Capsule wardrobe “confessional”: My full closet inventory

I’ve titled this post a “confessional” because in some ways it feels like I’m coming clean about this: though I’ve been wearing capsule wardrobes since February of this year I still have 100+ items of clothing in total!

 

How does one who wears 33-40 items of clothing per 3-month period have so much clothing? Well, let me first defend myself a little bit. I only purge in-season clothing (as I’m generally guilty of thinking I’ll only need one winter sweater when I’m going through my closet in July) and I haven’t yet gone through a full year of capsules. In the same vein, I live in a place with four seasons. From flip-flops to parkas I really do need the whole gamut of clothing.

 

And in further defense of myself, I am very good at shopping for my life, my figure and my body. So the clothing that I have accumulated and have held on to works for me. I have already gotten rid of the stuff that didn’t work or wasn’t right in the first place – I do still make that mistake from time to time, but I’m able to recognize it very quickly.

 

Lastly, I’ve kept so much of my full-closet wardrobe for financial reasons. Given the fact that these items suit me, and given my desire to stick with a limited yearly budget I decided that holding on to this much clothing was best. Over the summer I was dressing with 33 items per month and not many things wore out after being worn for that short period of time. But wearing things for three months at a time is a completely different story. I can already tell that a few of the items I chose for this capsule will wear out well before December 1. And I am completely fine with that happening. The one thing that has been missing from my closet is quality clothing. In the past I was willing to spend a bit more on winter coats, shoes and professional wear – but I cheapened out on shorts, sweaters, blouses etc. My plan is to wear items until they are too shabby for their purpose and then either donate them or add them to the rag bag (how quaint?) as necessary.

 

TL/DR? I still have a fairly large amount of clothing but I think I have good reasons for keeping this much.

 

T-shirts – 9

3 long-sleeved

1 3/4 sleeved

5 short sleeved

 

Bottoms- 15

1 jeans

1 black ponte pants

2 ankle dress pants

2 leggings

4 work trousers

1 chino

2 shorts

1 cords

1 capri

 

dresses – 13

3 cocktail/wedding dresses

7 work dresses

1 ball gown

2 casual

 

Tops – 12

1 chambray

6 button down (2 sleeveless)

2 shells

1 silk

2 casual cotton

 

 

skirts- 14

7 pencil

1 maxi

4 mini

2 knee-length

 

sweaters – 22

8 v-neck

4 crew neck

8 cardigans

1 tunic sweater

 

suits – 2

 

Outerwear -8

2 winter dress coats

1 rain jacket

1 parka

3 fleece

1 vest

 

Shoes- 14

3 athletic shoes

1 Toms

4 sandals

1 heels

3 flats

2 boots

 

So that’s 109 pieces in total. Because I knew that I had a lot of sweaters the only number that surprised me was the 7 work dresses. I did have a job change earlier this year that has put me in a slightly less formal environment than before, but I still don’t wear dresses to work a ton so I’m not sure why I thought seven was a good number. And yes, I do have a ball gown. I’ve had it for a few years and have needed it for either very formal weddings or charity events we’ve been invited to. Going forward I would probably opt for something like Rent the Runway but this dress was actually a really cost-effective purchase.

Fall capsule wardrobe : core item photos

image image image image image image image image

 

What you see above, along with a pair of jeans, a work dress and a pair of ponte pants make up the core items of my Project 333 wardrobe for this fall. Or in other words, here is my Ten Item Wardrobe. As I’ve mentioned my job does require professional dress, but professional isn’t defined the same way here as it is back east.  My dress trousers and an additional work dress are in my “extras” and I work half time from home so this is plenty for the next few months.

The striped dress is new and the skirt is not new but something I’ve never worn.  Everything else has been in my closet for quite some time.  The white blouse is silk and I always used to pass it over when I kept a larger wardrobe. I’m enjoying getting more wear out of it.  As for quality, I expect that the sleeveless teal blouse will be worn out completely in a few more wears but I included it because unfortunately we only have a few more weeks of warm weather here! I also expect that the mustard shirt will wear out, but it has actually gotten a lot of wear over the last few years so I don’t mind that.

I don’t believe that the Core pieces all need to go together because I see the whole point of the extras as supporting these main pieces. That’s where I deviate from the standard Ten Item Wardrobe.  Hopefully this will be able to take me all the way through November. But if they don’t, my plan is to replace them with leftovers from my big closet days.  I kept much around knowing it would be used for that exact purpose during my next few rounds of capsules.

August empty

HEconditioner

Just one empty this month.  This has been my go-to conditioner while we’ve been pinching pennies during graduate school. It’s super cheap – something like $5 for two bottles on Amazon and really makes my hair feel the softest out of all of the drugstore conditioners.  (Actually, that’s not true.  I also really like the Suave Professional line but couldn’t find it on Amazon last time I was making a purchase.)

