Planning a Capsule Wardrobe for 2016

Photo by Martin Strattner
Photo by Martin Strattner

Here are some things I’ve learned from living out of a suitcase for the past three weeks:

  • I dress for comfort A LOT.
  • I do not like the way I look in most of the clothes I own or that fit me.
  • I do not own enough winter-appropriate clothes.
  • I always wear the same combination of clothes (same skirt with top, etc.) This is boring.

In the hecticness of packing up our entire house over roughly 72 hours, I now realize I made some mistakes in packing my own suitcase. For example — I did not bring a coat or rain jacket. I brought several pairs of sandals (???) and only one pair of close-toed shoes, which are boots. I brought half a dozen tank tops for practicing yoga, but no clothes for running outside in 40-degree weather. I also have no idea what ended up going into the 12 small boxes we were given as an air shipment allotment. In short, my wardrobe is kinda crazy right now.

But even before the move, my wardrobe wasn’t exactly well-planned. I have known for a long time that, like many women, I own a lot of clothes that I don’t really wear, or even particularly like. And while I’ve always been interested in having a tidy surrounding and not buying shit I don’t need, for some reason that philosophy never extended to my closet.

A couple of years ago I started reading a number of blogs on minimalism, specifically minimalist wardrobes. I heard about the concept of a capsule wardrobe, and of course, listened while everyone raved about Mari Kondo’s book The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up. I just didn’t think those things fit into my lifestyle. It’s not like I had a problem with shopping.

However. A few weeks before the movers came, I went through a period of anxiety-induced nesting. I went through my drawers in an effort to cull the things I knew I wouldn’t take with us to Amsterdam. I threw away underwear and pilled yoga pants and ratty tanks that had been demoted to pajamas. I got rid of every backwards-hanging item in my closet and made more money than I’ve ever made selling stuff at Buffalo Exchange. And then I packed my 12 boxes with the stuff I knew I wouldn’t need right away, and my suitcase with the things I wanted when I arrived.

And here I am, with a suitcase full of shit I don’t even really like.

How did this happen? I know exactly how — by not being intentional about the things I spent my money on.

The first good news is that a major international move is a GREAT time to re-evaluate everything you own and everything you don’t need. I’ll get that opportunity sometime in the next week when we move into our permanent apartment and our 12 boxes arrive and I can go through every item one by one and ask myself “Why the hell did I pack this again?” (And, I’ll get to do it again when we move back to Texas and get everything we haven’t used for the past couple of years out of storage.)

The second good news is that, unlike the three years we lived in rural South Korea, anything I need I can buy here. (Warm running clothes already purchased. To be fair, this is partially a result of being a Houstonian and having no idea what cold weather truly is.)

I spent the better part of last weekend reading the two best blogs on minimalist and capsule wardrobes, Un-Fancy and Into Mind. I am also now halfway through Kondo’s book. I have a laid out a step-by-step plan for myself for the next month so that I can start 2016 fresh with a closet full of clothes I truly love and that make me look and feel good.

What Is A Capsule Wardrobe?

According to Susie Faux, the London boutique owner who coined the term in the 1970s, a capsule wardrobe is a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces.

Before You Do Anything, Visualize

In her book, Mari Kondo asks her clients to visualize what their fully-tidied space might look like, and what possibilities that tidiness might open up for each person. At Into Mind, Anuschka advocates the creation of mood boards as a way to distill whatever inspiration might be floating around in your head. I’m using Pinterest because it’s the easiest and most accessible way for me to gather ideas for my first capsule.

The Great Purge

Now it’s time to get rid of what’s not serving you. Start by TAKING EVERYTHING OUT OF YOUR CLOSET. I can not stress this enough. Pull EVERYTHING out of your closet. You’ll also want to wear something that allows you to change clothes easily. Now sort your clothes into four piles:

  • Love it and would wear it right now.
  • Out of season but still worth keeping.
  • Maybes. These are items you don’t wear, but can’t yet part with for whatever reason — be it sentimental, sunken cost fallacy, whatever.
  • Sell/donate/trash. You know what to do with these.

Now, box up the out of season clothes in separate boxes for each season. Box up the maybes into their own seperate box too. These are going into storage to be re-evaluated later.

(You might also want to start a pile of items that need repairs before they can be worn. But don’t confuse this pile with “Love it and would wear it right now.” If you truly love an item you’d be on ball about getting it repaired.)

Pick A Number

The key to a capsule wardrobe is that it is limited and thoughtfully curated. It’s not just any random shirt you kind of liked and was on sale anyway. Caroline of Un-Fancy started with 37 items in her wardrobe. I’m starting with 40 because I have a thing about round numbers.

Your capsule will include things like shoes and outerwear, but not pajamas, workout clothes or formal wear. And if you don’t like these rules, make your own. The point of the exercise is not to follow someone else’s plan for you, put to plan out your own style for the season.

Make A Plan

For your first couple of capsules, this might seem like a lot of work. Especially if you don’t have a fully-defined sense of your own personal style. But by looking at your “Love it” pile, you’ll have a pretty good idea of your tastes, and a good idea of where any gaps might be. If you’re anything like me, you might only have 5-10 items in that pile.

Now is the time to make an actual list of the items you need and want to make your wardrobe complete. (I made a spreadsheet.) Into Mind has dozens of articles on how to go about this — everything from developing a signature look to making sure your closet has a good ratio of pants to tops. Her Capsule Wardrobe 101 is the best place to go for a round-up of links, ideas and inspiration for taking on this journey.

One strategy I’ll be using is the Rule of Threes — for each item in my wardrobe, say jeans, I plan to have one basic pair, one statement pair, and one in-between pair. That way my choices are never boring. My spreadsheet also includes a budget for the items I plan to purchase.

Finally, It’s Time To Shop

Ideally for me, all this brainstorming and evaluation will take place in the month before I build each capsule. Which is why I’m starting in December for Winter 2016. I can spend a few weeks gathering and culling ideas, and a few weeks making purchases. Once your wardrobe is complete, your shopping is complete too.

(This is not to say that you can’t buy items here or there, but the idea is not to shop to alleviate boredom.)

At The End Of The Season, Remix

It’s up to you how long a season lasts. It can be three months, four months or six months, depending on your own tastes or the climate you live in. But a few weeks before your season is up, start the process over again. Go through the clothes in your wardrobe and decide what you’ll keep, what you no longer want, and what needs to go in storage until the following year. Replace items you love that need to be replaced. Maybe pull some now in-season clothes from those boxes of storage. Just remember to stay within your number — for every item in, rotate something out. By the second or third time you evaluate your wardrobe, you’ll probably only have to buy a few items to bring it up to date.

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