I decided this spring to try a mini-capsule wardrobe. Then I went looking for some advice on how to get started. AND. I. ALMOST. DROWNED. IN. INFORMATION. This post attempts to cull down the vast ocean of options and focus instead on two well-loved capsule options that fall into the “larger side of mini” or “smaller side of regular” capsule wardrobes. Check them out, and then tell me in the comments which one you like more (and why).
Option #1: Wardrobe Sudoku
The idea here is that you start with 16 pieces and then every row becomes an outfit (4), every column becomes an outfit (4), and both diagonals become an outfit (2). In all, you can make 10 outfits from this one grid:
Now, assume that you are buying (or already own) the shoes, and that two of the “extras” are going to be jewelry — and you only need to sew up 10 pieces of clothing for a handmade sudoku capsule. Pretty neat!
Editor Note: You can also use this for smaller mini capsules too! If you do a 3×3 grid of nine pieces (this version includes no accessories), you can instantly have 9 different outfit combinations. The yellow, red and blue lines give you some easy outfit combinations to start- but the remixing potential is endless. Especially if you include multiuse clothing pieces.
Option #2: The 4×4 Wardrobe
Unlike the sudoku method above, the 4 x 4 wardrobe method begins with a color palette and goes from there.
A Four by Four Wardrobe is a 16-piece group of clothes chosen four pieces at a time, developed by The Vivienne Files. While there are several variations, the one I like the best (and see most frequently) runs as follows:
- Core of Four: four pieces (two tops and two bottoms) in the same neutral color,
- Another Core of Four: four pieces (two tops and two bottoms)
- Mileage Four: four tops in anything that goes with your first 8 garments
- Expansion Four: four items to fill in any gaps (dresses, etc.)
Here’s a template you can use (from The Vivienne Files) — and speaking of which, her website has TONS of great resources on capsule wardrobes, including inspiration 4×4 wardrobes in a variety of colors and seasons.
The idea here is less structured than the sudoku version — there aren’t a specific number of pre-selected outfits you’re going for — theoretically, you’re going to get even more options because 1) there are more clothing pieces (16 vs 10) and 2) the focus on 8 core neutral pieces means more things are going to mix-and-match.
So which capsule framework is right for you?
I’ve thought about both and found that they work best for different purposes, for different times in my life.
The 4×4 wardrobe seems to work best for me:
- As the foundation of my daily wardrobe — I chafe a bit at the sudoku model (it seems so strict!) and I like the additional flexibility that the 4×4 model provides.
- To embrace my love of bold fabric — the “mileage 4” offers a way to incorporate those dramatic prints that don’t necessarily match everything else.
- When I’m trying to build up a cohesive color palette — I am greatly drawn to the idea of 1-2 main neutral colors and then pops of complementary colors.
On the other hand, the sudoku capsule seems like the best option when:
- I’m tight on time — because the sudoku approach has fewer pieces, it takes less time to sew.
- I’m focused on a specific wardrobe purpose — like a “workout capsule” or a “business casual” capsule.
- I’m traveling — for 1-2 week trips, the strict approach provides an excellent way to ensure you have a different outfit for every day of the trip.
How I decided…
First I spent some time (a LOT of time, actually) looking for inspiration. Here are some of my favorite resources:
- Pinterest — just search “capsule wardrobe” (and then dive deeper with things like “plus-size capsule wardrobe” and “winter capsule wardrobe” and “capsule wardrobe pink” and… well, you get the idea)
- The Capsule Wardrobe Sew Along Facebook group — very fun, very helpful group of ladies
- The Wardrobe Architect series by Colette — an amazing multi-step (with print-out guides) process for identifying your personal style and choosing a color palette
- The Curated Closet — a book (but also check out the blog, which has TONS of free advice that I found mind-blowing to my process) to help you discover your personal style and “build a dream wardrobe”
Well armed, I then brought out a notebook and started sketching. I knew that I was going to try for a capsule wardrobe between 10 and 16 pieces, and my goal was to sew 10 new pieces, supplementing 6 (handmade or RTW) pieces from my existing wardrobe. I’m an AWFUL sketcher, but I was really pleased with how my first draft turned out. (Lesson here: you might surprise yourself with a new talent!)
Then, I looked at a color palette. While my current wardrobe is all about bold, saturated colors, I am conceptually drawn to creams, grays, and pinks. So I thought I would try to incorporate them into this capsule in a thoughtful way. Here’s the set of fabrics I pulled from my stash:
The next step was to put patterns with fabric in a way that would develop into a cohesive capsule. Here, I surprised myself by leaning back towards the sudoku method. I cut swatches of fabric and pinned them to the pattern description. Then I moved them around (using the template at the top of this blog as a guide) until I felt like I had a winning combination. Here’s where I ended up:
You can see that I ditched the original plan for dresses and went 100% separates here. I was also able to use 9 patterns from my stash — there is only one new pattern (a knit blazer) that I’ll need to purchase. Overall, I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out, although I won’t be surprised if there are a few final tweaks as it comes together.
So — the planning took me about a six weeks, but I was in no rush and it was mostly a fun way to relax on the couch in the evenings while I binged on Midsomer Murders. It’s been about two months since then, and here’s what I’ve accomplished:
- 4 pieces are finished and hanging in my wardrobe
- 2 pieces are cut and ready to sew
- 4 pieces are not yet begun
Of course, I’ve also managed to test 4 new patterns for indie designers, sew up 8 pieces of clothing NOT on my capsule list, survive 3 weeks of a brutal cold, and travel for 3 weeks. It’s been a busy spring — but I’m planning to use the next couple of weeks to push through and complete my capsule. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be sharing my 10 sudoku outfits with you here in a couple of weeks.
Whew — that’s a lot of information, and I hope it’s been helpful. I’d love to know how you approach the process of developing a capsule wardrobe. Are there “can’t miss” resources that I didn’t mention above? Do you have thoughts/advice on my planned capsule? Any words of wisdom for those of us trying it for the first time? Leave your comments below — I can’t wait to read them!