How to build a winter capsule wardrobe: What to wear for warmth and style

Need help curating a winter capsule wardrobe? Here's everything you need in your closet to see you through in style

Various women wearing items from a winter capsule wardrobe
(Image credit: M&S | Next | Monsoon | Ro&Zo | & Other Stories)

Building a winter capsule wardrobe is the secret to effortless, versatile looks all season long. By curating a selection of stylish and versatile pieces that offer optimal warmth for the season, your winter capsule wardrobe should include timeless items that stand the test of time, providing enduring style for years to come.

Like any capsule wardrobe, a winter version is an edit of those seasonal pieces that will see you through winter in style. Creating a minimalist capsule wardrobe for each season means you can add quality items that are appropriate for the time of the year. These can be mixed and matched together to create numerous outfit options. This, in the long run, saves time, money and closet space.

While there is no set number of pieces that create a winter capsule wardrobe, the idea is it will include those basic items that will cover you for everything from smart-casual outfits, and work ensembles, to cosy pieces, and as it's for winter, some party-ready holiday items too.

“The concept of a winter capsule wardrobe is as diverse as the individuals who curate them,” says colour analyst and personal stylist Sandy Lancaster. “Each is shaped by personality, lifestyle and, of course, budget. Realistically I’d aim for a balance between versatility and practicality.”

How to build a winter capsule wardrobe

Your winter capsule wardrobe should incorporate all the basics you need, such as the best sweaters, a winter-ready coat, and boots to help you beat the chill. And while your basics should be of high enough quality that you can wear them for several winters, you can add a directional feel by weaving in more trend-led pieces each year for an automatic refresh.  

“If you want to inject some interest, have a think about a shirt (plain, striped or print), which can elevate your outfit due to the collar,” says personal stylist Lisa Talbot.

“Maybe add in a coloured knit, which will act the same as a basic, just in an alternative fabric helping create another dimension to your look. I love a coloured trouser or a skirt - these will compliment your basics but give them a fresh look.”

When it comes to the colour palette for your winter capsule wardrobe, think about what colour suits me – you’re going to be wearing these items regularly so you need to feel good in them. Neutral shades are also important to ensure you can create more outfits and enjoy more cost per wear.

“Choose neutral or classic colours that easily coordinate with other pieces in your winter wardrobe,” advises Sandy. “Shades like black, grey, navy, or camel are timeless and can be effortlessly paired with various tops and outerwear for different looks.”

To help you make a range of winter outfit ideas, here’s some pieces to get your inspired.

