In 2010, Courtney Carver realised she simply had too many clothes.
“I remember thinking, ‘we have to do something about this closet,'” she told Business Insider. “I was decluttering my entire life and documenting it on my website Be More With Less, and my closet seemed to be a hotspot. It really started as a personal challenge — with all the clutter in the closet, I had no idea even what my style was.”
But instead of selling or donating just a few items, Carver decided she would do a complete overhaul and only allow herself to keep 33 clothing items for an entire three month season.
That included shoes, outerwear, clothing, accessories, and jewellery.
“I did a rough count of 33 items — it would cover four pairs of shoes, and this many shirts, this many pants, etc.,” explained Carver. She kept her favourite pieces that were flattering and fit her best, and decided she would not allow herself to shop or buy new clothes for three months unless she switched an item out with something else: If she bought a new shirt, she’d have to get rid of another one.
She began to document the process on a new website she called Project 333 — 33 items of clothing for three months. Carver called it her “capsule wardrobe.”
Since then, capsule wardrobes have spread across America and around the world. “There are people in almost every state in the US and in many, many other countries making capsule wardrobes,” Carver said. “It’s interesting to see that over-shopping is a problem for us here, but it’s also an international issue.”
One capsule wardrobe-convert is blogger Laura Blanton of The Lovely Laura Life who’s based in Southwest Ohio. She was inspired to start a capsule wardrobe after coming across Project 333 as well as another popular capsule wardrobe blog called Un-Fancy by Caroline Joy Rector.
“I liked the idea of minimising my wardrobe, especially because I didn’t like my spending habits,” Blanton told Business Insider. “I had no idea how much I was spending on clothes, but I knew it was definitely too much and didn’t line up with priorities in my life.”
But Blanton’s capsule wardrobe hit a snag a month later.
“After I started, I found out I was pregnant,” Blanton told us. “So I was building these seasonal maternity capsules and it was like the three different phases of pregnancy.”
Though it was intimidating, Blanton stuck with her capsule wardrobe through all phases of her pregnancy. She is even planning to expand the idea to a yearly capsule wardrobe of 75 pieces (or less) because of the unpredictability of Midwest seasons. “I’m still in the building phase and I have a master list of what I want to attain to keep me focused,” she said.
The capsule wardrobe movement can be tied to a growing minimalistic trend in the fashion community.
Take for instance Marie Kondo and her wildly popular book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” A celebrity in Japan, Kondo’s entire premise is similar to the capsule wardrobe, but on a macro scale — only surround yourself by the things that bring you joy or make you the happiest, whether that’s your clothing or household mementos.
Carver even wrote a blog post on Project 333 about “Kondo-ing” her capsule wardrobe.
Then there’s Matilda Kahl, a 27-year-old art director in New York, who has gone viral after sharing her story about wearing the same outfit to work for three years.
“I have realised how much more efficient, productive, and happy I can be when I don’t let myself get distracted by the small things in life,” Kahl told Business Insider. “The uniform has become a great everyday reminder that I (and only I) decide what is important.”
She said wearing the same outfit keeps her from having creative fatigue when she’s working during the week — something Carver agreed with strongly.
“It’s becoming more and more mainstream,” Carver said of minimalistic wardrobes. “All creatives like to express themselves through what they wear, but they’re finding they are better able to focus their creative energies when they’re not thinking about how to create the perfect look.”
Ultimately, making a capsule wardrobe is about finding clarity in your style and life in general. Both Blanton and Carver said that it has helped them stop impulse shopping and uncovered their own personal sense of fashion.
“I don’t have to give a lot of attention to what I’m going to wear,” Carver said. “I’m saving time and money, and I find that with dressing with less, I get to wear my favourite things every day.”
If you’re just getting started building a capsule wardrobe, here’s some of their best advice:
1. Start by getting rid of everything you don’t love
“I think we all need to figure out what works best for us,” Carver said. “Get rid of the excess and start with the bare bones.”
Put the clothes that don’t fit you, you haven’t worn in a while, or that you know you don’t love into a separate box and store them away for the first three months of your capsule wardrobe.
When you pull them out later on, chances are you’ll realise that they don’t fit your style or body type, and you’ll wonder why you were holding onto them in the first place.
2. Create a master list of things you need
Look at what’s left in your closet after you purge, and then make a list of everything you need to buy, finding inspiration on Pinterest or blogs. Try and think about dual-purpose clothing items that you can layer in the fall and winter or wear alone in the summer.
“Some seasons I’ll have less than 33 items,” Carver told us. “Especially in the summer when I don’t need to count extra outerwear like hat, gloves, and things like that.”
3. Try to do all your shopping at once
Once you have your master list, do all of your shopping at once to fill the gaps and missing pieces — this will negate the need to impulse shop because you’ll know you’re simply not allowed to buy something new for the next three months.
If this doesn’t seem doable or you love thrifting, Blanton suggested giving yourself a one week rule. “I force myself to at least wait one week before I think about it again,” she said. “If you avoid it long enough, there’s not such a strong desire and you can be more logical.”
4. Be lenient with yourself
Some people like to follow rules for their capsule wardrobe like Carver to prove to themselves they can do it. Others like Blanton prefer to not be so strict with her wardrobe.
“All three of my capsules were different numbers,” she said. “I started out with 50 because I differentiated between my work wardrobe and my everyday wardrobe. But after I did that first wardrobe I realised it was way more than it needed to be so I downsized to around 35.”
Ultimately, the goal of a capsule wardrobe is not to follow a set of arbitrary rules, but to be more intentional with your life.
5. Jump right in — the hardest part is the fear of starting
“The biggest struggle was before I started and it was the fear of not having enough,” Carver said. “But all of these imaginary things I worried about like running out of clothes or people at work noticing, none of them happened.”
The hardest part is always getting started. If you want to build a capsule wardrobe, just do it.
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