How to Build Your Dream Capsule Wardrobe

Meg DeBoard (she/her) is wearwell’s Stylist Lead who enjoys starting her day with an iced americano (yes, even when it’s a little cold out!) and ending it with a spicy margarita. Her go-to outfits include vibrant dresses and structured denim with a simple tee and a blazer. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband, Chris, and their two pups, Winston and Banksy.

In 2018, I worked on a play with actress Kerry Bishé, best known for the movie Argo and the tv series Halt and Catch Fire. I noticed that she came to rehearsal every day in a variety of neutral or white outfits: a beige dress with a white tee underneath, slacks with a similar tone crop top, and white overalls with a beige tank. After a few weeks, I told her I noticed her love of neutral tones and asked if she preferred to avoid color or black, and she replied “I love colors, but I’ve found it takes quite a bit of mental space to decide on an outfit every day, and that’s time and energy that I could put towards my work or my relationships with others. So, I only buy neutral clothing because they’ll always match each other and I can simply throw on a top and bottom and continue with my day.”

This was my first introduction to the concept of a capsule wardrobe. Whether you’re new to capsule wardrobes or have been trying to build your own for a while, read on for your guide to curating the capsule wardrobe of your dreams. 

Woman folding sustainable clothing for ethically made capsule wardrobe

What is a capsule wardrobe? 

A capsule wardrobe is a collection of clothing that is composed of items that can mix and match with each other to maximize the number of outfits that can be created. This is often done by choosing classic or timeless pieces, often in neutral colors. The aim is to have an outfit suitable for any occasion without needing to have a closet full of clothes.

Capsule wardrobes tend to be curated over time. If you’re not sure where to start, book a styling session or let your stylist know this is the direction that you’d like to take with your wardrobe.

When did capsule wardrobes become popular?

The term “capsule wardrobe” began appearing in American publications as early as the 1940s but really hit its stride in the 1970s when London designer Susie Faux created a collection of essential items that would not go out of fashion for several seasons. In 1985, Donna Karan popularized the concept with her “7 Easy Pieces” collection, which showcased models in black bodysuits and tights, dressing and undressing in seven different pieces to show that the working woman can meet all her wardrobe needs with only a few reliable and timeless looks.

Folded ethically and sustainably made clothing
Investing in a capsule wardrobe

The key to creating the capsule wardrobe is to think of it as an investment. These pieces should be with you for years and for multiple wears per week. It's easy to grab something cheap, but you might only get two to three wears before it starts to pill or the hem starts to unravel. Also, there is a price for every part of labor through the supply chain, so cheap can often mean it was made in poor working conditions - yikes! If you have the means to invest in a piece you’ll wear for years, it’s often a wise choice both for environmental sustainability and workers’ rights. While it might feel like you’re spending money upfront to create your wardrobe, you’ll likely find that you save money in the long run because you’re buying fewer items!

What does the foundation of a capsule wardrobe include?

Today, a capsule wardrobe can include color, but I recommend sticking with classic lines and colors that work well together, which often lends itself to neutrals. The ideal assortment includes:

  • two bottoms (one pair of jeans + one other type of pant or skirt), 
  • three to four tops, 
  • one dress or jumpsuit, 
  • one layering piece, 
  • one bag, and 
  • one to two pieces of jewelry. 
Sustainably made clothing hanging
How do I begin?

First, take a look at your current wardrobe. Look at each piece (yes, we agree with Marie Kondo that you should go through one-by-one!) and ask yourself, “When did I wear it last?” If the answer is “not once in the past six months,” it’s likely not the best choice for your capsule wardrobe. 

Also, ask yourself: what do I need clothes for? Do you go into the office for a 9-5 job? Are you a stay-at-home mom? Do you work out often? Do you have several formal events per year?

Once you ask yourself these questions and decide what items in your closet you love and want to hold onto, start to analyze if there’s a recurring theme: are there fabrics you prefer or a certain fit you lean towards? This will help you decide how to continue building your unique capsule wardrobe as you fill in the pieces you still need. 

