Happy new year, guys! Hopefully your return to the real life work week was a more graceful transition than mine. If you’re already lapsing on that resolution to become an unearthly creature of clean eating and flawless fitness, well, I’ve got something a little more simple to kick off a nice and neat 2016. Few things feel more freeing than the afterglow of a thorough closet purge.
Yes, afterglow. Because, like many of us, when I began cleaning out my closet, I felt some pieces of clothing almost physically weighing down my grip with fond memories or sentimental value or wasted money. The process can be painstaking, become manic, bring up some old feelings or body insecurities- notice I used the word “simple” above and not “easy.” In a culture so focused on individuality, appearance, and consumerism, I know that an outfit can make or break my self-esteem for the day. Maybe someday, I’ll transcend into an ethereal being swathed only in Jedi-like robes who covers every mirror and wears no shoes.
Until then, I still have a tendency toward vanity and emotional shopping. These two qualities can become a horribly toxic cycle that leaves me financially, emotionally, and spiritually empty. That might sound dramatic but there was a point last fall after a particularly erratic shopping binge that I realized, with the open package in my lap, that I didn’t want any of these things and that none of it was actually making me happy. Y’all, that was basically the same moment of clarity I had right before quitting pills and heroin. Yes, my clothing habit is far less destructive than many of my past emotional crutches but it’s still trying to smother unwanted feelings with outside influences. Spoiler alert: it stops working pretty quickly, if not immediately.
Another reason to cut down your wardrobe and consider at least adopting a few approaches of a capsule wardrobe is the necessary eradication of fast fashion. Not only is it destroying our environment but it’s a business that exploits human labor in developing countries. I know, I don’t have the budget or time to track down the ethical and environmental impact of every fiber in every piece of my clothing. But a really easy solution is that we all stop buying shit we don’t really want or need at our current rate. A capsule wardrobe, or at least a far more minimalistic approach to fashion than how we’ve been socially conditioned, is a great way to ease yourself in.
What is a capsule wardrobe?
Capsule wardrobe is a term coined by Susie Faux, the owner of a London boutique called “Wardrobe” in the 1970s. According to Faux, a capsule wardrobe is a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces.
Well, thanks there, Wikipedia! My definition of a capsule wardrobe is a limited collection of season-specific clothing only containing items that are quality, flattering, and in line with my personal style. Imagine looking at your wardrobe and only seeing your favorite pieces. Imagine never feeling that dread of looking at piles upon piles of clothing and thinking, “Ugh, I have nothing to wear.” Imagine enjoying every single outfit you choose to wear. These are the aims of a capsule wardrobe.
How many pieces are supposed to be in a capsule wardrobe?
The usual number thrown around is 37 items. I have no idea where that exact figure originated and as it isn’t a multiple of 5, it honestly bothers me. But don’t mind my weird numerical hangups- the truth is that you can use any number you like. You could even not use a number! You’re the boss of your life. However, hovering around 37 items helped me initially pare down and for now, my goal is to remain under 40 pieces for the winter season.
What’s included in a capsule wardrobe?
Again, a capsule wardrobe can be as broad or specific as you please. You can apply the principles to just work clothes or for a vacation. Typically, it’s a general wardrobe meant to last for one season (three months.) I excluded special occasion wear (i.e. cocktail dresses and my banana suit from Halloween two years ago), sleepwear, activewear, jewelry (I don’t wear much anyway), and undergarments (underwear, bras, socks, tights.) Everything else was fair game. Again, it’s up to you how strict or lax you want to go.
Under 40 pieces… are you sure that’s all? Wouldn’t everyone notice that I’m wearing the same things over and over again?
I promise you that people are paying far less attention to your clothing choices than you think. If anything, you’ll likely get more positive attention because your clothes will consistently fit you and make you feel good. A good rule to make sure you can get tons of combinations from a limited number is to only include a piece if it can be paired with three other items in your collection. Using this as a mental rule while shopping is incredibly helpful to curb trend urges as well.
I haven’t cleaned out my closet since 7th grade. Where do I even begin?
Glad you asked!
- Clean out your closet.
- Assemble a collection.
- Wear only those pieces for a season.
- At the end of the season, reflect and adjust accordingly.
- Repeat next season.
While this post is only going to cover the first point, this is a basic idea of how to simplify your life in a simple way: let go. And while it applies to the capsule wardrobe process as a whole, it’s most applicable in our first step: the dreaded yet ultimately satisfying clothing purge.
