The Lie of an Edited Wardrobe

Leslie Price | February 12, 2017

In my experience, a capsule wardrobe means coming to terms with the crappy quality of most of your clothes

The-Lie-of-an-Edited-Wardrobe-Man-Repeller-Feature

I hate my sweater. It’s a perfectly fine sweater upon first glance: a classic navy wool-blend crew. But I’ve been relying on it a lot recently, and it’s showing the wear. Pills line the front and litter the undersides of the sleeves. I had high expectations for this sweater, an expensive designer purchase that, at the time, I believed was an “investment.” My anger at it exemplifies all of my issues with our culture’s current worship of the capsule wardrobe.

Two hundred years ago or so, most everyone had a version of what we now preciously refer to as a “capsule wardrobe” — a handful of dresses and coats, a few shirts, jackets and pants — all made of natural fabrics such as linen, wool or cotton, none of this fabric-blend nonsense. People spent more time caring for their clothes, and a greater percentage of their income on a fewer number of garments. Prior to the invention of the sewing machine in the mid-1800s, clothes were stitched by hand — the original made-to-measure.

Most trend pieces I’ve read in magazines about test-driving a capsule wardrobe have the same conceit and follow the same pattern. The writer selects 10 or so *new* pieces, and mixes and matches for a period of time — two weeks, a month, you get the drift. In my experience, a capsule wardrobe means coming to terms with the crappy quality of most of your clothes — feeling frustrated by this, yet resigned to assembling some sort of look daily out of the handful of neutral-ish pieces in your arsenal that have made the cut.

The founding principle of the capsule wardrobe is fewer, nicer things. But you can’t always equate cost with quality. In 2015, The Atlantic made a splash with an article titled “The Case for Expensive Clothes.” The next time you buy something, spend a whole lot on it,” writes author Marc Bain. “Enough that it makes you sweat a little.” Bain goes on to clarify that there’s really no way, though, to know if your hard-spent cash is actually going towards a superior product; that along the way, some workers were likely exploited and that the industry is rife with cost-cutting.

capsule wardrobe comparison leslie price man repeller
Morning hair, capsule looks, confused dog.

My “capsule” consists of more or less of the following pieces that, as of now, haven’t let me down: two denim shirts (OG Current/Elliott; vintage), a handful of 100% cotton jeans (my favorites are Golden Goose and The Row), a few sweaters (the best is Vivienne Westwood and the rest are blah), gray sweatshirts (who cares where these are from, they’re filler), linen tees of various origins and like, one pair of Isabel Marant Dicker boots that have been resoled many times. The criteria for making it into the capsule are strict: clothes must feel trend-less, must be able to withstand multiple wears and washes, and must mix well with others. The benefits of this system are that I can, in a few minutes, be ready to leave my apartment and head to work. There’s no dallying as I try on colorful, fanciful creations in front of a mirror; I know what I’m dealing with. It’s like eating oatmeal for breakfast every day: reliable, easy, boring.

I didn’t plan this capsule. It just kind of happened as my life rambled along. I moved from NYC to LA to Miami to NYC again (don’t do this), which caused me to shed a lot of possessions along the way. Living in hot weather climates for five years meant I had a limited quantity of fall and winter-appropriate garments that stood the test of time. Moving sight-unseen into a Williamsburg apartment with — surprise! — no closets meant that I didn’t really have room in my life for anything superfluous. I’m like Marie Kondo, but everything sparks meh instead of joy because I’ve been exposed to it all so often for so long.

Perhaps more interesting than what’s actually survived my scrutiny is what this mode of dressing has done to my brain and the way I look at clothing. Being of limited time and space has made me incredibly intolerant of inferior quality. Unfortunately, it’s hard to suss out whether or not a tee or a sweater or some jeans will actually withstand years of wear. Because if I am, like The Atlantic suggests, to invest my hard-earned cash on something, it better not start breaking down after a few months.

The longer I go without shopping, the more I wring my hands before purchases. My go-to pieces might be boring and a little shabby, but they also feel like trusted friends. That’s what’s confounding about this whole concept: either I’m bored or I’m drowning in a pile of stuff. What do you think of the concept of a capsule? Is it too limiting — or the ultimate goal?

