Why the Rich Use Capsule Wardrobes, and How to Create Your Own
For over a decade, Steve Jobs, the billionaire co-founder of Apple, wore the same thing every day: a black turtleneck, Levi’s jeans, and New Balance sneakers.
Picking up the mantle, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wears a gray T-shirt every day and President Obama picks between a solid navy or charcoal suit. During an interview with Vanity Fair he said, “I’m trying to pare down decisions […] because I have too many other decisions to make.”
Google shows he’s a man true to his word.
When I started to see successful people wearing the same thing every day, I realized they were part of the movement I belong to, where less is more. Implementing that mindset is critical to reaching financial independence, and in that spirit I decided to create my own small versatile wardrobe, commonly called a capsule.
How to create a capsule wardrobe
According to the apparel industry, every man, woman, and child buys 64 new pieces of clothes every year (plus 7.5 pairs of shoes). Our culture has become obsessed with fast fashion – think Forever 21, H&M, and Zara – which celebrates trendy disposable clothes at cheap prices.
I decided my capsule would forego trends and instead contain classic, iconic pieces I could get years of use out of. But my style is probably not your style, and that’s okay. So as you step through the process of creating your capsule, go with the styles and clothes that reflect your personal style.
1. Closet cleanse
The best-selling book in the world right now is about throwing things out: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo (you should read that book right now, it’s great). As someone who compulsively throws things out I realized I was keeping clothes I never wore.
I took all the clothes out of my closet, threw them on my bed, and made three piles:
- Save pile. The clothes you love wearing. These go back into your closet.
- Donate pile. The pieces you never wear. Maybe you keep them because there’s a sentimental attachment. Thank them for serving you well and then pass them along.
- Box Pile. The clothes you rarely wear, and half-like. Box them up and put them in storage. The rule is you can retrieve a piece within six months but after that say goodbye.
2. Your style
As I finished putting the save pile back into my closet I was confronted with an in-cohesive wardrobe. Up to this point in my life I’d never thought about what my style was, but to make a functional capsule I knew I had to. I started reading style blogs and quickly learned what houndstooth was and to focus on two areas:
- Color Palette. Define a palette of three or four colors you love wearing, that work in harmony across shirts, pants, jackets, shoes, etc. That ensures the wardrobe is mixable, maximizing the number of potential outfits (examples).
- Patterns. Incorporating patterns into your style adds complexity, and to create a cohesive capsule they need to be smartly mixed in with your palette. Keep patterns simple at first before you evolve (examples).
Like me, if you need help with defining your style and you’re a dude try Effortless Gent and Style Girlfriend. Women can check out Into Mind and Unfancy.
3. Pick a number
To keep a capsule wardrobe under control you should set a number. There are various opinions on how many pieces should be in a capsule: Project 333 says 33 pieces that can be cycled every 3 months (to coincide with the seasons). Unfancy says 37. There’s no right or wrong number, the point is to choose one and then maintain it.
I took an entirely different approach: instead of picking a number and working towards it I strategically filled the gaps in my wardrobe until I felt it was small yet versatile, and that became my number. The process took me many months and ultimately resulted in a 12 month capsule that contained 40 pieces.
My color palette is black, gray, white, and blue, and is heavy on gingham, stripes, and solids. Here’s a breakdown of my capsule:
- 12 Long Sleeve Shirts
- 5 T-shirts
- 5 Polo Shirts
- 4 Sweaters
- 3 Cardigans (I have a problem.)
- 8 Pants
- 3 Shorts
To maintain the 40 piece limit I have a rule of “one in, one out”: any new clothing purchase requires an existing piece goes.
After having fully adjusted to my capsule wardrobe I feel the benefits many others have realized: more time because it’s more efficient, better decisions because it reduces stress, and because I seldom buy new clothes, more money.
Men’s summer mini-capsule
If you want to create a capsule for yourself here’s what a 10-piece mini-capsule for summer might look like.
01. Breathable Polo Shirts: Banana Republic Luxe-Touch Polo
02. Casual T-shirts: American Apparel Poly-Cotton T-shirts
03. Oxford Cloth Button Downs (OCBD): Old Navy Slim-Fit Oxford Shirt
04. Swim Trunks: J. Crew 7″ Board Short in Navy
05. Shorts: Target Merona Club Shorts
06. Lightweight Chinos: GAP Lived-in Slim or Straight
07. Canvas Sneakers: PF Flyers Center Lo Sneakers in Natural
08. A Woven Belt: Jomers Madaket Belt
09. Boat Shoes: Sperry Top Sider Authentic Original Boat Shoe in Brown
10. Do Anything Sunglasses: Ray-Ban New Wayfarer in Tortoise
Women’s summer mini-capsule
I didn’t want to leave women out and because I have a smart talented woman in my life (who turned me on to capsule wardrobes) she offered up her take. Here’s Holly…
Personally, I don’t do complicated fashion. Most days, all my effort goes into being a functioning adult who pays their bills on time and remembers to put on deodorant. While President Obama and Mark Zuckerberg probably have people to do both those tasks for them, I’m 100 percent with them on paring down decision making. However, I’m still a lady who enjoys fashion, so I’ve worked hard over the past year to find a balance between personal style, function and conscious consumption.
If you’re struggling to put together a fun yet functional summer wardrobe, I hope this mini capsule helps. This wardrobe is intended for weekends and depending on your workplace, casual Fridays. Bonus –chances are, you have many of these items already in your closet! The key is good, well-cut basics that easily mix and match, so boredom isn’t an option (I’ve already counted more than 30 outfits from just these ten pieces).
Generally, I like to keep my color palettes fairly neutral – blacks, browns, grays and whites. This is for two reasons. One, neutrals tend to pair easily with one another, allowing you maximum use of every item of your clothing. Two, matching pieces in your wardrobe is easier when there aren’t too many competing colors in it. Like Chris recommends, find a few complementary colors that you love and feel your best in, then stick with those. For me, I like to use color judiciously – my favorites being yellow, blue and red – to make an impact with my outfit.
It’s all about making these 10 pieces work for you. Not a dress girl? Swap out the dress for another pair of shorts or pants. Not a fan of tank tops? Find a cute short sleeve striped top and a long-sleeve chambray. Capsule wardrobes are all about experimenting, so don’t be afraid to change it up (and keep changing it up!) until you find what works for YOU.
01. Striped Tank Top: Enza Costa Striped Tank
02. Light-Colored Classic T-Shirt: Zady .02 The T-Shirt
03. Short- or Long-Sleeved Chambray: Madewell Sleeveless Chambray Shirt
04. Shorts: Bridge and Burn Luca Olive
05. Dressy Top: Boden Square Tee
06. Skirt (or 2nd pair of shorts): Boden Denim A-Line
07. Summer Dress: Ace and Jig Terrace Dress
08. Sneakers: Veja Grey Volley Sneakers
09. Sunnies: Rayban Clubmaster in Tortoise
10. Comfy, Everyday Sandals: Birkenstock Women’s Arizona Sandal