- Take a day (this will take longer than you expect) and a clear space. Now empty out your entire closet. Everything. Ev-ery-thing. You heard me. This sounds like a pain in the butt because it is. However, it’s going to let you see not only every piece of clothing equally and at the same time and (if you’re anything like me) it’ll also be a good reminder of just how bad your clothing habit has become. Ideally, you’d be able to pile everything on your bed.
- Go through your clothing, item by item. Again, a pain in the butt. Again, a necessary evil.
- Sort your clothing into five piles: love, basics/necessary, maybe, sell, and donate. You’ll know what qualifies as basics or necessary; as much as you’d like to toss out your work uniform, don’t do it on my account.
- LET GO of anything you don’t like. I promise I’m not being condescending with that one. It shocked me how many items of clothing that I had that I didn’t really like. Things that I hate- those were easy to toss. But for some reason (not wanting to admit shopping defeat, most likely) I held onto so many clothes that I felt ambivalently toward. Things that looked alright, things that were okay. No. Granted, you’re probably not going to be madly in love with your beige slip- that’s why the basics/necessary pile exists. A good rule: if you were out shopping and wouldn’t buy this item again, let it go.
- LET GO of anything you don’t wear. Again, this seems obvious. But if you haven’t worn it in a year, you’re not going to wear it now. If it’s something you always find yourself throwing over your shoulder during the mid-morning dash to get ready, let it go.
- LET GO of anything that doesn’t fit. This one was hard for me. When my weight fluctuates, it’s basically all in my thighs and ass so I felt justified hoarding jeans from my skeletal eating disorder days of yore. Nope. Not only is that sick thinking in terms of recovery but realistically, I’m not going to be a size triple negative five again if I can’t fit those old pants over my thighs right now. And they’re just jeans anyway. Out! Stop torturing yourself with the body you had or wish you had. If you’re in the middle of a significant weight loss or gain process, I’d advise setting aside those clothing (if it’s realistic for an item to fit again) and then put them away in storage for now. But seriously, don’t cheat yourself or bully your body- let it go.
- LET GO of anything that is damaged. I know you’ve had the best intentions with fixing that zipper but if it’s been idle for six months, you probably don’t like it enough to fix it, much less wear it. Either fix it that day or toss it. If something has a bad enough rip or stain that you hesitate to wear it- even if you love it- write down what you like about it for future reference and then let it go.
- LET GO of anything that doesn’t fit your current style or circumstances. DO NOT THROW OUT THINGS JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE OUT OF SEASON. You don’t want to be naked come next season. However, while there was a time that I loved pattern leggings, I had to admit that they were just taking up space in my drawers. I never reached for them because they didn’t match who I am and what I’m doing today. The same had to be said for the obscene amount of crop tops and mermaid skirts that defined my retail years in college. Yes, it looked cute but if it’s no longer suitable to your fashion preferences and needs, let it go.
- LET GO of anything that only has sentimental value. Now I don’t want to be cruel. If you possess some clothing heirloom that you’d be ostracized for tossing, then set it aside and put it in storage. But that hideous skirt you got from a well-meaning relative two Christmases ago? Or that shirt your ex-boyfriend left in your laundry forever ago? Who knows, you may rock it all the time and look twelve times better than he did. But if it’s something that’s just occupying physical and emotional space for the sake of holding onto the past, let it go.
- After bagging up your giveaway pile or otherwise making sure it’s decisively out of sight (no donor’s remorse allowed) go through the love and maybe piles again with the above rules. Hopefully by now, you’re feeling the minimalist’s high of shedding unwanted possessions and this go-around is easier and faster. My maybe pile became an extension of my sell pile. If I felt weird about selling or giving away a piece, I’d try it on and honestly assess myself in the mirror. If I still felt weird, I set it aside to wear that week. If I didn’t enjoy wearing it or completely avoided wearing it that week, then it was time to let it go.
BONUS: It really helps to take your donate and sell piles to the appropriate consignment, charity, or other receptacles that are not in your residence as soon as you can. I say this as a massive pile of donate and sell clothes rest in my back room, as they have been for months. And if something sticks around in your line of sight for long enough… even the ugliest of ugly sweaters (much like a toxic ex) will start looking tempting again. For goodness sake, let it go.
And now that you have a beautifully clean slate with all these clothes you love, you’re ready to begin the actually super fun part of assembling your capsule wardrobe. After writing that next part, I’ll be sure to link it here. Until then, have you had any experience with a capsule wardrobe? What’s that one piece of clothing that almost physically pains you to let go of? Have any questions? Let me know in the comments below!
Be kind. Live authentically. Practice gratitude. Hustle daily. Work hard. Stay humble.
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