I will very likely not be repurchasing this conditioner.  I recently discovered Herbal Essence’s 0% line, which is free from all of the “really bad” that is in hair care products.  The conditioner smells a bit sharp, but other than that I really like how it works and makes my hair feel.  In comparison, the regular line now feels almost a bit waxy.  But, if something happens to the 0% line, or I can’t find it next time I’m shopping then I will definitely repurchase this one.

August make(s)

Well, summer is a wrap folks! I hope you had a great one! Ours was less than stellar but not really much to complain about. Just the usual whilst being wedded to a grad student.

That said, it’s time to share what I made this month. I hardly consider myself a crafty person but I do like to dabble in homemade goods somewhat. No clothes or knits to share this month, but I did drag my knitting back out in honor of the unofficial end of summer. (Sidenote – those of you in warmer places, do you still consider this weekend the end of summer? Here the weather is already cooling down and such so it seems to make sense to start saying it’s fall.)

I only got into making one thing this month and it’s so easy I won’t even call it a recipe. This is a body scrub of equal parts coconut oil and sugar, with a few drops of vanilla. It’s super hydrating and will be good for the cooler weather. One of my guilty pleasures is falling asleep to beauty channels on YouTube and sugar scrubs seem to be a popular exfoliator. Ever a marketer’s dream I decided I wanted one for myself. But these are apparently really expensive and the interwebs is full of recipes so I decided to give this a go.  This was a pretty popular pairing and I added the vanilla to cut the coconut smell a bit so I am unsure where I could give credit, but you can find many more varieties with a simple google search.

Sugar scrub

Sort of a budget post

$20 – H&M: I purchased a tunic and pair of leggings to wear as pajamas this fall/winter. So, while not part of my capsule wardrobe they still count toward my yearly spending limit.

$30 – Everlane: The t-shirts that I wore this spring and fall were looking totally dingy already so I went back to an old favorite and purchased two new shirts. At $15/ea, they’re totally reasonable for a tee even though I generally try to pay a lot less than that. But, I have Everlane shirts that are over a year old and my Old Navy ones didn’t even last a summer, so there you go.

$ ??? – Old Navy: And this is why this is not a budget post. I had placed an order a few weeks ago and never received it. I come to find out that it got lost in the mail. This isn’t too bothersome for me – unless I don’t get the package until after the window for returns expires. Then I’ll be really annoyed, because everything I purchased in this order went on super sale for Labor Day weekend and I repurchased at the lower prices. Right now I’m out $100 to Old Navy but it should wind up being more like $35. Since I don’t want to jinx myself, I’ll leave it at $100.

That puts my total August spending at $150, and leaves me with about $30 for the rest of the year. I knew August was going to be a spendier month because of getting ready to switch into my fall wardrobe at the end of this month (so, like this weekend!!). Now I really don’t foresee needing anything before the end of the year but I’ll be more comfortable when I have more of a buffer on account of the Old Navy returns. I may need to purchase new jeans in the next few months but other than that I should be able to just pull from my leftover extras in case anything needs replacing.

Capsule dressing on a budget

I suppose that everyone has a budget for their clothes, determine by how much they actually spend. So what I really mean by this title is capsule dressing on a limited budget. Finances aren’t everyone’s favorite topic, so I don’t know how often I’ll explore related issues on here but I know that limited budgets are one of the main points raised by people who believe they are unable to dress with a capsule wardrobe.

So, here’s my story. I need to maintain both a professional and casual wardrobe and a personal care routine on a budget of about $600 per year. My husband is a graduate student and that fact ties up most of our discretionary spending. It’s a choice we made so that we could dip into our savings as little as possible during this time.

I realize that $600 is a lot of money for many people. I want to tread carefully here – $600 is a very limited budget for someone in my position at my age. I would estimate that most of my peers spend significantly more than that. And that dollar amount includes shoes, winter gear and things like makeup and haircuts – all of which take up a significant portion of my spending.

First, a word on how I set aside my budget: $50 each month is earmarked for personal care/my wardrobe. I don’t always spend it monthly though – more often than not I let it build up for a while and then make purchases in spurts. If I spent my allowance each month I would probably buy more things and be hyper-focused on getting the best price for something. But here are my suggestions for making a limited budget work:

