Capsule wardrobe, minimalism and how Coco Chanel dealt with mean kids at school

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of years (I know, I deserve a special Procrastination Award) and I definitely want to give it a try. I’m sure that many of you are already familiar with the concept of capsule wardrobe but I’ll try to describe it briefly: it’s a wardrobe composed by only a few basic items of clothing, chosen to be matched in many combinations to cover all situations, from formal to casual, of our everyday life.

It’s tightly connected to the idea of owning less and maximise what we have. How many times we buy clothes that we like in that very moment but then we wear them only once, or maybe never? Or we suddenly realise that they are difficult to match or they belong to a fad that will pass very soon?

A capsule wardrobe contains staple items in basic colours that can be combined effortlessly (sure there’s space for the occasional seasonal pops of colour but everything should be done within reason, I’ll talk about it later), chosen wisely according to the realistic possibilities of our individual lifestyles. For example, it doesn’t make any sense owning four pairs of denim trousers if your job asks you to be in suit and tie five days a week and you only go out for casual activities on weekends. Or owning three different pairs of tracksuit trousers if you go to the gym twice a week.



The benefits of switching to a capsule wardrobe are multiple.

  • Economic, firstly. The idea of the capsule revolutions the way we shop for clothes, keeping us from wasting money. No more comfort shopping sprees, no more retail therapy (I know, it’s a thing for many of us, especially ladies. But you can still pamper yourself going for a nice meal, a spa day, or buying a good book, etc…). Stop buying impulsively. Ponder before choosing an item: is the quality good enough to last, let’s say, at least a year? Does it fit well, and does it suit us? Does it match with the style and colours of what we already own? And would we wear it consistently?
  • Space management. Considering my case, flats in London (unless you’re rich and you can afford a huge one) tend to be quite small and lack of storage space. Having a smaller wardrobe saves a lot of space, without mentioning the benefits that an uncluttered environment has on our everyday life (have a read through A Small Wardrobe’s blog for very interesting aspects of a minimalistic life);
  • Brain energy. Interesting articles underline how eliminating the hassle of thinking about what to wear every morning, and having instead preset combinations of clothes ready to be worn, allows your brain to focus better on other, more important things and tasks. There are examples of very famous and successful people who have a signature look and we rarely (or never) see them wearing anything different: think about Steve Jobs and his black turtleneck, Mark Zuckerberg with a grey t-shirt or Karl Lagerfield with his white suit and tie attire.

Plus, from a traveller’s (like most of us are) point of view, packing a suitcase would be a lot much easier and quicker!



So, after all the theory and after highlighting the benefits, what keeps us (me, for instance) from switching to a capsule wardrobe? I tried to make a list of reasons, I stripped it down removing the least “honest” ones, and this is what’s left:

  • Social pressures. Society and media pressure us everyday into making an effort to look beautiful. Almost every time the idea of having a beautiful image or having style is paired with the idea of owning a lot of clothes, with a lot of possibilities, so we can always look fresh and new. Carrie Bradshaw in Sex & The City (although her wardrobe space is quite regular) seems to own thousands of clothes and she keeps shopping for more (we never see her wearing an item twice), without mentioning her obsession for shoes. I’m a trained performer, and most of the people I’ve spent the last fifteen years surrounded by are workers of the entertainment business. And although I never really cared about fashion I’ve often felt a fashion pressure, that is inevitable in a career full of events, portfolio photo shoots, opening nights and auditions, where you constantly have to grab people’s attention. But do we really need to own a lot of clothes to succeed looking impeccable? The true answer is no. Coco Chanel said “Simplicity is the key-note to all true elegance”.
  • Childhood traumas. I guess every one of us had a moment in our adolescence (or before) in which we were so attached to an item of clothing that we were wearing it constantly (I had an orange baseball cap phase), until some mean kid at school said loud “Hey! you’ve been wearing that since forever, do you even wash it?”, and the other kids laughed, we felt ashamed and still now we are unconsciously scared of looking like somebody who always wears the same things. But let’s face it, as long as your clothes are clean and you don’t smell there’s nothing wrong in owning less clothes. And if somebody ever says “Hey! you’ve been wearing that since forever…” you can reply “Yes, just like you’ve been wearing that dick in place of your head since forever, so what?”. Coco Chanel would certainly say this.
  • The incapability of getting rid of stuff. So many people find difficulty in letting go of clothes from the past because they are gifts, because they remind them of moments of their life, because they used to fit but now they don’t fit anymore but maybe one day they’ll fit again, because they don’t want to admit they’ve done a wrong purchase… The reasons are countless, and the answer is a simple one: we need to learn to let go. Which is a good advice for life in general. Examine your wardrobe and take out of it (merciless) those items that

         – haven’t been worn in more than a year;

 – are ripped, consumed, damaged, have holes in them (don’t say “these are fine, I’ll wear them at home or to sleep”: everyone has the chance of doing at least one cycle of washing per week, so you technically don’t need more than 7 t-shirts “to sleep in”);

– don’t fit (and realistically won’t fit again anytime soon);

– you wouldn’t save from a flood (so you don’t actually like them enough).

Don’t throw anything away, instead give the all lot to charity organisations. There’s so much need in the world, and when I was in Mombasa I realised the difference that a pair of trousers or shoes can make for people that are less lucky than us.

Once you’ve stripped your wardrobe from all excess (once again, be brutal: a change needs an act of courage and a leap of faith) you can start building your capsule from there. On Pinterest you can find loads of infographics to help you with combinations and colour matching (check my board for some). I’ll start working on mine at the end of this summer and I’ll keep you updated with the process. So, follow this space and feel free to give me suggestions or share your experience!