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!!)
See The Minimal Closet in the WSJ! Then read more in The Minimal Closet series:
Monica P says
True, nothing like the internet to blow the definition of a capsule wardrobe out of the water. A capsule wardrobe was originally meant to contain a few essential items that that never go out of style (wikipedia) and somehow it became the plight of the minimalist mindset, you know, the love of ‘less is more’.
And I thought I wanted to go down that road as I probably only wear 10% of my wardrobe, but find that I wanted to keep those items that I never wear anyway (because why get rid of a perfectly classic LBD?!?). Anyway, I’m still whittling down my wardrobe now that my life style revolves around fitness more and office work less 🙂
Will I get down to 25, 36, 52 (whatever the number of pieces works) perfectly coordinated items? I don’t know, but I’m certainly happy living in less clutter 🙂
I just want to point out that this is maybe my favorite line of yours, ever: “There are no minimalist police giving out tickets for having more than 33 items in your closet at one time. ” 😉
I remember finding this such post such a relief when I read it the first time because I was getting all obsessive (I’m pretty anal-retentive as it is) about paring down my closet to a reasonable number, my style not being uniform, etc. My interest in minimalism (more so than capsules) helped me to get my shopping under control, but I never loved the idea of restricting styles or colors. I gave it up when I realized my shopping obsession was being replaced by a purging/organization obsession, and I like variety too much anyway. I think one way that thinking about capsules can be helpful for anyone is it makes you buy/keep things that work together. Beyond that, it’s very much a personal thing if it works for you or not.
Sharon J says
Thank you for making me laugh: I just opened my t-shirt drawer and counted 64. The sight Sparked Joy. It has made me come out of lurkdom.
I love looking at capsule wardrobe images on Pinterest because it gives me ideas on how to pack and what type of items can be mixed and matched well together. Capsule wardrobe articles/shares are very helpful to me in rebuilding my wardrobe when I got through any change in life (next year I’ll be moving back to an urban area and will move from casual to business attire, also to smaller closet space). However the idea of having an arbitrary total number of items set in stone stresses me out. It can also be a ton of effort and time thinking about what the perfect mix is, which is the opposite of what I’m trying to achieve. I want to think less and spend less time on, not more, in regards to wardrobe. I do find limits per item helpful though as I am trying to shop less and tend to buy the same type of items over and over again. If I set a limit for myself (say x pairs of bf jeans) then that stops me from buying 20 current elliott jeans when I’d be just as happy with 3. It does make me more mindful. But a total piece count? I could debate and wring my hands for days. Many capsule wardrobe bloggers are also quite casual, I don’t see many that work in a corporate environment. The process could still be applied to a work capsule (but with consideration given to the time it takes for dry cleaning) and then another capsule for casual but I’d just call that a functional wardrobe that fits in one’s closet, not a capsule. I think viral topics on the internet are always a bit more extreme, that’s just the way it is. I still pull some concepts that are helpful to me but don’t get wrapped up in trying to do exactly as any book or blog has prescribed (including Kondo’s book). I’ve seen people get into heated debates over the minimalism, project 333 and Konmari. I don’t think it was ever Courtney’s or Marie’s intent for anyone to follow their words to the T, it’s about what works for each individual. Even Courtney in interviews has stated 33 was so random.
You and I must share ESP (or “ESPN” as I like to joke!). I have a friend that has asked me to help her establish a capsule wardrobe, and I’m just not sold on the concept. For travel? Yes. I can get on-board with that idea. But I’ve been thinking that the reason I’ve dragged my feet about doing a purge of my own closet ….a REAL purge…is that I’m just not ready, or maybe just not a true minimalist, either. What’s so bad about loving clothes? They inspire me!
Thanks for the repost, Grechen. I’m forwarding it to my friend. 🙂
Grechen Reiter says
that’s true tania, thanks for pointing that out; of course it wasn’t courtney’s intent to make everyone live with just 33 items… everything on the internet gets blown out of proportion! and then becomes gospel 😉
and totally agree with what you said here: “I’d just call that a functional wardrobe that fits in one’s closet, not a capsule” – that is exactly what i’m trying to achieve…
Grechen Reiter says
lol we do share ESPN – you’ll love today’s post then, too!!
Becky Johns says
In my experience strict rules and minimalism is not for people who are creative…or like to be creative in their dressing. Some creative people don’t waste time on their clothing and like it simple so they can “get to work” on their other projects.
But for me working with colors and putting together outfits is a creative way to start the day. I enjoy it. I makes me happy. I also like variety. So capsule wardrobes are not for me.
What I did like was changing the way I arrange my closet and putting all items of one color together. First it made the closet pleasing to look at…orderly and colorful. I enjoy it every time I walk in the closet. Secondly I realized I had many clothes in a color that were not matched…that helped me eliminate the duplicates and end up with a grouping where more things went together. Thirdly, I found putting together an outfit was easier, with scarves and jewelry hanging next to the color grouping. It is easier now to shop my closet. I have only so many of my black slim hangers, so I am prompted to share something with others, when I make a purchase. It is usually in good shape and still fashionable so they can enjoy it. I am just tired of it or don’t use it very often.