How to Make a Capsule Wardrobe Work for You
If you want to fight the frump, but are too busy to put together actual outfits, then you might want to consider a capsule wardrobe. A capsule wardrobe is a selection of a few essential closet staples mixed with some fun seasonal pieces, which can be the key to dressing quickly and feeling put together each day. Although you can start by creating your own capsule wardrobe, it can be a bit overwhelming, so I like to begin with someone else’s great ideas and then make it my own.
My favorite stylist is Alison Lumbatis at Get Your Pretty On (GYPO). Her style challenges are $39. You get a curated capsule wardrobe for a season with 31 days of outfits plus some fun bonuses. She includes recommended items with notes on what each piece needs to pair with and provides possible substitutes, so you can easily shop your closet. You don’t have to follow the clothing items exactly, but a detailed shopping list is provided with lots of variations in styles and pricing. She also includes plus sizes and ethical retailer options. The best part of her capsules is that you can choose (or not) to participate in the challenge where you are part of a community of supportive women discussing and refining their style in a safe environment.
Although I love Alison’s style challenges and her fashion sense, I don’t follow the capsule exactly. Mainly because it would be too costly. Although Alison always uses basic wardrobe pieces and reuses items season to season, there are usually great substitutes in my closet, so no need to spend money on lots of new pieces. Also, if I followed the recommended pieces exactly as listed, I would almost force myself to wear clothing that doesn’t work for my coloring, body shape, or my style statement. Finding the right amount of substitutions and still retaining a capsule wardrobe was difficult my first challenge, but I figured it out and wanted to share the steps I took to create a capsule wardrobe that works for me.
Step 1: Decide on the foundational piece
Every capsule wardrobe, in my opinion, has a foundational piece that the capsule is built upon. In last year’s spring capsule, It was the printed shirt pictured below on the left. When I look at this shirt, I absolutely love it, because it’s very Spring and I’m a Spring (post about prints by season); however, I own a printed shirt that is very similar (pictured on the right), so I don’t feel the need to purchase a new one. Although the two shirts seem super close, they do have some key differences that alter the capsule. Alison’s printed shirt is black with green, purple, and orange while my printed shirt is navy with pink, light blue, and yellow along with a bit of tan and cranberry. Since they are so similar, my printed shirt from Loft is the perfect foundational substitute and will actually work better for me as I already own pieces that pair with my blouse.
Step 2: Make a list
Look at the capsule wardrobe and make a list of all of the pieces that are included by category (bottoms, outerwear, etc.). Shop your closet and list the pieces you have that might work, keeping in mind the foundational piece. For identical items, like the denim jacket for this capsule, I put a check mark. Items that are almost exact substitutes, like my printed shirt, I entered a descriptor, like “Loft printed shirt.”
In other cases, I listed my replacement item. For instance, the GYPO Spring Style Challenge from last year listed olive jeans as a capsule piece. Olive is not my friend and will never be included in my personal color palette; therefore, I looked at my foundational piece and listed what I do have that would work with the capsule to replace the olive jeans. Alison provides details of what everything should pair with, so although I had other neutral/colored jean options, I decided that my tan jeans were a great substitute. They paired perfectly with my foundational printed blouse and are similar to the olive jeans in that they are a medium/light neutral.
For other pieces that I was unsure about, I listed all of my potential options. For example, the capsule included coral jeans, which aren’t in my color palette, and indicated bright or pastel bottoms as a substitute. When I looked in my closet, I listed bright green jeans, blush jeans, and misty blue jeans as possibilities. Hmmm, I might have a colored jean habit. Don’t judge, I buy quality jeans for pennies on the dollar at ThredUP (online thrift shop) – I rarely buy them retail.
Step 3: Work your wardrobe
Look at the outfits provided by the challenge and start trying on the pieces you listed from your closet. I start with the foundational piece (the printed shirt in this case) and the bottoms. Alison usually provides four bottoms, so I start with that category as you will wear a bottom every day unless you are wearing a dress (she usually provides one dress item). For last year’s Spring challenge, I had already decided that the tan bottoms were a perfect replacement for the olive jeans, but I also needed a substitute for the coral jeans. When I paired my print blouse with my three colored jean options, I found that my misty blue jeans worked best.
Once I’ve chosen my bottoms, I look at what each bottom is supposed to coordinate with and try on different combinations from my list. Although this takes some time, it is worth every minute you spend. Not only will you be rewarded in the future with looking put together quickly, but you will also refine your style by noticing what does and doesn’t work for you. While doing this step for the challenge, it finally dawned on me why I hadn’t been wearing my long cardigans all winter. Given my body shape, I need to wear long cardigans with a very fitted t-shirt underneath and I had been trying to pair them with tees that have a little give.
Step 4: Purchase with intention
While you are trying on outfits, make note of what you need to make the capsule work for you. For last year’s capsule, I decided to buy two new pieces – a bright green sweater and a graphic tee. The bright green sweater was a wardrobe staple that I was missing. As a Spring, I love bright colors and the one in the capsule was my perfect green. I only have one “green” in my personal color palette as the color generally dulls my blue eyes, so this was a rare find that I had to jump on as an investment piece.
I already owned a “graphic tee,” but didn’t think the shirt I owned, worked as well as the pictured items, so I decided to purchase one. Looking at all of the options provided, I liked the J. Crew graphic t-shirt pictured on the left, but didn’t feel a particular affinity to London nor did I think gray worked in my palette. When I looked at the J. Crew Factory Outlet, they also had a San Francisco graphic tee (pictured on the right) in the same style. Not only was this a great color (it’s more cream than it looks in the picture) for my altered palette, but it’s my home town and the price was right for a whimsical piece – around $20!
On the other hand, I originally thought that I’d need to purchase bright colored flats to make my capsule work, but once I tried on all my items, I realized that my cranberry flats worked perfectly and there was no need to purchase additional shoes.
Lastly, make note of future purchases. In this case, I noted that I would like a light colored scarf with green and navy in the print. I am not ready to run out and purchase this item, because I don’t think it makes or breaks my outfits, but I would like it in the future. So, if I happen to see one on ThredUp or on sale in a local shop, I will purchase it, but I’m in no rush.
Step 5: Have fun with it
Use your new capsule wardrobe to fit your lifestyle. The outfits are organized in a 31-day calendar and you’re provided a way to dress it up or dress it down each day. This allows you to follow the calendar regardless of whether you work from home or at an office each day. My current lifestyle is all over the map, one day I am casual, the next professional and sometimes I am both plus business casual or formal all in one day. Having the guide is extremely beneficial to me as I have less “costume changes.” I get dressed in the morning and the guide helps me decide how to alter my outfit given my events for the day.
I would love for you to join me in this Spring’s style challenge, so be sure to sign-up so you can join in the fun! If you purchase a capsule wardrobe each season, you will honestly curate a wardrobe you love for a lot less money than if you were just trying to refine your style on your own. This is especially true if you know your best colors already, so think about having a personal color analysis in the near future!
Have you ever tried a style challenge or built your own capsule wardrobe? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments. If you’d rather build your own wardrobe, then this free guide might help you:
Please note that I do get a small commission for items purchased through some of the links. The links are provided for convenience and are not meant to be a sales tool.