Tuesday, March 08, 2016

How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe in Cobalt, Black and Grey: 1 Piece at a Time

I knew that I had more black and grey wardrobe requests, so I thought I'd jump on another one right away and see how much difference a change of accent colors would make.

First up, the hypothetical starter outfit:

Shirt – Uniqlo; scarf – Hermes Tyger Tyger
pants – L.L.Beancardigan – L.L.Bean

It's a pretty somber outfit, but when you drape the scarf over the shoulders of the cardigan, or loop it insouciantly under the collar of the shirt, everything changes!

Shirt – Uniqlo; scarf – Hermes Tyger Tyger
pants – L.L.Beancardigan – L.L.Bean

Although this outfit includes an Hermes scarf, I imagined that this was being put together for a woman who really needed some more casual clothes. First up is to consolidate a solid column of black, as well as build a sort of fake twin-set in black.

Tee - Uniqlo

Here's where we start getting much more casual - a nice sweatshirt! So long as you don't look like you just rolled out of bed, there's no reason that you can't wear a sweatshirt in public. There's nothing inherently wrong with the fabric, nor the cut of the garment. This one comes in some very pretty pastels, too!

Sweatshirt - Uniqlo

Jeans! While these look like they could be worn by the man on stilts, in the circus, they in fact come in 5 different lengths. I don't understand why photographs can't more accurately convey the nature of a garment to a potential buyer...

Jeans – Simply Be

Fun tee shirts are important in a casual wardrobe:

Tee – Simply Be

As is a snuggly cardigan:

Cardigan – Prana

Since the original shirt in our wardrobe was a light grey, that's a logical color choice for a pair of casual pants. If you need to dress up just a bit, the matching shirt and pants are a good base. If you feel more casual, tee shirts and/or the sweatshirt will go with these, too.

Pants – Mint Velvet

There are enough basics here now that we can easily support a fun casual top, especially when it includes shades of grey, cobalt blue, and touches of black!

Top – Vanessa Bruno

I can't imagine a casual wardrobe that uses grey as a neutral, without a grey sweatshirt. This one is an interesting variation on the traditional design, in that it provides for some cinching in the waist!

Sweatshirt – adidas by McCartney

If sweatshirts are necessary, then shorts might be a step too far, but maybe a pair of capri jeans would make sense. It's important to try these on and make sure that they don't make you look stubby. I see a lot of really wide-legged cropped pants right now, cut off at really ugly points on the model's leg, and the coupled with chunky, thick-soled shoes. If you can make a professional model look dumpy, you've really gone awry, fashion-wise....

Capri jeans – L.L.Bean

There was no way I was going to miss the chance to include a striped tee shirt here! The blue and white version is classic.

Tee – Hobbs

In a similar vein, any top that includes black, and both of our shades of grey, is worth consideration. I wish I could have found a better photograph of this, but I felt that it was a sufficiently excellent garment (at a banging markdown!) that it made the "Vivienne Files" cut.

Sweater – Lisa Todd

It's always important to have enough simple, neutral tops to avoid having to do laundry constantly. (which is wasteful of electricity, water, and your time). Realistically, this wardrobe would eventually include short-sleeved tee shirts in black and white, too.

Tee – Iris and Ink

Yes, you've seen this skirt before, but it's a great idea, well-executed. It doesn't exactly match the sweatshirt from above, and I think that's fine - sometimes things don't have to be a perfect suit.

Skirt - Uniqlo

This is another wardrobe with a wide range of moods, from jeans and a sweatshirt, up to a nice silk tee shirt that can be worn with simple pants and a classic cardigan. For a mostly casual life, that still included a few dressy moments, this would be a great way to dress!


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  1. Nice combinations! I have been eyeing up that scarf in that particular colourway for ages now! I might have to get it :-)


  2. Throw in a little red for punch, and this is my wardrobe! Such a lovely scarf.

  3. From Margie in Toronto - This is very timely for me as I switch over to a Spring wardrobe. I don't want to buy too much as I'm still in the middle of a weight loss program so I'm looking to keep some of my grey and black pieces from my winter wardrobe - add some navy basics - and then switch out my winter sweaters for some summer weight cardigans, blouses and t-shirts.
    I find heavy pullovers and sweat shirts add too much bulk for me (short with big boobs) so I'll stick to my cardies. However, I do have to thank you Janice for pushing me out of my comfort zone so that I've added prints and stripes - and much to my surprise - I'm really enjoying them - along with the compliments that I get when wearing them!

  4. I love that you have a tiger scarf and leopard print t-shirt. I would expect to see some Lion's head door-knocker earrings!

  5. The tiger scarf is super cool, Janice! I love that shade of blue!

  6. This is perfect grown-up casual. If they were my colours, I'd buy every piece. Curated style. Theresa

  7. Janice,
    I am so enjoying catching up on all of the wonderful posts that I missed while I was enjoying 10 super days in the sunny Caribbean ! What is striking me as I go through the posts is your use of different values of a neutral color to fill in the blanks, so to speak, on the second core of 4 level. So often I have struggled with how to come up with all of the same exact value of four different clothing articles . It's always the bottoms that have been my challenge, as I don't wear skirts or print bottoms, which really limits my options . From your illustrations and explanations, I have learned that the variety I crave can be from different values, fabrics, or lengths, and perhaps small details in construction. Now I'm trying to decide how many times I am comfortable wearing a given accent color on a 7 to 10 day trip.

  8. That scarf is so dramatic..it really draws the eye. The wardrobe seems discreet pared with it but it really works!! Would you wear black footless leggings with the sweat skirt?
    Deb from Vancouver

    1. Absolutely - if you don't like your legs to be out in public, slip on some leggings under the skirt!

  9. Thank you for the nice casual wardrobe. I can see better how to put things together. Now to find a good casual jacket in brown! Challenging this time of year.

  10. I've wanted that scarf for weeks now. One reason to hold back was not knowing what I'd wear with it. Thanks for giving me some ideas!

  11. Perfect casual wardrobe! I work in a pretty casual office and if I swapped out those 2 sweatshirts for different cardigans this would work for me! I don't wear skirts since I gained weight but another pair of pants or jeans would fit right in! Great blueprint!
    Linda in Arkansas

  12. I am really enjoying the variety of types of clothing in these -- from very formal wardrobes to really casual ones. The colors here are very similar to the ones I used in my first capsule wardrobe from last summer, based on your blog (thank you!!). I used turquoise instead of cobalt, but otherwise used gray, black and white. It worked really well but I got tired of it after a whole season, and I only worked three days a week -- and wore other colors on the other days! I would not recommend using only one accent color unless you are a certain sort of person, someone who is glad to look good every day but not "restless." Two accent colors works much better for me personally... but the SYSTEM works either way! That's what's so fun about it.

  13. You inspired me! I went to my closet and chose black jeans, a black t shirt, black loafers and a cobalt blue cardigan. I looked and felt swell! Thanks, Janice!

  14. For whatever reason, this grouping is what has finally made it all click in my head on how to do this. AND the best part is that I already have most of the pieces. I did use it as a good excuse to try out the UNIQLO site for the skirt you recommended. I can't wait to recieve it. I love that you have finally helped me make my wardrobe more cohesive. THANK YOU!!! Now, I am working on using your latest posts for putting the accessories together.