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Lessons Learned from my First Capsule Wardrobe

Back in July I posted about my casual summer capsule wardrobe. It was my first foray into building a capsule collection, and it was a huge learning lesson. Overall, I really enjoyed the simplicity of getting dressed everyday. I have already begun planning my fall capsule wardrobe, but before I share it, I want to reflect back on what I learned this summer.


Some of the following include Amazon affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links and make a purchase, I’ll receive a percentage of that sale at no cost to you. All thoughts and opinions are my own. For a full disclosure statement see my About page.

A capsule wardrobe isn’t small

I used to think thirty-ish items seemed tiny, but after living with thirty-five pieces of clothing all summer, I think it’s plenty. Within my first capsule there were still items I tended to gravitate toward more than others. I wore tees six out of seven days a week, and generally only wore my button down tops when I was going out to lunch with friends and running errands on the one day a week my mother in-law watches my sone for a few hours. I only wore shorts a handful of times on really hot days, and I averaged wearing a skirt or dress once every other week. Even with just nine tops in my capsule, I didn’t touch the bright orange tank after I realized none of my undergarments worked with it (the material is very thin and shows everything).

tops for a summer capsule. building a capsule wardrobe from basics.

A capsule really does save time and money

I felt really confident that I didn’t need to add anything significant to my capsule after I created it. Even though I wasn’t totally in awe of my fashion sense, I saw right away that this amount of clothing could still provide me with ample outfit combinations. I was free to spend my time doing other things rather than looking at clothes on line and doing the whole buy-and-return routine. I saved money after I returned two pairs of shorts I purchased pre-capsule and realized through the planning process that I’d never wear them. I returned a cover up for my swim suit when I realized that the one pair of shorts I already owned would match my suit just fine. The cover up was damn cute, but I couldn’t justify the expense when I went swimming only once this summer. In total, I saved about a hundred bucks right off the top.

bottoms for a summer capsule wardrobe. building a capsule wardrobe from basics.

Clothes aren’t precious

I used to do this really weird thing where I wouldn’t wear something I really love because I didn’t want to ruin it or wear it out. It’s an impulse I still have to fight. I love my striped maxi skirt and I wanted to wear it on Wednesday but I decided not to in case I want to wear it on date night this weekend. I could have easily worn it both days! Having a capsule wardrobe is helping me confront this strange habit. Clothes don’t have to precious, they’re meant to be worn. I think I’ve forgotten this important fact after reading fashion blogs where they write about clothes as investment or statement pieces in the triple digits like it’s nothing to sneeze at.

A capsule wardrobe can include athleisure

A lot of the capsule wardrobe bloggers will say not to count athleisure, and that’s something I took to heart while planning my summer capsule wardrobe. I resolutely did not put yoga pants in my capsule, but I think I might this next go around. You see, there are days where you really need to wear stretchy pants. While working on our house I wanted to be super comfortable. I wanted something I could move in, something that didn’t require a belt, and something I didn’t care about stretching out or getting dirty. For me that’s yoga pants. I felt guilty about wearing them, and it made me feel like I somehow hadn’t gotten dressed for the day, which is silly. So this fall, I think I’ll put my nicest (or even new!) pair of leggings in my capsule, because nothing is more delightful than wearing leggings with a flannel shirt and boots or layering them under a dress.

One of my favorite pairs of leggings by Danskin, ~$29 via Amazon.

Minimalism is not an excuse to let yourself go

Both pairs of my Birkenstocks were already quite worn at the beginning of the season, and by the end I’d say they’re in dire shape. I haven’t wanted to face the fact that I need to invest in some big ticket items, and I’ve been using minimalism (and extreme budget consciousness) as an excuse to let these items fall into disrepair. I felt really proud of myself that I didn’t spend a lot more money on my wardrobe after creating the capsule, but I felt less confident about the state of my shoes with the soles worn down and the cracked cork. I don’t want to let myself or my wardrobe go just for the sake of minimalism. The whole point of me starting this capsule was to feel more fashionable, not less. If I don’t want to spend a lot of money I can always change my shopping parameters, or I can learn to budget better so I can save up for the things I really want.

dresses shoes accessories summer capsule. building your capsule wardrobe with basics.

