The Ultimate Capsule Wardrobe: Basics

Clockwise from Left: Burberry Mottram Trench, Forever 21 Loafers (similar), Theory Gabe B Blazer, Chanel Westminster Bag, Gap Stripe Sweater (similar), Ann Taylor Mila Leather Pumps, Gap Legging Jeans, Miu Miu Vitello Lux Large Bow Satchel, H&M Faux Leather Skirt (similar), ASOS Swing Shirt Dress with Long Sleeves , and Valentino Rockstud Pointy Toe Pumps (also here)

The question I get asked most often is: (some variation of) I am looking to build a classic wardrobe, what do I need?

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, I will share some ideas that I have found useful, which you can then treat with your personal touch.

The plan is this: in addition to the twelve “basics” discussed in this post, I will add a selection of items that would be used to imagine new outfits that share a common theme—seasonal or occasional—in every new installment of this series.

For those who are looking to start afresh, first select a primary color scheme that comprises three neutral colors (with at least one light and one dark color): I chose black, white, and beige for this post, but the concepts expounded here are simple so will work for any combination that you choose from the mix. Some other dependable combinations include navy, cream, and dove gray; charcoal gray, pink, and taupe; and chocolate, white, and navy.

For my twelve items, which are all in the primary color scheme, I chose (1) trench coat—though any three-season coat will do; in its place you might consider a duster coat, a parka, or a pea coat, (2) sweaters—one plain and one patterned, (1) shirtdress, (1) leather pencil skirt, (1) tailored blazer, (1) pair of slim-fitting pants, (3) pairs of shoes, and (2) handbags—one dressy and one “practical,” i.e., roomy, but not oversized.Layering and accessories, which I didn’t count toward the 12-item budget, also help cut down on the monotony of an all-neutral ensemble. Five accessories that I wear with regularity are: a printed scarf, a solid colored blanket scarf, a tiered necklace, a reversible belt, and a watch.

Another way to inject interest into your outfits is texture mixing. I like this leather pencil skirt because it complements the average cotton blouse or knit sweater well.

And when you have a small wardrobe, it’s important that your accessories have some personality—be it studs on your shoes or mixed chains and unobtrusive bows on your bags.

Here are 15 outfits created using the twelve pieces listed above:

The next post in this series will reimagine these pieces for business casual dress codes. Stay tuned.

Related posts:

The Ultimate Capsule Wardrobe: Work

The Ultimate Capsule Wardrobe: Casual Infusion

The Ultimate Capsule Wardrobe: Fall Update

Spring Capsule Wardrobe

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  1. Arletta wrote:

    Well, this is sort of what I was looking for, but not.

    I am attempting to find information on an article I read in a magazine on the perfect capsule wardrobe for working in an office using classic shapes.

    I THINK it was in Elle magazine. I remember it had a twin set and a full skirt that was midi-length, plus a white button down.

    It came out sometime in 1983-1986. So, it’s a long shot on finding it, especially as it really could have been in Vogue.

    It really was, for me, the perfect capsule wardrobe. I got to put one together with just a few additions for fun and I could be ready for work at a moment’s notice.

    If anyone knows what I am talking about and how to find it, please do clue me in. Thank you.

    Posted 9.24.23 Reply