I think capsule wardrobes messed me up

I trained myself to capsule my closet. Now everything goes with everything. What if I don’t want it to?

The year was 2014 and I was a person with 150 items of clothing who never felt put together. I moved from one trend to another, constantly hoping that reinventing myself would make me feel chic (it did not). I was spending a lot of time on Pinterest and I (like all of us??) found a guide to capsule wardrobes. What did it mean to describe our closets as “capsules?” The promise of less clothes that all went together was basically a revelation. I followed the guide and ended up with a pile of clothes on my bed and my “top ten” items back in my closet. Aha! Looking at the top items I found I liked things that were light blue or olive green, so I dutifully filled those in as “core colors” on my printable worksheet. It was an epiphany. If I only bought 4-5 colors, things would go together, and I would get dressed faster, and never think about my clothes again. I would magically have style. (No shade to this worksheet, by the way. It was really helpful).

I was probably insufferable for the next year, because all my clothes did go together and I joined the group of capsule evangelists who would tell you over beers that I only worked with 33 items of clothing at a time. The rules of shopping were so simple, I thought: can I think of at least 3 ways to wear it? can I see myself wearing it 30 times? does it go with most of my other clothes?

Anyway, this system worked really well for a while, even if I ended up wearing absolutely no bright colors. I probably could have gone on like this forever if I didn’t like clothes so much. But I do, and the promise to never think about my clothes again seemed false anyway, given how many blogs sprung up about the subject of capsuling.

I also noticed a new stress around shopping caused the pursuit of perfection. Shopping was supposed to be less stressful but was actually more stressful because I wasn’t looking at clothes anymore, I was looking at puzzle pieces. If they fit, they went with everything, and I felt like a genius, but if the item was a flop, or didn’t get along with others, I felt so much guilt about its existence.

Then 2020 happened. Running my closet like a well-oiled machine didn’t feel so great anymore, because my life was running more like an old-fashion ketchup bottle. I think many of us spent 2020 feeling really sad. And while my closet was practical, I started looking to my clothes to do something besides being practical: I wanted what I owned to inject some happy into my life. So I did a little bit more impulse shopping, which was kind of difficult after all those years of capsuling. But some of my impulse purchases ended up feeling awesome. Like these boots:

I bought these for my wedding rehearsal dinner. Silver boots do not go with everything. But I’ve been sort of committed to wearing them anyway. And you know what? They’re super fun! They’re fun for me. My students find them fun. My pharmacist found them fun one day. And having any stranger interactions that aren’t mask meltdowns at this point is extremely gratifying, so I’ve kept wearing them.

After all this reflecting, I decided it was time to do the super closet cleanout. Along the way, I started giving all my clothes “tags” in my closet app (Stylebook). This is probably overkill, but I have been thinking more about how much I love outfits with some “friction” to them lately (some mix of masculine-feminine, sleek-bulky, fancy-distressed, etc). So, I thought, ok, I like these words, why don’t I describe everything in my closet and see what words I have a lot of and words I don’t have a lot of?

I found that I could easily describe 75% of my clothes as “classic” and “slim fit.” It was a major lightbulb moment for me–what I like is not achievable with what I own. But just as importantly, buying more things is not the answer here unless my buys are strategic and clearly very different from what I’m used to buying. However, buying statement items has been hard for me–I don’t know how to pick out something anymore without giving it a score based on capsule wardrobe rules. I used to go to the mall and just buy whatever gave me an overwhelming feeling of NEED! but I’ve quieted that voice so aggressively I don’t hear it much these days.

By capsule wardrobe rules, the thing that goes with everything else wins. So the perfect item is a white t shirt (just ask my closet, I own 4). And before we go any further I know, I know, no capsule wardrobe blog ever told me I couldn’t buy statement items, but the aesthetically pleasing pictures of all beige closets certainly didn’t encourage me to wander out and buy any hot pink.

So, after all this thinking, I have made my only rule for my closet this year: no basics, only fun. It might go horribly. Fun is hard for me to even tap into anymore. I decided to address that by trying clothing rentals for a few months so I can pick statement pieces to see if I like them without having to totally commit. I’m on month 2 of Rent the Runway right now and have been feeling all this joy about how ridiculous my closet might become. This post isn’t sponsored but I did just see they’re offering 50% off your first 2 months if anyone else wants to try. Here are just a few of my favorite items so far:

I feel some pressure to create coherence out of my closet, still–what are my style words?? What are the rules for what I usually like to buy?? But that stuff can come later, if it’s even useful at all. Recapturing some style joy (and releasing about 30 clothing items that I didn’t really need) has been a good enough start to the year!

22 thoughts on “I think capsule wardrobes messed me up”

  1. I feel like I have forever waffled between a love bold, statement items and safe, wardrobe-cohesive items. I feel like I constantly admire bolder styles and silhouettes on others, but then there is a disconnect between actually buying them and putting them on my body. So I am looking forward to follow your journey!


  2. This totally hits the mark for me! I feel like the only thing I know how to buy “statement pieces” in is shoes. I have trouble pushing outside of my comfort zone and it’s hard to tell if it’s because my comfort zone is what I like or what I’ve taught myself to be comfortable in.


  3. Lol and nodding in agreement on “what if I don’t want everything to go with everything”..I agree, there can definitely be too much of a good thing. I’ve done the capsule wardrobe as well and I love that you’re injecting joy with rent the runway. Maybe you’ll end up with a lovely balance of pieces that bring joy and classics. Looking forward to reading more about it.


  4. When assessing my closet last year, I realized that my sense of color means I can add practically any color to my closet as long as it is either gradiently related to or contrasts with other colors. Not everyone would combine colors the way I do, but as long as I can justify it, it belongs. My actual silhouette is fairly uniform, but I could never give up color! (And I have realized that it MUST actually look good with my skin and hair coloring or it won’t get worn).


  5. I’m *ridiculously* excited to see all of your fun finds this year, and to see how you work them into your current wardrobe in different ways!


  6. I am SO excited to follow along! And I really like that you decided to rent fun pieces before buying them. As for the cohesiveness, I feel like you’ll end up pairing your fun pieces well anyway. You are experienced enough capsule-wise haha


  7. This post resonates in SO many ways. I hit a road block with capsuling because I like two different “color stories” – mauve/blush/light gray and bold/primary colors. Setting that aside: I must know the brand of that adorable brown/yellow color block funky fleece jacket!


  8. This is VERY reassuring because I’ve never been able to capsule simply because my go-to aesthetic is and has always been “this one weird thing I love + the rest of the requirements for an outfit” on repeat.


  9. I definitely relate to this dilemma. I also looked into capsule wardrobes a couple years ago to help slim down my wardrobe. But I’ve come to realize lately that it’s caused me to completely overthink all my purchases, and shopping was no longer fun. I’m re-training my brain now to buy things just because they make me feel good. We’ll see how that works out!


  10. Fun is an excellent goal — especially as we go into year 3 of the pandemic. Some of my favorite pieces have been things I bought on a whim because they spoke to me. I may not wear them as much as other items, but they make me happy when I do.


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