Illustration by Maria Jia Ling Pitt. 

  • ccushing79

    Good article. I too am frustrated with the quality of clothing these days. I am willing to spend $$$ on cashmere and wool sweaters, but where are they? I am still clinging on to my cashmere sweaters from the 1990s- early 2000s, bought from Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and Barney’s that have NEVER pilled and still look new. On the bright side, good quality cotton still seems to be available.

    • Leslie Price

      I have a hard time finding a sweater that doesn’t pill or shed these days.

      • Susan Young

        Merino wool is less likely to pill.

        • Leslie Hitchcock

          I don’t really do cashmere instead going to merino wool for this very reason. Everlane merino wool 👌🏽👌🏽👌🏽

        • Depends on how long the yarns are, no?

        • Merino wool yesss!! i have a couple ones from COS that never pilled in 3 years and one vintage Ralph Lauren sweater, same, never pilled, all of them 100% merino. I wonder if new Ralph Lauren sweaters are of the same quality though

      • Gabby

        Margaret Howell! They never pill. I’ve had one of mine for four years.

      • Junglesiren

        You really need to check out a “high-end” thrift or vintage stores in your area. In L.A. I find tons of Merino and cashmere sweaters made in Italy and Scotland – I always check – that would easily go for $100 to $300 for less than $20. It’s not for everyone but, unlike most people, I also like Icelandic wool and Shetland wool sweaters for that heavy drape – I wear them in NY and Amsterdam, rarely in L.A. – and find them in thrift stores and at flea markets around town. The only thing I always buy first hand now is underwear, bathing suits and shoes (although I did see some YSL boots at a boutique recently that I almost forked over the $200 for. I had always been a proper shopper at high-end boutiques and, of course, had a much smaller wardrobe because of it, now that I have freed myself from the tyranny of expensive retail I love my wardrobe.

        Stay sexy, ladies… don’t get killed.

  • Hilary

    Great article, Leslie. I feel like proponents of capsule wardrobes rarely mention the fact that this kind of lifestyle does get kinda boring after a while. (Save for a few blogs I follow, which advocate for mixing things up with a pop of color from an accessory, or layering in an unexpected way. Although I’ve never been great at fun layering.)

    I purged a bunch of things from my wardrobe after reading Kondo about a year ago. Some days, I love the limits of my wardrobe, even though I don’t feel like it perfectly represents me yet. Other days, I’m sooooooo bored by my not-quite-navy-blue oversized cotton-blend sweater that’s pilling all over. (Can you tell I resonated with your first sentence?) At once I feel more contented with my wardrobe than ever, but also yearning for some better pieces to fill in gaps, or pieces that would replace meh-inducing old standbys. I still feel like I shouldn’t spend as much time debating over what to wear in the morning as I continue to do…so that must mean my wardrobe still isn’t quite right.

    I guess I’m trying to say that I feel like there’s a balance to be struck here – somewhere between a wardrobe that’s edited enough to feel like you’re not drowning in overflow, and a wardrobe that is versatile but still exciting. Not to mention that your outfits should feel like they truly represent *you*, right? It’s a process, and I’m coming to terms with the idea that it’s okay that our wardrobes will never be perfect.

  • nathaliea

    Thank you for the article. I once had a very carefully edited wardrobe of blacks, navy blues and whites until I realized I couldn’t get through a week without having to do the laundry. It wasn’t very sustainable, especially as the single black cotton dress pants I owned began to lose their lustre after just two washes. But that’s the nature of threads: we wear them out. Sometimes there is need for a replacement. Sometimes there is requirement of two pairs, one for every day, one for days when the every-day won’t do. It’s easy to throw on a pair of perfectly fitting pants and just another wool sweater for a common silhouette, but I have learned to make my way through the clearance racks and sales sections for more interesting pieces that I would normally never think of – a pair of wide-legged Lemaire pants bought for a ridiculously marked down price, a pair of ankle boots in baby blue instead of the usual black – to take me out of my element. They can still be pared to the classic shapes I love, but take me out of my element and into what I hope to become a Memphis-style, post-minimalist expression. Less is still more in my philosophy, but like budgeting, sometimes it’s necessary to define what is enough.

