My Capsule Wardrobe: A Guide

Photo by photoshkolnik/iStock / Getty Images

Hi Everyone and Welcome Back to Camomile Contemplates...

Following on from my post on Friday looking at the Wardrobe Edit, I'm now going to take you through the principles and practice of creating a Capsule Wardrobe.

The Capsule Wardrobe is a phrase coined by boutique owner, Susie Faux in the 1970s who defined it as "a few essential items of clothing that don't go out of fashion which can be augmented with seasonal pieces."  There are several websites, magazine articles, YouTube channels and books looking at how to create a capsule wardrobe.  In preparation for this article (and for my own personal interest) I've spent quite a large amount of time reading different opinions and approaches.  I came to this with a clear, open mind and willing to be swayed from my 'retail trained' opinion.

I'm a huge fan of lifestyle blog, The Anna Edit (www.theannaedit.com).  I'm feel I'm quite similar to Anna (the blogger behind The Anna Edit) in terms of my organisational obsession.  She's a real inspiration to me in building my brand and my business.  Anna herself has done a series on the capsule wardrobe and she's applied the principles from an excellent blog by a lady called Caroline from the website Unfancy (http://www.un-fancy.com).  After reading Anna's posts and trawling through her YouTube videos it was time for me to check out Unfancy myself.  After a bit of research I realised that this is a pretty commonly applied theory for very good reason...

Whilst I certainly pulled some great ideas and techniques from other sources (including The Anna Edit), I've concluded that (with some of my personal tweaking) this approach certainly seemed the best in terms of personal adaption.  Caroline's unique selling point (for me) is that she doesn't try to apply a 'cookie-cutter solution' i.e. trying to apply the same capsule for more or less anyone.  What she does do is to give consideration to individual lifestyles, personal styles and social requirements.  Obvious you may think, but a lot of the other sources seemed to forget to mention this or held it as less important.  Whilst there are invariably key items we could all use in almost all circumstances, I love the application of a more personal touch and the retainment of your individual refined personality.  The only thing I couldn't get on board with was Caroline's mathematical approach to a capsule of 37 pieces....seemed a little too constrained and mathematical for me but I did like the idea of shopping less and with more focus.

So, how do you create this wonderful capsule wardrobe?  Here's my adaption of the Unfancy method mixed with some other tips and a little of my own thoughts thrown in.

Capsule Wardrobe Step by Step Guide

Step 1 - Think About Your Lifestyle

This is a great way to start and also an important principle to keep coming back to as you do each rotation (see step 3).  Lifestyle includes many things - your working life, your leisure activities, your holidays, your social calendar...pretty much how you divide the time you have in your life.  This will help you define what items of clothing you need in your capsule wardrobe.  Taking myself as an example...

I work from home (a large portion of the week) so I need comfortable yet smart clothes for these days.  I'm not one to sit in pyjamas or tracksuits and like to feel dressed to work plus it's good to be ready and available for any last minute meet-ups.  The rest of the time I'm either lecturing (I'm an associate lecturer for the London College of Fashion) or with clients.  Due to the nature of the fashion and beauty industry this is more relaxed than traditional corporate dressing but I do feel the need to be stylish and well-presented.  In my leisure time I enjoy eating out, going to the theatre or cinema and hosting dinner and drinks parties at our home.  I also love going for long, country walks and regularly practice yoga.  Holidays tend to be either fun city breaks or relaxing beach holidays.

When I think of these three areas I need comfortable, stylish clothes that can be dressed up or down with a range of accessories.  My personal style and fashion personality is important to me so it's a mix of classic with a little bit of trend for me.

Step 2 - What's Your Personal Style?

I see absolutely no point in creating a capsule wardrobe if it doesn't still represent you!  To help you manage this, Unfancy and some other articles discuss the importance of spending some time defining your personal style.  You might be very aware of what your style is but most people when asked haven't given it huge thought.  To help you out, I suggest doing the following:

  1. First of all, pull out your five most worn pieces in your wardrobe/accessories drawer.
  2. Then pull out your five most favourite pieces (in addition to the above).  Remember this can include shoes and jewellery!  I know this sounds like I repeat but think about special occassionwear or those amazing shoes that you don't wear often but just adore!
  3. Lay everything out so you can see it and start to write down words or phases to describe what you're seeing.  This can pretty much be anything - some ideas might be smart, colourful, creative, leopard print (Karen!), pretty, soft, comfortable, practical, edgy, trend-led....just describe them as you feel comfortable.

If you need help with this then ask a trusted family member or friend to do this with you.  Try not to overcomplicate it.  Your style will naturally evolve over time but all you need to do is to get a good understanding on how you're dressing just now and what you enjoy wearing.

My words and phrases were....

