Oh Capsule, My Capsule (Wardrobe That is): How you can do much more with less

Let's talk about shopping. Do you love it? Hate it? Don't have much time for it? 

For me, shopping has been my sport of choice since I was a little kid marking up the pages of the JCPenney back to school catalog with my wardrobe wish list for the year. 

Even at a young age, I always wanted an inordinate amount of school clothes, so much so that I eagerly began working at age fourteen so I could earn my own money to buy all the clothes I wanted without being a burden to my parents. And, well, pretty much most of my paychecks for the past 23 years have gone to fuel this passion of mine.

Truthfully, the shopping part of enjoying fashion can be fun but also exhausting and sort of overwhelming. For example, I love the bargains at Marshalls but have little patience for digging through racks for finds. There is also an unforgettable scar from finding The Perfect Black Kitten Heel at TJ Maxx only to discover that the mate was missing. I combed two other locations looking for it to no avail. Not my idea of fun, which is why I tend to prefer to shop online where I see something I like, select my size, thoughtfully consider it in my virtual cart for as long as I like, and ultimately decide what to purchase from the comfort of my couch. 

BUT I love being able to touch fabrics and try on in store too, provided I have a good chunk of time, a full belly, an empty bladder, and no toddler in tow.  Then I can concentrate on what I'm doing, otherwise I get a little overstimulated, stressed out, antsy for a ladies' room or snack, etc. This is coming from someone who loves to shop, so if you don't even enjoy shopping, I can only imagine how you might feel. Stick with me though because you are definitely a prime candidate for what I am dishing about today--making a lot more outfits with less clothing, which means less time spent shopping AND more money in your pocket.


Can we also take a moment to confess/acknowledge the amount of funds we waste on purchases that we ultimately don't wear? Have you ever bought an item or outfit that really wasn't your taste simply because you needed something to wear for an occasion, or it was on sale cheap enough that you took a chance, or you just liked the idea of the life of the person you pictured wearing such an item, even if it didn't exactly fit your life? 

I've done it LOTS, even as I was feeling my way through my first year as a Style + Mom Blogger. I bought items because I knew they would photograph well or be intriguing to readers or because they looked like something a style blogger might wear more than they were my personal style or fit my lifestyle. 

No more. 

Thanks to a few amazing ladies, I've finally got a true handle on my personal style. Worry not, I will happily share their deets with you so you can zero in on your style identity too... because with baby #2 on the way, it looks like my style book may be a long time coming and I want to be sure you find the help you need now. :)    

Every time I sell or donate an item of clothing that I haven't worn, I think about all of the money that I've both invested in my wardrobe and frittered away on sale rack thrills and style missteps. And when I do, Morgan Freeman's voice whispers in my ear:  

Capsule wardrobe. 

I usually purse my lips with pride and then tell him to pipe down with that capsule business... Because the sport-shopper in me knows that a capsule means working with what I have more often than shopping for new. 

And let's just admit it that new is often fun, exhilarating, and mood-boosting. It can also be a great distraction and sometimes feels easier than shopping our existing wardrobes.   

So how about you, friend? Have you ever contemplated adopting a capsule wardrobe? If you're a little foggy on the definition, it's roughly a collection of clothing in a coordinating/complementary color palette whose individual pieces coordinate together to make lots of outfits. 

In the past, I have written about packing a capsule wardrobe for traveling to Hawaii (pics below) because I love the thrill of traveling with just a carry on bag, but I haven't truly considered adopting the capsule wardrobe for my everyday life until the last year or so when that whispering voice has gotten louder and louder. 

Because Motherhood, not surprisingly, makes me want to simplify life as much as possible. And staying at home with Iris (and soon her baby brother or sister) means that my shopping budget has taken a 50% reduction. It's without a doubt worthwhile to stay home with my sweet kiddo(s), and this tighter budget makes me have to be more intentional and discerning with my clothing spending.    

One of the reasons that I have hesitated about committing to creating a capsule wardrobe is an incorrect belief that a capsule of clothes is limiting. 

Maybe you feel that way too. If like me, you're a career shopper or are emotionally-driven and like to dress based on your personality du jour, then you might poo-poo the capsule idea too.  

I feel you. I have always considered a capsule wardrobe to be too restrictive. Until I saw a book by Aussie stylist Wendy Mak titled The Capsule Wardrobe: 1000 Outfits from 30 Pieces

YEP. She said a THOUSAND. A one with three zeroes behind it.  

That's nearly three outfits per day of the year. Frankly that sounds like the complete opposite of limiting. 

Wendy got my attention. I got her book and devoured it in two nights. Order it for yourself  HERE or HERE. It's around $12 which is highly affordable for a hardback book filled with knowledge that will save you a lot of money, stress, time spent scouring racks, etc. Treat yo-self, girl. Free yourself.

