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Capsule wardrobes are all the rage — here’s how you can make one, too

huge pile of clothes on blue background
Photo credit: dorian2013/Getty Images

Let’s get one thing straight right out the gate: If you believe that one can never own too many clothes, a capsule wardrobe is not for you.

However, if you’re currently drowning in sweaters, swimsuits, crop tops, culottes and denim, a capsule wardrobe may very well be the answer to both your storage woes and empty wallet. But what is a capsule wardrobe, and how is it going to help clear out your closet? We’re about to break that very concept down and revolutionize your fashion game.

What is a capsule wardrobe?

There are a couple main tenets when it comes to owning a capsule wardrobe. First, you must possess staple pieces of clothing that you love. Second, you must be open to choosing pieces that mix and match well. Capsule wardrobes are for minimalists (and minimalist wannabes) who want to create new looks without breaking the bank or requiring more hangers.

Both Fashionista and Who What Wear claim that one article published in 2014 is responsible for the resurgence of capsule wardrobes. In this article, published on Unfancy, capsule wardrobes are defined as “mini wardrobe[s] made up of really versatile pieces that you totally love to wear.” According to the writer, a capsule consists of 37 items in five staple categories: tops, bottoms, dresses, outerwear and shoes. Every three months — i.e. every season — you look at your existing closet and choose (or buy, based on your needs) items in each of these categories until you have the necessities.

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While Unfancy cites 37 as the perfect number of pieces, that doesn’t mean it’s the right number for everyone. The idea is that you pare your closet down, which saves time because you don’t have to shuffle through pieces you haven’t worn in months (or years). But, of course, we all have different wardrobe needs, so choose a number that works best for you and your lifestyle.

Now that the fall season is just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to give a capsule wardrobe a try. Don’t know where to start? Here are some pieces to consider if you want to revamp, downsize and streamline your closet.

1. Classic button-downs

Button-downs are the little black dresses of tops. They are great for nearly every occasion and go with basically anything in your wardrobe. In fall, try layering it under a sweater for more preppy vibes, wear it in a French tuck (thanks to Queer Eye’s Tan France for that trick) with jeans, or simply button it up and tuck it in with a pair of dress pants. You’ve instantly got one shirt that can be worn three ways (plus even more if you get multiple colors).

2. Pencil skirts

The beauty of a pencil skirt knows no bounds. Brands now offer everything from floral prints to bright colors (like the one above) to classic neutrals, and these form-fitting bottoms are signature pieces for a reason. However, they’re also incredibly versatile even if you may be surprised to hear it. While you mostly see people wearing the style with heels to an office, with full-on sequin options and jersey materials out there, these babies can now be rocked with sneakers and tees for a cool girl brunch style.

3. T-shirts

Like the button-down, a T-shirt is an essential. This isn’t the old college shirt that you use when you need to assemble Ikea furniture or paint a wall, though. A capsule wardrobe tee should be treated as well as your button-down because it’s just as versatile. Of course, you can wear it alone and pair it with cute accessories for a casual day look, but there’s a whole new world of tees out there. Tuck it into a high-waisted tulle skirt to dress it up. Wear it underneath a cardigan as a cooler layer before the weather gets too chilly. The possibilities are endless. In fact, maybe grab a color or two for good measure.

4. Sweaters

By this point, it’s fairly obvious that versatility should be a core part of your capsule wardrobe. Sweaters are no different. Try classic crew and V necklines, ribbed knits and long sleeves. To shake things up, incorporate a great color or, like with this Zara piece, decorative buttons on the arms. Classic doesn’t have to mean boring.

5. Denim

Whether you love skinny jeans, boyfriend denim or boot-cut silhouettes, there’s more than one pair of jeans you can have in your capsule wardrobe. While 37 items is a somewhat soft limit, indulge in classic looks, like a medium wash skinny jean, but maybe add in a chill piece of boyfriend denim for good measure.

6. Cardigans

With cardigans, you can play around a bit more. As for me, I’m partial to a long-line style like this one from ASOS, but the beauty of the cardigan in a capsule wardrobe is that there are so many styles that will work. A cardigan is kind of like a sandwich. It never gets old and there are hundreds of variations. From the classic style that sits at the hips and buttons up the front to chunky grandpa sweaters for when it’s just too cold to venture too far from your house, cardigans give you some room to play.

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7. Trousers

If you have any sort of professional obligations, get thee to a trousery. Just like denim, there are quite a few styles to choose from, but one rule is true of all styles: They should be formal enough to wear in an office setting or to a business meeting. Other than that, go for Audrey Hepburn-style cigarette pants, wide legs that look great with heels, or a classic boot cut.

8. Blazers

Classics are just that for a reason, and a great blazer is one of them, but why not venture out a bit? While you don’t need to be rocking an Eleven-level punk plaid from Stranger Things, the era is coming back. For work events, that iconic fit is great, but for a fashion-forward look, spice things up with his capsule collection must-have.

9. Peacoat

Outerwear is of the utmost importance, especially if you live in a chilly climate. No one wants a great pair of trousers and a killer blouse only to freeze to death on the way to work. From belted coats to peacoat styles, don’t forget to add the perfect piece (or pieces) of outerwear to your closet.

10. Statement pieces

Your capsule wardrobe is all about mix and match layers, neutral tones and classic silhouettes, but don’t forget that you still need to have some fun. Throw in a sequin dress, add a brocade jacket, do something fashion-forward. Take a risk. A little sartorial fun never hurt anyone.

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