  • Inspired by French style.  This has been the case for years for me.  I adore the French look, particularly Parisian style.  For me this is navy mixed with black, pretty yet edgy combinations, applications of the classics (new takes on the white shirt, black trouser, blazer) and a serious nod to tailored pieces.
  • Girly.  I've always been girly and my Dad was a master at sourcing anything in pink for me, even when it came to serious things like sat navs, cameras and calculators.  I've grown up a little but still love a feminine feel through details.  I love almost anything with bows, ribbons or ties and adore lace whether it be victorian style black in the winter or pretty white broderie anglaise in the summer.
  • Modern Classic.  My Mum is a real inspiration to me on this as was my Dad.  Both of them have taught me about the importance in investing in great but classic wardrobe pieces.  In particular for me it's my Burberry trench (I bought it in leather), a classic blazer and cashmere knits in timeless colours.  I will always find place for a great pair of black trousers too.
  • Design-led.  My fascination and love for fashion and style began in the mid-80s from watching Caryn Franklyn and Jeff Banks on the Clothes Show.  Both presenters has the most wonderful narrative when describing fashion which is something I've continued to appreciate.  I love finding something that has genuine consideration in the design and pieces that create interest and intrigue.  
  • Loyal to British Design.  This is a definite.  I'm very proud of my Scottish heritage and support the old Scottish cashmere mills, particularly Hawico (formally Hawick Cashmere) whom I had the pleasure of collaborating with during my time as a buyer at Harrods.  British design but, most importantly, British manufacture has something special about it.  I'm also loving Genevieve Sweeney (www.genevievesweeney.com) who designs and manufactures all of her knitwear collection here in the UK.  There's a growing number of great examples of this happening just now and I support them both in terms of my buying habits and admiration whenever I can.

An additional but not essential thing you can do further is to create a Pinterest board.  Pinterest is a great website where you can 'pin' images from the internet onto their online mood boards.  Go to www.pinterest.com or check out their app in Apple's App Store and Google Play.  I'm a really visual person so I find this very useful.  Here's my mood images below...

Step 3 - Manage Each Season

This is a really important step.  It's a difficult (almost impossible) task to get a capsule wardrobe that will suit your style for twelve months of the year.  The fashion calendar splits into spring, summer, autumn and winter and therefore, so should your wardrobe.  Every three months prepare the upcoming new season by reviewing your collection.  I approach each season as follows...

Spring - From Mid-March

  • Store away any heavy coats, knitwear and winter accessories (bobble hats, gloves, thick scarves) that are now too warm for the slightly warmer months.  I like to ensure everything is washed or dry cleaned prior to storage.  I then wrap them with some tissue paper and put them into vacuum pack storage bags.  I've used this method for a while and love how fresh and uncrushed everything comes out when I next need them.
  • Make sure you own a raincoat!  Spring is a lovely season but it's not quite time to put away our coats.  The rainy weather in the UK demands a showerproof trench for both keeping dry and keeping a little warm too.  A good umbrella and some lightweight scarves are also great additions.
  • Manage layering.  Looking back over the last few years Spring can range from mild to cold and everything else in between.  I like to have options to layer e.g t-shirts under fine knitwear, camisoles under blouses and shirts under and dresses.  Cardigans work over almost everything.
  • Change your denier.  I adore a thick pair of black 100 denier tights but they start to look too dense come the Spring.  Change them up for a 40 denier option.  Marks and Spencer do some great Body Sensor (TM) ones that adjust to your temperature.
  • Review the trends.  I'm certainly not a slave to fashion but I do like to pick up on key trends going on and give my wardrobe gentle updates.  For instance for Spring 2017 I'll add in some pops of fuchsia and yellow, a black waist belt, some eighties inspired statement sleeves and a tulle midi skirt.  I'll do a trend review at the start of March prior to my post on the spring capsule wardrobe so check that out for all the key trends .

Summer - Mid to Late June

  • This is the second opportunity to store away the majority of knits and coats, a few heavier jackets and any garments in darker, heavier fabrics. I really take my time doing this and again ensure everything is clean and properly wrapped and protected.  I do however keep out my leather jacket (I live in the UK after all) and a couple of really light pieces of knitwear for colder evenings or as gentle layers.  
  • It's also the time to bring out my Summer wardrobe.  My Summer wardrobe is organised into two distinct sections; my UK summer clothes and my holiday clothes.  Holiday clothes tend to be kept in the drawer that previously housed all my knits and winter accessories so they are easily accessible but not overly dominating my wardrobe.  I'll do a blog post on my way to distinguish these two sections as we come into that time of year.
  • Freshen up skincare and makeup routine.  I know this post is mainly on apparel and accessories but there's lots to be said that a good foundation is the making of a good outfit.  I up my game in terms of my beauty routine with monthly pedicures and occasional spray tans.  My makeup look is lighter and more focussed on SPF protection as is my skin and body care products.
  • Add some new capsule pieces that will lift the collections you already have - a new white broderie anglaise top, some print dresses, graphic print trousers and some new fresh basics (tees, camis, shirts and shorts).  If you feel your collection is strong with plenty of options then you can make some fresh updates with new statement jewellery in pretty, summery colours.

