Business casual capsule wardrobe, Summer 2014

Photo Credit: peddhapati via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: peddhapati via Compfight cc

Capsule wardrobe is a term coined by Susie Faux, the owner of a London boutique called “Wardrobe” in the 1970s. According to Faux, a capsule wardrobe is a collection of a few essential items of clothing that will not go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be updated with seasonal pieces.This idea was popularised by American designer Donna Karan, who, in 1985, released an influential capsule collection of seven interchangeable work-wear pieces.

The term has come to refer to a collection of clothing which is designed using only interchangeable items, in order to maximise the number of outfits which can be created. The aim is to have an outfit suitable for any occasion without owning excessive items of clothing. If you’re planning to put up a fashion business and in need of financial support you can visit and get the help you need. This is usually achieved by buying what are considered to be “key” or “staple” items in coordinating colors.  Thanks Wikipedia!

Lately, I’ve noticed the worlds of fashion blogging and simple living joining forces, with bloggers creating stylish, interchangeable wardrobes from 10-37 pieces of clothing and selling it through online with WebDesign499 (that’s a pretty broad range, but I think it depends if you count shoes and other accessories).  I mentioned Unfancy and Kapachino in my last post, but Project 333 and even a Huffington Post columnist are getting into the game.

I was interested in trying out the capsule wardrobe concept because I hated the feeling of walking into my closet every morning and feeling like I had nothing to wear, and continually choosing the same few items.  Wouldn’t it be easier if I just pared down my wardrobe to only things I wanted to wear?  I decided on a whim in late June to try to create my own capsule wardrobe out of items I already owned.  My plan was to follow the Unfancy model of 37 items (9 pairs of shoes, 9 bottoms, 15 tops, 2 dresses and 2 jackets/coats).  I ended up going down to 27 items and not worrying about my shoes (since I wasn’t buying anything new anyway).  I searched the web and Pinterest for inspiration, and while I found lots of cute outfits, I wasn’t finding a lot for people who work in an office environment.  Should all my outfits be dressy?  What about casual Fridays?  And what about the weekend?  

Of course, there is no fashion police, so after some internal debate, I just made up my own rules.  I would create a wardrobe of items that I could wear for work or weekends, but super-casual wear like workout clothes, pjs, lounge pants, etc. wouldn’t count.

The wardrobe I ended up with isn’t perfect — between maternity wear and post-maternity wear taking up so much of my clothing for the last 4 years, I haven’t done the best job keeping my wardrobe current with basics like non-pit-stained white shirts and trendier stuff like longer t-shirts, new jeans, etc.  Also — these are crappy iphone photos that I snapped in a hurry and the clothes are wrinkly.  This is real life, not a professional photo shoot, right?

Also, something I’ve noticed about my capsule as compared to most I’ve seen online?  I love color and pattern.  Wearing a bright yellow sweater or kelly green pants just makes my day.  Working these items into a very small wardrobe that’s supposed to be all interchangeable poses an interesting challenge.  Here’s what I came up with.

First up – t-shirts.  Some casual, some dressier.  Some I’ve owned for years and others are new-ish.  I ended up hating and rarely wearing that white one with the lace trim since I felt like the horizontal stripes highlighted my pooch.  And that printed bicycle tee doesn’t look like much on the hangar, but I’ve probably worn it once a week all summer and I get tons of compliments on it.  (From JC Penney, no less!) If you need bags to go with your clothes, check out these neoprene bags and pochettes.


Next… “fancier” shirts — ones with collars, basically, plus a 3/4 sleeve cardi (I love yellow!) and a short sleeve knit sweater that I made myself.  (Sadly it’s too short for current styles… I shouldn’t have included it but how do you get rid of a lace sweater you knit on size 2 needles?)  I would wear all of these for work… hopefully after they’d been ironed.wpid-IMG_3619.jpg

 Bottoms — I bought a lot of “crazy pants” (patterns and bright colors) on a shopping trip with my mom after I was mostly back to pre-pregnancy size, so that’s what I used in my capsule.  These are not exactly the kind of classic pieces that a capsule wardrobe was meant to be built upon, but I’ve been wearing them a lot nonetheless!


Skirts!  (Not pictured are a couple of pairs of shorts that I wear on the weekends.)  I love the cut of that gray A-line skirt but dang the fabric is wrinkly… something to keep in mind when you’re going to be wearing the same stuff over and over!


