Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Things do not change, we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts.
Henry David Thoreau
Fast fashion was one of the main problem areas I identified when it came to stopping buying stuff I don’t need, so I was naturally curious about the concept of a minimalist capsule wardrobe and how it could help me.
It was only when I split up with my partner and moved into a much smaller home with limited wardrobe space, that I realised just how much clothing I had accumulated over the years. Faced with mountains of stuff I’d barely even worn, it really hit home in a new and powerful way that I needed to make a change!
Armed with Marie Kondo’s Kon Mari method, I felt excited but also incredibly daunted about the prospect of creating a minimalist capsule wardrobe. As well as the sunk investment and feelings of guilt, I knew that ditching fast fashion brands would require a big habit change that involved self-discipline and tough self-love, so it was important for me to know my why when entering into this process.
As a good starting point, the more you can understand your own motivations for impulse purchases, the more you can have the self-awareness to guide yourself down a different route in the future. I promise that whilst it might be hard in the moment, you will thank yourself in the long run!
Disposable Fashion & the Need for New Things
Even as short a time ago as my parent’s generation growing up in the 60s and 70s, it was commonplace to have just one ‘best’ outfit and one pair of shoes, with a make-do and mend culture. It is only more recently that we have been subjected to an explosion of brands and unrelenting marketing, making us feel anxious and stressed about our exponential clothing choices.
The term ‘fast fashion’ came to prominence in the early 2000s, with the quick turnover of designs that moved from the catwalk to current fashion trends. By focusing on key aspects of supply chains, retailers were able to maximise profit with increased manufacturing speed at ever-lower prices.
If you’ve ever bought the same thing over and over again, for example already owning fifteen pairs of denim skinny jeans and still convincing yourself that your next pair will finally be THE perfect pair, you’ll have an awareness that you never seem to reach the promised destination of happiness that the fast fashion industry promises in its marketing campaigns. Big fashion brands are in the business of making money and manipulating your desires. So whilst one-time purchases may give you a short-term dopamine hit, the reality of owning that item loses its shine very quickly.
Recent statistics show that fast fashion is second only to the oil industry, in terms of the world’s largest polluters (for a much more in-depth analysis, see my post here, or watch some eye-opening fast fashion documentaries). When a whopping 60% of fast fashion items end up in landfill, and 20% of industrial water pollution is caused by solvents and dyes used in garment manufacturing, it’s clear that we need to start challenging our desire for new things and instant gratification in the moment, in favour of the long term health of our planet and finding lasting fulfilment in experiences over things.
An Antidote to Decision Fatigue
Do you ever stand in front of your wardrobe in the morning and feel completely drained before the day has even begun, by indecision over what to wear?
Psychiatrist Dr. Maclean defines decision fatigue as:
The idea that after making many decisions, your ability to make more and more decisions over the course of a day becomes worse… the more decisions you have to make, the more fatigue you develop and the more difficult it can become.
By building a seasonal capsule wardrobe which you can easily mix and match, you conserve precious mental energy and time spent making unnecessary decisions, which could be used to better effect on the things that really matter. By automating as much of your day as possible with routines and minimal choices, you not only save money but also unnecessary stress and anxiety. You will feel more empowered to tackle the difficult tasks which will propel you forward towards your goals.
Your Appearance Isn’t Your Primary Source of Value in the World
Now let’s dig deep, because I think that women especially need to hear this.
In a world where we are routinely objectified into ‘things’ of beauty and desire, we can feel pressure from all angles to look a certain way. The real irony of it all is that there is no pleasing everyone.
When we’re being lured into buying a new throwaway outfit for a night out, the real thoughts going on at a subconscious level run along the lines of: Am I attractive enough? Am I desirable enough? Do I have value in the world?
It’s heartbreaking yet unsurprising that we have these negative and questioning streams of consciousness. But we must start switching off to these damaging narratives and tell ourselves new stories about our value and self-worth. It goes without saying that there are far more important things about you than your physical appearance.
Whilst looking good and feeling good are positive qualities for your own state of mind, you have no one other than yourself to impress, and anyone that values you more for external appearances or sex appeal rather than your intellect, wit and kindness, are quite frankly not worth the time and attention you’re wasting on them.
Understand that the fast fashion industry is preying on these insecurities and gender stereotypes, and you’ll find it easier to stick to your guns when opting for fewer items of clothing and cultivating your own sense of style.
Creating Your Own Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe
So with sustainability, smarter decision making and greater self-worth in mind, let’s look at how you can create your own minimalist capsule wardrobe.
The term ‘capsule wardrobe’ was first coined by Susie Faux, who founded the London clothing shop Wardrobe in 1973. She described a capsule wardrobe as a liberating experience, in which we own:
A collection of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces.
Cultivating a capsule wardrobe with timeless items of higher quality, that we can keep and wear for longer, has never been more relevant and essential than today. It’s time to get excited about redefining your own sense of personal style and learning more about yourself along the way. Here are five simple steps to create a variety of inspiring outfits, with just a small collection of clothes.
Sort through your current wardrobe
The first step is to do a thorough audit of what you already own. Group your clothing into categories (e.g. knitwear, dresses, jeans, etc), and as you go through each piece individually, ask yourself a few questions:
- Do you own multiple similar items in this style?
- If so, is this one of your favourite pieces?
- How often do you wear it?
- When was the last time you wore it?
- Is it good quality and in good condition?
- Does it suit your lifestyle?
- Does it suit your body type?
- Do you love it?
