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What to wear?! or Capsule Wardrobes 101

Updated: Mar 24, 2022

We’ve done several posts about shopping for clothing on this site, including Rachel’s posts on where to buy quality used clothes, Kidizen, and Pact. We’ve also written about how to wash and dry your clothes in a sustainable way. But we’ve never offered fashion advice… until now. I’ll be the first to admit that I never thought I would be writing advice on fashion, but the idea of a capsule wardrobe is so convenient, so intuitive, and so green that I feel like even I, fashionista though I’m not, can do it.

A capsule wardrobe is the antidote to fast fashion. It is choosing a few well-matched and coordinating articles of high quality clothing and taking care of them. It is re-wearing your clothing often and washing it less often and still looking great. And, it solves the question “What should I wear?” so efficiently, that you will never want to go back to the old method. Think about it – when everything matches, you really could get dressed in the dark!

So, how do you go about creating this magical wardrobe? I’ll tell you how I, as an average person, did it, but also recommend you do an Ecosia search and learn from other sites. Just don’t get trapped into buying new clothes!

STEP ONE: Put a giant pile of clothes on your bed. Yes, like in the TV shows. Make sure you get everything, including shoes, jackets, purses, belts, etc. You don’t need to put out any of your socks, underwear, or bras, unless you’re interested in sorting those too.

STEP TWO: Make a pile of the clothing you actually wear often. Not the things you like or want to like or bring you joy or anything like that. The clothes you actually wear regularly. For most of us, that’s actually a relatively small pile.

STEP THREE: Look through the pile for common themes. Do you wear plain tops more than patterned? Do you wear a lot of green? Do you seem to wear the size 10 pants and not the size 6? Take notes and make observations. Once you notice themes, try to verbalize them. For example, I’ve noticed I like natural and jewel tone colors. I like plain shirts – no weird necks or patterns. And I like neutral pants and pullovers. And I like turquoise outerwear and jewelry. Write a list of your favorite colors and styles to wear. What do you notice?

STEP FOUR: Embrace your theme/trends. Use this knowledge to pull some other clothes from the pile of clothes you don’t wear. If you notice you wear a lot of green, for example, choose some clothes you like, but don’t wear often, that complement green. Or grab another pair of size 10 pants from the pile and give them another chance. This step is kind of like shopping in your own closet, but with intention. Don’t pull anything out that doesn’t fit your theme and don’t use this opportunity to try to make a new theme.

The goal with a capsule wardrobe is to have lots of easily matched outfits. I can (almost) get dressed in the dark because most of my clothes match to some degree. I’m not obsessed with keeping my clothes to a certain number like some capsule wardrobe enthusiasts, but keeping it simple is easier for me and easier on the Earth.

How many articles of clothing should you have? I’ve seem whole blogs devoted to this question. I think it depends on your climate and your lifestyle. Personally, I have (estimates!):

  1. three pairs of “winter pants”

  2. two pairs of “spring/fall pants”

  3. two skorts

  4. two pairs of shorts

  5. five long-sleeved shirts

  6. five t-shirts

  7. three casual dresses

  8. three pullovers

  9. two “fancy” dresses (with shoes to match them)

  10. two sets of “hiking clothes”

  11. two sets of “running clothes”

  12. two winter jackets

  13. a pair of snow pants

  14. two pairs of gloves

  15. two winter hats

  16. two summer hats

  17. one pair of everyday sandals

  18. one pair of nice sandals

  19. running shoes/every day shoes

  20. winter boots

  21. hiking boots

STEP FIVE: Make outfits. This step is not necessary, but it’s super helpful if you are trying to streamline your morning routine. Basically, you’ll want to lay out a pair of pants or a skirt and choose three tops that match it. Lay out some accessories that match too. And shoes, if you’re a shoes person (personally I wear the same shoes no matter what is happening). Take a picture of each grouping or, if you like sketching, do a sketch. My mom has some beautiful outfit sketches hanging up in her closet that I have always admired, but never replicated. At this point, most things in your closet should match each other, so this should be painless.

STEP SIX: Donate everything else. Now that you have a good collection of clothes, it’s time to donate everything else. Yes, everything else. No matter how much you liked it ten years ago. Or how much you paid for it. Or whether you might fit into it someday. Think of it as setting your clothing free. You can sell them at thrift stores or on used clothing sites, if they are valuable, or donate them to shelters or Goodwill. Now others will have used clothes they can add to their wardrobes and you won’t have to dig through so much clothing every morning.

STEP SEVEN: Buy with intention. If there is any obvious gap in your wardrobe (for example, if you only have one pair of pants you wear), visit Rachel’s post to learn how to fill that gap sustainably. Buy high quality used clothes only when you see a gap in your wardrobe. Otherwise, follow February’s advice and stay away from shopping. As an added bonus, you will save money!

Don’t forget to par down your hiking, running, and “play clothes”. If something is too played out to donate, turn it into rags or scraps for patching clothes.

Enjoy! I hope a capsule wardrobe simplifies your mornings and your life. And, if you want to take it to the next level, try the 100 Day Dress Challenge. It was a transformative experience for me.

– Hannah

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