How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe for Easy Style Every Day
A streamlined, thoughtfully curated closet can simplify outfit-building. We've got the expert-approved ways to create a capsule wardrobe.
Thanks to a trend toward minimalism over the past decade (and a desire to save money and avoid fast fashion), many people are paring down their closets in favor of fewer, more thoughtful clothing items. Enter the capsule wardrobe, a closet with a set number of versatile, quality clothing items you enjoy wearing and pairing together. Not only is a capsule wardrobe a clothes-purging strategy, the pared-down closet also allows you to create more outfits—each piece coordinates with the others, making it easy to mix and match.
Capsule wardrobes are definitely one of the great small closet ideas to consider, and with the right style tips and easy fashion ideas, you’ll be editing your closet and making outfits from staple pieces in no time. Here’s everything you need to know about building a capsule wardrobe.
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What is a capsule wardrobe?
“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. Consider a capsule wardrobe as a “wardrobe within a wardrobe,” says Scherer, where each piece complements the others, working together through mixing and matching. This allows for an exponential number of outfit choices with just a few core items. It also eliminates potential outfit mistakes with items that don’t work together.
What are the benefits of a capsule wardrobe?
- It saves time. A minimalist wardrobe removes 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—and 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 stylish accessories, but you’ll no longer be throwing away money on items like a cold-shoulder top that’s dated after one season. Incorporating trends sparingly is also one of the most effective outfit tricks to look younger.
- It’s less stressful. Not only does streamlining your wardrobe mean you save money by buying fewer clothes, but a capsule wardrobe also helps you declutter. The purpose of building a capsule wardrobe 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 81.5 pounds of clothing tossed per person.
Is a capsule wardrobe right for me?
Some 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 timeless 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,” she says. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a try. “It just might be a little trickier to sort through your clothes to create a minimalist closet.”
How to build a capsule wardrobe
Your first task is a closet cleanout. To curate a capsule wardrobe, you do not need to buy all new things. In fact, it’s simply about identifying what you wear a lot and filling in what’s missing. As you gather and reject pieces, 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 specific season (is this a spring capsule wardrobe or one for fall?) or a certain occasion or style of clothing, like work or vacation. From there, begin choosing the pieces that will stay in your wardrobe. Start with primary pieces—pants, jeans, blazers, dresses, skirts—and then move on to supporting pieces, such as tops, tees, accessories, shoes and jewelry.
If you like the idea of a capsule wardrobe but aren’t quite ready to purge your other pieces, take it slow, says Scherer. Create a few different capsules for different occasions, like one for work and another for weekends—just keep the clothes that don’t fit into either capsule in another section in your closet. “Integrate the other clothes into these capsule scenarios, and you’ll slowly reduce the number of pieces you have because you’ll see which ones you aren’t wearing and which you need multiples of,” she says.
As you begin to do a heartfelt wardrobe edit, keep tabs on which items you simply aren’t reaching for. “My rule of thumb is if you haven’t reached for it in six months to a year, odds are you never will,” says stylist Elisabeth Kassab. “Unless it’s a vintage piece you plan on passing down one day, I would get rid of it if you haven’t worn it in a while.”
Capsule wardrobe checklist
According to celebrity stylist Ayoka Lucas, a capsule wardrobe should contain around 40 items or fewer. “I like the rule-of-five concept,” Lucas says, which means you should have up to five pieces in each category of your wardrobe. Keep in mind that yours may vary, depending on the season and the climate where you live.
After paring down your closet, Lucas suggests categorizing your wardrobe to see what’s left. Once it’s categorized, you can fill in the gaps, investing in elevated pieces that are well-made and long-lasting, which is good for both the planet and your long-term budget. Here’s how to tackle and arrange each major part of your capsule wardrobe.
“Your capsule wardrobe should really be made up of select pieces that work well together, are interchangeable and that you can get the most luxe results and outfit pairings from,” says Lucas. She’s referring to wardrobe staples, such as dresses, pants and jackets, that you can consider your primary pieces.
Choose great-quality basics that will offer longevity. Don’t just look at style or texture. Pay attention to fabrication, cut and fit. Then look at color. “A good curation of base colors (neutrals) peppered in with pops of color will keep your wardrobe cohesive and versatile,” she says, ensuring you can get many looks with a more curated and pared-down closet.
Start with denim. It is the foundation of any wardrobe because the best jeans are so versatile and appropriate at a variety of occasions. “Your approach to denim should always be about fit,” suggests Lucas, who recommends trying different brands and styles. Ask yourself which pair of jeans you reach for consistently? Is it a classic straight leg, like vintage Levi’s 501 jeans? Or something more tapered?
Once you know the fit, style and cut that works best for your body, consider the wash. Make sure you have a good dark, medium and light wash in your capsule. “Dark wash will serve you greatly because it can transition from a dressier denim to a casual denim—a day-to-night gem,” says Lucas.
For her clients, Kassab specifically recommends “a straight light wash, a baggy light wash, a slim-fit medium wash and a straight-fit black-wash denim. These will cover all the stops this fall,” she says. Beyond denim, other bottom options in your capsule wardrobe could be trousers, skirts (maxi, midi and mini, if that works with your body type, says Lucas) and shorts for warmer months.
