Capsule Wardrobe: What It Is and How to Build One

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Streamlining your closet makes it way easier to figure out what to wear. Here's how a capsule-style closet helps you achieve a minimalist wardrobe.

Thanks to the minimalism trend—and people having less variety in their day-to-day wardrobes due to quarantine and working-from-home—people are cutting down their overflowing closets in favor of fewer clothes. Enter capsule wardrobes, a closet with a set number of items. Each piece coordinates with the others, making it easy to mix and match. It’s definitely one of the great small closet ideas to consider. Here are the basics: What a capsule wardrobe is and how to get started on one. Plus, check out our other choices for the best closet systems.

What is a capsule wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe is a type of minimalist wardrobe that you deliberately organize to make 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. According to Dina Scherer, wardrobe stylist and owner of Modnitsa Styling, 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?

Not only does streamlining your wardrobe mean you save money on buying clothes, but it 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 work 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,” she adds. A capsule wardrobe also helps you de-clutter your closet, as 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.

RELATED: How to Create a Color Coded Closet

Should I try a capsule wardrobe?

Some people and wardrobe styles lend themselves better to a capsule closet than others. “A capsule wardrobe works best for minimalist wardrobes or seasonal wardrobe sections, but it can be a bit limiting for someone with multiple style personalities,” Scherer says. “Similarly, a capsule wardrobe is ideal for classic pieces, and neutral tones—so if you tend to gravitate towards clothing that’s more intricate, patterned, or colorful, a capsule may feel a bit limiting.” She adds that classic and sporty styles lend themselves well to a capsule wardrobe because they already gravitate toward neutral colors and minimal patterns. 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.

“The benefits of a capsule wardrobe are minimizing your closet, clearing out clutter, and focusing on items you actually wear. This means you’ll get more value from your clothes, while at the same time adding variety in your looks through different combinations and ensembles.” If your little one’s closet needs attention, here are our best kid’s closet ideas.

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. These “themes” might be a certain occasion or style of clothing, like work or vacation, or a certain season, like spring or fall.

From there, you’ll want to start choosing the pieces that’ll 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 in 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.

How much should I spend on a capsule wardrobe?

“Your budget for a capsule wardrobe really depends on how condensed you plan to make your closet,” Scherer says. “If you’re on a tight budget, you can absolutely build a great capsule wardrobe from off-price retailers like Nordstrom Rack [or] Saks Off 5th. If your budget allows, I recommend investing in pieces with more quality and longevity—from brands like ALC, Rag & Bone, Veronica Beard, and Theory, to name a few.”

Capsule wardrobe checklist

According to Scherer, a capsule wardrobe shouldn’t have more than 40 items. Here’s her advice about how to tackle and arrange each major part of a capsule wardrobe:

You can also take a look at an example Scherer made and buy items from here.

Capsule wardrobe infographicGrace Luxton/rd.com

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 you will want to 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.”

Primary pieces illustration: line drawing of person wearing a white t-shirt and gray slacksrd.com

2. Supporting pieces

Accessories and shoes make it easy to give those core clothes new life. “You can have the same suit and wear it with flats, heels, and a loafer, and it will have three different looks and feels to it,” says Scherer. “Add in slightly more levels of accessories to that, and it changes the look completely.” Keep at least one or two necklaces and a few scarves in your inventory to mix things up, she suggests.

Accent pieces illustration - line figure person wearing slacks, t-shirt, cardigan, shoes, belt and necklacerd.com

3. The physical wardrobe

Of course, you’ll need the physical 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 one from Macy’s 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.

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Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.
Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.