The Benefits of a Capsule Wardrobe (and How to Create Your Own)

capsule-wardrobe

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There are many benefits (and a couple of downsides) to a capsule wardrobe. All of which I explain further down, but first a little back story.

When Sporty and I sold all our stuff in 2008 we didn’t realise there was a name for what we’d done. We just thought we were being really smart.

No stuff to take care of means more time to hang out in coffee shops quaffing litres of espresso and reading trashy novels. 

I, of course, immediately assumed we were the first people ever to arrive at this super clever idea and wondered why nobody else had thought of it.

I was in the queue at the patent office when Sporty called.

Apparently we weren’t the first people to cotton onto the idea that less is more. Some Quaker by the name of Richard Gregg was already preaching about the value of simplicity in 1936. And he’s just one example out of many.

So much for Sporty and I starting a movement.

You’d think that I’d have learnt my lesson from that, but no. When we downsized our clothes I yet again made the sadly inaccurate assumption that we’d hit on something new. An idea worth spreading, if you will.

Next thing I see, everyone and her aunt is pontificating about the benefits of a capsule wardrobe. Dammit. Well, maybe being original isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

What is a Capsule Wardrobe?

My ineptitude as a trendsetter aside, let’s start by looking at what a capsule wardrobe is exactly.

Coined by London boutique owner, Suzie Faux, the term capsule wardrobe refers to a few essential items of clothing (skirts, trousers, coats, etc.) that don’t go out of fashion that can then be augmented with seasonal pieces.

Sporty has been known to fling the occasional winter scarf around her neck, but my wardrobe has yet to have a seasonal anything grace its shelves. That said, in terms of essentials, the above is a pretty accurate description of our respective wardrobes.

We each own three practical, functional and dare I say it, essential, pairs of trousers. We each have a coat, some t-shirts, a few long sleeve tops, and a skirt that we wear on Sundays and to interviews.

I’m kidding, neither of would be seen dead in a t-shirt. We’re blouse girls all the way. No, really.

Okay Fine, Technically Ours is a Minimalist Wardrobe

capsule-wardrobe-minimalist

Clearly what Sporty and I have is a minimalist wardrobe and not, as I’d previously assumed, a capsule wardrobe. (I guess it would help to research this stuff before writing about it.)

Still, the only real difference between the two is that we tend not to augment ours with flouncy accessories. So not such a huge faux pas after all.

See what I did there, Suzie?

To date Sporty and I have identified myriad upsides and only two downsides to owning less clothes. Let’s get the negatives out the way and then we’ll focus on the fun stuff.

The Downsides to a Capsule Wardrobe

You Have to Do Laundry More Often

capsule-wardrobe-laundryThis is especially problematic for me because not all of my clothes are separated into gym and other wear. So if we don’t do a load of washing at least once a day there’s a good chance I’ll run out of undies and socks.

Sporty can probably afford to do laundry every second day, but if it rains and her stuff doesn’t dry on time then she either has to stay home or go to work in a blanket. 

I’ve heard it’s quite the fashion statement, but I don’t think that herself my wife is going to go for it.

You Look Like Twins

capsule-wardrobe-twinsThis negative pertains mostly to lesbians, because for whatever bizarre reason the majority of our ilk end up looking more like siblings than lovers the longer we’re together.

There are of course exceptions, where one partner is obviously more feminine or more masculine, but for the most part it’s a bothersome side-effect of being in an all women relationship. 

Having a minimalist wardrobe only serves to exacerbate matters. Once you’ve eliminated the impractical (fun) options, you’re left  with black, grey, khaki and, of course, denim.

Colour me underwhelmed.

I’ll admit I’m exaggerating slightly. I recently bought a super cute purple-ish hoodie that’s warm, doesn’t look anything like any of Sporty’s clothes and best of all, it was on special. We’re talking a full R200 off the ticket price!

It’s not impossible, but it takes a lot of effort to ensure we don’t end up wearing the same stuff. And even then we still have people asking us if we’re sisters. #LesbianProblems

capsule wardrobe - purple hoodieMe, replete with cute new hoodie and awkward smile

The Benefits of a Capsule Wardrobe

You don’t need nearly as much cupboard space. In addition to being one less thing to concern yourself about when apartment hunting, another bonus to having a capsule wardrobe is that you have less space to keep neat and tidy.

