This is a “recycled” post from just about exactly a year ago, but it’s been linked to and re-posted quite a bit lately, which means it’s resonating, still, and I thought I’d re-post it here for those of you who might not have seen it. It’s part of my now floundering Minimal Closet series (I can’t seem to figure out what to do with the series…), and one of the most popular articles here on Grechen’s Closet. My opinion hasn’t changed, if anything, I’ve only gotten more stalwart in my opposition to the ongoing craze and “fad” that is the capsule wardrobe.
Please, read on, and enjoy – or not, depending on your viewpoint LOL
The capsule wardrobe idea is EVERYWHERE. I think they’ve gotten a bit out of hand, honestly. I never really thought much about capsule wardrobes before they started popping up here and there, and when I did, it was in terms of packing for trips, for seasons, or a specific life event (like moving to work or study abroad for several months) where you don’t want to take your entire wardrobe with you. Now, capsule wardrobes are all the rage, and a cornerstone of a lot of popular “minimalist” fashion blogs.
I think they’ve caught on because they’re relatively easy, easier than the KonMari way of doing a big purge all at once. And they sound SO appealing: don’t get rid of anything, just separate your wardrobe out into a certain number of items you want to wear for the next 3 months, and hide the rest.
We like to put things in boxes…hide them away to deal with later. And the capsule wardrobe concept feeds into that, makes it seem like we can neatly segment our lives into sections and pieces.
When I was first flirting with minimalism, I couldn’t have been more in to the capsule wardrobe idea: 10 items for 2 weeks? I can do that!! 33 items for 3 months, no problem. This is just what I need to get my wardrobe under control. It’ll be so liberating! Except it wasn’t.
I couldn’t do it anyway. I did 10 items for about a week, and then I was bored; I love clothes too much to restrict myself that drastically. But it took trying such a challenge to see that. I also didn’t get the point. So what? so, what if I can live with 10 items for two weeks? That’s great, and will come in handy for traveling (and it does), but for life? No thanks.
And to be completely honest, none of the blogs featuring capsule wardrobes or similar that I read back then were written by women who seemed to be as into getting dressed as I am. I couldn’t relate.
Not that creating a capsule wardrobe of only a certain number of items can’t over time get you to a point where your entire wardrobe is in balance, where it works together, but in my opinion (and experience), it just delays your getting there.
The capsule wardrobe idea as it is now is really just about compartmentalizing your wardrobe into sections and setting arbitrary rules about numbers of items, making you feel better in the meantime while still not actually having a smaller overall wardrobe.
Capsule wardrobes also never felt right to me. They felt contrived, and too hyped, like something you’d see on Pinterest; images of a tidy hanging rack against a white wall (with a succulent in the corner of course, and a copy of Kinfolk on a wood table) full of nicely spaced out wooden hangers with drapey blouses, perfectly distressed jeans, and a couple pairs of shoes.
Appealing, yes, but realistic? Not so much. My life is messy, in so many ways, I don’t know about yours. I love clothes, and I like to play around with different silhouettes frequently; I will do fitted one day and drapey/oversized the next. I’m a very emotional dresser. And now, I actually plan my wardrobe this way, so that I’ll always have a good selection of shapes and styles in my closet to play with, depending on how I want to look any given day.
Of course, my lifestyle supports this easily, yours may not: I don’t have kids, I don’t work outside the home, and I don’t have fancy events to attend on the reg. Everything I own is pretty casual, and even those items that are slightly dressy, I can wear with sneakers or flat sandals, and incorporate them into a casual outfit if I feel like it.
My wardrobe is exactly where I want it to be now. Small, and all hanging right in front of me where I can see everything all the time
My wardrobe is exactly where I want it to be now. Small, and all hanging right in front of me where I can see everything all the time (my exercise and lounge clothes are in drawers). I do put my “exclusively” winter items in a clear box at the top of my closet to protect them when they’re not in use, but I don’t have a lot of those items. I keep my lightweight cashmere out in a small drawer all the time for plane trips or cool evenings.
I am always cycling things in and out of my wardrobe, not just seasonally. I shop when I need to replace something, or when I find something interesting I want to try. I usually have a few things ready to find replacements for, and when I do find a suitable replacement, I sell or donate the older item (I used to keep everything around, having multiples just in case…).
And that’s just the way I like it. I always knew I wanted to have everything all in one place. When I started my journey, I had two closets full of clothes and boxes and boxes more. Everything was spread out, and I had no idea where anything was. Of course I didn’t wear what was in boxes, or in my second closet, because I couldn’t see it; I didn’t know what I had. So when I purged, those were the first things to go, and most of them I took to donation sight unseen.
With all that said, maybe the capsule wardrobe concept WILL work for you. I don’t know you, I don’t know how you respond to compartmentalization, rules, or restrictions. I know myself. And I HATE rules. Unless they make sense. Arbitrary numbers of clothes never made sense to me. I have preferred to find my closet set point naturally – that place where it just feels like enough, whatever that number may be. Right now, it’s about 75 items, give or take a few.