Autumn - Mid-September

  • As we breeze into autumn you'll quickly find the need to bring back those layers and spring pieces.  Light knits, soft scarves, key jackets and transitional coats.  Living in the UK I find that my spring and autumn wardrobes are quite similar and most worn so I tend to keep those pieces in reasonably easy reach to pull out as necessary.  Some pieces will remain in my wardrobe, all be it at the far, less accessible side.
  • The autumn months of September and October are key times for the stores to do their big seasonal deliveries so I tend to start shopping for my autumn winter wardrobes at this time.  New coats, new knitwear, new jeans, new boots - key staples that, come November and December, will be sold out or more limited in choice.
  • Go through all of your autumn and winter wardrobes at this point and ensure you're happy with everything.  First of all, check if anything needs a refresh dry-clean, a polish or repair.  It's not nice when you see a sudden change in weather and decide to put your boots on, only to discover they are not up to scratch yet!  Secondly, take the time to edit your wardrobe again and ensure everything you have suits you, fits you and works with your personal style.

Winter - Mid-November

  • Now you've entered the final point to clear away any warm-weather clothes and accessories.  Put away the summer and spring brights and bring out the more wintery hues.  As before, ensure everything is clean and cared for before carefully packing it away ready for next March.
  • Once you've cleared space, get out those cosy knits, warm coats and winter accessories.  Spend some time now going back through what you have and check for any gaps that you may need to shop for.  Last winter I was down to one pair of good gloves so had quite a few to top up this winter!
  • This time of year is the right time to start topping up on any seasonal things you may need.  This year I'm going to be quick off the mark with my Christmas jumper.  I didn't bother last year and was full of regret when I was late and the choice was very limited.  I also look out for party things for the festive season - dresses, tops, evening knits, dressy flats and pretty pieces of jewellery to bring it all together.

So that's it?  Almost...

So by now you should have a good idea of what your capsule wardrobe should be based on.  You understand your lifestyle (i.e. what you need), your personal style and how to rotate with the seasons.  You can edit your wardrobe according to my last post and you can now start to build a picture of what you need to have to get your wardrobe to work hard and make it easier to look good without spending hours in front of the mirror.

Below is an example of my capsule wardrobe.  There's certain pieces that I invest in as I wear them all year round, but style them with different pieces to create different outfits.  These include black trousers (although I like a winter weight and a summer weight version), white shirts, basic t-shirts and my trusty leather jacket.  

I've tried to include all the pieces I currently have but some I've had for years and have now sold out.  If that's the case then I've put a similar item in it's place.  If you click on any of the images then it'll take you straight to to the website so you can see it in more detail or buy it for yourself.  Let me know what you think...

Kirsty's Capsule Wardrobe - Winter 2016/17

From Left to Right and Down each column....

