Cultivating a Capsule Wardrobe

Hi, Team PCA! I hope you’re all enjoying the onset of summer. My colleague and I have both had a tremendously exciting time of it these past few weeks, with new jobs for both of us, a new spouse for me, and a new city for her! With my house filled with piles of wedding gifts and with a few days of at-home time between my current job and the next one, I’ve got my mind set on decluttering.

No, I haven’t yet read Marie Kondo’s book. Yes, I intend to. But I have to read about being a better cat person, first.

One way I clearly need to declutter is in my closet. In my quest for the perfect curvy petite wardrobe, I’ve collected a fair amount of clothes. I’ve been flagging articles on the how-to of capsule wardrobes – that is, a collection of clothing that revolves around fewer pieces of higher quality. Here are some takeaways I’ve gotten from the articles that I’m going to try to put in place:

  1. Only keep the things that make you feel the most. The most beautiful, the most professional, the most whatever it is that they’re intended to do. Don’t keep a dress that is flattering enough, guys. Only keep the dresses that are the most flattering.
  2. Tailoring still really matters. A shifted focus from quantity to quality might make the added cost of tailoring less palatable than before, but it is still very important. Very few articles of clothing are going to exactly fit right off the rack; in order for them to make you feel the most (see #1) it’s quite likely a good alterations professional will need to help.
  3. Versatility is key. Get work pieces you can wear on the weekend, and vice-versa. Think of your closet in terms of a Gaussian distribution; you want single-purpose pieces to have very high standard deviations, and multi-purpose pieces the opposite. For this same reason, you want to have a color palette that serves as your framework. The more pieces that can go together, the more versatile your wardrobe will be.
  4. Be brutal. Don’t keep aspirational or sentimental pieces. You can still have the goals and the memories without the clutter.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with the following guidelines for my personal capsule wardrobe. I firmly believe that a person’s wardrobe composition must be individualized, because everyone’s daily circumstances and needs will differ. That means that enforcing the above rules requires a very high level of internal discipline, because there’s no correct set of numbers or rules. Here’s what I’ve come up with for my career and lifestyle needs:

Capsule Wardrobe
  • Five jersey-knit shirts
  • Two woven blouses
  • Two cardigans (one crew neck, one v-neck)
  • Two jackets (one blazer, one unstructured)
  • Two pair of trousers
  • One pair of jeans
  • Two skirts (one pencil, one full)
  • Four dresses (two work, two casual)
  • Four pair of shoes (one pair ballet flats, one pair pointed-toe flats, one pair pumps, one pair boots)
  • Two bags (one tote, one cross-body)

A couple of important notes. First, this is the season-neutral version of this list. Obviously, depending on where you live, you’ll need a good coat and sweaters for cold weather, and in warmer climates you’ll likely wear fewer pants and more dresses. Second, this list is exclusive of workout gear; these items can’t be re-used easily without washing and therefore get their own exempt category (but you shouldn’t acquire more workout gear than you’ll need between laundry days, either). Finally, this is a living list, meaning with time and reflection the composition might change. These are guidelines, not rules. The important thing is to be deliberate about the makeup of your wardrobe and to be relentless in keeping it minimal.

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