What Is a Capsule Wardrobe, Who Does It Benefit, and How to Adopt Your Own

By Bethany Johnson in Thinking Sustainably

What's the only thing better than helping the environment? Looking your personal best while doing it, of course! The concept of a capsule wardrobe is not new, although the buzzword has seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to social media platforms like Instagram. These days, conscientious fashionistas can swap creative ideas online to inspire one another, all while consuming (and wasting) less.

So, what is a capsule wardrobe, you ask? Simple: It's a collection of basic, high-quality garments intended to be mixed, matched, and updated only by way of seasonal accessories. In other words, it's the foundation for a simpler, stress-free morning routine—one that helps reduce the 713 gallons of water the World Resources Institute estimates it takes to manufacture a single cotton T-shirt.

Let's take a closer look.

The Many Advantages of Simplicity

Before discussing how the planet can benefit from your efforts to simplify, let's think about the advantages for consumers who commit to a fewer number of higher-quality items. That is, you.

  • Diminished mental effort. A capsule wardrobe does more than streamline the pre-coffee closet call. It also alleviates the stress that comes with adapting to the changing weather, social events, and seasonal trends.

  • A signature style. Just because you're paring down your choices doesn't mean the remaining staples need to be boring. Making a statement has never been easier, especially when you factor in a unique color scheme.

    If you're wondering what is a capsule wardrobe, and how can it benefit both the environment and you, you've come to the right place. Here, we unpack and answer everything you need to know about this fashionable, eco-friendly trend.

  • Longer-lasting threads. Opting for fewer items means you have to ensure your clothing is well-made, and it might be more affordable to make sure you buy clothes from a supply chain that includes only responsible vendors, verified by third parties.

  • You're in good company. Forbes has pointed out how innovative leaders adopt what it calls a "personal uniform." You don't have to strip your clothes down exclusively to Johnny Cash black, but it's another way of considering the capsule wardrobe concept.

Environmental Benefits of a Capsule Wardrobe

A better motivation than any fashion advantage is the realization that the more we buy, the more we toss. When you limit what you buy, you'll naturally give more thought to each item before making the purchase, and that same effort is what keeps you from flippantly discarding a skirt or sweater later.

According to a Forbes article by Ayesha Barenblat, founder of the ethical fashion group Remake, modern "fast fashion" items are manufactured to fall apart. The purpose is for those pieces to fade, tear, and quickly be replaced instead of repaired. In the U.S. alone, notes the Council for Textile Recycling, the average person sends 82 pounds of clothing and fabric waste to landfills every year.

Many people don't take advantage of secondhand and recycling options, either (only 10 percent of Americans donate clothes instead of throwing them away, Forbes estimates). By donating used clothing to a thrift store or charitable group, you can recycle your clothes and help others avoid buying new.

capsule wardrobe laid out on a bad

How to Get Started with a Capsule Wardrobe

Now that we've answered the "what is a capsule wardrobe?" question, it's time to learn how to implement your own personal uniform. In other words, here's the fun part!

  • First, source your fundamental pieces. While it may be tempting to hop online or head to the store, start by shopping in your own closet first. Consider what you would pick out if you had to pack a suitcase for a month-long trip: You would choose the most comfortable, versatile items that still look sharp.
  • Next, consider your own personal style. Remember, there's no reason to sacrifice your unique personality for the sake of simplicity. Your staples could be retro A-line dresses with Peter Pan collars or sleek skinny jeans and flannel shirts. Remember, accessorizing happens later. This phase is to ensure you're still expressing yourself even (and arguably, especially) with fewer daily choices.
  • Decide on a base color. Vetta Capsule suggests going as simple as possible, with colors such as black, gray, brown, blue, or white. Committing to a foundational hue makes mixing and matching a daily possibility.
  • Once you've established your foundational neutral, select a complementary color. This could be based on what you think best highlights your skin's warm or cool undertones, or you could simply choose your favorite color.
  • Finally, count up your duds. Capsule guru Unfancy suggests between 30 and 40 pieces, including shoes, scarves, and accessories. Too much? Pick a few more items to give when you're donating clothes. Looking a little sparse? Choose a few more favorites so you won't be tempted to shop later on.

If you do decide to hit the stores, strategize first to prevent accidental excess that you'll regret later. And to double the recycling efforts, try your local Goodwill before you decide to go to the mall. If used clothes are good enough to donate to others, they're good enough to spruce up your wardrobe!

You also don't have to make the change all at once. After you assess your consumption habits, you can decide whether jumping into a capsule wardrobe will work right away, or if you need time to figure it out. Feeling daunted going it alone? Host a clothing swap party! Swapping clothes with friends is one of the best ways to breathe new life into old garments, clean out your closet without worrying about the environmental impact, and get a few new-to-you items that are just as exciting as the day they came off the shelf. Plus, you'll get to catch up with your buddies and share other ways to give back while cutting back.

Setting up a capsule wardrobe takes a measure of upfront effort. And when you're trying to simplify, that can seem counterintuitive. However, reducing your decisions while reducing your carbon footprint can be all-around fabulous.

What's in your capsule wardrobe? Inspire others by tweeting pictures to @TomsofMaine!

Image source: MorgueFile | Flickr | Flickr

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.


Why It’s Good

Sure, it feels good to take steps toward a more sustainable lifestyle, but it feels even better to look your personal best while doing it. The capsule wardrobe is one of the easiest, most liberating ways to express yourself while diminishing your impact on the natural environment.