Screw Capsule Wardrobes: The Case for Keeping It All

Now that fashion month is over and a series of manufacturing and retail decisions has been set in motion, we know what comes next: that feeling months from now when we’ll crave something new — colors, silhouettes, chic ways to style a balaclava for impending apocalypse. Eventually, we’ll clear space in our closets to accommodate new pieces and we’ll feel good about it. Even before everyone became a Marie Kondo acolyte, the psychological virtues of decluttering were well known. It is considered worthy, freeing, and nimble to pare down — like you’re a sartorial monk, or the lean interior of a Muji store. And while I too enjoy the psychological benefits of tackling something like an unremitting pile of mail, when it comes to a closet, I am proponent of its cardinal sin: keeping everything.

This is not a fashionable idea. It has a claustrophobic ring to it and suggests you might become a walking tribute to jewel-tone tanks and bandage dresses. But in my transition to college, several apartments and a cross-country move, I’ve hung on to everything that hasn’t yet disintegrated and I am here to tell you: virtually every piece has swung back around.

Given what we know about fashion cycles, do you think there’s any chance they won’t?

This habit began out of financial necessity. If you care about fashion but don’t have the budget of a Real Housewife, you hang onto things and spend a lot of time thinking about how to make them go the distance. Over time, my approach became best practice. The fair isle American Eagle knit I bought in Herald Square in 2007 made an appearance this fall when that Loewe sweater made the rounds on Instagram. Whenever 90’s Kate Moss grunge comes back, I reach for the strapless, gauzy, mid-calf Banana Republic dress I wore to my high school graduation in 2003. When wide leg trousers returned this fall in earnest, I pulled out a pair from 2001 J.Crew and let out the hems so they grazed the floor. There is a herringbone Theory blazer that sits in my closet — too small in proportion for how we wear blazers now, but ready for when they return more fitted. Given what we know about fashion cycles, do you think there’s any chance they won’t?

Drop-crotch. Ankle. Logo. High-waist. Low-slung. Pleated. Victorian. Gathered. Cropped. Floral. Military. Equestrian. You hear these words over and over as seasons tick onwards. And the genius of their repetition lies in the fact that a designer is showing them to you again — but in a way you never imagined. If you, like most people who enjoy fashion, land somewhere in the median of trends — easing into contemporary silhouettes and purchasing a few statement pieces each cycle, the DNA of the runways may already be in your closet. I would never detract from the ingenuity and craftsmanship of a heart-stirring striped, layered, quilted look from Sacai, but I am saying that if you hang onto enough, you may already have its ingredients.

Of course, this approach to building a wardrobe requires patience, a consistent clothing size, a tailor, and an auxiliary space for storage outside of the small quarters in which you might live (for example: the home of parents who statistically contribute to this being an unpopular idea). There’s research suggesting it’s difficult to let go of some pieces because we tie them to our self-worth. Perhaps that’s part of why I do it. But it’s also literal worth. Collections have gone from two to ten a year. Fast fashion circulates new silhouettes instantly. Trends are more widespread and fragmented than ever. Don’t you think there’s a good chance that a piece you’ve long forgotten will show up on someone in a way that makes you want to wear it again?

What about those pieces — the Isabel Marant Bekkit wedge sneaker, say — that became ubiquitous time capsules of a moment? To this, I say: don’t discount the power of nostalgia. There’s so much of it characterizing fashion now that you could set a clock by when something comes back with a wink. Last year, Vetements gave you an updated version of the logo-bottomed Juicy Couture velour pants. The world’s most talked-about women walk around in puffy white sneakers formerly exclusive to suburban dads. So keep it all! You don’t know what’s going to happen, and there’s never been a better time to go all in on all your bets.

Photos by Edith Young; Styled by Harling Ross; Modeled by Eva Klimkova of Society NYC. 

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  • Marie Rollin

    I’m currently welcoming my boyfriend in my 42sq meters apartment in Paris – and am a big clothes collector (from highschool staples to my mom’s vintage Laura Ashley dresses, or grandmother’s mod dress) and built a 3meter long closet for the purpose of keeping it all, since I’ve been wearing it all for years (decades now…). My friends were supporting a closet cleanse, my boyfriend arrived with suitcases full, but I can’t throw things away just to buy them again in a couple of years. If you like fashion like me, and you keep investing in great quality pieces (vintage or secondhand because no money) it seems crazy to get rid of them! I’m so happy to read about this on MR, I thought I was the only clothes hoarder here. Now I’m gonna give the boyfriend the news, since MR supports it, he’s the one who needs to get rid of 10 years old stained hoodies and fleece jumpers that belonged to his dad 🙂

  • Maren Lindquist

    I completely agree. It just makes for a royal pain in the butt when you move frequently. Hang on to things because they all eventually come back in style. Maybe except for low rise jeans no one needs those.

