How to build a capsule wardrobe—according to the fashion experts

Everything you need to know to create your very own capsule wardrobe

capsule wardrobe: clothes hanging on rail
(Image credit: Getty)

If you’ve got a closet bursting with clothes but nothing to wear, a capsule wardrobe might be the answer. A streamlined closet, free from the clutter of impulse purchases and incorrect sizes, makes finding an outfit that looks stylish and fits well so much simpler. 

A capsule wardrobe, slimmed down to the essentials—your best jeans, a perfectly-tailored winter coat, failsafe basics—will also help you save money by limiting those fashion buys that stay hidden in the back of your closet, tags still on. According to a recent study, the average woman has 103 items in their wardrobe, with an eye-watering 58% of those items hanging unworn for the last six months.

But it's not just your bank balance that will benefit from the transition to a capsule wardrobe. By buying less, focussing on well-made items that will last, you'll be making more sustainable fashion choices. It's no secret that the rise of fast-fashion has had a devastating impact on the environment, with experts predicting that by 2050 the fashion industry will take up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.

Convinced of a more streamlined approach to your closet? Our capsule wardrobe checklist and will help you whittle down the contents of your wardrobe. 

What is a capsule wardrobe?

In short, a capsule wardrobe is a curated edit of pieces that work well together. “It comprises the brilliant, basic building blocks that give you countless outfit options, but can also be built upon with the addition of extra pieces which might be a little more trend-led or occasion appropriate,” explains stylist Karen Williams. 

“Very often, because they’re the basics, they tend to be quite classic pieces, so can run the risk of being a little bit conservative or safe.  However, think of them as a shortcut.  They give you something to build a look from, which can save you time and head space when you’re getting ready. And if you shop smart, you’ll build a collection of key pieces that will stand the test of time and give you fantastic cost-per-wear.”

Why is having a capsule wardrobe a good idea?

A capsule wardrobe will not only benefit your bank balance as you make more considered purchases, but the planet too, as you’re likely to find yourself shopping less. Reducing clutter and stocking up on pieces that work well together will make your wardrobe easier to navigate too - especially on busy, blurry-eyed mornings. Win-win. 

“It’s such a good way of seeing exactly what you have, which in turn should help you stop buying multiples of things that you might already have tucked away in the back of your wardrobe - helping you to shop in a more mindful way,” says blogger and author Anna Newton, who has been flying the flag for capsule wardrobes for more than six years.

“You don't really need many clothes in a capsule wardrobe,” adds stylist Susie Hasler. “The key is to choose items that you can wear in different ways. So if you're in doubt about buying something, ask whether you can wear it three different ways. If you can only wear an item one way, it’s not worth it. By having a capsule wardrobe you’ll make wiser choices, more long-term purchases and less impulse buys.”

What do you need to consider when building a capsule wardrobe?

Ok, so we’ve established that having a capsule wardrobe is a good idea for most - but what are the key things you need to think about before building one?

“You need to consider your needs in terms of work and your lifestyle above all else - you might find you can make some pieces work for both scenarios, whereas others might need more of a work/weekend split. But above all else you need to look at what makes you feel good. What fabrics do you feel most comfortable in? What fits do you go back to time and time again? What outfit silhouette do you feel most flatters your body? You want to fill your wardrobe with pieces that are not only practical, versatile and comfortable, but make you feel fab.”

Top tops for clearing out your wardrobe

If the idea of decluttering your wardrobe is enough to leave your palms sweaty - you’re not alone. “Having a wardrobe clear out can be therapeutic and traumatic in equal measure – it can be so hard to let things go,” says Karen. “My advice would be to get rid of anything and everything that isn’t serving you – either because it doesn’t fit right, it doesn’t make you feel fabulous or it’s no longer worn and is no longer relevant to you. Be disciplined and ruthless.”

“Hang onto classic shapes and silhouettes.  If they still fit, they’re bound to get a second lease of life. I promise you will feel so much better with a streamlined wardrobe of 20 things you love and will wear on repeat, rather than a rail full of stuff that has no purpose in your life.  It will give you so much clarity and save you time and head space when you get dressed.”

Daunted by the idea of tackling your wardrobe in one go? No problem.

