a capsule wardrobe depends on each individual person. Many people keep it very simple and only wear a few neutrals like black, tan, white, and gray.
But if you love color, don’t let a capsule wardrobe crush your style. One option is to limit your bottoms to solid black and blue jeans so your tops can be as colorful as the rainbow. Your tops will still match your bottoms even though you have a lot of colors.
When choosing a top, make sure the style, fabric, and color work with several bottoms that you have in your capsule wardrobe.
Consider these tops for your capsule wardrobe:
- White button up shirt
- Light blue button up shirt
- Light blue and white striped button up shirt
- White t-shirts (no pocket)
- Black t-shirts (no pocket)
- White tank tops
- Black tank tops
- Black sweaters
- Camel sweaters
- Cream sweaters
One way to make your bottoms more versatile is to buy items with the same rise. I have some cropped tees that I can’t wear with my mid-rise pants because they’re too short.
Another thing to consider is the length of your pants. You can wear cropped or ankle length pants with both flats and heels, but you can only wear pants that are too long with high heels. The best length pants can be worn with multiple styles of shoes.
Bottoms you might want to have in your capsule wardrobe include:
- Blue jeans
- Black jeans
- White and/or ecru jeans
- Black trousers
- Tan trousers
- Blue denim shorts
- Black denim shorts
- White denim shorts
- Black dressy shorts
- Tan dressy shorts
Dresses are an easy way to add some pizzazz to your minimalist capsule wardrobe.
In the capsule wardrobe I’m building, my separates (tops, bottoms, and outerwear) are neutral colors. But my dresses are where I add in color and prints. It’s easy because I don’t have to worry about matching multiple tops and bottoms. One dress and – boom! – I’m done.
Dresses you may want to include in your capsule wardrobe include:
- T-shirt dresses
- Shirt dresses
- A-line dresses
I had a pink peacoat in college that I wore with everything, but it didn’t go with everything.
Your best bet with outerwear is to keep it neutral. Black and camel are great options for outerwear.
Here are some outerwear options you might want to include in your capsule wardrobe:
- a denim jacket
- a blazer
- a trench coat
- a rain jacket
- a wool overcoat
- a snow jacket
- a field jacket
- a leather jacket
Don’t forget about your undergarments because they are the foundation of your capsule wardrobe! The one rule I never break is that I always wear flesh-colored bras and panties. That way I always know that my undergarments won’t show through whatever clothing I have on.
Other than the color, your undergarments need to fit properly. A great-fitting bra is essential to looking your best in whatever you wear.
You also need to have the right bras for your shirts and dresses. If you don’t like strapless bras, don’t buy a shirt or dress that requires one because you probably won’t wear the outfit. (I know I won’t!)
Your shoes should be as versatile as your wardrobe.
Think about what style and color of shoes that you can wear with the most outfits. I prefer nude, black, or tan shoes because they work with so many colors and prints. But I no longer buy heels because I don’t wear them very often.
Shoes you may want to have in your capsule wardrobe include:
- casual white sneakers
- nude heels
- nude sandals
- black sandals
- black boots
- camel loafers
- black loafers
- ballet flats
- rain boots
- winter boots
- flip flops
(I didn’t include running sneakers because I consider workout items a separate capsule wardrobe.)
You can add flair to a neutral outfit with some fun accessories. They’re an easy way to wear some trendy pieces without sacrificing the integrity of your capsule wardrobe.
I prefer neutral colors for handbags (tan or black) because they’ll work with all of my outfits.
Accessories to have in your minimalist capsule wardrobe include:
Rent Trendy and Special Occasion Items
Consider renting dresses and other special occasion outfits and accessories from Rent the Runway. You’ll save money and space in your closet.
Buy essential staple items for your capsule wardrobe, then rent trendy or special occasion items you’ll only wear one time or for a season. Rent the Runway doesn’t just offer dresses; you can also rent tops, pants, denim, outerwear, handbags, sunglasses, and more.
You can rent one item at a time, or sign up for a membership to wear new items every month.
Step 3: Shop
After you create your capsule wardrobe list, first shop your closet to see what items you already own.
Then separate the clothes you’re keeping for your capsule wardrobe from the pieces you aren’t including, but do not throw them away. You may need to wear some of these pieces until you add new ones. You may also want to keep some items that don’t fit your capsule wardrobe, but you still love to wear.
Next, prioritize the remaining items on your list and decide what you’ll purchase first if you can’t buy everything all at once.
Have Items Altered
Many women struggle to find clothes that fit off the rack. When shopping, think about whether some alterations can take a piece from a good fit to an amazing fit.