    • Seriously, if low rise jeans become the “thing” again I guess I’ll have to limit my wardrobe to only jumpsuits 😂

      • Keren Iversen

        Low rise jeans don’t happen very often but for those of us with short torsos and long legs…who don’t necessarily want to emphasize the extremity of our proportions…they’re a rare and beautiful gift.

        • Emily Stark

          I have a short torso and long legs and I while i agree that a low-rise is more “flattering”…I love a nice high-waist. And I can see them fading away slowly and that’s all I own now. I am a Mari Konvert and I’m both nostalgic about things I let go and excited to have an excuse to buy a few new things .

  • Aleda Johnson

    Spot On!

    It circumvents the inevitable self-butt-kicking when that one shirt you just got rid of on your last trip to Good Will suddenly comes back into style.

  • I have to agree with you 🙂
    I tend to buy basics and only a few choice trends – “OK, I have that already” is now one of the most common sentences to describe my current wardrobe, both basic and trendy bits. And while I may have slightly overdone the number of denim shirts, in most cases, I try not to amass similar items but rather really wear those that I have.
    And yes, that’s what a sewing machine is for: to tweak a bit and be excited about it 🙂
    The other realization that struck me repeatedly in the past: the quality of those hoarded items can be much better than with those offered right now. It is not a rule, but a source of pride and consolation to me …
    And: I prefer to wear clothes that were often washed. I always hope any poisons were removed and my clothes are healthier now 🙂

    • Alex

      “The other realization that struck me repeatedly in the past: the quality of those hoarded items can be much better than with those offered right now.”

      I so agree with this! I had so many good quality clothes when I was a teenager (I had poor style, but I occasionally got influenced by my well-styled mum and aunt). Sadly, I didn’t even consider there would be such a thing as “personal style” or that trends would come back, so I got rid of them when I grew up.
      Many of those same brands offer significant less quality these days. I guess that many mid-priced brands got pressured when HM and Zara entered the market, and had to lower prices and quality…

      • Yes, that is probably the reason. I bought a pair of Levi’s 2 weeks ago and did not really like the quality. They were not that cheap, but made in Bangladesh… 🙂 I should have kept mine 🙁 too.

  • Anna Impson

    Totally agree. I’m in my mid 20s and still have items from high school that I love. I went several years without loving them, but sure enough, it came back in style and I was obsessed again. There are definitely items and trends that I fell victim to (Ed Hardy, anything Juicy, low rise jeans, etc.) that I’ve trashed, and even if they do come back, I don’t really think it’s my personal style anymore. Which I think also brings up a great point of personal style mixed with the items you hoard. Maybe some items you hold on to don’t go with the trends you’re feeling at the moment but you still love them for the quality, their quirks, or even a sentiment. And if there was ever an argument for not holding on to everything, let’s look at Iris Apfel. She is closet goals, and it seems like she’s held on to quite a bit.

    • brabra1

      I agree. I will hold on to things that I don’t wear if I loved them once or if I still like them but just don’t wear them because they don’t feel me anymore because maybe they will again one day, but if it’s something I’ve grown to hate.. out it goes, probably never suited me to begin with.

      • Anna Impson

        I get that. We are constantly changing our minds about things, and who’s to say we aren’t going to change our mind about a statement piece in our closet. I had very strong feelings to the scrunchie, and look where it is now – trending on Man Repeller.

  • Yes!! When my closet/drawers start overflowing I’ll get rid of visibly old/falling apart pieces but it’s so hard for me to let go of anything else. It does all come back around.

  • eva

    THANK YOU!!!! signed, wearing pleated burberry glen plaids from 1998, and alpaca turtleneck sweater from 1996.

  • Emily M

    Wow, all of you who still have items from high school/earlier…..they still fit?! None of my stuff would fit me now if I had kept any!

  • Hanna Lane

    This is a super interesting take, and as someone who regularly wishes she had a capsule wardrobe, it’s making me rethink things a little. That being said, I don’t think this article is totally at odds with the ethos of a “capsule.” For me, one of the primary draws of a capsule is about not buying more than you need, and you’re obviously doing a ton of recycling – you’re recognizing that you already have a lot of what you need. Your habits don’t sound like the mass consumerism that capsules were created to avoid.

