Wardrobe Architect 9: The Capsule Wardrobe

Capsule wardrobes are kind of the in thing at the moment in wardrobe design – but what exactly is a capsule wardrobe? A space-age pill which magically changes your outfit? Er… no.

The original blog post for Week/Month 9 of the Wardrobe Architect describes a capsule wardrobe as consisting of between 20 and 33 garments, “a small, manageable subset of your wardrobe”. But if you’re anything like me, you’re thinking “but that practically IS my wardrobe!”

Discounting footwear, underclothes etc, I have 35 items in my wardrobe, and at least five of them are already earmarked for getting rid of. Of course, this also doesn’t include dress-ups, nightwear and so forth (I have, for example, twelve hats), but neither do most capsule wardrobes. They do usually include footwear, mind you; but I don’t live a shoes all day every day kind of lifestyle, so I don’t generally think to include them. Nor do I have completely separate wardrobes for different times of the year, New Zealand weather being what it is (i.e. lethally unpredictable).

But does my – and possibly your – smaller number of clothes mean there can be no capsule wardrobe for us? Possibly, but further simplicity is certainly available to those who want it, and one can use the principles of the capsule wardrobe to attain this. (The Colette post recommends further reading on Anuschka Rees’ site, formerly known as Into Mind, and I couldn’t agree more.)

As I mentioned a couple of years ago – seems longer to me – I would love to have a simplicity of wardrobe akin to that of my husband’s. Trousers, shirt, warm layers as required. Simplicity itself, particularly considering that a gentleman can wear the same pair of trousers for a week without doing damage to either his hygiene or his reputation.

The hitch is that gentlemen don’t have to deal with a waistline which changes by week, by day, or even by the whim of the moment. (Hormones. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.) This seemed to rule out skirts (elasticated waists being seldom if ever flattering), and yet the difficulties of finding a dress which could be worn over a shirt without making the wearer look like a schoolgirl in a pinafore seemed insurmountable.

But then, it hit me. The scales fell from my eyes, the angels sang, and I started to get seriously peeved. Do you see this?

What you see before you is a non-elasticized adjustable waistband – on a gentleman’s tailored trousering. For a tighter fit, the buttonhole is buttoned onto the further button. There’s another on the other side of the waist.

It seems to me high time that women added this excellent little doohicky to the list of things they’ve pinched from men’s tailoring over the centuries. And while we’re at it, let’s add the far superior pockets (anchored to the waistband instead of sagging sadly from the side-seam).

Of course, there are still problems to be overcome. In the first place, I don’t know where (if anywhere) such a garment as I desire could be found; and in the second place, I probably couldn’t afford it even if I did know. In the third place, there is the fact that I am not as advanced a sewer as the tailor of my husband’s grandfather (sounds like an old-school French exercise). But at least it gives me something to shoot for.

The resulting capsule wardrobe would look something like this:

Two long, full skirts (with pockets and adjustable waists).
Half a dozen long-sleeved shirts. (What’s the difference between a blouse and a shirt? In my experience, the difference is that shirts button up past your brassiere.)
Three warm woolly things (say a cardigan, a waistcoat and a shawl).

Voila. If one insists on adding footwear, include a pair of slippers, a pair of boots and a pair of shoes. Total: 14 items, which certainly qualifies as a capsule wardrobe.

Of course, this wouldn’t work in the peak of summer. For that season, I think I would need maybe three light summer dresses. That’s not very many, but one of the advantages of the season of great heat is that you can wash a dress in the bathroom basin, hang it up to dry, and wear it the next day. If it’s still damp, so much the better. Total, 17 items, year round. Add in a jacket, a coat and a pair of sandals for a total of 20.

Photo by Nicholas Githiri from Pexels
Wise woman insists on pockets.

Sounds about right to me. All I need now is either a stroke of good luck in discovering a source of Just Right skirts and/or the lottery win necessary to commission one; or the skills to pull it off myself. Which could take a while, but what of that? Good things take time, and the good clothes I’ve got will last for a while yet.

What’s your take on the capsule wardrobe? Don’t worry about deciding on colours just yet – we’ll get on to that next time!

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