Learn how to build a work capsule wardrobe that will make your mornings less stressful.
Mark Zuckerberg’s gray t-shirts. Steve Jobs’s black turtleneck. My button-up shirts.
Long before I had heard of capsule wardrobes, I unknowingly created one for work.
Because my mornings began early at my last office job, I didn’t want to spend forever figuring out what to wear. So when I found a button-up shirt that fit perfectly, I bought it in all the colors. After adding black pants, a black belt, and black flats, my work “uniform” was complete.
My outfits were simple but polished. They gave me the confidence to do my job well, and other people respected me because I looked professional.
Now that my kids are in school full-time, I’ve toyed with the idea of going back to work in an office. If I did, I’d have to buy all new work outfits since my old clothes don’t fit anymore.
So here’s how I’d build a work capsule wardrobe from scratch.
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What Is a Work Capsule Wardrobe?
A work capsule wardrobe is a small number of clothing items that you wear to work. While you might wear some of these items in your personal life, most of them will be for the office only.
A work capsule wardrobe:
- saves money (maybe not right away when you’re buying clothes, but eventually it does!)
- reduces decision fatigue
- saves time in the morning
- reduces textile waste
- declutters your closet
9 Things To Consider
A work capsule wardrobe doesn’t look the same for everybody. Here are a few things to consider when creating a closet appropriate for your job.
1. Your Office’s Dress Code
If you’re starting a new job, ask what their dress code is. And remember, it’s better to be too modest and overdressed than too casual.
A trial lawyer will wear suits while a graphic designer might wear jeans and a casual t-shirt. What’s considered work appropriate is different for everyone.
2. The Type of Job You Have
A kindergarten teacher working with little kids may need to wear something different than a high school English teacher. They’re both teachers, but may have different needs for their clothing.
If you sit at a desk all day, you might not mind wearing heels. But if you’re on your feet a lot giving presentations, flats or low heels may be a more comfortable option.
3. The Seasons
You want to wear as much of your work capsule wardrobe as you can each season.
Layering pieces, like cardigans and blazers, are a must throughout the year. Offices can be cold during the summer even if it’s blazing hot outside. Base layers, like dressier white tees, can be worn in the summer by themselves or in the winter with a cardigan over it. Those same dressy white tees can be worn with trousers, skirts, or jeans.
Black trousers can be worn year-round. Swapping ballet flats for boots and a short-sleeve shirt for a long-sleeve wool sweater can transition your look from spring and summer to fall and winter.
4. Your Body Shape
Clothes that flatter your body will make you feel more confident. And when you’re more confident, you’ll do your job well.
If you’re an apple shape like me, here are some blog posts on how to dress the apple body shape.
5. Your Style
You should love the clothes you wear, but your job may require you to dress a little differently than you would outside the office.
You can add some flair with printed blouses, fun jewelry, or a colorful handbag. Just make sure whatever you wear aligns with your company’s dress code.
6. Your Undergarments
I recommend wearing flesh-colored bras and underwear so they don’t show through your clothing.
And make sure that you have bras that work with all of your tops. For example, wear a racerback bra with sleeveless tops so your bra straps don’t show.
7. The Rise of Your Pants
To keep your pants as versatile as possible, choose a rise (high or mid) that is the same for all your pants. Some cropped shirts tuck nicely into high-rise pants but are too short for mid-rise pants. You don’t want to end up with shirts you can only wear with certain bottoms, and vice versa.
8. Your Shoes
Make sure that you can wear your office shoes with as many of your pants, skirts, and dresses as possible. Ideally, you’d pick shoes in a style and height that work with all of your outfits.
You could wear ankle pants so you could wear both flats and heels. Or you could hem your trousers to hit just off the ground so you could wear them with both flats and low heels. Maybe you wear one pair of shoes with pants and another with dresses and skirts.
Very few clothes will fit you well off the rack. Alterations will likely be necessary for pants and blazers. If something doesn’t fit quite right, think about whether alterations will take it from good to great.
Items in a Work Capsule Wardrobe
While the items vary depending on the type of job you have and your office’s dress code, here are some traditional workwear items for a capsule wardrobe:
- Blouses and Button Downs
- Dressy T-Shirts
- Outerwear (trench coat, wool topcoat, etc.)
Accessories you might need for your work capsule wardrobe include:
- Totes (for a laptop and paperwork)
Where to Shop for Work Clothes
Where you shop for work clothes depends entirely on your budget, your body shape, and your personal style. Below are some brands that offer business attire.
Sample Work Capsule Wardrobe
This sample work capsule wardrobe has a base of all black bottoms and layering sweaters and jackets. This allows you to wear prints and other colors on top.
This sample wardrobe is what I’d wear if I went back to my job with the federal government outside Washington, D.C.
Black Striped Button Up | Black Merino Wool Sweater | Beige Crewneck Sweater | Beige V-Neck Cardigan | White Button Up | White Merino Wool Sweater | Olive Collared Sweater | Wine Crewneck Cardigan | Cropped Wide Leg Pants | Cropped Cotton Pants | Pleated Pants | Tailored Pants | Black Wool Topcoat | Black Cardigan Sweater | Black Heeled Ankle Boots | Black Embossed Leather Belt | Black Work Bag | Black Loafers | Leather Gloves | Beanie
How to Transition This Work Capsule Wardrobe to Spring and Summer
A versatile work capsule wardrobe includes several pieces that you can wear all year long. A few changes can take this fall/winter wardrobe into spring and summer.
- Swap the boots for dressy sandals or heels.
- Replace the wool topcoat with a trench coat.
- Switch the long-sleeve sweaters for short sleeve and sleeveless tops.
- Keep the black cardigan at your desk if your office is cold.
Final Thoughts on a Work Capsule Wardrobe
I haven’t worked in an office in years, but if I do again one day, I know some items that’ll definitely be in my work capsule wardrobe.
Black pants. Black flats. And a button up or two.
- How To Build a Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe You Love
- The Best Shoes to Wear With A Black Dress (Plus Outfit Ideas!)
- How to Wear Wide Leg Crop Pants
This post is about creating a work capsule wardrobe.