Last but not least — dresses, a suit, and some blouses.  I am a lawyer after all, I do have to dress up on occasion.  I chose my “summery-est” suit, mostly because I thought I could also break it up and wear the jacket and pants as separates.  But let’s be honest, it’s way too hot to wear a jacket unless I need to be in a suit.  (Isn’t that blue and green dress adorable?  It’s from Stitch Fix and I love it.  Excellent post-partum-pooch hiding style.)


So – that’s my capsule wardrobe!  I will definitely be doing this again for fall, hopefully with a well-timed shopping trip to fill in a few gaps and add a few updates/trendy pieces.

Lessons learned:

  • This was pretty easy for me because I was already used to wearing a relatively small number of clothes.  I hated spending money on maternity clothes so I just wore them over and over. Click this link for more details
  • Most of my clothes are from Banana Republic, Ann Taylor Loft, Old Navy, and a smattering of Stitch Fix and other internet purchases.  Quality matters!  I have a basic black t-shirt from Banana Republic that looks as good as new, while the Old Navy and Loft stuff shows its age a lot more quickly.  It’s definitely worth watching the sale rack to get the higher quality clothes.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of the dress!  Just one item in a limited wardrobe and it’s all you have to wear for the day.  Throw a jacket, cardigan, or unbuttoned blouse over it for a completely different look.
  • Sometimes you have to break the rules, and that’s okay.  My job duties changed recently and I’m required to wear suits more often than I used to — obviously I’m not going to wear the same suit over and over.  But luckily I’ve acquired a few over the years so I just wore those on the days I needed to dress up, then went back to my capsule for the rest of the week.
  • As limited as this wardrobe seems, I still find myself gravitating to my “favorites” — probably 10 or so pieces that I would wear over and over if I doing laundry were no object.
  • Accessories become a lot more fun when you wear the same clothes over and over.  I have enjoyed wearing more of my earrings and necklaces than normal, and I am pining after a new purse and some new shoes.
  • I included too many casual tops and not enough dressy ones. I have to dress up for work 5 days a week, so I need to make that a priority in my wardrobe.

Would you ever try a capsule wardrobe?  What is one item of clothing that you would absolutely have to include?


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24 thoughts on “Business casual capsule wardrobe, Summer 2014

  1. I’m so glad you shared about your capsule wardrobe.
    I don’t know if I would try it or not – you would be appalled to see how many clothes I have in my closet (I’m not counting!) but it is accumulated over years:) And I am a shoe collector so….
    Kim recently posted…Some Tough DecisionsMy Profile

  2. Inspiring, Sarah! I also just want to walk into my closet and grab-n-go. Often I am searching for tops that are long enough to fit over my pooch yet also not huge, ie a maternity shirt that is still in-rotation but could be slimmed & worn. So, I’d definitely try this (post idea!) because I do wear the same clothes over and over again. I’d love to be able to buy more accessories as I reduce the amount of clothing I buy (which is zilch in I don’t know how long!). I also like that you have them all in photos so you can see when things work or don’t. Also, I love that dress from StitchFix. You still subscribe to it? As for my one piece that HAS to be included, my cardigans. I wear them all year long with everything.
    lisacng @ recently posted…Blueberry picking {photos}My Profile

  3. I’m so glad you shared about this because I remember you mentioning it! And I love the crazy pants spree. I used to wear crazy pants when I worked in a corporate job. Red or maroon or striped and I miss them! I’m not sure I can still pull them off the same way, and even if so, I don’t have a job like that! hmm.. I can probably do that for photo shoots.
    Tamara recently posted…Promise.My Profile

  4. Just these past few weeks I’ve been thinking I have WAY too many clothes for the clothes that I actually wear.

    I don’t think I’m willing to go down this far – I do legitimately wear all 30 some dresses that I own, and I really love color so I don’t want to give up all of my t-shirts and tanks. At the same time, I can give up some of each and really pare down. I shouldn’t have overflowing closets and drawers when I do not wear all of the stuff I own.

