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How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe at Any Age, According to Stylists

It could save you lots of time in the morning—and serious cash!

It's every person's dream to open their closet each day and automatically know exactly what to wear. Just picture it: You're getting dressed for the office, and each trouser, shoe, blouse, and handbag match. Or, you've been invited to a cocktail party, and you have a fabulous LBD. Well, that's the premise of a capsule wardrobe—and we did the work to learn how to build one. Keep reading to see what personal stylists have to say about creating your own capsule closet. You can start with the items you already have and build out from there.

RELATED: 10 Timeless Clothing Items That Never Go Out of Style.

What Is a Capsule Wardrobe?

Capsule wardrobes are highly curated and streamlined collections of timeless pieces that can be mixed and matched to create many outfits. Most pieces use a similar color palette, so almost every item matches every other item. This makes creating outfits a breeze and means less time shopping (although you will need to be extremely selective with the pieces you purchase).

What Are the Benefits of a Capsule Wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe can help with having more clothes than you know what to do with, but still feeling like you have nothing to wear.

"It can save you time getting dressed, reduce decision fatigue, and save money and wardrobe space," says Michelle Barrett, stylist and founder of Capsule Closet Stylist. "In addition, you make more intentional purchases, which is better for the environment."

On a similar note, you can splurge on certain key items guilt-free!

RELATED: 10 Overlooked Fashion Items Everyone Needs.

How to Start a Capsule Wardrobe

Rediscover What You Love

Woman sitting at home and browsing photos online
Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock

Since a capsule wardrobe has such a limited number of items, you'll need to ensure each one is as close to perfect as possible. That starts with knowing your style to a tee.

"Open up a Pinterest board and split it into two sections: one for styles you like and one for colors," suggests Barrett. "Spend time pinning what you love—it will give you inspiration as to how you want your wardrobe to look."

You'll likely start seeing trends in what you've selected, and you can use that to inform the next steps in this process.

Pare Down Your Colors

fashion clothes on a rack in a light background indoors. place for text

You'll want to keep your capsule wardrobe to about eight colors or fewer. Barrett suggests choosing four canvas, or neutral, colors, and four paint, or bright colors.

"Cutting back on color options helps make choosing an outfit much easier and also helps you focus when having to shop for something new," she says. Again, when you stick to a palette, more of your items will match other items you own.

That said, you'll want each of these colors to wow. "Get a color analysis done by a professional to learn which colors work for you," she says.

You can also think back to the colors you wear that make people stop and compliment you. Or, find a celebrity with similar coloring and look to see which colors they wear most often (they may have even posted a color analysis video recently!) The colors that truly suit you will make your features pop.

Finally, refer to your Pinterest board. Are any of your best colors all over your board? See how your muses are styling them for extra inspiration.

Find Your Favorite Silhouettes

trying on clothes in mirror
Kourdakova Alena / Shutterstock

After you've found your colors, you'll want to learn which styles to buy them in.

"Learn which styles and cuts work for your body type," says Barrett. "You can get help from a professional or do your research online."

For example, you may find your shoulders look especially great with a tank sleeve versus a cap sleeve or that you prefer the way you look in midi dresses compared to maxis. Once you've found some favorites, you can use them to inform your purchases.


woman organizing closet
lechatnoir / iStock

Here's where the "capsule" in capsule closet comes in. Barrett suggests removing the following:

  •  Anything damaged that you are not going to get fixed. Or, get it fixed right now!
  • Anything that does not fit anymore, with exceptions for weight adjustment due to surgery or post-pregnancy (maternity clothes sometimes warrant their own type of capsule wardrobes). "If you are working toward a weight goal, give yourself a season to reach it," says Barrett. "If at the end of that season, you have not, sell it and replace it with something similar you can wear."

But a word to the wise: "Do not remove so much you have nothing to wear," cautions Barrett. "Do it gradually over time."

You'll need to have a few items in your closet to hold you over while you add things; because you're shopping with specifics in mind, that could be a long process.

Take Your Lifestyle Into Account

Shot of a young woman going through clothes from her wardrobe in her bedroom
LaylaBird / iStock

You'll need to make sure your wardrobe is practical for how you actually spend your time. Barrett suggests breaking your monthly activities up from 100 percent.

"For example, if you spend 60 percent of your time at work, 20 percent with the family, 10 percent at yoga, 10 percent out with friends, and 10 percent relaxing at home, that is how your wardrobe should be divided up," she says.

Remember that some items can pull double duty, like a pair of yoga pants you can wear to yoga and on errands runs.

"In addition, consider wash cycles and dry cleaning visits," she notes. If you don't have the time or budget for multiple trips, then you'll want to purchase pieces that suit what you are able to do. (So, don't buy a dry-clean only dress you plan to wear on repeat in the summer if you don't have the budget for dry cleaning.) There'll be plenty of items available within your parameters.

Shop Intentionally

Two beautiful and smartly dressed female visitors to a boutique, checking out a black leather dress and discussing.

Finally, you can add things to your wardrobe. "Consider your color palette, style and cut preferences, lifestyle, and how you will wear an item with every purchase," says Barrett. "You do not want to ruin all of your hard work!" Impulse buys are a major no.

RELATED: 8 Clothing Items That Make You Look Dated, Stylists Say.

What to Include in Your Capsule Wardrobe


women's hands close-up buttons on a white shirt

To complete the base of your capsule wardrobe, you'll need tees, tank tops, and a couple classic button-down shirts. However, Elizabeth Kosich, certified image stylist and founder of Elizabeth Kosich Styling, also suggests including a fun top in your capsule wardrobe.

