The Ultimate Capsule Wardrobe: Basics

April 12, 2016

The question I get asked most often is: (some variation of) I am looking to build a classic wardrobe, what do I need?

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, I will share some ideas that I have found useful, which you can then treat with your personal touch.

The plan is this: in addition to the twelve "basics" discussed in this post, I will add a selection of items that would be used to imagine new outfits that share a common theme—seasonal or occasional—in every new installment of this series.

For those who are looking to start afresh, first select a primary color scheme that comprises three neutral colors (with at least one light and one dark color): I chose black, white, and beige for this post, but the concepts expounded here are simple so will work for any combination that you choose from the mix. Some other dependable combinations include navy, cream, and dove gray; charcoal gray, pink, and taupe; and chocolate, white, and navy.

For my twelve items, which are all in the primary color scheme, I chose (1) trench coat
though any three-season coat will do; in its place you might consider a duster coat, a parka, or a pea coat, (2) sweatersone plain and one patterned, (1) shirtdress, (1) leather pencil skirt, (1) tailored blazer, (1) pair of slim-fitting pants, (3) pairs of shoes, and (2) handbagsone dressy and one "practical," i.e., roomy, but not oversized.

Layering and accessories, which I didn't count toward the 12-item budget, also help cut down on the monotony of an all-neutral ensemble. Five accessories that I wear with regularity are: a printed scarf, a solid colored blanket scarf, a tiered necklace, a reversible belt, and a watch.
Another way to inject interest into your outfits is texture mixing. I like this leather pencil skirt because it complements the average cotton blouse or knit sweater well. 

And when you have a small wardrobe, it's important that your accessories have some personality—be it studs on your shoes or mixed chains and unobtrusive bows on your bags.
Here are 15 outfits created using the twelve pieces listed above:

The next post in this series will reimagine these pieces for business casual dress codes. Stay tuned. 

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  1. AnonymousJuly 09, 2016

    Thank you so much for this post and this series! I hope you continue with it as it's been very helpful and inspiring for me. I have found myself pairing down my wardrobe quite a bit over the last few months and I hope to have only things I love and essentials in the end and keep it small. As I am trying to avoid black everything (my default), I'll be experimenting with color in this list!

    I have two questions. The third outfit, top right, is the black shirt the draped blouse from the added work staples?
    And the third row second and third outfits, is the black bow a mini scarf or a bow accessory?

    *I jutlst realized the top right outfit is the same as the last outfit bottom right on the work staples examples. Is it a mistake?


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