  • Sweaters: Knitwear is the obvious thing to put on your winter capsule wardrobe list – but where to start? “The classic polo-neck jumper, slouchy or stretch-cotton, is a must-have winter warmer, serving as a practical base or mid-layer piece for a cardigan or heavy-duty item,” advises personal stylist Natalie Robinson. “A layered V-neck jumper over a long-sleeve shirt is another classic look that brings elegance and warmth through winter.” Lifestyle is obviously important so if you’ve got a corporate job, investing in the best cashmere sweaters is a good idea as they’ll work under blazers for when the chill hits. Alternatively if you’re a fan of skinny jeans or regularly find yourself in leggings outfits, you might prefer to choose something more casual, such as one of the best oversized jumpers.
  • Thermals: If where you live or are traveling to gets super cold, you may want to consider having some emergency thermal pieces too. The best thermals for women usually take the form of long-sleeve tops and leggings. Straight-to-market brands such as Marks & Spencer and Uniqlo have great, cost-effective thermal ranges. If you're heading skiing or to similar temperatures, then specialist base layers may be required.
  • Shirts/blouses/tops: Ideal for the office, for adding an androgynous edge to outfits, or for layering under sweaters or dresses, having both formal shirts and dressy blouses are a great option for a winter capsule wardrobe. It could be that your winter and spring capsule wardrobes can share the same blouses, and just need different separates paired with them. In terms of tops, jersey pieces are great for every day, while a silky or sequined camisole will help dress up evening looks.
  • Skirts: Unlike the spring and summer when long skirt outfits are key if your winter is full of rain and snow, then midi skirts are far more practical. For a winter capsule wardrobe look to hardier fabrics, such as wool pencil skirts for the office, knitted skirt co-ords for cosy casual wear, and discover how to wear a leather skirt, for a versatile separate that wears well and can be dressed up or down. As for shape, Sandy suggests choosing either a flared or A-line skirt. “They are flattering on most body types and allow for easy movement, making them perfect for winter wear. They also offer the option to layer thermal leggings or tights underneath for extra insulation without compromising comfort or style.” On the flip side, you may also want to invest in a sequin skirt for a party-ready aesthetic. Silver or gold sequins will never go out of style.
  • Dresses: Natalie believes there are two dress styles that work well for the cooler months - the iconic wrap and jumper dresses. “They are versatile and allow for creative styling with different accessories,” she says. The best jumper dresses, create a comfy and cosy, winter-ready look. As it's the holiday season, you will want to ensure you are party ready as well. Choose a dress in either in a classic metallic sequin, seasonal red, or a black frock that can double up as the best cocktail dress when the invites start rolling in. In addition to this, you can carry over the best midi dresses from the spring, if they're dark enough in colour to feel seasonally appropriate. For added warmth, layer a roll neck underneath, or a jumper or cardigan over the top.
  • Trousers: wardrobe essential, whatever the season, your favourite jeans can of course find their way into your winter capsule wardrobe, however, as jeans are made of cotton, they're not always the warmest choice. Perhaps instead swap out your best designer jeans for leather trousers instead? Not only are they warmer, but can take you to numerous occasions depending on how you dress them or down. Natalie suggests choosing trousers in a wool or cashmere blend for extra warmth. The silhouette will very much be down to personal preference, but it's good to play with a variety of shapes to ensure you can switch up your look.
  • Coat:  The best winter coat is essential for a winter capsule wardrobe. Sandy recommends three different coats for your winter capsule wardrobe – one for every day, one that can protect you from the winter elements and a statement coat “to add personality and flair to your winter outfits.What style you choose is down for youthe best puffer jackets are great for more casual moments, while a camel coat smartens up outfits for work or nights out.
  • Shoes: First and foremost, you will need a pair of the best winter boots, to solve the sartorial dilemma of what to wear in the snow and rain. Whether you choose the best knee-high boots or go for the shorter ankle style is a matter of personal taste. I would always recommend an ankle boot for your winter wardrobe, if you can keep the neck of the boot slim, you’ll find they will sit beautifully under a trouser as well as looking great with a dress or skirt,” says Lisa.  Other shoe styles to consider are a sturdy pair of shoes for work such as such as the best loafers for women, a pair of comfortable trainers and neutral-coloured party shoes to see you through the festive period. 
  • Accessories: You’ve got to keep snug and warm in the colder months so as well as picking the best winter hats for your lifestyle, gloves and scarves are also important. “Scarves are a super way to not only keep you warm, but to also inject print and texture,” advises Lisa. Opt for the highest quality materials you can, with wool or cashmere – after all the best scarves need to work hard when the cold hits.

Items you need in a winter capsule wardrobe

Our experts:

Lisa Talbot
Lisa Talbot

Lisa specialises in elevating successful female leaders and professional women with a wardrobe that represents their brand, personality, lifestyle & body shape.

Sandy Lancaster
Sandy Lancaster

Sandy is a consultant at the House of Colour. She helps women feel good in their clothes by analysing the colours that suit them, as well as looking at their lifestyle and body shape to give them their wardrobe of dreams.

Natalie Robinson
Natalie Robinson

Natalie Robinson is an award winning style expert, luxury personal shopper and livestreamer at Style Icon Ltd. She began her career working in Harrods as a brand specialist for Donna Karan and other top international designers and has since worked for Browns and Selfridges. Launching Style Icon Ltd in 2005, Natalie aims to inspire, create, innovate and educate through her work as a personal stylist, style writer, and content creator.

Rivkie Baum
Fashion channel editor

Rivkie is a fashion editor, writer and stylist with twenty years' experience in the industry. Rivkie studied design and pattern cutting at the London College of Fashion, and fell in love with styling and journalism, and has covered fashion weeks in London, Paris and New York, as well as shooting editorial all over the world.

Specialising in plus size fashion, Rivkie has long championed that style is for everyBODY and has appeared on a host of radio stations and television shows, pushing for greater representation for plus size women and fashion throughout her career. 

With contributions from