1. Ignore the fact that the most vocal capsule dressers spend significantly more than you do. Capsule dressing is definitely advocated by individuals who appear to have very comfortable lives. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but realize that there are other people (hi! me!) who make a capsule work with limited resources. Buy the best you can afford is a great principal to abide by, even if it’s tough to swallow when you hear it from someone who appears to be able to buy extremely high quality.
2. Find out what you wear frequently and spend accordingly. For me, that’s work trousers, jeans and basic tees. I try to spend as little as possible on basic tees because they always give out. However, for trousers and jeans I’ve learned that spending a bit more means they’ll last much longer.
3. Keep some clothing from pre-capsule days. I have a modest selection of clothing that I set aside during my purges. I know that much of what I own is of lower quality and will not stand the test of frequent wear. In anticipation of that, I have kept several items to replace my current capsule with when they wear out.
4. Shop consignment. Consignment stores are very different from thrift stores and my experience has been that they are focused on clothing that is at most two seasons old. I have sold the occasional dress or pair of shoes at a consignment store, and I have purchased blouses and jeans from our local consignment. The prices are much better than initial retail, and (good) consignment stores are extremely picky about quality. You’re buying something with a lot of life left in it when you go to a consignment store.
5. Plan purchases. Here is where capsule dressing really saves money. Nearly all of my purchases are planned to fill an actual hole in my closet which means that I’m not spending money on unnecessary items. With my fall capsule basically set I am evaluating my winter clothing right now and trying to determine whether there is anything I’ll need. On the same wavelength, now (end of summer) would be a great time to replace any summer basics that got worn out this year. My shorts and sandals look like they’ll be good for another year so I won’t be doing this, but I did do some fall shopping earlier this summer when things from last fall/winter were on clearance.
6. Pay attention to what doesn’t work. Old Navy is one of my favorite stores, and much of my wardrobe is currently from there. It’s not the greatest quality, and I understand that this means I will be replacing items more frequently than if I bought better clothes to begin with. But ON works in my budget, so Old Navy it is. That being said, Old Navy does not get all of my business. I have had really bad luck with light weight sweaters, shoes and swim wear from the store. So I go elsewhere for those purchases. I shop online most of the time, and occasionally an ON purchase will be much thinner than I expected. I’ll return those immediately. That’s the gamble I take shopping at a lower end store – but the key is to shop smarter and not repurchase items that consistently miss the mark.

Any other suggestions for me? I would love to hear them!

How I started with capsule dressing

I’m clearly a big fan of capsule dressing but I wanted to pen a few words about how I got started with this whole idea, in case any of you were curious about it but hadn’t yet taken the plunge. If you want to hear one story of transitioning to capsule dressing, keep reading!

Step 1: The Project 333 challenge

Early in 2014 I stumbled upon the Project 333 website – a capsule project of 33 items for three months.  While I was skeptical about the whole idea I thought it would be a great Lenten project.  I looked at the P333 rules and selected items accordingly, but I also made a few modifications that I thought would work better for my lifestyle.  For instance, I didn’t include outerwear in my list of 33 items because, well that could easily take up 10-12 spots where I live!

Those three months (well, slightly less because I ended with Easter) were really difficult, but I was still intrigued.  Because we have limited space I had nowhere to put the clothes I wasn’t wearing so even though my 33 items were sectioned off I was still seeing everything I owned when I got dressed in the morning.  It was a lot and it became increasingly overwhelming. And this was the key that made me realize that I was truly drawn to capsule dressing – I was overwhelmed and annoyed by my stuffed closet, rather than the restriction of having so few pieces. If you’re looking for the “aha!” moment in my story, that’s it.

 

After that first go, which ended in April, I took a short break from limited dressing to evaluate how to proceed. Again, I felt like I really had a lot of clothing to go through. Looking back, I probably had a completely average American closet. But because the only things that had been limiting my purchasing were my spending habits and my space there was still far more than needed.

Step 2: What I call the “easy purge”

This step requires much less explanation! I did a first pass through my closet and eliminated any items that I obviously didn’t wear. This coincided with a change of seasons where I live, so I focused on winter gear. Anything that I didn’t wear (or like) was donated and anything that I had worn out was either repurposed or eliminated.

 Step 3: Monthly 33 item capsules

I started P333 again –same, but different. My focus during this next period was to evaluate the clothing I did like and see what worked for me and didn’t. I only wanted to keep the best. Three months was too long, so I had monthly capsules instead. I chose 33 items that I really liked at the start of each month and then discarded them into the resell/donate/repurpose piles as the month went on. For the first few months I waited the entire month to eliminate anything, but as this went on I could settle on whether to keep an item in just a wear or two. I chose to stay with this process for four months, so as of this writing I am finishing my last monthly capsule.

Step 4: Discovery of the Ten Item Wardrobe

During those four months I also stumbled upon an idea called the Ten Item Wardrobe – a seasonal capsule with ten feature pieces and then a small collection of supporting items called ‘extras’. This really resonated with me because it was a capsule concept for someone who really enjoys fashion and finds it fun. (While P333 is a great concept I find that it’s mostly for people who are disinterested in clothing and want something minimalist and structured.) This was key for me because I found a way to make a capsule work for both home and work – casual and business semi-formal. For me, the key is to choose ten items that mostly work for either home or the office. I have one dress that is exclusively workwear and one dress that is exclusively casual, but other than that every item can be worn either at home or at work, depending on which extra items I wear it with. Extras include everything from my shorts and leggings to my work trousers and pencil skirts.   If you’ve seen my posts about my fall capsule, you’ll see that it is organized in Ten Item Wardrobe fashion.

 

And that’s that! Major props if you’ve stuck with the post for this long.   It was getting (really, really) long, so I have broken out a few topics to discuss separately: my wardrobe budget, what is leftover from my pre-capsule days and a summary of my capsule dressing “rules” – that is, how I design a capsule as a working professional with a restricted budget.