Capsule wardrobes are wildly popular,
and for good reason.

What started out as a very niche practice has been pushed into the spotlight alongside Marie Kondo’s decluttering bible, and a general minimalist aesthetic. So what is this phenomenon that keeps many bloggers afloat and the fashion industry reeling?

To better understand what a capsule wardrobe is, we have to learn where the concept came from. The term was first coined by wardrobe consultant and author Susie Faux in the 1970s due to her frustration with the lack of well-made clothing (sound familiar?) However, it didn’t become mainstream until designer Donna Karan decided to create the first capsule collection in 1985 called “Seven Easy Pieces.” Today, the site Business of Fashion defines it as something more commercial than traditional fashion collections:

The idea was to create a capsule wardrobe that features only the most essential or influential pieces from a collection. A capsule collection is essentially a condensed version of a designer’s vision, often limited edition, which transcends seasons and trends by being functional.

Capsule wardrobes are about personal style.

Our consumerist culture and fast fashion have tricked us into believing that we must own everything.

While the fashion industry utilizes capsule collections in order to produce an air of exclusivity and a designer’s artistic expression, capsule wardrobes are more about personal style. Most of the individuals who have become capsule wardrobe experts got into the game because they were tired of “decision fatigue.” Our consumerist culture and fast fashion have tricked us into believing that we must own everything. The result is a stuffed closet full of clothes that we very well may never wear.

Capsule wardrobes push us to think more about what clothing we actually wear, and whether we truly need each piece in our closet. Buy less, wear more, and find high-quality. One of the early adopters of this method, Caroline Rector of Unfancy, describes the concept this way:

[A capsule wardrobe is] a practice of editing your wardrobe down to your favorite clothes (clothes that fit your lifestyle + body right now), remixing them regularly, and shopping less often and more intentionally.

Intention” has become a buzzword these days, and when it’s combined with the practice of creating a wardrobe, the process slows down and becomes much more conscious. While most movements that touch on sustainability are not new ideas, these modern iterations are sticking in a way that they may not have before.

Sustainable living, fashion, and beauty all come down to intentional consumption and decision making. Courtney Carver of Be More With Less makes intentional shopping her mission through her own journey with capsule wardrobes and spreading the concept to others. She defines her capsule wardrobe as:

A small collection of [...] items including clothing, jewelry, accessories, and shoes that encourage you to wear your favorite things every day (not the trendiest things, the most stylish things, or the perfect things…your favorite things).

Courtney focuses on finding yourself in your wardrobe instead of defining your style by other people’s standards. She has gone a step further and created an outline called Project 333™, which urges participants to choose 33 different items to wear during three-month increments. Project 333 focuses on seasonal capsule wardrobes instead of an overall minimalist lifestyle. Courtney suggests picking 33 items (yes, including shoes, accessories, and jewelry) for Spring, then Summer, Fall, and Winter. This type of capsule wardrobe helps to declutter your life and encourage intentional styling throughout each season. Of course, this doesn’t work for every region. Los Angeles, for example, has maybe two seasons (sweltering and less sweltering), so one larger capsule wardrobe and a smaller “winter” one could be implemented in place of the three-month practice.

There’s no right or wrong way to start a capsule of your own.

If you’re not ready to completely give up your current closet, Lee Vosburgh of Style Bee created the ever-popular 10x10 Challenge™. In 2015, Lee decided to put together guidelines for dipping your toes into the capsule wardrobe pool. This challenge consists of 10 days and 10 items (not including accessories). Lee breaks it down so that anyone and everyone can get a taste of a more minimal wardrobe. She hopes to inspire her readers to have fun and not “take it too seriously!” Her entire site is based around celebrating personal style and thoughtful shopping, reminding readers that it’s all about “timeless style and curating a lean closet that’s perfect for you without the pressure of having to keep up with fashion's constantly revolving door.”

Personal style is vital to finding confidence in ourselves, and that means that even combatting the mainstream fashion world shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all.

Every site that touches on adopting a smaller closet takes care to emphasize the importance of individuality. Personal style is vital to finding confidence in ourselves, and that means that even combatting the mainstream fashion world shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all. Capsule wardrobes are often associated with a minimalist aesthetic full of neutrals, clean lines, and simple patterns. Those who maintain these wardrobes year-round often do fit into that mold, although there are no strict rules for a capsule wardrobe.

This is why Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed, started the Glam Capsule Challenge this year. Her take on the capsule challenge was full of bright colors, bold silhouettes, and lots of accessories. She asked her Instagram followers to join in on the fun and do it their way. Conscious fashion lovers like Sonia Kessler, of Native Styling, mixed patterns and layered pieces in creative ways as the 10-day challenge went on. The exercise proved that all you need to enjoy a less hectic closet is thoughtful curation and consumption.

There is no universal capsule wardrobe. Just like many other concepts in the conscious lifestyle space, it is what you want it to be. The fact that there is widespread adoption of this “lean wardrobe” is exciting—we just have to make sure our trend-obsessed society doesn’t get carried away.

If you take away anything from this piece, I hope it’s that there is no one way, or right way, to attempt a capsule wardrobe. All of these variations are simply tools for each individual to find who they are, what they like, and what clothing makes sense in their life. Sometimes limitations are the very thing we need to spark amazing creativity!

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Audrey Stanton was born and raised in the Bay Area and is currently based in Los Angeles. She works as a freelance writer and content creator with a focus in sustainable fashion. Audrey is deeply passionate about conscious living and hopes to continue to spread awareness of ethical consumption.