February 10, 2017
Since I’ve had a lot of time to think recently, I’ve been tinkering around, in my mind, with different approaches to building a capsule wardrobe.
Many of us like to keep the bottom half of our body dressed in neutrals, either because of concerns about our bodily contours, or just because we like the way it looks. So I pondered the possibilities of putting together a wardrobe that was based upon a core of neutral “bottoms.”
This is how I’m picturing it:
My thesis is that we can put the solid bottoms down the middle of this template, to form the “backbone” of my capsule wardrobe, and then fill in the accent pieces on either side. And just for fun, let’s use a particularly excellent color scheme, based on this:
Picasso’s “Head” might not necessarily be a painting that calls to you from across the room, but I think that the colors are unusual and very pretty!
So let’s start to fill in the template with the requisite bottoms – all in the charcoal grey at the darkest end of the painting spectrum.
It’s worth bearing in mind that your accent color pieces don’t have to match exactly. For something like a cardigan, it would be best if it can be worn with a number of things under it, but things that won’t ever be worn together (like the sweater and tee shirt) just need to be in the same color family so that your accessories will be broadly useful.
Same general philosophy with the yellow accent pieces – these are quite different! (and I could NOT find a good yellow cardigan… sigh…)
With the addition of a simple, classic charcoal cardigan, this is the complete capsule wardrobe. It would of course be worth keeping one’s eyes open for a great cardigan in yellow, or in some combination of these 3 colors. (imagine a jacket with a grey body and some braided trim in rust, peach and yellow… mmm….)
As always, I like to test my wardrobe plan to see if there’s a reasonable amount of versatility available. This sort of capsule wardrobe might be particularly handy if you’re planning one of those trips that requires everything from nice dinner attire through to some hiking or sightseeing:
I’ve had a number of requests for wardrobe with grey, so I’m going to work through a couple more of these in the coming days. But Monday – accessories!
PS – For other planning tools, including the latest Pantone Color Planner, check out the Planning Documents section of the website.
This is exactly how I build my wardrobe. I always start with the bottom and those bottoms are all dark neutrals. It just feels like the right way to proceed. I hope you do more posts like this one.
In a way I feel indulged here. This method suits me well, as I often start planning with dark neutral bottoms. The several other ways of starting a plan that you generously offer challenge my thinking more and in the best possible ways. On the other hand, this feels like home. And it's a lovely colour scheme.
Robyn in Tasmania
The Bride says
Thanks – this was very very useful.
Madame Là-bas says
This works well for me. I've been putting together a 10-week live/volunteer in Mexico wardrobe. The neutral bottom (beige) approach with blue and grey accents means that shoe choices (beige and blue) and jewelry (silver) became very easy.
Taste of France says
I like that this has both cool and warm tones. And it's true that neutrals on the bottom are just easier. They are easier to find when shopping, too.
cheryl :) says
This is great and it covers everything from casual to dressy. Love it!
I like your thinking here! Very useful template and a lovely wardrobe. Looking forward to seeing how the accessories come into play.
This is almost exactly how I plan my wardrobe – all black bottoms with black shoes (for a longer line), and then colour on top.
I like it with the grey.
As a single capsule, I think this is terrific, covering a variety of needs and formalities. In my own capsule , however, I would have felt the need to add a tan/ khaki trouser or pant and perhaps culottes or shorts to provide more variety in the bottom choices. I always have to start with bottom choices, whether packing , or shopping, so kudos there ! To solve the laundry issue, when I have bought neutral bottoms, I have always purchased two of the exact pair, so that one can be in the wash and one on me or hanging in the closet.
One thing that bothers me though, is the term capsule wardrobe, as though one capsule is all that is needed for a complete wardrobe, which it would not be, in my case. Perhaps switching those two words and making it a wardrobe capsule would change the perspective, as I have multiple, interchangeable , wardrobe capsules. Perhaps this sounds picky, but the concept seems more open ended when just switching from capsule wardrobe to wardrobe capsule or wardrobe cluster.
I agree – I don't think it's picky. If you are starting from scratch the notion of 'capsule wardrobe' may be useful. But if like me you have amassed far too many clothes over the years (or decades…!) then wardrobe capsules are a way of bringing order out of chaos. I enjoy identifying small 'clusters', and working with one for a week or more, and then moving on. Useful for packing, too.
Janice Riggs says
I have to admit that I use the phrase "capsule wardrobe" a lot for selfish reasons – it's a phrase that is the subject of frequent internet searches, and if I use the term, I have a reasonable chance of being found by a new reader! But I agree with the way that you mentally switch the two words in order to more accurately reflect the way you think about it.
Are you kidding ? Of course — no apology needed ! It isn't you I quibble with — I am one of your most ardent admirers ! I think it's just the word capsule itself — sounds like something totally contained and needs to be swallowed , or at least that's how it just struck me ! When I do a web search for various wardrobe ideas, I word it first wardrobe capsule, and then capsule wardrobe just to see if some other sites show up. Just a matter of semantics, but different concept in thought !
Hugs right back atcha ' !
Oh this autocorrect — " the" Janice– what in the heck is that ? LOL !
I love your idea of focusing on one wardrobe cluster or pod for a week or so, and then moving on to the next! I have a lot of clothes too, but have just culled 4 large black trash bags full to donate to Salvation Army –some never even worn ! Marie Kondo's book on tidying up and the philosophy of touching each item, and asking myself " does this spark joy ? " has helped immensely to focus on what I want to KEEP instead of what I want to toss! That changed perspective has made all of the difference in providing a sense of contentment with my favorite pieces and outfits instead of always feeling that my wardrobe is somehow incomplete and in need of more and more to " fix it " ! Back to your focus on one cluster a week — what a great way to make sure that all of the clothes are worn on a rotating basis ! Thanks for the inspiration !
