Monday, October 10, 2016

How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe: Starting From Scratch - First Steps


Ever since I did the first Starting From Scratch Capsule Wardrobe series, I've received questions about why I chose the steps that I did, how did I figure out color schemes - well, anything that could be questioned, was questioned!


Which is good. You should always make sure that anyone giving you advice can explain themselves, and that what they're telling you makes sense. In the US right now, this is being brought home to us every day...

So let's walk through another capsule wardrobe, a couple of steps a day, and see if I can answer some of your questions!

First up, color scheme. If you don't really worry about any other step of the process, THIS is the one that deserves your thought. There's no rule about how many (or how few) colors you should include, so you have to really think what's going to make you happy... 


  • Are you like me, and can live for a long time with just black, white and red? (or 3 colors of your choice)
  • Might you be happy with infinite shades of grey, and nothing else? Maybe you've got a bunch of really serious silver jewelry that deserves a subtle background...
  • Can you get by easily with just one neutral, but you need 4 or 5 accent colors?
In the absence of any strict guidelines, I've chosen, for this example, to include 2 neutrals: navy and khaki. The dressier items will be navy - things like a skirt or dress, which more casual things like shorts will be khaki. For accent colors, I went with the 2 "Colors of the Year" for this year - basically pink and light blue. Both accents look good with both neutrals, so that makes versatility much easier. And then I'm throwing in pure white for things like a cotton shirt and a couple of tee shirts. Everybody on the planet doesn't HAVE to include a light neutral color for tops, but I think that most of us find these pieces pretty useful. 

It looks like this:


A color palette for a Starting From Scratch Wardrobe

If you want to make your own color wheel, get thee to PowerPoint, and learn about Charts. (I personally would have called it a graph, but nobody asked me!) You can choose whatever relative values you want, color them any color of the rainbow, literally, and just play around until you're happy. And THEN you can put PowerPoint skills on your resume too!

What color do you use first? Well... my thinking is generally to start with the darkest neutral you are including. It's usually going to be the more formal of the neutrals, as well as the one that is best for travel or any occasion where getting dirty might be an issue. In this particular case, if you are iron-clad sure that you'll wear khaki pants more often than navy, start there!

So first things first - PANTS.

This was surprisingly controversial; lots of people (LOTS of people) were miffed that I didn't start with the perfect pair of jeans...

Personally, I think a pair of simple pants are more versatile. It depends entirely on what you do in your life; you might find that you needs jeans more. But I think that a good, plain, uncluttered, classically-cut, perfectly fitting pair of pants can be worn every other day forever and always look right.

Right now, I'm hearings lots of good things about ponte knit pants - basically really heavy knit pants that hold their shape well. I don't yet have a pair, but if I were in the market for them, I'd start with J.Jill, or maybe look at Eileen Fisher knit pants. My current favorite go-to pants are from Eddie Bauer; I know they're going to discontinue these, and I'm going to be a sad little blogger...

And I'd always be willing to try pants from L.L.Bean. I'd try anything from them, frankly. It won't always work, but that's why you ALWAYS make sure that you have a big roll of packing tape close at hand. Why horse around with trying things on in stores when you can mail-order, and then try on in the leisurely confines of your own home? Repacking clothes to send back isn't any more taxing than trying to find parking at the mall...

So I'm starting with a very classic pair of cotton/lycra knit pants - no ornaments, no embroidered pockets, no studs, nor grommets...

And SHOES. You could look for navy shoes, but they much more uncommon... Men wear black shoes with navy, and women should do the same. The range of choices will be much wider, you won't have to worry about "matching navies," and it will be easier to coordinate your shoes with other leather goods as you build your wardrobe.



Navy pants and black loafers - the starting point of a Starting From Scratch Wardrobe in navy, khaki, pink and blue

When you're looking for shoes, it's worth keeping in mind that you might want to wear these shoes with a skirt or dress at some point (opaque tights are a given!). A shoe like the ones shown above can work well with a skirt in a very casual outfit. This kind of planning ahead will make the things that you buy more versatile.

 Now, let's start dressing the top half! I'm a big believer in the idea of a "suit-like" look around which you can build outfits, so a navy cardigan (or blazer?) is an easy next step. Your cardigan should be relatively simple in style, and if at all possible it should button up enough to cover all of your... parts.... that should be covered. This makes it possible to wear your cardigan on its own as a crew-neck or v-neck sweater. Again, versatility...

And maybe the only thing I like more than suit look is the idea of a solid column of color, upon which you can put virtually any 2nd layer. So I'm opting for a navy tee shirt at this point.

