When Mrs. Zeal, a young, very active retiree, reached out to me, she was looking for a tight, cohesive capsule for the mid-casual part of her life.  She and Mr. Zeal spend a lot of time in the outdoors participating in all-season sports and hobbies.  While Mrs. Zeal found herself covered for the very active parts, she noticed she was often caught off guard during the down times of these trips and activities.  It was particularly annoying because many of these trips were taken in groups with friends and she wanted to feel just as good when she wasn’t participating in an activity as she did when she was.  

Coming from a profession that was more logic-based and methodological, Mrs. Zeal was really hoping I could help her create a wardrobe for the season that possessed that same approach.  She wanted it easy and for it to make sense.  However, as with most women, in Mrs. Zeal’s attempts to solve this on her own, while she had some very good pieces and a style that was easy to identify, what she owned wasn’t exactly that logic-based, methodological wardrobe she had been hoping for.  It would be my job to not only build something tight that met the criteria set by Mrs. Zeal but to also connect some of the wardrobe orphans she already owned together.  

Building a wardrobe capsule from scratch can be hard enough, but building one when you have a few things in your closet you want to work in and don’t seem to go together can be a much harder challenge.  Yet it can be done.    Wardrobe orphans shouldn’t stick around if they don’t belong but they should be given a fair shot. By sharing Mrs. Zeal’s capsule I am going to show you how I did it.

Another challenge I am going to share was how I managed to extend to use of this small capsule to get more options with less.  Mrs. Zeal wanted to be able to do a lot with what I found but wanted to keep this capsule very small.  So, I was challenged to give her enough options that she could wear for things ranging from more casual to a bit more elevated, like for a nicer dinner out, for example.  My first solution was to give Mrs. Zeal three different capsule versions with dresses at different price points to let her decide which level of dress would work best for her.  My next solution was to show how even the most basic of pieces could be dressed up and down and worn differently for things ranging from more casual to more elevated mid-casual.

Lastly, in the third capsule version, I offered Mrs. Zeal some resale options because she wasn’t entirely sold on the idea of shopping resale but was open to considering it. Not wanting to force her to commit to it, I swapped in a few resale pieces she could look at that I thought were too pretty and too perfect for her capsule to not at least consider.

Okay, let’s get to the capsule options and how I put everything together to make it all work.

Mrs. Zeal’s Wardrobe Orphans

Mrs. Zeal fell in love with this Ted Baker cardigan, bought it, and then struggled with styling it. She was about to return it until I offered to try to make it work before she did. She also purchased the Medio sandals from M.Gemi and hadn’t found much use for them since. I love these sandals and had selected them for quite a few clients this season. Again, I suggested that the sandals weren’t the problem and that I was going to try to figure out how to make them work.

On the surface, those sandals and that cardigan have no business being in one capsule together, at least by classic wardrobe capsule standards.  But, you know me, I don’t believe in those dumb rules or capsule formulas.  Wardrobe capsules always contain neutrals and given the fact that nobody wears all the pieces in a capsule at once, you actually don’t have to be as rigid as those old dusty capsule formulas say you do.  You’ll see as you read on.

Mrs. Zeal’s First Capsule

I started with Mrs. Zeal’s Ted Baker cardigan which is filled with lots of beautiful shades to work with.  As I have talked about many times, prints are amazing road maps you can use as guides to build a capsule, especially if you struggle with color combining.  In addition to the yellow, the print of the cardigan contains a beautiful soft pink and light blue.  

Mrs. Zeal, being a fan of Ted Baker, this would be my first stop, which can be a great tip when building a capsule because brands often repeat colors within patterns and solids, and as I shopped the site, I fell in love with top #1, the pink printed top with deeper tones of pink and soft blues, and then found a yellow, warm pink, and soft blue printed tee, #2, also from Ted Baker.  The soft tan wide-leg cropped pants, #3, from Ted Baker, were next.  I’d be lying if I said it all came together that quickly.  It’s a lot more fiddling and back and forth than that, but you get the idea.  

Mrs. Zeal asked for navy pants with a waistband and also that she loved stripes.  So I immediately thought of my Saint James Breton, #4, which I love, and while I first thought of Theory’s Treeca pants but, being wool, I swapped them for J.Crew’s Cameron slim cotton ankle pants, #5.  

This is the point where things start feeling set in color direction and I start adding in.  Given the direction, olive felt like the right neutral shade to add next for how well it worked against the taupey-tan wide-leg pants, and I added M.M. Lafleur’s Foster pants, #6.  Next, I added two t-shirts from M.M. Lafleur, #7, to work back with Mrs. Zeal’s cardigan, the soft pink and soft blue.  I brightened up the capsule with a white pair of jeans from Prana, #8, a brand Mrs. Zeal loves, added a taupe belt from Uniqlo, #9, to work with both the tan pants and the navy pants, and was left with some layering pieces and shoes.  

I added a white cardigan from M.M. Lafleur,#10, which seemed like a no-brainer, as was a navy cardigan, which I added from Nordstrom, #11, in a light summer weight.  For jackets, I wanted to not only offer variety in color but in style.  Mrs. Zeal lives an active life so I wanted to make sure she was covered.  I selected this denim jacket from Liverpool, #12, in deep rosy pink, and a minty parka from Athleta, #13.

