Tuesday, May 10, 2016

How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe Around An Art Jacket: 1 Piece at a Time

Because one of you asked for my help with something, I'm breaking a long-standing rule here at The Vivienne Files... Normally, I only show garments that don't include a model; I find that I'd rather see what the clothes look like, without being pinned and taped and yanked around to suit the model. But in this case, the jacket was key...

The request was for a 2 month work trip, over a number of climates, and built around this jacket:

Tee – Lands’ End; pants – L.L.Bean; jacket - Babette

This is a wardrobe that will really come into its own with accessories, I'm sure you can see. But I felt that it was important to start with a very neutral base. It gives us this color scheme:

Tee – Lands’ End; pants – L.L.Bean; jacket - Babette

Sticking with the idea of traditional business wear, and the "light top/dark bottom/jacket" tradition, my first piece to add is a simple ivory top:

Shell – J. Crew

As tempting as it might be to wear that jacket every day, a change is going to be welcome from time to time; this sweater gives you a nice contrast over a black column, or my favorite twinset when worn with the wool shell.

And note that this trip is going to span some cities and climates, so a lightweight wool is a good choice. Always remember, men wear wool in all weathers, and wool is worn by native desert-dwellers...

Cardigan – J. Crew

I'm assuming that any business wardrobe can use a good neutral skirt; this one is a good choice because it's modest, simple enough to wear frequently without getting sick of it, and a knit fabric that's pretty resilient in the face of being packed (and re-packed).

Skirt – Lands’ End

Time for an accent!

Sweater – J. Crew

Yes, this cardigan is the same color as the sweater above. While it's not likely that they will be worn together very often, having these 2 in the same color gives you the ability to choose accessories that will be perfect in multiple situations.

Cardigan – J. Crew

A different style of black pants would be perfectly fine here, but I wanted to introduce a change of pace with some taupe:

PantsPiazza Sempione

Just in case the weather warms up (as it always does!), a cooler tee shirt is going to be important. This one goes everywhere that the long-sleeved version went...

tee – Lands’ End

Having all of the cardigans in relatively the same "shape" means that the skirts or pants that are chosen for one outfit will be of a suitable silhouette to work with all of the cardigans. These are the little choices that give you more versatility when you're working with a limited number of pieces. Plus, all of these cardigans can be worn buttoned up, on their own, as crew-neck sweaters.

Cardigan – Lands’ End

This is a choice that will depend on how formal your schedule is expected to be, and how warm/cold it will be at your destinations. These jeans could easily be swapped for a pair of black linen pants, or for another black skirt, in a different shape.

Jeans – L.L.Bean

If you anticipate some evening activities, a simple top in a dressy cut is a nice choice. This one is basic enough that it can be worn with everything from the jeans to the skirt with equal ease.

Top - Eleventy

If this trip is going to include some wet or cool days, a jacket is a must! I loved this because it's such a similar color to the accent red in the other pieces. A trench coat in this color is another possibility, though.

Jacket – J. Crew

I was originally looking for a simple black sheath, but since all of the pieces (except the amazing printed jacket) are so simple, I thought that a wrap dress would be a pretty option.

Dress – Lands’ End

And now, just to break up the whole very careful system JUST a bit, let's toss in a fun tunic, which can be worn with all of the pants. Some days, this relaxed look will be just perfect!

Top - Nude

These 16 pieces could take you a lot of places! If you felt that you really needed an additional few pieces, consider another dress - maybe a print in black, taupe and red? Another couple of tee shirts? A button-front shirt in ivory, taupe, red or black would also work nicely - sleeves that can be rolled on warmer days are a good thing to consider.

Could you travel for 2 months with this? I'd have no trouble at all...

Braintree Clothing


  1. I wouldn't have noticed the "model" if you hadn't pointed her out.
    Great idea to have an art jacket. I think a red trench coat would be more versatile than the jacket shown because it would look better with the dress/skirt. A short trench would still look dressy and would be just as unfussy as the jacket when worn with pants.
    Excellent point about having the cardigans with the same shape. The tops that go under, as well, or you end up with odd hems sticking out. Silhouette is probably as important as color when it comes to versatility in a wardrobe.

  2. The jacket is very striking- quite right to break your normal rule over such a beauty- and nice that it allows other colours to be introduced easily as well

  3. Love it Janice. Have a fairly similar jacket and takes me all places. Trench coat great idea as well! Xx Chris Australia

  4. Love choice of Babette jacket! Thx :-)

  5. The Babette jacket is fabulous and can be worn year round with a variety of fabrics and colours. I agree that a short maybe with a zip out liner red trench coat would be more versatile. This woman needs the red briefcase you showed a few posts ago! The other interesting thing for me is that I would not have paired this jacket with black or red but would have gone with the warm colours in it using the very rich deep purpled chocolate brown in it. Of course, that would mean a lot more trouble finding pieces!!!
    Deb from Vancouver

    1. Clever Deb! I hadn't seen the jacket's potential for us 'warmies' but you're quite right. The purpley-chocolate is lovely, as are the tealy-blue and gold for possible accent colours. It's a beautiful and versatile piece.
      Robyn in Tasmania

  6. That jacket is beautiful! I agree that a trench would look better with this wardrobe. I would not call that accent color red either. Persimmon, clay or rust? Not red. It reads very orange to me. I think I would need more tops and maybe another pair of pants for two months. I have never gone anywhere for that long!

  7. This is lovely! I could cope with this as a 2-month travel wardrobe if I added a few more light-weight t-shirts (taupe, white, orange/red). The reason is that it sounds like there will be several destinations, which means plane or train trips. I like a light T under a cardigan for travel but find that I always want/need to wash my T after the trip (though not necessarily the cardigan). For example, I might land, get to my hotel, shower and put on a different T / cardigan for the afternoon. If there are trips close together or very busy schedules, back up Ts are a good idea. T-shirts don't take up much room in luggage. And if I want to keep a wool cardigan clean and comfortable, a light T under -- even if worn as a sweater -- is a good idea.

  8. Superbly put together, Janice. There's a huge number of looks there suitable for any weather and occasion. I'm impressed!

  9. Super colour mix and so many possibilities for variety every single day for 2 months. I wouldn't get bored with that suitcase! Well done, Janice!

  10. Great set!
    I'm neurotic about v necks under crew cardigans, so would swap out the wrap dress for one with a round or boat neckline.

  11. I just got home from vacation Sunday and this makes me want to pack up and leave again.

  12. Sensational jacket! The only thing I'd change is sleeveless shirts for a short sleeve. Shirts can be washed easily, dry cleaning is not easy while travelling.

    As mentioned, the trench rather the jacket.