Here are my top picks for timeless additions as you build your capsule wardrobe:

Bottoms

A pair of jeans will last you years. I’ve had a pair since 2013 that hug my booty perfectly so I’m thrilled they’re still going strong. While classic dark navy denim will last for a long time (and hide any potential stains that might show up on a lighter wash), I’m partial to black, as it can often pass in a work setting, thus making it more versatile. The most important component is that you feel comfortable in whatever jeans you have and that you feel good in them. Don’t add anything to your wardrobe that you don’t feel like you wear well (yes - pun intended!).

Try these jeans as an addition to your capsule wardrobe:

Ethically and sustainably made Cindy High Rise Skinny Jean from Etica sold by wearwell

The Cindy High Rise Skinny Jeans in the Elder Creek wash are especially great for hourglass or pear-shaped figures.

Giselle Mid Rise Skinny Jean Denim Ethically Sustainably Made sold by wearwell

The Giselle Mid Rise Skinny Jeans in the Black Creek could also pass for work pants with a nice blouse.

Fillmore Boyfriend Jean sustainably made denim ethical from Outerknown sold by wearwell

The Fillmore Boyfriend Jeans are for those who enjoy a relaxed fit, but still a timeless look. I recommend the Worn Indigo, as the ripped jeans look won’t be as versatile.

One pair of pants or a skirt:

Rochelle Wide Leg Trousers Ethically and sustainably made fair trade by People Tree sold by wearwell

The Rochelle Wide Leg Trousers are not only stylish but incredibly comfortable. They’ll pair with heels for work or sneakers for a casual day.

Tara Dotted Swiss Skirt Ethically and Sustainably Made sold by wearwell

I’m a big fan of the classic black skirt. The Tara Dotted Swiss Skirt is a length that has been in style for decades, plus the subtle dots give a unique texture, making this skirt special.

Alexis Twill Trousers ethically and sustainably made wearwell

While dark hues are popular for capsule wardrobe bottoms, the hazelnut hue of the Alexis Twill Trouser still works nicely as a year-round neutral and lightens up your wardrobe.

Tops & Blouses:

You know your lifestyle best, so you’ll know if you need blouses vs. tees vs. tank tops. Here’s an assortment of tops that could work both for a capsule wardrobe and for a variety of life events.

Blouses:

Sustainably made Nuon Top from tonle sold by wearwell ethically made with fair wages and zero waste

The Nuon Top is a favorite of mine, as the palm hue is an effortless neutral that often gets overlooked, yet it goes with just about any color.

Catherine Button Down Blouse ethically and sustainably made from People Tree sold bywearwell

Just because you’re building a capsule wardrobe doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate patterns and texture! The dots on the Catherine Blouse elevate the style, making it more than just another button-down.

Libni Tie Top by People Tree ethically and sustainably made fair trade from wearwell

I love living in mainly neutrals with the occasional pop of color and you can’t go wrong with the Libni Tie Top, as the dark green can work with all seasons (yes, even summer!) by simply popping in bold statement earrings.

Tops:

Uma Bardot Top by People Tree made fair trade ethical sustainable organic cotton sold by wearwell

It’s probably no surprise that a black top made the list! I especially love the Uma Bardot Top because the off-the-shoulder sleeves can be paired with a skirt for a dressy ensemble. 

Nicole Bodysuit from People Tree sustainable and ethically made sold by wearwell

Bodysuits were one of the staples of Donna Karan’s original capsule collection in the 80s and they’re still working today! The Nicole Bodysuit in navy is a wonderful alternative to black.

Sylvie Relaxed White Tee Sustainably and Ethically Made wearwell

A white tee is called a classic for a reason, but if it’s too fitted it can get sweat stains pretty quickly or get stretched out. The Sylvie Relaxed Tee has an oversized fit to keep that from happening, while still pairing perfectly tucked into a skirt or worn loose with jeans.

Dresses and Jumpsuits:

The key to selecting a dress or jumpsuit is to pick something that could potentially be dressed up for an event or worn on a laid-back day with sneakers. I recently wore a cotton sundress to a cocktail attire wedding by pairing it with heels and statement earrings.

