On capsule wardrobes


I'm off to a recording session in a couple weeks, and received a reminder not to wear clothing that makes noise when I move. I told them I'd be there with bells on. (Get it? 'Cause being there with bells on means being there ready to party, and being there with actual bells on is bad for recording? ...Eh, it's an old saying anyway.)

When it comes to things to wear, I can understand the appeal of playing with color and texture, and what clothes-conscious people find worthwhile in all the effort expended in what they wear. It actually can be great fun to do, but it isn't my priority. Like I said in an earlier post, I don't care about fashion. However, I do enjoy capsule wardrobes.

The capsule wardrobe is nothing new; the modern incarnation of it has been around for decades now, from Donna Karan in the 1980's and Susie Faux in the 1970's. It's more of a method, I think, that requires awareness of your clothing choices in order to winnow them down to what you value most; as opposed to shopping for trends, where a choice that the rest of the world values today is scoffed at tomorrow.

I got curious about what other people think about them, so I visited a few sites on the topic. I want to address the biggest objections I've read regarding capsule wardrobes, which are a lack of flexibility and color and an increased frequency of laundry or dry-cleaning runs.

In terms of laundry frequency, I can relate, because when separating laundry, having a capsule wardrobe means ending up with much smaller loads in each sort pile; great if you're washing by hand, but when you have ready access to a washing machine, it's more efficient in time, energy, and water usage (and if you use a laundromat, quarters) to have one full. The washing machine is a wonderful, wonderful thing, so I feed it with machine-friendly fabrics. (Why yes, I have tried hand-washing a full load. It's only fun when you're five.)

In terms of flexibility, I disagree, and find that having a capsule wardrobe has plenty of that for me. My white, cream, and gray things tend to go together in the laundry without much fuss; and for variety, I may have tops with different collars or pinstripes in the fabric. The various visual and tactile textures offer a bit of flexibility within what is otherwise a fairly monochromatic selection. Also, it helps to have multiples of frequently-used basics, like extra pairs of jeans, just enough to beef up the color pile to a full load and provide a window of time before making another laundry run.

I don't often go for patterns, but when I do, they're usually simple, like the pinstripes I mentioned earlier, or completely abstract, rather than something like say, paisley. (Tried it. Meh.) That said, there's no reason not to choose a colorful pattern that ties directly into a solid of your preference; I'll use dark blue as an example. Bringing in a brightly patterned piece that works with that solid, like an accessory or even a full article of clothing, allows a rainbow of color while fitting the definition of capsule. The example I thought of that works with dark blue is Van Gogh's Starry Night printed on a scarf. You've got bright yellows in with the dark blues, among other colors; so the scarf could conceivably go with a yellow sweater, blue jeans, gray suit trousers, black mohawk wig... Since this is a method that can be adapted to a myriad of styles, if you're more into say, Warhol, this will still work.

There are more benefits, I find, in the capsule wardrobe method than the drawbacks its detractors can point out. This is an often-repeated one, but worthwhile to say again: shopping for a capsule wardrobe reduces the amount of stuff to buy, and it's therefore less of a stretch to afford clothing made of more comfortable, easier-to-clean fabric with sturdier weave and stitching and a more body-flattering cut (because the word 'better' is subjective).

For example, if you have several suits in different, but coordinating, fabrics, then you can mix and match within those and extend the number of options with fewer pieces. Think Colin Firth in a three-piece suit. (Hee hee. Happy thought.) Okay, fangirly brain short over. Say you have three such suits. If I've done my math correctly (three categories: jacket, vest and trousers; three pieces per category), you have twenty-seven potential outfits from that alone (three times three times three); that's nearly a month's worth. (What? Sometimes I fangirl and math in the same brain.) From there, you can increase the number of outfits exponentially (feel the power) with a few different options of ties, shirts and shoes, or even by leaving off a piece of the suit. (Not the trousers, though. Leaving off the trousers is awesome in Colin Firth movies, but generally frowned upon otherwise.)

If you've only got the one suit (the one you had to get for someone's wedding, say), you can make all three separate pieces work with stuff you've already bought. The jacket can go over a collared shirt or a superhero tee, with a pair of chinos or skinny jeans, all of which are frequently-seen uses for that one piece of the three. I don't know if it's still trendy to wear a vest over a polo or tee and pair those with jeans, but there's another set of uses for one piece (if that trend has passed, rubbish, filth, slime, muck, boo trends). Then there are of course the bottoms, skirts or trousers. Lovely things that go with multiple types of tops, comfy things that you put on over legs. (Hee hee. Happy thought.)

Okay, I swear I'm done with the fangirling for now. In a nutshell, the capsule wardrobe simplifies your choices, reduces your expenses, and helps you define your style, not through what is trendy, but through what actually works in your life.

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