"Off-shoulder, one-shoulder, or cold-shoulder, a stylized top adds visual interest and frames the face with flair," she says. "It dresses up jeans in a pinch and pairs well with suiting for a chic after-work drinks look." You'll get more mileage out of the piece if it's trend-proof.


jeans hanging on a rack

A capsule wardrobe filled with random bottoms doesn't help that much. You'll need one pair of jeans (find the ones that work best for you, but straight-leg jeans are always in style), tailored trousers, and a statement skirt (think an A-line, a midi pleated skirt, or something with a bold pattern).

Of course, if you're one of those people who spend 10 percent of their time at yoga, you'll also need a good pair of yoga pants. And if the gym is more your style, then it wouldn't hurt to invest in some workout gear.


Young woman holding a green jumpsuit up to a mirror while shopping
Hispanolistic / iStock

"Consider a jumpsuit for a one-and-done look that's fresh and chic," suggests Kosich. "Shop belted styles that flatter the waist and pair with a blazer for a corporate casual look."

You could find a denim jumpsuit option and dress it up with jewelry, a cotton canvas piece for weekend errands, or a black jersey one for cocktail parties.


black dress with shoes
Serhii Yevdokymov / Shutterstock

A quality little black dress will see you through countless cocktail parties, office events, funerals, and dinner parties—and everyone needs one.

"Try a wrap style that cinches the waist and flatters any shape and a midi length that can be dressed up with slingbacks or dressed down with sneakers," says Kosich. "For those with light coloring, consider navy blue or chocolate brown instead so the monochrome black block doesn't overpower."


Stack of taupe and beige neutral sweaters for fall style concept
Viktoriia Lomtieva / Shutterstock

Good sweaters cost money, but if you're creating a capsule wardrobe, you'll want to invest. A cashmere or wool knit will suit your winter and fall wardrobe and will even help out when it gets chilly in the summer. You should be able to find a bunch of affordable options at the local thrift store.

Buy one in one of your "paint colors" for a pretty pop. A cardigan or pullover will give you serious mileage.


woman with grey hair outside the street

Your jacket is a big deal in a winter capsule wardrobe. After all, if you're just strolling around town, it might be all people see of your outfit. Depending on your climate, you may want to start with a classic trench, pea coat, puffer, or wool coat.

Then, mix in a jacket with a wow factor. "Try a wool poncho, tuxedo jacket, or quilted jacket with a sash belt," says Kosich. "Here's where you can infuse prints, patterns, and textures for some punch, so consider elevated looks like brocade, leopard, bouclé, fur, faux fur, or menswear-inspired suiting classics like houndstooth, glen plaid, and herringbone."

You can wear it with layers during the day and add a belt, gloves, or brooches at night, suggests Kosich.


Row of Purses Sitting in a Closet
mariakray / Shutterstock

Here's where you can have some fun! "Accessories are the wildcard of capsule collections, and they can be either trend-forward, fun and frivolous, or luxury goods from heritage brands that scream forever favorite," says Kosich.

For handbags, Kosich recommends styles like a crossbody, baguette, or oversized tote. "Anyone 40 plus should consider an investment piece, so shop top-tier fashion houses for top-notch handbags, but be sure to stay on the palette for a wise investment," she says.

For shoes, add a sneaker, kitten heel, and loafer. "Designer, two-tone, mule or fur-lined, the perennial loafer goes with everything, travels well, and takes you from Monday to Sunday with flair," says Kosich.

RELATED: 5 Colors You Should Never Wear Together, Stylists Say.


Woman Going Through Closet
GaudiLab / Shutterstock

How many items should you have in a capsule wardrobe?

If you live in a place with a moderate climate year-round or are traveling someplace like that, you could probably get away with as few as 10 versatile pieces of clothing. But for most of us, that's not the case. You'll likely need at least five tops (T-shirt, tank top, statement top, sweater, and a wildcard), four bottoms (jeans, trousers, skirt, yoga pants), a jumpsuit, dress, and a couple of jackets. That's about 15 items.

"The amalgamation of up to 15 streamlined, interchangeable staples that yield 40 plus outfit combinations is a dream come true for most women," says Kosich. Plus, the more you experiment with pairings, the more you'll be able to find fun new ways to wear your pieces.

Can you make a capsule wardrobe trendy?

One of the great things about capsule wardrobes is that they often defy trends, meaning you can keep the pieces for years on end. However, that's not to say you can't include any trendy pieces.

According to Kosich, one of the best ways to add these items is with accessories. You can add a thrifted or budget-friendly version of the season's favorite hat, handbag, or shoe to your wardrobe.

Sometimes, a trend may speak to you so much that you decide it's worth adding to your capsule, regardless of the fact that it may not always be as on-trend as it once was. For example, you may fall in love with the way flare-bottom jeans flatter your curves or the way strapless dresses show off your shoulders. If you find yourself repeatedly drawn to an item, don't be afraid to invest!

Finally, there are affordable, non-permanent ways to add trendy items to your closet. You could try a rental service like Nuuly, Rent the Runway, or FashionPass that allows you to swap in items each month. That way, you can hit some trends without the commitment or overflowing closet.

What is the 333 method, and how does it relate to your wardrobe?

The 333 method was developed by TikTok creator Rachel Spencer (@rachspeed). The method challenges people to select nine items from their closet—three tops, three bottoms, and three pairs of shoes—and make as many outfits as possible. Spencer has created as many as 19 outfits with nine pieces, and members of her community have joined in, sharing their own combinations.

The method is esepcially helpful for travel, but also shows just how many outfits you can create with a small number of items if you're willing to think creatively.

Juliana LaBianca
Juliana is an experienced features editor and writer. Read more