Big claims in that post title, I know, but I don't make them lightly. Maybe this sounds silly but I really feel like I have finally cracked a code here!
My previous post ended with the insight that 10 bottoms, 12 tops, and 10 toppers is a good size for a capsule wardrobe, in the sense that it is Enough Things to build a wide variety of outfits for a three-month season.
So that's how many items I'll be assembling here. How to choose them?
Like the "1 Piece at a Time" method from The Vivienne Files that I experimented with in my previous post, this new system of mine starts with a favorite outfit for the season at hand. (Again, this is a spring capsule wardrobe, which I realize isn't quite seasonal at this point -- but the larger principles apply across seasons.) And I'll use the same outfit here as I did in that post, to help show how this new approach is similar and how it differs:
So the first three items in my capsule are the components of that first outfit -- bottom, top, sweater:
To begin building out my capsule, I remix each piece of that initial outfit in three additional ensembles. The rules here are:
- Focus on creating the outfits that I really want to wear featuring each piece.
- Don't repeat items, either from the original outfit or within the remix. This means that each pair of pants, for example, has to go with at least 4 different tops and 4 different sweaters.
- Try to capture the different ways to wear each piece. So for example I like to wear my mid-wash skinny jeans in super-casual outfits with tall boots, and also, on warmer/drier days, in more polished outfits with flats, and both of those types of outfits are represented below. Keeping this goal in mind helps reveal the full range of versatility of each capsule item, I think.
So to start off with, I made three outfits featuring those mid-wash skinny jeans. Again, these are all my actual clothes, and items that I already own:
Each item used in those outfits now becomes part of my capsule, and will eventually be remixed in turn. Here's my capsule in a kind of embryonic stage after that first round of outfit creation:
When I created outfits around that first item, by definition I added all new items to my capsule (because of the no-repeats rule). In subsequent rounds of outfit creation, I can either use items already in the capsule, or add new items. The only constraint is that I have to stop adding to my capsule once it contains 10 bottoms, 12 tops, and 10 sweaters.
You can see how this works when I create three outfits featuring my Breton-striped tee (that is, the top from my starting outfit):
The ivory cardi with black trim and the navy argyle cardi were already part of the capsule, and the teal cardi, black skirt leggings, dark-wash skinny jeans, and mustard cords are added new in this round.
Here's the capsule as it stands now:
More items (coral cords, gray skinny jeans, and three tops) get added as I create outfits with the Aran cardi from that first ensemble:
After round three this is sort of starting to look like a capsule wardrobe, isn't it?
From here on out I continue this cycle of creating three outfits around each bottom, top, and sweater, tackling items in each category in the order in which they were added to the capsule. So next up is three outfits with those black skirt leggings:
And now I've expanded my capsule with three more tops and three more sweaters:
Next, outfits featuring my Liberty-print popover:
I just added two items, my black jersey knit dress and a pair of mid-wash bootcut jeans, this time:
And a capsule update -- I added two tops (navy gingham button-up, gray scoopneck knit) and one sweater (long teal cardi), the final items in my "budget" for tops and sweaters:
Some outfits featuring my Black watch plaid button-up:
And with the addition of dark-wash bootcut jeans in this round, that's it -- the capsule is complete!
So from now on I'll be creating outfits solely with this group of items. Here's how I used them in outfits featuring the next item in the rotation, my ivory cardi with black trim:
I'll stop there with the examples of outfit creation/remixing, since this is already a very long and picture-heavy post. Just for the record, though, I really did go through and do this exercise for all 32 items in my capsule, yielding a total of 97 (!) different outfits. And yes, it worked, in the sense that I was able to make the requisite trio of outfits with each item -- though this did get a little challenging towards the end.
This system has some of the same advantages as the "one piece at a time" system: It begins with that manageable starting point of a single favorite outfit. And it focuses on the creation of outfits, not just the assembly of the capsule.
Unlike the "one piece at a time" system, though, this method doesn't really encourage you to justify why you are adding each new item to the capsule. But on further reflection, I think this is a feature rather than a bug. Too often, thinking about what a capsule wardrobe "should" contain ("A chambray button-up is a versatile basic," "I have several neutral items so I need a 'pop of color'") leads us to items that don't really suit us.
In this system, all that matters is what you want to wear. If you want to wear jeans and a long-sleeve tee every day, then that is what you build your capsule around. If you only want to wear wiggle dresses and cropped cardigans: ditto. Or all neutrals. Or nothing but purple and gray. Who cares what anyone else is doing?
For me, the 10 bottoms - 12 tops - 10 sweaters structure of this capsule is really ideal. It accommodates my need for layering, as I mentioned in my last post. And seeing how many outfits can be made from this number of items quiets that "fear of scarcity" in a way that is honestly revolutionary for me.
I mean, look at all these different outfits I have to wear! And this is barely a quarter of the possibilities:
That said, there is nothing set in stone about that 10 - 12 - 10 structure. If you live in a hot climate and rarely need a topper, go ahead and shift some of that sweater allocation to tops, or even bottoms (maybe you want 12 - 16 - 4, for example). If you're a true minimalist at heart maybe you want fewer items, so go with a 5 - 6 - 5 structure. Or, you know, 5 - 7 - 5 if you are a minimalist who loves haiku. ;-) Point is, the system of capsule assembly and outfit creation should work no matter the size or structure of your capsule -- as long as you stop adding items once you get to the requisite number in each category, and make at least 3 additional outfits featuring each item.
However I do think that the final capsule should be not very much bigger than 32 items of clothing. I think if it gets too much larger it will be too hard to mentally keep track of the options. And I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I suspect that regardless of the distribution across categories, 32 items will enable you to make enough outfits for a 3-month season. (Again, not necessarily a different outfit every day -- but enough to feel like enough.)
I also think that this method does a good job of addressing some of the difficulties I had with applying the "one piece at a time" method to my existing closet. Because I could bring in multiple new pieces from my closet at a time (a new pair of pants AND a new sweater to make an outfit with a top already in the capsule, for example), I was able to create new silhouettes more easily. And because my whole closet was available to me in those early rounds of outfit creation I had the flexibility to assemble the outfits that I really wanted to wear, rather than ending up with outfits that were passable but that I wasn't excited about.
I should also say that I think the ideas here owe a lot to a couple of posts from Bridgette Raes' blog -- specifically one on creating a capsule wardrobe outfit by outfit and one on how to get more from your wardrobe (the latter of which I played with some last fall). But I think I've taken it a step further here by making things more organized and structured.
Alright, I know this has been a monster post, and if you've made it this far you deserve a gold star. I'm so curious to hear reactions! Is this a system that could be useful to you? Or how would you tweak it to make it work for organizing your wardrobe?