Creating a Successful Capsule Wardrobe
Updated: Apr 9
As capsule wardrobes have grown in popularity recently - there are so many resources online detailing the do’s and don’ts of creating one - it can be overwhelming. SO I’ve narrowed down a few tips to get you started on the right track in creating your very own capsule wardrobe and some of the pit-falls you may run into. Plus - how to actually be sustainable with your wardrobe, which will save you time, money, and is just the decent thing to do. :)
Use What You Have
The first temptation when doing an overhaul of your closet and switching to a capsule wardrobe is to buy the pieces you feel like you need to make your closet perfect. But buying up a whole new wardrobe is the opposite of environmentally friendly. (Not to mention expensive!) Plus, it kind of perpetuates the consumerist mind-set that you have to buy the latest fashion and what other people are putting in their capsule wardrobes (when it may not be the best fit for your own collection).
Also, you may think, “okay I’m going to throw out all my ‘Fast-fashion/cheap/printed/colorful pieces and start over fresh with a neutral, sustainable wardrobe.” WAIT - don’t do that please. The most sustainable option is TO NOT BUY ANYTHING. That means using what you have and developing a creative wardrobe from your current collection.
Now if pieces are worn out, ripped, stained - fine get rid of them or turn them into rags. But for pieces that are still in good condition - and before you go donating your whole wardrobe - ask yourself some of the below questions:
Assessing What You Have
How often do I actually wear this piece? Are you holding onto this item because of sentimental reasons? Maybe it was a gift or you spent a lot of money on it? If you wish you wore it more, but it seems to just sit there, evaluate why you continue to hold onto it. Remember - it's value comes from actually using it, otherwise it is taking away from your joy by taking up space or reminding you of a bad purchase decision.
If I don’t wear this often - why not? (Is it the color, cut, pattern?) Use this as an opportunity to figure out what colors and patterns you gravitate towards, what styles are flattering and make you feel good/confident when wearing them.
Can I repurpose this in a way that would make me wear it? Maybe you've been thinking about purchasing a cropped sweater or hoodie but only have full length ones you never wear..? Or that old pair of jeans that you no longer like the cut of, but might make a great pair of shorts? (hint, hint)
Will I wear this over and over - and is this versatile enough to work with other pieces? (Now, some people may tell you a loud print or bright color does not belong in your capsule wardrobe - but everyone is different. Maybe you wear leopard print so often it is basically like a neutral for you.) This is a piece that is versatile and that can be styled with other pieces so it won’t feel stale.
Is this timeless? (You want something you won’t get tired of just because it no longer feels ‘in-style’. This goes with the above question about versatility, but can also be more. Will I age out of this look anytime soon? Look for simple, classic cuts and prints that never seem to go out of style and that you can see yourself wearing through different periods of your life.
Go Second Hand
In this day and age, we are lucky enough to have so many thrifting options. If you don't have an accessible or well-stocked local brick and mortar store, there are lots of online options to get you started while minimizing the carbon footprint and material waste that goes into producing a new piece.
Second Hand Online
Sites like Mercari, Poshmark, and Ebay are just a few sites that let you browse second-hand items from individuals around the country. This is also a great option if you are looking to sell some of your own good-condition pieces because they make it super easy! (Just keep an eye out for people selling cheap, new fast-fashion & Amazon items who are only looking for a profit - or you’re just falling right back into the consumerist loop and not getting high-quality pieces).
Thred-Up and online thrift stores like this are also a great option if you’re looking for higher end brands or want more of a selection. Also check-out their Fashion Footprint Calculator to see how your closet stacks up here. They also speak out about waste and conscious fashion including through thredUP’s independent non-profit, Circular Fashion Fund, which “distributes funds for small businesses and fashion pioneers who are committed to progressing sustainable fashion.” 1
Worn Wear - Patagonia brand second-hand shop. They take back old Patagonia wear, fix-it up, and sell it second hand for a discounted price. You can find great condition pieces, and you know they are high quality and built to last.
One thing to keep in mind when online browsing is to only look for clothes when you have a specific piece/brand/color in mind. Otherwise you can get sucked into the same mindless online browsing you may have experienced before starting your minimalist journey. Lastly, local thrifting is still going to be more sustainable than ordering something that has to be shipped across the country.
Yes, that pair of sneakers may be second hand but shipping it all the way from Florida is still going to leave a bit of a carbon footprint in transportation and shipping supplies.
When you are ready to purchase a new piece to round out your capsule wardrobe, it’s important to understand which brands are ‘Fast Fashion’ and which ones are supporting sustainable practices.