Shoes are the area that can elevate or make a look more casual.  It is often my trick with busy moms who don’t have the time for an entire outfit change.  Switching out shoes can change an outfit entirely so I wanted to make sure Mrs. Zeal was covered while not burdening her with too many pairs.  In addition to her green M.Gemi pair which I added last because I was still unsure if they would work, I added a blue heeled slide from Vionic #14, a pair of flat cognac pair of sandals from Margaux, #15, heeled platform sandals from M.Gemi #16, and a pink lug sole loafer, also from Vionic, #17.

This comes to the point where I had to figure in dresses.  When I build a capsule for a client, I don’t hunt and build, I amass, look for patterns and consistency in my pulls, and then start building.  It’s not as straightforward as how I am describing it above.  Often, pieces will sit in a capsule for a while before they get pulled out for something else, I will run items through my head and then notice something doesn’t work or that something specific is missing and go look for it, and other times, something will be in a capsule and just look wrong.  It’s a lot like building or winging a recipe.  When it came to dresses, I found myself struggling because I felt like a lot was being asked of them and I wasn’t clear on how to keep the capsule tight while not adding too many.

It was at that point that I decided it would be up to Mrs. Zeal.  After all, she would know best which dresses would work best for her life.  Instead of loading them all into the capsule, I decided to break the capsule apart and mix in more casual dresses into the first one and more elevated and slightly more expensive styles into the second.  I’d keep the rest of the capsule the same.  Maybe she would buy all four dresses, maybe she’d purchase one elevated dress and one casual, maybe she’d decide on three.  That would be up to her, but I wanted her to see that no matter what she purchased, they would work.  I started with two casual styles, two from Rails, the blue and white style, #18, and a taupe jersey dress, #19.

Outfit Examples Using Capsule #1

wardrobe orphans

Not knowing where a client will wind up with their purchases, it isn’t prudent to use all a client’s time mixing and matching the pieces I choose for them.  However, I always like to show some examples of ways the pieces I pick for clients can be used because this can be hard for clients to envision.  In addition to a few outfit examples, I showed how different shoe choices could change up the looks.  If a client continues working with me, I will continue to inventory their keeps and wardrobe and will keep an ongoing record of their purchases, and can capsule things more realistically so that a client can check in on it in real-time anytime they need to.

Capsule #2

As you can see, this capsule is just like the first one with the exception of the two dresses, a blue summer dress from Vince, #20, and a floral shirt dress from Vilagallo, #21.  Mrs. Zeal told me about her passion for wildflowers so I couldn’t pass this dress up.  These dresses aren’t outrageously expensive or too dressy, but they’re also not dresses for kicking around in to run errands and they may not be as flexible.  

wardrobe orphans

I offered these dresses to Mrs. Zeal as alternatives or additions, it was up to her, and they also gave me an opportunity to show more options to show more mix and match options for the capsule in general.  

Wardrobe Capsules Always Have Neutrals

As you can see, those green sandals that seemed to have no place in this capsule have gotten plenty of uses.  This is why an outlier shoe color like the green pair works just fine in this capsule.  In this case, green is also a great colored neutral, meaning that it works well as an accent color and as you see, it complements quite a few other shades in this capsule.  Don’t discount accent colors that don’t look like they will work within your capsule.  You will be surprised how easily they work right in.

Capsule #3

wardrobe orphans

Some clients need help developing their style or elevating their taste level.  Other clients come to me with an established sense of style or with great taste.  This was very much the case with Mrs. Zeal.  She had a great sense of style and her taste level was quite good.  Her issue was more in her ability to pull it together on her own which was why her wardrobe was a bit scattered.  With a great taste level and her decision to work within certain budget parameters, I floated the idea to buy a few resale pieces.  

Mrs. Zeal wasn’t on board with this idea.  She’s just not big into what clothing had been pre-worn.  I respected that choice but she asked me to sell her on the idea.  While I certainly wasn’t interested in convincing her or changing her mind because that’s not my business, I told her the reasons I prefer shopping this way, like being able to wear better affordably and extending the lifecycle of clothing.  I told Mrs. Zeal that I would add a few resale pieces for her to consider but wouldn’t make them integral to the capsule.  This is what inspired capsule #3.  I appreciated she was at least willing to take a look.

I worked a few resale pieces in, removed a few original capsule pieces, although, Mrs. Zeal certainly could have kept them, and showed her how they could work right in.  In the end, Mrs. Zeal decided resale shopping just wasn’t for her so, at the time of writing this post, all four pieces are still available.  The floral top, #22, and floral dress, #23, are both from ’S Max Mara, the navy cotton dress, #24, is from Max Mara and the soft blue cotton jacket is from Akris Punto, #24.

wardrobe orphans

I showed Mrs. Zeal how effortlessly these resale pieces fell right into the capsule with the looks I shared while also sharing more looks from the established part of the capsule.  Whatever Mrs. Zeal chose, she was able to see how all her options could be used.

Don’t Discount Wardrobe Orphans

Despite there only being 24 pieces total to choose from, Mrs. Zeal didn’t need to purchase all of them to get a nice grouping of wardrobe pieces that would be to give her enough options for the mid-casual part of her life.  As I began building this capsule, I immediately fell in love with the colors and how well they worked together.  There was harmony but not in a way that was expected or overdone.  It’s rare that you consider putting mint, soft blue, yellow, and pink in a capsule that is paired with taupe, navy, and olive.  Yet, it was the Ted Baker cardigan, that started out as one of the lost wardrobe orphans, that really set things in motion.  Don’t discount those strays in your wardrobe.  Sometimes the most seemingly useless wardrobe pieces produce the best results.