  • Amber MB

    Oh this is just so timely and glorious – thank you Leslie!

    For the last few months I’ve been determined to narrow my possessions (not just clothes, but e v e r y t h i n g) into a capsule wardrobe/life/suitcase, in the hope and expectation that in a few months I’ll be able to jump on a plane and go wherever I want in the world, dressed to the nines and ready to roll wherever I land. So my current state of clothing boredom is entirely self-enforced. Whilst reading your article I suddenly realised that a capsule wardrobe doesn’t have to be a static wardrobe: it’s ok for things to come and go! If you’re bored of something or it’s worn out or doesn’t do the job anymore, sell it or give it to someone or donate it, and then replace it with a fresh version or something new. Your turnover might be a month or it might be a year, both of which are so fine. I totally get that same feeling of “this shirt is my friend and I need to keep it forever or it will be sad,” but oh my gosh just imagine the amazing shirts that are sitting out there, waiting to make us happy! So yes. My new ideal capsule wardrobe = one suitcase full of things that make me happy. If they make me feel good I’ll wear them all the time anyway! Job done.

    • Leslie Price

      Yeah, sometimes it just takes one fresh thing to breathe life into all the other stuff you are kinda sick of.

  • Cordelia

    I can relate 100% to this article. I have moved many times, have shed all sorts of the WORST clothes (bought on impulse, questionable quality) and wear jeans, grey-black-white-blue tops, jackets and booties with variations for the seasons. The French wardrobe is my inspiration. I’m hesitant to buy anything that isn’t an investment piece or can be worn many times… so I tend to gravitate towards the same types of clothes and I’m very bored/boring but proud of it at the same time. 🙂

  • Caro A

    Gosh, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I am an apparel design student who is constantly tormented by the question, “Do we really need more clothes?” I’ve also done a bulk of research on expensive vs. throw away clothing- buying quality vs…not quality? I can’t stand articles that say give away your stuff after 6 months of not wearing it because I always want that item back two years later- I just need to put stuff in storage or under the bed for a while when I get sick of it- rotate the stuff in my closet because fashion is so cyclical. I think a capsule closet is too limiting. I go through phases where I wear the same thing everyday and then I need to switch it up and rely on specific pieces for a while. And then I go back to the old stuff when they seem fresh again. But ten pieces is definitely not enough.

    • agree on rotating, and not giving away if not using, i am exactly the same! And ten pieces is so not enough, especially if you have to have a work week wardrobe and a weekend wardrobe at the same time

  • ksimzzz

    I remember at age 14 loving my wardrobe and thinking to myself that my cut off band tees from urban outfitters would be the clothes I’d love and wear forever. I’d found “my style.” A few months later…you can imagine that I’d moved on.

    I’m now in my 20s and in another phase where I’m super happy with my wardrobe. There are some essentials – jeans, jean shirts, turtle necks – that are weekly constants in my outfits, but I will say that I rarely wear about 60% (ok probably more) of my wardrobe. I tried to Marie Kondo-it but quickly gave up. I generally err toward the quality > quantity side of clothes shopping, but it’s all added up! (What is it with math and fashion??) Plus, the joy of finding new use out of an older item in my closet seems to justify keeping it all.

    All that to say I can’t imagine narrowing my wardrobe down to a capsule. After wearing a uniform in school for 10 years, I found creativity and empowerment in combining my clothes into new ideas, and re-imagining the uses of others. Plus I looveeeee shopping <3

    • Agreed! I wanted to burn my uniform on my last day of high school, but eventually thought it too petty. 🙂

  • I’m inspired by novelty so the only capsuling in my wardrobe is a core of reliable pieces to mix in with whatever is making my heart flutter today. A capsule is a great goal but unachievable for me personally. I do keep my closet pretty small though, I take really good care of the clothes so I can donate or sell and they can go on to live a happy second life with someone else.

    • Leslie Price

      Yes, capsule feels like this ideal and I just can never quite get there.