As ‘slow fashion’ and sustainability is becoming increasingly popular, it can be hard to tell which brands you can actually trust, and which ones are just greenwashing and jumping on the bandwagon in order to sell more clothes. That’s why I put together a list of brands I trust for my own closet, and how they are meeting actual standards of sustainability.
(Please note I am not affiliated with and did not receive anything from these companies I included, this is based on my own opinion and research.) **Company websites also linked at the end**
Sustainable Clothing Companies (When buying new)
Pact - A Colorado based company that focuses on sustainable materials and safe working conditions. They are rated ‘Good’ by Good On You (where you can search thousands of companies' sustainability ratings): “Its animal rating is 'good'. It does not use fur, leather, down, exotic animal skin, exotic animal hair or angora. It uses wool.” As well as a good environmental rating which includes using GOTS organic cotton. While they do not provide as much information about their factories as some companies, they are Fair Trade Certified. (Learn more here) They also use carbon offset shipping, sustainable packaging, and their “Give Back Box” for donating clothes to non-profits.
Christy Dawn - Known for their unique flowy dresses, Christy Dawn also carries everything from footwear, to outerwear and sweaters. They use leftover fabric called “deadstock” and new, organic cotton to make their designs. They are created by hand in Los Angeles and India and they are “working toward creating a fully regenerative fibershed” (farm-to-closet) system. Plus they have a lovely little blog, called their ‘Journal’, with lots of self-care articles and tips.
Patagonia - Another Colorado company(!), Patagonia is one of the OG’s for sustainable outdoor clothing and gear. They stand behind the durability of their products and will repair or replace items that do not hold up. On their website they also provide information on their materials, environmental and social responsibility programs, and details on their factory and supply chain. They are active in voicing climate change awareness and environmental activism through their Action Works program as well as their 1% Earth Tax for the planet which goes to environmental non-profits.
Girlfriend Collective - With a focus on activewear and loungewear like compressive leggings, lounge tees and bras, Girlfriend collective offers everyday essentials including plus sizes. Their core factory is “SA8000 certified, guarantees fair wages, safe and healthy conditions, and zero forced or child labor.” 2 They use recycled materials like plastic water bottles as well as offer a Take Back program for worn Girlfriend pieces which they will reuse in new garments. (Including offering a credit for items you send back!)
Gaia Conceptions - Custom organic clothing handmade in Greensboro, N.C.Gaia conceptions uses organic fabrics and natural dyes, including hemp/cotton blends. With everything from leggings, to jumpers, to jackets, they focus on classic silhouettes and let customers create unique pieces that are Made-To-Order just for you. They also have a good selection of plus-size items and customizations like picking the fabric and color from their offerings.
Knickey - Sustainable Underwear - GOTS, Oeko-Tex, and Fair Trade Certified. They not only take the environment but also the working conditions of their manufacturing in mind with “safe and healthy working conditions, living wages, reasonable hours, and the right to unionize are standard in facilities.” 3 They also use recyclable and low-impact packaging.
Remember, It Takes Time
It’s called ‘slow-fashion’ for a reason. One of the struggles I experienced when developing my own capsule wardrobe was fighting the temptation to buy everything all at once so I could complete my wardrobe instantly. (I’m not always the most patient person.) But in reality, the sustainability (and money saving!) aspects of a capsule wardrobe are all about the gradual procuring of timeless, high quality pieces.
I probably won’t make all the right decisions if I impulsively buy up pieces that I think are what I need to round out my wardrobe without having lived with this wardrobe for a while. Hear me out.
It’s impossible for me to know exactly what is going to work and what isn’t before I spend some time only wearing my capsule wardrobe. It can be tempting to follow lists and the countless templates you can find online for what you need in order to have a successful capsule wardrobe. But in reality - everyone’s capsule wardrobe is going to look different. Let’s say that again for the people in the back. Everyone’s capsule wardrobe is going to look different, because we are all unique individuals with different needs, tastes, and budgets.
If all these capsule wardrobe templates are telling me I need a blazer (even though I never wear blazers and think they’re uncomfortable) then their template just isn’t going to work for me. When you acknowledge that developing a capsule wardrobe that works for you takes time, you can let go of the need to match what other people are doing or how it’s ‘supposed’ to look. Finding what kind of pieces, colors, patterns you actually wear over and over and can confidently style with other pieces is what makes a small wardrobe work.
What are some of your own tips or experiences with creating a capsule wardrobe? Or have any more questions about starting? Feel free to leave a comment below!
Sophia Warne Rowe
Founder, Clutter to Clarity LLC.
Thanks for reading!
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Clothing & Thrifting Companies Referenced:
Worn Wear: https://wornwear.patagonia.com/
Christy Dawn: https://christydawn.com/
Girlfriend Collective: https://www.girlfriend.com/
Gaia Conceptions: https://gaiaconceptions.com/