Yes, this isn't stunningly fun. These garments aren't fascinating, nor memorable. They're not supposed to be - these are building blocks. If you have these kinds of pieces, the snazzier items that you add later will be MUCH more easily worn.


A navy and cardigan additions to a Starting From Scratch Wardrobe

Finally, jeans.

These should, again, be as simple and as classic as you can possibly manage. Not for this wardrobe is the torn, the bespangled, the cut-out in strategic places, the bizarre pointy studs...

And I guess it makes sense that if these are dark wash, they'll give you that long vertical line, when worn with navy.

I also introduced a shirt in this step - if you absolutely, positively do NOT wear button-front shirts, you could bring in another tee shirt or pull-over top at this stage. But I strongly encourage you to search around for shirts; lots of companies are making nice shirts that are sized for better fit for a variety of bodies. I personally have tremendous luck with Lands' End shirts in Petite sizes - sleeves that aren't too long, with a torso that's not too tight.

Adding jeans and a pink shirt to a Starting From Scratch Wardrobe

Let's assess where we are:

The first 6 items in a Starting From Scratch Wardrobe in navy, khaki, pink and blue

This feels painfully meager, but in fact you're already well on your way to having choices - you've got 8 ensembles already! Not bad from 5 pieces of clothing...

8 outfits from the Starting From Scratch wardrobe in navy, khaki, pink and blue

Tomorrow, some accessories, a few more tops, and a foray into the 2nd neutral.

love,
Janice
How to build a capsule wardrobe from scratch - Step 1
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UNIQLO USA

35 comments:

  1. I love your explanations.
    If you stretch the definition of khaki to include a pale camel, there are many dressy options, especially for pants and winter coats.
    Personally, I can't tolerate a blazer that's the same solid color as my pants unless it's a very different fabric and texture. If it's a suit, I want it to really be a suit. And if it isn't a suit, I don't want it to be like one. I look for a jacket that's nubbier or something, to make it clear that I'm not trying to pull a fast one.

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  2. I found it really helpful for travel to purchase a slim line black pant that looks good with both shorter tops and under longer tunics.

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  3. I agree with you about black shoes being perfectly fine with navy. However, I have found that British and European brands actually do produce quite a number of styles in navy. So Boden, Hobbs, L.K. Bennett, Dune, Carvela and Geox are good brands to explore.
    K.

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  4. I am so glad we are doing this again. It comes at an opportune time.

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  5. Thank you, this is one of your best series, and I love them every time you do them! And the explanation are great, whether you are doing a fancy wardrobe or a casual one.

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  6. THRILLED you are doing this! THRILLED. (Did you get that? Thrilled.)

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  7. So happy you are doing this in Navy and Khaki. Reviewing the basics every decade or so is a good idea! By the way, another great source for heavy knit pants is Ibex. I like the Izzy pant, which is a heavy knit pant that looks great, can be dressed up or down and feels like pajamas. Not sure what colors they are doing this year but it is a classic.

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  8. Thank you! I love this series, and these are almost my exact colours!

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  9. Thank you for revisiting this. While I do not share all your style (I'm 6' tall and slim, so columns of colour are out), I am redoing my wardrobe starting with this series, making a long term buying plan and carefully planning. The hard part was picking colours, which took me a year of experimentation! I have about half my wardrobe before I start buying and am looking forward to seeing your picks and thinking about my divergences. Thank you again!

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    1. I have a very different body size -- curvy and petite -- but I also don't like wearing a "column of color" very often. However, I've found that it really helped my wardrobe to have that option, even if I don't use it, because it helps all the clothes work together. Janice is a genius, ha ha. The three garments in the "column" work so well with the rest of the wardrobe.

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  10. Janice,

    I am of the same understated (riiiight ) frame of mind as Lori, above ! Shortly, I shall be packing for another 10 day trip, and I'll be following the selection of the pieces process very carefully once again ! While I know that this series goes on to be a complete wardrobe, I can narrow it down to the amount needed for my trip. Probably a Whatever's Clean 13, plus 3 dressy mix and match evening outfits, as we're staying at an upscale resort in Virginia, should do the trick.
    Like you, or maybe because I learned it from you, I'm into outer and inner columns of color, as I am vertically challenged! I prefer two neutrals, depending on the length of the trip, and at least 2 accent colors, plus off- white in tops and toppers. Twin sets come to mind, even though I seldom wear them together, as well as a print that pulls the two colors together, if I can locate that, although it's not always possible in a top, but sometimes in a scarf. I also like a top that pulls the two neutrals together, but I'm getting ahead of your posts ! Anyway, I was so excited when I logged onto your site this morning and saw what you have prepared for us ! Picture me clapping ! Thanks, Janice, for sharing that creative brain of yours -- I think that's what I like the best -- understanding the thought process behind the selections!