    • Wednesday

      many purveyors of capsule wardrobes, at least those who write blogs on the subject, appear to be consuming as much as anyone else, only in neutral colours. They rarely wear anything more than 2 or 3 years old. And of course, they receive benefits when their readers are redirected to their sponsers’ sites to shop shop shop. To own a few clothes at any one time has no real benefits if consuming and throwing out remains at unsustainable levels.
      Sham sham sham.

  • Jessica Downing

    I feel like I’m at the point now where I’m buying things that I would want to hang onto for when they come back around, things that don’t feel disposable like everything I had in middle/high school. There’s also a thought I constantly have about wanting to keep everything so that one day my future daughters can have all this ‘cool’ old stuff that I am wearing now. Is that crazy? I’m also in school (about to graduate, woo!) for apparel design, and I look forward to when I have overflowing closets of things that I’ve made that my daughters will be able to wear 20 years from now. My grandma was a seamstress and my mom has a ton of kind of ridiculous but adorable cross-stitched sweaters she made. We found one the other night that has detailed versions of my mom’s 3 childhood cats cross-stitched on the front and it was such a great find! I don’t know if it’s a crazy thought process to have, but I’m really excited to be that mom/grandma that has a huge collection of old clothes!

    • brabra1

      I always think that, too.. that it would cool to have ‘vintage’ stuff for my daughter to wear. But then I also wonder if she will have her own unique style and hate all of my stuff, which is also fine with me.

    • I wear a lot of my mom’s stuff from the 90s and a gorgeous Levi’s jean jacket that my grandma bought in the 60s. Passing down quality garments is a must! Please do this!

  • Jenny

    Haleluja! I’m fortyone and love recycling my wardrobe. Bought the oldest pieces in current use… in 1994?

  • tamara winawer

    2 words: Cowboy. Boots. (Been collecting since Since 1990…)

  • Camille Torres

    My mom has had this attitude for as long as I can remember! She saved her essential pieces from the 70s 80s and 90s and here I am wearing them today, compliments abound.

    I also think there’s a case to be made for this in regards to environmentalism- consume a little less but still be fashion forward because everything comes back!

    As someone who loves fashion but is haunted by my consumption habits when talking about environmental issues, would love to hear MR’s thoughts on this topic.

    • Elizabeth Beanland

      Same. I have so many ideas about this, I want to pitch them all to MR.

  • J’agree!!! I’m a big fan of decluttering, but I’m also sentinmental as hell about clothes that are special in some way. I still have my prom dress from when I was 16. I think the philosophy of throwing away things you don’t wear “often enough” is kind of missing the point!!

  • Hannah Betts

    I am about to turn 47 and still wear a cardigan from when I was 14. It was vintage then and £7. I left it in the South of France once, and a kind friend brought it back. I’ve been lucky enough to have a fairly consistent personal style. I do chime with fashion, but the minute-by-minute tick is myself.

  • JennyWren

    I was thinking a lot about wardrobe minimalism the other day, and I wonder how much of it’s appeal is about the clothes themselves, as about what we think it says about us. If clothing ourselves is an act of expression, does the minimalist wardrobe suggest the wearer is more reliable, more practical, more substantive? And is the turn against a full wardrobe a rejection of an apparently frivolous, Bridget-Jones-style, “OMG I have nothing to wear!!!” femininity? Is it just a way of saying women can only be more equal when they start behaving like men? Or do we assume a woman who has more clothes to chose from is less knowable? If clothing says something about who we are, what does it mean when we chose to be a different person every day?

    • Well, if it helps :-), here’s my story about having many clothes and waiting for them to become fashionable again or for me to simply want to wear them: it keeps my expenses a bit … greener, it makes for less garbage, it saves me time otherwise spent for shopping and/or selling/thrusting upon others… it enables me to reminisce about the good old times … and so on.
      Yes, I always have something to wear 🙂 and I feel this is one of the possible responsible ways to deal with this topic. But I am also not super boring about it: there are items I have too many of, because I wanted to, screw the system, it is just I don’t allow myself to “disappear them” and expect of myself to wear them all. 🙂

    • I think men can be as “frivolous” as women! I have a great example, although from a hundred years ago. An English officer called Younghusband, who took HUNDREDS of pieces of clothing (and of all wonderfully bizarre kind) on an expedition to TIBET. I wish I could quote, but I don’t have the book at hand – if you’re interested, it’s called “Into the silence” and is mainly about Mallory’s attempts to climb the Everest.