Without spoiling the entire book for you, I will share that I was SO encouraged by Wendy's easy to understand, friendly, and concise instruction that I set about exploring my closet to see just what my 30-pieces might look like, and I haven't stopped having fun discovering "new" outfits since (I'm around the 500 mark with only a couple of hours of assessing my closet's contents!! Halfway there!).  

While reading Wendy's book, I became really clear on what color palette I wanted to use for my capsule wardrobe. It's not something you just declare. This is pretty much an intuitive decision guided by what colors you gravitate toward most often. Hint: choose a mix of 2-3 neutrals that work for you and add in 2-3 of your favorite pop colors.  

When I wrote my Hawaii travel capsule article I emphasized that the color palette is key. Not in terms of the color choices being right or wrong colors (there's no rule that says you must use black, for example), but more so that you stick to your specific selection of colors so that the pieces of clothing work harmoniously together to create the most outfits possible. A bunch of clothes with no colors in common makes for a limited number of outfit options.  

To share my example, my palette involves these neutrals: navy, gray, and white and these pop colors: red/coral, teal, and periwinkle blue. These are my favorite colors, they look nice with my hair/eyes/skin, and I gravitate toward them when shopping. Use that criteria when selecting your palette, and if you need help, message me! You already know what colors you like, so you likely just need help deciding what colors to accent with or need a second opinion on what colors look best on you.  

After figuring out what my color palette was going to be, I then compared Wendy's recommended 30 items to what I currently own in my closet in my desired color palette and gathered all of these items in one section to see how many items I own in that color family. I'm using more than 30 pieces only because I already have them in my closet, they fit in my palette, and they make for even more outfit options. You can certainly have more items than 30, provided you have space for them and like the pieces. Chances are good that a lot of the items that don't fall in your color family of choice don't actually get much wear. It was no surprise to me that the clothes on my non-capsule side of my closet were in shades I don't usually wear or ones that don't flatter my skin tone. (Olive green does nothing for me where it looks beautiful on my friend Tonya so I wasn't surprised to see my olive shrug in the passed over pile.) 

Revelation: Capsules don't have to be boring.

I have often seen capsule collections that look very boring to me. That's another reason why I have shied away from adopting a capsule wardrobe for my life. However, your capsule does not have to be lackluster. It can be colorful, packed with prints, and still incredibly versatile. 

Here are six tops in my capsule that play well with all of my pants (roughly 3 pairs in navy, gray and white) and a minimum of two of my skirts (see below). These tops are colorful, patterned and all but one are sleeveless so they can be worn all year long. 

Are you ready for some crazy fashion math? 

If I have these 6 tops, and each top goes with any of my 3 pairs of pants, and all the tops go with 2 (or more) of my skirts, then that's 30 outfits already. Throw in jeans as a pant option too and that's 36. Factor in that I have at least 2 different pairs of shoes that go with each outfit (say a flat and a wedge option). If that's true, then I have 72 outfits. Add in 2 blazers and 2 cardigans that coordinate with each of the 72 outfits as well, and that number ramps up to 288 options using just 18 pieces of clothing.  

SERIOUSLY. My mind is blown. 

Here are my go-to skirts: 

A fun printed summery style, navy, gray and teal pencil skirts, and a navy stripe skirt for spring and summer.

My family of blazers: 

Navy (a recent resale score from Poshmark. It's Boden, one of my favorite brands, and it is PERFECT. $30 score!)

White. I buy white on clearance because I can't keep it pristine for long. This one was J Crew clearance. 

Deep red. God bless 20-year-old me. She bought this Banana Republic blazer on clearance for $19.99 in 1999 and it has been one of the best buys ever. 

If you love shoes, no one, Wendy Mak included, is denying you shoes. But Wendy manages to build 1,000 outfits with just a half dozen shoe options. I love it. Here are a few of the shoes I selected to work with for my outfits. 

Remember the 288 outfits I created above? Well, I also have a few casual tees and tops that each go with all 3 pairs of pants and again at least 2 skirts. So let's add another 25 outfits. 50 actually since I know I have two different pairs of shoes for each outfit. Total outfit count: 338 

Oh yeah, and there are some solid tops to factor in too. So 3 tops that go with 3 pants that go with 2 skirts that go with 2 pairs of shoes = 30 more outfits = 368 outfits. 


Are you feeling the capsule wardrobe love yet? Because we haven't even factored in different jewelry options or scarves or handbags that can switch up the look of an outfit, and I am already happily overwhelmed and pretty amazed by how many outfits are living in my closet right now! 

Freedom in a fence 
This concept of color coordination for maximum styling options is actually very freeing in that it creates more options without you even having to do any shopping. And when you do shop, this capsule collection can provide loving discipline for your spending. 

I know that I need this sort of quick self-check when I shop. Without a capsule, I can forget what's in my closet and tend to shop a bit more impulsively OR keep buying the same thing over and over again. Like, I now see that I'm set on navy stripe tees until a few of mine wear out (I counted 6 in my closet!) Ditto for embroidered cardigans. I LOVE them and don't need another one in my life at this point. Duly noted so that I won't add any more to my shopping cart for awhile.

