Style Experts Swear By Capsule Wardrobes, But What Exactly Are They?

Streamlining your closet makes it way easier to figure out what to wear. Here's how to get a minimalist's closet.

How to Build a Capsule WardrobeiStock/KhongkitWiriyachanWith the minimalism trend on the rise, 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.

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 Dina Scherer, wardrobe stylist and owner of Modnitsa Styling. Because you already know how each of the pieces work together, it’s easy to throw together an outfit. “The challenge of having so many clothes and nothing to wear is you don’t have specific outfits set up or a formula for how to put those things together,” says Scherer. “A capsule forces you to have this formula because there are fewer options and every piece is accounted for.”

Classic and sporty styles lend themselves well to a capsule wardrobe because they already gravitate toward neutral colors and minimal patterns, says Scherer. People with more creative or urban styles might have a harder time eliminating pieces from their closets. “To create the looks for those outfits, it takes a little more pieces,” she says. “Because those styles tend to gravitate toward more patterns or colors or textures, there are more limitations.”

The number of items in a capsule wardrobe depends on how you use it. Some people have a capsule for an occasion like work or weekends, while others prefer one wardrobe for an entire season, says Lauren Rothman, fashion stylist and author of Style Bible: What to Wear to Work. “If you’re just starting to build a capsule wardrobe, I would pick the season at hand and whatever dress code you wear the most often,” she says. A spring office wardrobe, for instance, would have at least seven pieces to get you through the workweek. A capsule wardrobe shouldn’t have more than 22 items, which should be enough to get you through three weeks without repeating outfits, says Rothman.

As you gather and reject pieces for a capsule wardrobe, start by choosing a color scheme. Just be careful that your base color matches any accent shades you choose, says Rothman. “Something like black and brown needs a different set of shoes,” she says. “But navy and white can have the same shoes. Make that capsule as easy to mix and match as possible.”

Versatile pieces are key when you’re minimizing your closet. You’ll get way more use out of a dress that goes with several pairs of shoes and accessories than one that’s tough to match. “It’s got to be able to be worn multiple ways to have not just a variety wardrobe but a capsule,” says Rothman.

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.

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.”

MORE: 9 Genius Rules for Deciding Which Clothes to Keep or Toss

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Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s 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.