The Capsule Wardrobe Revisited

Remember the simplicity of cutouts?

More and more women I hear from are striving to simplify their wardrobes.  Whether a matter of limited finances, space, or time, the downsized closet is seeming more attractive than ever.  Enter:  The Capsule Wardrobe.

Made popular in the 1980’s by Donna Karan, the capsule has been mostly overlooked in recent years.  Selecting interchangeable staples, however, is the stuff wardrobe dreams are made of.  Genius, really.

How Many Pieces?

Some pros promote a 10-piece wardrobe; some more, some less.  It really depends upon lifestyle and where you live.  A stay-at-home mom is going to have different needs than a 9-5 office gal.

A common core I’ve used in my live presentations consists of 7 basic wardrobe pieces that, when combined, create a minimum of 13 unique outfits.  You might need more pieces if you live a double life (formal in work; casual in personal life), or live in a climate with vastly fluctuating temp’s.  Here are two suggested core capsules:

Professional Core

  • 2 Tailored Suits (w/pant and skirt)
  • 2 Pair Tailored Trousers
  • 4 Silk Blouses (3 long-sleeve; 1 short-sleeve)
  • 3 Fine-Gauge (silk) Knit Shells (1 long-sleeve; 2 short-sleeve or sleeveless tank)
  • 1 Sweater Twinset (matching fine-gauge shell and cardigan)
  • 1 Cardigan Sweater (mid-weight, all-season knit)

Casual Core

  • 2 Pair Jeans (1 dark indigo; 1 slight wash)
  • 1 Casual Trouser
  • 1 Casual “Suit” (matching pant and casual jacket)
  • 1 Sweater Twinset (matching shell and cardigan)
  • 3 Layering Shells (1 sleeveless tank; 1 short-sleeve; 1 long-sleeve)
  • 1 Cardigan Sweater

*Note:  The styles you choose flatter most when they relate to your body type.  More about that in this post (point #3).

Your Base Color

Choose a base color (or two) as the foundation for a core wardrobe.  It’ll simplify your shopping and dressing.   A well-chosen base color lends flexibility, since neutrals are easy to  accessorize and coordinate with other clothing items.  A limited number of pieces suddenly feels expansive when mixing and matching possibilities show up!

Choose solid colors for maximum versatility in core pieces.

Black is the color many women choose for their base.  It’s practical, so works well, though it’s not the answer for all.  (Some women look downright sickly in black.) The perfect base color(s) is one that flatters your skin tone, hair, and eyes.  (Read about choosing your personal-best colors here.) It’s also  dark enough to not require laundering each time you wear it.  (The smaller number of pieces in your streamlined closet mean they’re all in more frequent rotation.)

An Accent Color

Your accent color should also be one that flatters your features, especially if worn around your face (like a neck scarf).  The accent is not usually a neutral, though.  Accent colors add flair to your outfits, and spice things up.  They help you quickly and inexpensively update an ensemble, while you express your personality.  Experiment with them!

Lay it On — One Piece at a Time

Color and pattern on the “cheap” with accessories make updating easy.

Layered dressing means you won’t need an entirely different wardrobe from one season to the next.  Lightweight garments in your neutral color keep you warm or cool, as needed.  In winter, a pencil skirt with tights and boots pairs perfectly with a silk blouse + tank top (worn as a vest) + cardigan sweater = toasty warm.  The same tank top with jeans just needs a lightweight shirt or wrap and you’ve got your shoulders covered on summer evenings. (More about creating a seasonless core in this post.)

Accessory Power

Here’s where it gets fun.  Express your personal style, play with the latest trend, or add splashes of color.  The great thing about accessories is that they can be inexpensive outfit game changers.  A playful scarf in colorful print takes a standard pant and sweater from “meh” to “Marvelous”!  Swap a ballet flat for a heeled pump and you’ve gone from day to p.m. dressing in a snap.

Quality Over Quantity

For some, this is a mindset shift.  Remember that with fewer items, you’ll be wearing each garment piece more frequently.  Shift your wardrobe budget from buying “lots,” to buying “better.”  It’s less important that you get a good sale price, and more important that you invest in items that hold up better over the long haul.  You’ll avoid spending time on shopping to replace worn-out items.  The side benefit?  You’re clothing of high-quality construction and fabrics will leaving you looking more chic than ever.

Get more help in my FREE eBook “Learn to Shop Like a Stylist.”


Patty Buccellato

Patty Buccellato, is an image coach and founder of Refined Images. She brings extensive knowledge and expertise to her work with men and women individually, as well as with corporate employee groups. Patty established Refined Images in 1994, and while her studio is based in Rochester Hills, Michigan, you’ll find her serving clients throughout North America in their homes, offices — and, yes, even in shopping malls!   To get your FREE copy of Patty’s “How to Shop Like a Stylist,” visit or contact Patty.

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The Wardrobe Simplifier

5 Essential Pieces for Every Woman's Closet

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