Caroline's 37-Piece Capsule Wardrobe + Creative Process
As soon as I came across Caroline's blog Unfancy I knew I had to share an in-depth profile of her with you guys. The idea behind Unfancy: Each season (4x a year) Caroline builds a 37-piece capsule wardrobe and shares it in its entirety on her blog. Throughout the next three months she then posts daily outfits created solely from her 37 pieces. If you're as intrigued now as I was when I first read about her concept, read the interview below for a detailed account of her entire process: how she chooses and shops for pieces for her capsule wardrobe, how she plans and budgets new additions, how she makes sure that her final wardrobe is versatile and varied enough + lots and lots of helpful tips for creating your own capsule wardrobe!
How would you describe your overall personal style? How long did it take you to be able to say "yes, this is my style" and how did you get to that place?
Right now, my style is a mix of cool-edgy + soft-organic. Think a black leather jacket with white linen dress. I like going in two extreme directions with my capsule wardrobe because then I can create a lot of looks that fall on either side of the spectrum – or right in the middle of the two, which is where I usually hang out. I actually didn’t understand my style until I tried a capsule wardrobe. Once I started though, it only took about 4 months for me to completely discover my style + be confident in it.
What were your main reasons for wanting to streamline your closet? Has this affected other areas in your life as well?
On Black Friday 2013, I went on a clothes shopping binge, buying anything and everything in the heat of the frenzy. I got home with a mess of Forever21 items that contributed nothing to my style or my needs – and immediately knew this was part of a bigger problem. Recently, I had noticed that I had a bad habit of using shopping as a way to jolt myself out of a bad mood with a little instant gratification. Not the worst thing in the world … but … it hit me pretty hard when I realized I wasn’t shopping for clothes – I was shopping for happiness. No wonder my closet didn’t make any sense.
I wanted a change. I wanted to stop spending money on emotional purchases + stop buying clothes that were going to end up in the donation pile after a month + start finding my style and confidence. I started researching “How to find your style” and discovered the idea of the capsule wardrobe (including Into Mind!). In an extreme move, I whittled my closet down to 30 pieces + put the rest in storage + went on a shopping hiatus for three months, forcing myself to live with + make the best of my pieces that I’d bought in that Black Friday frenzy.
Even with those 30 pieces that I didn’t completely love, I was surprised to find that I could make a ton of outfits. And I was even more surprised to find that I was honing in on my style with every day that passed. I got hooked on the idea of a minimal closet, so much so that I wanted to experiment with it as a long term lifestyle.
Over time, this desire to simplify + minimize has spread to other areas in my life too. My husband and I downsized from an 1800 square foot home to a 600 square foot apartment, and it changed our lives in really incredible ways. You can see our home tour on Southern Weddings here.
When creating a capsule wardrobe at the beginning of a new season, do you work with some sort of formula or structure? For example, do you try to include x number of shoes, x number of tops, etc? If so, how did that formula evolve?
I do! Typically, I start with shoes since shoes can make the biggest impact on an outfit. I like having about 9 pairs of shoes so I can have, for example, 3 pairs of flats, 3 pairs of heels, and 3 pairs of boots. I also like having 9 bottoms too – for example, 3 pairs of jeans, 3 pairs of shorts, and 3 skirts. I use a “3 of each” rule because I like having one casual pair, one statement pair, and one in-between pair.
After all that I still have room for 15 tops. Sometimes I’ll use the “3 of each rule” here too. For example: 3 sweaters, 3 tee shirts, 3 button up shirts, 3 tank tops, and 3 vests.
And finally, that leaves room for 4 jackets or dresses. Those break down differently depending on the season. For example, in winter I might have 4 jackets and no dresses while in summer I might have 1 jacket and 3 dresses.
Tell us a little more about how you choose items for your capsule wardrobe in terms of finding a good mix of colours, styles, etc. How do you make sure your final set of items is versatile enough and will carry you over an entire season?
It takes a good bit of planning on the front end, but it really pays off over the season. I created a wardrobe planner to help me think through everything I might need. It includes sections where I can list out what my day-to-day activities will look like (for example, coffee dates, client meetings, grocery store runs, etc.) and any special events, trips, or holidays that might call for a special outfit. This little bit of foresight goes a long way in making sure my wardrobe will function over an entire season. My “3 of each” rule works to my advantage when it comes to finding a good mix of styles, because I know I’ll always have pieces that are casual, pieces that make a statement, and pieces that are in-between.
As far as colors go, living with a capsule wardrobe showed me just how much I love wearing neutrals. The first time I purged my closet, I tried something I’d never done before: Instead of taking out pieces I didn’t like, I took out everything, and started with a clean slate. Then I only put pieces I truly loved back in. Very quickly, I saw that everything I put back in was neutral. This was a light bulb moment for me, and since then I’ve embraced my neutral style.
How much in advance do you generally start planning and shopping for a new capsule wardrobe?
I begin planning for my next capsule wardrobe about two weeks in advance. I spend the first few days browsing my favorite stores online, looking for pieces I might purchase. I also research upcoming trends and decide which ones I’m going to embrace and which ones I’m going to forgo. Then, I spend a couple of days filling out my capsule wardrobe planner. At this point, I have a plan + list of the specific pieces I’m going to buy. Then I give myself a week to buy + finalize my wardrobe.