You actually wear everything you own. What’s the point of keeping stuff if you’re not going to wear it? That’s just silly, not to mention a complete waste of space. 

You don’t take nearly as long to get ready. Because you’re not overwhelmed by choice, getting ready is a snap. How many times have you made yourself late for work or a function because you couldn’t decide what to wear? 

You’re more likely to feel comfortable. When you have fewer clothes you make sure everything you own fits well, so you never have that yucky feeling of something being too tight or too this or too that.

You’re more likely to feel good about yourself. When your clothes fit well you automatically look good in them and so you almost always feel good about yourself. 

Unless you have a bad hair day, then it doesn’t matter how good your ass looks in those jeans you’re not going to be happy.

You save money. You only buy something when you actually need it, as opposed to shopping just for shopping’s sake. Within months, your bank account will look a lot healthier. Which I guess would be the opposite of a capsule wardrobe, but in a good way.

You’re much happier. Everything fits well, you feel good about yourself, you’re saving money, of course you’re going to be happier. How could you not be?

You avoid decision fatigue. Everyone thinks choice is so great, but too much of it is overwhelming. Having just a few things to choose from is perfect. If my jeans are in the wash then I get to decide between my khakis or my hiking pants. It’s not hard.

How to Create Your Own Minimalist Wardrobe

If you’re like most people you own a bunch of clothes and only wear about twenty percent of them. It’s the Pareto Principle at play. Also known as the 80/20 rule, the principle holds that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients. 80% of beer is drunk by 20% of the people. Or, to use Pareto’s original example: approximately 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population.

In the case of you and your closet, you wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. When you have a capsule wardrobe, Pareto’s Principle doesn’t come into play. You wear everything. End of story.

Clothing Inventory

capsule-wardrobe-inventoryLet’s start by looking at what you own and how often you wear it. And then we’ll devise a sneaky plan to get rid of those things that are taking up space.That is to say, if you actually want a capsule wardrobe. Not everyone does.

I once dated a woman who had so many clothes she managed to fill not only the cupboards in the master bedroom, but all of those in the spare bedroom as well. Hers was a classic example of the Pareto Principle and yet she balked at the idea of donating the things she didn’t wear.

If you’ve read this far then either you’re spectacularly bored at work or serious about downsizing your clothes. I’m going to assume the latter.

Separate Your Clothes into Four or Five Piles

Stuff you wear all the time. This is the 20% I was just talking about.

Seasonal clothes. Things you usually wear all the time, but aren’t right now because they’re not weather appropriate.

Stuff you never wear. Weather constraints aside, if you haven’t worn something in more than six months then put it on this pile. You’re clearly not planning on wearing it again any time soon.

Special occasion items. These are the clothes you wear to weddings, funerals and interviews. You don’t wear them often, but they’re still necessary.

Fat clothes. I’m not judging, believe me when I tell you that I’ve been there and done that. I just don’t have the skinny jeans to prove it (I donated them ages ago).

By now your cupboard should be empty (bar the dust bunnies and odd chocolate wrapper, or is that just me?) and everything is strewn around your room on their various piles.  

It’s time to rip the band aid off, are you ready?

Pile #1 – Stuff you wear all the time

Take everything on this pile and put it back in your cupboard. Don’t just toss it in there, give some thought to where you want to put your things and then do it neatly. I know, I sound like your mom. I don’t care. You’ll thank me later.

Pile #2 – Seasonal clothes

If you have the space then put these back in your cupboard as well. If not, then store them somewhere else, like the hall closet or spare bedroom. Sporty and I keep our spare clothes in our suitcase.

Pile #3 – Stuff you never wear

Take a moment to say your goodbyes and then dump this pile into a box. These clothes are heading to your local Goodwill, homeless shelter, charity or whatever. Wherever they end up just know you’re making a difference in the life of someone less fortunate.

Pile #4 – Special occasion clothes

The special occasion items will require a little thought and you’ll probably have to try them on as well. Because you don’t wear them all that often, there’s a real chance they no longer fit, are out of style or they’re simply past their wear-by date.

If this pile is quite large you’ll need to whittle it down. Pick out the things you never (or almost never) wear and put them in the donation box. Unless you’re an über socialite (in which case you wouldn’t be reading this anyway) you don’t need that many special clothes.

After all, there are only so many weddings and interviews one gets invited to (I’m specifically not mentioning funerals here, because that’s just poor taste).

