I’ve never been a huge fan of the term ‘wardrobe capsule.’ Believe me, the irony is not lost on me. I realize that for the past few months, all I have been posting about is all the wardrobe capsules I have been creating for clients. So I guess some clarity is necessary before I go on. When my work became basically entirely virtual as the pandemic hit, I realized that I no longer had the benefit of being with clients physically to explain my reasoning and rationale as to why I was making the selections I did for them. Clients were rejecting things sight unseen, telling me they didn’t like something because they weren’t able to hear me out, see my vision or get the bigger picture because I wasn’t with them to explain things. I didn’t have an opportunity to help my clients see what I saw. I was relying on my clients to have the vision to see the outfit options and all the different ways they could mix my shopping selections as I could. Part of the reasons clients hire me in the first place is because this is a struggle for them. As a result, I began mixing and matching looks from my shopping selections and from there it exploded and evolved and became a really helpful tool that I create for all my clients now as my work is nearly 100% virtual.

I Don’t Build Capsules, I Build Wardrobes

However, I don’t know if I’d call what I build for my clients’ wardrobes capsules exactly. In the traditional sense, sure, what I create for clients is a group of clothing items, not always small, that relate to each other and mix them into looks. But, to call that a capsule. I don’t know. In my opinion, isn’t that just a wardrobe? Call me crazy, but my feeling is, for the most part, your whole wardrobe should all relate to each other and mix. That’s why the capsules I build for clients are often larger in size than what a traditional capsule calls for.

Where I stray and don’t agree with the concept of a capsule and why I don’t like to call what I do wardrobe capsules is I don’t like formulas or the idea that all capsules should consist of a set amount of pieces, should contain certain types of items, or should be filled with a particular amount of colors.  In my opinion, people are too varied for these types of formulas to be helpful.  Formulaic rules for wardrobe capsules irritate me the same way formulaic lists of the specific silhouettes that should be in a woman’s closet do.  

Wardrobes Aren’t Static, They’re Living Things

What also irritates me is the idea that a capsule wardrobe is static, as if you set it like decorating a living room and maybe touch it again when it feels a bit dated. Wardrobe capsules are living entities that are at the mercy of so many things. Something as minor as a coffee stain or a change in mood to something more catastrophic like major weight gain or a visit from some hungry moths can shoot your capsule to $hit. And then what do you do? And you know at some point you’re going to go shopping. What happens when you bring in a new piece? How does it fit? Where does this new piece live in the capsule, or is the capsule some outlier separate from the rest of the closet?

This is why I don’t like associating what I do for clients with the term capsule, even though I do call them that in my blog posts, because I think it confuses what I do for the general public who might see wardrobe capsules the way they’re generally described. I call them capsules because I haven’t bothered to think of a better term. When I work with clients, I not only think in terms of their entire wardrobe holistically, but I also think in terms of how their wardrobes will evolve over time, because they will.

The Evolution of a Wardrobe Capsule

This all came to mind after recently working with a client where we did create a wardrobe capsule because, in her case, we did need to create one.  For travel, wardrobe capsules make sense because they are a small group of standalone pieces that will get packed for a few days of travel.  But make no mistake, once these pieces come home, they should have some relationship to the wardrobe on a whole.  Think of a wardrobe capsule as a pull-out from the larger wardrobe that should also work together and mix.

My client, Ms. Splendid, is a lovely and delightful woman.  She has the type of personality that when I see an email from her in my inbox, I smile because she’s just one of those incredibly nice, kind people you like knowing.  She came to me with a very specific need.  She’s editor-in-chief for a trade magazine and spends a great deal of time flying to conferences per year interviewing people.  Sometimes she does on-camera work and there are also times when she is on stage for panel discussions.  As a frequent traveler, she mastered a formula for packing and was looking to me not necessarily to change up that formula but to help her elevate the pieces and looks within what she packs.  I learned from our session that Ms. Splendid loves animal prints, she looks great in color, loves shades like ultraviolet and her inspirational photos had almost a classic retro look to them.  

I walked away with a few goals.  The first was to use a few pieces from Ms. Splendid’s wardrobe that were working, which were a pair of grey windowpane pants, navy Treeca trousers from Theory, and navy sneakers.  The next goal would be to elevate her wardrobe.  It was time to kick up the price point while keeping the budget reasonable so I decided I’d shop most exclusively resale so I could use a good deal of her budget on comfortable shoes for wide feet given the amount of time she spends on them for work.  