What is your shopping routine like? How much research do you do before you buy a new piece? How do you find a good balance between planning and making sure your wardrobe is fully functional vs just shopping for fun?
My favorite thing about this whole capsule wardrobe lifestyle is that I only shop once every three months now. To hear myself say that is actually pretty funny, because I used to be obsessed with shopping, and I was super worried about giving up that habit. But now I love that I only shop 4 times a year. I enjoy that I don’t have to worry about shopping most of the time, and when I do get to shop, it’s extra fun because it’s a rare treat.
I’ve noticed that with each passing season, I become a better shopper -- meaning, I don’t have to spend as much time researching or deliberating before I buy items. Like anything, it gets easier with practice. For me, successful shopping depends on filling out my capsule wardrobe planner.
How do you budget new additions to your wardrobe? What kinds of items do you tend to invest more money in and why? When do you go for the cheaper option? On average, how many new pieces do you buy each season?
First of all, let me clarify that I don’t buy 37 new pieces for each wardrobe. Each capsule wardrobe is pieced together from three sources: (1) pieces I already own that I pull from storage, (2) pieces that roll over from last season’s capsule, (3) pieces that I purchase new.
I’m fortunate enough to be able to work a little extra on the side when it’s time to shop to help me fund my purchases. The amount I spend each season is different, but I definitely spend less in warmer months and more in colder months. The number that I purchase changes, depending on my needs. This summer I ended up purchasing 16 new pieces – more than I expected to buy, but I’m still learning how all this works best. Since this is my first year at it, I think it’ll be the heaviest buying year. My hope is to build 4 really solid capsule wardrobes this year so that next year I can just pull them out of storage, maybe add in 4-8 updated pieces, and go!
I can already hear you asking, “What if your style changes by next year?” That’s a great question, and I have to be honest: I don’t know. But the longer I do this, the more I notice my style stabilizing. I’m less into trends and more into what I like – my real style is coming through. I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll still love my clothes next year.
And speaking of trends, I definitely go for the cheaper option when it comes to trends. I invest more money in pieces I know I’ll wear every day – a great pair of jeans, a classic leather jacket, a quality pair of boots. Usually I scrimp a little on dressier items, because I know I won’t be wearing those as much.
And on the topic of saving money – for me at least, shopping only once every three months has helped me save a tremendous amount of money on clothes. Yes, now my purchases are in big lump sums -- this summer it was $500 in four days -- but that was carefully saved money + carefully planned purchases. And since I only shop once every 3 months, $500 actually comes out to about $165 a month. I can tell you from experience: when I would shop to jolt myself out of a bad mood, I was spending a whole lot more than that each month. But it was harder to notice because it was only $40 here, $60 there, and so on. It was scary just how fast my justifiable little purchases added up over the month. Now, I don’t have to worry about that.
Do you ever feel restricted creatively because of your capsule wardrobe? To what extent do you use accessories, nails, hair and make up to enhance your style concept and switch things up?
Surprisingly, I don’t feel restricted at all. In fact, I think I feel a little more creative freedom in having less. There’s been a lot of talk lately about the paradox of choice. That is, in short, we assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction, but it actually creates anxiety, causes doubt, and limits creativity. The more I’ve limited my choices in my wardrobe, the happier and more creative I’ve felt. It’s so refreshing to open my closet door and find a clutter-free zone, filled with all I need and nothing I don’t.
I see outfits in a new light now, because I realize that an outfit isn’t just a top and a bottom. An outfit is the sum of the clothes, the hair, the makeup, the bag, the jewelry, and the shoes. You can wear a simple white tank top in twenty different ways if you change up the other elements of the outfit. I get that this sounds so basic, but I’m just now learning the art of creating an outfit. I definitely use new hairstyles to enhance my style concept. Whether it be learning a new braid or a new technique for curling my hair, it helps me finish off my look in a fresh way.
Accessories are another big part of creating variety within a limited wardrobe. For example, I can add a beautiful necklace to a simple cotton dress, and suddenly, that outfit feels special + ready for a night out. If I wear jewelry, it’s typically only one piece at a time, allowing it to create a statement all on it’s own.
What are your three top tips for making a capsule wardrobe work?
1. Use a planner as you’re building your capsule wardrobe. I have one available for free on Unfancy, but you can always create your own too. 2. Remember that it’s not meant to be a miserable experience. Rewrite the rules a little to fit your own lifestyle. If you need two capsule wardrobes (one for work and one for the weekends) go for it. 3. Commit, but only for 3 months. If I’m ever starting something a little scary (new workout routine, waking up earlier, moving to a new place), I’ll take the pressure off myself by playing a little mind game with myself. I call it: “I’ll give it 3 months.” Because putting a time limit on something scary makes it seem a little more sane – even fun. So commit with passion and give it 3 months. And then if you didn’t like it, you can move on + never do it again. (But I’m betting you might like it + learn something from it!) Besides, what’s 3 months? Nothing. Or maybe everything. ☺
Check out Caroline's current capsule wardrobe for summer here.