I use this approach almost exclusively – neutral bottoms and colorful tops. I have an hourglass shape so column dressing is not very flattering on me. I add another backbone row to my capsules to introduce another neutral bottom that all the colorful tops coordinate with.
I really want to be this disciplined as you are and so many of your commenters. But I keep getting distracted by an interesting print on a great fabric. But if I could restrain myself, this approach would really work for me with some changes. I am a reverse triangle, so darker neutrals are better on my top and the colours and interesting fabrics on my narrow hips. I would also switch the lovely dark grey to a dark indigo and and. And there I am again, not organized!!!
Deb from Vancouver
Hi Janice, I too thought of the ideas represented above by Shrebee. In my case, the two neutrals which comprise almost all my bottoms are dark navy and various shades of brown. I like this idea of a backbone column of one neutral and using all the possible accents and monochrome tops that go with the backbone. For my 2nd neutral, would you suggest a new column backbone and add on many of the same accents which I've carefully purchased to go with either "backbone"?
Also, I love this wardrobe of today. So pretty and I'm starting to love grey, sigh, but I also want to keep my wardrobe as much a whatever's clean as possible as I love it. BTW, I really am happy that you are again doing the 12-month wardrobe building based on 6 scarves. I'm especially looking forward to your choices for the black and brown wardrobe as I can use your ideas for my dark navy and brown winter wardrobe. Thanks soooo much for your continuing inspiration.
Janice Collins, Washington, DC
Cornelia Estey says
Backbone is such a useful descriptor of those items we wear over and over and yet they go mostly unnoticed. The color scheme is beautiful. Looking forward to your exploration of gray. I never wore it until a few years ago, and now it's become very much a staple. Happy weekend!
For my own wardrobe I think I would organize the "backbone" around silhouette rather than color. Neutral bottoms are more or less interchangeable — with a few exceptions, I wear the same tops with blue skinny jeans, gray skinny jeans, and black ponte leggings. (I also wear more color and do more color mixing than Janice typically shows, but I'm not sure how much that matters for the argument I'm making here.) But the tops I wear with blue skinny jeans are quite different from those I wear with blue straight-leg jeans. And I can see how organizing around a backbone of different silhouettes could help me make sure my wardrobe is balanced in this way. –Sarah
Neutral bottoms (99% pants in my case) and tops that go with them pretty much sums up my wardrobe, and I love how easy it is to coordinate! I don't wear much gray, but the principles apply equally well to black, navy and tan bottoms. For me the key is making sure that each top goes with at least 3 bottoms – then I can have variety in color or patterns with the tops to my heart's content.
Hi Murphy, this is exactly how I do it! I make sure each top I buy goes with MOST Bottoms. I also wear 99% pants!
Janice Collins, Washington DC
This is just perfect for me – I am not sure if its the visual representation but I finally get capsule dressing! I love the idea of a hard working backbone of a wardrobe (and as a pear shaped women who prefers pants/jeans/shorts to skirts and dressers) and i think seeing my clothes laid out like with all my colorfull tops and accessories will make me smile every time I look at it!
Just one questions – is this template available to purchase? I had a look at the planning documents but couldn't see it. Please, please, please keep posting – your thoughts and the clothes are the only think that gets my day going :)
Penny, Melbourne, Australia.
Sheri Traxler says
Janice, your posts are transforming my wardrobe planning, how I will spend time/money on dressing, which then impacts my entire day and life. Every other place I've looked on capsule wardrobe (whether "10 item" or other versions) left me hanging. I dress for 3 distinct out-of-the-house roles, usually only 2 in one day however (not counting home-life or workouts). The way your start from scratch and 4X4 and 13 Clean ideas spurred me to map out how many outfits in each role I need each week, what pieces can cross-over (minimizing changing clothes mid-day), and what colors make me happiest. So, I'm getting my core wardrobe centered around those pieces/colors, planning to purchase only to fill in the gaps, and will set aside the other garments for the 20% of the time that I am really in the mood for a color change or laundry is way overdue. I will spread the word of theviviennefiles, as I believe my life is going to become simpler, more effective, and more beautiful thanks to you. Blessings!
j. wilson says
yup, begin with the bottoms! I generally will pick a neutral and then my wild card color based on a print I am currently loving. this usually means I alternate between a charcoal and mustard or magenta, mustard and rust…all or nothing!
Jill of all Trades says
I am a bit late to this post but I have to tell you, that "whatever's clean" map/template at the start of this post is THE most helpful thing on your blog. I am a seamstress striving to wear only me-made clothes. So I can't just serf the internet and buy clothes featured in your capsule samples. (Well, I could but I'd be defeating my personal challenge to make my own clothes). This template you've included is something I'm going to print out so I can match my patterns and fabric swatches as I build a wardrobe. It'll be a HUGE help in visually planning my upcoming sewing projects. Thank you!
Carole RICHARDSON says
Excellent starting & focus points! As a retired educator, I have ammasssed a huge nonworkable wardrobe & wish to restart w capsule pcs & neutrals that would fit my itinerent lifestyle presently. Yes, I need major help! Thankyou for laying out a visual way to help w this. I, too am a seamstress, which, rather then helping, tends to overwhelm w choices. So I need to fall back & edit ruthlessly. I tend to increase my stress & choices & find the editing more then painful! Marie Kond phil is helpful, financial limitations also! Why not train people to do this for a living?