May 2015

The Pursuit of Essentialism: The Capsule Wardrobe

This week in our Pursuit of Essentialism we’re going to tackle my closet. I’ve been reading about the concept of the capsule wardrobe lately and it began to resonate with me. Stefan Sagmeister once wrote — as well as created a personal typography project around — “trying to look good limits my life.” When I saw this, I both agreed and disagreed with this statement.

While here he was likely talking in regards to design, I’ve chosen to think of it in regards to getting dressed. Waking up to a closet full of clothes and being too overwhelmed, not knowing what to wear, it had become a time drain.

Back in February I followed some tips from “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” about cleaning my closet. I removed about 1/3 of the items I had in it but after a vacation and ‘helping’ a ‘few friends’ update ‘their’ wardrobes, I found I’d already run out of hangers in my closet by the beginning of April. This wasn’t supposed to be the plan. So what happened? In this way, trying to look good was limiting my life. During this time I remember one specific morning where I laid in bed for 40 minutes, staring at my closet, trying to think about what I would wear when I should have been making breakfast and getting my work day started.

I saw a way out when I came across Denaye’s article “Why I Got Rid of My Wardrobe” from the Dallas Moms Blog. Yes, I’m drawing a parallel between a yoga mom with an over-packed closet and myself, but it sticks. If you’re on Instagram or Pinterest you undoubtedly know someone with a set of immaculately curated images exhibiting their picture-perfect lives. Maybe someone you know shared a picture of a closet that looks like one of these?

Where do you live?

Fuck you, anyway.

Does your bedroom double as a retail storefront? Are you squatting in a shopping center?

This started to get me thinking; if I could reduce my wardrobe choices to what I actually need and wear, I wouldn’t have to spend near as much time getting ready in the morning. In theory, even if I were to dress in the dark, I should be decent enough to go straight to a nice dinner, a meeting, or even a night out.

So what is a capsule wardrobe and how do you set one for yourself? Caroline, the Austin-based blogger of Unfancy, describes a wardrobe capsule as:

A mini-wardrobe made up of really versatile pieces that you totally LOVE to wear.

She advocates for maintaining a 37 piece wardrobe: 15 tops, 9 bottoms, 9 pairs of shoes, 2 dresses, and 2 jackets. Obviously this is meant for a woman and 37 is a number that worked for her, but it was a great starting point. At first I thought “Jeeze, only 15 tops?” but then I ended up finding out I only wear 13 anyway, if I’m counting the 4 nearly-identical black v-necks I have as 1 item. She has some great tips for building your own and how often to update it. Find out about your own Capsule Wardrobe.

If you’re having a hard time removing pieces you feel you may want to wear in the future, McKeown’s “Essentialism” has great advice there as well.


Instead of asking, “Is there a chance I will wear this someday in the future?” you ask more disciplined, tough questions: “Do I love this?” and “Do I look great in it?” and “Do I wear this often?” If the answer is no, then you know it is a candidate for elimination.


Let’s say you have your clothes divided into piles of “must keep” and “probably should get rid of.” But are you really ready to stuff the “probably should get rid of” pile in a bag and send it off? After all, there is still a feeling of sunk-cost bias: studies have found that we tend to value things we already own more highly than they are worth and thus that we find them more difficult to get rid of. If you’re not quite there, ask the killer question: “If I didn’t already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?” This usually does the trick.

For more great advice, I recommend picking up his book.

It’s an incredibly liberating experience and I feel like once I started it got easier and easier. It was great to see our whole house get involved as well. After a while we had collected 6 garbage bags between everyone.

We mostly just run around naked now.

The best part is you don’t even have to feel guilty because you don’t have to throw it away. If you do some research in your area, you can see what your city does for old clothes. Charities or local organizations can resell them for a fair amount, or you can trade with friends and family as well. We already have enough rags so clothes that were too stained or shabby to donate I was able to take to H&M where they work to reuse fibers, keep material out of landfills and reduce energy consumption. For every old H&M/grocery bag I brought in I got a coupon for $5 — if you spend $30 or more — which is the equivalent of free black v-neck in case one gets wrecked.

Sagmeister himself “found that the utilization of good or appropriate style can be very important in communicating content. So I started to take it more seriously. I still don’t like stylish pieces that have nothing to say (in the same way I don’t appreciate well dressed people with nothing to say). But if dressing well gets you heard, why not do it?” Regardless that he was still mostly referring to graphic design, the literal interpretation rang true to me. Now I can dress well with minimal effort while gaining one our most essential and costly resources, time.


  • by Brandon William Fletcher
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  • May 12, 2015
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