“If you can’t do it all in one hit, do it in stages,” adds Karen. “This is most definitely a process.  Have a first edit, and then go back and look at it again in a month’s time and reappraise the items you’re not wearing.  Repeat and repeat! Once you’ve edited your clothes, you’ll also find it much easier to spot some of the gaps in your wardrobe too.  How exciting to start over again and go shopping for things you’ll really love and need - think of this as a fresh start in more ways than one.”

Anna recommends sorting clothing into three separate piles to make the process easier.

  • “Make one pile for clothing that you regularly wear (both in lockdown life and pre-lockdown life) - the no-brainers.”
  • “The next pile is for anything you haven’t worn in the past two years, no longer fits, or doesn’t make you feel good when you try it on.”
  • “Make a final pile of things that you’d love to keep but perhaps need a repair, or a brush with a cashmere and wool comb, a dry clean - just some general TLC. Looking after your clothing is so important, so it’s a good idea to give them some love before you organise them back in your wardrobe.”

To help you fund your new capsule wardrobe, consider selling the items from pile two. Resale sites like eBay, Depop and Vinted make it easy to find your unwanted items a new home, and make you money in the process. 

What are the key components of a capsule wardrobe?

The key elements of a capsule wardrobe will vary from person to person, but it’s really about good-quality basics that will form the foundations of a multitude of outfits.

“The staple pieces of a capsule wardrobe are often the pieces that people are lacking - they’re usually the basics a lot of us walk past in the shops or we scroll past when we're shopping online,” explains Susie. 

They tend to be…

  • White or Breton striped t-shirt
  • Linen shirt 
  • Jeans
  • Midi dress 
  • Cashmere jumper
  • Oatmeal trench
  • Longline blazer 
  • Pea coat
  • Smart trainers
  • Ankle boots 
  • Court shoes

If this list doesn’t sound like you, make your own list of essentials, based on the pieces you get the most wear out of. Remember, these are only the building blocks. Accessories are a great and often inexpensive way to add interest to classic, neutral pieces. 

How many pieces should you have in a capsule wardrobe?

“There really is no set rule here, and it depends on many factors; like our lifestyles, careers and how much flexibility we enjoy in our wardrobe,” advises Anna. “The rule of owning just 40 pieces might work for some people, but maybe it’s 80 that works better for you - there’s no perfect number that everyone should be aiming for. Take your time with it and don’t feel pressure to do one big purge of clothing and start from scratch, it’s overwhelming and expensive.”

Fashion is meant to be fun, and putting too many rigid rules in place will quickly start to feel stifling. Adding a few new, trend-led pieces into the mix will help spice things up, but remember the basic principles. If it doesn’t fit properly, suit your shape or go with anything else in your wardrobe - it’s not worth it.

“I’m more likely to follow trends with accessories or old favourites like a linen shirt, but in a different colour than I’d usually go for,” explains Anna. “It’s more about a subtle twist on something I already love, rather than something that feels like an ‘out there’ purchase for me. A capsule wardrobe makes you hone in on your taste and style so you’re more likely to make trend-led purchases that actually work for you, and have longevity in your wardrobe.”

Capsule wardrobe essentials to shop now 

H&M Trenchcoat

(Image credit: H&M)

H&M Trenchcoat

Specifications
RRP: £49.99
Sizes: XS-XXL

Arket Long-Sleeved Pima Cotton T-shirt

(Image credit: Arket)

Arket Long-Sleeved Pima Cotton T-shirt

Specifications
RRP: £25
Sizes: XS-L

Zara Printed Midi Dress

(Image credit: Zara)

Zara Printed Midi Dress

Specifications
RRP: £49.99
Sizes: XS-XXL

Veja Campo Trainers

(Image credit: Office)

Veja Campo Trainers

Specifications
RRP: £115

Weekday Voyage High Straight Jeans

(Image credit: Weekday)

Weekday Voyage High Straight Jeans

Specifications
RRP: £40
Sizes: 24-34

Whistles Oatmeal Knitted Zip Neck Sweater

(Image credit: Whistles)

Whistles Oatmeal Knitted Zip Neck Sweater

Specifications
RRP: £129
Sizes: XS-L

& Other Stories Leather Platform Sole Chelsea Boots

(Image credit: & Other Stories)

Specifications
RRP: £135