It’s a myth that you don’t have to spend any money to create a capsule wardrobe

I feel like I read a lot of blog titles about how you can create a capsule wardrobe with the clothes you already own and save tons of money. I tried to live by this advice, but ultimately I wasn’t happy about it. In my experience, when you create your first capsule wardrobe and live with it for a while, it will reveal your fundamental style flaws pretty immediately. It’s up to you if you want to live with those flaws for the whole season, or if you want to go shopping and fix them. In my initial post I admitted that I knew my wardrobe was very basic, that it lacked pattern, some items were of poor quality, and that there were dresses I couldn’t wear until I got shoes with a bit of a lift. I never managed to move beyond basics or add anything with pattern, but I did buy two plain tees to replace the ones that were in bad shape, and I did get some sandals with a heel. If I hadn’t made those purchases, I wouldn’t have been able to make the capsule work.

Vanita by Sofft, ~$100 via Amazon. I love these leather and cork sandals in black and metallic. They’re comfortable and yet give whatever I wear just a bit of an edge.

You have a lot more clothes than just the capsule wardrobe, and your closet may still be a mess

I felt like I’d really pared down my clothing by doing a capsule wardrobe, but several months later and my closet is busting at the seams again. A capsule wardrobe just displaces a lot of clothing temporarily. I was able to store my out of season clothes in bins under my bed and that freed up so much space in my closet over summer. The whole space looked chic and clean and minimal. But once we started earnestly working on putting our house on the market, I had to confront those bins again. Maternity wear was easy to part with and went into our outdoor storage area, but fall and winter clothes came back to live in my closet. Now my closets and drawers feel full again, and I’m also grappling with the end of summer and what passes for fall in California. I also have five drawers of clothes packed to the brim and these don’t even count toward my capsule wardrobe. Sleepwear, athleisure, under garments, and socks/hosiery don’t count, but they sure do take up a lot of space. Don’t get me started on outerwear or formal wear (like the wedding dress that eats up a big chunk of real estate). It’s important not to feel discouraged if after you create your capsule wardrobe and you still feel like your closet is a mess. Consider reading up on how to cut closet clutter like I did earlier this year a la Marie Kondo and her infamous book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

A capsule wardrobe will not turn you into a fashionista

I still have days where I feel frumpy. When I started shopping for my fall capsule I didn’t stick to my shopping list. My shopping list reflects the person I want to be and how she dresses, but I haven’t learned yet how to suppress the girl who likes plain basics when she’s out prowling the shops.

building your summer capsule wardrobe with basics.

These basics worked for me all summer, and some days I really did feel put together and got compliments. I remember one day strolling through Nordstrom and feeling great—I had on the outfit on the far right (above), I was rocking some fabulous lipstick, and I had a pep in my step—and one of the sale girls literally called out to me, “Your outfit is so cute!” I smiled like a lunatic for the rest of the day. It’s hard though to have those kind of highs every day, sometimes I feel and look frazzled, and no outfit can cover that up. I need to work on remembering that feeling frumpy has a lot more to do with my confidence and energy level on any given day and very little to do with my clothes. The lesson here is to work on having the confidence of a fashionista because we like who we are on the inside and worry less about what we wear on the outside.

While I created my first capsule I believed that it would teach me to keep my closet neat and tidy with fewer items, stop me from splurging on impulse purchases, help me define my style, and keep me from wearing leggings all the time. I was afraid to commit to a capsule because I thought it was ambitious, and really just for people who are already fashionable. Many of my impressions about the capsule wardrobe movement were wrong, but the most important lesson I learned were that it’s possible to curate a wardrobe that is in line with my financial goals and I can look and feel cute in anything if I have the right attitude. I’ve pretty much kicked the habit of mindless internet shopping, and if that resonates with you, I encourage you to experiment with your own capsule.

Stay tuned for my Fall capsule wardrobe! I hope to post that in the coming weeks.

Related posts:

building your summer capsule wardrobe with basics.       Five Lessons Learned from the life changing magic of tidying up

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