  • I agree so much with this. So much capsuling is about replacing and upgrading, but then changing out seasonally and you’re still always buying. I’ve stripped back my wardrobe just because it makes it easier for me to get dressed and it’s nice not to have to fight to get in it, but I’m under no illusions that my style might change as I do

    – Natalie
    http://www.workovereasy.com

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    I wear clothes until they wear out. I have found that expensive doesn’t always equal quality. Look the fabric, and especially the construction on the inside. I sew a lot for myself, so I know what I am looking for. Cotton sweaters seem to last a long time, as I have some that are over 6 years old. I had to get rid of one, because of a stain I couldn’t remove. I don’t have anything I don’t wear on a regular basis, except for a couple of very dressy dresses.

  • Cristina

    I remember when I first sparked interest in a “capsule wardrobe”, the account I stumbled upon purchased super expensive items. Like items not available on my salary and not even available to me locally. I thought ” who the eff can spend $700 each season for new clothes?!” (not me). So it felt very unrelatable and unattainable. I slowly morphed more into a simple wardrobe, because my style changed as I hit 29/30, so out went all the crap I was hanging onto but never wore. THEN I watched the documentary True Cost on Netflix and the light bulb went on. Yes, clothes can be expensive and still be made in harmful conditions with underpaid labor. So I source American made clothing, or certified ethical, fair trade, socially conscious etc It takes some work, but 1. It can be done and 2. You buy less simply because more isn’t an option. I recently purchased an AMAZING leather tote from a company called Parker Clay. I get compliments on it all the time, the leather feels like butter and the patina will just get better over time. I paid less for it than an MK bag (that’s considered the high end designer where I live) and I don’t even like MK, so for me it was a win. Next year, I hope to purchase a couple of american made, 100% cotton denim. That’s hard for me because 1, I wear denim every day and 2. They’re like $300. Oh and 3. I’m human and fluctuate enough pounds to need to keep 2 different sizes of jeans or skinny days and bloat day lol. So, I’m all for a minimal wardrobe. But one that works for YOU. NOT those curated monotone $$$$ curated ones you see on Instagram.

    • chaudlamouette

      I make my own clothes under the name of @chaudlamouette. I don’t sell on Etsy, I don’t do it for money, I make them because even if my fabrics aren’t always ethical, I feel as if I’ve interrupted the exploitation chain at least somewhere along the line. I grant that not everyone is made to sew and my endeavour was born out of passion rather than necessity. But seeing as I can only afford cheap clothing, I would rather wear my own crap than chemically soaked shit from Zara. Much like feminism, and the Danish concept of Hygge, minimalism has been reclaimed by balding marketing creatives or young entrepreneurs across the globe. A capsule wardrobe is an ideal, it’s the idea of less is more. Don’t be afraid to pull an Iris Apfel on the odd occasion, but don’t forget that daily comfort trumps over people’s approval. People laying out 400$ boots next to a 200$ back pack on a polished parquet floor and paying thousands in FB campaigns and sponsored posts is, as the author says, everything but simple and minimalistic.

  • It’s ultimate #goals – I like to look nice, but I don’t need to buy more shit than I need. I’d rather spend my money on traveling.

  • Suzy Lawrence

    I have a very limited, color neutral wardrobe. It’s been a while now, maybe 5 years since I made the change, and while I’m 100% sold on the French idea of everything coordinating (you can grab clothes and accessories with a blind fold on and still create a well put-together look), I absolutely agree that a truly “capsule wardrobe” is unattainable. I’ve learned the hard way that if I love something (which means the item has already passed a scrutinizing test before purchase and been worn multiple times after purchase), to buy two or three. Nothing lasts. Even quality leather boots made to soften, timeless bags and hats, and organic denim, it all breaks down and eventually needs professional care. While this is completely acceptable, I just refer back to “nothing” lasting regardless of price. Spend $300 or $1000 the item will eventually need care or replacement. I try to remember to stay away from synthetic fabrics, buy within my means, always wash cold, and bring my boot guy lots of cookies (as they’ll often fix more than your soles if you treat ’em right).