    I really love that stitchfix dress!
    SMD @ Life According to Steph recently posted…Things I’m thinking about on ThursdayMy Profile

  5. I’ve been really intrigued by this whole idea lately and want to try it out because like most people, I probably only wear 25% of the things I have in my closet regularly. Great job and love the way you wear color!
    Ashley recently posted…hello augustMy Profile

  6. Oh I just hopped on the Unfancy fan club about 3 weeks ago & I love her outfits. I definitely need to clean out my closet but I’m not quite to the capsule wardrobe yet. I love clothes and for the most part I wear a lot of the items. Ahem – I have to take that back now b/c since I’ve become fully self-employed I haven’t been wearing the business clothes I have….Lol.
    Danielle recently posted…A Paper Craft With Eeny – Picture Frame CardMy Profile

  7. I think my entire wardrobe is a capsule lol. I really don’t have a lot of clothes. I compare mine to my husband and the guy has racks of clothes while mine are more pared down. I think the best thing for a person to do is find what works for her and just go with those. It’s so tempting to see something cool on a model but I know it wouldn’t look good on me.

    Funny though but I’m opposite: not too many patterns or color. I stick to neutrals or darks, and if there’s a pattern, it’s because it’s dark or professional, not casual or loud. I end up using the same stuff over and over until they’re worn. That’s the beauty of basics!
    Nina recently posted…Time Management Tips for Your Evenings with the KidsMy Profile

  8. Thanks for sharing your foray into the capsule wardrobe! With all my years of business travel, by default I operate in a semi-capsule wardrobe – although it definitely doesn’t preclude me from acquiring way more clothes than I wear. I’ve been really contemplating how to get out from under the piles of clothes that don’t get worn – this might be the nudge for doing that. I have noticed this summer that I’ve definitely been sticking with several key pieces (as I sit here in my long black knit skirt that has become a staple this season). I have quite an array of scarves (hand knit & other) & statement necklaces that are fun to throw into the mix. If I go capsule, I don’t think I’d count accessories in the numbers like I see some suggest. 🙂
    Amy recently posted…Currently…JulyMy Profile

    • Amy, my husband has a really hard time letting go of clothes, even when he hardly ever wears them, so here’s my trick for helping him: don’t get rid of the clothes right away. Pack away what you think you want to get rid of and label it “donate (in 6 months)”. Chances are you won’t miss them (in which case — donate away!), but just in case you do, they are still there!

  9. What a cool idea! I too find myself wearing the same few things over & over & the rest of my stuff just gets in the way. I also realize at my age that I don’t really care if I wear the same pair of pants or skirt once a week (or more often) for the rest of my life…who cares! You have a great basic wardrobe here w/ some fun stuff mixed it! Love it!
    jan recently posted…5k Planning, Year IIMy Profile

  10. Love this idea! I tend to wear the same things too – inside and out side of the gym. In the gym I couldn’t live without my Nike Dry Fit shirts. The are form fitting without showing too much. Outside of the gym my LBD from Calvin Klein. I don’t go to places requiring a dress often but when I do it fits any situation. I can change it up easily with the right accessories.
    Pamela Hernandez recently posted…Review of Neat – A Healthy Replacement for MeatMy Profile

  11. I am so glad you posted this! My closet is completely overstuffed, but so many of the items never got worn. I think the whole capsule concept could really work for me. I appreciate what you said about quality; I have a tendency to go for the cheap stuff, but then a year or two later I end up needing to replace it—not good!
    Katie @ Pick Any Two recently posted…Feel Good Friday: Lately on InstagramMy Profile

  12. I really need to do something similar, right now I am really wanting to buy some new stuff to wear at work. The biggest problem is I am so picky about clothing and shoes. I need to work on this I think.

  13. I keep thinking I need to do this. I have so many things I don’t wear all that often and then other things that I wear way too much. Like you, I have the pooch problem, so I keep having my tops shrink up over my tummy. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of tops because of that problem because our dryer runs too hot. One thing that I like is to wear layers. I find it gives me a little extra “camouflage” and I love to mix terrific colors together like burgundy and grey, or cream and olive, or especially black with a pop of hot pink or turquoise. #SITSsharefest
    Adrian recently posted…Organizing the Disorganized ChildMy Profile

  14. I love the dress! Makes me want to try Stitchfix. I’ve been pregnant or nursing most of the last 4 years and now stay at home (instead of working in an office), so my wardrobe needs a review like this! There’s a lot of clothes in my closet that someone else could be enjoying and that I need to donate. Even thought I’m a pound or so away from my pre-baby weight my body has changed, and some dresses and tops are just probably never going to be worn again. Maybe your post will inspire me to “time capsule” my closet 🙂

    • I know just what you mean — plus, I’ve found that even though I can fit into some of my old clothes, the styles have changed enough that they just don’t look right. (Did we really wear such short shirts just a few years ago? Or maybe they’re just really long now.)

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