  • Burberry Leather Trench Coat.  I bought my leather trench in September 2014 and just love it.  My version is a mix of gaberdine cotton and lambskin leather (the one in the image is all leather).  It fits my personal aesthetic whilst working 8-9 months out of 12.  I think this is one I'll always have and enjoy wearing.
  • Gloverall Chesterfield Coat.  I worked for Gloverall for a contractural period last year and loved their product.  I got this coat for working out in New York for them last Spring and it was a great seller for us.  Very classic, beautiful cloth and a great fit.  Another forever piece.
  • Claudie Pierlot Leather Jacket.  I love this!  I bought it last Spring for going to New York and I've barely taken it off.  Claudie Pierlot is one of my favourite brands.  I love the styling which is real mix of girly meets rock which is very me.  It's a mid-market French brand but each and every piece I have has lasted so well so I often pick up a few pieces each season.
  • Blazer from Maje.  For me a blazer is the ultimate go to.  I can throw it on with a black tee, jeans and trainers and look smart yet contemporary and equally it works well with black trousers or my leather skirt.  Maje make beautiful tailoring and I've bought a few blazers from them over the years.
  • & Other Stories Chambray Shirt.  This is something I think every women should have in their wardrobe regardless of age.  They go well with contrasting jeans, black trousers, leather skirts, chinos, culottes, underneath dresses, with skirts....anything really.  This is the exact one I have and I love it.  I like the girly touch of the frilled colour and I'm a big fan of & Other Stories too.
  • White Shirt from Cos.  I'm often asked where to buy the ultimate white shirt.  I have to say it does depend on the person.  Ralph Lauren are lovely, I rate TM Lewin for workwear and Next do fantastic high street options.  For me personally it's Cos.  They are the sanctuary for basics with a twist and this shirt is a winner for layering or on it's own.
  • Paige Jeans.  You'll see from my last post I mix up my jeans with trend pieces from the high street but when it comes to classic blue jeans I recommend investing.  Paige are a Californian brand that I've loved for a while now.  Incredible fit and they last for ages.  If you are keen to invest but nervous about finding your perfect pair then take a trip to the Denim Lab in Selfridges, London.  Both Mum and I went there end of last year and we so impressed with the knowledge of the staff and the huge variety of jeans in every shape, size, length and colour.  You won't leave empty handed.
  • White T-Shirt from Gap.  Another essential all year round.  I go through these pretty quickly since the London water is not kind to white regardless what you do!  Time and time again I go back to Gap.  Good quality, great cottons and fab fit.  What else do you need?
  • Breton Top from Armorlux.  I adore a breton top and Armorlux are the people to go to for them.  If you're in the market for one then I'd recommend looking no further.  They wash incredibly well and the quality is hard to beat.  
  • Ballerina Top from & Other Stories.  I said I adored strips and this proves it.  I like the feminine feel of this piece and like to team it with my tulle skirt, leather skirt (styled with a looser cardigan) and with jeans and white trainers.  It's a good (but on trend) basic.  In summer I'll opt for a short sleeve version in lighter tones.
  • Leather Skirt from Whistles.  This is a great skirt and reintroduced by Whistles season after season.  If you're going for a leather skirt I'd recommend an a-line option as they easy to dress up or down and work well with flats and heels.  I'll be repurchasing this again soon.
  • Black Trousers from Claudie Pierlot.  I like a basic with a twist so the bow at the waistband of these are perfect.  Admittedly not for everyone but very fitting for my personal style.
  • Fit and Flare Bow Dress from Kate Spade.  I like to have a pretty, occasionwear classic dress in my wardrobe and this one is perfect.  Kate Spade are very girly so when I'm wanting to be a bit more fancy this ticks the box.  Plus it has a bow, which for me is almost essential!
  • Jacquard Dress from & Other Stories.  I bought this for my boyfriend's parents' Christmas party and I think I'll have it for a while to come.  I love a fit and flare dress and the metallic design of this one is timeless.  It works with heels or flats (I had both on throughout the course of the evening) so works well for me.
  • Print Playsuit from Zara.  Zara are my go-to store for print dresses, which I love.  I ensure I have a couple of these each season to dress up or down depending on my mood and the occasion.
  • Genevieve Sweeney Knitwear.  I love a good jumper and you'll struggle to beat Genevieve's designs.  I worked with her at Lyle & Scott and have watched her business flourish over the past year.  She's so talented and a real champion of British manufacturing and design.  This piece is so fabulous - the colour, the length, the roll neck.  Works with jeans, trousers, skirts, everything.  Masterpiece.
  • Cos Bow Back Knit.  I absolutely love this.  I bought it in November and have worn it and worn it and typical of Cos, it's still looking great.  Relatively inexpensive but I'll look after it and enjoy it again next winter.
  • Hawico Honeycomb Knit.  A bright knit is essential or those cold, British days.  This is oversized and feels like a cuddle each time you put it on.  Plus it's made in Scotland which works for me!
  • Dr Martens Chelsea Boots.  I've just thrown out a pair of chelsea boots i've had for six years and these are on my list to replace them with.  I like a chunky boot to wear with jeans, trousers and give edge to dresses, so these are perfect.  The fringing is lovely too and Dr Martens quality is hard to beat.
  • Pretty Ballerinas Leopard Print Loafers.  Leopard print accessories work year after year for me.  These loafers from Pretty Ballerinas cheer up any all-black outfit.  
  • Jimmy Choo Pumps.  For those that know me I'm not a fan of heels.....at all.  However, I give into having three pairs in my closet at one time.  I've had these ones for a couple of years now and they've plenty of wear left in them yet.  They are surprisingly comfortable and I'm glad I invested in a pair of classic black heels.  They do come in very useful.
  • Converse All Stars - I love Converse and they are always in my wardrobe.  I wear them out pretty quickly so tend to buy them every few months and work them in with what I have in my wardrobe.  I have a pink puffa jacket for days out with my two little nephews and bought these to match.  I don't wear them together often but there's something about pink suede trainers that bring me joy!
  • Tory Burch Love and Peace Slippers.  For someone that doesn't really wear heels I always look out for dressy flats to wear in the evening and these were perfect.  Gorgeous colour and I love the sequins heart and dove on the toes.
  • French Sole Ballet Pumps.  Silver glittery ballet pumps piped with pink from a special collection for the Royal Ballet.  I'm a huge ballet fan and a huge French Sole fan.  These are perfect! I believe all girls should have a princess shoe and these are mine.

I hope you've enjoyed this post.  If you have any questions or would like to share your stories, please get in touch via my 'Contact' page.

Thanks for reading and your support!

Kirsty x