  • I’m not sure if I could do a proper capsule wardrobe. I limit myself to what can fit in my drawers and closet. If they’re looking too full I go through them and donate what I don’t 100% love. I don’t think I shop very often. If I do it’s one piece here and there. I have no problem with wearing old clothes – I have a pair of shorts that are turning 10 this year and I still love them! But I don’t think I’d be able to resist my urges to buy new things. I’ll think about an item endlessly for weeks until I break down and buy it.

    And I agree that expensive doesn’t always mean good quality. I used to work at a boutique with pretty expensive clothes, a basic white tank cost $100. My boss gifted me a pair of expensive joggers, I think they cost $150 and were made of a luxe fabric, and they started pilling after only a few wears. Those 10 year old shorts I mentioned above were from Topshop and I think they still look great.

  • Kubla

    You are perfection and an antidote to reading Leanne and then wanting her outfits which are more like a dress up box then a capsule.

    • I kind of read the style pieces (especially Leandra’s) as a personal styling challenge – how close can I come to this by getting creative with what I already have instead of wishing for (buying?) what she’s got on? It’s hard though, sometimes I close a tab and want to get up and go shopping…

      • Kubla

        Totally! I am super proud of her as someone who figured out how to get new clothes delivered to her door (what a beauty), yet I can’t take that route because it creates discord within me to encourage excess shopping.

  • I dance this dance so much, it’s sickening. No I don’t want a ton of stuff and I want what I do have to last forever, but damn…a whole lot of it just isn’t up to the task. Sometimes, shelling out for designer leaves me feeling silly because the quality is not much better than what you’d find in Forever 21.

    Then there’s the boredom angle that leaves me in moments where I want to either chuck the whole thing or go on a binge to find all those fun things that will liven everything up. It’s a balancing act.

    Lately, I’ve been considering my motivations for keeping my amount of clothing on the smaller side – I don’t have a lot of space and appreciate quality – and marrying that with my more impulsive side. The former gets to spend more money and time sussing out what’s worthy of being a long-term closet resident and the latter gets to have fun at Buffalo Exchange or Depop every now and again. It’s working for now. Kind of.

    • I’m sure you know this, but changing up your hair, makeup, and accessories does some pretty magical work to stifle the boredom of wearing the same garments. Helps identify different occasions in the all mighty IG feed too. hah

  • Meg S

    I want a capsule wardrobe. Instead I have enough clothes to fill my walk in closet, a dresser, a secretary desk and the closet in my second bedroom. I’m saddled with concert tees that don’t see the light of day very often, but I love them too much to let them go. How many pairs of black skinny pants do I need? I live in them, and no matter how little or much they cost, I feel they never last long enough. I’m unwilling to let go of shoes that I love but aren’t comfortable or don’t fit properly. I spend an average of $100 per piece, give or take, with a few statement piece exceptions. Maybe I should spend more and buy less. I haven’t found the happy medium yet.

    • Hellbetty666

      Are you me?! I have had to dedicate two drawers in the spare room for my “archived but still wear occasionally” band shirts. This is in addition to my “so old I will never wear but cannot part with” and “current, wear all the time” band shirts. Don’t even get me started on my dresses!

      I was convinced that Marie Kondo book would change my life, but it just made me realise my frocks and t shirts spark joy and I am a hoardery, messy bish. I have adopted her folding method though, and I think I am a bit tidier than I was before, so maybe it is just a case of finding what works for you.

      • Meg S

        I might be. I’ve spent a lot of time at concerts, and I always come home with a t-shirt. At least my black concert tees go with my black skinny jeans. Usually. Matching blacks is hard. They’re great to pull out when I’m in the mood for rock chic, as my friend calls it.

        I’ve tried different organizational books, and maybe I should invest in that Marie Kondo book. It might not change me completely, and I won’t get rid of everything I own because I’m sentimental about things, but I could use to be a bit tidier.

  • I feel SO validated by this.