Questions to ask yourself when shopping:

Is the item you're considering purchasing really your style? 
Will it go with a number of pieces in your existing wardrobe? 
Does the item complement your capsule color palette? 

Note: not every single item has to fall within your color palette. For example, I could throw in a yellow cardigan and get a ton of mileage out of it by pairing it with my navy stripe tops or striped skirt or with my denim skirt and another top layered underneath it. Don't let the capsule concept make you feel trapped. Think guidelines not absolutes.  

Nothing about your capsule has to feel boring or plain. I managed to incorporate a boldly patterned Lilly Pulitzer button down shirt (resale score!) into my capsule because it plays well with navy pants, white capris, my favorite striped skirt, and any shorts or jeans I own. It can be worn over my striped dress or under any of my blazers. Hopefully this gives you some inspiration and encouragement for your own capsule. 

We didn't even touch on dresses yet. I have about 6 in my capsule though you really only need 2. These work well with all 3 blazers and 3 cardigans and at least 2 pairs of shoes so let's add 18 outfits to the count for a total of 386. That's over a year of outfits! 

I don't own a lot of jewelry because admittedly, I spend on clothing and run short of funds for accessories. That should change now that I don't have to buy new clothes for the foreseeable future! Accessories are the least expensive way to make your outfits look up to date. When I do purchase earrings and necklaces, I gravitate toward statement pieces from J Crew, Charming Charlie, LOFT Outlet, and local designers like Prism Sea Glass.

Another way to add more variety to your capsule style is to swap out your handbag. Wendy has great advice for what types of bags to include in your capsule. I've picked a few including this Dooney & Bourke that my mom passed on to me because the shape, size and neutral color are perfect. 

In my rotation I also include some of the bags you'll see in my flat lay outfit pics like my monogram summer bag, a red patent handbag, my resale store Kate Spade navy clutch, and wicker basket clutch. I don't think I can even handle (pun intended) the math for factoring in these options.  

Wendy even covers winter coats and jackets in her book so you'll be well taken care of with her sound advice. 

Meanwhile, I'm about to leave you with the list of ladies who have helped me discover my personal style (and they can help you discover yours!), plus I'll end with a few samples of outfits in my capsule collection using some of my flat lay looks and personal photos. I intend to catalog all of my options the way that Wendy does in her book, but I imagine it will take a little time to do so. 

By the way, I'm not affiliated with Wendy and get nothing out of promoting her book. I paid for my copy. So know that I am recommending it because I think it is an easy and helpful read for you if you want to transition toward a capsule wardrobe. 

BEST OF ALL, Wendy provides a free downloadable pocket guide for you that makes identifying and shopping for your capsule pieces a breeze. Literally just check them off the list as you discover them in your closet or add them to your wardrobe. She also lists all 1,000 outfit combos in the index in the back of the book in case you get stumped anywhere along the way. You'll prove to yourself that you have 1,000 outfits too.  

Sisters in Style
Lastly, here are the ladies who I have studied or sought wisdom from (apart from my own introspection) to zero in on my personal style. 

Wendy Mak: Book, The Capsule Wardrobe 1,000 Outfits from 30 Pieces Wendy is so personable and positive and makes you feel like you're working alongside a close friend to weed out your closet and make the most of your wardrobe. Her Instagram account  @wendymak_stylist is filled with daily outfit inspo. 

Hilary Rushford: Free webinar How to Dress for Your Shape. You will love this woman so much! She offers a 5-week style course filled with community and style challenges. That is more of an investment but it may be worth your while. Even so, you'll get SO much more than you expected from her free webinar because she will email you bonus content and videos afterward. Another thing I love about Hilary is that she is an affordable fashion maven. Nothing too crazy expensive hanging in her closet, great style, modern and joyful. Check her out on Instagram @hilaryrushford.

Shari Braendel: Fashion Meets Faith and Course  27 Hangers and  Color Consultation. Shari is a dynamic and humorous Christian sister who can help identify your best colors. I love her book  Help Me Jesus, I Have Nothing to Wear. She offers speaking engagements and is based out of Charlotte. She also has a cool community of VIPS that you can join for access to many of her courses. Instagram @sharibraendel 

Dallas Shaw: Book  The Way She Wears It. This book is good in that she asks some great personal style reflection questions to help you figure out your style point of view. Then the book is broken down by season and offers up style challenges. Dallas Shaw is fashion's It Girl. She's worked with every major retailer and fashion house on illustrations, styling, marketing, etc. She is the new Anna Wintour in my opinion. 


For more inspiration, check out my blog post where I style this navy stripe dress 9 different ways





Have style questions? Comment on this post or email me at SaraWiseStyle@gmail.com.

Stylishly yours,

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