Saturday, January 23, 2016

How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe Starting with Art: a Buddhist Kesa

This was a little bit more challenging than I expected it to be! Finding these colors was surprisingly difficult...

It's just a small exhibit - maybe 28 items? - but if you have a chance to come to Chicago, to the Art Institute, before February 14th, you won't be disappointed. The exhibit displays only a few of their collection of Buddhist kesa, but they're beautiful. And because this is a "minor" exhibit, in the basement area of the museum, it's usually quiet, and uncrowded (bordering on empty). Very restful, very inspiring, very wonderful way to spend an hour!

I considered using the burgundy as the first neutral, but I think that this olive/sage green is more readily available through more of the year. This kind of color is a staple with the "outdoorsy" brands like L.L.Bean, Patagonia, or REI, so it's worth checking in with them every 3 or 4 weeks, as new merchandise is stocked, if there's something particular you want or need.

dress – Uniqlo; cardigan – L.L.Bean
 pants – L.L.Bean; tee – Uniqlo

I included two dresses, because I thought that they were both great! It seems like I can go for ages without including a dress in The Vivienne Files, and then all of the sudden, I'm seeing nice ones everywhere...

Dress – Carven; cardigan – Lands’ End
cropped pants – Mango; shirt – Lands’ End

My next step is to find four additional shirts or sweaters, now introducing the secondary colors. These give you a lot more "mileage" for wearing your original 8 garments. Sometimes, I really do name things logically!

Tee – Isabel Marant Etoile; gold sweater Lands’ End
gingham shirt – Lands’ End; green plaid shirt – L.L.Bean

These colors migrate nicely into warmer weather if you leverage the usefulness of that beige/off-white color. There should be lots of linen and cotton pieces in that color later this spring.

Cardigan – L.L.Bean; floral skirt – Jean Louis Scherrer Vintage
tee shirt – Lands’ End; khakis – Mountain Khakis

Burgundy leather seemed an obvious choice! The accessories go a long way toward integrating solid-color garments into coherent outfits, so they're well worth looking for and enjoying. Although sometimes I find a scarf that's... ahem... an investment....

Snowflake stripe – Yoins; burgundy bracelet – Karen Kane; flower stud earrings
 – Allison Reed; gold stud earrings – ABS; green bracelet – Catherine Michiels
plus sign stud earrings – Alexis Bittar; sunglasses – Prada; watercolor feather 
scarf – Valentino; green necklace – Alexis Bittar; watch – Henry London; merlot 
booties – Maxstudio; riding boots – Frye; bag – Vince Camuto; flats – Clarks

As is true of so many wardrobes I do, this would be a great choice for travel. Wear three of the garments (trousers, shirt and cardigan, with some accessories) and pack the rest. Having 2 dresses with you would make going out in the evening super-easy.


This is how everything fits, so neatly, into the 4 by 4 Wardrobe template:

There are 3 more of the kesa color schemes that you wanted to see - I hope to have one for you on Monday.




  1. Really interesting mix of colours. Maybe we can bring out the orphans, Janice! Love that investment. Would be beautiful ...sighhhh! Chris from Australia x

  2. This is one of my favorite wardrobes! I love that particular shade of green, and burgundy is wonderful. Would have to skip the yellow, but that would be easily substituted. Also I love cozy cabled sweaters. And that floral skirt!
    - Kaci

  3. This is so beautiful and calming...can just picture someone relaxing by the fire after a walk in the woods!

  4. Really like these colours....the yellow/gold not good for me......but this capsule has real variety

  5. Oh, Janice, thank you for creating fabulous ensembles with olive green. I am trying to create a Seasonless wardrobe with olive being the primary neutral. Any and all suggestions would be appreciated. I live in the coastal zone of Southern California so it never gets too cold and very little rain.
    I'll keep watching.
    A faithful fan,

  6. Nice color combos. I've been to that exhibit twice already, and will go back again. Long looking on multiple occasions can be very rewarding. Love how the whites aren't brilliant white-white. Interesting how high-ranking samurai women's robes were remade into Buddhist monks' devotional garments.


  7. I thought all of the kesas you showed were extraordinary. Some of the colors look to me as tho they'd be hard to find, but if you like using them as tmplates, I'd love to see them all. It is so interesting to see how a beautiful textile can become a wardrobe. I also think it is rather fascinating that the "feel" of the original is sometimes easy (ish) and sometimes hard to capture when you break it down into component colors. This one looks almost like autumn leaves on a forest floor to me, so I like the outdoorsy flavor you've chosen.

  8. I love that you included two dresses. Although the colours are not my favourite ones, I can replicate the ideas with my own colours. I have a lot of dresses in black, grey, navy, long sleeved, short sleeved and sleeveless, solid colours mainly and the occasional with a pattern. In winter I wear the long sleeved ones on teir own, the sleeveless I combine with a long sleeved tshirt (mainly from Uniqlo, their colour range is amazing). Just the short sleeved ones tend to remain in the wardrobe waiting for better weather.
    I wear them for business mainly, paired with opaque tights in matching colours and my boots in black, navy and taupe.

    On a side note: Remember last year's comment on the rugby match coinciding with your Paris trip in March? This year I was fast enough and got tickets for the 13 Feb. Valentines' weekend in Paris - lucky me!

  9. Not colors I can typically wear, but I follow along for the continuing lessons in developing workable wardrobe capsules. I learn something new each and every time.

  10. Very late in commenting, but I wanted to chime in and tell you about the lovely color combinations you showed us. Once again there will be something in my closet that I had not thought of putting together.

  11. Janice, as I work on my Swiss Alps wardrobe I am doubly impressed with your work! How you turn these beautiful aesthetic sensible wardrobes out, one after the other is now beyond me. A genius at what you do. I am continually impressed with your refined sensitivity to color, line, texture, function, and all without a high heel!! You have changed my life - even from the first when I bumbled toward my attraction to your various 4 X 4 and other wardrobe rubrics. Thank you deeply, from a woman who loves clothes and on a budget!

    1. ((((Arts Doc))))

      I work SO HARD on these - I'm glad that it shows, and that you can enjoy and benefit from my efforts!

  12. Thank you, Janice, for doing my favourite of the kesa colour combinations first. I am slowly transitioning my wardrobe away from so much black and this is my ideal colour scheme and level of dressiness. Although this is spot on for me this time, I do still get so much out of all your posts. You give me so much to think about regarding colour (especially being more adventurous with my combinations) and how to get mileage out of what I choose to put in my wardrobe.