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  11. I love this series. For us casual people you can add a couple more outfits to those you listed above by wearing the button down over the tee shirt as a shirt jacket :) It's really amazing how many outfits you can get from a handful of items if they are the right items. You are amazing! :)

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    1. I do that all the time!

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  12. Re ponte knit pants: My slim black (one of my preferred fall/winter neutrals) pair are my absolute go-to somewhat dressy pants. They are comfortable, travel well, go with multiple tops (usually wear longer tops), and easily transition day-to-evening. I highly recommend. For example, this week I'll be wearing them on a day when I go to an afternoon meeting downtown, hang out at the Art Institute for a couple of hours, meet husband for dinner and the Lyric, and finally take the 'L' home.

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    1. Would you be willing to recommend the brand of your Ponte pants?

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  13. I join the happy chorus in saying YES!! Thank you for doing this again. Plain and simple and good quality are the watch words I am doing my best to remember for assembling the basics. I am like a magpie, I am usually attracted to more unique styling looks and am almost afraid of buying boring basics because that will make me boring. But intellectually I know they give me much more room for fun later!!
    Deb from Vancouver

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  14. My go to pants are the Eileen Fisher slouchy ankle...easily dressed up with heels, business (teaching) with ankle boots.

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  15. Yeah - I love the "Starting from Scratch" posts - so glad they're back!

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  16. My best solution to the jeans/pants issue are black, straight jeans. They give me the best of both worlds. While they aren't quite as dressy as woolen suit trousers, they are dressy enough for my everyday life. Besides, I've picked my jeans carefully- there are some great "un-jeansy"-jeans options available in these days.

    The only thing I wouldn't pick is the cardigan. Wearing a short buttoned-up cardigan is a style that really doesn't do any favors to my plus-sized but H-shaped body. Besides, I'd worry that I'd forget that I'm wearing only underwear under my cardi and open it absent-mindedly while in public place...for me, it's the top and open front cardigan. Not super versatile, I admit, but versatile enough for me.

    I'm glad to see you give this series another spin again.

    -Sara K-

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    1. But Sara, you're doing it EXACTLY RIGHT! You're figuring out what you need, and you're making sure that you have it. At the end of the day, that's all that Starting From Scratch is really about.
      hugs,
      Janice

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    2. Yep, I agree! It has really helped me to have a basic concept in place, with step-by-step shopping suggestions. It's easy to tweak the basic concept to fit perfectly one's individual life and style.
      And when I do make these little tweaks, I really think about why I feel I need to deviate from the basic plan, which gives me useful insight about my style. Such insight has spared me from several shopping mistakes -which is great for Earth, my closet and my wallet.

      -Sara K-

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  17. I love "Starting from scratch"! Love it! I have talked about with my friends so much and now I have sent them all an link to your blog

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  18. I think I mentioned before that I took time (during your travel break) to go through the previous set of starting from scratch posts to create whole "new" wardrobe... but mostly shopping out of my own closet. It allowed me to immediately see the gaps that kept my wardrobe from being as flexible as it could be.

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  19. My favorite basic/travel (black) pants are microfiber slim straight jeans. I have worn the hem completely ragged, but plan to get them shortened just 1/8 inch or so to get a fresh clean hem! I did find another pair, and these have zipper pockets, so even better for travel. I love ponte knit dresses, but have yet to try the fabric in pants. -nancyo PS, sorry to comment as "anonymous" but I am having trouble signing into my google account on my phone.

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  20. My problem is... Greens, the color of the sea. Blues, comfortable as your favorite jeans. Pinks, in all the shades of the hollyhocks by the farmhouse door. Cheery Christmas reds. Sunshine yellow. Tans like warm sand. The sophistication of black. I CAN'T CHOOSE! You don't even want to know what I wore to the symphony, sigh. -Lily

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    1. I've had this exact same issue. My solution was to make sure that I had basic clothes in neutrals (Common Wardrobe was a great start!), and then I took all my colorful things out of the closet and divided them into color groups. Some groups were quite big (like pink and blue), others were smaller, one group is actually more like a color family (I apparently like deep colored patterns in Fall), and there were even a couple of colors that had just two or three items in then. I noticed that though I liked the look of these items, I didn't love actually wearing them. I was able to eliminate orange and yellow from my wardrobe right away. As for the rest, I thought carefully how I wear colors and were again able to find that some colors are worn more than others. Then, I went back to this blog and grouped my items in bundles. Some bundles had everything: shoe, clothes, accessories. Some had just a couple of accessories I liked to use with a neutral base. I notice that I owned some colors more than I used them, and found some gaps in a couple of bundles. I noticed that I lacked a scarf in a color that I wore a lot and liked, that I didn't really need three shirts in a color I wore only occassionally in Spring etc.

