How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe That Will Last a Lifetime

Not so long ago, the fashion world was buzzing about the concept of a capsule wardrobe—the kind of compact closet that only held the minimum number of pieces that matched each other with great ease and that allowed for much time saved in the mornings. Perhaps because the economic downturn hit at the same time that a furious decade of fast fashion was taking a toll on our closets, the capsule wardrobe appeared to be the solution to everyone's fashion woes.

Around that time in 2014, Caroline Rector, a Texan and fashion lover who'd had enough of the chaos, began to whittle down her closet to a mere 37 pieces, documenting the process on her brilliant website, Unfancy. And everyone paid attention to her method.

How to build a capsule wardrobe



Now that a few years have passed, we decided it was finally time to catch up with the capsule-wardrobe guru for a refresher course. Times change, trends move on, and so do tidy solutions. And it turns out we might have taken the capsule-wardrobe approach too literally.

"Before I started my capsule, I noticed that I had a bad habit of going shopping when I needed to jolt myself out of a bad mood. Hard day at work? Shopping. Not feeling very pretty today? Shopping. Frustrated with my family? Shopping!" explains Rector, who has since curbed her emotional spending habits by creating enforced shopping "fasts" and focusing her attention on seeking out top-quality, long-lasting pieces. Through this method, she's really found her style. "I'm much better at dressing for the life I have rather than a fantasy life," she says. "My closet matches my lifestyle now." It's more about mindfulness than it is about sticking to majorly strict rules that you feel guilty about breaking.

Does that sound like a stylish set-up you'd like for yourself? We thought so. Read on to get Rector's top capsule wardrobe–building tips.

You don't need to set a number, but aim for 50 or fewer pieces.

capsule wardrobe: aim for about 50 pieces



"I think mine is now somewhere around 50 pieces, but I actually don't keep a numerical count anymore. Instead, I go with what feels right. That's one of the biggest changes I've made to my capsule. After a year of living with a strict 37-piece wardrobe, I felt that it was time to let my 'capsule diet' melt into my real life. I let go of some of the structure, like going on strict shopping fasts and limiting my closet to a specific number of pieces. But I carry the heart of it with me—smaller closet, intentional purchases, less shopping and more joy."

Treat the idea like a game.

capsule wardrobe: treat it like a game



"Keep a playful, open attitude, and treat it like a game. You'll encounter a few frustrations along the way, but a capsule isn't about suffering. It's about trying something new and learning more about yourself."

Begin with a simple clear-out.

How to create a capsule wardrobe



"At first, limiting your wardrobe to a specific number might help you. But after a while, it might not serve you anymore. Give yourself the freedom to evolve over time as you learn."

Take a time out before refilling your wardrobe.

How to build a capsule wardrobe



"Instead of buying new clothes right away, give yourself some breathing room, and live with your wardrobe as it is for a week, a month or however long you like. Just see what it feels like to live with less clothing."

Don't worry about making it perfect.

How to start a capsule wardrobe



"Let it be imperfect. I've been at this for years now, and my wardrobe still isn't perfect. I've realised it never will be, and embracing that truth has helped me find peace—in my wardrobe and in my life."

Do a trial run if you're scared to commit.

capsule wardrobe: trial run the idea first



"Want to test a capsule without really committing? Try a 10-day remix challenge. Pick 10 pieces out of your closet, and wear only those pieces for the next 10 days. See how it goes!"

Be honest about your lifestyle and what you need from a wardrobe.

capsule wardrobe: be honest about what you need



"I work from home, so I spend 70% to 80% of my time at home. But something in me decides that's not cool enough, so sometimes, I trick myself into thinking that I spend 40% of my time at home. Since I'm not being honest with myself, I end up with fantasy-life clothes instead of real-life clothes."

Ready to get your capsule collection together? Go through the gallery below to see the kind of classic pieces that will hold anyone's closet together, and read more of Rector's wise wardrobe advice on her site.

Shop a Capsule Wardrobe

1. A Forever Biker Jacket

The cropped length of this jacket will look great with high-waist trousers and skirts. 

2. Tailored Trousers

Try one of these skirts to polish up your outfit. 

This skirt will look so chic with camel knitwear. 

5. A Laid-Back Jumper

Isn’t this colour just beautiful? 

6. Black Ankle Boots

There's nothing more versatile than a pair of black ankle boots.

These boots really stood out on the Bottega Veneta runway. 

7. Relaxed True-Blue Jeans

If you don't own a pair of relaxed jeans, try these easy-to-wear versions. 

8. A Versatile Scarf

Tie it around your neck for an oversized-choker look, or use it to tie back your hair. 

9. A White Blouse

You will wear this forever. 

10. Fancy Flat Shoes

11. A Chic Wear-Everywhere Dress

The dress to wear when you've got "nothing to wear."

Puff sleeves are still key for spring. 

12. A Posh Carryall Bag

13. A Smart, Slick Coat 

14. Midsized Heels

These are just high enough to be flattering, but they're not so high that you'll start falling over your feet.

The contrast sole feels very chic. 

15. A Traditional Trouser Suit

We'll always reach for a chic suit. 

16. A Plain Crossbody

17. A Basic Belt

We don't know where we'd be without our classic cinching belt. 

If brown goes better with your palette. 

Next up, these are the biggest spring/summer 2022 fashion trends to know.

This story was published at an earlier date and has since been updated. 

Opening Image: @eniswardrobe

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