Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Thoughts on capsule wardrobes for non-minimalists

I recently started a new project: wearing only some of my clothes.

That's right, it's sort of the opposite of my "wear all my clothes" effort a while back, though the goal is more or less the same: to develop a wardrobe of clothes that I love and that I wear regularly -- and nothing else.

I am always fascinated by capsule wardrobe challenges like 30 for 30, Project 333, and the like. But ultimately, they don't quite scratch my itch for a better wardrobe, a more functional closet. First, as I've said before, I'm not a minimalist. I am happily non-minimalist, as a friend puts it. I like variety and I like my things, I just want those things to be well and deliberately chosen, and functional. (Which is where I do meet up with the minimalists -- too much stuff or too many things and I can't effectively use what I have.)

Second and probably relatedly, numbers-based challenges always seem arbitrary to me. Why 33 items and not 34, aside from the fact that Project 333 is much catchier than Project 334? Of course, people adapt and individualize these challenges in all sorts of ways. But I don't want to get caught up in endless justifications of whether shoes, accessories, or outerwear "count." I just want to build a wardrobe that works for me in some sort of organic way.

One idea that does hold a lot of resonance for me is that of having a wardrobe for a particular time of year based around a specific color palette. The queen of this approach is DaniBP Mop Philosopher, whose seasonal "colour stories" are pleasing to the eye and also seem like they would be quite practical from a mix-and-match perspective. Plus, the nature-girl in me really likes the idea of dressing to follow the seasons.

So that is my wardrobe project for this year: developing a series of seasonal "capsules" around shifting color palettes. "Capsule" in scare quotes because this is not about numbers per se, but rather about finding cohesive, overlapping subsets within my larger wardrobe.

I hope that this will help focus my creativity around a manageable number of items each season, while the seasonal switch-outs will serve my need for variety. I also hope that reducing the number of items in my active wardrobe at any particular time will help me see more clearly what makes a functional wardrobe for me -- both in terms of overall size and in terms of structure (proportion of tops/bottoms/sweaters, how accessories contribute to the feeling of variety, and so on).

My initial thought was to organize my winter capsule (which I plan to wear from January through about mid-March) around black, white, gray, burgundy, and shots of icy pastels. Think of a snowy birch forest at rosy dawn. I took some items fitting that color palette out of my closet and spread them out on the floor, just to get an idea of my starting point.

A common piece of home decorating advice is to design a room around a printed item like a rug or curtain fabric. Similarly, I think it can be helpful to use a printed item of clothing to guide a wardrobe's color palette. The queen of this approach is Janice at The Vivienne Files, who uses beautiful scarves as a springboard for planning capsule wardrobes. With this in mind, I took a look at two of my items that really captured the "feel" of the wardrobe I was trying to build (though admittedly I probably wouldn't wear these two items together). The fair isle cardigan gave me the idea of adding a little bit of camel to my palette. From the scarf I pulled medium blue and rose pink.

At this point my thinking about the structure of my palette shifted a bit -- what I had was less a group of colors than an interplay between color and value. I had a dark neutral (black) and a light neutral (white), and three colors that moved through a range of values (charcoal gray --> light gray, medium blue --> ice blue, burgundy --> ballet pink). Small amounts of lavender and camel rounded out the picture.

I didn't find it necessary to box up all my other clothes as is recommended in some capsule wardrobe systems. I did rearrange the shelves in the bedroom so that all of the "current capsule" clothes are together.

In my closet, items fitting into the current palette are hung towards the center of the rail. A scarf hanger holding winter-capsule scarves serves as the divider from the "inactive" items.

I also rearranged my jewelry box, pulling everything that fits my current color palette towards the front of the drawers.

My wardrobe includes 53 items of season-appropriate clothing and footwear that fit this color palette. (I'll detail those items as well as accessories in my next post.) That's substantially larger than most capsule wardrobe rubrics prescribe, but I think it's limited enough to offer a manageable number of choices.

Also, note that this is just a starting point, as I am approaching this project in the opposite way from many bloggers who write about capsule wardrobes. The dominant approach seems to be to plan and shop for a seasonal capsule up front, then impose a "shopping ban" during the wearing of the capsule. But I find it difficult to know up front what I need in order to make a capsule function well, and what I want in order to make it a pleasure to wear. So I'm starting with what I have, and expect that I will subtract items that prove to be sub-par in practice, as well as add items as I develop a better sense of what would really improve the mix. The downside of this approach, I realize, is the potential for more time and head space to be occupied by wanting and shopping for things. I'm okay with that for now, as I think this is the best way for me to develop a wardrobe of lasting utility, with less turnover from year to year.

I'm linking this post up to the winter capsule series at In Residence and Just Jacq, even though the details of my winter capsule are still to come -- I'm a bit behind on documenting this project, although for the record I've been wearing exclusively the pile of clothes above since January 2.

I'm curious to know whether anyone else has done something similar, particularly the part about seasonal color palettes? Please share any observations or advice you have.


  1. I love your color palette! I have a lot of neutrals too as well as some burgundy, but the icy pastels are such a great way to round out the scheme. And isn't it nice to have all the clothes in one spot for easy access? I do the same with mine.

    Looking forward to seeing how this works out for you during the rest of the time period - I really liked reading about the twists that you put on it to make it work for you. The take on shopping really makes sense! For me, part of the point of the capsule is to take away my "want all the things" tendencies that pop up sometimes, so a shopping ban just makes my mind much more calm by taking new things out of the equation :)

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Anne, I've really been enjoying your blog these last few months. I totally know what you mean about quieting the "want all the things" tendencies. I think in the past I have bought a lot of things because they seemed like a "basic" or "useful" but then I haven't worn them in practice, and I suspect that shopping up front would only exacerbate that tendency. So I'm happy to have found a way to tweak the capsule system to help me learn (I hope) to make better choices. I am so excited and curious to see how it plays out! Really looking forward to the outfit showcase next week.

  2. I love the way you approached this whole project! The colors you included I wouldn't normally think would go together but seeing the red against the pastels looks really awesome! I can't wait to see how it all comes together in the end.

    1. Thanks so much, Jacquelyn! I have to admit that I tend to like odd color combinations but I'm glad that in the end the colors I chose look harmonious to you, too. :-) I'm looking forward to participating in future linkups in this series.