How to Create a Capsule Wardrobe for 2023

A red hat, grey sweater, jeans, watch, and yellow flowers piled on a white wheet

Less really can feel like more.

We’ve all been there. Standing in front of the closet, which is nearly packed to the brim with options, and still nothing to wear. Blue shoes? Matching belt? Turtleneck or v-neck sweater?

The problem, style experts often say, isn’t that you don’t have enough options - it’s that you have too many. 

If this sounds like you, you might be ready to adopt a capsule wardrobe in 2023: Reducing your choices and, as a result, creating more options. It seems counterintuitive – how do you do more with less? The key is focusing on versatile pieces, investing in quality products and getting a real sense of your personal style. I bet there are at least a handful of items in your closet that aren’t practical and so you rarely (if ever) wear them. 

Adapting to a capsule wardrobe can feel intimidating. After all, it can be hard to let go and trust the process, particularly that you won’t be lacking when you rely only on a few pieces and not an overstuffed wardrobe. 

So, what exactly is a capsule wardrobe?

Style blogger Caroline Rector describes capsule wardrobes as “a mini wardrobe made up of really versatile pieces that you totally love to wear.” Think about pieces that are easy to mix-and-match. And for everybody that looks a little bit different. Rector tells WhoWhatWear that her golden number is 37 pieces, though it varies a little by season. 

Others set the number of items much, much lower. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, had famously worn his three-piece uniform (jeans, black mock neck and gray sneakers) every single day, claiming that by limiting his decisions in his wardrobe he was able to focus his energy elsewhere. 

Not all of us are capable of the Steve Jobs-level commitment to a capsule wardrobe, but he makes a noteworthy point. When you embrace some level of minimalism, you create time, space and energy for yourself. It’s also great if you have a goal of saving money or prioritizing decisions that are healthy for the environment.

Adding by subtracting

What do you have already? Creating a capsule wardrobe isn’t so much about discarding everything and starting from scratch. For most, that would be unnecessary and expensive. Instead, take a deep dive into your existing wardrobe. Take note of what you wear the most, what doesn’t and what still has tags. 

Capsule wardrobes are often portrayed as very minimalistic, neutral and sometimes boring. But they don’t have to be. It’s important to commit to pieces that you love, will wear repeatedly and feel good in. Otherwise, you're bound to keep buying and you’ll end up right where you started – peering into your closet’s abyss, hoping an outfit magically comes together. 

An audit is a smart place to start. Think about: 

  • What colors, shapes, and fits you are most drawn toward 
  • The clothes you repeatedly reach for 
  • Practicality and the occasions you are dressing for 

It can be helpful to make a few general notes and then really dig in. Take everything out of your closet and sort what can automatically be discarded (if it’s in really bad shape), donated or sold (apps and websites like Poshmark, Ebay and Depop are great for this). 

When you’ve finished that, the real editing begins. 

Creating options for your capsule wardrobe

The pieces you choose for your capsule wardrobe will be pieces that can be considered “core” items. For the most part, they’re versatile because they are basics. 

For example, a white button down shirt can be dressed up for the office or made more casual by pairing it with jeans or layering a sweater. Or, add a blazer over a simple dress and it’s the perfect professional outfit. 

You don’t need dozens and dozens of items to give yourself a lot of options. Once you set your capsule wardrobe, you’ll find making decisions comes quickly. Instead of considering 20 different blouses, you maybe only need to consider five or six, which can be styled and paired with other items a bevy of different ways. 

What you need for your 2023 capsule wardrobe

This is really up to you. There are several different templates available around the web, and depending on what your lifestyle looks like, not all of them may work for you. If you work in a casual office environment, that should make some pieces, like a dark pair of jeans, more important. 

Rector, who has perfected her capsule wardrobe, has her own formula of how to get to the coveted 37 items:

  1. Pare down your closet to 37 items for the season (obviously summer and winter require different basics).
  2. Wear only those 37 items for three months.
  3. Don’t go shopping during the season until…
  4. During the last two weeks of the season, plan and shop for your next capsule.
  5. ​How much you buy for the next capsule is up to you, but try to stay true to the core.

The benefits of a capsule wardrobe

The true benefits of transitioning to a capsule wardrobe are that you’ll spend less time choosing outfits, save more money by focusing on truly versatile pieces, and you’ll feel good about how mindful your purchases are. 

This means you’ll focus on quality, and while it may seem more expensive to invest in quality items, consider cost-per-wear, which is when you divide the price of the item by how many times you think you'll wear it. That should help you feel better about the higher price, because you’re wearing it more often, perhaps, than the three cheaper sweaters taking up space in your closet. 

That’s also having a huge impact on the environment. Consuming less and prioritizing items that will last longer is good all around. 

Perhaps, most surprisingly, you’ll benefit by having a deeper sense of style. Too many options can make you feel like you have none, and it’s easy to get lost in it all. But a capsule wardrobe will help you zero-in on what you want to wear instead of what’s on-trend right now.

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