…and let me start by apologising for the ‘women over 40’ extension on the title there. I know that a sizeable chunk of you aren’t over 40 and this process has nothing to do with age, it just helps it to stand out amidst the millions of ‘how to build a capsule wardrobe’ posts on the internet. So, let’s get started with the first part of the series that I put together over the Christmas holidays when I was working out a method for myself. I’ve tried to make it a thoughtful, manageable process so it’s probably going to be a journey of about six posts before we reach the end.
As I mentioned on Tuesday, when I first started blogging I had a brilliant capsule wardrobe. It was because I’d lost a lot of weight and so I had to start from scratch. Ordinarily it would be hard to do that but you see my mum had a special account for clothes. It was one of the few pots that hadn’t been raided by fees for her care over her last years and so when she died, I allocated my share to my ‘renaissance project’ – something I knew she’d I knew she’d approve of.
So, there I was in 2014/15/16 with everything worked out; getting dressed was always easy, whatever the occasion. And then as my blog grew, I started to be offered more gifted clothes. It didn’t make sense to replicate what I already had so I used the opportunity to experiment with new looks… and the overcrowding began. At the same time I remember meeting a group of more fashion-forward bloggers. They were tearing into bloggers who wore a ‘basic’ wardrobe (which was me) and so I told myself I’d got it all wrong. And then of course the silhouette changed so my formula of skinny jeans and short blazers stopped working anyway.
I’m only telling you all of this because as someone who talks about style a lot, I ought to be on top of my wardrobe. However I think losing track is probably something that we all do, particularly in this age of Instagram when we’re bombarded by women who we feel we know, apparently wearing something new every day. We’re tribal and it presses some sort of button deep down that sends us off down acquisitive sartorial paths. We forget that outfits in Instagram shots are often pinned from behind or altered before they’re worn and then retouched before they’re posted. New mantra: “just because something looks good on someone else doesn’t mean it’s going to look good on me.”
So I’m doing this along with you. I have a lot of clothes that I know are beautiful and yet I don’t wear them. I go into my dressing room in the morning knowing instinctively what suits my mood but then I spot something that I haven’t put on for ages and feel guilty so I wear that instead. I spend the day feeling niggly because I don’t feel right. It isn’t a big issue but it’s a bit like a thin cloud over the sunshine and it’s stupid. I want to find a way back to an updated version of that ‘basic’ wardrobe!
How to build a capsule wardrobe
Step 1 – wardrobe context
There was probably a time in your life when you loved your style. Think back to it because it’s likely to have a fundamental influence on what makes you feel good, even now. For me it was the first few years after living in Paris. While I was out there I spent a lot of time watching Parisian women and I learned how they dress. I arrived in the city with a bagful of the 80s equivalent of Boho and left wearing cigarette pants and polo necks.
Of course our lives, styles and sizes change so the solution to a core wardrobe doesn’t often lie in recreating what you were wearing circa 1989 but for me, that confident time impacts my style today. So I’m suggesting that step one is just to think about your style background for ten minutes or so (I found relaxing in the bath was a good way to let my mind wander) and identify any peaks.
Step 2 – wardrobe reality check
Now, with that logged as a reference in your brain, let’s get on with the practical stuff. Before getting into the detail of outfits, it’s important to identify the balance that your wardrobe actually needs. The result will be completely different for everyone because none of our lives are the same so it’s a very individual wardrobe reality check. This is the task that I’m setting for this weekend and I’ve included a downloadable pdf to make it easier.
All you need to do is condense a month of your ‘outfit life’ into a fortnight. This is the starting point for establishing balance. I even want you to think about ordinary evenings when you’re relaxing in front of the TV. Our aim at the end of this series of posts is to have a capsule wardrobe where every single item, right down to your socks, sparks joy.
Think about how your weeks map out and plot them. Weather-wise we’re at the beginning of winter here in the UK so I know I’ll be dressing with a winter focus until about mid-April. To give you an idea of how it can work, I’ll talk you through mine.
My weeks pan out roughly like this:
- Working from home
- Office / local meetings
- London trips (desk to dinner)
- Formal dinners
- Weekend – shopping / friends for coffee
- Chilling at home
- ‘Out out’ in the evening
I’ve therefore defined my outfit categories as:
- Smart casual
- Weekend casual
- “Out out”
Using coloured pens I assigned an outfit category to each activity and a quick tally made it easy for me to see in more detail what the balance of my wardrobe needs to be. Smart casual is the most needed category and yet my focus is always on dressing for London because it’s more exciting so my dressing room is full of statement outfits. I probably only need statements for about nine days a month and because some meetings are are local, outfits could be repeated. In reality I probably only need five winter statement outfits whereas I have at least thirty so there’s my most immediate problem.
Because a lot of my marketing projects are independent, I spend quite a lot of time working at home from the studio in the garden. I can wear jeans but to help me get into work mode, I want to differentiate my working from home outfits from whatever I wear at weekends so I’ve separated ‘smart casual’ from ‘weekend casual.’ You need to look at your lifestyle and develop your own outfit categories but I do think it helps to have clothes that send an ‘off duty’ message to your brain. I think I’ve found a good way of doing it and I’ll tell you about that later on.
Ok, I’m not going to keep on talking today because I don’t want to distract you – instead I’ll leave you to do your wardrobe reality check. When you’ve finished, do a quick ‘outfit needs’ tally on the back. Now obviously don’t panic, we’re not going to be paring everything back to the absolute bones, the choice of only one top for a night out would be a bit grim (although a true capsule wardrobe would work that way). We’ll come to the hands-on planning later on, for now let’s just work out the balance and see if there are any glaring overloads like mine.
The next ‘how to build a capsule wardrobe’ post will follow on Tuesday. Until then, with your new outfit categories in mind, keep on wearing the clothes you love most from each and try to take a quick mirror selfie every day – it’ll be useful later. And have a wonderful weekend.