The term hails from the 1970's and the mind of Susie Faux, a British shop owner, author, and personal style guru of sorts. At it's essence, a capsule wardrobe is a collection of items that won't quickly go out of fashion, that can be updated occasionally with seasonal pieces. The total number varies based on lifestyle and budget, but the general principles are less is more, quality over quantity. The elements originally suggested as key were trousers, a dress or skirt, a jacket, a coat, two pairs of shoes and two bags, all in neutral colors. The wardrobe was then to be rounded out with tops and accessories such as scarves, sunglasses, jewelry for a total item number between 20-25.
In the 1980's, Donna Karan brought the concept to an even greater public and level of distillation when she introduced her "Seven Easy Pieces" workwear collection. The collection consisted of a body suit, wrap skirt, chiffon blouse, longer jacket, leggings, blazer, and dress. In 2009, Karan released a collection that updated the key pieces to turtleneck, skirt, pant, jean, jacket, and coat.
So what does this mean for us budget wardrobe builders? It means that by choosing certain pieces we can create a small wardrobe, one that functions effectively for all the situations we find ourselves in, and that is both durable and current. Within our overall wardrobe, there will be smaller seasonal wardrobes, and key pieces will often work across multiple seasons. If you are just beginning the building process, creating such a wardrobe can seem overwhelming. I highly recommend beginning with your immediate needs for this season. You can break it down even further into finding eight pieces you can wear in a variety of ways right now.
So, here we go. Keeping in mind the items that survived the culling...
Choose a color story (look here for an example).
Focus first on the basics - choosing tops and bottoms. Going for eight total, settle on a ratio (i.e. five tops / three bottoms).
Decide on a mix and match or a spectrum technique. Mix and match means that all bottoms and tops are various colors of the color story and can be worn together. Spectrum means that all the bottoms are the same color, and the tops are various colors from your color palette.
Choose one neutral for shoes and bags.
Choose either gold or silver for bag hardware and other accessories (silver for cool complexions, gold for warm).
Once you have these eight basics working hard for you, start to look beyond your immediate needs. Think about your day to day needs and activities as they play out through the year. Go back to your note taking. Maybe Donna or Suzie's key pieces don't fit your lifestyle or personality (bodysuit, anyone?); I listed them more to give you a general starting point for pieces to consider rather than a list to copy. This is the point where you need to decide your key pieces.
Even if you don't have the money to go out and purchase them now, you need to make a list of what would make your wardrobe most functional. If you do have the resources immediately, keep in mind that you want the key pieces to last, so go for the best quality you can afford and keep the colors and cut to a more classic look (anything too faddish and you won't want to wear it longer than one season). If trendy is your thing, update tops and accessories frequently.
For example, for someone creating a personal casual wardrobe (for a four season climate) on a budget, I would make the following list:
1 pair bootcut jeans (to be worn with heels or boots/ "date night" jeans)
1 pair straight or skinny jeans (hemmed to wear with flats)
1 pair of trousers (cropped for a fresh look)
1 blouse or button down shirt
1 twin set
1 casual dress
1 short jacket (blazer or other style)
[and if you've got the first two covered] 1 belted trench
1 pair of heels
1 pair of flats
1 pair of boots
1 day bag
3 bras: 2 nude, 1 black
inexpensive v-neck tees, tanks and/or other shirts
Thanks for sticking with me this far! If you want to see wardrobe building in action, check out the transitional and warm weather wardrobe I have been working on for myself. Also, please give me feedback!
I won't be posting on Friday because of the Holy Day. See you next week!