    I also feel like there has to be a happy medium. Like you, I’d be bored with a capsule (my taste is all over the place), but excess can spiral out of control pretty quickly. Maybe we should be chasing controlled joy? A wardrobe filled with things you truly love, but only up to a size you reasonably use (with room allowed for strictly seasonal things to go out of rotation for a while). That’s what I’m trying right now, but not with any kind of military precision – that takes the fun out of randomly walking into a store and falling in love with a weird top. Not buying it because it doesn’t fit the checklist seems unreasonably restrictive…

    My last feeling: “I’m like Marie Kondo, but everything sparks meh instead of joy” is the best thing I’ve read this week 🙂

  • Miss J

    Oh how I wish one day that I could get rid of all the clothes I don’t wear so I can have few great pieces and that’s it. I just can’t because I keep on thinking that 5-10 years down the road I will need the stuff I threw out.
    On Netflix there’s a great movie about people who work in the fashion industry (the ugly side of sweatshops) and the ecological footprint we are leaving behind just from buying fast fashion. I recommend it because it’s not as “hippy” as one might imagine.

    • rachel

      I mean I know its probably not great to urge people to hang onto junk buttttt six months ago I found a dress my mom bought me 15 years ago and I am loving it all over again, so…

      • Miss J

        Exactly! I’m 32 and I still have a skirt that I took from my best friend when we were 14 that I wear at the beach during summers that I can fit into it!

    • Forgot to mention the name of it. The True Cost, for anyone that cares
      ; )

      • Miss J

        Whoops 🙂 Thanks

  • Omg i just understood that this is a pill organiser, how cool is that!!

  • Natalie Drenth

    Loved this article, it’s a concept I myself struggle with, mainly because I want to be sustainable with my fashion choices but this in turn can be limiting. Perhaps the solution is to keep the concept of the capsule wardrobe but base it more on originality, rather than saying: I must have 1 white Tee, 1 blue wash jeans…etc. Maybe we all need to focus more on creating personal style rather than trying to emulate one another’s “capsule wardrobe”?

    • Jessica

      definitely

    • Yeupp, and as a man into sustainable style, there are even fewer options. hah

      From a sustainability perspective, I’m starting to think capsule collections are less so. The increase wear-and-tear means buying more garments more often. In theory, a bigger wardrobe allows you wear each piece less frequently, thus lasting longer. But I just read that fabrics have a self-life, so maybe not.

  • Karissa

    I think what I enjoy so much about putting together a capsule wardrobe is that it’s a good way to “come back to center”. While it sometimes makes me feel limited, it offers me an opportunity to assess why I feel that way. Am I feeling bummed about my outfit choices because overall I feel bummed out or is it because I know Madewell is having a sale that I’m missing out on (even though I also know I don’t need anything)? I would say, however, that I don’t let my capsule wardrobe make me feel sad. For example, if I REALLY want to wear my blue sweater that I’ve packed away and haven’t include in this cycle of my capsule wardrobe and it would bum me out for the rest of the day not to wear it – I’ll just go pull it out of the suitcase where I keep the things I’m saving for next season. No big deal.

    I agree with your final point. I think it’s all about the perspective and mindset you have going in to it.

  • Jessica

    capsule means learning to mend and investing in a pilling shaver.

  • A Local Honey

    I feel like I’m on an island here by saying I LOVE MY SMALL WARDROBE. (Which, for whatever reason, I refuse to call a capsule wardrobe – probably because “capsule wardrobe” is a trend and my small wardrobe is anything but.) I have found that my style revolves around a few, basic looks – button down with or without sweater, jeans, skirts, dresses. So, those are the only things I own. Anytime I’m wearing an outfit that doesn’t fit my comfy mold, I feel out of touch with myself. I don’t feel like myself in sporty casual clothing or in boyfriend jeans with a cool tee. Part of this “capsule” phenomenon is about finding what you feel best in and embracing it with everything you have. Did someone say you look great in that pink wrap dress? Wear it twice a week! Do those skinny jeans with the Breton shirt make you feel so f’ing French that you can hardly stand it? Wear it daily!
    If you only wear clothing that makes you look and feel great, you might find that you need less variety.

    • rachel

      Love this! I hate when people talk about a capsule wardrobe like it can only be navy sweaters and classic pants– it can be anything, as long as it’s something you want to wear over and over. I had a professor that only ever wore a pink or a purple A-line skirt, ever. And it worked for her! I only ever saw her in one of three skirts, but she always looked great.

