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I fell for the idea of the perfect minimalist capsule wardrobe in the winter of 2014 when I read the book Lessons from Madame Chic. It was a time in my life where I was post business school for about a year and my MBA degree had yet to pay-off. The pursuit of the perfect minimalist capsule wardrobe gave me a feeling of control when I felt like I had none in my career. What followed was seven years of buying and returning online purchases, trying to stuff my full bust into business casual dresses and constant decluttering because the item of clothing wasn’t perfect.
Longtime readers know how much I shopped when I was living in New York City as many of my purchases were shown on this blog. You may remember that at the height of the Covid in the summer of 2020 I left NYC and in the fall rented a house near my sister in Cape Cod for 8 months. As this time away from city life dwindled to a close I was determined to live a life that made me happier. My first major decision was to stop with the capsule wardrobe. I had wasted so much time and so much money pursuing something that didn’t work for me. Starting in March of 2021 I stopped getting rid of clothing that still fit me and was in good shape.
Do I think that capsule wardrobes work for some people? Yes, but I am not one of those people. I love clothing and I have loved clothing and shopping for as long as I can remember. Part of loving clothing for me is variety. Having a variety of clothing choices is way easier when I own a lot of clothes and not 10-12 main pieces of clothing for each season. I look back now and realize how ridiculous it was that I got rid of items of clothing that I liked but didn’t like enough to wear every week. It’s fun to own dresses that I only reach for a couple of times a year. I also miss items of clothing that I loved and wore so much that I wore them out – like the Pepperberry sundress below.
Here are the main lessons that I learned trying to have the perfect minimalist capsule wardrobe:
It’s Ok to Have Multiples
Do you love the way an item of clothing looks on you? Then it’s ok to have multiples in different colors. Like the Urkye Wrap top (official name is Kopertówka). I own many versions of this shirt: long sleeves, short sleeves and dresses. If you find a piece of clothing that makes you feel amazing, consider buying a back-up or additional colors.
Pick a Color Scheme
A color scheme makes your closet easier and ensures that your clothing separates mostly match. It sounds silly but getting my colors done was incredibly helpful. Pick your main neutrals and your favorite colors that look great on you. Just because a color expert says you should wear a color doesn’t mean you have too – I look great in royal blue but rarely reach for the two items that I own in this color.
The Clothes in Your Closet Should Fit You
Everything in your closet needs to fit you right now. If your weight goes up and down then definitely keep clothing at your different sizes but the sizes that don’t fit you shouldn’t be in your closet or dresser staring at you everyday. Any item you pull from your wardrobe should fit the body that you have today. It is so much easier to get dressed in the morning when I’m not trying on a skirt that fits when I am ten pounds thinner.
How Much Clothing Do You Need?
Identify how much clothing you need. Do you need separate clothing for work and home? Are you athletic and need sports clothing? Think about how often you do laundry. If you do laundry every two weeks then you should have enough clothing to get you through probably 16-18 days.
For example, do you wear jeans everyday? How often do you wash your jeans? In this example, if you wear jeans every day and wash them after three wears, and if you do laundry every two weeks you probably need 6 pairs of jeans (3 wears x 6 jeans = 18 days of jeans). If you own six pairs of jeans and one pair dies due to thigh rub you have five other pairs to wear while you search for a replacement.
Another way to make your life easier? Own lots of panties, bras and socks. I hand wash my bras after two wears (after 1 if it’s a super sweaty summer day). Again think about how often you have time to wash your bras and buy enough to sustain you between washes. There is nothing more stressful than realizing laundry has to be done because there are only two pairs of clean panties left. Owning lots of panties and socks means never using my mental energy counting how many days before I need to do laundry.
Stocking up on lots of extras is expensive but it also means your clothes don’t wear out as fast. One pair of jeans lasts anywhere from 50 to 70 wears for me depending on brand. Which is about four months of wear if I am wearing them every other day. That same pair of jeans will last over a year if you are alternating with six pairs of pants. Having more clothes means being able to wait for new items that are a great fit and not buying because you have too.
Make a List of Your Favorite Brands
My years of buying and returning taught me a lot about the brands that I like and I find myself buying from mostly the same ones. Make a list of your favorite brands and the sizes that you wear. I like jersey dresses from Lauren by Ralph Lauren and I monitor the brand and often buy dresses new with tags on eBay. My favorite sweaters come from Sezane, Esprit and Brooks Brothers. And I wear jeans from H&M, American Eagle, GAP and S.Oliver (a German brand).
Ask Why You Are Getting Rid of Clothing
My final tip is to evaluate the items of clothing that you are getting rid of. When you get rid of something ask yourself why? Is it because you wore it out? Great write down why you reached for it so many times that you wore holes in it. Is there something you dislike that keeps you from wearing it? Make a note. I have an ongoing list of dislikes for different types of clothing. When I am considering a new purchase I run the item through this list. As an example, I always get rid of pointy-toe shoes and light colored jeans. So now I don’t buy either of these items.
I also recommend the book The Curated Closet as an excellent guide to building a wardrobe that works for you.
Do any of you have tips for building a wardrobe that works for you?