Ms. Splendid’s Capsule

wardrobe capsule

Shop Ms. Splendid’s Wardrobe Pieces

1 Everyday Open Front Cardigan 2 The Demi Flat 3 Cotton Modal Crew Neck Tee 4 Gray Revival Belt 5 Washable Silk Tee 6 Cotton Modal Crew Neck Tee 7 & 8 Treeca Pants

This is where the capsule started out. The only reason you can only shop a few pieces is that the majority of it is resale. While it’s tight, clear, and straightforward, I wanted to show her the different ways it could be mixed because, in her case, this was to be a very small group for pieces for travel. Yet, despite the small offering, I knew she wasn’t going to buy all of it and I wanted to make sure what she did purchase worked in the most cohesive way and that even if she was packing the same pieces over and over again, she wouldn’t have to wear the same looks repeatedly on every trip. I decided to show her two variations of my selections to make it easier for her to decide which pieces to buy in case she didn’t want to buy all of them.

Variation #1

wardrobe capsule

In this first variation of the pieces, I selected I went softer and more elegant. I pulled back on the suggestion of bringing in another pair of Theory Treeca pants in the black which eliminated some of the tops I selected. As you can see, even without the black pants, she still had plenty of looks for her three to five day business trips. There is cohesiveness and relatedness in the looks even with the snake print top and the bold skirt look which appear they don’t belong in the same capsule. This is because these two pieces share colors in their prints that are found in the colors of the capsule, and it’s these colors that connect them and make them work together in the group.

Variation #2

wardrobe capsule

This is the variation I was convinced Ms. Splendid was going to love.  After our conversation, I imagined her as a huge fan of color and this one would feel much more like her.  By adding the black pants, it opened up a few more possibilities and I also introduced the option of the vivid ultraviolet dress which I considered a no-brainer buy.  However, given Ms. Splendid’s equal love of animal prints, I also knew it would be an either-or.  Not that she had to decide Variation #1 or Variation #2.  Ms. Splendid also could have built her own small capsule on her own from the pieces I presented that would be completely different from what I showed her.

Variation #3

wardrobe capsule

Not only to my surprise but also Ms. Splendid’s, she wound up liking Variation #1.  It turned out that the softer colors won out.  When I found this out, I shared another skirt with Ms. Splendid that I had edited out of the capsule originally because I was concerned with it being linen and silk, the fabric might not travel well.  However, I wanted to pass it on to her regardless to decide for herself.  I showed her how well it fit right in when I swapped this new skirt for the other one.  This is also resale.

Variation #4 When a Wardrobe Capsule Potentially Crumbles

wardrobe capsule

From this point, I left Ms. Splendid on her own to work through what I gave her.  And then I heard from her a few days later and this is where the story where becomes really helpful and relatable to any who creates static capsules and then worries when might break down.  

Upon further reflection, Ms. Splendid realized that perhaps she spoke too emphatically about color during our session which gave me the impression she wanted me to find her more color than she wanted. She reconsidered and realized she wasn’t as up for it as she might have thought and now had concerns about the printed skirts. She also was worried about the burgundy cardigan that I suggested from M.M. Lafleur’s Second Act resale site that wasn’t returnable if it didn’t work out. I could sense she had worry that the whole capsule might collapse if she started dismantling it. It was as if she was concerned I’d be disappointed by this update.

I immediately got back to her. Poor thing, to worry about matters like this. First, my happiness isn’t important in situations like this because I’ve got no skin in the game. As a stylist, my opinions and personal views always need to be left at the door. What is most important is the client’s happiness. Second, as I told her, a wardrobe capsule isn’t a game of Jenga nor is it fragile. It should be created so that pieces can be taken out and new things brought in without worry about it falling apart. I immediately started making alternative suggestions that seemed more in line with what sounded like would work better for her.

I suggested a basic navy a-line skirt, a different burgundy cardigan that was returnable, and even suggested that she could bring in the ultraviolet dress in lieu of the leopard dress, or in addition if she felt so inclined. Ms. Splendid did like the leopard dress but I wanted her to know what was possible should the leopard dress not fit. She also told me she will be getting a pair of black Treeca, so I added them in to show how incorporating those pants into the group will enhance her capsule even further.

Manage a Wardrobe Capsules as an Ever-Evolving Living Entity 

If you manage your wardrobe as an ever-evolving, living entity and allow wardrobe items to flow in and out vs. it being a static, set group of pieces that are rigid and inflexible, it will move with the reality and circumstances of your life. Lastly, instead of thinking in terms of a wardrobe capsule being a small group of pieces, think of your capsule as the entirety of your wardrobe and that all of it should have a relational connection in some way or another. Not all pieces need to work together or need to be worn together but there should be something that connects each piece to another one in some way. The more connected each piece is, the more you will be able to do with the clothes in your closet. It will be easier to work a new piece in, and you’ll have an easier time be to shopping. Call all that a capsule, call it something else, it doesn’t matter, but what I do know is it works.