What Is a Capsule Wardrobe, and How Do You Build One?

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Streamlining your closet makes it so much easier to figure out what to wear. Here's how a capsule wardrobe can help.

Thanks to the minimalism trend, a desire to save money and avoid fast fashion, and fewer days spent working in an office, many people are paring down their closets in favor of fewer clothes. Enter the capsule wardrobe, a closet with a set number of items. Each piece coordinates all with the others, making it easy to mix and match. It’s definitely one of the great small closet ideas to consider, and we have everything you need to know—from what a capsule wardrobe is to how to get started on one. While you’re at it, learn the best time to buy clothes to maximize your savings too.

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What is a capsule wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe is a type of minimalist wardrobe that makes it easier to put outfits together. “A capsule wardrobe is a curated collection of clothing pieces (typically under 40 items), chosen strategically to make it easy to create a variety of different looks,” says wardrobe stylist Dina Scherer, owner of Modnitsa Styling. She goes on to explain that a capsule wardrobe “acts as a ‘wardrobe within a wardrobe,’ where everything works together through mixing and matching to allow for an exponential amount of outfit choices with just a few core items.” If you don’t have a minimalist closet, we’ve got tips for that too: Here are our best walk-in closet organization ideas.

What are the benefits of a capsule wardrobe?

  • It saves time. A minimalist wardrobe takes out the guesswork when you’re deciding what to wear in the morning, says Scherer. Because you already know how each of the pieces works together, it’s easy to throw together an outfit, so you’re not overwhelmed by having an excess of clothes. “A capsule forces you to have this formula because there are fewer options and every piece is accounted for,” Scherer adds.
  • It saves money. You’ll spend less on clothing when you stop chasing the latest trends. This isn’t to say you can’t still have fun with an eye-catching cocktail ring or other stylish accessory, but you’ll no longer be throwing away money on items like that cold-shoulder top that’s dated after only one season.
  • It’s less stressful. Not only does streamlining your wardrobe mean you save money on buying clothes, but a capsule wardrobe also helps you declutter your closet. The purpose of building one is to keep and maximize the clothes you wear a lot and get rid of the ones you don’t. That means once you organize your capsule closet, you won’t have to frantically search through 20-plus blouses to find the one you want.
  • It’s better for the environment. While it’s important to support sustainable fashion brands, it’s even better to buy less overall. According to some estimates, Americans throw away 11.3 million tons of textiles each year, which averages out to 81.5 pounds of clothing tossed per person.

Is a capsule wardrobe right for me?

Some people and wardrobe styles lend themselves better to a capsule closet than others. “A capsule wardrobe is ideal for classic pieces and neutral tones,” says Scherer, who adds that classic and sporty styles work particularly well with a capsule wardrobe because they already gravitate toward neutral colors and minimal patterns. “If you have multiple style personalities or tend to gravitate toward clothing that’s more intricate, patterned or colorful, a capsule may feel a bit limiting.” That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try, though. “It just might be a little trickier to sort through your clothes to create a minimalist closet,” she says.

How to build a capsule wardrobe

As you gather and reject pieces for a capsule wardrobe, start by choosing a theme. It’s a lot easier to start whittling down your wardrobe when you have a direction. A “theme” might be a certain occasion or style of clothing, like work or vacation, or a specific season, like spring or fall.

From there, start choosing the pieces that will go in your wardrobe. Start with primary pieces—pants, jeans, blazers, dresses, skirts—and then move on to “supporting” pieces like tops, tees, accessories, shoes and jewelry. Yes, choosing “bottoms” and outerwear like blazers should be your first order of business, before you even get to tops!

Take it slow if you like the idea of a capsule wardrobe but aren’t quite ready to purge your other pieces, says Scherer. Create a couple different capsules for different occasions, like one for work and another for weekends. Keep the clothes that don’t fit into either capsule in another section in your closet, says Scherer. “Integrate the other clothes into these capsule scenarios,” she says. “You’ll slowly reduce the number of pieces you have because you’ll see which ones you aren’t wearing and which you need multiple of.”

Need help cleaning your other closets? Here’s our guide to linen closet organization.

Capsule wardrobe checklist

Cl Rd Capsule Wardrobe What It Is And How To Build OneRD.COM

According to Scherer, a capsule wardrobe should contain 30 to 40 items. Here’s her advice about how to tackle and arrange each major part of a capsule wardrobe. Keep in mind that yours may look different, depending on the season and the climate where you live.

1. Primary pieces

“The most important pieces in any capsule wardrobe are the ones that set the stage for the outfits: dresses, pants and skirts. They will be getting the most wear, so make sure they’re made well and are versatile enough to go with different-color tops, shoes, jewelry and accessories. Basic/neutral colors work best for those pieces, as they tend to be easier to mix and match with, and that means you can get more mileage out of them. You will want to make sure that your primary pieces are versatile enough to pair well with all the supporting ones—through color, style and/or fit.”

Jeans

Dressy bottoms

Coats and jackets

Dresses

2. Supporting pieces

Your tops are a place where you can add a splash of color or a subtle pattern. These everyday items are also the ones that will need to be replaced the most frequently, so once you find a basic you love, consider buying two or three to have extras on hand.

T-shirts

Tank tops

Sweaters

Blouses

3. Shoes and accessories

Shoes

Handbags

Accessories

4. The physical wardrobe

Of course, you’ll need a place to put your capsule wardrobe! Once you’re committed, there are lots of places you can buy an affordable wardrobe—and different options depending on your budget. Even though it’s called a capsule “wardrobe,” a fairly minimalist garment rack can suit your needs just fine. This affordable option from Walmart may be just what you need to get started. And if you’re looking for more options, check out the best closet organizers to maximize your space.

Additional reporting by Marissa Laliberte.

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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.