One wardrobe, timeless items, every outfit you need—welcome to the world of capsule wardrobes.
A capsule wardrobe is the minimalist answer to the never-ending fast fashion trend cycles of today. By narrowing down to a few versatile clothing pieces, you can create endless outfits. If you’re seeking a simpler and more sustainable way to dress, capsule wardrobes just might be your answer.
Ready to downsize? Let’s dive into all things capsule wardrobes and women's essential clothing, from the history to building a wardrobe for your style.
Capsule Wardrobes 101
So, what is a capsule wardrobe exactly?
A capsule wardrobe is a clothing collection with a limited number of versatile items. At their hearts, capsule wardrobes are built around sustainability. What matters most isn’t the wardrobe’s individual items, but its goal—to maximize possible outfits while minimizing total items.
Every capsule wardrobe looks a little different. After all, your capsule wardrobe needs to fit your lifestyle. However, most capsule wardrobes range from 25 to 50 items.1 You’ll also see some common clothing pieces and categories across capsule wardrobes, including:
- Blouses & tees
- Dresses and skirts
- Other accessories
And yes, a capsule wardrobe should work across all seasons. That means you would pull from the same 25 to 50 items for winter, spring, summer, and fall. While that may seem like an impossible endeavor, it’s actually doable for most. In fact, the practice of closet downsizing is thriving today, especially when it’s time to sort through your summer to fall transition outfits!
History of Capsule Wardrobes
Capsule wardrobes are all the rage right now (hello, Marie Kondo). While this minimalist practice may seem like a contemporary fad, it actually has quite a rich history in fashion—and it all started with one intelligent fashionista.
In the 1970’s, wardrobe consultant and writer Susie Faux found herself frustrated with the declining quality in modern clothing (something we know all too well).2 She slowly began building a minimalist, pared-down wardrobe full of her best quality finds. Later, she dubbed this collection a “capsule wardrobe,” and the name stuck.
A decade later, the designer Donna Karan adopted this term for her own 1985 “Seven Easy Pieces” collection.3 Layered on top of black tights and bodysuits, this stripped-down collection featured only seven basic pieces in solid black,:
- A bodysuit
- A wrap skirt
- A chiffon blouse
- A long jacket
- A blazer
- A dress
Like personal capsule wardrobes, Karan’s designer capsule wardrobe went beyond seasonal wear or trends. Even if certain essential pieces don’t suit your style, the heart of Karan’s collection still rings true today—simple, versatile, and timeless.
Over the last few years, TV programs like “What Not to Wear” and the organizational guru Marie Kondo have spread the word about this enlightening habit. Additionally, growing discussion about sustainable shopping has shed light on capsule wardrobes. Now, you can find capsule wardrobes in everyday homes, not just designer collections.
Why You Need a Capsule Wardrobe
You may ask yourself, do I really need a capsule wardrobe?
In short, the answer is—probably. Everyone has their own wardrobe essentials, but almost anyone can benefit from a simpler closet.
Capsule wardrobes are more than a trend. They’re practical, affordable, and sustainable alternatives to the fast fashion world of today. Trends come and go, but the essential pieces in your capsule wardrobe can give you style confidence for years to come. When you build a capsule wardrobe, you can:
- Assemble outfits easily – It’s like the peanut butter phenomenon in grocery stores. The more choices you have, the harder it is to choose. When facing 50 tops and 20 pairs of pants, you might have a hard time assembling an outfit. However, the minimal selection and matchability of a capsule wardrobe will cut down on dress-up time.
- Reduce spending– Losing cash by keeping up with the latest micro-trends? The whole point of a capsule wardrobe is not to add more clothing. Once you’ve found your pieces, they’re your entire closest (until wear-and-tear takes over). After initial spending, most capsule wardrobe owners will save money on clothing.
- Go sustainable – Currently, the fast fashion industry (or mass-produced clothing) produces more carbon emissions than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.4 You may not be able to stop manufacturers, but you can reduce your fashion eco-footprint. By not buying new clothes every month, you can reduce your personal textile waste and carbon emissions.
- Live with intention – By reducing your wardrobe to the chic wardrobe essentials, you’re creating a closet that’s filled with intention and mindfulness. Every capsule clothing piece has its purpose and joy. This can help bring mindfulness into other areas of your life, from home decor to work.
How to Build Your Capsule Wardrobe
So, now you know the definition and history of a capsule wardrobe. But what will your capsule wardrobe look like? How does this tool fit into your home and life?
Before diving in, remember this: there’s no perfect capsule wardrobe. The wardrobe that works for you is the one that makes you feel confident, secure, and joyful. Capsule wardrobes are just a tool to help you get there!
Ready to streamline your style? Explore the guidelines and components of a typical capsule wardrobe.
Capsule Wardrobe Guidelines
When building a capsule wardrobe, you might feel a little overwhelmed. Where should I start? Do I need jewelry? I can’t find the perfect t-shirt!