When I critically examined my own wardrobe, I was shocked to find that over 50% of it was geared towards ‘going out’. Whilst in my skewed imaginary world I was looking glamorous in swanky bars every night of the week, the reality couldn’t have been further from the truth!
When I thought about it even more, I actually didn’t mind this at all. I liked my lifestyle, and cosy nights in were a big part of that. So it was clear to me that I could drastically cut down on this area of my wardrobe, making room for the clothes I actually live in the vast majority of the time.
If you find that you’ve bought multiple items in exactly the same style (I know I’m guilty of this!), think about the pieces you naturally gravitate towards and tend to pick out as your first choice. If in doubt, opt for higher quality pieces that are comfortable and suit your body shape.
When you have your ‘love’ pile, see if you can spot any common themes emerging about your preferences. We all tend to naturally develop our own daily ‘personal uniform’ without even being conscious of it, so work towards identifying this as a solid starting point.
Plan your capsule wardrobe
The next step is to decide how many items you want to have in your capsule wardrobe (for example, 25-50 versatile pieces). The goal is to create a large number of potential outfits, meaning that your deceptively small collection is greater than the sum of its parts.
Planning your capsule wardrobe with the bigger picture in mind makes all the difference. I know that when I go shopping, I’m easily suckered in by statement pieces that catch my eye, and outfit-building is usually the last thing on my mind. This has left me in the past with drawers full of bold but often clashing pieces.
The trick is to centre your wardrobe around classic but staple styles that will be the framework of any outfit for years to come. Statement pieces can add a pop of colour, pattern or interest, but keep these to a minimum. Quality, comfort and fit should also be top priorities when considering a potential purchase.
Create a capsule wardrobe list and identify essential pieces of clothing. Classics may include:
- Denim jacket
- Trench coat
- Faux leather jacket
- Little black dress
- White trainers
You’ll also want to think about the basics:
- Short sleeve tees
- Long sleeve tees
- Tank tops
- Breton stripes
- Pair of jeans
Whilst it’s entirely personal preference, I advise choosing a neutral colour palette based on simple styling. This makes your minimal capsule wardrobe endlessly mix-and-matchable with different ways to wear, which you can then pepper with accent colours and seasonal pieces. Neutral creams, beiges, pinks, tans and greys always look expensive, and tend to suit most complexions. They are also calming when paired with a minimal home.
The outfits you create should perfectly suit your lifestyle, and be layerable for the practicalities of different weather and seasons.
Sell or donate unwanted items
Once you have an idea of what you want your minimal wardrobe to look like, and have identified the pieces to keep from your current wardrobe, it’s time to say goodbye and let go of any unwanted items.
This can be a difficult process. It’s easy to feel the need to keep hold of things ‘just in case’ or because of the sunk investment. Try to keep the end result in mind and understand that the physical decluttering will lighten your mental load too. If you’re feeling really stuck, try putting the item of clothing in question into storage for a set amount of time. If you don’t go hunting for it at any point, the likelihood is you can live without it!
Separate your clothes into piles of ‘keep’, ‘sell’, ‘donate’ and ‘bin’. You may be able to make some money back by selling your clothes, which can now be easily done through sites like Facebook or Vinted. Alternatively, consider donating your clothes to charity to give back in a small way. Keep an eye out for charity bags that come through the door, or take them directly to a charity shop. And if any of your clothes are really tatty, don’t be afraid to go straight to the bin!
Take your time to replace your wardrobe
I know how tempting it is, but don’t go out and buy new clothes all at once! This completely defeats the object of what you’ve already achieved. Try to introduce new items into your wardrobe steadily and with more consideration.
You are aiming for fewer items of high quality, preferably in sustainable materials from sustainable brands. For example, opt for organic or recycled cotton where possible. When considering a new purchase, check the fabric and seams, and look for natural fibres like cotton or linen, over synthetics such as polyester, acrylic or viscose.
By opting for better quality items, you will most likely find these come with a higher price tag. Don’t be put off or feel bad about spending more money on considered purchases for your capsule wardrobe; they are investment pieces for years to come.
Ultimately, remember that this is a process. Minimalism is a continuous journey rather than a destination to be reached.
Properly care for your clothes
Lastly, it’s important to embrace slow fashion and properly care for your clothes. The good news is, you finally have the time to do so now that you don’t have the maintenance of your old wardrobe to keep on top of!
I remember being constantly and completely overwhelmed by my over-flowing laundry basket (and the ironing pile of no return!). I would have no shame in shoving as much as possible on a set wash, regardless of whether individual pieces had different care guidelines.
We tend to think that looking our best is about variety, options and novelty, but more often it is about how we put together an outfit and how that outfit has been cared for.
Make sure to follow care instructions for different types of fabric, and ensure pieces keep their shape by hanging where required, or properly folding heavier pieces like knitwear. Lint roll your clothing for a perfect finish. Putting time, care and effort into your clothes also sends a subliminal message to your subconscious that you care deeply about yourself.
Repairing and mending your clothing can also bring you a greater sense of fulfilment and attachment to your clothes, counter-culturally rejecting a disposable, throwaway culture and in turn contributing to a healthier planet.
Start Your Minimalist Capsule Wardrobe Today!
I hope that this post has given you some inspiration when it comes to creating your very own capsule wardrobe. No matter your style, we can all benefit from learning to be content with less!
Look forward to starting your day with one less decision to make, with a mix-and-match wardrobe that has been intentionally curated to serve you in all areas of your lifestyle.
For further reading, you’ll want to check out my guide on how to shop more ethically, as well as my favourite ethical clothing and vegan fashion brands in the UK. And for advice on simplifying your life in all areas, read my practical guide on how to simplify your life.