Dearest Internet Friends, listen up: enough with your bloated versions of the “capsule” wardrobe. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the word capsule is trending. Everyone seems to have created their own definition as to what it actually means. So, what does it mean, then?
Credit for coining the term “capsule wardrobe” goes to London boutique owner Susie Faux in the 1970s. +1 for the Brits. However, it really caught on in 1980s America thanks to former Parsons alumni, designer Donna Karan and her “Seven Easy Pieces” collection. +2 for Parsons the Americans. Which side am I on? At the time, a capsule wardrobe was defined as a compact wardrobe made up of staple pieces in coordinating colours–usually in the realm of 30 items or fewer, including shoes and sometimes even accessories. Faux suggested fewer than a dozen items for an ideal capsule wardrobe. One might update the wardrobe with a couple of new trendy or seasonal items two or three times a year, but that's it. The goal was to have a streamlined wardrobe of high-quality pieces that could be worn often and interchangeably, thereby saving money, closet space, and time. The ultimate challenge for ethical fashionistas, or really anyone who cares about Mother Earth.
Fast forward to the 2010s and the capsule wardrobe appears to have taken on a new meaning. It has sneakily been repackaged as the new vessel for our society’s capitalistic obsession with consumerism. Welcome to America. A country that can sell you things based on not selling anything, yet the end result ends the same - YOU KEEP BUYING! Perhaps this is a harsh proclamation, but it’s true. So many blogs and articles have pushed the capsule wardrobe idea because it’s currently trendy, without actually committing to the actual tenets behind the concept. Capsule wardrobing should not involve purchasing new pieces, but in trimming down what you already have.
One “minimal” style blog, Un-Fancy, offers up these suggestions for curating a capsule wardrobe: “If picking a number doesn’t jive with you, listen to your intuition—it’ll tell you when you have enough.” The blogger, Caroline, used her intuition to choose 37 items for her capsule wardrobe–but rather than those 37 items being worn year-round, they are meant to be seasonal items for a three-month period. After those three months, she “typically end[s] up getting between 4-8 new pieces for each new season.” Caroline calls this wardrobe approach “generous yet minimal.” I’m sure that people with much larger wardrobes [like myself, if I'm being honest,] would not call this generous, but at the same time I’m not so sure it can be considered minimal either. Especially, when this is contrasted with Susie Faux’s original capsule wardrobe concept of around a dozen items meant to be worn year-round, every year.
Another misguided approach to the capsule wardrobe has been spreading around Pinterest a lot since it was published on Who What Wear last year: “How to Create a 5-Piece French Wardrobe.” Intrigued, I clicked on the pinned article to find out how French women manage to be so stylish with only a five-piece wardrobe! Of course, the title was wildly misleading. The actual wardrobe is a fairly pared-down collection of 33 classic staples. The key, apparently, is to add five new items of trendy clothing every season. (This season, we are advised to purchase items such as a romper, culottes, and flatforms. Those are certainly trendy.) Of course, this is to be done after cleaning out your closet and then purchasing “new basics to fill any gaps” that opened up after getting rid of your old clothes. WTF?
Wait a minute, I thought to myself after reading these blog posts (and many more like them). Why is the capsule wardrobe suddenly all about shopping? The whole point of a capsule wardrobe is for people who are on a budget or dealing with minimal closet space (or even people who simply aren’t interested in spending a lot of time and money on fashion) to be able to stop making multiple purchases every two to three months and still have a serviceable wardrobe.
If you are someone who is intrigued by the capsule wardrobe idea but can’t possibly imagine trimming your entire wardrobe down to fewer than 50 items, then you may find blogs such as Project 333 helpful as a starting point. Please note that not everyone has to have a capsule wardrobe, even I don't! Just because the minimal trend is popular right now doesn’t mean it will work for your lifestyle or tastes, and that’s fine.
Still, you may find that you actually have a good reason to switch to a capsule wardrobe. Perhaps you’re on a tight budget or trying to save money. Perhaps you don’t have enough closet space anymore or your home is becoming cluttered with clothing and shoes you don’t wear. And then, of course, there’s also the environmental and ethical backlash caused by our love affair with fast fashion.
So if you do decide to try out the capsule wardrobe for yourself, great! Just try to be mindful of how you go about it, lest you fall into the trap of using your capsule wardrobe as an excuse to buy more things that you “need” to make your wardrobe “perfect.” I could not be more over this illusion of perfection. Nobody’s wardrobe is perfect, whether it’s minimal and streamlined or chock-full with trends. There will always be another item that you need to make your wardrobe complete; it’s human nature to want something more, something new. That's capitalism working at it's finest. My issue isn’t with the number of items in anyone’s capsule wardrobe, but rather the focus being put on the constant shopping required to update one’s capsule wardrobe every season. What do you think?