    • How long do you expect your clothes to last if you wear them daily? After two years of wearing one or another pair of jeans, one is beyond saving and the other needs serious repair.

      I agree. Capsule collections are definitely not about copying an aesthetic. Fashion often bastardizes style concepts though.

      • A Local Honey

        Some of my heavy lifters (silk shirts fr Everlane, denim fr Madewell and Boden) I’ve had for several years and will have for several more. I think the way to make denim last forever is by not washing it – my favorite pair of jeans I bought from Draper James 4 years ago and I’ve washed them twice. Their color is still rich and their shape hasn’t budged.
        I made a rule for myself that I won’t buy it unless I feel like I’ll keep it forever. That helps me keep things to a minimum.

  • Fran

    A capsule can be a great way to start a wardrobe, if you’ve suddenly got a new job, are living in a different climate, have gained or lost a lot of weight, or simply need a major change. And it can be incredibly useful when time, money, and space are tight. But it doesn’t allow enough room for creativity and self-expression for me to have fun with getting dressed, when I have the time and energy to enjoy that process instead of just having to get out the door in a hurry. If I needed to stick to a capsule for my core clothing and shoes (a restrictive corporate dress code, say), I’d want a large variety of accessories to go with it, especially scarves, necklaces, bags, watches, earrings, hats, tights, socks…

  • 808kate

    I worked at Neiman Marcus for awhile, and can say for sure that expensive doesn’t always mean quality and it definitely doesn’t mean durability. I would love to know specific brands that place emphasis on the longevity of their products – in the meantime I try to figure it out myself; I like the Everlane/DSTLD model for basics. I love vintage jeans because they’ve lived longer than me and they feel so good! Then the rest of my wardrobe is thrifted. I like to go every couple of weeks and find stuff I would have paid a pretty penny for bought new (like a grey APC wool overcoat I got for $60 – I love Portland thrift stores!) I feel like after years of costly mistakes I finally figured out my system!

    • Clara

      I’ve had great experiences with Marc O’Polo. I don’t think this brand is very popular in the US – correct me if I’m wrong – but everything I have bought from them is really durable and high quality. I still have some dresses, blouses and shoes from 10 years ago that are still almost as nice as they were then (with loads of wear in those years). Everything I have bought since then has been holding up great. And the quality doesn’t seem to be declining every year as with other brands e.g. I bought a par of red trousers last year that I have worn almost 40 times since then and it looks new (of course one year is not long but with many brands that were great quality 5-10 years ago you would see that quality has declined in recent years and clothes look used after only one year). Other than that I’m not sure which brands to blindly trust.

  • BK

    I’m glad I read this article before diving into a long-overdue wardrobe purge. It made me more ruthless than usual and also helped me set a resolve to buy less shit that I don’t even need in the first place. As much as I love TheRealReal, Vestiaire Collective and finding $$$mega cheap$$$ pre-owned designer gear on eBay, there comes a time in a gal’s life when 9 (!) pairs of smart work pants in varying tones of gray and black are and 7 “classic white shirts” in slightly varying styles are DEFINITELY ENOUGH (see picture). Now I open my wardrobe and have a much clearer head and conscience, and get dressed a million times quicker. Instead of absentmindedly looking at clothes online all the time thinking “I need that, I have nothing decent to wear”, I realised I have a shitload of things and can instead aim the moderate sum of money I’d normally spend on a heap of average things, towards a few high quality items, namely a pair of Church’s loafers, and some clear-frame Celine sunglasses. Stuff I’ve wanted for ages but have been put off by the price tag – but meanwhile spent that amount several times over on stuff I didn’t really even love or need! The rest of whatever that I’ll save is going on a trip to Europe. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6a43e136ea1832aa758c5d35244df40e0f242ff2d4b6cec568285a1d131b2c18.jpg

  • Junglesiren

    I can’t live with a “capsule wardrobe”. If price and quality are the issue I suggest checking out some upscale vintage and thrift shops. I buy Italian and Scottish cashmere sweaters from them for less than 20 bucks. Gorgeous. High-end designer jeans fill the racks (though not necessarily from the latest season). I bought a gorgeous Mui Mui bag the other day for 8 bucks. There was no price on it and the clerk, a young guy, had no idea what Mui Mui was. I’ve bought lots of silk scarves, funs sun glasses, vintage band t-shirts, and snake-skin purses. I do have “capsule” items (good, neutral staples from vintage stores) but I prefer well-made stuff with personality. I stop in my favorite thrift stores every week to see what they’ve got. Yesterday I bought a beautiful red, suede belt and a green snake-skin one, 3 bucks each. I’m not wealthy… but I like good stuff and just am not that into poly blend.

