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Capsule how-to

How to build a capsule wardrobe, NOT from scratch

How to build a capsule wardrobe, <span>NOT from scratch</span>
Photo by Alyssa Strohmann on Unsplash


If you ever came across the term "Capsule wardrobe", I am sure you also came across hundreds of articles and videos explaining how to build one from scratch.

Easy, peasy, right? Here is the checklist, just buy this and that, and you are sorted for life.

To me, this approach is just half of the story. I really appreciate the checklist, but what do I do with all the clothes I already have?

Those articles rarely explain how to incorporate the pieces you already own into this capsule wardrobe everybody is talking about. The focus is always on the need-to-buy clothes rather than using your own first.

And please don't take me wrong - I will be forever grateful to those who created that content. They introduced me to the capsule wardrobe concept, which I absolutely loved. If not for those videos and articles, I would still be struggling with my dysfunctional wardrobe and unhealthy shopping habits.

In my humble opinion, the capsule wardrobe is the best way to manage one's closet. In this article, I will show you how to create one step by step, starting with the stuff you already have.

The definition of a capsule wardrobe

So what exactly is the capsule wardrobe?

According to some, it has to have 37 pieces. To others - 10. There are some other rules; the items must be basic, of a certain colour, etc, etc.

I like a more lenient term for the capsule wardrobe, the one which I found on Wikipedia. I have highlighted the key terms:

A capsule wardrobe is a collection of clothing that is composed of interchangeable items only, to maximise the number of outfits that can be created. The aim is to have an outfit suitable for any occasion without owning excessive items of clothing.

And let's just stick with that.

Chances are, you already have quite a few pieces in your wardrobe. If we started talking about some strict rules like the colour of the items and how many pieces you should have in your wardrobe - how is this helpful to you?

Instead, let's just embrace the clothes you have, become friends with them, and see how we can turn them into the capsule wardrobe with some minimum expenses.

Step 1: Record all your belongings

If you have any sort of wardrobe problems, you will likely need to add or remove a few things to create a functional and versatile wardrobe.

But to know what to add or remove, you first need to know what you have.

Just think about it, if you start building the capsule wardrobe just from the checklist somebody else made (I did that!), you will be just adding some random pieces on top of the stuff you already struggle to use.

Pull out all the clothes, shoes, bags, and accessories you own (yes, even the ones packed away for one or another reason), and make a record of it however you like it.

The most basic way would be listing all your items on a piece of paper, but I suggest using some digital tool. Take pictures on your phone and then use the software you are most comfortable with to create a visual representation of your wardrobe.

I used Notion for this step, as it allowed me to organise all the data in multiple ways in the later stages. Also, in Notion, you can create various views of your clothes for each season, type of item, or whatever other needs you have. And this can be a huge time saver once you put in the initial work.

If you want to give Notion a try, download a free template from the resources area on this page (find it in the sidebar or at the top of the page, depending on the size of your device).

Depending on the size of your wardrobe and the number of clothes you have, this can take you anything from 1 to 3 hours.

When I started, my wardrobe had over 100 pieces. I wanted to take nice pictures of all my belongings, so it took me about half a day to photograph my clothes and add all of them to the Notion database. All in the name of a better future, right?

Go through all your items, and if you come across one you know you will never use or wear again, don't bother taking a picture of it; just put it in the "donate or sell" pile. Marie Kondo style, if you like.

I suggest not lingering in this step too long. Just record everything you own without giving too much thought, and we will take a closer look at all items later.

By the end of this step, you should have all the things you own uploaded to a digital tool. Next, we will sort all the items out.

Step 2: Categorise all your clothes

Once you have all your items recorded, you need to figure out a few things:

  1. What season (if any) does each item belong to
  2. How does the item fit you (1-5 stars rating)
  3. And how do I still feel about it (also a 1-5 stars rating).

If you grabbed any of my Notion templates (resources area on this page), select the correct categories using the season and rating dropdowns.

This exercise alone taught me so much about my shopping habits. It helped me to see how small my winter wardrobe was and how disproportionately more clothes I had for spring/summer. And to think - I live in the UK, and the weather here could be better!

I also learned that I really liked the colour in the summer, but my winter wardrobe was rather depressing and consisted mainly of black clothes.

It became clear to me why I always struggled to get dressed in colder seasons. There was a lot to improve.

When your seasonal clothes are typically stored away, seeing that information in plain sight is difficult. Visual representation like the one we just created provides you with much clarity.

Step 3: Build outfits from what you have

Once the first two steps are done, and you have all your wardrobe items recorded in one way or another, take time (and for me, it took another half day) to mix and match all your pieces to create some outfits.

And I mean - put the clothes on. It will be easier to see what is working well together and what isn't.

Sometimes, when we lay out the clothes before us, it seems like they could go together, and we could make a nice outfit out of them. Still, that method completely removes other factors from the equation - your body shape, the length of the garment, what accessories could go with the outfit, how you feel while wearing that outfit, and so on.

Also, when you actually wear the clothes, you can take pictures of yourself. Use the big mirror if you have one, take a picture and upload it to the digital tool of your choice for future reference.

For someone like me, who generally finds getting dressed nicely difficult, taking pictures of myself was an essential step, as it was easier for me to see which outfits fit me and which did not. The reflection in the mirror was just simply not enough.

Then, I created another database in Notion for all my outfits, which I now use every time I struggle to get dressed in the morning.

I can't even tell you how much better I now feel about my appearance. Previously, I would spend a long time deciding what to wear when going out or for the day in the office. And now, I just go to my outfits database and choose clothes I already know work well together. Getting dressed is much easier this way.

So yes, spend time creating as many outfits as possible, taking pictures of each, and recording what works together. Next, we will try to find the gaps in our wardrobe.

Step 4: Analyse and make purchase decisions

So now that you know what you have and what outfits you can build out of your existing clothes, it is much easier for you to see the gaps in your wardrobe.

For every single item in your wardrobe, ask yourself these questions:

  • How many outfits is this part of?
  • And what (if anything) could I bring into my wardrobe to complement this?

Now you can take the checklist for the traditional capsule wardrobe and see which items out of that list you could actually use to extend your current wardrobe.

Analyse your wardrobe, find the things you use most and the ones you don't use at all, and make purchase decisions based on that.

When I started this process, I had so many clothes and yet - very few basics. I could not create a lot of outfits because each item in my wardrobe was going only with one or two other garments, or sometimes - none at all. Gosh, I did not even have a basic white t-shirt! I guess that was the main reason I started looking into the capsule wardrobe.

Seeing my wardrobe items and outfits in one view allowed me to zoom in on the problem areas and purchase only the things I needed.

Final word

So here it is; this is how you can build a capsule wardrobe, NOT from scratch.

The key thing here is to remember that the capsule wardrobe is not a single recipe. If it was, it would be called uniform.

To prove this, I am offering you a true story: I once was walking in a city, and I saw this girl wearing a traditional spring capsule - a beige trench coat, blue jeans, a white t-shirt and sneakers. She looked nice. However, I was the identical picture of her, wearing literally the same thing. I guess we were both learning about the capsule wardrobe from the same resources.

Start with your wardrobe first, and your capsule wardrobe will look different from everyone else's. And that is a good thing.

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