The Capsule Wardrobe: How to Get Started and Why You Need One

capsule wardrobe

Inside: In my opinion, moms need capsule wardrobes more than anyone else, but they don’t need to cost a fortune. Capsule wardrobes are for frugal and non-fashionista mamas, too!

In a world chock full of choices at our fingertips, we parents suffer decision fatigue more than others because we make decisions for more than one person ALL. THE. TIME.

Building a capsule wardrobe significantly reduces that decision fatigue.

Capsule wardrobes also save money, but the best part is that they simultaneously save time and energy. What mom doesn’t need that?

What is a capsule wardrobe, anyway?

Susie Faux, the owner of a London Boutique, originally coined the phrase “capsule wardrobe”. She defined it as “a collection of a few essential wardrobe items of clothing that don’t go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented by seasonal pieces” (source). I would add that those essential items can easily be mixed and matched 95% of the time.

I am no fashionista and certainly no authority on capsule wardrobes, but I immediately latched onto the idea when I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up two years ago. It dramatically changed my approach to building my own wardrobe, an approach I eventually applied to building my husband’s and my kids’ wardrobes.

Related: How to Build Your Spring Capsule Wardrobe on a Budget

Why do I need a capsule wardrobe?

Before The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I would buy random pieces I liked (that was my approach for the whole family), without considering what we already had at home. I accepted every bag of hand-me-downs and kept the majority, thinking, “Well, we might wear them one day.”

The result was wardrobes across the family that rarely coordinated easily and often wasted money on pieces that coordinated with absolutely nothing. Outfits needed to be chosen carefully every day, and let’s just say the littles in the family did NOT know what that meant.

Let me ask you this: Have you ever debated whether or not to allow your child outside in a obviously (and often glaringly) mismatched outfit? Do you argue with your three-year-old about her outfit more days than not?

If that’s you, you need the capsule wardrobe, my friend. If you can prevent battles that can be prevented are absolutely worth your time.

Personally? I can instantly grab almost any 2-3 pieces from my closet: I love them, I feel great wearing every single thing, and they coordinate. Enough said.

Is it really affordable? I thought a capsule wardrobe was for people who spend a lot of money on clothes.

If you’re like me, when you hear the term “capsule wardrobe”, you think expensive, impractical, designer clothes – totally inaccessible to the family piecing together wardrobes from Target, Old Navy, hand-me-downs or consignment stores.

But it’s not true! You can have a capsule wardrobe on a budget. Its basically just a fancy way of saying you want a minimalist wardrobe with     pieces you love and that mix and match easily.

You are committing to choosing more carefully the pieces you add to your wardrobe.  Whether you get those pieces from Stitch Fix, Banana Republic, or thrift stores is entirely up to you and your budget.

You can build a great wardrobe using any of those options.

So yes, a capsule wardrobe can be very affordable, with a little perspective shift.

I spend less than $500 a year on quality clothes for a family of 6.

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Can capsule wardrobes really work for moms with little mess makers (ahem, I mean, little kids)?

After I started building my capsule wardrobe but before I developed a weekly laundry routine, I honestly questioned whether or not capsule wardrobes could work for the stay-at-home mom with young children. The kids managed to dirty my outfit every day, one way or another (they have so many ways, don’t they?). I hardly ever wore the same clothes twice, and I constantly ran out of clothes.

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All my clothes, except workout clothes, underwear, and pajamas fit in this small closet.

All my clothes, except workout clothes, underwear, and pajamas fit in this small closet.

A Word on Mom Wardrobes

For those of you who want to live in workout gear, please do it – we have enough mom guilt about every other thing, and I’m certainly not going to heap on more.

I’ve had my share of yoga pants and sweatshirt seasons during these years of riding the waves of pregnancy body/post-partum body/post-post-partum body/normal-sized body, only to do it all over again.

But personally, I’ve found that I feel a million times better about life when I’m showered and dressed properly (and by properly I mean in skinny jeans and a nice tee).

Granted, my wardrobe looks much different than when I worked full-time, but my skinny jeans, nice tees, and button-down flannels make me feel like a grown-up.

Even if the day goes entirely to crap, which can be the case when you’re home all day with four little people, at least I’m wearing my nice jeans! (which are about to have jelly smeared on them 10 minutes after I put them on…)

Capsule Wardrobe | Save Money on Clothes

4 Steps to Building Your Capsule Wardrobe

1) Assess your entire wardrobe, in season and out.

Gather your entire wardrobe, in season and out. You will need two boxes or bags: a “donate” box and a “maybe” box.

Start with items you NEVER EVER WEAR. No matter how much you paid for them or who gave them to you, bottom line: do you wear it?

Unless the item is formal wear that you keep for weddings, funerals, or other occasions that require such things, it needs to go. If you still

struggle with the idea that you might need it one day, in a future you can’t quite define right now, read this article by Tsh Oxenreider – a genius way of viewing thrift stores as storage units.

Move on to items you wear occasionally. Is the fit and color flattering? I spent years wearing clothes for my ideal body…that wasn’t my actual body. And I always felt self-conscious.

Now, when I purchase clothes, I consider how I want it to fit and size it accordingly. I used to buy small sized tees, now I buy medium or large because the draped fit is far more flattering and comfortable for me. I also bought clothes that were pretty on a hanger, but color-wise did not flatter me at all. Now, I’ve narrowed my colors to navy, white, gray, and wine-colored tones.

If the answer to the questions above is a resounding “NO”, put it in the “donate” box. If the answer is maybe, or for whatever reason you are unsure, put it in the “maybe” box. This box will sit in your basement or garage for 6 months. If you never think about items in that box for six months, off they go. But think of it as your safety blanket if you get cold feet about getting rid of so much stuff.

A Word on Decluttering Your Spouse’s Clothes

I do most of the shopping for my husband. He hates shopping. I also manage most of the stuff in our house, decluttering fairly regularly.

But whatever you do, do not give away your spouse’s clothes without his approval (unless the last time he wore it was in high school or it’s clearly in unwearable condition…definitely done that). It’s an honor thing, as much as I love to toss stuff, it’s not mine.

I sort, but keep everything I want to toss in a box in the laundry room. In six months, if he doesn’t ask for anything and can’t remember what’s in it, I ask permission to donate it. The answer is usually, “Sure, go ahead.”

2) Consider the items you reach for every single day.

What do you miss when it’s in the laundry? What is your impulsive go-to outfit when you have your full wardrobe available to you?

Once you’ve determined those pieces, study them. What do you love about them? Comfort? Color? Fit? Style? Write down your answers, possibly in your bullet journal, or somewhere you won’t lose it.

3) List the items you’re missing.

Hopefully, you started a weekly laundry routine as suggested in the first post of this series. If so, figure out how many pieces you need to last a little more than one week (in case the inevitable emergency situation comes up). Use these numbers to gauge accurate quantities for your missing items’ list.

4) Look for classic pieces, ideally ones that can be worn across seasons.

If you’re closet is a bit sparse after this process, resist the urge to rush out to the store, which will completely blow your clothing budget!

True desperation looks like – I have just one pair of pants left. If you have 3-4, you can probably live and take the time to build your wardrobe back up slowly.

Remember the “donate” box? It’s your safety blanket, your backup plan. So breathe, and think long-term, here. A little patience will save you tons in the long run.

What’s a good number of clothes? Well, I’ve heard the number 37 (items) tossed around by bloggers who write about capsule wardrobes. This number includes shoes, bags, and jewelry, but excludes workout gear, pajamas, underwear, socks etc.

But ultimately, you need to find the number that fits your lifestyle.

Read Next: 7 Tips to Building a Simple Wardrobe for Kids

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