  • rachel

    Whether your shopping at Barney’s or Zara, I have one eternal tip for helping to assess durability: look at the clothes! I know it sounds really obvious, but I never seem to see anyone doing it besides me. Look at/tug on seams, check out the fabric content, look at the way it hangs when its brand new. If it’s already lopsided, if there are loose buttons and straggling threads, if you already barely want to touch the weird poly blend, don’t buy it!

  • As someone who came by my capsule in a similar manner, I’m happy you wrote this. (Now, I don’t have to.) It is disappointing how little correlation value and cost have. Ready-to-wear designer, especially, makes absolutely no sense to me. It wasn’t made to fit me, so what am I actually paying for if not quality?

    While having less material goods liberates my soul, the decomposition of my favorite garments due to consecutive overwear is brutal. I’ve recently opted for making my own clothes. I want to better understand durability, and I don’t want lose my current batch of favorites so quickly. Not my favorite solution, but might be better than wringing my hands.

    On another note, if the goal is to repel men, don’t write so eloquently. haha (jokes)

  • beckly

    One thing I now know after decades of wardrobe editing is that I’ve basically worn variations on the same items for decades. So keep everything you truly love and hardly wear, as you’ll still truly love it and still wear it occasionally when you’re 50, 60 and 70. I’m still wearing shoes I bought in 1988. Also, polyester is always landfill.

  • Capsule wardrobe doesn’t work for me, as my life has too many directions. I have two jobs that each have a totally separate wardrobe– and they aren’t clothes I really like anyway. I just have to dress to look the part. Then I have another wardrobe full of clothes that I love, but I only get to wear them during my off time from work. I spend 95% of my shopping budget on my fun clothes, but can only wear them 15% of the time. Often I don’t have enough time to even wear something until a year or two later after I bought it, so I try to buy high quality items that I’d still like after 2-3 years. I also purge my closet every 2 months. I’ve found it’s easiest to throw it all in a ThredUp bag (click here to check it out http://www.thredup.com/r/UWRD7W) and make $300.

  • Tess

    There are lots of ways to do a capsule wardrobe, and it sounds like this way isn’t working for you. I also moved from California to New York. I noticed myself going the same way as you, tending towards keeping and wearing only the clothes that were reliable but made me feel blah. I’m not happy without occasional days trying on “colorful, fanciful creations in front of a mirror.” A neutral-only wardrobe would never work for me.

    Deciding to take conscious control of my capsule and make a plan about what would be in it was a revelation! I like color, so I have plenty of color, and only colors that I love and look good on me: a green dress, a bright blue shirt, a purple shirt, etc. Of course, I have SOME neutrals to tie it together, but they aren’t EVERYTHING. I also don’t do the 10-item wardrobe. I have 45 items, including shoes and scarves, but not jewelry. Almost everything that could be worn together, can be worn together, and figuring out new ways to put things together I never would have thought of is pretty fun. I actually do that MORE since making my capsule. Also key was deciding that I would have a variety of necklines and shapes, so I wouldn’t get bored or feel like I was wearing a uniform every day. I can make more new options by layering. It’s amazing and wonderful and I have never regretted getting rid of the clothes I only felt meh about.

    On the other hand, I totally understand your other problem. Finding clothes that really stand the test of time is such a crapshoot. It’s pushing me gradually towards making my own clothes (I already fix them and sometimes alter them). Other people shop secondhand, which can be like buying a secondhand car: you’re less likely to get a surprise lemon because someone already tried it out. Buying more expensive is not the answer in my experience either, it’s just a bigger gamble. So, no easy solution. But only buying and wearing only clothes that you love seems like it’s worthwhile anyway, even if they don’t last for years.