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What's the Deal with Capsule Wardrobes?

Capsule wardrobes. Maybe you’ve heard of them and maybe you haven’t. Maybe you think they’re cool and practical and love how they simplify your life, or maybe you tense up every time someone mentions anything having to do with minimalism because it sounds like we’re trying to come for your clothes and everything you hold dear and since when is it a crime to be cute?? Yeah. Totally. We feel you on ALL of THAT, all over the spectrum. Your closet is one of those precious areas of your life that you have total control over, and we have zero interest in regulating your life. Truly, do you, boo!

However, you’re probably here because you’re at least mildly interested in reducing waste and minimizing harm to the environment, and your closet is an undeniably important (and super cute, I’m sure) area of opportunity. So let’s discuss some ways you can tweak or overhaul your wardrobe to make it one you can wear with a clearer conscience. We could write a whole separate post about how to shop with environmental responsibility in mind -- (great idea, we should totally do that!), but let’s start here and let your capsule be the foundation of your newly elevated wardrobe.

What is a Capsule Wardrobe?

The term “capsule wardrobe” was coined in the ‘70s by this London boutique owner named Susie Faux, and it refers to a wardrobe made up of a limited number of items that are (a) versatile -- so they can be easily mixed and matched with many of the other things you own, (b) timeless -- so you can keep them year after year without having to replace them just because they’re out of fashion, and (c) practical to your lifestyle -- which should be obvious, but let’s be honest, our dreams of grandeur sometimes get the best of us.

Why is it a thing?

There are a couple of bad habits of the fashion industry and our consumption of fashion that are pretty problematic -- and believe it or not, I’m not even talking about how everybody is trying to slowly eradicate skinny jeans as if my feelings and needs don’t even matter. Nothing gold can stay, I tell ya. I’m actually talking about manufacturers using absurd amounts of resources to produce clothing items that go out of style after a couple of seasons and/or fall apart after a few wears, not to mention the ethical implications of taking advantage of very low to nonexistent labor standards in developing countries. Some fast facts for you:

  • It takes 659 gallons of water to produce a single t-shirt (enough for one person to drink for 2 ½ years) and 2,108 gallons to make a pair of jeans. (Water Footprint, 2017)
  • “The number of garments produced annually has doubled since 2000 and exceeded 100 billion for the first time in 2014: nearly 14 items of clothing for every person on earth.” (McKinsey, 2016)
  • 63% of textiles fibers are derived from petrochemicals.” (Lenzing, 2017)
  • 20% of global industrial water pollution results from garment manufacturing. (World Resources Institute, 2017)

For more information, check out this awesome compiled list of more fast fashion facts and consider giving The True Cost (on Netflix) a watch.

It’s critically important that we reduce the number of resources we’re consuming and waste we’re producing to protect our environment and mitigate the effects of climate change. And it’s actually what we had done as a human race for the vast majority of our existence. Ask your grandparents or even your parents -- it wasn’t that long ago that things drastically changed!

A moment of real talk from the Good Intent team:

Are we saying that you are a bad person and can’t be our friend anymore if you buy that cute top you’ve been wanting? No. If you can resist buying that top or any top for the rest of your life, that is so awesome and if we ever meet, I will buy you a strawless beverage of your choice!

But to be honest, we also have a few tops on our wishlists, so (a) it wouldn’t be fair to judge you, and (b) we don’t think telling you to never buy something you want for the rest of your life is that productive or sustainable. Don’t you kind of hate it when people do that? It’s very human to feel defensive about our desires and choices. We are human too, and we are on your team.

Some people are ready to take on the challenge of total wastelessness, but some of us are ready for baby -- or even kindergartener -- steps, and we think that’s a whole lot better than not moving in that direction at all. We know that you have good intentions and want to do something. We are offering a way to make some improvements, and you get to choose how gung-ho you go.

Some other great reasons to build a capsule wardrobe:

  • It reduces decision fatigue and saves time getting dressed.
  • It saves (potentially a lot of) money spent on clothes.
  • It gives you a cool, signature look that leaves an impact.
  • Everything you own could “spark joy,” and you’d avoid those days spent eagerly waiting to take off that garment you have to constantly adjust or doesn’t look quite right or just isn’t really you.

How do I do one?

Here are the basic elements of creating a capsule wardrobe:

  • Define your style. This part is fun! In order to curate a wardrobe that fits you, it’s important to have a strong sense of what you want your style to be. Some of you might already have this all figured out. If not, then create a Pinterest board or IRL vision board and fill it with things that would make you happy to wear, fit your lifestyle (seriously), and reflect how you want to show up in the world.
  • Set a color palette. Pick a base color, neutrals, accent colors, as well as patterns and textures that all go together and fit your style. Depending on where you live or personal preference, you might want to create different capsule wardrobes or make adjustments for each season.
  • Reflect on what styles you feel good in and what items are relevant to your lifestyle. This also applies to fabrics, cuts, etc. We highly recommend getting yourself a copy of The Curated Closet, which is really helpful in this area in particular.
  • Design your ideal wardrobe. Think about all the pieces that you’d like to be included and make a list. Some guides will tell you to narrow it down to 30 items, excluding activewear, pajamas, and outfits for special occasions, but see what you come up with. The only rules are that every item should be something you love and something that can be worn with multiple outfits. If your lifestyle requires a wide variety of attire, you might need more items. Like say, if you have to wear business formal or business casual to work and then spend your weekends gardening and binge-watching Harry Potter movies. Some of you might work from home though or live in places that are super casual (like Portland, for example) where you can wear jeans every single day and do.
  • Purge your current wardrobe of things that do not bring you joy, don’t fit, or don’t fit your newly refined style -- yes, by all means, do it Marie Kondo style. We recommend hosting a clothing swap or “Naked Lady” party to share these items with your friends. Otherwise, you can try to sell or consign as many items as possible, donate the ones that can’t be sold and are still in decent condition, and recycle the ones that are no longer wearable. Many cities have drop-off bins where you can recycle clothes, but there are more and more retailers and recycling services that accept used clothes. Or you can repurpose them in your house as rags, facial rounds, or cleaning wipes.
  • (Optional) Organize your closet. It’s just nice.
  • Create a wishlist of the pieces missing and go get ‘em! This is a great opportunity to invest in quality, durable, and timeless pieces that won’t have to get purged anytime soon. Try to start with secondhand and consignment stores. Some great online options are Poshmark and ThredUp. If you can’t find what you want there, we bet you could find something at a sustainable apparel brand. Consult The Good Trade to find companies for everything on your list.

Have fun with it! There’s something really satisfying about having a wardrobe full of items you love and are proud to wear. Share photos of your closet with us once you’re done, and we’ll help you show it off!

And don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter to learn more ways to cut down on waste and follow along on our low waste journey! 

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