Descriptions and images of a capsule wardrobe are currently a Pinterest fad. They are also much more than that. Tracing the history of the practice goes back to a female entrepreneur in England looking to solve a problem for women in the workforce. Susie Faux wanted women to have a better chance at success and saw her niche – women’s professional clothing. Her shop “Wardrobe” opened in London in 1973 and with her advertising experience she steadily built a meaningful and profitable brand. In working with women to dress well and according to their personal style, Faux directed clients towards a small number of beautiful pieces that all worked together. She coined the process as the “capsule wardrobe.”
The workforce was opening more for women in the 80’s, and women’s fashion reacted to feminism leaning away from feminine styles to adopting more masculine dress. Donna Karan’s introductory independent collection in 1985 showed off the benefits of simple pieces working together in her concept “Seven Easy Pieces.” The show, with models wearing bodysuits and tights then adding a versatile skirt, loose pants, trousers, a tailored jacket, a cashmere sweater, and a white shirt, resonated with women. Men had their uniform in the workplace, which took little planning to arrange in the morning, and women sought something of equal ease for themselves.
In the 90’s, fashion shifted from the the 80’s work uniform back towards more gender-specific trends, but more influential than designers on buying trends were new quick response practices of cheaper clothing manufacturers. Buying new clothes became a cheap, easy habit for many women and a growing number of men – though the clothing isn’t fully used up, society’s actions towards purchased clothing is currently described as consumption because of the frequent practice of purchasing something new and tossing out something used a few times. The top five selling apparel brands in 2016 sold over 100 billions dollars in product between them, according to Forbes. The number floating around as an estimate of textile waste generated in the US is above 10 million tons a year.
After a few decades of increasing consumption of fashion trends buyers have noticed the decreasing quality in clothing articles they purchase, and also the lack of care in sizing and fit that lead to unflattering outfits and subsequently more shopping. In their rush to get out fashion products quickly and cheaply, cheap clothing brands have sacrificed the quality elements of style, trusting consumers to just purchase something else from them if a different purchase is not satisfactory. This current environment – one of illogical waste and excess – is where we find the rebirth of capsule wardrobes gaining momentum.
The capsule wardrobe idea – curating a set of flexible, compatible, quality basics with varying seasonal additions – is extremely trendy right now. There are capsule wardrobe designers whose remote services you can buy, and many a blog post with image examples of capsule wardrobes for women and men. Individuals are attracted to easier outfit selections, less wardrobe turnover, and longer lasting clothes that fit well. This trend allows us to save money, get ready faster in the morning, be less wasteful… what’s not to love?
The side effects of a capsule wardrobe come from a combination of less stress, more time, and more money. With less worrying about what to wear, we experience less stress and free up our minds for more important thoughts. With more time we can make better breakfasts in the morning before work, do some sun salutations, sleep in a little longer, or something else that is healthier or contributes to our happiness. When we are spending less money on fast fashion fixes we can put away more into savings, spend our money in other enjoyable ways, or just NOT go into debt with retail store credit cards. After a capsule wardrobe works its magic, the upsides are whatever you want them to be.
My own experience with a capsule wardrobe is that of a nursing mother whose clothing needs to be soft on newborn skin but strong enough for frequent washing and drying. My clothes needed to be comfortable, but also flattering to boost my self-esteem with my new “mom-bod.” Getting rid of items that didn’t serve me and my future wasn’t easy, but it was like ripping off a bandaid and the end result was a simple collection of everything I needed, easily accessible. Four months in – I’ve realized a few holes in my wardrobe and sought out quality pieces to purchase and add. I wear everything I own, and the things I’ve realized I don’t like have gotten traded or sold to clothing exchanges. When I need to go out of the house with my infant I can grab any combination of items from my closet and they go together. I know they will survive any mishap, I know I can easily adjust my clothing to feed him, and I know I look good.