      I promise, IRL the process wasn't as tedious as it sounds here, and even less so since I spread it over a period of a year or so. I still have accents in several colors in my closet, but there's some sense and order in it all. I'm proud to say that my closet no longer looks like an unicorn vomited in it!

      -Sara K-

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    2. I had the same problem too. 400+ items of clothing, every colour... what to do? I spent a year with a capsule wardrobe that changed colours monthly. Every month I noted my favourite outfit and what people complemented me on.

      I found I hate black, grey and white, preferring brown and cream. I went rigt off purple. I love orange, which I never wore with a huge wardrobe. Blue and olive, with a bit of soft pink, round out my chosen colours.

      I've still kept a few clothes from the no list in case I change my mind, but I've been dressing happily since June now. So it's time to invest in the bits I'm making do with, but only when I fimd the perfect piece.

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    3. I too once bought things because I loved the colour. Ended up with three huge stuffed closets (my sons had to keep their clothes in Ikea bins!) And never felt I had enough, or the right thing. When I realized how nuts that was, and expensive, went to this approach, but (here is the important part) I kept those colours in scarves. Works really well: one modest closet and a stack of scarves that always fit!

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    4. Duchesse, my oldest son is a U3 at McGill. I love Montreal. -Lily-

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    5. Duchesse, my oldest son is a U3 at McGill. I love Montreal. -Lily-

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  21. Your "Starting from Scratch" wardrobe is fantastic. I just used it when I got out my fall/winter business clothes and found out that I had bought waaaaay too many things at end of seasons sales, and then throughout the spring and summer at consignment and thrift stores. My heart sank when I got all those clothes together, it was too much! But I just started a new job and don't know what people wear there... so I grabbed my SFS chart and chose a basic wardrobe of things I like dbest from that, picked a few extra pieces (for a total of about 35) and put the rest away. I can get to them if I have made bad choices, and I have alternates if it turns out that a slightly different style or mix is called for at this office. I was truly a lifesaver and for the first week I felt so confident knowing that everyitn went together and looked great -- there were really no bad choices. I modified it a little because it is all work clothes (no jeans!) but otherwise it was wonderful

    And yes, I LOVE PONTE PANTS. Many retailers sell them in a variety of styles and price points, and Lands End will hem them to your exact length.

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  22. I learn something from your blogs every day.
    I have barely begun to scratch the surface but you have enlightened my sense of pairing colors.

    My issue is being a hard to find size.I am almost 60 I'm 5'9 and 200 pounds. I also have "bad feet" due to wearing high heels in my younger days.

    STILL.... I am young at heart and refuse to dress like a granny. I've put together some interesting outfits just in the few weeks I've been following you.

    Thank you for being so visual. It surely helps.

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    1. If you are in the US, I highly recommend the Abeo brand of shoes sold by the Walking Company for those of us with bad feet. I finally have cute shoes I can walk in all day.

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  23. So happy to see the start from scratch series again!! Woo Hoo!! : ) I plan to use it to put together my fall/winter wardrobe and to clean out my closet..........again! I purged a LOT last year but have a LOT more that needs to go! I have been dieting since June and now have clothes that are too big! I have a long way to go in that department too, so I need to shop my closet as much as possible until I reach my goal sometime next year. Thank you so much for all the explanations too.

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  24. I started a navy/grey "starting from scratch" wardrobe awhile back after realizing that all the decorating schemes I collect are based around blues and pale greys, and then I found through the process of adding piece by piece that I don't always like navy and grey together, but I do like dark/charcoal with that lovely pearl grey you introduced my thinking to. :-) I have always preferred to either wear all one color or shades/hues of one color together, rather than wear high-contrast. So now I have two sets, one with navy/blue related pieces, and one with shades of grey. Some of the pieces cross-mingle, but if I try to wear that middle shade of grey with navy, I feel like an old man in a Sears catalog. So I don't wear those together much. I find charcoal and pale grey together to be just so elegant. But, ironically, I find I like black and white together in the summer particularly. Before I focused on buying with the starting from scratch idea, my closet represents one set from pretty much each neutral color, so I have things that don't match my new grey/blue theme. I do like them, but they're like satellite clothes, and they do kind of annoy me, since they bear no relationship to my grand design, which has taken over my closet and given me a sense of direction but also self-control, for which I am permanently grateful.

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