Don’t worry—capsule wardrobes are an ongoing project, not a presentation. It may take you some time to assemble a capsule wardrobe that fits your needs. However, fashion experts have created a few starter points to cultivate your collection.5 Start threading together your wardrobe with these guidelines:
- Pick a color scheme – Unless you love clashing outfits, you’ll need to narrow your capsule wardrobe down to a select palette. Neutrals are your best foundation, including all things black, white, gray, beige, navy, or brown. Try to find year-round layers (pants or t-shirts) and shoes in these shades. After that, choose a few pairable colors to give your wardrobe some brilliance.
- Dress for your body – No matter your body type, some clothing cuts will be more flattering than others. Establish which classic designs best accentuate your body shape. For pear-shaped women, stylists often choose wide-legged pants, plunging necklines, and cap sleeves. For apple-shaped women, designs like trapeze dresses, slim pants, and statement necklaces work well.
- Match your complexion – Speaking of color, don’t forget your own shades and tones. You may love olive green, but it might not compliment your hair and skin. Use a seasonal color palette to see which tones best flatter your complexion.6 From light winter to deep summer, there’s a palette for everyone.
- Choose patterns carefully – Funky geometric patterns are quite fun to wear….but they may not belong in a capsule wardrobe. When picking just a few pieces, you need clothing that’s timeless and versatile. Stick with cuts and patterns that fall under the classic category. Stripes and tweed are great traditional patterns, while fitted blazers and slim jeans will never go out of style.
- Go high quality (and sustainable) – A capsule wardrobe is meant to last for years. Give yourself the closet that keeps on giving with high quality items. When picking pieces, look for reputable brands and quality fabrics. Knowing the best fabric for cold weather and warm weather, can help to have a variety of pieces for each season. cotton, wool, and linen are your best friends. Even better? Pick sustainable pieces that are built to last (like our cute bottoms).
Capsule Wardrobe Items
When asking what should be in a capsule wardrobe, the answer is…whatever you’ll actually wear and enjoy wearing.
If you can see yourself rocking an item for years to come, then it belongs in your capsule wardrobe. For some people, these items might be cherished heirlooms or a unique dress. But for most, these items are staples—the basic essentials that many people own.
When building your first capsule wardrobe, the basics will rarely steer you wrong. For clothing, start by exploring the following staple items to see what fits your style:
- A tailored white button-down
- A cotton white t-shirt
- Denim jeans, both in black and blue
- Fitted black or gray trousers
- A little black dress
- A cashmere or wool sweater
- A warm winter coat
- A raincoat or light jacket
- A day dress or sundress
- An evening dress
- A loungewear outfit (sweats, robes, etc.)
Don’t forget—accessories and shoes also count towards your 25 to 50 items. Luckily, accessories can be quite versatile. Narrow down your selection by considering these top staples:
- Flat shoes (ballet flats, sandals, etc.)
- Heeled shoes (wedges, pumps, etc.)
- Athletic shoes
- A large tote bag
- A small messenger or clutch bag
- A classic necklace (pearls, a pendant, or a metal chain)
- Stud earrings
Not sure if you can stay goodbye to those harem pants just yet? That’s alright. Test out the capsule wardrobe life before committing. Select up to 50 pieces you use the most from your closet, and try to use them exclusively for a few weeks. From there, you can shape your wardrobe and slowly eliminate the items you don’t need.
Karen Kane: Style Made Simple
When building a capsule wardrobe, every piece has meaning. From the perfect jeans to a crisp button-down, you can build a closet that’s full of intention, purpose, and joy. And to start that journey, you need high-quality and stylish clothing—that’s where we can help.
At Karen Kane, we offer timeless and chic designs in sustainable fabrics. Our women’s essential clothing includes linen sundresses, soft cotton tees, and cozy sweaters to take you across the year in style. Explore our collection, and start finding trendy dresses, tops, and bottoms to last you for years.
- The Honest Consumer. How to Create a Year Round Capsule Wardrobe for All Seasons. https://www.thehonestconsumer.com/blog/year-round-capsule-wardrobe
- The Good Trade. What is a Capsule Wardrobe? https://www.thegoodtrade.com/features/what-is-a-capsule-wardrobe
- InStyle. A History of Donna Karan's Seven Easy Pieces. https://www.instyle.com/news/history-donna-karan-seven-easy-pieces
- Princeton University. The Impact of Fast Fashion On the Environment. https://psci.princeton.edu/tips/2020/7/20/the-impact-of-fast-fashion-on-the-environment
- Telegraph. How to create an ageless capsule wardrobe with high street essentials. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/fashion/style/how-build-capsule-wardrobe-2021-best-fashion-essentials-what-buy/
- The Laurie Loo. Super Simple Seasonal Color Analysis. https://thelaurieloo.com/blog/seasonal-color-analysis