Creating a capsule wardrobe may be a good way to tell exactly HOW minimalist you can go. It may help you define your style a bit better, if you have no idea. And maybe working with a smaller, capsule wardrobe for a time will get you in the mindset of purging and assembling a real working (complete) wardrobe. Maybe you don’t want to be more minimal at all, you just want to create segmented wardrobes for work/play/etc., – in that case, capsule wardrobes could work wonderfully for you.
As long as you’re conscious of why you’re doing it and what you hope to get out of it, not just doing it because your favorite blogger does, or because you don’t want to do the work of a bigger purge, creating a capsule wardrobe, or doing a challenge may be good for you.
Some ideas on how to effectively work with a capsule wardrobe:
- While you’re selecting your items for your capsule, really pay attention to why you DON’T select certain items. Can you go ahead an purge some of those items you don’t select if they’re seasonally appropriate? If so, go ahead and do that, don’t just put them away for later.
- As you’re wearing your capsule pieces, take note of how you feel when you wear them, and how they fit within your wardrobe as a whole. Are they worth hanging on to? why or why not?
- Does having a smaller wardrobe feel good to you? Or is it constricting? Is the number of items you chose appropriate for your lifestyle? How can you take the capsule wardrobe concept and extend it to your entire wardrobe?
- How can you make this work for you? What can you learn from it? Why is a capsule wardrobe appealing to you? Can you use it as a trial for getting to the hard work of having an overall minimal closet?
- Is it worthwhile for you to to have separate wardrobes for work & play? for travel & home? is that a better way to organize your closet/life?
- Try not to use it as an excuse to shop for new items; shop your closet, wear what you have, and while you’re wearing it, decide if it’s worth keeping it in your wardrobe
- Is this helping you identify your personal style? or what your personal style is NOT?
If you’re not into that, first, I’d recommend reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and then going for an anti-capsule wardrobe:
- Fewer things, nothing put away out of sight, unless you absolutely have to segregate heavy winter items, or exclusive summer items; everything in your closet & drawers – where you can see it – sorted however you want. You have a finite amount of closet/drawer space, use that, and nothing else, for your clothing.
- when you purchase, concentrate on buying items you love that are also practical for multiple seasons, keeping strictly summer items to a minimum – or strictly winter items for that matter. one coat, one swimsuit, etc., etc., pay attention to fabrics & quality construction
- Everything goes together – works for multiple seasons – different life events.
- it’s realistic – based on your life NOW, your size now, your financial means now. Not your fantasy life where you’re traveling every month and/or attending cocktail parties on Fridays. Your wardrobe is also not a holdout full of your “skinny” or “fat” jeans, it fits your size now.
Closet-purging and getting to minimal is not easy. It’s taken me quite a long time, and a lot of trial and error; I didn’t do it all at once. And I had to be ready for the really hard emotional work. But when I was ready, I was ready, and everything just fell into place. Maybe it’s not so emotional for you. Maybe you don’t struggle with the “good enough” issues I do, or the fear of deprivation, of never having enough, that has led to my over-shopping in the past. Maybe you’re not such an emotional dresser. Maybe you don’t really care that much about clothes, or about wearing different things every so often.
Whatever your situation is, why ever you’re interested in downsizing or trying a capsule wardrobe, do what works for you. Do what feels right to you. This is LIFE; it is not a test. There are no minimalist police giving out tickets for having more than 33 items in your closet at one time. Neither is anyone going to come around and pat you on the back for paring down your wardrobe. It’s all about you – how you want to feel about your closet. How you want your life to be. How can you get your wardrobe to that point where it’s not overwhelming to you anymore? That is what matters. That is the only thing that matters.
There are no minimalist police giving out tickets for having more than 33 items in your closet at one time.
However you get there is up to you. Try a capsule wardrobe, try purging slowly over time. And when that doesn’t work, read the life changing magic of tidying up and do it all at once. Then when you rebound, try something else. You’re allowed to make mistakes. In the scheme of things, they’re not the biggest mistakes you can possibly make, although they may seem like it when you look at all the clothes you donate with the price tags still on them.
Learn from your mistakes and move on. Learn and grow. Whatever it takes for you to keep learning and growing, do that. If that’s a capsule wardrobe, great, if it’s not, if it’s an altogether smaller, more cohesive wardrobe, then also great. You do you. Whoever that is.
(If you’re now doubting whether or not I’m a “real” minimalist, that’s fair, and I’ll tell you, I’m probably not, if your definition of a minimalist involves living with only a certain number of items of clothing, or under a strict set of rules. I define minimalism as living with less; having fewer, more meaningful things. Less is relative. Less to you may not be less to me, and vice versa. It doesn’t matter anyway. We must be who we are, and get to where we’re comfortable, not where some minimalist blogger tells us we must be – including me, of course!!)