20 Pieces 20 Outfits Part I: Building a Wardrobe Structure


Time for a second round of Building a Capsule Wardrobe from Scratch! In this post I will be showing you the full process I would use to  create a stand-alone, versatile 20-piece capsule wardrobe. Part II will then demonstrate how the same 20 pieces can give you 3-weeks worth of outfits (check back on Tuesday for that). These kinds of posts always end up being way too wordy, so I'll try to keep it brief, I promise ;) For a more detailed review of the steps, you can always refer back to the original posts on building a capsule wardrobe and developing a colour palette.

First, some general criteria:

  • 20-piece limit (including footwear)
  • modular structure (read this post for more info on different outfit building approaches/wardrobe structures)
  • tailored to late summer/ early fall temperatures
  • lifestyle: daytime, casual looks

When creating a capsule wardrobe, the two most important pieces of information to consider are its colour palette and main proportions (specific combinations of items). For the purpose of this illustration I will be using two super simple proportions that are particularly well-suited to a modular wardrobe structure: a daytime dress and four different top-bottom combinations created by two types of tops (longsleeve tops and tank tops) and two types of bottoms (shorts and skirts). Plus footwear (sandals and flats) that gives us these five proportions:

  • Dress
  • Shorts + tank top/t-shirt
  • Shorts + longsleeve top
  • Skirt + tank top/ t-shirt
  • Skirt + longsleeve top
  • Shoes: Sandals and flats (interchangeable)

To create these proportions we need seven item categories: dresses, shorts, skirts, tanks/tees, longsleeve tops, sandals and flats. Next up, we have to allocate our 20 pieces to these categories and decide on a rough structure of item frequencies. If you are building a capsule wardrobe for yourself, now would be the time to think about your lifestyle and everyday activities: How often do you want to wear a dress, how many times a week do you want to wear casual sneakers instead of sandals, how often do you want to do laundry, etc. If there is no preference for either proportion, we can relatively evenly distribute our pieces across the categories, and then make some minor adjustments according to the item's laundry requirements (allocate more pieces to tank tops and fewer to both shoe categories in this case). It usually takes quite a bit of shuffling around until you figure out a good distribution for your needs, so just take your time and test-drive a few different alternatives in your head. Once that's done we can move onto the fun part: choosing a colour palette.

I generally recommend developing a colour palette based on about 6 to 10 shades, depending on the size of your capsule wardrobe. For 20 pieces I'd go for the lower end of the range, to keep the overall style concept consistent and the structure modular so you can mix-and-match freely. Bear in mind that colours are not the only source of variety: By choosing a medley of harmonizing fabrics and patterns you can easily add dimension to your wardrobe and 'deepen' your style concept (instead of broaden it). Below you'll find the colour hierarchy I created for our sample capsule wardrobe: I chose black as the only neutral shade, white and grey as main colours and a soft blue, light pink and peachy orange as accent shades.


Next step: distributing the colours across our structure of item frequencies, like in the table above. Click here or here for more pointers on how to do this. Basically, the formula goes like this: 25% neutrals (one per category), 50% main colours, 25% accent colours --> then adjust, shuffle, etc. In our example, the main colours are pretty neutral so we don't have to follow the 'one neutral per category' rule-of-thumb as closely. Of course, this structure is only a tentative guide - the final colour distribution depends in no small part on what you find in the shops. Always keep in mind that a capsule wardrobe cannot be cooked up in a weekend; even though I only had to shop virtually, it took me quite a while to find 20 pieces that fit our criteria and, more importantly, form a harmonizing, modular structure. Here's the final set, organized by colour function and item category:


Even if you closely defined the range of occasions your wardrobe should be tailored to (whether that is daytime, work or special occasions), make sure you really cover every end of that range. This is especially important when choosing footwear (i.e something you have to wear every day): For our sample wardrobe I picked some casual sneakers but also a pair of loafers and some dressier sandals. I also played around with different patterns and included a patterned piece for categories with more than one piece per colour function (main or accent shades).

What do you think of my choice? How would you improve it?

Stay tuned for part II on Tuesday where I'll be creating 20 different outfits with our 20 pieces!

Happy Sunday!

Here's where you can find the above items (from left to right): Dresses - Kain (grey), Modström (tie-dye), MW Matthew Williamson (blue). Shorts - Mint Velvet (grey), Edwin (white), J.Crew (blue), J.Crew (pink). Skirts - Sarah Berman (black), IRO (grey). Longsleeve tops - Zara (white), Witchery (striped),  J.Crew (blue). Tanks/tees - Topshop (black), Enza Costa (white), Alexander Wang (grey), Topshop (orange). Sandals - Zara (black), Sam Edelman (orange-tan). Flats - J.Crew (loafers), Superga (sneakers).