It seems like one big idea this autumn is the capsule wardrobe. Suddenly my friends seem to want one, which is interesting because when I first heard about the idea I thought I was late to a game that everyone had already played but me. In fact it seems to be in such currency right now that it could become the 50 Shades of Fashion by the time the holidays are here.
This fascination with capsule wardrobes strikes me a slightly ironic, because historically a capsule wardrobe is more colloquially referred to as a “style rut”, as in “please help me get out of this style rut”, ie, not a good thing. But, to me, style ruts are not bad, they are a hallmark of consistency and Knowing Thyself. And in fact, I have a (largely accidental) capsule wardrobe because of two characteristics of myself:
1) I am boring. I like uniforms. Some aspects of my style have changed greatly over the years, but the core of it has been eternal. I have a photo of me wearing skinny white jeans and a navy blazer at my 14th bday party. I still have this outfit. (I miss that blazer! It was my mom’s!)
2) I am cynical. I am especially cynical about fashion. I hate trendiness, and always have. I have always preferred to do things my way, and I have always chosen elegance over cuteness. “Fashion fades but style is eternal.”
So, this mythical capsule wardrobe. Does it work? Is it for everyone? For me: yes, it works. And no, it is not for everyone.
Because of the lack of variety. Unless you have a uniform look that you are comfortable with (like me and my tshirt/skinny jeans/boots) you will get bored bored bored. And sometimes once you get sucked into the uniform look, it’s hard to climb back out of it. I find it hard to NOT dress in my uniform sometimes.
* If you get bored easily with your clothes, don’t bother.
* If you are looking to make an awesome style statement (past simple elegance), don’t bother.
* If you are seeking your style persona, don’t try this yet. If you don’t know what your look is, it will keep changing and a capsule wardrobe will become a closet bomb as you constantly buy things to try out.
Even if you have a uniform look, you will constantly be upgrading it. I have 3 pairs of boots, 5 grey tshirts, 10 cashmere sweaters, 6 pairs of skinny jeans, 5 blazers, 5 pencil skirts, 2 trenches, etc. This happens because 1 is good but 2 is always better if you wear something a lot. You can’t wear the same tshirt and jeans every day, unless you are Steve Jobs, of course. So, despite the idea that the capsule wardrobe would keep you from shopping for new stuff, I keep buying more of the same thing in the search for the PERFECT tshirt/jeans/whatever.
Also, if you rely on a capsule wardrobe that largely operates on a uniform look, unexpected events can lead you down the wtf path. Black tie wedding invite? Curveballs like these can be fraught with anxiety, because that perfect LBD that you spent a decade looking for is too black to be worn at a wedding.
But there are upsides. Getting dressed is quite easy for me. It’s just a simple bit of mental accounting: which jeans, which boots, which shirt, which cashmere, which jacket. Done. Easy. I just ratchet up the formality of these individual items depending on the sort of day that I am dressing for. And if I need to get a skirt or dress out, well I have a few of those in my arsenal, too.
The interesting thing about capsule wardrobes becoming a Thing is that the whole philosophy strikes me as very French and French things are always held up as paragons of elegance to be emulated. I personally can go along with that since my personal style has a lot of affinity with that of the BCBG Parisians* (red lipstick and Repetto ballet flats ahoy), but not everyone has that sort of style, nor should they because that would be quite boring.
Nevertheless it is very French to choose classics over trends. When you look at lists of the key items in a capsule wardrobe, they are all Frenchie cliches: ballet flats, black skinny trews, a trench, striped Breton tops, so far so Left Bank. While I personally rely on these things to keep me clothed, other people have different tastes.
However, the overarching Frenchie ethos of a capsule wardrobe does have some universal qualities that I do think everyone can benefit from. Namely, when we seek to clothe ourselves, we should choose quality over crap whenever possible, and favour refinement over gimmicks.
The key to success with a capsule wardrobe is down to one word: accessories. I can wear a simple white tshirt and blue jeans in about a half a dozen ways just by styling it with different accessories. If you are vision-impaired when it comes to shoes, scarves (ahem, French), and jewellery, a capsule wardrobe will quickly become a one-way trip to dullsville for you. But, if you are like me in that you’d MUCH rather shop for accessories than clothes, you probably already have a uniform look and have developed a lovely capsule wardrobe of your own.
Maybe it’s just one of those things where those of us who have a boring wardrobe like to tart it up and call it a capsule wardrobe to make it sound special. It’s not special. It’s just a bunch of uniforms. And yes, my makeup and skincare regimens attempt to follow the same philosophy of maximal use of minimal products. The problem is that trial and error still leads to clutter!
* My ultimate most favourite style bible is Parisian Chic by Ines de la Fressange, who speaks gospel. She has got it going on, and we have very similar taste in accoutrement. I am just slightly more odd/English/Redneck than her, with pride.