      On a more practical note, capsule wardrobes have been popularised by people who wanted to introduce the concept of ethical fashion to others. Very simple: as fashion is an incredibly wasteful industry, it’s crucial to buy as little new clothing as possible in order to minimise the waste and pollution. On the contrary, by all means do make the most use of the clothes you already have! 😁

  • Yes!!! No capsule collection for me! I already feel too constrained in my wardrobe and am wearing a few things too much, so the idea of paring down to 20 items is so upsetting. Also, THANK YOU for reminding me to keep my short blazers, because they’re SO out of style now I feel like I’m stunted when wearing them. Also, can you believe bucket hats are back in style? I’m so upset that I wrote about it:

    Eva |

  • lateshift

    See, I’m torn because 1) if you live in New York, any savings from not re-purchasing trends are sort of balanced out by some combination of the cost of storage and the stress of drowning in stuff in (relatively) small living spaces; 2) if you live in a 4-season climate and have a large wardrobe for each season, not only will you drown in stuff, you won’t wear half of it (and statistically, the stuff you do wear will get worn maybe once a year); and 3) this sort of approach works best for those who hop from style to style to style because they don’t have their own consistent style figured out, which sounds like stress on a stick to me, though ymmv.

    On the other hand: the word “capsule” in this context is absurd, and always has been. It’s a small wardrobe. It’s a harmonious wardrobe. But unless you’re putting it in a pill and swallowing it, get over yourself – it’s. not. a. “capsule.”

    • @ 2) & 3):
      For some of us, the existent 4 seasons basically translate into 2: hot summers, when the lightest clothes are worn, and the rest of the year, when layering occurs. As I tend to wear “tops with jeans and/or cardigans” (+ outerwear) 90% of the time, not much style hopping happens, but I do have a small dresses/skirts capsule, just in case.
      Now, space problems really exist ( which is why I limit my shopping, since discarding good clothes is not an option) and I don’t get to wear too many things, because I work at home and do not wear ‘outside clothes’ at home – another capsule for me then. If I am correct, it is called loungewear – but it is only clothes I would not wear outside for any reason.

  • Mindy Bogue

    I don’t have a capsule wardrobe, but I recently donated about half my clothes. I just don’t have the space for tons of clothes for each season. It was getting to the point where I just wasn’t wearing a lot of it. Now, all my clothes (excluding outerwear) fit in my half of the small bedroom closet and my dresser. No more storing off-season clothes and still dealing with an overflowing dresser. I think there is a happy medium, but we need to do what works for us. I am already seeing a few holes in my wardrobe, like I could use apone or two more long pullover sweaters. Other than that, this is soooo much better for me!

  • alexia

    I like the idea but have found that trends are always slightly different and when something is too dated it won’t come back looking all fresh a few years later. I suppose there are some pieces that will stand the test of time, but they’ll have to have a classic quality about them (like a burberry trench)?

  • YES TO ALL OF THIS!!!!! I’ve been a thrift store shopper for like 20 years, and I hold onto all my fav pieces even when they go “out” bc they always come back. Can we make maximalism the new minimalism?!

  • Ashley S

    I think not keeping things like clothes, like not keeping your leftovers after you cook a big meal, is a cultural choice.

    My grandmother lived through the Depression, and unless she gives something to a friend (or me,) she usually keeps things until they fall apart. She’s also not a yard sale person and never asks for money for the things she gives or lends, because she actually sees real worth in them. Before WWII, throwing clean clothes away really just wasn’t an option for most.

    I learned early in college that completely changing your identity sartorially costs a lot of money, because you end up with an entire wardrobe that means nothing and seems like a phase. Luckily, my Marilyn Manson-phase green trench coats and square-toed boots were mostly thrifted.

  • Boo Yakasha

    So true! Still wearing my ribbed sweaters and cardis from Express circa early 2000s and rejoicing when I see the same thing at UO and Ref. Thank you for sharing this thought. I’ve always liked keeping the pieces I love even when they are no longer in vogue, as if having a tiny little vintage shop in my own closet. You make me feel better about not having the beautifully spare capsule wardrobe that I always envied but could not recreate.