Coats and jackets
Smart outerwear can elevate any outfit. “My favorite timeless piece is definitely a good black blazer,” says Kassab. Blazers can polish even your most basic outfits. Depending on the weather where you live, other capsule wardrobe outerwear options are a denim jacket, a classic khaki trench, a wool overcoat or an edgy black leather jacket. And depending on your own personal style and how you choose to wear your pieces, you can play around with fit (fitted or oversized), texture and fabric. For blazers and other staples, consider investing in a well-made, good-fitting piece that will last you a lifetime—you can even thrift it!
“I love a leather jacket for fall,” says Kassab, and she highly recommends thrifting one because the leather will be more soft and wearable.
“Dresses that you can dress up or dress down are like gold in your wardrobe, especially if they can be worn alone or layered under a jacket or button down,” says Lucas. She suggests considering your party dress needs along with your casual needs—a special-occasion dress you can wear to any fancy fête, a slip dress you can take from day to night with knitwear or a blazer, a smart sheath that’s ideal for work or cocktails. And “never forget the essential LBD [little black dress],” says Lucas.
Stylish tops play a supporting role when building a capsule wardrobe and can add a splash of color or a subtle pattern.
“Of my closet must-haves, a good white tee is at the top of the list,” says Kassab, who recommends both loose and fitted tees. White, black, gray and even a vintage concert tee can be paired with a trouser and blazer or denim and trainers, running the gamut from elevated occasion to weekend errands.
“Make sure you have some really good basics in the way of T-shirts and tank tops that you can use as a base for layering looks,” recommends Lucas. We recommend a quality cotton-blend tee that looks great and feels better. And because these everyday items are worn so frequently, they tend to need to be replaced more often, so once you find a basic you love, consider buying two or three to have extras on hand.
Consider investing in good knitwear that will last you season after season. From cardigans and turtlenecks to cable knits, vintage crewnecks or classic cashmere, a great sweater is a welcome piece you look forward to wearing every year. It can be lightweight for warmer months or a chunky, oversized option for cozy fall and winter seasons.
“Sweaters are up to your personal style,” says Kassab, because you will be living in them all season. “I recommend an oversized white cashmere sweater, a collared bold red sweater, a black cardigan and a gray pullover sweater. You do not need more than these. I love red this season, and you can pair it easily to make it easy and chic.”
From a crisp (and sexy) white button-down to a flowy silk top, blouses and shirts are wardrobe staples that can be dependent on your own style—and the other staples in your closet. “When thinking about tops and blouses, really focus on things that will work and fit within your capsule wardrobe,” suggests Lucas. Essential styles might be a blue striped button-down shirt, a white button-down shirt, a linen blouse or an elevated tunic.
“And always consider short-sleeve versus long-sleeve options, as well as fabrics that will work year-round,” says Lucas.
From cool sneakers and trendy boots to classic loafers and ballet flats, a good pair of shoes can make the outfit. But how can you ensure your shoe options complement a capsule wardrobe? “When it comes to shoes, you can cover all bases by having a classic boot, a few heels, fun flats, sandals and sneaker options. This assortment will prove to be the perfect anchor for all your ensembles,” says Lucas.
Kassab tells her clients to invest in a pair of black boots that will stand the test of time. Here are some other shoe options to round out your capsule wardrobe:
- Flat loafer or ballet flat
- White sneaker
- Flat sandal
- Classic pump or heel
- Casual slip-on boot, such as Uggs
- Black ankle boot
- Tall black boot
A beloved handbag can last a lifetime (if properly stored), whether it’s an iconic Hermés purse or a thrifted leather cross-body. Not only do handbags hold great memories, they also hold most of your life, so a good one should be as functional as it is fashionable. While there are many options to choose from, Lucas recommends a good work bag, a casual tote and a clutch for dressier occasions. Kassab adds that handbags vary based on your day-to-day needs. “I love a black leather tote bag for daytime with a top handle and a neutral-colored medium-sized shoulder bag.”
“Accessories go such a long way,” says Kassab, who counts belts as her secret fashion weapon. “Nothing can elevate an outfit faster than a belt,” she says. For Lucas, piling on rings is her “superpower.”
Whether it’s a dainty permanent bracelet, a bold gold cuff, go-to hoop earrings, a silk scarf or a leather belt, there’s no doubt that accessories make your outfit you. “You should put on jewelry and accessories that [have] a significant meaning for you,” says Lucas. While she does recommend classic hoop earrings and layered gold necklaces for a capsule jewelry collection, Lucas admits that the way you individualize your style is through your fashion accessories, “so go with your heart.”
Last things to consider
When building a capsule wardrobe, it’s important to consider investing in longevity. Quality over quantity is the name of the game. “Consider the pieces you’ve worn over the past few months that stand out to you or that you like to wear on repeat,” says Lucas. “Think about those things as being the core building blocks of your capsule wardrobe—and build around that.”
Additional reporting by Marissa Laliberte and Meghan Jones.
About the experts
- Dina Scherer is an image and wardrobe stylist and personal shopper. She is the owner of Modnitsa Styling and offers her clients a structured approach to “designing their look.”
- Ayoka Lucas is a fashion stylist, freelance editor, visual director and style consultant based in New York City. As a former fashion and beauty director for Ebony magazine, Lucas contributed to the style direction of the fashion and beauty pages, digital style platforms and celebrity cover shoots.
- Elisabeth Kassab is a stylist and personal shopper based in Michigan and New York. She specializes in street-style looks, personal shopping, brand campaigns and capsule wardrobes. Kassab created StylistCheck to give her clients the red-carpet experience when it comes to getting dressed, with the end goal of always feeling confident and stylish.
- Earth.org: “10 Concerning Fast Fashion Waste Statistics”