Wednesday, December 31, 2014

An "All-Black" Capsule Wardrobe

While I was away for the winter holidays, I received two requests from women who are required to wear "All-Black" for their work, asking about ways to accessorize their limited palette. (if you're not a rugby fan, please be aware that the All Blacks are the New Zealand national rugby team, and the current world champions. If you enjoy looking at handsome, fit young men, I encourage you to look them up!)

This is a really interesting question for me because my capsule wardrobe migrates more and more each month toward unrelieved black. Also, I know a few women here in Chicago who have this same work wardrobe requirement; a surprising number of different organizations ask their "front of house" staff to dress in this way. You'll see it in restaurants, real estate offices, retail, auction houses, and other places. Generally, the directive is to wear only black clothing and shoes, but complete freedom is granted for jewelry and scarves. I can work with this!

Today, I'm going to pull together a Four by Four wardrobe, and tomorrow, we'll look at an approach to accessorizing an all black capsule wardrobe.

The first core of four in the most basic - a cotton shirt and a pair of jeans (two pieces which might not work for all work environments, and can easily be swapped for a cotton button-front shirt and a pair of dress trousers), a v-neck sweater and a pair of ankle pants.

Henley – Uniqlo, jeans – Uniqlo, v-neck sweater – Uniqlo, ankle pants – Uniqlo

We've gone over this one before, but never lose sight of the fact that these four garments equal four outfits - that's really good mileage!

Note that I've included two pair of shoes here. It's really not necessary to own dozens of pairs of shoes! According to a recent survey by VoucherCloud, virtually all women have items unworn in their closet, and 71% of the time, that includes shoes. Buy fewer, buy better, be healthier and more comfortable, and quit wasting money - you and your feet will be much happier.

The second bundle of four garments dresses up our ensemble quite a bit - a cashmere cardigan that button up "far enough" can be worn alone as a sweater, or layered over a shirt. A silk blouse with some interesting seam details, and a pair of skirts are all appropriate for almost any work day. (you might wonder that the BRAND of the blouse is Frame Denim, but the blouse is indeed made of silk. hmmm...)

Again, I have included shoes - one pair - which are dressy enough to complement the skirts, but comfortable enough to make it through a work day. Sacrifice neither beauty nor comfort!

Cashmere cardigan – Uniqlo, pencil skirt – Diane von Furstenberg,
silk blouse – Frame Denim, pumps – Taryn Rose, pleated skirt – Fausto Puglisi

Maybe I make this point too frequently, but with the addition of four garments (and essential shoes), you have added twelve outfits to your wardrobe.

Our next four garments are simple, easy to accessories tops. Some of these items aren't wearable all 12 months of the year, but all of them work with the skirts and pants; if they have to be given a break from time to time, you'll still get a lot of use and benefit from having them available!

Turtleneck – Hallhuber, long-sleeved tee – Tommy Hilfiger,
short-sleeved tee – Acne Studios, black silk top – Diane von Furstenberg

Four tops = SIXTEEN more combinations...

With all of those basics in stock, it's time for a touch of fun. Let's imagine that the woman wearing this wardrobe loves lace - two lace tops! Add in a couple of simple dresses and a pair of ballet flats, and this should be a sufficient wardrobe for most work occasions.

Lace sleeved top – Kaliko, lace sleeveless top – Diane von Furstenberg,
black sleeveless dress – Red Valentino, black knit shirtdress – Y-3, black ballet flats - SoftWalk

Two tops gives you a dozen more outfits, if you remember to layer your sleeveless top under your cashmere cardigan... Plus, you have two dresses to work with, also!

There are now 48 outfits here, plus two dresses - an abundance of monochromatic variety. (not bad, when you consider that all of these clothes would easily fit - plus shoes - into a medium or small suitcase!) In the next post, I demonstrate a logical and organized way to accessorize all of these choices.



  1. Hi, Janice:
    Nice boots, would you identify them, please (and the loafers)? I have a very hard time finding things like this, though that just may be my hard to fit feet.

  2. Hi Janice,
    I am a fan of monochromatic dressing but often encounter a problem...even black fabrics and knits can have different tones. To make matters worse, laundering black cotton (despite precautions like washing in cold water , washing with special detergent etc) can cause the garment's tone to change. Any suggestions on how to deal with this?

    1. Other than suits - which should be matched and cleaned at the same time to avoid fading - I have resolved over the years to not care if the blacks aren't exactly the same! Adding a scarf or other accessories can attract the eye and make any minor color differences less noticeable, too. (I don't wear suits, either, so....)

      Basically, I am saying that it doesn't matter to most people if blacks don't match.

    2. I've heard it recommended (maybe by Vivienne, or maybe on other style blogs) that to get around that issue, to make sure and mix fabrics. All cotton in different colors might look wrong, but a silk scarf, wool pants etc, bc the texture is different it's not bothersome to the eye.

    3. Thank you! That is very smart advice to have a variety of fabric textures and finishes with a monochromatic wardrobe capsule.

  3. You must have read my mind. I tend to wear mostly black and can't wait to see how you jazz it up. Thanks!

  4. Hi Janice, just to let you know that I love your blog and look forward to your posts! I have made up a capsule wardrobe for myself e blending different styles of wardrobe ideas. I have found your ideas for neutrals (especially neutral tops) especially helpful.Seeing todays post for the four by four wardrobe made me think of the 4x4 color season analysis that I have also used to help me put my wardrobe together - I was wondering if you are aware of the changes to the old 4 season color analysis of the eighties. When I had my colors done in the nineties there were 6 "seasons" - cool (winter+summer), warm (fall+spring), dark(winter+fall), light (summer+spring), clear (winter+spring) and muted(soft) (fall+summer). There are now new systems with 12 or 16(4x4) seasons - a good place to check these out is . I was thinking that this could be an inspiration for more wardrobes for you and it might be interesting for you to see if you are a pure winter. thanks for your amazing blog, KiwiSarah

  5. Hi Janice. Happy New year to you I am looking forward to more inspiration next year. I am an Autumn who loves the totally inappropriate black but will be very interested to see how you accessorise these pieces as I am sure it is the key to successful dressing
    I am the one who asked you for the black grey camel and cream wardrobe which I have lived with ever since. Margo

  6. I have been contemplating this very thing! I have a business-casual office, and no restrictions, but having all black just sounds so freeing! I need some color though, so I'd need lots and lots of statement necklaces and shoes.

  7. Do you think you can make black work in 80-90 degree summer weather? I'm just curious because while an all black wardrobe with a few white and grey pieces thrown in is refreshing for people like me that don't want to think hard about what they seems like I would be boiling all the time in the summer. :-( So besides switching climates, can you put together something for us that live in a hot area? Thank you!

  8. I'll put it on the list! I know it's possible, because it's how I dress in the summer!