  • I’m really glad MR wrote about this! While I love getting rid of pieces that don’t fit right and being very careful about bringing new pieces into my wardrobe, I’ve started storing some that are currently not in style but will most definitely come back at some point. It feels wasteful to get rid of pieces I carefully picked out and spent good money on just because they don’t fit current trends. And I’m sure that what “brings me joy” (a la Marie Kondo) at any given moment has a lot to do with what I’m seeing on the runway–what makes me feel cool and like I belong–so why get rid of things that fit perfectly and will most likely make me super happy a few seasons down the line? Thanks for this piece.

  • LMB

    Lately, I have been getting ready to move and have been ruthlessly cleaning out my closet. I do this rather often. This time around I am trying to be more judicious, but at the end of the day, I only have so much space and patience. There’s a wide gulf between capsule wardrobe and hoarder, and I’m trying to swim in it freely.

  • Jessica

    I do value a good closet purge as a soul clearing experience, but I do have a bad habit of taking it too far, and wanting back something I gave up shortly after. A little balance would go a long way! I do think there’s value in hanging onto to outdated fashion pieces that are at least well made for the reasons cited here. But anything cheap I get rid of (which I’m trying to make a habit of not buying in the first place)

  • Emily Smith

    Also, if you have a capsule wardrobe, what would you do on those days when you feel like wearing something completely outrageous that ninety-nine days out of a hundred you’d shrink from wearing?

  • ida

    this is my new favorite article that i have read on this website. I have struggled with reconciling a large and not thematically consistent closet with a desire for a streamlined ideal, but this article put things in a more forgiving perspective.thank you.

  • Gia

    i moved back home last year after college and I literally have 5 closets worth of clothes (not proud of it at all) 1) the clothes I took to college 2) the clothes I kept at my parents house while at college 3) the clothes in the guest room closet but don’t always wear but kept because you never know! 4) clothes from college that I didn’t put in a storage unit while my parents are moving 5) the MANY bins of clothes I stored in my parents attic but forgot about.

    Its so hard because part of me is reimagining all new outfits (and it’s true everything does come back in style!) but I’m also like ahhh this is just too much I want a capsule wardrobe. So many conflicting feelings and this article did not help me make a decision haha!

  • b.e.g.

    Love this article. This is my school of thought. Learned from my mother, a very stylish woman, not a trend follower, just had style. Not so much anymore. BUT! A huge but here, she rarely gets rid of anything. And when my sister started raiding my mother’s closet, I laughed because I am the only one that can fit into her 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s pieces. I made a huge mistake when I disposed of a gorgeous pair of kid skin, high waisted pants with a deep purple inset band, wide legs, lined in a comfortable fabric, the most expensive garment I had ever bought, yes, what was I thinking? I was disgusted with my body, nothing fit, I was deeply depressed. I still have tons of crappy things I should trash, yet I gave away my wedding dress, these pants, and tons of 1980s oversized shoulder blazers. But the kid skin pants still haunt me. I didn’t even sell them, I just gave them away. Sometimes I tear apart my house thinking I will find them tucked away somewhere. Gone. My mother showed up one day with a gift for me, a pair of black suede pants, bell bottoms, tuxedo stripes, high waisted, gorgeous. Purchased in London in 1973. They are a good substitute for the kid suede pants. Almost.

  • Kasey

    Love this! I always find my closet to be a mixture of a bunch of different styles and I have the hardest time getting rid of clothes. I hope that I can not only wear some pieces in the future but also give them to my daughter.

  • Ginikachi Eloka

    You make a very good case, my friend. Even I, who is only just learning the practice of letting go, am considering that may be holding on is not such a bad idea after all.

    Well done.

  • Guyanese

    I planned beforehand not to shop any piece of clothing this year. My coworkers think it’s impossible. So far so good. I still go shopping with my mother but never buy any clothing and I look great.

  • kelleylynn

    This is very me and I appreciate this a lot. Maximalism forever.

  • Kea

    I worked at a local buy/sell/trade store (Similar to Buffalo Exchange) for 5 years. My wardrobe was CONSTANTLY changing. I left the company and moved across the country 3 years ago and purged a lot of stuff. I think about some pieces (especially vintage) and how wished I’d hung onto them all the time. I’ve always shared the same sentiment as this post. In the back of my mind I would think, “Maaaaaaybe this will come back into style one day. Maaaaaaaaybe you should keep this piece just in case” while also thinking “Less is more! You’ll never wear this again! Get rid of it all!” Looking back, I really wish I hung onto them.