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How to Turn your Closet into a Capsule Wardrobe

The average American woman has around 103 items of clothing in her closet, and this often does not include shoes, purses, belts, hats, scarves or jewelry. One might think that a hundred and three items mean that the average woman has plenty of clothing for an infinite number of different outfit variations. However, upon further investigation women reveal that they do not frequently wear all of their clothing. Of the clothes in their closet, the average woman considers 21% to not be suitable. Of those items that often remain untouched, hanging in the closet or folded away in drawers. Then she considers thirty-three percent to be too tight to be worn and around twenty-four percent she considers too loose to be flattering or functional. What this tells us is that we have more than we need and that when we do not need something anymore, we often hold onto it instead of gifting it or donating it.

However, there is another way to approach clothing that is far more affordable and comes along with other benefits. It is often referred to as a Capsule Wardrobe because it holds up over time. There are a lot of ways to create a capsule wardrobe. Here I will be going over the ‘rules’ or guidelines for a capsule wardrobe and some of the benefits.


33 Items

The first rule in a capsule wardrobe is to pick the number of total items that you will have in your closet. This of course is a very individualized decision and there is no right or wrong answer. I, for example, have 45 main items in my closet. I count jackets, pjs and sweatpants in this number. I have a separate number for how much jewelry I can have (24 pieces) and how many shoes I can have (4) and I do not count my winter coat or underwear in this number. Some people will be extremely strict with their number and include everything right down to the pairs of earrings and socks but most only include main items such as bottoms, tops and full body (dresses and pantsuits). I find myself frequently wearing all my shoes and jewelry since I have de-cluttered. (It also gave me the opportunity to donate and re-gift some nice jewelry to people in my life). What is important is that you pick a number and stick to it. It is easy to start off strong, de-clutter your closet and then slip into adding more and more items over time. Since old habits die hard it is important to hold yourself accountable and continuously practice gratefulness for the clothing you have and keep tabs on the number in your closet. The most common capsule wardrobe number is 33. This may not sound like a lot when we are used to having 103 items in our closet. However, 33 items (when they all fit and are considered ‘wearable’) allow one to create over 25,176 Different Outfits. Especially if you follow the next rule.

Classic Items

The next important piece of a capsule wardrobe is to pick classic pieces that are unlikely to go out of style and that can be easily paired with a variety of other pieces of clothing. Some examples of this include a simple black dress or neutral or solid-colored blouses. This isn’t to say that one cannot have patterns or more specific colors, it is just that one needs to consider whether their patterned pieces only pair with one or two things or if they can be more widely worn with other items in their wardrobe. One should also limit how many “trendy” clothing items they own, as they are likely to go out of style very quickly and contribute to a dated look instead of a classic one. A good rule for trendy clothing is to only own one or two items that are extremely “in” at the moment and then replace those one or two items more frequently.  


Not as Expensive Long term

One of the things that deter people from starting a capsule wardrobe is that it requires you to buy high-quality pieces so that they are more likely to last. This means spending more money upfront. However, over time it can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. There is a reason that a blouse costs fifteen or twenty-four dollars. It’s because it is only meant to last you around seven months. Something that costs around seventy dollars is more likely to be ethically made (as in not by children in sweatshops) and composed of material that holds up over time through many washes and wears. Clothing like this can last years and depend on how much you vary in size over time, some pieces can last up to seven years. That means ten dollars a year for an expensive-looking blouse that you could wear over three hundred times, if not more! Higher quality clothes also come with other benefits such as being made of organic material and with fewer harmful dyes, which lowers your risk of developing certain skin conditions long term.

Less Laundry

An unspoken benefit of the capsule wardrobe is that it makes for less laundry and provides more room in one’s closet or drawers to organize and see their clothes clearly. I hang up all my clothes in my closet. That includes PJs, sweats, belts, scarves and old t-shirts that I wear around the house. I do—by the way—include the ratty old t-shirts in my total number of forty-five in order to be strict with myself and discriminate between what pieces of clothing are helpful to hold onto it and which ones simply bog down my closet space (and headspace!).

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If the clothing industry had it their way your online shopping cart would always be full of clothing that you would wear out for a season and then throw away to be replaced. In the fashion industry’s ideal world, you would be infinitely repeating this process, replacing your entire wardrobe with more poorly made and expensive clothes that will quickly look dated if they manage to hold up past a year or so. A lot of us have accepted that this is a normal part of clothing ourselves and that new clothes should be a frequent part of our lives. We do not often think about how old clothes pile up in our landfills or how quickly stocking up our closets with fresh fabric depletes the money in our bank accounts. A capsule wardrobe is a way to have more expendable income, help keep the earth healthier, and have all of our pieces be our favorite pieces as we are more likely to only buy clothes that we feel amazing in when we are limited to a certain number.

Vanesa Arostegui is currently a graduate student at Central Washington University pursuing a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling. She has obtained a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Professional and Creative Writing. She plans to go on and earn her MFA in creative fiction and poetry. She is the daughter of an immigrant, with a father from Spain. She wrote a personal narrative that dealt with mental health and that piece was a finalist in Sticks and Stones for short story Bellied Bones (2017). She also was recently a finalist in The New Guard Literary Review 2019 Poetry competition for her poem Puff Daddy (2019). Two Poetry Publications in Manastash Literary Magazine Scorpio Coloring Book and mommy’s alcoholic (2020).
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