Put what you’ve decided to keep back in your cupboard or store them with your seasonal clothes.

Pile #5 – Fat clothes

Ah yes, the fat clothes pile. Let’ be reasonable about this. Anybody can lose a sufficient amount of weight in three months if they set their mind to it. So if you have some clothes you love but don’t fit you, then put them aside.

If, however, after three months they still don’t fit you, then they need to follow their pile #3 counterparts to the homeless shelter.

Put a reminder in your calendar though. I don’t want to come to your house and find that box in your wardrobe a year later. It’s going to get ugly if that happens, I’m just saying.

capsule wardrobe - fat clothes

If something doesn’t fit you should get rid of it

What Should a Capsule Wardrobe Contain?

Obviously it’s different for everyone, but I’ll list my clothes and then you can compare. Essentially though, you want enough of each thing that you always have something to wear on laundry day, but not that many that you can’t rotate through everything in a week.

Everyday Wear

3 x long pants (jeans, khakis, outdoor pants that zip off into shorts)
2 x short pants
2 x t-shirts
2 x vests
3 x long sleeve undershirts
5 x socks
5 x panties
2 x bras
1 x rain jacket
1 x sleeveless jacket
2 x PJs
1 x super cute purple hoodie*

*In the end I decided I didn’t like it, but luckily Sporty did!

Gym Wear

3 x gym vests
3 x gym long sleeve tops (which double as casual wear)
3 x gym pants
2 x gym bras
1 x running jacket

Interview Wear

2 x long sleeve shirts

Shoes

1 x running shoes
1 x Vibrams
1 x smart(ish) shoes*
1 x slippers

*Still trying to decide if I’m going to keep these!

Extra Bits

1 x beanie
1 x cap
1 x running gloves
1 x buff
1 x bicycle* gym gloves
1 x sunglasses
1 x bicycle helmet*

*We don’t have bicycles anymore.

capsule-wardrobe-inventory

A capsule wardrobe isn’t quite the same as wearing the same thing every single day, as Connie Wang discovered during her 31 day experiment

Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Albert Einstein and President Obama are all famous for their respective ‘uniforms’ and Ms Wang decided to see what the fuss was about.

Had her choice in uniform being slightly more practical I suspect she may have enjoyed herself more, but I think a capsule wardrobe is still the better option.

It offers a nice compromise between squandering cognitive load on unnecessary decisions and avoiding that feeling of drab sameness that can easily come from wearing identical  clothes day in and day out.

You can begin to improve the world right now simply by downsizing your wardrobe and donating the clothes you don’t wear to someone who really needs them. Let us know if you took up the challenge and how it worked out for you.



If you enjoyed reading this post and would like something written for your own blog, website, newsletter or annual family missive, get in touch. Ang would be happy to help. Check out her Hire Me page for all the deets.

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4 thoughts on “The Benefits of a Capsule Wardrobe (and How to Create Your Own)

  1. Hi Angela.
    Thanks for this post as it’s given me the kick I needed.
    I have been on the minimalism journey for some time now and I sometimes wonder where all the stuff comes from. I only buy what I need which makes a big difference to your bank balance. I have realised having items you don’t need or use is such a waste of money, room and most importantly time.
    Ps I saw you on Ted and thought you were great.
    I shall be following your blog with interest, keep up the good work.

    Eve.

    • Hi Eve

      Thanks for stopping by…I’m really glad this post gave you the ‘kick’ you needed! Sometimes that’s all it takes to get us on our way! Super chuffed you enjoy the TEDx talk, it was a lot of fun to do! Please let us know if you need help or advice on your decluttering journey. We’re happy to help. 🙂

  2. I do a compromise version of the minimalist “uniform”…three identical pairs of pants, and five shirts that are identical except that they’re different colors. My clothing decision in the morning is just “what color do I want to wear today?” I’ve been doing it for about five months, and I enjoy it more and more each month so far. I work in technology, where the dress code is casual, so I wear the same clothes for working and going out. The disadvantage is that if I ever want to change out my shirts, I’m pretty hooked on this system, and it’s hard to find shirts that come in this many different colors.

    • Hi Dana
      I love your idea of buying the same thing in different colors, especially if you find something you really like!
      We have the problem of local stores releasing a certain style and then once the season is over the style is gone so we are always on the hunt for good cut tees and vests.
      What got you to start wearing the “uniform”?

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