Chennai Mini Dress fair trade ethically and sustainably made wearwell

It’s pretty easy to find a little black dress (we have many wonderful options!) but as I said earlier, solids of any color can be another staple for your wardrobe, so I opted for a different type of LBD: Little Blue Dress. The Chennai Mini Dress can be belted and worn with heels for a night out, or with tights and booties for a chillier day. 

Rita Jumpsuit ethically sustainably made sold by wearwell

Jumpsuits aren’t going anywhere, and the Rita Jumpsuit could virtually go everywhere! It’s perfect with sneakers and a denim jacket (see my pick below!) for an airplane ride, and then swap your sneakers for wedges and head to work.

Julia Shift Dress ethically and sustainably made

A capsule wardrobe doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy color! If you’re unsure where to incorporate color, having a colorful dress is the easiest option, as it really doesn’t have to mix and match that much. The Julia Shift Dress is vibrant and comfortable - perfect for a picnic with the gals or a wedding!

Layering Pieces:

Not only does a jacket or blazer keep you warm, but it can also change up your look pretty effortlessly. Whether you’re heading to work or the movies, it’s great to have a versatile layering piece as part of your capsule wardrobe.

Jeffrey Jacket ethically and sustainably made wearwell

A modern twist on the timeless trench coat, the Jeffery Jacket pairs nicely over a dress as you head to work or with your favorite pair of jeans and a tee as you travel. 

Eileen Blazer ethically and sustainably made wearwell

The Eileen Blazer is a classic choice for work, but what you’ll really love about it is the natural fibers, making it as comfortable as a sweater, while still looking chic and polished.

 

Chelsea Jacket ethically and sustainably made wearwell

 

The first record of jean jackets dates back to 1880, so it’s safe to assume that the Chelsea Jacket will be a welcome addition to your wardrobe for decades to come. Denim is incredibly durable, so you’ll get countless wears with sundresses or pants.

Bags:

Similar to tops and blouses, you know what type of bag you need for your everyday life. Personally, I’m a fanny pack gal - even when I travel, that’s my personal item. 

Ella Midi Bag sustainable ethical purse wearwell

Cognac is a timeless bag hue, and on the Ella Midi Bag, it makes for a purse that can carry more than you think. It’ll look perfect with a dress or with jeans, so pack it with everything from your mid-sized planner to your chapstick and feel ready to be out of the house for the whole day and night.

Lana Leather Backpack sustainable ethically made artisan made wearwell

While many work bags are totes, the Lana Leather Backpack is chic enough to be for both work and play. With a sleeve for your laptop, you’ll be organized without looking bulky. The black hue is another classic choice and this backpack is cute enough to pair with jeans or dresses.

Felipa Belt Bag artisan made ethical sustainable wearwell

The Felipa Belt Bag is a must. Your keys, cash, phone, and lipstick will be at the ready at all times. Going to a fancy event? Sling it over your shoulder or hold it like a clutch.

Jewelry:

With jewelry being so small, you might be thinking “surely, I can have a lot of it because it isn’t taking up space.” But bear in mind that deciding on the perfect pair of earrings with an outfit can take up mental space and time. I’ve found it’s easier for me to have a few pieces that I really love than a bunch of pieces that I like and will only wear a couple of times a year.

Rise Studs ethically made antitrafficking recycled brass sustainable wearwell

A simple pair of studs or hoops are great for everyday wear. They’re going to go with every outfit in your closet. You’ll like the Rise Studs because they’re simple, yet unique compared to other daily studs.

 Moxie Necklace sustainable artisan made wearwell

The minimalist necklace is really having a moment and I’m here for it. The bezel-setting of the Moxie Necklace adds sparkle to any outfit and will keep the gemstone secure for years to come.

Sherri Fringe Earrings sustainable ethical artisan made wearwell

Sometimes you want to make a statement or you’re heading to an event, so having a statement pair of earrings on hand is essential. The Sherri Fringe Earrings are fun and incorporate movement into your ensemble. The white will complement any look, but you could also opt for a pop of color with statement earrings.

Building a capsule wardrobe is such a time-saver; I cannot recommend it enough! It will not only save you time, but also money and mental clarity in the long run. Ready to start this journey?  Book a wearwell styling session today and we’ll help you begin!

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