Capsule Wardrobes Are the New Kale

January 8th, 2015

Building a closet full of happy

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I’d never make it as a fashion blogger. For one thing, I don’t have a professional photographer boyfriend. Or a decent camera with a remote control. Or a selfie stick (or however it is those women are getting full-length, perfectly in-focus snapshots of themselves seemingly caught crossing the street, impeccably dressed. I don’t even own a full length mirror. I don’t know how my bottom half fits with the top until I see myself in the glass door at the supermarket.

But those are technical issues. My main disqualification for fashion blogging is that I lack the flair chromosome. Fashion is an inscrutable mystery to me, and always has been. It’s not a skill set I possess naturally, or will ever come by easily. Therefore it fascinates me. People who can coordinate complex layers of garments, patterns, textures, with multiple accessories–in other words, people who are put together–are another species. Like mantis shrimp, with eyes that have 12 types of color receptors to my paltry three.

I keep trying to crack the code. And just when I think I’ve figured some of it out (Eureka! I TIED my belt!), the mantis shrimp people go and change it.

It’s a fun puzzle. I’m an artist and a tinkerer, and I like learning the rules of things, so I can figure out how to break them. Ask any kid with a screwdriver in hand, and he’ll tell you: you’ve got to take stuff apart to know how to put it together.

I came across the concept of a capsule wardrobe last fall, and it must be in step with the 2015 zeitgeist, because suddenly it’s all over my social media feeds. Everybody’s doing the capsule wardrobe. Especially on Pinterest. It’s this year’s kale.

I think my original entry point was Project 333, but as I dug deeper down the rabbit hole, I swung more toward Unfancy, whose taste is closer to mine, and who is a little more elastic about the parameters. 

The parameters are what’s appealing. The basic concept is that you pare your wardrobe down to a set number of items per season. Some, like Project 333, include nearly everything in that number: jewelry, outerwear, shoes, etc. Others, like Unfancy, are more liberal in the interpretation. Either way, the idea is that by intentionally limiting the number of clothes you have, you’ll become more mindful and creative about what you wear. 

I fell in love with the notion right away, but when I posted about it on Facebook, I was surprised to get highly polarized reactions. Some (I’d venture to say they are mantis shrimp people) were baffled. What on earth could be the point of limiting one’s choices of what to wear? Others wryly responded that they’d have to expand their wardrobes to hit the maximum allowable number of garments–minimalists by necessity or nature. 

And then there were the people like me, who want to dress fashionably, but are generally overwhelmed by the scope of it all. Thirty three (or 37, or 30-ish) is a finite number, a fixed point in an ever-shifting sea of choices. Three months is a timeframe we can work with, without forcing an identity crisis. 

I decided to have a go at it, starting with the new year. Our mid-southern seasons are aligned a little differently than the standard fashion calendar year, so my winter capsule would go from December through February, rather than the suggested Jan-Mar span. And since December has come and gone, that means I only have to live with my choices for two months! However, I’d like credit for having purged several trash bags worth of clothes at the end of the year, in the course of trading my big bedroom closet for a much smaller one. 

(Note that ninety per cent of the purged items were party outfits, bought out of desperation at the eleventh hour, because I had “nothing to wear” to social events, where I spend ten percent of my time. Meanwhile, I was down to two pairs of jeans and a few shrunken t-shirts to get me through the other ninety percent I spend at home. Mantis shrimp people, don’t judge. Mere mortals like me need help.)

I’m developing this first capsule as I go, keeping a little journal of what I manage to pull together each day, what pieces are keepers, and what feels missing. A book of outfit recipes. 

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The goal is to have a closet that makes me smile instead of sigh when I open it each day. To get dressed on the first attempt, instead of the fourth or fifth, and to get on with things without all the negative self-image crap trailing behind me all day like toilet paper stuck to my shoe. The past few years have been the Second Coming of age thirteen in so many ways, and I’m so done with it.

So, what do you think? Does the capsule wardrobe sound like a useful strategy to you, or an instrument of oppression? What’s your relationship history with fashion? I’d love to know. 

11 Responses to “Capsule Wardrobes Are the New Kale”

  1. Kathleen Parewick says:

    This is the first I’m hearing of it and I LOVE the idea. It falls right in line with the ‘less stuff’ orientation that I’m finally starting to act on in my dotage. 😉 I also seem to recall reading somewhere that we have only so much ‘decision room’ in a given timeframe and that minimizing the less important decisions in one’s day (e.g. picking out something to wear) frees up precious mindfulness for the big stuff.

  2. erniebufflo says:

    My sister is a successful fashion blogger, and she had her now-husband take pictures until he refused, then she got a tripod and a remote, and now she can actually pay a pro to shoot all her outfit photos. She just moved into a studio apartment, though, so she’s trending toward minimalism too.

    I just got the first walk-in closet of my life, though, so I’m having a fling with OMG I CAN HAVE ALL MY CLOTHES OUT AND NONE PACKED AWAY FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER AHHHH. I do need a full length mirror, too.

    I do like the idea of clarifying one’s style and sticking with it, though.

  3. How DO people take those selfies? I wonder this myself.

  4. I am a fashion disaster. Getting dressed was easy when I was in the army and later working in Pharma as my choices were severely limited by the expectations of Uncle Sam and the boundaries of the business world. Living in rural England and basically having my day to myself to write, workout, or take loads of photos, my look is really suffering. I did a big closet purge before Christmas and another after, so now might be a good time to lay it all out. Thanks for sharing this, I am so behind I don’t even understand the Kate reference.

  5. Lesley says:

    Kyran, l love this blog! I have been a regular reader since your presentation at the 2012 Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop. I am also a Canadian living in the US (Dayton, actually) so I felt a kinship with you – and now a fashion kinship as well. You inspired my latest blog in which I give you credit for the idea and include a link to Planting Dandelions under my favorite blogs. Mine is at http://www.braveneufworld.blogspot.com – I would enjoy your comments!

  6. The fact that you put up this post at all shows you have considerable fashion sense. Compared to me, at least, who has none.

  7. lomagirl says:

    I was just thinking this morning that I need a fashion clear out! I like the Unfancy way of doing it. I don’t need 9 pairs of shoes, though! I had no idea “capsule” wardrobes were the new thing.

  8. Kat says:

    I love Caroline of Un-fancy because she is just that–practical, thoughtful and she’s not taking this too seriously. I like her guidelines, too. And Sarah had a good post recently: http://whoorl.com/archives/20981

    Also, I read this in the NYT and I love the idea of asking yourself, “Does it spark joy?” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/23/garden/home-organization-advice-from-marie-kondo.html?_r=0 I realized most of my stuff did not give me joy.

    I’m still in the process of purging, and I’m forcing myself to put together outfits with what I have to see how I feel about actually wearing each piece. There are jackets I’ve had for 5+ years and haven’t worn much but I like them, and cardigans I bought thinking they’d extend my short-sleeved wardrobe into the winter (turns out I hate most cardigans), and there are things I didn’t realize I actually had because I never have enough of the laundry done to get a good pictures of what I own.

    We’ll see how long it takes me to get down to 30-something pieces. It could be a while.

    • I’m also running into that perception vs reality question as I go along. Why do I own so many dresses and so few jeans and t-shirts, when I wear the former about once a week, and need the latter nearly every day?

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