While most of us grasp the basics of consumer behaviour, chances are we still fall victim to the quantity over quality trap and make purchases based on impulse rather than intention. It’s human nature; we accumulate stuff. It fills our cupboards and competes for space in our drawers, and sometimes sprawls onto the floor. It costs us lots of money and energy, but most of it doesn’t mean very much at all. At a time when culture is more visual than ever, an appreciation for aesthetics can easily tip over into an obsession with objects. We’re constantly flooded with images, influencers, marketing messages, and fleeting trends; it can feel hard to keep up.
The result might be a wardrobe made up of a random mix of expensive items that we grow weary of after a few wears, fast-fashion pieces that “kind of look like” their high-end counterparts, ill-fitting online purchases that we never got around to returning, and junk collected from op shops and markets; the bulk of which we don’t really like, let alone wear. All this stuff can begin to weigh us down—not to mention have detrimental effects on the environment and people producing it. If you’ve been wanting to lighten your material load and make a shift towards more meaningful purchasing, there’s no better time than the present when conversations around sustainability are paramount.
Enter the capsule concept. You’ve probably encountered the term in some way, shape, or form. You might be au fait with the capsule collection terminology loved by fashion journalists, where a designer distills their overarching vision into a small selection of key pieces that favour functionality and timelessness over trends. The capsule wardrobe principle follows the same line of thought, but is designed to be replicated at home. Originally coined in the 1970s by stylist Susie Faux, the capsule wardrobe is made-up of a small selection of items that are of high quality, complementary to one another, colour coordinated, and interchangeable. These pieces form the basis for a range of different looks to make for easy and considered dressing.
In adopting this concise and curated approach, we become more conscious consumers. In buying less and buying better, we reject the fast fashion cycle and its devastating effects. We plan our purchases rather than being guided by emotion or trends, meaning we’re left with a few things we love and wear on rotation. We really get to know what personal style means on our own terms, and what we look and feel best in. The physical space this affords gives us mental clarity: the daily stresses around dressing are removed, meaning we have more time in the morning (and, all going to plan, more money in the bank). So, where do we begin?
Step 1: Build your capsule wardrobe checklist
Before you start culling what you already own, you need to lay down the foundations for what your ideal capsule wardrobe will look like at the end of the exercise. We have condensed a few different guidelines into the below list (noting that this relates to womenswear). Adapt this list to suit your own needs, perhaps taking off things you know you’d never wear or adding on what you already know to be essential for you. Then go analog: grab a pen and paper and write it down.
- Tops & dresses:
- Silk blouse
- Silk cami
- Button-up shirt
- 2 sweaters (black, neutral)
- 4 t-shirts (black, white, grey, stripe)
- 3 singlets/tanks (black, white, grey)
- 2 black dresses (everyday, occasion)
- Black pants
- Jeans (black, blue)
- Leather pants/leggings
- Shorts (black or neutral)
- Black skirt
- Joggers/tracksuit pants
- Leather jacket
- Denim jacket
- Trench coat
- Blazer/suit jacket
- Ankle boots
- Black stilettos
- Carry-all bag
- Little black bag
The objective of this step is to go into the overhaul with something of a framework. This list will help you ascertain what you already have and where you need to fill in the blanks.
Step 2: Edit your current wardrobe
Set aside at least half a day for this task. This part of the process involves a level of introspection and self-reflection, so set yourself up for this to be an enjoyable activity. Clear your plans and clear your space: everything is about to be everywhere. At the end of this step you will have three seperate piles—and a refreshed outlook on clothing and your relationship with it.
Firstly, take all your items—clothes, shoes, and accessories—off their hangers and out of drawers/storage. Armed with your checklist, start pulling pieces from each pile that align with what’s on the list. Mark them off as you go. Group these items together in pile one (capsule pile). Slowly, you will see your new wardrobe start to form. Once you’ve gone through the list and created your first pile, leave it there and move on to the remaining items.
Be ruthless, objective, and methodical. Piece-by-piece, determine whether the items fits in with how you want to dress. Some questions to ask yourself:
- Do I love it?
- Do I feel good when I wear it?
- Do I wear it often?
- Does it complement the items in my capsule pile?
If you answered yes, place it in a new pile (keep pile). If you answered no, place it in a third pile (cull pile). Now you have your three piles: capsule, keep, and cull. What do you do with each?
- Capsule: welcome to your new wardrobe. You will most likely be surprised that many of your dream items were there all along, albeit buried beneath the noise.
- Keep: this should be a concise edit of the pieces you love and see sitting alongside your core basics. How many depends on how minimal you want to go, but we suggest 15-20 extra pieces (this includes clothing, shoes, and accessories) to keep things feeling manageable and light.
- Cull: Determine whether to donate/sell/recycle or store (try to use this as an option for only a few sentimental things; you don’t want to get into the habit of storing stuff just for the sake of having it).
Return capsule and keep items to your wardrobe and take a moment to appreciate all that extra space!
Step 3: Shop mindfully and strategically
After going through the detox process above, you should now have a very clear idea of which areas of your capsule wardrobe are sufficient, and where you need to fill in the gaps. Be in no hurry; you don’t have to collect ‘missing’ items right away. Some people like to follow their wardrobe cleansing process with a temporary shopping ban—but if you are buying new things, now or in the near-future, make a resolution to henceforth do it mindfully and strategically.
Some questions to ask yourself before buying anything:
- Will I wear this 30 times?
- Would I have liked this 3 years ago? Will I like it 3 years from now?
- Was this item manufactured in a way that I am comfortable with?
- Is it made from a quality fabric, with quality finishes?
- Do I feel my best in this?
- Does it go with the other items I already own?
- Can I wear this in different contexts/on different occasions?
- Would I be drawn to this item if it didn’t have a label, or if I hadn’t seen it on Instagram?
Step 4: Be in it for the long-haul
The changes you’ve made to your wardrobe shouldn’t stop at what you wear. You might begin to think more deeply about your relationship with clothing and consumerism at large, or how the choices you make with your money can contribute to how you want the world around you to be.
Here are some of our tips for ensuring the longevity of your wellness wardrobe and a continuing dedication to conscious consumerism:
- Think about why you shop in the first place. Is it to reward yourself? For a form of social connection? To feel secure or successful? Once you locate these motivations, you can start to shift your relationship and form new habits and patterns.
- When you do decide to shop, do it with intention. Turn it into a treat and delight in the experience. Turn off your phone and take the time to appreciate the items in a store by feeling the fabrics and textures.
- Stop browsing online. Reduce your exposure to marketing messages by unsubscribing from e-commerce newsletters, deleting shopping apps, and replacing mindless window-scrolling with other tasks like reading a book or getting outside.
- You might like to set yourself some other rules in which to follow, such as always swapping out one of your current items before bringing something else in to make sure the head count doesn’t creep back up; or only buying a certain number of new things per year (you could break this down into seasons, setting yourself a budget for each and putting a cap on the number of additional items you’re willing to add).
- Only store items where you can see them, otherwise you won’t wear them.
- Don’t buy fast-fashion (unless it’s second-hand).
- Remember that you can still appreciate fashion and trends without having to buy into them. Just because you like something doesn’t mean you need to own it.
Words: Ingrid Kesa
Photography: Elissa McGowan