Because you have fewer clothes in a capsule wardrobe, you’re going to wear each piece more often. So you need quality clothes that will last.
But remember: quality doesn’t always mean that it costs a lot. You might have to shop somewhere other than Target, but it doesn’t mean you need to shop luxury brands.
Stick To Your List
The thing to remember when shopping is that you need to stick to your list. Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale and it’s a good deal. (But if it’s on your list and it’s on sale, then you just scored!) If it’s not the style jeans you want, don’t buy them just because they fit.
Shopping for a capsule wardrobe requires discernment. If that’s hard for you, shop with a friend who will keep you from making impulse purchases that aren’t on your list.
But Also Make Adjustments
As you shop and start to fill your capsule wardrobe, you might realize that some items you planned don’t work they way you thought they would. Make adjustments as necessary.
Or maybe you come across a clothing item that you absolutely love and would wear all the time, but it’s not part of your planned capsule wardrobe. Can you adjust some items, colors, etc., to make it work?
Step 4: Maintain
A capsule wardrobe requires maintenance to keep you looking your best.
Take Care of Your Clothes
Even if you didn’t spend a lot of money on your clothes, you should take care of them like you did.
Blot or soak stains as quickly as possible. Follow the cleaning instructions on the care tag. Fold knits and sweaters instead of hanging them so they don’t stretch out.
Have your shoes re-soled. Fix missing buttons or broken zippers. Clean and condition your leather purses.
Taking care of your capsule wardrobe will extend the life of your items.
You should declutter on a regular basis to keep your capsule wardrobe as functional as possible. You can declutter every season, every month, or as you go.
Sometimes I’ll wear a shirt and decide at the end of the day that it really doesn’t work for me. Other times, I’ll go through my whole closet and decide what stays and what goes.
As you wear your capsule wardrobe, decide if there are pieces missing from your wardrobe. As items come up, add them to your shopping list.
Sample Capsule Wardrobe
Below is the everyday minimalist capsule wardrobe I’m curating for myself. I live in Southern California so I can wear many of my clothes year-round, plus I don’t need a lot of the heavy winter items the rest of the country needs.
And I also have to note that this is an everyday staple wardrobe; it does not include everything I need. Other clothing items I need are:
- nicer dresses that I wear to church and other occasions;
- athleisure/lounge; and
- workout clothes.
While planning this capsule wardrobe, I realized that I’ll probably want more items than are shown below. This is a basic wardrobe that works, but I know I’ll want to add more pieces after I get these essentials in order. I’m considering a Rent the Runway membership so I can have some fun with trendier pieces without cluttering my closet.
Blue Striped Button Up | White Short Sleeve Tee | White High Neck Tank | White V-Neck Tank | White Button Up | Black Short Sleeve Tee | Black High Neck Tank | Black V-Neck Tank | Light Blue Jeans | Black Cropped Pants | Blue Denim Shorts | Light Blue Denim Shorts | Tan Linen Shorts | Black Shorts | Black Cardigan Sweater | Ivory Cardigan Sweater | Black Half Zip Sweatshirt | Tan Leather Flip Flops | Black Slide Sandals | White Sneakers | Straw Hat | Black Convertible Crossbody Bag | Black Braided Belt
Black Striped Button Up | Black Short Sleeve Tee | Black Merino Wool Sweater | Black V-Neck Short Sleeve Tee | White Button Up | White Short Sleeve Tee | White Long Sleeve Tee | White V-Neck Short Sleeve Tee | Light Wash Jeans | Light-Medium Wash Jeans | Black Jeans | Black Cropped Pants | Camel Topcoat | Black Cardigan Sweater | Ivory Cardigan Sweater | Camel Cardigan Sweater | Olive Quilted Jacket | Black Half Zip Sweatshirt | Ivory Crew Neck Sweater | Camel Half Zip Sweater | Black Braided Belt | Black Casual Sneakers | Black Combat Boots | Tan Leather Flip Flops | Black Convertible Crossbody Bag | Black Loafers
NOTE: These items are examples of the styles and colors I want in my capsule wardrobe. I may end up with different brands than the ones listed above.
Final Thoughts on a Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe
Even though my capsule wardrobe isn’t complete, I’ve created something wonderful out of the process.
Less celebrity. Less cartoon character. More me.
- This Easy Work Capsule Wardrobe Will Simplify Your Morning Routine
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- How to Wear Wide Leg Crop Pants
This post is about building a minimalist capsule wardrobe.